“Cor blimey, Basil – this coffee smells like shit.”

“It is shit, Austin.”

Austin Powers and Basil

(The Spy Who Shagged Me)

Admittedly, I am scraping fairly close to the bottom of the barrel here … but this quote is funny. (If you haven’t seen the movie, you probably won’t get it … but at the risk of a spoiler, Austin Powers goes on to drink said ‘coffee’, commenting afterwards on its nutty flavour.)

The first thing Mike Myers (Austin Powers) does is tickle my ‘literal’ funny bone.

As a teacher of young children and EAL/D students, and as a parent of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, I am constantly reminded that there is so much we say that has a totally different ‘literal meaning’.

Take the quote above as an example. How often have you said, or heard someone say, that something foul tasting ‘tastes like shit’. We know it is not actually faecal matter, but we can all infer that food described in this way tastes pretty awful.

However, if you are with a person whose first language is not English, or a person who processes everything literally, you may find that they recoil with more disgust than normal.

Try googling ‘literal sayings’, the list goes on forever: chip on his shoulder, put your foot in your mouth, pull your socks up, break a leg, it’s raining cats and dogs, I had a long day …

When I was in Japan, speaking English to my Japanese students, I had to be careful not to use the Australian expression, ‘How are you going?’ (meaning ‘how are you?’) because, inevitably, they would answer by naming the mode of transport by which they had travelled that day, e.g. by bicycle, by bus.

So – to have Austin Powers say that the coffee smells like poo, when it actually IS poo … that’s funny.

The other reason I like this scene from the movie is because I am a coffee drinker … but I am still yet to decide, after over 20 years of drinking the stuff, if I actually like it. I do not drink espresso, don’t particularly care for filtered coffee and tend to prefer my beverage with lots of milk (i.e. a latte) or flavourings.

My first cup of coffee was consumed in the staff tea room at the Just Rite corner shop where I worked when I was 16. There was a massive tin of International Roast on the counter. For lack of anything better to do, I made a cup of coffee, tried it, then added two teaspoons of sugar. It was drinkable and killed time.

These days I drink it (sans sugar) for many reasons, none of which involve me liking it: because it’s there, to be sociable, because I don’t like tea, and to have something to do while I’m writing blog posts. It’s a habit and an addiction.

My husband, who does not drink coffee, tea or alcohol, has been known to say that coffee ‘tastes like shit’.

As I drain the last dregs of my now tepid coffee from the cup, I would have to agree. It is shit.

Image courtesy of namakuki at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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