Woody and I have a young man living with us whose native language is not English. Suffice it to say (I love the alliteration of that phrase), we get frequent opportunities to talk about English.
And so it was that I found myself explaining what I meant by an “errand” the other morning. We had errands to run, I’d told him. Then, seeing his expression, “Do you know what an errand is?”
Yes, it does sound like it could be a track and field event. It was a totally new word.
Errands, I found myself saying, are places we go, away from the house. But that wasn’t enough. There are lots of places we go, away from the house that are not considered errands. Running out to visit a friend is not an errand, it’s a visit. I remember them fondly.
Errands are brief stops, and we accomplish something. A task is involved. Errands take us to places we have to go: the dry cleaners (well, back in the day when people actually had clothes that had to be dry cleaned), the food store, the hardware store. The bank. The post office.
Errands aren’t chores, which by definition are supposed to be unpleasant. “It was such a chore,” was never said about anything enjoyable.
Errands can be fun. Stopping by the farmer’s market on a warm summer Saturday morning comes quickly to mind. It’s an errand — I have to buy food. And it’s one I truly enjoy and look forward to, especially in the days when I could bring Sasha. I’m eager to get Jackson on a lead, meeting new people, new dogs, new smells. I can buy my fresh, local produce and get Jackson some socialization time. Hopefully this summer. Maybe. If we accomplish more than the initial task, is it still an errand?
What a mixed bag English is. Damn all those invaders over the centuries; the Anglo-Saxons, the Romans, and the Vikings, all left their mark, including their language, on the tongue we now claim as our own (plus the more recent influence of French, Spanish, and Italian). And aren’t we native English speakers grateful we could learn it from birth? I certainly am.
How about you? How might you assess your native tongue? OR, how might you define an errand? And, please don’t look it up; I didn’t this time.