“I’m Mad About My Flat!”

Zoë Sharp

If you’re a Brit, the title of this piece will have a completely different meaning than it does for an American. To an American, "I’m mad about my flat," means, "I’m very annoyed about the puncture to my car tyre." (Or should that be ‘car tire’?) To a Brit, on the other hand, it translates as, "I’m very excited about my apartment."

And then there are all the other phrases that are ripe for misunderstanding. If a Brit says somebody’s pissed’, he or she means they’re very drunk. To be annoyed is to be ‘pissed off’.

On this side of the Atlantic, a ‘sorry ass’ is a donkey that’s feeling under the weather, a ‘fag’ is a cigarette, and I’d be extremely careful before you remark on the pertness of a young lady’s ‘fanny’, as you’re liable to get a proper smack in the mouth.

If someone ‘jacks’ your car over here, they’ve lifted it off its wheels rather than stolen it, although if you’ve had your wallet ‘lifted’ that does mean stolen. If a person is ‘lifting’, however, you might want to stay firmly upwind of them.

Confused? You will be.

Whoever said we are two people separated by a common language got that dead right – and I’m not just talking about the way words are spelt – or should that be spelled?

UK English is a real hotchpotch, a melting pot of words misheard and garbled over centuries, or just plain mugged from other languages. The English slang for a lavatory is ‘loo’, which apparently dates back to Elizabethan times. With no indoor plumbing, people kept a chamber pot under their bed for use during the night. To empty it, they’d simply open an upstairs window and fling the contents out into the street below, with a warning cry of severely mangled French "Gardez l’eau!" (Mind the water) to anyone unfortunate enough to be passing at the time. I blame the Norman Conquest meself.

US words and phrases have slipped under the radar into common usage. I’m more likely to say ‘guy’ than ‘chap’ or ‘bloke’, which might be considered altogether more English. But I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that an Englishman cannot open his mouth without another Englishman despising him. Thus, the subtle indicators of class signalled by the use of ‘what?’ or ‘pardon?’, ‘may I? instead of ‘can I?’, and ‘who’ rather than ‘whom’ can be real giveaways to social position and background.

Of course, today’s influence of US TV and film has caused a certain hybridisation of the language on this side of the Atlantic. It seems to me that if a US series is successful, we get it verbatim over here. But if a UK series is a big hit here, the idea is exported and the show tends to be remade for an American audience. Hence US versions of ‘Men Behaving Badly’ and ‘The Office’. Steve Carell may be very talented, but what was wrong with Ricky Gervais?

Not having watched these shows side by side, I’m not entirely sure why this was done. I get the impression that some people either think the whole of the UK is something out of ‘Jeeves and Wooster’, or alternatively it’s just like ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, and there seems to be very little in between. We’re an uneasy mix of twee thatched cottages and inner city lager-lout mayhem. Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones might have done their bit to bring something of a genuine Cockney accent to a wider audience, but then you hear Don Cheadle’s frankly bizarre attempts in ‘Ocean’s 11/12/13’, and we’re straight back to Dick van Dyke’s cheerful Cock-er-ney chappie in ‘Mary Poppins’.

I’ve travelled a good deal in the US, and not just the usual tourist destinations. And more than the difference in language, I’ve found it’s speed and delivery that seems to cause the most problem. I had to learn to ask a question with a rising inflection in my voice, otherwise it would not be recognised as a question. And to speak a LOT slower. A friend once said that when she was tired we sounded just like the Peanuts parents from the Snoopy cartoons. And last time we were in the US we saw an interview on CNN with the baggage handler from Glasgow Airport who’d helped foil a terrorist attack. His Scottish accent was deemed so thick that they actually subtitled him.

Regional UK accents can cause problems all by themselves, and it’s not hard to see why utter confusion can arise. Take something simple like an endearment, for instance. In the East End of London, I’d be ‘dar-lin’ or ‘awright mate?’ In the West Country, ‘moy luvur’. In Liverpool, ‘laa’. In the Northeast, ‘pet’. In Scotland, ‘hen’. In the East Midlands, ‘me duck’. Whereas in parts of Lancashire it’s not unusual to hear two blokes call each other, ‘love’. And I haven’t even scratched the surface there, although I did discover a long time ago that the best way to disarm a Regimental Sergeant Major was to call him ‘petal’.

