As a French teacher (when I’m not blogging about St Mark’s!), I adore languages and love learning new words. This week, though, I’ve had to learn about words which were all too familiar to me, but not in the context I was hearing them.

Someone yesterday asked if they had the olives they needed for the plumbing work. Now I’ve been sorting the feeding of the workers out and no one has yet asked me for olives. Why on earth would anyone need olives to do plumbing work?

The plumbing expert in my congregation was gracious and didn’t laugh outloud at my ignorance. Instead, he patiently explained about olives being used in compression fittings to seal joints and showed me what looked like a shiny ring. That’s an olive. H’mm…

Then he started talking about ‘white hawk’. Again, I was baffled. I thought I knew quite a bit about white hawks, (Leucopternis albicollis, a bird of prey breeding in the tropical New World, belonging to the family Accipitridae of the Falconiformes; it is sometimes separated in the Accipitriformes with the other hawks and their relatives.) Again, wrong kind of hawk. Apparently this is the name of a jointing compound used in plumbing.

Apart from clearly revealing my total ignorance of plumbing work, I had a fascinating introduction into new slants on familiar words. This was compounded later on when someone else talked to me about ‘ferrules’ which I heard as ‘feral’ (another weird image, of wild copper pipes rebelling against us, was conjured up by that mistake!) A ferrule, if you’re interested, is a bush, gland, or small length of tube used for making a joint. I was more interested in its etymology, since it means a ‘little bracelet’ and comes from the Latin word ‘viriola’.

All of this again underlines to me the importance of good communication. We can use familiar words and mean something completely different by them to what is understood by the listener. It’s a challenge always in communication to ensure that what we mean to communicate is actually what is understood by the listener. That can mean spending time to explain, clarify and go over what we have said rather than assuming everyone else knows what we mean.