Shiaw-Ling’s roommate Chris is a language geek, as am I. Now, you might think that whenever language geeks unite, they bond and start telling each other jokes in Esparanto, and get giddy comparing the Chinese and Russian declension of the word for “tea.” Not really.
At Shiaw-Ling’s birthday party a few months ago, when Chris corrected my Spanish, he had to not only tell me how to say what I’d just said correctly, but also to explain the proper use of the familiar form in both Mexican and Barcelonan Spanish, as well as proper punctuation and capitilization in both the sentence I’d mangled and the corrected sentence he’d given me. He was right, certainly, but I’ve never pretended to be capable of anything but the grossest Spanglish anyway.
And I knew his linguistic specialty wasn’t Spanish, but classic languages. So I asked him to tell me the Latin word for avocado. He told me there wasn’t any classic Latin word for “avocado” since it came from the New World; but if pressed, he would use the archaic Spanish word for “avocado”, “abogado.”
I opened my eyes in mock surprise. “Avocados are grown in Spain,” I told him. “And the Roman empire expanded to Spain, so are you sure there isn’t a Latin word for avocado somewhere?”
Chris was stumped.
By the way, there isn’t a Latin word for avocado. Avocados were introduced to Spain hundreds of years after the Roman empire (and living Latin) crumbled. But Chris didn’t correct my Spanish for the rest of the party.