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The poetry of pet peeves

by Thomas Dillon

Special To The Japan Times

First, let’s clarify the term, “pet peeve.”

It’s not like they’re actual “pets.” No one wants to hold one in their laps. Or tease one with a squeaky toy.

They’re not kittens, they’re not poodles, they’re not bunny rabbits. They’re peeves.

And as peeves, they are essentially ugly. They are buzzards, sea slugs, warthogs.

And are by nature destined to be kicked around and cursed.

So to keep one makes a statement of sorts about the owner. It means you have a warthog spot inside. Snarly and petty. With “petty” being the more accurate source for the “pet” in pet peeve.

Of course, we all have pet peeves. I myself have a few thousand. Which in polite conversation, I keep at bay, like an army of sharp-teethed orcs. While I might smile and nod, those orcs are lodged deep inside, gnawing away on my nervous system.

As a sometimes teacher, many of these peeves have to do with Japanese English usage. I am about to unveil those pesky critters for you now. Some of them anyway.

Are they important? Noteworthy? Culturally significant? Nah. They’re peeves! But they still drive me nuts.

First off . . . clothes.

Not “clothes” as in, well, “clothes,” the one-syllable construction for apparel. But “clothes” as in “cloz-ez,” the very same term but with an added syllable tacked on. As in:

“Tell me, student, what did you do this weekend?”

“Oh I went shopping for cloz-es.”

When one student makes this mistake, you submit a correction. When they all do, you submit a poem.

If you don’t stop saying cloz-es

I’m gonna punch you in your noses!

And then I’ll rip off all those cloz-es

And toss you in the roses!

Somewhere Shakespeare is weeping. Which is how I feel too, after teaching the proper reading a quadrillion times, only to have students again say, “cloz-es.”

And to have a new batch of students enter the very next year — from every corner of Japan — and all saying, “cloz-es.”

What is this? A collective hole in Japan’s collective education? Listen, English teachers across the land. I do not care if students can or cannot translate Emerson. I just want them to say the word “clothes” correctly.

And “clothes” rhymes with “blows.” Which is what we may come to, if you don’t get it right.

Next . . . “I want to lose MY weight.”

Always stated by some student who has added on a few excess pounds. And I suppose it’s makes sense.

I mean, I would hate to have her try to lose someone else’s weight. Like that of the class fatso. But it might be fun. She points and says: “I want to lose HIS weight. All 120 kilos.” Announced by a 50-kg coed.

There is, dear coed, no “my.” You just want to “lose weight.” Or “some” weight. And you also want to lose that personal pronoun.

For the life of me, I cannot understand how that “my” gets in there. There would seem to be no interference from Japanese phrasing.

But get in there it does. Wedging itself first into the English wording of every Japanese yearning to diet. And second into the front ranks of my army of pet peeves.

Next . . . someone touched my hip.

Now this one I get. For in Japanese-English, the word “hip” has somehow come to stand for keister.

So — during a discussion of train manners — when a student confesses someone in the past has “touched her hip,” what she really means is that someone has pawed her patoonie, her derriere.

Despicable, yes. But they have not touched her “hip.”

The difference between the boney “hip” and softer “derriere” can be found with a simple Google image search.

But to demonstrate, I stand before the class and suggest students stretch out their fingers and “touch” my hip.

But no student ever will. All they do is giggle. And the expression never dies.

Last . . . listening to THE music.

These days this pet peeve seems to rear its ugly head with far less frequency.

But in days gone past the answer to the harmless query of “What’s your hobby?” was a virtual given. Almost everyone said . . .

“I like listening to THE music.”

Not “music.” Not “rock.” Not “Elvis.” THE music!

As if the entire nation of Japan was being romanced by one definitive melody. I felt like grabbing students by the neck and screaming: “What music!? Tell me! I have to know!”

But no one ever said. Which was perhaps better than having them whisper . . .

“Three Blind Mice.”

Or some other mindless ditty. Which would have been a letdown.

Yet . . . somehow, someway . . . the faulty “the” has mostly disappeared. I rarely hear, “I listen to THE music” anymore.

So much so that I almost miss it.

Still this proves that nationwide flub-ups can and do shrivel away.

How this happens, however, no one knows.

A line that fills me with a spring of hope . . .

For “knows,” you see, rhymes well with “clothes.”