A single mosquito turns a man into a eunuch.

Sometimes, when I’m listening to other’s conversations, which I do quite frequently because I love to use people’s unique expressions or cadence in my writing, I hear something that really makes me stop and think.

This often happens when I’m lucky enough to be sitting close to people of other cultures who either speak English perfectly or who speak it well enough to get their point across. I also love when they intersperse their English with wonderful words or sayings from their own cultures.

I grew up with a grandmother who used Yiddish as a way to really explain what she wanted to say because, in her mind, the word was more expressive than the English term she knew. She grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home but spoke English during school and throughout adulthood. The cultural words she used were branded into my psyche as well, and if I can’t come up with the right term for something, especially around friends who also had Yiddish-speaking grandparents or parents, I’ll find myself using the Yiddish term. More often than not, the person I’m trying to explain something to will have a “lightbulb” moment and go, “Oh! Of course!”

For example, sometimes saying, “He’s a great guy,” just doesn’t cut it. But, to certain friends, and to me anyway, “What a mensch” tells an entire story all on its own. The word conveys that you’re speaking about a person of integrity and honor and that the person is someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.

My German-speaking grandfather once admonished me by saying, “Don’t be a schadenfreude.” I know I had a blank look because he thought a moment and then explained, “It literally means ‘shadow joy.’ Don’t take joy from someone else’s misfortune.” Shadow Joy. How wonderfully descriptive is that?

What got me onto this topic was a recent chance overheard conversation where one man said to another, “A single mosquito turns a man into a eunuch.” Since I absolutely couldn’t fathom what the heck that meant, I leaned across the gap between our tables, confessed to eavesdropping, and asked if he would explain to me what that meant.

Both men laughed, and the one explained that in their culture, eunuchs are social outcasts, but their blessings and curses are powerful things. People ask for their blessings and will pay for them. When a eunuch wants money in return for giving a blessing, he spreads his fingers and claps his hand. Therefore, when a mosquito flies in a man’s face, and that man claps to kill it, he is acting like a Eunuch. Apparently, there is a deeper meaning to the saying, but I’d have to do some research to be able to fully understand it.

But…

When your characters explain things to other people, invent a backstory that allows them to use interesting and descriptive colloquialisms. I’m going to use those two men as a fun aside in my latest Alex Wolfe mystery and give their explanation as to what that phrase means. It won’t be a huge part of the book, but it will add a little je ne se quoi to the overall understanding of the Alex Wolfe character. Have fun with your writing, and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box whenever you possibly can. Readers enjoy little surprises, and I always try to accommodate them. If you don’t already, give it a try.