My publisher and I are in the final stages of editing my coming-of-age memoir—Starved: A Nutrition Doctor’s Journey from Empty to Full—and we are on track for publication in November 2016. As I re-read the manuscript for the hundredth time, it struck me that the language of my family might not be the same as what other people experienced, and might need some explanation. My mother and aunt, who raised me together, learned their pattern of speech from their Irish mother. They drew heavily from God, his relatives, and his best friends, the Saints. Bringing God into their language helped give their statements extra emphasis. Placing God-words at the beginnings of sentences would cause the audience to listen carefully because, after all, good Catholics could not ignore God. The various words and phrases had different meanings in their lexicon. Here are some examples of what they said, and my guess of what they really meant:
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph = “This is a catastrophe.”
God help us = “We’re just helpless females and can’t do for ourselves in the world.”
With the help of God = “I’m hedging my bets here. If it doesn’t work I can blame God.”
What in the name of God do you think you’re doing? = “I don’t particularly like what’s going on, and I’m bringing in God to support me.”
Jesus H. Christ = “I’m very angry right now.”
Oh God bless you and may the saints preserve you = “You’re a very sweet person.”
Oh for the love of God or Oh for the sweet love of Jesus = “You exasperate me.”
Dear God Almighty = “I’m at my wit’s end with you.”
Glory be to God = “I’m showing off how holy I am.”
Dear Mother of God = “My life is so difficult, woe is me.”
May God forgive you = “I’m giving you a major guilt trip right now.”
I don’t know how much longer I’ll be on God’s green earth = “Whatever is bothering you, shut up about it, because I’m the important one here and only my feelings count, not yours.”
Glory be to Saint Patrick = “We are real Irish.” (Despite never having set foot in Ireland.)
Oh Dear God = “I have a miserable life having to take care of you.”
Christ = “Damn.”
Oh for Christ’s sake = “I’m pissed at you right now.”
God Almighty = “Really!”
Dear God and all His Saints = “I’m bone tired.”
Jesus = “I’m so angry I could spit.”
Heaven help us or God help us = “I’m not sure we’ll get through this ordeal.”
Heaven help you = “I hope you feel guilty.”
Get down on your knees and beg God’s forgiveness for what you did = “I’m making you feel as guilty as possible.”
Oh good Lord God Almighty = “This is a terrible thing I’m hearing right now.”
Saints preserve us = “We’re in a miserable situation.”
Oh Lord = “Oh dear.”
Every blessed day = “Every single day.”
You’d try the patience of a saint = “I’m a saint, and you’re really trying my patience right now.”
My language has evolved over the years, and I don’t call on God or the saints very often. And a stubbed toe can elicit some pretty unsaintly words.
Wait, did we grow up in the same family? It’s all true! Thanks!
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I’m so looking forward to the publication. From the title of the article I was expecting quite different language issues. Very exciting.
This is really hysterical.