Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Divided by a common language

Via this blog (which I found because she disagreed so totally with me over Mephistopheles Smith - though she was wrong, of course) I found this interesting list of British English idioms needing translation for an American readership. Inteeresting in some of the things he included that hadn't occurred to me, but also in the (Scottish) ones he left out:

High Tea - an evening meal comprising the standard "tea" elements of tea, cakes, and bread/toast with butter/jam, but also a cooked main dish such as fish and chips.

Outwith - outside, in the sense of "beyond the bounds of". As in "the council decided that human rights issues were outwith its decision-making powers".

Uplift - collect, as in "rubbish is uplifted every Thursday".

Bucket - rubbish bin, either under a desk or (less commonly these days) for a household.

And do Americans understand "Bank Holidays"? These are (in most cases) public holidays, though sometimes the banks will close on one day and other businesses on another because of local traditions, especually in Scotland.


At 16 August, 2007 15:54, Anonymous Gill said...

I find it a source of eternal fascination - even the grammar rules are subtly different - as you notice if you ever leave the grammar checker on *^%$ Word switched on. I beta quite a bit of stuff written by Americans with the specific remit of looking out for British characters talking like Americans (Peter Coates does too, in the Harry Potter fandom) and it's often the little things that catch them out - no idea what clotted cream is, poor things.

Did you realise few Americans have or know of electric kettles? Or front-loading washing machines? And, yes, I have several times had to explain a Bank Holiday - though the implications of the term are different in Scotland and England I gather. "Holiday" to an American means a single day off for a specific event anyway - like Thanksgiving, Labor Day and Christmas, so they are bemused when we talk about "going on holiday".

And they don't have fortnights. That one stunned me.

At 16 August, 2007 20:29, Blogger Rob said...

Well, having just seen Macbeth (albeit in his bouncy implementation) I feel we should be pressing for the return of sennights. (And yes I know WS has the V in, but the elided version always seemed more deliciously antique to me.)

At 16 August, 2007 20:51, Blogger Rob said...

Oh, Bank Holidays. Yes, different in Scotland and England, though converging. WHen I moved up here a bank holiday was just that: banks and post offices took it and practically nothing else, so all the shops would be open.On the other hand you had local holidays when everything shut except the banks and post offices etc which stayed open (because they'd already had their holidays). Local holidays, as per the tin, differed from place to place.

The situation with local holidays is as it was, except that in these 24x7 days not as many places thake them at all. The Scottish banks aligned themselves to the English bank holidays more than ten years ago (thereby making my job much simpler as a day was either a working day or it wasn't, and my programs didn't have to fret about whether it was a working day HERE but not THERE or vice versa). Post offices (I think - it confuses the hell out of me sometimes) take the Scottish Bank Holidays. Oh, and in addition to the English BHS my employer gives us 2nd January as part of a complicated quid pro quo negotiated during one of the various mergers, outsourcings etc we've had.

The result is that my Mondays off very rarely coincide with Hilary's.

Bet you wish you hadn't asked.....

Oh, and of course the school holidays are rather different. Ruairidh started back at school yesterday!

Another good differential usage is "supper" as in "fish supper". You will tend to see in chip shops the proces quoted for the items (haddock, sausage, haggis etc.) and then a column for "supper" (i.e. with chips). What do you mean you don't get haggis in your chip shops? Or white puddings? And sadly the deep-fried Mars bar isn't an urban myth, though it's fortunately something of a rara avis.

The guy doing the original list to which I linked missed one of the more obviously bring-you-up-short UK/US differences, which is "pissed". The rubber/eraser thing is pretty well known, as is the different usage of "fag", but hearing an American say she's really pissed is just wrong.

Oh, and Sellotape. (That's one where Australian English is even weirder, as a friend found when she got an office job in Melbourne and on her first day they asked if she wanted a Durex dispenser for her desk.)

At 16 August, 2007 22:25, Anonymous Gill said...

Talking of fags, there's also the issue of butts...

As for the Durex dispenser, jsut what kind of girl did they think she was? (Presumably one who drinks Pschittt?)

I remember visiting the Becks in Helensburgh, one Easter, and thus discovering public holidays differed, which I had not previously realised. I know school holidays were different, though the Feast of the Assumption seems very early to start back - we've just had A/L results today, GCSEs next week (Rosi on tenterhooks) and not actually back to school till the first full week in September, three weeks off yet.

American writers sometimes take advantage of the differences to give their British characters much ruder things to say than an American could be allowed on prime-time TV or family-rated films - Austin Powers, for example, or Spike on Buffy.


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