Monday, March 08, 2004

Switching between languages rarely confuses me. Even in my dreams I speak Chinese to JJ, English to bystanders, and Romanian to my parents.

Recently, however, there are two words that always stumble on the way out of my mouth. In English this word is tie, as in to tie up; in Romanian it is tai, as in to cut. They sound exactly the same. But misunderstood, they would unleash dire consequences.

The problem occurs on the English side of things. I always talk about tying up my hair. In person, if you ever wondered, my conversations centre exclusively around my hair. About what shade of maroon I want to try next time, if rat-tail streaks would complement my skin colour, whether I should shave my crown or whether Bride of Frankenstein is back in style. Barrettes, too, occupy a large part of my daily speech, as do banana clips, hairpins, hair gels, anti-frizz serums, shampoos, conditioners, mullets, egg yolk potions and combs.

Just like Samson, all my strength is in my hair. My hair has brought me unaccountable riches and occasional fame in cat fancier circles.

And just like Samson and Rapunzel, if I were to lose my flowing locks, disaster shall befall me.

Therefore I have become rather wary of mentioning the word tie. Whenever I say that I am about to tie up my hair, I get perplexed. For a moment, I forget if tie means to cut in Romanian or English. Am I saying I want to tie up my hair or am I saying I want to cut up my hair.

I worry that if whoever is listening thinks I mean the Romanian tai, they might think I am in need of a haircut. I also worry if they are deranged lunatics surreptitiously wielding shears - these are the sorts of people to use a minor vocabulary mix-up to their advantage - that they might attempt to give me a haircut.

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