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Talk the Talk:
English Speech Is Within Your Reach

This week: Shop Talk
by Victor Greeson

Shopping happens - you may not want to shop 'til you drop, but you will probably need to buy something, someday. And then? Off to the mall! And now that the holiday shopping season is upon us, it's not just shopaholics who feel the call of the mall. But when you go, go with some new vocabulary - and your plastic!

If any word or phrase is unfamiliar to you, just click it.

Marc and Damien are power shopping at the mall. They have stopped in a tragically hip boutique, where they start talking trash with the clerk, Heather.

Marc: Hey - isn't that Heather?
Damien: It sure is! (to Heather) Hey, girl, what'cha doin'? Working hard?
Heather: Hardly workin'. Whadda you guys doing here?
Damien: Oh, people-watching... whatever. After all, there's only 26 shopping days 'til X-mas. But, I do need to return this shirt for a refund. I'm maxed out. Plus, it's kinda tacky. Could I exchange it for something cheap but fabulous?

Shop 'til you drop is a cute, commonly-used expression meaning, simply, to shop a lot, as is power shopping.

Although the word mall can refer to any large pedestian area, it almost always refers to a shopping mall. The only other time that the word is commonly used is to refer to the pedestrian mall in Washington, D.C. (the capitol) where there are many historic and touristy places surrounding a central, paved area. But, whether they are open-air or enclosed, shopping malls are special.

Since many gifts are bought around the winter holidays, this is often known as the Christmas (or holiday) shopping season, a usage similar to hunting season - the time when it is legal to hunt. The amount of time available before Christmas for shopping is often counted down, and retailers will often point out that there are, e.g., ten shopping days until Christmas. The hours that a store is open are its shopping hours.

A shopaholic is somone addicted to shopping (compare this to "alcoholic" for someone addicted to alcohol). This is usually a joke.

Your plastic is your credit card or cards. Often, the word "credit" is left off, and your card is understood to mean "your credit card" - unless it means your business card. Put it on my card means "charge it to my credit card". If your plastic is maxed out, that means you are at or beyond the credit limit on your card.

Someone who arrives somewhere casually, without planning to, has dropped in, dropped by, or stopped in.

Tragically hip and fabulous are humorous ways of saying that something is fashionable or cool.

Talking trash generally means talking in a frivolous way, such as gossiping.

A clerk can be many things - the word can refer to hard-working, but poorly-paid office workers; to people who work at public-service points like the desks of hotels, banks, and libraries; and, as in this week's story, to the (again, poorly-paid) workers who serve the public in retail stores.

One of the hardest things to get used to is the frequent use in the spoken language of shorter forms of words - especially when these contractions are "incorrect". Textbooks generally don't cover this topic, but in almost any casual conversation, many words will be shortened in sound. Endings are often dropped or changed. The ending "-er" may be said as "-a", as in watta for "water". "Of" may be said as "-a" also, as in kinda for "kind of". The ending "-ing" will often be said as "-in'", as in doin' for "doing", and workin' for "working". Sometimes, "to" will be added to the ending of the word beore it as "-a", as in gonna (pronounced GUN-uh) for "going to", which also shows how much of the word "going" gets "left out" of the shortened version. "You" often ends up as "-ja", "-ya", or part of "-cha". Maybe a few examples will make the pattern clearer: What'cha doin'? is short for "What are you doing?" Don'cha know? is short for "Don't you know?" Wassamatta wit'cha? is short for "What's the matter with you?" Where'd'ja go? is short for "Where did you go?" Wadda is short for "what are". "Until" is often shortened to 'til.

X-mas is a casual abbreviation for "Christmas", from the fact that the letter X has often been used to refer to Christ, or to the sign of the cross. Some conservative Christians may find it disrespecful, and some sarcastic agnostics have suggested that in this case "X" is a variable, referring to an unknown quantity.

If you have bought something, or got it as a gift, and for some reason do not want it (maybe you have discovered that it was sold damaged), you may return it to the store for cash. The money that you get back is a refund. If you choose to give it back to the store, but take other merchandise instead of cash, you have made an exchange, or exchanged your gift. Careful! The lines to do this are very long after Christmas. If a manufacturer offers a cash incentive to buy something, the money they offer is a rebate. If you have been given a gift certificate, which is a piece of paper that allows you to buy items from a store as if you were using cash, then to use your gift certificate is to redeem it. This way of speaking may also be used for coupons and other pieces of paper that have a cash value.

The word cheap can refer to the price or quality of something - it may mean that a product is inexpensive (for example, "I know a place where we can get a good, cheap meal.") or that the product is bad ("These cheap digital watches are always falling apart!"). A person who doesn't like to spend their money is also called cheap, or a cheapskate. Shoddy goods are also products of low quality, and if they are tacky, or in poor taste, that means that they are ugly in a particular way - ugly in a way that shows the poor perception (or bad taste) of the person who owns or wears them.

Do you still have unanswered questions about this topic -- or about anything else? Is there something that you would like to see an article about? Do you have advice, ideas, or experiences you would like to share with other international students? Let us know -- send us a message at: CityHall@istudentcity.com

This week: Idioms and Imagery
Back Issues
Table Talk

Shop Talk

Talk Turkey

Talk The Vote


Spanish Roots: Why American English Is American (II)

Talking College

Native Roots: Why American English Is American (I)

"Here in my car, I feel safest of all."

Life in 'Hell'

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