Flash back to this time last year: I was a brand new freshman, desperately trying to navigate the UC Berkeley waters that were so different from the familiar swells of my home in Bombay, India. Having lived in the United States for a large part of my childhood, I was more or less able to hold my own when it came to cultural assimilation, using a combination of code switching and frantic late-night searches on urbandictionary.com.
I never felt too out of place until one fateful day, when I came back to my residence hall after a particularly long walk up a particularly steep hill and exclaimed to my roommates, “Man, these shoe bites are killing me!” It took them the next half hour to convince me that a “shoe bite” was an Indianism — in the United States, they’re just plain old blisters.
That moment was when I realized how heavily the English language is influenced by region and culture. India is a treasure trove of examples. We’ve got “prepone,” which is supposed to be the opposite of “postpone”; “passing out,” which means “graduating” but definitely has different connotations in college; and many more.
These words and phrases always felt like an insignificant part of English to me because I never really noticed how culturally specific they were. But you see examples of this phenomenon all over the world: Even within the United States, the “hellas” of the West Coast are completely separated from the “mads” of the East.
Since that day, I’ve become hyper-aware of the words I use and where I learned them. Now that I’m in the Bay Area, I look forward to seeing how my personal use of language changes yet again. I’ll probably be saying “blister” before you know it.
Contact Alya Lamba at [email protected].