The Ice Box Dilema

22 May

The other day my five-year old told me, “The fridge is like an ice box.”

For a moment I was disoriented, almost dizzy with flooding memories because “ice box” is the term my mother grew up using for “refrigerator”. I looked at my daughter and she must have wondered why I looked as if I was questioning her identity. It was as if, for a moment, she had become my mom, very small and curly-headed, and about 70 years too late.

My mom grew up saying “ice box” because her parents said “ice box”. I suppose they might have even had ice boxes where they grew up in Scotland.

Habits of course, die hard, so Mom, as an adult, said “ice box” which meant that I, in turn, grew up saying “ice box”. I don’t remember all the specifics of the moment I first got a weird look for saying “ice box” but I do remember the confused emotions. Some kid looked at me strangely and questioned my term and I, blushing, corrected myself and said, “refrigerator” and from there on out, I tried hard to use the correct term whenever it came up in youthful conversation, which, thankfully, wasn’t too often.

I didn’t want to stand out for being different at that point in my life.

There was one other time (that I can remember right now, there might have been more) that my peers questioned me about my word choice. Well, really, it was pronunciation in this case.

Like I said, my grandparents came over from Scotland and there, as everywhere in the British Isles, they pronounce “been” to rhyme with “bean”, not “bin”. “Been” pronounced as “bin” is American. (Help me out, Canadian readers – I think you say “been” like “bean” too, yes?)

So, since Mom’s parents said “been/bean”, just like with “ice box”, Mom said it and so did I.

I remember having gym class outside one day when I was somewhere in upper elementary. We were playing baseball and while we waited for our turn to bat, we were chatting. At some point in the conversation I used the word “been” and a classmate questioned my pronunciation.

“Why do you always say ‘bean’ instead of ‘bin’?” this pleasant peer of mine asked.

I remember thinking that I’d never really noticed it before – both pronunciations were right to my ears and, like a person who easily speaks more than one language, both came naturally out of my mouth. Muttering something about Scotland and Mom, I turned away – hoping, for the first time in my life, that I would soon be up to bat so I could get out of this awkward conversation.

But, at the same time, I remember thinking that I liked that I said “been/bean” – I liked that I had a good story to back up my reasoning, and I liked being different.

I was growing up.

Flash forward about 30 years.

My daughter came home from school one day in second grade, hurt and puzzled and frustrated. “Mom, the para (para-professional / teacher’s assistant) told me today that I say ‘been’ wrong. I don’t say it wrong!”

I can’t remember if she was crying, but she was clearly upset.

I took her into my arms and hugged her tight, all the time smiling, all the time commiserating, all the time aching for the days of childhood she has yet to face, the big things and the little things that feel big.

Like being corrected for one’s pronunciation of “been”.

I told her about my experience. And I told her to tell that para, “I pronounce it like they do in Scotland, which is where my great grandparents came from and how they pronounced it, and how my Grandma pronounces it and how Mom pronounces it and it’s how I pronounce it and that’s okay.”

Imagine how dull a truly homogenous society would be?

Though, I admit, I don’t say “ice box” anymore.

But I still say “bean” and I always will.


34 Responses to “The Ice Box Dilema”

  1. Minnesota Prairie Roots May 22, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    Bravo, Gretchen. Good for you to tell your daughter that story behind the pronunciation of “been” and then to tell her to tell her para.

    Just so you do not feel alone, my husband also grew up calling a refrigerator an ice box, a term he still occasionally uses. His ancestors came from Germany and settled in North Dakota.

    So…, do you pronounce aunt? Ant? Now that one does drive me crazy because I do not want to be an “ant.” No, thank you.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell May 22, 2012 at 9:45 am #

      YES! I DO! Sorry! My kids, however, quickly bowed to peer pressure upon entering kindergarten and they all say “aunt”…not “ant”! Never gave it a thought until they came home saying it. 🙂

      I’m pretty certain that my mom still says “ice box” from time to time, too!

  2. lazyhippiemama May 22, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    We go through this in regard to carbonated beverages. For years we lived in Arizona where people drink soda. Now we live in Michigan where people drink pop. My daughter asked if it was wrong to call it pop because the kids at school said it was. We explained that people in different areas use different terms but, in the end, if you are able to get your point across you must be choosing good words. Beyond that it’s all just preference.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell May 22, 2012 at 9:48 am #

      YES! I can relate to the soda/pop dilema, too! It’s sad that her friends told her she was wrong to say it that way. It’s nice to be unique! In the south, of course, they say “coke” for all soda – “what kind of coke would you like?” Makes me laugh. I say “pop” – and I grew up in Washington. But here in Minnesota they say both, though mostly “pop”. It’s funny – makes life interesting! THANKS so much for stopping by and for your comments!

  3. lifelibertyeducation May 22, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    Other parts of the US even pronounce been correctly like you. Perhaps she should point out to the para that two e’s next to each other says E not an i sound. Tell that para to check her phonics! I have lived in Maine, OK, back to Maine, then Texas, over to England and back to Texas. Every location has had words that are pronounced different then other parts and yet it is ok and people understand each other. In fact down south here many people still say ice box as well. Now words with different meaning, those cause problems at times but different pronunciations no so much.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell May 22, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      Yeah, it’s not unually an issue until someone comes along and puts up a silly fuss! It is interesting living in different parts of the country/world and hearing different words and pronunciations, that’s for sure. I’ve lived enough different places, too, that I think I doin’t sound like I fit in exactly anywhere!

