Two Nations Divided by a Common Language

In my last post, I said that we cannot be sure who originally said the above quote.? I like to think it was Oscar Wilde because he displayed such wit in his writing, but many sayings attributed to him he never said.? Wherever the quote originated, I like it.? There is English English and American English.? Having lived on the Isle of Man in the British Isles (which was euphemistically referred to by some of its inhabitants when I moved there as “a rock in the middle of the Irish sea with 70,000 drunks clinging to it.”? No one can say that now.? The population is over 85,000.), I can say firsthand that it is true.? There are times I had no idea what some of the residents of those isles meant. Since I now again reside in the States, I will be giving this from an American perspective.? For my British friends, I beg your indulgence.

Our estate agent (no, not real estate agent, just as estate housing there is the equivalent of tract housing here) said he would be doing some activity “three days on the trot.”? Since it had nothing to do with running and we assumed he did not have diarrhea, we were confused.? In Britain, it means three days running.? A mechanic working on my car said he’d “give me a tinkle in the morning.”? That image gave me nightmares, but he only meant he as going to phone me.? There was a restaurant in the city of Douglas named “The Bulging Butty,” that gave us a laugh.? Since a butty is a sandwich there, it had a different meaning to the Manx.? However, their specialty was stuffing fries (chips) covered with mayonnaise between two slabs of bread, so maybe the American interpretation had some merit.

Our daughter attended school on the Isle and quickly adopted the terminology as well as pronunciations of many words.? When she came home and said the was required by the school to have some rubbers, we did wonder if this was for a rather advanced sex education class.? But rubbers are erasers “over there.”? On two other occasions our concerns were raised unnecessarily.? The first was when she said she “snogged” a boy and the next was when she said she “got off” with a different boy.? When my wife got her knickers in a twist, our daughter explained both terms meant kissing.? Oops!? I meant got her panties in a knot.? That’s the American translation.

Don’t get the wrong idea.? It’s not like we use relatively innocuous British words for sexual terms and not vice versa.? My father-in-law used to use the American term of “kick you in the fanny.”? (Brits, please read on.? He did not mean what you think.)? In America, it means giving someone a swift kick on the hind end to get them moving.? In Britain, however, it means kicking a woman in a portion of the anatomy that no gentleman would grope, much less kick.? The Austin Powers movie, “The Spy Who S____ed Me” is not about a spy who installed retro, long-pile carpeting in someone’s flat, uh, apartment.? Change the “S” to an “F” and you get the idea what it means in Britain.? I could go on, but I’m trying to keep this PG, at worst.

As a writer, it’s not just avoiding the pitfalls of using a foul word by accident, but also not having a British person in my book use an Americanism, or even not using British slang at an appropriate point.? For example, an American would say “That’s great,” while a Brit would say, “That’s grand.”? However, since my readership is primarily American, I need to be sure Americans understand the terms I am using.? Consider “taking the mick,” which is the shortened version of “taking the mickey.” ?? I won’t go into it’s rather crude Cockney origins, but now it is a very common British version of “pulling? your (or my) leg.”? I used it in Christmas Cracker and had Morg figure out its meaning from the context in which it was used.? Even minor things become important, such as in England one “goes to hospital” rather than “goes to the hospital.”? And the undesirable young man an American male might call “punk” would likely be called a “yob” across the Pond.

There are many more such examples, but you get the idea. ? If you have any questions about terminology in Christmas Cracker, or British terms in general, feel free to contact me.? I do not tout myself as an expert, however living on the Isle for five years did give me some exposure.? In the mean time, keep your pecker up.? Get your mind out of the gutter, America, because pecker means courage.

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