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A whole new word

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APRIL 03, 2014

What do you get when you mix an international student from China and a copy editor at The Daily Californian? You get my room, a strange linguistic concoction that somehow works.

My roommate, of course, is the international student. English isn’t her first language, so she’s prone to many a grammatical blunder and word misusage. Once I revealed the grammar freak in me, she started asking question after question about the English language: what this word means, how to phrase this thought and so on.

I’ve edited a couple of her papers — one of which I woke up at 6 a.m. to look through — and her grammar is pretty accurate overall. In one paper she wrote, she completely trailed off in the middle of a sentence, leaving me bewildered as to what could have possibly happened in her mind. Other than that, all I had to do was apply my magic blend of plurals and articles to perfect her paper.

The most humorous thing about living with a nonnative English speaker, however, is her fascination with certain words I find absolutely mundane. For example, she giggled upon discovering that our air purifier has a setting called “Whisper Clean.” This is partly due to her easily amused nature and partly due to her underexposure to U.S. vernacular, but it’s still funny that she can find delight in just a few words.

The other day, I introduced her to an exciting contraption called a thesaurus to help her write a more sophisticated cover letter. I had pointed out that it was unprofessional to say that she had a “huge interest” in something and suggested she find a better synonym. As she browsed the thesaurus, she laughed out loud while trying out different words such as “titanic” and “mammoth.”

Although our language barrier sometimes results in confusion as she often can’t express her ideas in English and my Mandarin is pretty poor, we laugh a lot about it. I admire her ability to find happiness in the little things, and I can honestly say that living with her gives me titanic joy. And no, I’m not just saying that because she’s going to kill me for writing about her on the Internet.

Contact Michelle Nie at 


APRIL 03, 2014