Setting a book outside your home territory is one of the biggest challenges for a writer, I feel. Not just in terms of geography, but of character and mind set. Writing convincing characters outside your home culture is a skill all by itself, and certainly not for the faint-hearted. The decision to move my main character to work mainly in the US was not taken lightly. But I wasn’t trying to write an entire book from inside the mind of a foreigner. Charlie’s a Brit and she remains resolutely so in her sense of humour, thought patterns, outlook and speech. The tricky part is always trying to get the US characters’ dialogue to ring true.

There are so many little subtleties in the use of language between us. In the US, someone would be ‘in the hospital’, would ask you to ‘write me’ or ‘call me’, might invite you to ‘go see a movie’, would learn about something ‘in school’. In the UK, you’d be ‘in hospital’, asked to ‘write to me’, or ‘give me a ring’, be invited to ‘go and see a film’, and would learn a subject ‘at school’. Dates are usually recorded day, month, year in the UK, not month, day, year (although I do mine like that, just to be awkward) and the first floor of a building is at ground level.

OK, now are you confused?

I was asked recently if I wrote differently for the US or UK markets, and as I’m doing my series for both at the same time, it has to be something I bear in mind. Mainly, though, I just use the words that spring to (Charlie’s) mind, and wait to have them queried. ‘Liquorice’ was one of the more surprising ones in THIRD STRIKE that I was asked to find an alternative for, I seem to remember. And ‘nip and tuck’ was suggested to mean a close result, which is a phrase that’s only familiar in the UK because of the US-import cosmetic surgery series of the same name. I’m fascinated to know if you’ve come across words that aren’t familiar, or been asked to find substitutes for ones that you thought would be self-explanatory.

One last thing, though. If you’re a Brit invited to someone’s home for a meal in the States, don’t ever offer to ‘lay the table’. It really doesn’t mean the same thing at all over there …

This week’s Word of the Week is hijack. Although it’s come to be associated mainly with airliners, the origins come from old English highwaymen, who would rob horse-drawn coaches at gun point, and of whom Dick Turpin was the most famous example. The traditional opening gambit to the occupants was a shout to "Hold ‘em high, Jack!" meaning everyone on board should stick their hands in the air while the robber took control.

PS This whole train of thought arrived when fellow ‘Rati, JT Ellison asked me if I wouldn’t mind reading through some of the dialogue for a UK character in her next book, EDGE OF BLACK. Having done so, I have one piece of advice – pre-order it NOW! It’s a terrific read and I can’t wait to get my hands on the finished version.

52 thoughts on ““I’m Mad About My Flat!”

  1. JanW

    Thank for the post on the different flavours of English, Zoe. As an American/Australian (1st half of life in US, 2nd half in Oz), I had to laugh at the description of your accent as fast. When I first moved here 13+ years ago, I would go home at the end of the day exhausted — just from listening and trying to understand! Now I listen to Dana Perino, the US press secretary, and I want to turn down the speed dial. That woman can motor on!

    As a writer, the issue of which flavour is just part of the challenge I’ve tried to deal with. Does one write [spelling, punctuation, usage] to match the character, the location or to not confuse an agent when they read the partial/full? I usually write in Australian style now, but must still keep in mind the American speech patterns if characters are American. We mixed things up even more in the first book by putting an American from Chicago travelling to South Africa and meeting two Australians, as well as a few South Africans! I’m still shaking my head about how naive we were to create such a situation!

    Australians also cringe at other Australian’s accents. I cringe at American accents from time to time, too. Must be something about self-conciousness.

    Reply
  2. Ally

    Did I read that correctly, Americans don’t know what liquorice is?

    I can see how readers might get confused as it looks similar to “liquor” (and that could lead to someone getting completely the wrong idea) but more to the point – how does anybody live without liquorice?

