Umbrella language: master it or forever be ...
January 3, 1990
by JOAN LYONS
While body language and com-
computer that sits atop my
desk: indicates marriage:
puter language vie for the surely and I’m being told in writer's semi-
“To punch your umbrella into a
soon-to-be-awarded title of “Lang-
nars that to be a successful inter- person and then open it means ‘I
uage of the ‘80s,” I find myself viewer, I need to understand body dislike you.’
pining for the days when I thought language. Will it never stop?
“To swing your umbrella over
the only lanquage I ever needed to
You can imagine my chagrin the your shoulder signifies ‘I am mak-
master was the English language.
other day, when researching in the ing a nuisance of myself.’
Of course, that was long, long January 17, 1907, edition of the
“To trail your umbrella along the
ago, when I was a naive little girl, Zionsville Times. There was the footpath means the man behind you
just starting out in school. It wasn’t headline, in boldfaced type, “The is thirsting for your blood.
too long before my friends were Umbrella Language.”
“To carry it at right angles over
conversing in Pig Latin and, of
Now that was the last straw. I your arm signifies that an eye is to
course, I didn’t want to be eft-lay
had always considered umbrellas to be injured by the man who follows
out-yay.
be nice, serviceable pieces of equip- you. This is generally a woman’s
When it came time to study a ment that would keep the rain off. If way of carrying her umbrella.
foreign language in high school, I I persisted beyond the intimidating
“To open an umbrella quickly, it
had no choice - Latin. Veni, vidi,
headline, would I learn that all these is said, will frighten a mad bull.
vici.
years I had been baring my soul
“To put an alpaca umbrella by
And the more I learned about each time I handled my umbrella?
the side of a silk one signifies
languages, the more I realized there
Well, I’ve been thinking it over, ‘Exchange is no robbery.’
was vastly more I didn’t know.
and now that I know it exists, I
“To purchase an umbrella indi-
Just about that time, probably in have to learn what I have been say- cates, “I am not smart, but honest.’
my early teens, I became award that ing in umbrella language. Won’t
“To lend an umbrella indicates ‘I
there were many “languages” that
you join me for moral support?
am a fool.’
you didn’t speak with your tongue.
Here are the words of the un-
“To return an umbrella means -
I won’t go into all the subtleties, known linguist of long ago:
well never mind what it means;
but suffice it to say that I learned
"There is a language of umbrellas nobody ever does.
there was a language of flowers and as of flowers. For instance, place
‘“To carry an umbrella in a case
a language of fans. Actually, there your umbrella in a rack, and it will signifies it is a shabby one.
was no point in learning to “speak”
often indicate that it will change
“To press an umbrella on your
with a fan. That was a flirtation that owners.
friend saying, ‘0, do take it; I would
was pretty much passe, but it
“To open it quickly in the street
much rather you would than not,’
seemed romantic to learn the mes- means that somebody’s eye is going signifies lying.
sages conveyed by flowers.
to be in danger.
‘“To give a friend half an um-
What I didn’t realize at the time,
“To shut it quickly signifies that brella means the both of you will
though, was that all the girls might a hat or two will probably be get wet.
know what a particular flower was knocked off.
“To carry it from home in the
supposed to mean, but hardly any of
morning means, ‘It will very likely
“An umbrella carried over a
the guys did. So much for commun-
be a fine day.’
woman, the man getting nothing
ication.
For me, that translates to: I def-
but the dripping of the rain, signi-
nitely am married, I am not smart,
Today I’m still confronted by fies courtship.
but honest; and, at least in recent
languages to learn. I'm struggling
“When a man has the umbrella,
times, I am no fool.
to communicate properly with the
and the woman the drippings, it
What do you say?