Friday, January 22, 2010

Separated by a Common Language

This is so true. If I said to you "that guy is a real cowboy", what would you think I meant?

If you were in the US you would probably imagine someone dressed in Western regalia - boots, hat, jeans, maybe a curly moustache. He would talk like John Wayne and tip his hat whenever a lady walked by. An honest, dependable "down home" kind of a chap.

But if you were from the UK you would know exactly what I meant - that he was a conman who either did a real shoddy job or took the money and ran.

Even my wife didn't get that one and I've been training her up for over a decade!!!

Here in Texas they have some commercials where the sales guy is dressed as a cowboy to appeal to a certain demographic. Imagine how funny that is for a Brit. The first time I saw one I thought "wow, at least you're honest, but I still wouldn't buy a car off you".

Of course, I later realized he just didn't get the irony.

It's so fascinating living in the US and noticing the subtle nuances in language. Here's another one - if I was to tell a child in the US to "get on the pavement" they would walk out into the road, whereas if I said the same thing in the UK they would move onto the sidewalk.

Confusing? You bet your ass it is.

And it's not just nuances - if you get past all that there are a whole host of pronunciation and spelling differences just waiting to baffle you.

So here is a quick self-help guide for Brits living in the US.

Dates still get me. When you see 03/02/2010, what date do you think this represents? If you're an American it's March 2nd (and I had to stop and really think about that) but if you're a Brit it's the 3rd of February. Why are your date formats mm/dd/yyyy? It makes no sense to me. In contrast dd/mm/yyyy goes from small (day) to large (year) in chronological order. Now that makes sense.

Don't ever ask for a plate of chips or you'll just end up with crisps. What you're really after are "fries" (though they're nothing like you'd get down at your local chippy).

If you pronounce tomato as "tom R toe" nobody will know what the hell you're talking about (at least in Indiana they didn't) (hint: it should rhyme with potato). The same if you pronounce water as "war tar" (it should be wada).

If you're looking for foil, ask for "aluminum" and not "aluminium". And if you need to do some home repair, rawl plugs are really anchors.

While you're at the supermarket (grocery store) you will find that herbs are a particular source of pronunciation complexity. If you're looking for oregano, modulate "awe regg R no" to "uh regg uh no" (that's actually difficult to lay out phoenetically) and likewise basil switches from "bah zill" to "bay zill".

And while you're at it you may want to switch up your schedule (from "shh edule" to "skedule").

Spelling wise there seem to be two main culprits, and they're both suffixes - dropping the "u" from "our" and swapping the letters "r" and "e" around. Here are some examples:


And while we're on the subject of spelling, here's another culture shock - they televise spelling tests here. And people actually tune in and watch!!!!

Complicated? Confusing? Oh yes. But I have a solution.

If you ask really nicely we'll consider bringing you back under the Queen and swiftly fix all the above.

And while I'm at it, here are some other great ideas :-)

Tea will only be available hot and must be poured from a teapot. It will be served in little cups with saucers

Football will become a game you can only play with your feet unless you are a goalkeeper

Rugby will replace the NFL and cricket will replace baseball as the new "National pastime"

(these last two will swiftly be repealed once you start beating us, thus they should only be in effect for about a year)


Anonymous said...

I guess we'll be studying maths and watching the sport segment on the TV news. ;-)

Also, you forgot to rant about one of your favorite (correct spelling) words, winningest, while you were at it.

-Guess who?

Mark said...

If I started ranting about "winningest" I'd still be writing!!!

Marcia said...

On our Tuesday run last week, someone used the word "fanny" which brought up a whole discussion about how careful you need to be when translating between the US and UK. ;-)

steve said...

Excellent post Mark! Made me laugh...a lot.

How about cutlery/silverware, rubbish/trash, bonnet/hood and boot/trunk?

And seeing as though you mentioned baseball, why are there only American teams in the World Series??

Iechyd da,