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  3. J.D. Rhoades

    You’re preachin’ to the choir, hon.

    The most amusing cross-Atlantic language misunderstanding I’ve seen was back years ago when I was working as a DJ in a hotel nightclub in a college town. There’s a genre of music that’s been popular for years in the American Southeast that’s known as “Beach Music.” It’s a sort of mellow, rolling 60’s rhythm and blues. Think “Under the Boardwalk,” “My Girl”, “Band of Gold,” that sort of thing. The dance you do to this stuff is a sort of slow-motion jitterbug, with lots of fancy dips and turns, well-suited to dancing on a hot Carolina summer night in a beach nightclub without air conditioning and only a sea breeze to cool off.

    The dance is called “the Shag.”

    You Brits can see where I’m going with this.

    Anyway, one of the more modern beach music hits is called “Shaggin,” and the chorus talks about “shaggin’ in the daytime, shaggin’ all through the night,” etc. I got a request for it late one night from a group of middle aged alumni so I plopped it on the turntable and started rooting around for the next record (this was the pre-digital music age). Suddenly a very angry, red-faced man appeared in the entrance to the booth and started telling me in a very loud, British accented voice how disgraceful this song was, and didn’t we have any standards of decency, etc.

    Since this was also pre-Austin Powers, that’s when I first learned what “shag” means in British. I explained, and fortunately, we all had a laugh. I also told him which bar he could go to for Guinness, which he hadn’t been able to find previously.

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  4. Catherine

    I’m not sure if this has the same meaning in Britain that this term does in Australia, but when we have sweet faced American’s claiming how much they like to root for their team, it converts in Australian to enjoying providing sexual favours, um for the team.

    Puts a certain x-rated meaning behind JD’s comment above too.

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  5. Catherine

    Just came home from a blues club, so I apologise if the aforementioned comment was a trifle blunt. Just something about reading JD’s comment triggered that well yeah, I know what you mean, because over here what you just said had a whole swag of different meaning. Which does lend itself to Zoe’s post…ultimately.

    Reply
  6. Pari Noskin Taichert

    When I was in high school, I remember one boyfriend from Australia who told me he’d stop by later and “knock me up.” Took me a second to realize he meant he’d knock on my door.

    RE: translating seriesI’m really nervous about the whole new LIFE ON MARS series that is coming out this fall. The original version I saw from BBC America was absolutely fantastic. I understand why it needs to be translated — policing is very different in England and the U.S. — but I worry about the general feel of this newer version.

    The BBC version was absolutely brilliant.

    Reply
  7. pari

    Zoe,Can you tell I liked the first iteration of LoM? I can go weeks w/o using “absolutely” and I just used it twice in the same post.

    So much for being pithy. . .

    Reply
  8. Louise Ure

    Your post is a great way to start the day today, Zoe. And you nail US dialogue in your books! (Hmmm…have I just offered another one of those misunderstood phrases?)

    Reply
  9. R.J. Mangahas

    Funny thing, Zoe. I’ve gotten pretty used to some the US/UK differences. I sometimes find myself using some of the UK expressions (even the spelling a couple of times). I like to think I know at least the basics. Most of it comes from watching a lot of UK sitcoms. I also know a few Brits, however, I’m still pretty lost when it comes to placing where the accents are from.

    I absolutely have to agree with you on The Office. I much prefer the UK version. But I think the show that hooked me on British comedy in the first place was Are You Being Served? (although, I didn’t like it as much after Trevor Bannister left. I still watched it faithfully though) I remember that they tried doing a US version of the show. I’m actually glad that I never saw it. I don’t think it would have been as good anyway.

    As usual, a great and informative post. 🙂

    Reply
  10. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jan

    Wow – “an American from Chicago travelling to South Africa and meeting two Australians, as well as a few South Africans!” That really IS mixing things up.

    You pose an interesting question. I automatically write, spell and punctuate to suit my home country agent and publisher, although naturally they deal with authors from overseas.

    For some reason my spellchecker seems to be stuck on US English and keeps suggesting I put a ‘z’ into all kinds of words that I’d really prefer to spell with an ‘s’.

    Then, as you say, you try and keep the speech patterns and word usage as true to your character’s origins so the whole thing rings true. I think as long as you’re consistent in your style, it doesn’t matter which style you choose.

    Unless anyone has a different idea, of course?

    Reply
  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Ally

    Mea culpa. Also known as: It Was Late and I Was Tired. Sorry, I didn’t mean liquorice, I meant aniseed. Doh! Sorry for causing even more confusion ;-]

    Reply
  12. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Dusty

    Oh yeah, I was way ahead of you. As soon as you started mentioning being a DJ, I knew where that one was going. Austin Powers has a lot to answer for. As does Bridget Jones. I haven’t seen the film, but the book was filled with references to ‘shagging’.

    That young lady must have been a very keen dancer, that’s all I can say …

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  13. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Catherine

    Hm, ‘root’ doesn’t quite have the same connotations over here, but I can that one being a bit on an eye-opener. Still, some people are VERY keen on sport!

    Reply
  14. Zoë Sharp

    A friend just emailed me to point out that, back in the days when long-distance telephone calls needed to be connected by an operator, a Brit operator would ring you ahead of the connection, work her works at the exchange and say ‘You’re through …’, meaning, ‘You’re connected, speak now.’

    Transatlantic calls were often time-limited to apportion traffic on the undersea cables. So when your time slot expired, an American operator would cut in and say ‘You’re through …’, meaning, of course, ‘Time’s up, shut up.’

    Reply
  15. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari

    In northern mill towns, in the days before alarm clocks, the mill owners would employ a man to walk along the streets of terraced houses with a long pole, tapping on the upstairs windows to wake the workers in time for their shift.

    His name? The Knocker Upper.

    And I can absolutely understand your enthusiasm for LoM. We thought it was just wonderful. Philip Glenister (DI Gene Hunt) doesn’t have a Mancunian accent at all when you hear him interviewed, though. He’s actually a bit posh, which is rather disconcerting.

    I had no idea they were going to do a US remake. That could be … interesting.

    Possibly in the Arab curse sense of the word.

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  16. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Louise

    Bless you! On both counts.

    Nailed is not such a common one to mean, what I think you’re thinking it might mean. But let’s face it, almost anything, however innocent, can be turned into a double entendre if you try hard enough ;-]

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  17. Zoë Sharp

    Hi RJ

    We keep sending UK comedy series over to Jon and Ruth Jordan at Crimespree. I think we introduced them to ‘Black Books’ with Dylan Moran, ‘Big Train’ with Simon Pegg, and the first few series of ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’. The latter being vulgar British humour at its best. We reasoned that they’d either love it, or never speak to us again.

    Fortunately, they loved it!

    Reply
  18. Zoë Sharp

    Dusty – I seem to remember you were there at Jon and Ruth’s for the first episode of ‘Big Train’.

    Just de-region your DVD player and get the UK version of LoM!

    Reply
  19. R.J. Mangahas

    Thanks for the recommendations Zoe. I’ll have to check those out. I also caught some of That Mitchell and Webb Look. Fortunately, my cable service has BBC America so I get to see some UK sitcoms, although I haven’t watched any lately. Most of the stuff I get are on DVD.

    Reply
  20. Zoë Sharp

    RJ

    If you’re into Brit humour, you might like to try ‘The Fast Show’ with Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson (he who’s now writing the young James Bond series); or ‘Absolutely’ if you can get your ear round a Scottish accent.

    For more gentle humour, Victoria Wood wrote two series called ‘Dinnerladies’ set in the canteen of a northern factory.

    Or, if you like stuff that’s completely bizarre, ‘The League of Gentlemen’ with Mark Gatiss, who also writes the Lucifer Box historical crime novels.

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  21. John S

    They did try to do “Are You Being Served?” in the US, but they kept the title the same. That was a mistake. Store clerks don’t say that here. They should have called the show “May I Help You?”

    There are certain words and expressions that are used in the UK that we UNDERSTAND here in the US, but we just don’t tend to use them the same way. Americans know what the word “rather” means, but in most instances where a Brit would say “rather” (such as “It’s rather cold out” or “It’s rather a long walk”), we would say “kind of”.

    Reply
  22. JT Ellison

    Z, you are too kind! This book wouldn’t have worked at all without your amazing help. As a matter of fact, I’d like to expand on this tommorow, if you’re cool with that. It was so much fun and so eye opening for me.

    You are wonderful!

    Reply
  23. TC

    I’m an American, and I lived in Scotland for a year. I’ll never forget the day my new boyfriend, while making plans for an early-morning date, told me he would knock me up at 9.

    It took me a few second to realize he had NOT just said he was planning to impregnate me the next morning!

    Reply
  24. Wilfred Bereswill

    When I spent two weeks in the UK, my favorite line was, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English.”

    Actually, I have a Brit killer in my current work in progress. I’m stretching my brain for that authentic UK usage and slang.

    In a pub on the Thames, I remember someone asking me if I had a fag.

    Reply
  25. Zoë Sharp

    Hi John

    From my experience of US shop assistants, maybe the remake of ‘Are You Being Served?’ should have been called, ‘And How May I Help You Today?’

    ‘Rather’ and ‘kind of’ are good examples. I’d always thought using ‘like’ in the middle of, like, every sentence was very, like, totally valley girl, but in the UK people use it as a little postscript to add to the end a sentence, like.

    And negatives tend to be strange. If someone says, “I don’t like him,” another American will say, “Me either,” but a Brit would say, “Me neither.”

    Reply
  26. Zoë Sharp

    JT

    You are entirely welcome ;-]

    And some of the emails that went back and forth concerning slang terms for, ahem, various bits of male and female anatomy were pure entertainment in themselves.

    I’m certainly cool with that. Expand away – I’ll probably take notes!

    Reply
  27. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Wilfred

    There’s a nice little exchange in the film version of the Clive Cussler novel, Sahara, that starts with the, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English” line.

    A Brit killer, eh? Ah, what is it about us Brits that makes us favourites as bad guys? This could be a whole nother topic all by itself! Is there just something about the accent that goes hand in glove with evil?

    Or, if all else fails, at least have your villain drive a Brit car like a Range Rover.

    I

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  28. John S

    Zoe, your example reminds me of another!

    American:”He has two sisters.””So do I.”

    British:”He has two sisters.””So have I.”

    …and the US family movie A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN was re-titled A BOY CALLED CHARLIE BROWN in the UK, I believe.

    Again, it’s not like truck = lorry, it’s miniscule matters of word choice or preference.

    Reply
  29. John S

    Zoe, your example reminds me of another!

    American:”He has two sisters.””So do I.”

    British:”He has two sisters.””So have I.”

    …and the US family movie A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN was re-titled A BOY CALLED CHARLIE BROWN in the UK, I believe.

    Again, it’s not like truck = lorry, it’s miniscule matters of word choice or preference.

    Reply
  30. Zoë Sharp

    Hi John

    The subtleties of ‘do’ as opposed to ‘have’, and also ‘named’ versus ‘called’ are interesting. I shall take note of those for future reference.

    Although, in the case of the film title you mention, you would have thought that us Brits could be trusted to figure it out from the US version, don’t you think?

    To be honest, ‘lorry’ is more used in the south of the UK. In the north it would be a wagon. Or simply a truck, obviously.

    Reply
  31. John Dishon

    I used to watch Are You Being Served? when they had it on OBS, as well as Keeping Up Appearances and As Time Goes By. Those were all great shows.

    Oh, and if you’re talking about humor, you’re a heretic not to mention Douglas Adams and Eddie Izzard.

    Reply
  32. Zoë Sharp

    Hi John

    Sorry to appear heretical. I’m a big fan of Eddie Izzard but I was trying not to get into stand-up comedians. Really, of course, we should be talking about comedy in books, and how that translates!

