With Christmas being eight months away, it was quiet in the mailroom. As a handful of elves worked on sorting the mail, Babble was busy translating some of the letters at his desk.
“Good morning,” I said as I walked up to his desk.
“What a nice surprise to see you Santa,” Babble replied as he looked up from his work.
“You do not have many letters to translate today,” I stated, seating myself in front of his desk.
“Definitely not like it is during the season. We should have today’s stack to you before your mid-morning snack,” Babble responded with a huge smile.
Nodding with pride, I marveled at Babble’s skills. After learning 80 languages, he made quick work of translating letters. “I often wish,” I said shaking my head, “that I could speak and write more languages.”
“Why? If you did, I might soon be out of a job,” Babble responded grinning. “Besides there are 196 countries and 7,117 different spoken language, yet that number is steadily decreasing.”
“That’s amazing! Which one is the hardest to translate?” I wondered aloud.
“English,” Babble said leaning forward and placing his arms on his desk.
Surprised by his answer, I twisted my head a bit and repeated, “English? As a universal language, wouldn’t it be the easiest?”
“You might think that, but since it is spoken by so many people from different countries, some words have various meanings not only from country to country, but also within the same country.”
When I scratched my head, Babble could see I was confused and pointed to my chest. “You are wearing a good example.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your braces, of course.”
“My braces? I have never had to wear braces on my teeth, and if I did, they certainly would not be on my chest!” I exclaimed laughing.
Chuckling, Babble explained, “In the US you would be right. Suspenders are holding up your pants, but in Great Britain they are called braces.”
“Imagine that,” I replied. “Never thought much about changes in language.”
Shuffling a few papers on his desk, Babble held up a letter from a child in England. “Here is another example. This little girl wrote to ask about your favorite biscuit.”
“I know this one!” I bellowed. “In England a biscuit is a cookie, while in America they are small, soft bread usually eaten with breakfast.”
After controlling his giggling, Babble responded, “I shouldn’t be surprised that you would understand words that have to do with cookies.”
“Since that is my favorite food group,” I chuckled, “you’re right!”
Walking over to join us, Carter, manager of the mailroom, said, “I overheard your conversation about cookies and biscuits and started getting hungry. J’eet?”
“WHAT!? Speak English!” I exclaimed throwing my hands in the air.
Grinning, Carter said, “I am.” Placing a hand on my shoulder, he continued, “J’eet is how they say, ‘Did you eat?’ in Oklahoma. Working in the mailroom and translating letters, I’ve read a lot of strange things over time and have learned how English can change.”
Knowing what Carter meant, but still wanting to have fun with me, Babble responded, “Please?”
Carter nodded and answered, “Why certainly!” Then he repeated what he had just said.
Peering at the two elves blankly, I finally said, “OK, I give up. “Babble, why did you respond with ‘Please?’ Were you trying to show kindness to Carter?”
“‘Please’ is an expression people in Cincinnati, Ohio often use when they are not sure what was said, or when responding ‘yes’ to someone,” Babble responded.
“This is all too confusing,” I stated shaking my head.
“You mean you are all Kattywampus?” Carter insisted.
“What Carter means to say, Santa, is that you are discombobulated,” Babble remarked laughing.
Seeing the glazed look on my face, Carter offered an explanation. “’Kattywampus’ is how people in South Dakota say that you’re confused, or as Babble said, ‘discombobulated,’ which is a real word.”
Sighing, I stood up. “I don’t know how mail elves keep up with all the languages and slang.”
Walking toward the door, I heard the elves call my name. When I turned to face them, Carter said, “If you are going outside for a walk don’t forget your coat.”
“It’s brick,” Babble added quickly with a twinkle in his eyes.
“WHAT!?” I exclaimed, again throwing my hands into the air.
“That’s what people from Massachusetts say when it’s very cold,” Babble responded.
Giving them a thumbs up, I added, “Glad I have you to interpret for me,” and headed down the hall.
Lost in thought, I entered the dining room, grabbed some lunch, and began to eat while waiting for Ms. Claus.
“What’s on your mind Snoopy?” Anya asked, as she sat beside me.
Confused by her question, I examined Anya’s face. “Do I remind you of the dog from the ‘Peanuts’ cartoon, or are you trying to tell me that I am nosy?”
“Heavens no Santa!” she exclaimed. “Snoopy is what many people in Pennsylvania call a person who just pushes his food around on his plate instead of eating it.”
“Not you too!” I exclaimed as I put my fork down and leaned back in my chair.
“Whatever are you talking about? Did something happen today that I should know about?”
“I stopped by the mailroom to check on things this morning,” I explained staring at the ceiling. “Babble and Carter shared some words and phrases that made me feel bewildered.”
“Santa, you have so many things that need your attention, I would not expect you to keep up with all the slang words and phrases.”
“But what if a child uses those words when I’m talking with them?”
“Has that ever happened?” Anya wanted to know.
I hooked my thumbs on my suspenders and thought for a moment. “Not yet.”
“So why worry about it. The elves in the mail room, especially Babble, have you covered. No one person can do and be everything.”
“I guess you’re right,” I said sheepishly.
“Over the years,” Anya replied reaching over to squeeze my hand, “you have picked the right elves for every position here at the North Pole. Now you need to trust them to do their jobs, while you concentrate on what you do best: spreading Christmas cheer.”
Notes From Santa
I hope you enjoyed today’s story. I will post another one next Monday. If you have any comments or if there is something you would like me to tell you about, please feel free to leave me a comment. Until next week . . .
Read more about Babble:
Translating Letters For Santa, which was posted on August 19, 2019
Read more about Carter and the Mail Room:
Santa’s Christmas Visits, which was posted on October 21, 2019
Ms. Claus Gets Some Help, which was posted on November 11, 2019
Sensitive Letters, which was posted on November 18, 2019
Scout Elf Shortage, which was posted on February 17, 2020
Lost Fairy Dust, which was posted on May 11, 2020
Santa’s Favorite Elf, which was posted on September 7, 2020
Scout Elf Precautions, which was posted on September 28, 2020