Last week I was riding in a taxi when I heard the driver say, "Zoommbie, zoommbie."
Confused, I began thinking about possible context. Is he starting a conversation with me about zombies? Is a street vendor selling zombie paraphernalia? Is there a hoard of zombies heading this way?
All of the possible contexts were improbable, so I ignored the moment until he turned up the volume on the radio. Then I heard the Cranberries singing:
But you see, it's not me, it's not my family.
In your head, in your head they are fighting,
With their tanks and their bombs,
And their bombs and their guns.
In your head, in your head, they are crying...
In your head, in your head,
Zombie, zombie, zombie,
Hey, hey, hey. What's in your head,
In your head,
Zombie, zombie, zombie?
Hey, hey, hey, hey, oh, dou, dou, dou, dou, dou...
Before this moment, I had never really listened to the lyrics of the song because quite frankly I find the "in your head, in your he-ehe-e-ad" part to be annoying. As I listened, I was surprised to find the lyrics of the song to be making references to war and its destruction. Then I thought, "What does this taxi driver think this song is about? A zombie attack? That couldn't be further from the truth."
It was a moment when I realized the importance of language in context. For this taxi driver, the only word he knew was "zombie" but that's barely the main importance of the song. I've had my fair share of language mishaps by understanding only a few words and not the context. Like when I heard Alvaro's family talking about church attendance in Spain and someone said, "yes, there are only four cats in there." Then I asked, "Four cats? Why are we talking about cats? I thought we were talking about people in church, right?"
Turns out "four cats" is a phrase for "not very many people". Oh yes, context is everything.