Thursday, March 18, 2010

Toni Hargis: Learning the Lingo

Toni Hargis
About the Author

Toni Hargis is the author of the popular expat book "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom" and blogs as Expat Mum

How long do you have to live in a country to feel like you know what on earth everyone’s talking about? In my case, there’s not even a second language involved as we’re all supposed to be speaking English. I’ve written at length about the vocabulary differences between British and American English, but in my experience, the real confusion comes from day to day expressions which bear no relation to their actual meaning.

For example, even though I’ve been in the USA almost twenty years, I apparently have had no idea what “being behind the eight ball” means. It’s a very common phrase here and I always assumed it was a good thing (don’t ask me why but I had really good pool/snooker players in mind), but no, in fact it means quite the opposite. If you’re behind the eight ball, you’re in serious trouble, or in a tricky situation.

OK, what about a getting the “bum’s rush”? No – get your minds out of the gutter, it means to be forcibly ejected from somewhere or told to leave in a hurry. Remember, the American word “bum” means a tramp rather than a posterior, so the bum’s rush derives from wanting to rid a place of undesirable characters.

And what if someone requests your John Hancock? It hardly bears thinking about really does it? John Hancock was one of the founders of the United States and the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Apparently from the late nineteenth century onwards, John Hancock has been slang for one’s signature. A bit like Cockney rhyming slang without the rhyming...

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englishmaninmoscow said...

There is a big difference between American and British English by spelling and vocabulary.

Francesca Maggi said...

That is so true! The same goes for other common sayings...things that are common to Brits are not said in American English, so really, no one really knows what is going on!

I'd love to see some of your best stories like those posted here:

as I never really thought that English to English would be so dramatic - (and funny!)