(Note: MsCaroline is well aware that it's been
Even before MsCaroline moved to the UK, she was a fan of a number of British blogs, including a couple written by British and American expats, so she was well aware that a certain amount of linguistic confusion awaited her on the Other Side of The Pond. As a moderate Anglophile who had had more than a few dealings with speakers of BE (British English) during the course of her lifetime, she really did feel (wrongly, as it turns out) that she was as well-prepared (as well as anyone could be) for her move to the UK - at least with regard to the language. And, she reasoned, she was still farther along than she'd been in Korea, where her conversation was limited to a stockpile of approximately 25 words and phrases.
MsCaroline already knew about spelling differences and things like cash register being called a till and shopping carts being called trolleys. She knew about car things: bonnet and boot instead of hood and trunk; and she knew that underwear was knickers but that underwear was also pants and that it would result in an embarrassing faux pas if she referred to her pants when she really meant to discuss her trousers (although she did not know until her arrival that pants could also be a British English term of derision as in The film was pants. But she digresses.)
So it was, in this state of
Knowing that at least some of her readers would be keen to
Let MsC emphasize that what she is sharing with you is only the merest tip of the linguistic iceberg, but one must start somewhere, mustn't one?
Let's start with a few phrases:
Poor little sausage/dumpling = poor little thing. Example, "Well, she really is a poor little sausage, isn't she?" Used by our vet to refer to our dog, miserable due to a back injury. Highly accurate. Also adorable.
Fit as the butcher's dog = in extremely good shape or physically very attractive, not necessarily to do with actual fitness. ('Fit' on its own is often used in the same context where an American would say 'hot' or 'good-looking' or even the old-fashioned 'fine' as in, "Oh, wow, (S)He's fit!") A direct quote from a Cornish bartender in regard to a tour group of Russians staying in the hotel shortly before we arrived: "Every one of 'em had a wife that was as fit as the butcher's dog." Hmmm. Right then.
Touch wood: = knock on wood. Close enough.
fancy= to like, as in, 'Do you fancy kebabs for dinner?' or 'Do you think he fancies her?' This is surprisingly insidious, is used all the time by everyone, and when it pops out of one's American mouth for the first time, it sounds ridiculous. The feeling quickly passes, though. In the same vein, we have the word
keen= a) to enjoy or like, or b) to be interested in or passionate about, as in, "We were really keen to see the new James Bond film." Or, "My husband is a keen cyclist." This is, if anything, even more insidious than 'fancy' and worms its way into one's vocabulary very quickly as well, and one suddenly finds oneself saying it without meaning to.
Surname= family name, last name, as opposed to first name. Most N.Americans are aware of this word, but rarely (if ever) use it, in contrast to England, where it is used regularly. Being asked, 'What's your surname?' often takes
Moral of story: 'Surname'= 'last name'; 'Christian name' = first name. (UK readers: Most N.Americans would use 'Last name' and 'First name' in those situations)
Stone= a unit of measurement equalling 14lbs and how people often refer to their weight. "I weigh 10 stone" = "I weigh 140lbs." "I weigh 10st 2"= "I weigh 142 lbs." MsCaroline has nothing against measuring weight in stones vs pounds, especially since stones are smaller numbers. However, any reasonable person will realize that most stone weights require the non-British listener to do at least some calculating, which is not always MsCaroline's strong point. Naturally, if you have grown up in the UK and someone tells you they weigh '9 stone,' you have an immediate innate general understanding of what that looks like (126 pounds) but if you are MsCaroline, you have to do the math(s). Fortunately, this is not an issue that crops up too frequently, since the British women I've met seem no less eager to share their weight than women from anywhere else.
Greengages and damsons and blackcurrants, oh my: As in so many aspects of daily life, England is full of words that are vaguely - but not actually - familiar, and nowhere does one notice this as much as in the supermarket. The produce section is full of beetroot (not beets), peppers (not bell peppers), rocket (not arugula), courgettes (not zucchini), chillies (not habanero or serrano peppers), satsumas (not clementines) and swedes (turnips or rutabagas.) Flour is not just flour, but strong flour or plain flour (and yes, they are different!) Jelly is jam or marmalade, and and jello is jelly. And there is no grape jam or marmalade. At least, not anywhere I've seen. But you will find ginger rhubarb conserve, lemon curd, and chutneys in spades. Also, the best preserves you will ever taste in.your.life.
During the summer
All this confusion extends to the garden as well:
Actual exchange between myself and neighbor man last spring when the trees were in bloom:
Neighbor Man= That tree is covered with blossoms. You'll get quite a bit of fruit in October.
Me= Oh, I hope so. Do you happen to know what sort of a tree it is? We thought it might be a crabapple, but it's a little different from what we have in the USA. Any ideas?
NM (inspecting a branch closely) No question, they're damsons or greengages, of course.
Me= (racking brain frantically for vocabulary list) Oh. yes. of course. I should have realized. Thank you so much! (note: damsons and greengages are types of plums. I learned this from Googling, which I did immediately after this conversation. You're welcome.)
And the list just goes on and on. Looking for toilet paper or paper towels? You'll be looking for toilet roll and kitchen roll. Ladies, you'll be looking for sanitary towels, not napkins - although if you're looking for diapers for your baby, you will, in fact, want napkins, or nappies. Crisps are chips (and chips, of course, are french fries) and biscuits are cookies, except when they're crackers; then, they get to be called savoury biscuits.
So, yes, it's been a bit of an eye-opener or, as we say in the US, a learning curve.
The best one, though, has been the sign we ran across at the beach a couple of months ago.
We'd gone to a beach which didn't allow dogs off-lead (off-leash), but another dog-walker had told us that, if we walked away from the car park towards the end of the beach that was very sparsely populated, we could let her run with impunity. Accordingly, we set off for the end of the beach. As we left the crowds behind us, we passed a sign which stated that 'beyond this point, Naturists may be seen.' Hmmm, I thought to myself, why are they telling us that? Envisioning a phalanx of safari-hat-wearing birdwatchers in practical shoes tiptoeing through the dunes looking for the nest of the rare green-throated Nuthatch, I mused that it was possible that a really serious naturist might be annoyed or interrupted by loud beachgoers or barking dogs and resolved to keep my voice low and my movements smooth and nonthreatening.
My, I thought, they really take the whole nature-watching thing seriously here in England. MrL and I trudged on down the beach, and the crowd continued to thin until the only other person we could see was just a spot in the distance. Unleashing the dog, we let her frolic in the surf and continued on our way down the beach toward the spot, who, as he came closer, we were able to recognize as a man wearing a sun hat and - based on the amount of bared skin we could see from a distance - a very small, light-colored bathing suit. Of course, I thought to myself, European men and their little bikini bathing suits. It's only the Americans who insist on wearing those big swimming trunks all the time.
As you have undoubtedly guessed by now, by the time we approached each other, it became abundantly clear that what we had perceived to be a small, flesh-colored bathing suit was, in fact, no suit at all. As we learned via awkward experience, the British word naturist is the equivalent of the American English nudist.