My first year of living in England, I got sick a few times. Now in my American mind, sick can be a sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, Nyquil-swilling cold. Or it can be simply feeling under the weather. Or yes, it can mean a stomach bug.
What I didn’t know then was that in Brit speak, “sick” is vomit. If you tell someone you’ve been sick, it means you’ve literally just vomited (and that’s a graphic detail you probably wouldn’t readily volunteer in the same easy breezy way that you might tell someone you’re under the weather). Sick has very little to do with any kind of non-projectile spewing activity. “Ill” on the other hand is the umbrella Brit term for what we Americans would call “sick.”
And don’t even get me started on the reason Brits drop the “the” when speaking about the hospital. (“He’s been to hospital.” “She’s gone to hospital.” etc.) I still have no idea. If anyone does, please share!
I’ve been emailing some friends in the U.K. to plan some get togethers when we visit London. Curiously, all of them have mentioned that they’ve put our visit dates “in their diary,” a British term I’ve completely forgotten and not to be confused with the “Dear Diary, I’ve just met a boy” diary variety, which also does exist in the U.K. (Exhibit A: “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”)
I guess in British terms, a calendar is used to let you know what date it is (they have the same kind of themed wall calendars as we do), but it’s not quite the same as a datebook or whatever device you use to record your comings and goings. Google Calendar in the U.K. may need a renaming…
When I was living in Scotland, my ear became attuned to the Scottish accent. My first week there, I had no idea what most people were saying, but was good at smiling, nodding and saying “uh-huh” at what I imagined was the appropriate moments. I listened a lot.
But before long, I had a more clear, ballpark idea of what people were saying, particularly cabbies and it usually involved the weather. Or football. Or America. Or sometimes all three. And the longer I stayed, the more I understood, until I, too, began speaking in my own strange Scottish-ese (which sounded nothing like a Scottish accent).
I think I could have used the Speech Accent Archive back in the day, this cool little resource that can deconstruct accents anywhere on the globe.
I still adore the Scottish accent, so lilting and lovely, and am always pleased to hear it, however rarely I encounter it these days.
These days, my ears are accustomed to British English. There aren’t too many expressions that I haven’t heard. But this weekend, well, I discovered a new one:
Skipping rope is the British equivalent to jump rope.
Yes, I laughed when I heard it. Jump rope just seems practical, no nonsense. It’s the kind of manly exercise that Arnold Schwartzenegger does in a gym, quickly shedding pounds. Skipping rope just sounds downright whimsical. The kind of pastime that cannot be done without bobby socks, pigtails, a kitten and maybe a bike with a bell and a basket in the background.
Last night, a tiny puzzle piece got pushed underneath one of our very heavy bookcases.
What could we do?
Well, we tried using paper since it was thin enough to slide under there but it wasn’t sturdy enough to push the piece out. Then we tried the vacuum. It vacuumed up a lot of dust – no puzzle piece. Lastly, my husband asked me to bring a kitchen knife.
“You mean a steak knife?” I asked.
“No, you know, a kitchen knife,” he answered.
And so I immediately looked to the big butcher block of knives and grabbed for the longest ginsu wannabe knife that we have.
“I’ve got a really long knife we could try,” I announced.
“No, not a butcher knife … you know, a food knife.”
“What are you talking about? A food knife? WTH is a food knife? Aren’t all knives food knives?!”
Let’s take a moment to give some love to the Oxford comma, which was traditionally used by printers, readers and editors at Oxford University Press.
Below are two illustrative examples:
Sometimes an expression just comes along that grabs me. For awhile it was “bajiggety,” as in out of sorts, confused, flustered, upset. It was used in “The Sweetest Thing” with Christina Applegate and Cameron Diaz and I latched on. It is a stellar phrase.
But it’s been surpassed by “totes amaze,” as in totally amazing. The Brits are using it. It’s whimsical, youthful, and little stupid. It’s the two words that British singer Lily Allen tweeted right after having her baby.
Totes amaze. Coming soon to the U.S.
This weekend, we’ve been invited to a friend’s son’s 6th birthday party and when I asked my friend what her son might like for a toy, she told me that he was “really into Legos.”
Yes, she pluralized it. It might just be the eighth deadly sin in Britain.
I think I speak for all Americans – every single, red-blooded one – when I say that we all pluralize Lego. We can’t help ourselves. We know it’s a brand name. We know you need more than one block to properly play Lego. So it just makes sense to us to add that s.
And to be fair, we don’t just do it with Lego. We do it with Barbie and with G.I. Joe and My Little Pony. We add s’s to every one of them.
But for some reason, the Lego thing in Britain is a thing. It’s always referred to as Lego, which is actually the correct pluralization of Lego. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a handful of them or a giant British army of them.
It’s like the way moose is the plural of moose. Or sheep is the plural of sheep. Or deer is the plural of deer. Americans just never got the memo.
Do you say Lego or Legos?
My mother in law sent me an amusing article last week that I wanted to share here: “Divided by a Common Language – A Lighthearted Look at Linguistic Differences Across the Atlantic.”
Perhaps my favorite example is the fact that Brits call erasers “rubbers.” I died laughing the first time I heard that one, particularly since British parents are so insistent about packing rubbers in their children’s pencil cases before they head to school.
It’s almost as funny as the British phrase “Keep your pecker up,” which means of all things, “Cheer up!” A friend of mine’s father worked with a Brit a few years back and still recalls how jaws dropped when he would naively use the phrase in the office.
A special thank you to Sue for sending this my way.