Build your vocabulary (Part I)

As a Spanish person living in the UK, learning new vocabulary is something that I do actively, passively and unconsciously. There is no way that someone can come to live to a different country knowing all the words in the dictionary, or even all the meanings of all the words in the dictionary. There are words that enter your world one day and they don’t ever leave you. Ever. Because of the context, you instinctively know the meaning, when to use it and all that. You absorb them and then, one day, you start using them as if you had always known them.

I don’t intend to talk about how to build your English vocabulary as a foreign learner. No. Please go away if that is what you’re looking for and Mr. Google played a dirty trick on you. This is meant to be a recollection of anecdotes, of those moments when I consciously remember learning a new word.

Today’s new word is: Rubbernecking.

Background: I was never ever interested in cars or driving before I came to live in the UK. Like I’ve already told many times before, I never needed to drive back in Spain. I didn’t want to. My hatred for cars and driving stayed intact for many many years.

Then I moved to the UK where you MUST have a car if you really want to have a life (unless you live in London, where it works the other way round: having a car there is suicidal). Due to the horizontal construction nature of the UK, everything is miles away from anything else. If you happen to live in a new building state like mine, then you have to drive even to get a pint of milk from the nearest shop. So I had to learn to drive and get a car.

I passed my practical driving test on the third go. The first two fails were quite unlucky, really. But I don’t want to put salt in the still-open wound and will leave that subject alone. The thing is that little by little I became more and more confident at driving.

All of this also brought new vocabulary to my life. Now I HAD TO KNOW about Slip lanes, pelican crossings, hard shoulders, etc, and parts of the car that I didn’t (and don’t) even know in Spanish, like exhaust, spoiler, alloys, etc.

But it was the words more related to the act of driving (and driving carelessly) that I learnt faster. Two words come to mind:

Tailgating and Rubbernecking. I will focus on Rubbernecking today.

The Oxford Online Dictionary only has one entry for the word. The Merriam-Webster has got two.

1 : to look about, stare, or listen with exaggerated curiosity
2 : to go on a tour : sightsee

If you look it up on, the meaning they give you does not completely convey the full meaning of the word: “fisgonear, estirar el cuello para curiosear” – they forget to mention the traffic jams it causes!

So, yes, as you can imagine I was stuck in traffic today. The worst traffic jam I have ever had to endure. Two hours and something, stop-starting, with pains on my clutch foot, without any air conditioning in the hottest day of the year so far. And what was the cause of such insufferable holdup? An accident.

I do understand that accidents cause delays. First you have to recover from the shock of having had “a bump” with another car, probably when you both were doing 80mph and the chaos that this must cause has to be B-I-G. Then, wait for the police, wait for the ambulance, the highway maintenance, the firemen, the helicopters… Eventually the road clears, but this doesn’t mean that the cars can go and build up their speed back to the normal 60-70mph. No. All the cars that have accumulated for the last hour in the traffic jam now decide that they also have the right to drive slowly past the accident site to have a good look at those other people misfortune. This, ladies and gentleman, is the most accurate definition of rubbernecking that you’ll ever get.

However, the whole episode gets even more annoying when come your turn to rubberneck, there isn’t an accident scene no more! It was cleared half an hour ago! No bumped cars. No police. No ambulance. Not even debris on the road. If I have had to endure two hours of traffic jam due to an accident, I WANT to see that accident!


(P.S. I didn’t learn this word today. I’ve known it for a while. Today, however, was the last drop!)

4 thoughts on “Build your vocabulary (Part I)”

  1. Then I moved to the UK where you MUST have a car if you really want to have a life (unless you live in London, where it works the other way round: having a car there is suicidal).

    My experience couldn’t be more different. You only need a car in England if you’re going to live in a rural area AND your place of work is in a rural area and kind of isolate, too, which I understand must be your case. Every town or village, however small, has some connection with the villages around, and every industrial park I have known has some kind of public transportation available for commuters. Having lived in Birmingham and Cambridge and knowing many of the towns in the outer commuting rings of London/Birmingham, my take is completely different: you really don’t need a car in the UK.

    Okay, the nearest supermarket in my Hampshire summers was two miles off, and the nearest one in Cambridge just above one mile, which would be unthinkable in Spain, but it was more than walkable. BF had an 8 mile commute to work and he cycled. We lived some 5 miles from the city, and we either used the bike or the expensive but adequate public transportation. Commuting to the Science Parks or surrounding industrial parks (5-25 miles from Cambridge) was never a big deal. Some of my friends in Cambridge actually owned a car and complained that it was the only way to move around, when they either had way less than 10 miles to commute or a bus stop five minutes from their home.

  2. xD sorry about the looong and offtopic comment, María. Living now in a place where driving is one of the basics of life, it really gets on my nerve to hear my dear Brits whining about needing a car.

    I learned the word ‘rubbernecking’ through German and can’t think of any one-word equivalent in Spanish. As you say, you hear some words and they stay forever with you, but when you need to put that British reality you have in mind into Spanish words you fail miserably – you just never needed those words in Spanish!

  3. Mortiziia, that’s the beauty of this country: that nobody lives the same experience as everybody else! As you have guessed, I have always lived in rural areas (I detest cities) where transport communications aren’t as good as in more built up areas. Yes, the truth is that I could have had a bike in my first house to go to work, as it could have been easily done, however, the car was necessary for everything else! Now, that I am in Basingstoke we have looked at the possibility of commuting to work via the train. However, it is both more expensive and it takes longer, so I don’t see the point 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *