Tuesday, April 07, 2009

So You Think You Speak English?

I'd like to welcome Linda Swift to Terry's Place today. She's offering a prize to one lucky commenter, so be sure to read through to the end for details.

My husband and I lived for a time in Kingston-upon-Hull, a city of 650,000 in East Yorkshire, England. I felt secure living in our English-speaking Mother Country from which all our forebears had come to form the Rebellious Colonies. But I soon realized that I didn't really speak the language. I speak American, Southern-style, and more than the Atlantic separates the two. So for your enlightenment, in case you are fortunate enough to spend some time in Yorkshire County, here are a few helpful translations.

Our flat had a large lounge (living room) with a color telly (TV) and I watched the Look North weather report daily to determine what to wear when going out. Of course, the temp was given in centigrade and conversion was never easy. I usually needed to take my brolly (umbrella), wear my wind cheater (rainproof jacket), and sometimes my Wellies (rain boots/ Wellingtons). And if the forecast said it would be "fresh" I could count on wind strong enough to blow my sox off. But no matter the weather, mums would be out with babies in prams (buggies) and pushchairs (strollers). Small wonder those Brits are such a hearty lot!
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Victoria Dock had many buildings still in various stages of completion and "To Let" signs dotted the complex. And if "To Let" meant "For Rent" I never understood why the signs saying "For Sale" didn't say "To Sell." A puzzling inconsistency.

I sometimes took the coach (bus) to the city centre (downtown) which was easier than navigating those roundabouts by car. We call them traffic calmers here in Florida but let me tell you there was nothing calm about the way those big lorries (semi-trucks) wheeled around them in Hull. Although lorries were average size, cars were mostly compact which saved petrol (gas) and fit the small spaces in car parks (parking garages). A car in the UK had a boot (trunk) and a bonnet (hood) Highways were called motorways, and a four-lane motorway was a dual-carriageway. A camper or trailer suitable for sleeping was a caravan.

When my request for directions to the rest room in a department store was met with a startled look, an English friend explained that this was a waiting room in a mortuary and what I should say was toilet. I got into a queue, not a line. And once, when paying our admission to visit a castle, we saw a price for "Concessions" on the list. But how could they have one price cover whatever one might buy in the tea room, I wondered. Then I learned that meant a senior discount.

My first visit to a beauty shop was going well until the hairdresser asked me if I'd like her to use the tongs. Visualizing some instrument of torture, I cringed until she pointed to the curling iron. Clerks and shopkeepers thank you when they take your money, again when they give you change and then tell you goodbye. We in the US could take a lesson here.

On sightseeing excursions, I often wore my fanny pack. But I stopped calling it that after learning the word fanny literally means vagina and the pack is known in the UK as a bum bag.

Another faux pas was announcing to my English friends when we took a coach

tour one day that since the weather was fresh, I was wearing my pants. I meant my slacks instead of skirt and wondered why that statement caused raised eyebrows. Since to them that meant I was wearing my panties, I suppose they may still wonder if I only wore panties on "fresh" days. It was my turn to caution my friends that when in the US, it would not be a good idea to tell the hotel clerk "I want to be knocked up in the morning" when requesting a wake-up call.

Ticked off meant to check off something, not get your nose out of joint. And poking your nose in just meant looking around, not being rudely nosey. And to be struck off was to be fired from your job. Even I, thanks to Frazier, knew what the worker installing our long awaited shower meant when he left the job unfinished one day because he was feeling peckish. I don't know if he went to the surgery (doctor's office) and saw the surgeon (doctor) or the chemist (pharmacist) for a remedy.

Food was dear, and that referred to price, not affection. I discovered that jello was jelly. I don't know what jelly was called because I found that without asking for it. Salad dressing was salad cream. Cookies were digestive biscuits. Scones were sometimes called fat rascals. Popsicles were ice lollies. And listed on the dessert menus of some of the nicest pubs was a spotted dick. Don't even ask because I don't know as I never ordered one.

It was difficult to find lace curtains for the flat until I asked for nets. A window valance was a pelmet and dust ruffle was a bed valance. I learned to dose my laundry with detergent, empty the fluff trap and ask for lint when I needed a band-aid. I put my garbage in the dust bin.

The Brits are always sorting things out. And they do more popping than microwave popcorn, as in pop up, down, in, out and over. And I would like to pop over again right this minute and spend a couple more years enjoying their wonderful country and learning to speak more English. For I realize there is much yet to learn. For example, a friend emailed me last week that she had been kipping on her mum's floor while the workmen were making repairs. I am still trying to figure out exactly what she was doing. I hope someone reading this will enlighten me.

Linda will be giving a download copy of CIRCLE OF LOVE chosen from a random drawing of those who leave comments before April 10, Good Friday. You must check back here for the winner's name. Good luck!

Linda Swift writes contemporary and historical fiction for The Wild Rose Press and Awe-Struck Publishing. Her newly released book, CIRCLE OF LOVE, is now available from The Wild Rose Press. For more information on all of Linda's books, she invites you to visit her at www.lindaswift.net


liana laverentz said...

Fascinating! Thanks for sharing!

Sandy Wickersham-McWhorter said...

Spotted dick is a Christmas-type pudding and the raisins are the spots. I can buy it in my local Meijer store in the British section. I understood many of the terms you used but many surprised me. I'm jealous you got to go to my family's home country. The Wickershams originated in Bolney, Sussex.

Terry Odell said...

Sandy, thanks for the enlightenment. Linda will be in and out today, and I'm sure she'll appreciate your explanation.

For me, in my travels to England and South Africa, those "To Let" signs always registered as "Toilet", even after I figured it out. Too many instances of missing letters in signage in the states, I guess. My brain filled in the blanks.

BrennaLyons said...

LOL! I knew most of those, actually. "Fresh" was a new one on me, as was "wind cheater." There might have been one or two others, but for the most part, I've got them. Then again, I worked for several years with a wonderful lady from Scotland, so she taught me a lot of the terminology from all up and down the isles. Thanks for posting this. It was a lot of fun.


Sandy Wickersham-McWhorter said...

I think I'd have that same problem now because I scan too much due to being in too big a hurry all the time lately!

P.L. Parker said...

How funny! My mother-in-law is from England and, quite frankly, sometimes I have no idea what she is saying. But she is a dear.

P. L. Parker

Linda Swift said...

Good morning to all you early risers. Of course, it's afternoon for some of you now. And thanks for all your wonderful comments. It's going to be a fun day for me. I've already learned something from Sandy and I'm happy to see some of my "loop" friends (do I mean loopy here?) have already stopped by. As Terry said, I'll be popping in and out today, or poking my nose in from time to time. Keep those comments coming.

Debra St. John said...

This is great. I spent some time in England during college, and I can totally relate!

lainey bancroft said...

LOL. Thanks for the memories. I worked over there for a year many years ago, but I had the advantage of coming from a mother born in Scotland and a granny from Wales so I knew a lot of the lingo.

'Kipping' is sleeping. Not sure where it originates but my Mom still says it's time she 'hit her kip' when she is tired.

They don't have lunch, they have 'tea.'

A casual dinner out was 'Grabbing a gnosh at the pub.'

French fries are 'chips' and potato chips are 'crisps' and if you're a smoker you still pick up a packet of 'fags.'

Oh, and I don't remember if this was England or some of the other European countries (told ya it was a long time ago) but signs for public rest rooms were 'WC' water closet.

Sounds like you had a great time, Linda!

Leah Braemel said...

Kipping means sleeping/napping. Someone says they're going to go 'have a kip' means they're going to have a nap.

I've always understood peckish to mean hungry, not ill, at least that's how the rest of my family uses it. (I'm the only non-England born one) And band-aids are plasters (although maybe that's regional? England, like the States, has VERY regional dialects.)

Cookies are just biscuits. Digestive biscuits are specific type of cookie.

Clare Austin said...

Kip is Brit for a nap or sleep...so your friend is sleeping on her mum's floor. Your article is deadly (grand, smashing, beautiful). Thanks for sharing,

Clare Austin
Butterfly, available August 2009
The Wild Rose Press

Celia Yeary said...

Dearest Linda--As usual, your dry, sophisticated wit comes through loud and clear. Did you just remembr all those terms or did our have them written down in some sort of log? I could never have remembered them all. I've had a ouple of friends from the UK who came to live in the US, and sometimes our conversations were a little weird. this was a joy to read. Keep up the good work--Celia

Lindsay Townsend said...

Fun article, Linda!
In the mill towns, there would be a man going round the workers' house in the early morning to 'knock people up' - to knock on their doors to wake them ready for work.

M J Watson said...

Hi Linda - A great article and very funny, too. I can see from the other posts that it was enjoyed very much.


Vicky said...

How lucky are you? I would love to go to England and see all of the sights first hand. Maybe one day. At least now, I will know some of the language there. Thanks a bunch.

Linda Swift said...

Okay, my turn again. I took my two-mile walk and got behind here. Sandy, I expect the dialect is quite different in Suxxex than in Hull. They had a charming way of saying "me" instead of "my" and in "me dad and me mum." And many thanks to Lainey and Leah for the definition of kipping. My friend was so exasperated with the workment I wasn't sure what she was doing! I think a lot of rest rooms I saw had "Ladies" on them as a friend who visited me and attended a class with me, asked the instructor where the Ladies was and he gestured to the women nearby and said "Why, right here." I heard peckish used as feeling ill but I always thought of it as annoyed as in chickens pecking in a henyard. Oh, that reminds me, we had gardens over there, not yards. And thanks for the word on digestive biscuits. Were fat rascals a special kind of sweet also? And Celia, I wrote long letters home during my stay and this being the age of electronics, was able to save them on my hard drive and bring them up at will.
And how wonderful, Lindsay, to have someone wake you every day at your home. What need of alarm clocks? Charming.And yes, I was very fortunate to have this wonderful extended experience of actually living in Yorkshire County.Thanks, all, for sharing your memories. It's obvious we are all in love with England.

Kathleen said...

Being Canadian buty coming from a family that hails from Ireland, Scotland and England, I know a lot of these terms and some are used on a daily bases in our homes. The one that did get me and I was affronted to say the least, a mechanic I took my car to told me he would Knock me up in them morning and I was so embarrased I did not no what to say. I just kind of looked at him blankly and walked out the door. Learning later what the ment, I had a good laugh with him later. I thought he was being fresh!!!

Mary Ricksen said...

It was the same in Canada. When I asked for a soda, they brought me bicarbonate of soda. They called it pop and they musta thought I was crazy.

Jess said...

To this day I hate having to say "trousers" or "slacks" instead of "pants". I'm getting better at catching myself. Regional dialects in the UK not only include pronunciation but loads of slang! Since hubby is in the army, I hear them all...Scot, Welsh, English, and Norn Iron. That's Northern Ireland. Different from your regular Irish, mind. Sometimes it just hurts me head trying to make sense of it all!

And you go for "a coffee". And along with popping, people nip. Nip down to the shops. Which are stores, of course.

Dinner is called "tea" (I sadly know the history of that, too), and all desserts are "puddings"..even if it's ice cream. A pie is most likely to be something with meat. I love my wellies, but never carry a brolly...nor will I refer to it as such.

But here in N. Ireland, you'll be greeted with "What's the craic", or "whataboutya's". A standard response is "dead on".


Linda Banche said...

What a great blog. I'm bookmarking this as a reference to British English.monyisb

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading the comments. I have noticed that the English call some things by their description a lot.
Like the windscreen on a car which we call the windshield.
JWIsleyAT aol.com

Katie Reus said...

When my sister and I backpacked through Ireland we discovered the same thing about 'toilet'. Took a little while to get used to saying that ;) I knew some of those, but not nearly enough. Thanks for all the other tidbits, very interesting!

Linda Swift said...

Yes, Anon, the British seem to call it like it is. For instance, their villages usually have names that describe their location. Kingston-upon-Hull, literally the King's town on the River Hull. And Katie, I envy you the trip to Ireland. We didn't make it over there and we were so close. Did get to Wales, and Scotland and across the North Sea a few times. Speaking of strange expressions, I wonder if anyone out there knows what "coming up a cloud" means? We here in the South have some doozies that I could share with you. We don't speak American either!

Linda Swift said...

Note: Most of my friends, as you might expect since misery loves company and birds of a feather and all that, are electronically chanllenged, too. But I thought it worth cutting a pasting this post that I received on my personal email address so you can share it, too. Thanks, Vada. P.S. If you read my book, CIRCLE OF LOVE, the "Vada" character is her namesake.
Vada's letter:
I did enjoy this article as it contained some things we had not discussed before. I wrote the following comment but cannot hit all the right buttons when it comes to publishing the comment. I don't know if I'm a blogger, Open ID, or what the #@$%#! If you can transfer this, and if you think it adds anything, please do.

Keep up the writing!


Vada's post:

Hi Linda,
Enjoyed your article as always. I love all these faux pas and accounts of British experiences. I'm surprised no one mentioned the word "Loo" being used for the toilet or WC. My husband and I had a brief honeymoon at the Regent Palace Hotel in London many years ago, and I was surprised to learn I had to walk down the hall, toiletries in hand, to take a bath. As I went in search of the "shower" a maid pointed about five doors down and said, "there's the Loo."

Janet said...

Hi Linda,

Very nice article about England. Going to Meijer to check out spotted dick!


Kaye said...

Really enjoyed your blog!! My husband and I have visited London and we can relate to how difficult it is to understand "English" in England. Very funny and thanks for sharing your experiences!

elaine caantrell said...

Very entertaining! Thanks. If I go to England I'll be able to avoid a few raised eyebrows anyway.

Linda Swift said...

One last post and I'm going to call it a night. To all you night owls, I'll read your posts and respond tomorrow. I've had such a great time today and I hope all of you have enjoyed it, too. Thanks for all the information shared here today. Thanks to Sandy for enlightening me on what a spotted dick is. All this time I have envisioned a detective with measles! and I learned what kipping means. I esecially liked the expression "hit her kip." Do you know if this word was used in 1606 England? I would love to use it in the book I am currently writing in that period. Nipping in was new to me. I think the only nipping in Hull was related to a pint. There are still two days to leave a post here and add your knowledge of the English language. And say, don't I know you, Claire Austin and Kaye Pryor from someplace else. Claire, maybe from Chattanooga and NY Pub days and Kaye, well, she may be pretending not to know me, but I'm her mum. And proud to claim her and her husband, who just did a beautiful book trailer for me. You can check it out on MySpace, Linda Swift Book Trailer. Good night all. May your dreams be of Yorkshire. Linda

Oh, and I almost forgot to thank Terry for this opportunity to visit her blog and I hope she'll have me back sometime (hint,hint)

Anonymous said...

Lol I loved your post. It is amazing how many little words/phrases are different in the "English" language depending on your location.

It braught back memories of my son at 2/3 yrs old watching Kipper (an English cartoon)and the Wiggles. For the longest he talked with a British accent - which is funny because I am in the southern US.
His favorite phrases were 'may I have a lolly' (lollypop/sucker) and 'oh how I wish to go sledging' (it riding in a sleigh in the snow).

Thank you for the smile :)!

Pam S

Linda Swift said...

Thanks for writing, Pam. And now I've learned something new today. I had mentioned popcycles being called ice lollies and now I can see the connection with lollypops. It begins to make sense. They are an ice lollypop, aren't they? And a British accent on top of a southern drawl must have been pretty cute!

Terry said...

So funny! Thanks for posting.

My grandmother was British and I thought apartments were flats for years. Also tins of tuna and tea, not cans.

I grew up in Boston so there was some carry-over as well.

I've since been to London and lest we forget, "Sorr-ay! Sorr-ay! and Sorr-ay." The different voice inflection makes all the difference between being truly sorry and, "you'll be sorry you insulted me like that."

When people from non-English-speaking countries decide to learn English they decide between "American English" and "English English."

I've heard some say that for business purposes, they choose AE because we are the Super Power and Economic Giant. Hmmm... That may have changed.

Linda Swift said...

Thanks, Terry, for reminding me of the use of tins instead of cans. And if we here in the US say "a tin can" we are really being redundant, aren't we? Thanks for adding your comments!

Toni Anderson said...

I'm British but live in Canada, so this brought all the differences back!! :) Very funny post :) Thank goodness for CPs.

Linda Swift said...

Thanks for stopping by, Toni. I am always happy to hear from the people who are British. I'll bet you could tell me a lot of great words and expressions that I've missed here. Wish we could compare notes.

Linda Swift said...

Thanks again to all of you who shared your own amusing examples of speaking "English." I've added some new words to my list now. And if you enjoyed the blog and would like to read about my travels and tribulations in Hull, I'll be doing mini-blogs April 27-May 1 at http://www.longandshortreviews.com/LASR/index.htm.
At high noon in a random drawing, a winner was chosen. And the winner is...Kathleen of Canada. So Kathleen, you will need to send me your email address so I can send your copy of Circle Of Love.
Contact me at swift2208@yahoo.com before Monday, April 13th or I will have to draw an alternate name. Thanks and congratulations.

Scarlet Pumpernickel said...

Great blog! Enjoyed reading about the different meanings for words/phrases.

LOL, don't know where you are, but in Georgia "Coming up a cloud" means a storm is approaching!