The Two and Eights part Two*

So I've neglected this blog for a while. I apologise to my legion of fans. (Can two people be a legion, by the way?)

I'm not talking about place this time, but language. I've been in the US now for twelve and a half years or so, but still from time to time walk face first into the language barrier.

Here is the latest incident that reminded me of that.

I was crossing the road when I was nearly run over by a car which had decided to use the same bit of road, after turning the corner without giving any clue that he was about to do so.He remarked that I should look where I was fornicating going. I advised the driver to use his fornicating indicator. He asked what the intercourse is a fornicating indicator? I politely informed him that it's the little light that goes blinky-fornicating-blink and tells people where your car is going. I added his name, which I had guessed was "Numb-nuts". I think he was grateful for the lesson because as he drove off at high speed, he gave me a cheery wave. He could only spare one finger though since he was texting and smoking a cigarette at the same time. I would have pointed out that he was going far too fast, but he was too far away by then.

I discover that this is a case where there are regional, not just national, differences. Most Americans had never heard the blinky-fornicating-blinky thing called an "indicator", but on enquiring I found that in some places it's called a "signal light" or just a "signal", in others it's a "turn light", or a "blinker", or a "flasher",

There are a number of ways that the language can trip up the unwary.

Simplest is where we both have the same word, but pronounce it differently - I pronounce "garage" as if it rhymes with "Carriage" and "marriage", for instance - in the US the second "a" is pronounced as the a in "Bart", not the "a" in "brat". At a party once, we amused the locals by asking if they knew how to play "Charades". We were mercilessly mocked for several minutes as they said "No, I never heard of Shah- rahds". They, of course, pronounced it Shah-raids.

Then there's the things that just have a different name. A cash machine is an ATM, spring onions are scallions, rocket is arugula, a clothes horse is a drying rack, the boot of a car is the trunk, nappies are diapers and so forth.

Having become a grandparent three and a half years ago, I was baffled by a number of things - I was completely at a loss when the Mother told me "the pacifier is in the bassinet". She meant that the dummy was in the cot.

There are words here too which I never encountered before. I knew that kids started school in the "First Grade", rather than the "First Year", that's simple enough - but then when they get to 11 years old (and again if and when they go on to college/University) the years have pointless names- Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior. Just as confusing is that when an American asks where you went to school, they mean college or university, not where you were educated up to the age of 18.

Some other Americanisms which I never encountered before getting here are "maven", "docent", "recuse", and "sorority".

When we were first house-hunting here, we were baffled by the term half-bathroom. It means "toilet", specifically a room with a toilet but no bath. Although if there's a toilet and a shower but no bath, it still counts as a "full bathroom" despite the lack of a bath.

But the most confusing thing is when the two nations have the same word but use it to mean different things.

The two best-known examples are "pants" and "fag". "Pants" in the UK are underwear, in the US they're outerwear. I remember an episode of the cartoon Superman series where Lois Lane's remark was far ruder to Brit ears than US ones - there was an incident where the back of her dress was momentarily lifted by a blast, giving the guys behind her an eyeful (of course, the TV viewer never saw anything untoward). Lois remarked "I shoulda worn pants". She meant of course that then her underwear wouldn't have been exposed. But to Brit ears, it sound as if she was wearing no underwear, giving those guys a rather ruder view than that.

I went to sit at on a barstool a few months after we'd moved to New Jersey, and was informed that it was occupied, the guy had just gone outside for a cigarette. It was bitterly cold, as it often is in NJ, and I said something like "He must have needed a fag very badly!". You could have heard a pin drop.

Of course, "fag" here is short for "faggot", which for some reason is a derogatory term for a gay man. In the UK, a fag is a cigarette, and a faggot is either a sort of meatball or a bundle of sticks.

In the UK when you finish your meal, you can pay the bill with a cheque.

In the US you can pay the check with a bill.

A crumble is a crisp, a crisp is a chip, and a chip is a fry.

American drivers must be confused in the Uk when they see a road sign "No pavement for 100 metres". To Americans the pavement is the name for the road surface. The footpath beside it is the "sidewalk".

Food -related words are a minefield of such things. The grill is the "broiler", the cooker is the "range", and endlessly on. I remember reading as a teen a scene in an American novel where the guy "mopped up is gravy with a biscuit". It just made me think that Americans had peculiar habits. Of course I had no idea that the gravy and the biscuit were both something other than I was imagining. "It's gravy, Jim, but not as we know it".

Soup to me is a liquid. It may have bits in, even quite a lot of bits, but it is mainly liquid. That sort of thing is called "soup" here too, but it can also mean a dish of meat , fish, or vegetables, with a little broth poured over it. And if you get some stuffing with your chicken or turkey, well, let's just say it doesn't look like stuffing to me.

I was puzzled by a joke of mine that always fell flat when I did my stand-up until I discovered that the word "pong" in the US has nothing to do with unpleasant smells. Another I had to amend to say that two people were arguing, rather than "having a row". One person did inform me that they knew what a "row" was, because they'd seen Harry Potter.

My favourite Americanism is the name for nappy-rash cream - "Butt paste".

My least favourite thing is the way that "Notre Dame" is pronounced Notar Daym, as if it wasn't French but "herbs" is pronounced 'erbs as if it was. It's annoyingly inconsistent.

* I still haven't been able to determine why "Two and Eight" is rhyming slang for "State".

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