Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Back in April, I wrote a blog titled The English Language in which I pointed out that America and Britain are two nations divided by a common language.  This has been posted as a quote from several different distinguished men, however, nowadays is more or less used as a paraphrase to state the obvious.  It really doesn't matter if you use Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw or Winston Churchill as the person inventing the quote. The saying is still as true as ever. That particular blog ended with a promise of a future blog on the same subject, basically because there are so many more differences in our not so common language.  Trust me, as I live it every day and it helps to put a smile on my face and love in my heart, more and more.

Being married to a Brit, I can assure you that it is only technically that we speak the same language.  Sometimes, I just want to say, "What the hell are the British speaking?"  Especially when they are talking to one another or we have the 'telly' on with British broadcasters.  They may as well be speaking Spanish, where I can at least pick out a word here and there, yet somehow miss the point of what is being spoken. 

Let's delve into the British language and what we as Americans hear.  First off, there are little phrases that are easily misunderstood with their translations:

I'm not being funny but  =  this is a way that a Brit softens the complaint or insult he is about to throw your way

I've got the hump  =  I'm mildly annoyed

The dog's bollocks  =  this is an absolute insult and rather rude

I hear what you are saying  =  I couldn't disagree with you more

With the greatest respect  =  You're an idiot

That's a brave proposal  =  You are insane

It's a bit wet out there  =  a monsoon is taking place outside

You caught the sun  =  You are sunburned

Chuffed to bits  =  I am very pleased with what's happened

Then there are just words used that could easily be misunderstood or simply get a, "What did you say?  or  What does that mean?"

numpty  =  stupid
twit  =  fool
shag  =  rude term for fornicating (made popular by Austin Powers)
wonkers  =  unsteady
queue  =  line
row  =  argument
fancy  =  like
holiday  =  vacation
mate  =  your friend who is of the same sex(nothing to do with gay)
mobile  =  cell phone
popover  =  visit
sussed out  =  figured out
knickers  =  panties
ring you up  =  call you on the phone

Truly, the list goes on and on.  Sometimes, I can figure out what the word means simply by the context.  Then there are times that I haven't a clue or must either make a wild guess or come right out and ask.  In my opinion, I think the British get a kick out of an American having to ask what the "proper English" word or phrase means.  

Whenever traveling in England in a car, many times I just close my eyes.  Just having everything on the wrong side of the road blows my mind (and this includes trying to cross a busy street because we are used to looking left before crossing  -  this does NOT work in England).  Have you ever experienced a traffic term called a roundabout?  Cars are coming at you from every direction, yet somehow there is some unspoken law of order on who goes first, who has the right away and it all works out one way or another.  

Staying with the differences of America and Britain, the famous black taxicabs of London will give your blood pressure a rise. They are way over the top of even New York cabbies, although to me, both keep talking and I am not understanding a word that they say. An experience that I shall never forget, and would need a glass or two of wine to try it again.  Let's just walk.  

When out of the big city one time, a friend talked me into trying to drive a British car on the British roads.  Hardly any traffic he said. You will go back to America and regret never having tried this, he said.  It is just just reversing the side you drive on, he said.  So then...he talked me into it.  I am sure that he wished that he had not, as he saw my right hand reaching around to try to find the gear shift, which of course now is on the left side.  Also, the rear view mirror messed with my mind.  Once I felt semi-comfortable, off we went.  As long as we were on two lanes, I could stay in my lane (which was the wrong lane to me).  It was when we got into the little town.  Apparently, I went up a 'little curb' and was driving on the sidewalk.  No one was around, thankfully. I asked how I was doing and he said that it would be okay if I just stopped and he would finish our journey.  I took that as, "With the greatest respect, let me take over."  (see above for translation)

Understanding our different languages can be difficult and even if we do there still is a natural barrier that keeps our nations apart. Eddie Izzard observed, "America and Britain are divided by the Atlantic Ocean."  And, yes we are.  

Americans perplex the British with their communication just as much.  For a Brit to hear us say, "Can I get...... instead of May I have..." is the time that they see us as more crass.  In the business world if an American says, "Let's table that issue" he means to put it aside to rest for a while.  This has a total different meaning to the British world.  It means what it says...bring it to the table for discussion.  This is why there are actual communication coaches that companies can hire that will help in the business world to not make such faux pas.

Besides phrases and words, there is also a distinct pronunciation difference in some words, as well as the spelling.  My dear, precious husband was taking a graduate business course and asked me to edit his paper.  I knew that the topic was not something I could say this is right or wrong, I simply was looking for grammar and spelling.  His paper looked like a bloody war had taken place on it.  He had British spellings and I thought he was just a very bad speller, as I corrected them.  His computer was British so that it only spelled out in British terms and spell check would not correct what was already correct.  We laughed over this as we changed it to the American way, since his professor was American.  By the way, he did receive an A+ on this paper of his.  And, I helped.  

As far as I am concerned, so many Americans are anglophiles that all is okay with this complicated language barrier.  We all need to be this accepting of all cultures and embrace our differences and learn from them.   A quote from Stephen Covey sums it all up, "Strength lies in differences not in similarities." 

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