Down in the Dingle
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Down in the Dingle

“God Bless You” — American as A Second Language #14

Photo by Lorenzo Nafissi on Unsplash

Greetings from the Cunning Linguist. This is the fourteenth installment of our ASL online lessons. Thank you for sticking with us. This week is going to be an especially interesting and maybe difficult lesson. Be warned — American doesn’t make sense a lot of the time. Just be patient and you will get it.

So you sneeze and somebody says, “God Bless you.” What does this mean? Well, many of you have heard that in the old days that people believed your soul was leaving your body when you sneezed, so they came up with this phrase. But that’s not what it means any more. The use of the phrase “God Bless You” nowadays is actually a form of American dominance. It can be literally translated as: “Lick my boot.”

“But I don’t want to lick their boot,” students complain.

It is very very very important for people new to the American language to understand that if you fail to thank the god-blesser, you will be thought of forever as a thoughtless selfish bastard. And you will be hated. So say thank you every time they say God bless you. That’s right, even if you sneeze ten times in a row and they say God bless you ten times. Lick their boots, and enjoy it.

Here’s another tricky one for American and Second Language students. “Have a blessed day,” an American says to you.

“Dr. Cunning Linguist, I am confused,” my students complain. “How am I supposed to have a blessed day? Are they telling me I should go to church? What do they mean exactly?”

Ha! No, it’s nothing that reverent, trust me. They don’t want you to go to church or become religious. In fact, they would prefer to be the only religious people. What they actually mean when they say have a blessed day is, “I am a thousand times better person than you are so go fuck yourself!”

“Dr. Linguist!” my students protest in shock. “Why are they swearing at me? What did I do to them?”

This is maybe the hardest part of “blessed” to explain. Americans, you see, are extremely competitive people. We like to think we are the best at everything. We like to have the biggest house and the fanciest car and the nicest clothes and — of course — the best relationship to God. When Americans say, “Have a blessed day,’ they are trying to prove they are more religious than you — in order to win an imaginary contest that exists solely in their mind!

“That’s not fair!” my students argue.

There is a way that you can compete with them in this arena. Rather than tipping over your king and admitting defeat in this religious contest, you can try to top them.

“Thank you. And may God Bless you and your entire family and may you have an even more blessed day.”

That is another way of saying, “Why don’t you go fuck yourself, you SOB.”

That way, you can battle them to at least a draw in the imaginary contest that now only exists in both of your minds.

That brings us to one of the most difficult concepts in American. “I’ll be keeping you in my prayers.” Or, “We’ll be praying for you.”

You might hear this and be confused. Because you have been here in our country for a while now, and you have observed that we are undoubtedly the most selfish and narcissistic people on the planet, and we really think the world revolves around us. So obviously the only person we keep in our prayers is ourselves and our immediate family. We are very busy American people. So how on earth could we possibly have time to fit you into our prayers — you whom we hardly even know?

I know this is going to come as a shock, but what they are really saying is, “I hate you.”

“Dr. Cunning! Why do they hate me, what did I do!”

Well, you had some kind of problem, obviously. Maybe you were sick or maybe you were worried about some exam result or some job interview. And so this person said he or she was praying for you, because, well, this is a more complete translation:

“I am powerless and I cannot help you. Even though I belong to the most powerful nation on earth, in this case I am completely impotent. And so are my prayers. They will not work. They will not help. But I’m saying ‘I’ll pray for you,’ because I am too ashamed to admit the truth. You remind me of my impotence. That is why I hate you. And I wish you would leave me alone!”

The best thing to do, in this case, is to bow humbly, maybe lick their boot, and thank them and slink away, avoiding all eye contact until the next time you meet when hopefully they will have relaxed a bit.

Finally, and this is maybe the most important lesson you can learn in American. It just might save you your life. What should you do if somebody tells you, “I am a very spiritual person?”

In American, that means “Run, motherfucker! Run!”

So that’s what you should do. As fast as you can.

See you next week when we look at useful vocabulary for active shooter and other workplace situations. I’m The Cunning Linguist, your American as a Second Language specialist.

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