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Language November 2020

When I was in the Navy, I had the opportunity to go surfing in some amazing places. We passed through Japan, and a few fellow sailor surfers and I were able to surf at Kamakura. It was in January, right after Christmas, with conditions that were reversed for us. In our home port in Southern California, the cool water comes down from the north and warm air flows up from the south. In the western Pacific, you have warm water coming up from the south and cold air coming down from the north. As long as we stayed in the Kamakura water without wetsuits we were fine. Out in the air, it was another story. It was snowing on the beach. We met some Japanese surfers there, and without knowing any words from our two different languages, we were able to communicate. 

Names like Corky Carroll, Margot Godfrey, and Mike Doyle, and place names like Makaha, Pipeline, and The Ranch were common ground. Mainly we used hand signs to talk about waves and surfing techniques. I found it fascinating that we could communicate so well and over so long a period of time. The ability to form words with hand and arm signals was pretty impressive. Lefts, curls, green room, overhead, beach break, low tide and mush were easy.

When I think back about my great grandfather, who was born in 1870, his language would have been simple, just English. Words in French, Latin, Italian, and German would have been extremely unusual in his world.  Today we have an overlay of words from every language on the face of the earth in common use. Add to that the language associated with all the sciences which have developed in the last 150 years. Band width, megs, transmission speed, cloud, and storage would have had very different meanings to my great grandfather.

When I was doing some food and beverage cost analysis at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, I found myself behind the serving line at the company cafeteria. The servers had cooked the food and were now dishing it up. They fed hungry hotel workers about 1,200 meals a day so it was quite an operation. As the workers came through the line, which I had been one of just the day before, they said things like, “What’s that?” “That doesn’t look good.” I don’t want any of that.” I looked at Edith, the server next to me, and asked her if it was always like this. She said it was. If I had only known.

We all understand how social media and jet travel have created a common language that transcends nations, races, and people groups. A smile transmits happiness, and others pick it up. How many times have we seen the exponential multiplication of laughter? In this mask age, I find myself trying to smile with my eyes. It is a challenge, but it can be done.

I was in a grocery store once, and the man in front of me used two words to brighten the day of the clerk. In a dead monotone she asked, “How are you?” He looked her in the eye and with a lilt in his voice said, “I’m happy.” Her head jerked back nearly two inches. It was all roses and beauty for the next two minutes. It was easy to see he had changed her outlook. Like our time with the Japanese surfers and in the clerk’s encounter with the man at checkout, if you just try, you may be amazed at the reaction from people around you. Just love them.

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