    And I always preferred the radio serialisation of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’. Much like when you read a good novel, the special effects were better when I could only see them in my head…

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  33. JDRhoades

    “A Brit killer, eh? Ah, what is it about us Brits that makes us favourites as bad guys? This could be a whole nother topic all by itself! Is there just something about the accent that goes hand in glove with evil?”

    Maybe because so many great villains have been played by British actors? Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Anthony Hopkins…or is that confusing cause and effect?

    Reply
  34. Bill Cameron

    My all-time favorite Britishism (or maybe it’s actually a Welshism, since I heard it from a friend from Cardiff) is “lady’s front bottom.” Just typing the words throws me into helpless giggle fits.

    Reply
  35. Zoë Sharp

    Bill – Funny, isn’t it, just how short a length of time it takes for a conversation to find its own level …?

    RJ – low-brow is always good!

    Dusty – I still think Brit actor Alan Rickman was one of the all-time best villains in ‘Under Siege’. Of course, he was playing a German … But he was playing Brit in the Kevin Costner version of ‘Robin Hood’ and, of course, the Harry Potter films.

    Reply
  36. Becky Hutchison

    Zoe, thanks for such an informative post. My nephew is living in London for a few years, and the last time he was home we had a long and funny discussion about the difference in words and meanings…some of which has caused him a little embarrassment.

    Most of the differences in US and UK English that I’ve learned have come from Elizabeth George and her Inspector Lyndley books (& the wonderful series on PBS).

    US parking lot = UK car parkUS police car = UK panda carUS potato chip = UK crispUS French fries = UK chips

    Regarding the subtitles on a news report: A few years ago I was watching a national news report featuring a state highway patrolman from Alabama and was amused that they used subtitles whenever he talked. Since I’m from the South, I couldn’t see why they needed them. However when I talk to some friends from NYC, I wish they had little subtitle bubbles above their heads. 😉

    Reply
  37. Loreth Anne White

    This post hits a note for me :). I am a writer from South Africa, living in Canada among a rather large transient Aussie population, and writing for what is primarily a US audience. So yes, I have butted up against a few oddities in language … like the word fanny pack, for example. Fanny has another meaning across the pond. You just don’t go round patting people on the fanny there.

    Bonking is another word. Mountain bikers use it in quite a different context to what I’ve heard before. Then again, that might be my age showing 🙂

    I take it US readers are also not familiar with the phrase “he put paid to that idea.” Where did that one come from, I wonder? Stamping bills?

    Reply
  38. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Becky

    Vehicle terms are hugely different from UK to US. Not just ‘car park’ and ‘parking lot’, but just about everything.

    A panda car is a certain type of police car in the UK. In Cumbria, most of the big fast motorway patrol cars are also Armed Response Vehicles as well, which is still a big deal over here as UK cops are not routinely armed – just a baton and rigid cuffs. Not even a TASER.

    I feel much better for the Glaswegian baggage handler, knowing about the Alabama patrolman being subtitled, too!

    Actually, the terrorist who tried to attack Glasgow Airport had overlooked several serious factors at the planning stage.

    1) It rains too hard in Scotland for even a vehicle packed with propane cylinders to ignite satifactorily.

    and

    2) The airport was filled with irate Glaswegians, who took exception to the attack. I understand that some of them were still attempting to beat seven bells out of the would-be bomber while he was on the ground and on fire…

    Reply
  39. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Loreth

    You’re really covering all the bases there, aren’t you?

    Yes, it still tickles me when people refer to their ‘fanny pack’. Especially when Jim Born was demonstrating his special FDLE concealed-carry fanny pack at one of the conventions. But I wasn’t going to start giggling when Jim had his mean cop face on. No sir.

    And I’d forgotten about the *other* meaning for ‘bonking’. I thought the term was ‘bonking out’ meaning you’ve abruptly hit the bottom of your energy reserves? Have I got that right?

    Which could apply to its alternative meaning as well, I suppose ;-]

    Oh dear, we’re back to the dance Dusty mentioned earlier again, aren’t we?

