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Playing Football with the English Language: “Rubber”

SA Loguers Ben and Trekker – respectively, an American in SA, and a South African in the US – are kicking the English language around.

Well Ben I wonder if this word has gotten you in as much trouble in South Africa as it has me here in the US. I once had half a math lecture turn round to stare when I asked my friend the perfectly normal question, “Can I borrow your rubber?”

Going into the corner shop down the street in South Africa and asking for a “box of rubbers” might not always get you what you want.

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For anyone in South Africa, a RUBBER is the implement you use to erase a mistake written in pencil – in other words, an ERASER. This all makes perfect sense, as these tools of scholarly pursuit used to be made of rubber, ergo the name.

However, to much of the rest of the world, a RUBBER is a CONDOM – so you can imagine the confusion a girl can cause, by uttering the word, all innocent-like.

However, as more people travel, so do the slang terms they carry with them, and more and more the word “rubber” is being accepted in both its meanings. So the thing to do is to consider your surroundings before asking for one: in the middle of math class, rubber (hopefully) = eraser; in less collegiate surroundings, rubber (most probably) = condom.

But never assume you know the appropriate context with absolute certainty – in fact, rather just carry one of each around just in case you need either!

Back to you Ben!