Tuesday, October 16, 2012
For Word Lovers
I recently stumbled upon a great blog called Not One-Off Britishisms (I'd provide the link, but Blogspot's new program is giving me fits, as usual. If you're interested, it's at britishisms.wordpress.com/) The author is an American, and his blog is dedicated to outing insidious Britishisms creeping into American English (something he finds vaguely despicable and utterly pretentious.) It makes for entertaining reading, especially for people like me whose own language has become hopelessly confused.
As a child, I attended a school taught half in Spanish and half in the Queen's English. I first moved to Australia in 1975 (Wow, typing that makes me feel old!), then to England. I spent 16 years married to someone who was educated in Britain and spoke the Queen's English; lived to Jordan where all my friends were Aussies and Brits, or Jordanians taught English by Brits; then moved to Australia and raised a couple of kids who spoke Aussie. If I wanted to be understood, I learned to adapt.
There were some words I always steadfastly refused to embrace: mum (I refuse to be a "mum"), bathers (bathing suit), and nappies (diapers) being the ones that come to mind, along with expressions such as "made redundant" (let go). Some I adopted but have since mostly dropped, such as bin (waste basket), tin (can), and crisps (potato chips, since what Americans call french fries are chips).
Others are such delicious words that I refuse to part with them, or they fill a gap in the language. Into this category fall whinging (sort of like whining, only subtly different), punch-up, car park (much easier to say than parking garage), fancy (as in, "I think she fancies him" or, "Fancy a hot fudge sunday?"), daggy, and knackered (the last two aren't exactly for polite company). Some are so useful, I've noticed Steve has also adopted them. For instance, what DO Americans call that strip between the sidewalk and the street? We call it "the council strip".
But what amazes me in reading NOOBS is the number of expressions or words I didn't even realized are Britishisms. Reading this blog is like an extended "oops" moment, even though I don't subscribe to its operating theory that using these words and expressions is pretentious. But as someone who employs words for a living, you'd think I'd be more aware of my own speech. Yet I did not realize the many, many words and expression I use that could sound pretentious or odd, and at times be incomprehensible to most listeners. Into this category fall proper (as in, make a proper spectacle of yourself), make a hash, on the back foot, dab hand, have a quiet word, cock-up, barman, sacked (fired), hang on (as in, "Hang on, are you telling me Americans don't say that?"), sorry (as in "I didn't hear that; could you please repeat it?).
Not that I plan to try to change, because language is a fluid thing, and we all add and lose expressions and words over the course of our lives. Still, if you love words, the blog makes for fun reading.