Saturday, February 16, 2008

I Say Tomato, You Say Tomahto

There are a few major differences between American English and British English. There also exist some minor differences which always seem to result in either embarrassment (on my part) or laughter (generally at me, not with me.) I never would have guessed that the same language could have so many deviations. And it’s not even a question of the chicken or the egg- I am a victim of my own heritage here- I have no excuse…the Brits are indisputably correct in whichever way they choose to word or pronounce things. Being that the English language was introduced to the Americas by British Colonization in the 17th century, I don’t have a leg to stand on. Whatever I say is wrong and whatever “they” say, is right. Sucks.

I’m going to skip over the common knowledge variations like aluminum and aluminium- that’s all probably been blogged about before. The consequential differences lie in the sneakiest of places and pop up when you least expect them. My first memorable mistake happened when one of my friends told me to meet him at the “Zebra Crossing.” Needless to say, I didn’t end up meeting up with him at all that day. A Zebra Crossing, formerly unbeknownst to me, is a crosswalk. Who knew…

When you make fun of someone, or if you feel that you are being played a fool, you are either “taking the piss” or “getting the piss taken out of you.” Now, this isn’t the most pleasant thing to envision but once you get used to the maxim, it becomes quite useful. There really is no American equivalent to getting the piss taken out of you- and everyone should have it taken out of them once in a while- it’s a humbling experience.

In England, pants are not slacks- they are underwear. Panties are knickers and trousers are chinos. I learned this the hard way. At a recent football match, I got cold and I turned to a friend’s mother and said, “I’m freezing! I should have worn pants!” Needless to say, she didn’t sit by me at the next game.

This next one took me about a year until I fully grasped the concept and incorporated it into my daily vocabulary; Tea isn’t tea at all…Tea is dinner. Therefore “tea time” is actually dinner time. Where the crumpets fit in? I do not know. Now, dinner is lunch. So when British kids are in the cafeteria in school, their tater tots are doled out by “dinner ladies,” not lunch ladies. Breakfast is still breakfast, which pleases me to no end.

A fanny is female genitalia over here. So anyone reading this entry from England will be quite offended by the word usage. However, a fanny in America is an endearing term for buttocks- like tush, tushy, or bum. I learned this when, during a conversation, I asked if a mutual friend was gay and the response was, “no, he loves fanny.” Confusion ensued and I ended up explaining that homosexuals generally go for the tush so why would his love of “fanny” indicate that he was heterosexual? Eventually, all was straightened out but I definitely wasted a good ten minutes of my life clearing that one up.

In the U.K., if you are “gagging for” something, you really want it. If you gag in the states- whatever it is that is making you gag is actually making you sick. Gagging is generally the action that comes before vomiting. So when my boyfriend told me that he was “gagging” to see me- I didn’t talk to him for a day.

The list goes on and I am sure I will be amending it in the near future. In the meantime, should you decide to venture over to England…and get silly drunk- don’t threaten to “piss in your pants,” because for all you know- you could be joking around with your underwear.


Jules said...

The "fanny" usage and resulting confusion is hysterical. I can just imagine the conversation.

I may have to object to your use of "panties" versus "underwear" or "underpants". Maybe this an American regional difference (Miami v. suburban Boston)? Or generational thing (you know, I am almost 30 ;-))

David M said...

I think you're conceding British authority too quickly. Sure, they introduced the English language to North America, but that was centuries ago. We, as Americans, have perfected it. Not to mention, they've probably changed it themselves in those years also.

Take, for example, our word "aluminum". Oh those Brits will ridicule our dropping the letter "i", but if you actually look it up, there wasn't an "i" to begin with. If anything, it was a British person that messed it up.

And don't let them bully you with the letter "h". Yes, we say "herb" like "erb". And when they sarcastically remind you that there's an "h" in front of it, ask them how to pronounce h-o-u-r.

Oh, I have a huge list of these examples. It pleases me to encounter so many non-native English speakers who praise the neutral North American accent, saying that it's the easiest to understand. Much more than any of the English, Scottish, Irish, Australian, (etc.) accents. So what if it's because our TV shows and movies are more prominent? It means we win yet again.