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  40. Jake Nantz

    Having grown up a huge Monty Python fan, I’ve always enjoyed British humor. What’s funny to me is that my wife, who deplores foul language (I get in trouble for that a lot), absolutely LOVED the Guy Ritchie film SNATCH despite the numerous and flat-out casual F-bombs. Of course, her infatuation with Jason Statham may have rendered her unable to recognize them, but that’s a different issue.

    Me personally, I just love most accents in general, be it Boston, New York, and Minnesota, or England, Australia, and Russia.

    It’s interesting that so many of you mentioned the speed difference between the UK and the US, because a friend of mine who was originally London-born pointed out something I never would have known. He’s lived here in the US for more than a decade, but still speaks in his own accent (apparently when some people move here they have to adapt a fake US accent to be understood…makes me ashamed of some of my fellow Americans, I tell ya!). Anyway, he said that speed of delivery varies in England very much the same as in the US. Over here, people in the south have a much slower, relaxed drawl in most (not all) cases, as opposed to a much faster delivery up north. And he said in England that it’s similar, that Northern English tend to speak much faster than Southern English. i just thought that was fascinating.

    Oh and Zoe, I don’t think it was Wilde. In George Bernard Shaw’s PYGMALION, Professor Higgins claimed that the moment an Englishman talks he makes some other Englishman despise him.

    And finally, you mentioned a quirky one yourself without knowing it. Your “hand-in-glove” would be “hand-in-hand” over on this side of the pond. Funky little differences, huh?

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  41. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jake

    OK, mea culpa again. Just goes to show I must not get back in from three days of shoots and sit down at 2am to finish off my Murderati blog. Argh!

    Damn, and I studied Shaw as well. I am blonde, though – can I offer that up as a feeble excuse?

    I know I speak fast, even in the UK. And I read out loud at a hundred miles an hour. I hadn’t come across that north-south speed variation, though, and we do travel all over the country. How interesting!

    And yes, very funky ;-]

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  42. Catherine

    Extending the car term differences discussion…

    Australia-BootUnited States-Trunk

    Zoe that Glasgow reference reminds me of a 4ft 11 woman that spent her formative years in Glasgow. She’s fierce. If someone started to annoy her she’d just say ‘ah pick ya windy’…which she explained in Glasgow,meant the speaker had reached the maximum height of annoyance and was about to be thrown through a window…in an off hand, have a choice in your own departure type of conflict resolution way.

    ..pick your window…or ah pick ya windy.

    Reply
  43. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Catherine

    Yes, the car terms would fill a post by themselves.

    US – hood, fender, oil pan, windshield, power antenna.UK – bonnet, wing, sump, windscreen, electric aerial.

    Love the “pick a windy” story! My favourite Scottish precursor to a fight was, “Tell me, can your mother sew?” followed by a Glasgow kiss, which was a head-butt to whatever part of the face was exposed at the time, and rounded off by, “Well, get her ta stitch that for yer, then.”

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  44. Tom

    Must be the phase of the moon, because over at Making Light there’s this conversation.

    http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/010512.html#010512

    (Read with Stephen Fry’s accent in mind):

    “Due to the popularity of her employer’s product, this blogger’s task was further complicated by the requirement to produce appropriate lists in both the American and British dialects of the English language. Furthermore, because even within the several nations who have adopted the product there exist variations in the level of local sensitivity, it was deemed appropriate to produce two lists per dialect. The “core” assemblages contain those of the gravest offense, which are liable to shock and horrify even the most liberal-minded and worldly of readers. The “additional” lists are provided to broaden the range of prohibited speech in order to protect any more delicate-minded communities which may choose to uphold a stricter standard of decency. The selection of the list to adopt is of course entirely within the purview of the customer.”

    Reply
  45. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Tom

    Sorry not to reply to you earlier. There’s only so far past midnight I can work!

    That sounds very delicately put. I shall visit the link immediately!

    If you want words for, ahem, every occasion, there’s a book called THE PROFANISAURUS, which is a complete list of every conceivable insult and swearword. I can only read small chunks of it at a time because it reduces me to tears of laughter.

    Which is quite embarrassing in WHSmith’s … ;-]

    Reply

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