The Great Gatsby or just the not-so-great gabby

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Written By Maureen
Thanks to Warner: The Great Gatsby poster

Our Paris-based fashionista Tina Antarakis, manages to get some time off from working for her own business, The Style Bar, and as a talented contributor for The Copy Collective. 

Totally fantastical, yet true to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel – at least in its portrayal of a complicated era (extravagant living in the midst of Prohibition). And don’t get me started on the stunning sets and costumes. The film also left me with an interesting insight into the use of words and language. It struck me each time Leonardo de Caprio, in his wonderfully intense portrayal of Jay Gatsby, utters the words “old sport”. (And if you haven’t seen the movie yet, he says it A LOT).

So what did I see? Well, when spending time in a foreign country as I currently do, you usually want to do your best to blend in with the locals. Part of this process is not only to improve your grasp of the language but to make it sound less textbook, more natural and ‘vernacular’.

To do this, you can start by peppering your speech with commonly used words and phrases. The idea being that you will sound more fluent, demonstrating to native speakers that you have a deeper knowledge of their lingo because you are conversing with them the way they actually speak on a daily basis. But therein lies the danger, of which Gatsby was apparently acutely unaware. For the more he bandied about his quaint old English term of endearment, the more he drew attention to the fact that it sounded like an affectation, something he had learnt rather than come by naturally; and it ended up doing him much more harm than good.And so it is with a foreign language. There you are, standing around at a social gathering, quietly congratulating yourself because you are using argot, or slang – and that could mean the language of a country, a social class, or even an echelon, as in Gatsby’s case. But in reality, your attempts to fit in are only setting you apart.

So my advice? Be careful, and be aware. Take note of to whom you are speaking and the social context. It’s far better to speak slowly and correctly, using a few well-placed – but never vulgar – terms that show you haven’t just learnt in a classroom but at the same time didn’t pick things up on the street.And be aware that the more familiar language you use, the more your comprehension and fluency will be expected to match. Should you fall short, you run the risk of sounding even more foreign than if you had just stuck with the basics and kept your ‘bah ouah’’s and ‘oh putain’’s to yourself.

If not, you could end up like poor old Gatsby: with a catch-phrase whose jarring presence in an otherwise smooth and seemingly well-bred exterior brought attention and ridicule in the worst possible way. In short: not great at all. Tina Antarakis © 2013 The Copy Collective