Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bi-Lingual, kinda

by guest blogger Toni Summers Hargis, author of "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom"

Having lived in the States for nineteen years, I like to boast that I’m “bi-lingual”. What? You think there’s no new language to learn? “How different could it be?” you ask. Let’s just say the learning never ceases. Only last week, as we were heading off to an outdoor concert with some friends, one asked if I had the “church key”. I thought he was referring to the front door key, which I proudly produced, to gales of laughter from everyone. Come on – how was I supposed to infer that he was talking about a bottle opener?

For the most part, American English and British English are similar enough for us to be able to communicate; British goose pimples become goose bumps across the Pond, the phrase six and two threes translates to six of one and half a dozen of the other” (or six and one half when pressed for time), and fanny simply means one’s bottom instead of, well, a female front bottom. Some of the differences are hilarious either to Americans or Brits, depending on the situation. For some reason behoove, (which is the American version of “behove”) cracks me up every time I hear it. If you’re trying to warn me that it would “behoove” me to do something, you’ll need to choose a different word to be taken seriously. Similarly, every time I pronounce the word herb with an audible “h”, all the Americans in the room will smile indulgently at each me and then repeat my pronunciation exactly. The most hilarious of all is when Brits come across Americans named Randy. There’s much elbowing, winking and general Monty Python-esque behavior, which falls on utterly deaf ears as Americans don’t use the word “randy” to mean “horny”.

Generally, the differences cause mirth instead of confusion, but when your husband tells you he’s been shagging flies, it’s important to jump for the dictionary rather than jump to conclusions. (The term means to throw and catch baseballs in the outfield when the baseball game isn’t in progress.) Similarly, when your teenagers tell you they’re boning up on something, you should know that they’re studying (or claiming to) rather than getting up to anything more illicit...


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