      • lifelibertyeducation May 22, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

        I feel the same way about my accent not fitting in. People in the US think I am English or maybe Australian while the people in the UK guess Australian, Canadian and then American, my family in Maine call be the southern cousin and my friend here in TX calls me the damn Yankee. I am just a bit of Heinz 57 I guess.

        • Gretchen O'Donnell May 22, 2012 at 8:52 pm #

          LOL – I had to laugh at that! Heinz 57 is okay, isn’t it?! It’s way more interesting than a bare steak!!

  4. Jenny May 22, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Well I say it both ways! To me “bin” is the lazy way of saying it. And I say fridge. Talk about lazying it down! How about the whole scone thing. How did you leave that one out of your post!? Americans do not say that the right way!!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell May 22, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      Yes, that’s a huge one…which I think I’ve mentioned before but maybe on the other blog. It’s deserving of a post of it’s own! I say “fridge” now, too – so it was very weird when “Boo” said ice box!!!

  5. Marg May 22, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    Am I the only one who says ‘”ben”? My Canadian friend in Cloquet says “bean” and I always liked hearing her say it. I grew up saying “ice box”, which in my mother’s correct grammar language was no longer correct when we got electricity. We changed it to “fridge” – our first refridgerator was a Frigid-aire.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell May 22, 2012 at 10:41 am #

      I forgot about “ben”! Yes, I should have mentioned that. It’s sounding like more people than I realized say “ice box”! That’s cute that your mom made you change when it was no longer an actual ice box! I didn’t know you didn’t have electricity at first when you were young!

  6. Shirley Dykstra May 22, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    Okay Gretchen, but if you are talking about Canadians saying bin or bean, one does
    not say yes, one says aye??? (smile)

    • Gretchen O'Donnell May 22, 2012 at 11:28 am #

      I say that! I grew up with Canadian TV – so it definitely comes out from time to time. 🙂

  7. bitsandbreadcrumbs May 22, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    I think the term “ice box” is charming and kind of retro these days. It makes me think of summer and ice box cookies…and somehow “refrigerator cookies” sound like they might taste like the refrigerator!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell May 22, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

      I agree! “Refrigerator cookies” do not sound tasty! Perhaps I should return to “ice box”…though I’m afraid it would be rather forced and affected…which wouldn’t be good either!

  8. gardenfreshtomatoes May 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    Yes, but have you ever gotten that look for saying something was in the Deep Freeze? 🙂
    That what what my Arkansas Grams called the old chest freezer in her laundry room…
    Always full of Push-Up’s (do they still make those?) and angelfood cakes…
    She said Ice Box, too, by the way.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell May 22, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

      LOL! My husband’s grandmother says “deep freeze” and I had no idea what she was talking about…which makes me think of other things she says and I think i suddenly have an entire post in my mind! THANK YOU! And I love that it was in your Grams’ laundry room! That’s perfect. I loved Yogurt Push-Ups, by the way…and I’m not sure if they do still make them, though if they don’t they’re ought to!

  9. hotlyspiced May 22, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

    Coming from NZ to Australia I’ve always had an accent. I’ve been here over 30 years now and people will hear me talk and say, ‘Are you a Kiwi?’ And if I go to NZ they say, ‘You sound so Australian’. Can’t win. But as you say, variation is better and how dull it would be if we were all the same xx

    • Gretchen O'Donnell May 22, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

      You can’t win, can you? Goodness! It’s weird to feel like you don’t quite fit in, I bet. Since I’ve lived a lot of places and actually grew up with Canadian TV, people get confused by my accent often…which is fine with me!

  10. prairiewisdom May 22, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    What a great support you were for your daughter and how empowering for her too!

  11. Just A Smidgen May 22, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    I love your response! That’s just what a child needs to do to stand up for themselves! How rude of that para.. In Canada we’d say a variety of things and I doubt they’d be mispronounced;) I think I interchange bean and bin.. “I’ve bean there” and “I’ve already bin.” So, what do I know?? You say tomato, I say tomato.. xoxo to your daughter!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell May 22, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

      🙂 “It all comes out in the wash” as they say, eh?!! (Growing up with Canadian TV, I say “eh” fairly often! So yes, I’ve been mistaken for a Canadian, which was fine by me!) It’s funny – there are other things that don’t get me so riled up, but somehow it just feels personal…and important…to hang on to a little of my family history in at least this one thing!

      • Just A Smidgen May 22, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

        And personal to make it seem unacceptable to speak a certain way?? It’s so My Fair Lady-ish..

  12. treadlemusic May 23, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    Such an interesting line of comments!! When DH & I travel (especially New England/East) we are always asked if we are from the Midwest….we speak “that way”. I remember hearing that when TV news personalities are hired they go through a diction ‘training’ that removes regional dialects, inflections, etc. The results is a ‘neutral’ American English that is MIDWESTern!!!! This info was brought out when Tom Brokaw (NBC news personality) was first brought to New York for his national broadcast position. Very Interesting!!!!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell May 23, 2012 at 11:50 am #

      Isn’t that funny? I’ve heard that, too – that they’re sent to Ohio. I can tell you this, they definitely are NOT sent to northern Minnesota, eh?! Don’ cha know.

  13. whatimeant2say May 23, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

    I have moved around a bit, and caught plenty of flack for my “mispronunciations”. That was wrong of the para to make her feel bad about it, and I’m glad you were able to comfort her.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell May 23, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

      You never know what you’ll have to face as a parent, do you? Uff da.

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