Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Two nations divided by a common language

While I could never be accused of having Received Pronunciation, I do speak the Queen's English quite proper like, so it's always baffling that as soon as I set foot on US soil, no-one can understand me. I find myself Americanising the tomato  (tom-ay-to) and water (wadder) as well as turning objects like pavements into sidewalks, taxis into cabs and lifts into elevators.

Our US friends have taken quite a few liberties with the language. Goodness knows what happened to aluminium in the translation (aloomin-um). Anonymous and I have a real "thing" about the phrase "I'll be with you monentarily." Aaargh! In a moment!

I read a lot of US fiction by writers like Sue Miller and Anita Shreve. There are many words and phrases which, to start with, I had no idea what they were. These include:
- Jello  (I think it's an equivalent to jam, as opposed to a wobbly jelly?)
- the bleachers
- Sophomores
- Phi Beta Kappa
- Goodwill  (charity shops?)
- the boardwalk
- Ivy League
And then there are phrases which are quite innocuous in the US, like fanny and shag, which have entirely different meanings here. I remember being appalled as a teenager reading Elizabeth Taylor's diet tips where she gave exercises to tighten the fanny. How rude, I thought! But she meant "butt," to use another cute Americanism, or as we would say, bottom, behind or posterior (if we were very posh.)

I'm sure my US readers can reciprocate with words we use which have no meaning to you - any takers?


fojoy said...

It always surprises me when there are differences between American and Canadian words/phrases.
We share a border, so you wouldn't think it would be that different...

Anne @ The Frump Factor said...

Oh dear, I am laughing right now.

Stupidly, I just started creating a glossary explaining the meanings of all these words. Then I realized: duh. You probably Googled them all, already. Forgive me. I teach English as a Second Language here in the U.S., so I love this stuff!

Many of my students have already studied British English, and there are many differences in grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. I don't tell them they are wrong, but I will often explain the differences in American English. Then they ask me: "Which one is more correct?"

I don't touch that one with a 10 foot pole. :)

Maggie May said...

I am always a bit amused by the word *gotten*! (as in *I have gotten*)
Maggie X

Nuts in May

mumof4 said...

We are Brits in USA so I completely understand these being baffling! Despite 15 years over here I still make mistakes (much to my kids' disgust).

For the first 2 years over here, I didn't understand how American cookers/hobs had no grill option - for bacon etc and then realised BROIL means 'grill' over here.

Really had to stop myself shouting 'do you need pink rubbers?' to the kids this morning as we shopped for their school supplies. At ages 13, 10, 7 and 9 I don't think pink condoms are on their lists for a while (plus it's a Catholic school).
Lovely blog btw - came over here from Caroline (what's happening at my house)...

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