Sunday, March 11, 2012

Worlds of Words

As one who loves to read and talk, I find words and word choice endlessly fascinating.  Since I started at Catalina as an English language (ESL, ESOL, EFL, ELD) teacher, my fascination and delight in word usage has grown exponentially.  As Ghana is a former British colony, English is the official language and British English is in use.  An example is the use of "to let" where American English would use "to rent".  There is a sign out my window that in my confused, half-awake state of my first few hours in Ghana I read as " ware house toilet".  I figured it out but I continue to have to remind myself what it is actually saying.  The following is a list of my new favorite words and phrases I've learned, rediscovered, or have been redefined.

1.)  Collapse:  Tuesday, March 6, 2012, marked the 55th year of Ghana's statehood and its independence from Great Britain.  We attendance a celebration in Accra's Independence Square that included President John Atta Mills, the branches of the military, the police, the fire department and various marching and performing student groups.  I ended up sitting with a school group and noticed several emergency brigades run from the sidelines into the rows of groups standing at attention with a stretcher.  I found this process interesting and started counting the numbers that had fainted presumably victims of Ghana's heat and humidity.  This is something Tammy Stewart and Renee Shane Boyd must regularly prepare for as band leaders.  Another teacher asked one of the students sitting by us about it and it turned out she was counting as well.  She described it as "collapse" and although the word is not new, I haven't heard it used outside a description of a dire economic situation.  When I decided to check my numbers later with this student, I added a "for" in front of it.  I don't know why "eight for collapse?" made sense to me (or her, really) but it just worked somehow.  Collapse is a word I have embraced and for will probably precede it from here on out.

2.)  Overspeeding:  Yesterday we accompanied two host teachers, Jonathan and Osman and their students of Accra Girls to Cape Coast to visit Kakum National Park and the Cape Coast Castle.  It was a powerful day and a long bus ride there and back.  I found so much to see and learn from the ride.  One frequently occurring sign said, "Overspeeding Kills".  In the U.S. this word is not used.  We tend to say speeding to mean driving too fast.  I wonder if overspeeding is the same as speeding or when we actually get to overspeeding.  Is it beyond the 7-10 over the speed limit some of deem to be safe speeding? 
(I can't say whether the situation the gentleman appears to be explaining concerns overspeeding.)

3.)  Give way:  Another driving related sign is the equivalent of yield.  It has quite a nice and genteel sound to it.  I imagine it being added to with graffiti or bumper stickers as is sometimes the case with stop signs.

4.)  You're welcome:  I mentioned in an earlier post about the word for welcome used in Accra and my feeling of being welcome throughout my stay.  My visits with Ghanaian teachers and administrators,  have mostly begun with them saying to me, "You're welcome" to which I respond, "Thank you."  The sentiment is the same I would use for visitors to my class or school but the word order is different.  Starting the sentence with the pronoun, you, rather than the implied subject, you, and the verb, welcome, creates a different emphasis on the individual.  Hearing and using these two phrases in this order cause me momentary confusion as "thank you" usually precedes "you're welcome" in my life.  My first post mentions the feeling of being off-balance and the necessary shifts that happen in intercultural situations.  It amazes me that simple changes in word order can give me a chance to look more closely at words I use and the messages they impart. 

5.)  Lament:  I observed several classes on Friday, March 11 at Tema Secondary School.  A few were literature electives during which I became familiar with a few African poets including Faved Angira(Kenya), J.P. Clark (Nigeria), and Sola Owonibi (Nigeria).  During the class discussions, students were identifying and justifying the themes of each of the stanzas.  One student described a stanza as a lament.  I was so taken aback by the use of this word.  It is one that I haven't used, or seen, for quite awhile.  It was wonderful to rediscover such a word and think about that feeling.

6.)  Flashing:  My colleague and I have a sizable commute from Accra to Tema each day.  Our program consultant, Ekem, helped us to arrange for transport by taxi with two different drivers.  On our first day, he asked us to have the drive flash him when we arrived at our hotel.  Our confused looks caused one of the teachers, who had spent time in Indiana, to remind Ekem of another definition of flashing by lifting up his shirt.  They then explained that flashing is a mode of cell phone communication by which one party calls the other and hangs up on the first ring.  The communication can stop there or the person who was "flashed" calls the person back.  It is away to avoid or arrange payment for a potentially expensive phone call.  It seems to communicate a certain power structure within the two parties.  I can only imagine how this plays out within romantic relationships and the conversations/accusations it could produce.

7.)  Botel:  Part of our TGC group is spending time in Cape Coast schools and have moved down there to the Hans Cottage Botel (  Although there are botels in other parts of the world, this is my first contact with this word.  It may also be the only "botel" that has a crocodile picture on its signage and part of its claim to fame.  We will regroup at the end of the week and I can't wait to hear about life in a botel and see photos of these infamous crocodiles.


  1. Meg.......... happy to see your blog up and running. Am enjoying the commentary. Regards to Karen if you see her. Hydrate!

    kate @ Catalina :)

  2. LOL @ "flashing"
    I had the same awkward response in Malawi when I first heard that term. My missionary friends were not at all bothered getting flashed by their housekeeper or guard :-)

  3. Interesting about words. The same is true in any part of the US as I learned in my travels. Important to understand the language so no misinterpretations. Everything ok at home. Tim is doing super and the girls are great. They all miss you very much. Taking them to Olive Gardens tonite. Be safe. Enjoy the last few days in Ghana. Unbelievable that this exchange is almost completed. This blog setup is great as well as the face time; Tim and the girls love that. pretty incredible communicating from Ghana to Tucson. Love............ Dorothy

  4. Meg! Your posts are so charming and funny. I'm afraid I must demand that you continue blogging for my enjoyment when you're back home :) Chris is a big fan, too. He's alerted me several times that "Meg's posted again!"

    Sounds like you're having an incredible trip. Wish I could have stowed myself away in that bag of jerseys!

    Keep dancin',