Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Guest Blog: Toni Summers Hargis (UK)
Guest Blog: Toni Summers Hargis
The Other English
I married an American in 1990 and breezed over to live in the States without much thought of what it might be like. Well, how different could it be? They speak the same language, eat the same food and wear the same clothes don’t they? Err, no.
My English mother visited us shortly after the wedding. Being jet lagged, she was worried about over-sleeping, so on her first night she gracefully turned to my husband and said, “If I’m not up by eight, would you mind knocking me up?”
Fortunately, my husband had lived for three years in London, so knew exactly what she meant, but also took great delight in explaining that in the States, the phrase “to knock someone up” would only ever mean to get them pregnant. Of course, in the UK, it can also mean “to knock on someone’s door in order to wake them”. Tee hee.
Another thing I didn’t fully appreciate was that I would have to drop some of my favorite words. Since I have three children, I am quite often tired, and the English word of choice for me is “knackered”. Unfortunately it just doesn’t translate at all in the States, and I end up resorting to the boring “quite tired”. I have given up most of my swearing since becoming a responsible parent, but the expressive “sodding” can still escape from time to time. It can be interchanged with “bloody”, which Americans understand, but somehow with “sodding” you can spit out so much more venom. Most Americans have never heard it before, forcing many Brits to seek out other Brits just so they can sit around and say “sodding” as well as “the dog’s bollocks” and “chuffed” without encountering blank looks.
After all this time, I still regularly come across words, phrases and references that leave me guessing. Most of the time the language differences are funny and interesting, but once in a while you can really make a fool of yourself. I have found it’s much safer and easier to admit my ignorance as soon as possible, since sometimes my guesses at American words have been about one hundred and eighty degrees incorrect. I mean, come on – would you know what a “boondoggle” was without some form of explanation?. Does the phrase “bought the farm” suggest anything, or references to your “druthers”? These are real Americanisms that left me clueless when I first heard them. (Translations – useless or time wasting activity; died; and personal preferences, respectively).
Toni Summers Hargis
Author, “Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom”, (2006) St. Martin’s Press