by Kachina Domenick Johnson
So Claire and Tessie are invited to have dinner with Shade's family. And Granny Kate encourages them to eat more and says "Eat up, now, they's plenty. Don't be backward none." That's my emphasis on the line, and it's because I have absolutely no idea what it means.
I, at least, find it really frustrating to be reading a book that is written in perfectly clear English (I mean, we're not talking about some cutting-edge style or stream of consciousness where one sentence goes on for four pages--and I have certainly read my fair share of those) and I can't understand a perfectly simple looking sentence. I hear other people say things like, "it was just really enlightening to me about how we're all different," or "I really appreciated how this book captured the identity of the area." And I sit there and listen and nod my head as if I, too, feel this way. And I don't. Not really.
Because I see it this way: after 4 years of college, and 2 more of graduate school, and a whole lot of extracurricular reading, all I see is this character from the 1920s who wants to tell me something, and I have absolutely no clue what it is (is it that they shouldn't move their chairs backward because they'll tip and fall? that they shouldn't regurgitate? that they should be more educated about what they're eating?) and I can't even google it and find a translation! (And I thought you could google everything!)
I want it to be an equation as simple as: there's a sentence, I understand the words in that sentence, I should be able to understand the meaning. And that's exactly why cultural specific meanings and idioms (those phrases where a meaning isn't predictable from the usual meanings of the words--like "kick the bucket" or "hang one's head") and other linguistic abracadabra that make up dialect, is so frustrating...
...and sad. At some point I will learn what this phrase means--but it will always be foreign. I'll never breathe life into them and own them. I'll never feel ownership of it. I won't be able to say "Don't be backward none" without feeling incredibly self conscious.
And, yes, this has all ended up much more thought provoking (although not really enlightening) than I originally thought.