Friday, January 25, 2013

PedXing and other linguistic mysteries

recreation of sign from memory

One of the greatest challenges in mastering any language is slang, acronyms and colloquialisms. Here’s one that had me stumped for weeks when I first arrived in the US (a long time ago).

Living in Hawaii at the time added another layer to the puzzle as Hawaii is such a diverse community.

I figured out the “PED” relatively quickly; it had to mean “Pedestrian” particularly since the sign was found at a crosswalk. But the “XING” had me stumped.

As I was still very literal in those days, I read it as sounding like ‘zing’ or ‘ksing’, not understanding yet how in American English words are often abbreviated or broken down into a type of short-hand, or its component parts. Nobody had explained to me the short hand for ‘crossing’ which is X-ing.

For several weeks I puzzled over ‘XING’, thinking perhaps it was some Asian word for pedestrian which was added to the sign as a courtesy to the many Asian visitors to Hawaii. Although why they would would use a word that seemed more Chinese to me when the majority of Asian tourists were from Japan made no sense.

Finally, I decided to ask someone, regardless of how of stupid it might make me seem. I chose a new colleague, who seemed genuinely willing to help this ‘stranger in paradise’, and asked her. At least she was kind enough not to laugh out loud, and I had my answer.

That moment must have been when I started to read differently and learned how to puzzle out the signs for myself, and perhaps grew a few new neural pathways.

I don’t think I’ll be using creative abbreviations in my writing though.

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