‘Leave your child wagon here’ I read in the hallway at the parent-child-center. Child wagon? Yes, the Dutch word was the same word, literally, child and wagon so I knew there could only be one meaning: ‘pram’ or if you don’t like British English: ‘buggy’ or ‘stroller’. There are lots of words available depending on taste and whether the child lies down or sits, but ‘child wagon’ is not one of them as far as I know. I even saw that ‘baby wagon’ is a word. It looks strange to me, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be right. ‘Child wagon’ may sound just as unusual, but it is not strange, it is simply not a word!
But why not put pram? I suspect because it looks strange to whoever wrote the message. She probably thought that non-Dutch speakers wouldn’t know the word pram either. It looks too fancy and difficult to use in such a case Especially when because she might have seen what the complete word is: ‘perambulator’. Wow, that’s really strange for such a basic, every day thing!
Don’t forget that Dutch people take their saying: ‘act normal and you behave strange enough’ (this is a very literal and therefore bad translation) very seriously and they apply it to their choice of words too. Even though ‘perambulator’ is no longer used much and has become a nice and short word, ‘pram’ is still sufficiently ‘strange’ to choose when you are told to quickly write a practical message in English.
A lot of students I worked with have that same allergy. They very often think a word that is formal, that doesn’t sound or look at all like anything they recognise, is best avoided. They are so allergic to these words that they simply don’t believe me when I say the word is very common in English and not at all reserved for VIPs. I must be some kind of freak with my enthusiasm for it and my optimistic statements such as, “write it down! You should remember it!”. Best ignore that woman and her strange words.
And that’s how Dutch people end up behaving a bit out of the ordinary sometimes. They would rather put a child in a far too big, unhandy wagon (which would probably not even fit through the door of the parent-child-center (and where are you supposed to leave your horse?! The sign doesn’t mention horses.)) than appear snobbish and use such basic and much more practical things as prams.
I know there are books about funny mistakes Dutch people make when speaking or writing English. I promis this blog will be a little different and I won't steal any stories from others. I would, however, like contributions from others and hope to have a bit of fun discussing what we have 'leathered'.