Category Archives: Language

The Mad Dog and the Englishwoman: A Concept Revisited

I have just discovered that the 100th novel written about Doctor Who, my most favouritist televisual delight, bears a title in happy alignment with this blog. Not so sure what to make of the terrifying poodle, mind you.

This discovery facilitates a neat sidestep to an issue I have only just discovered to be an issue: this blog’s title. Apparently, if my editor is to be believed (and he usually is), a “mad dog” in American slang is someone unlikely to be invited into polite society. Which is most definitely not where I was going when I named this blog.

It also casts certain aspersions upon my poor husband, who, after our dog refused to properly take up the mantle and thanks to the photograph I chose to illustrate the sidebar, has by default taken on the role of the mad dog to my Englishwoman.

I was actually referring to a line from a Noel Coward poem, which reads: “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”. The poem satirises the unwillingness of the English to adopt the customs of the locals when abroad. More specifically, to stay indoors during the hottest part of the day when visiting the tropical climes of the colonies, back in the days of the British Empire. A bad idea when your bodily systems are adapted to drizzle and two-week summers.

As you might guess, I picked it to highlight my own ineptitude when it comes to learning new tricks. This is something I believe I prove with every step along my American journey, particularly when confronted by peanut butter. Although I suppose it remains open to interpretation whether this makes Hubby the type of mad dog Coward was referring to, or the type my editor disapproves of.

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun
The Japanese don’t care to, the Chinese wouldn’t dare to
Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one
But Englishmen 
Detest a
Siesta.
– Noel Coward, Mad Dogs and Englishmen

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Wyoming Via The Outback

It has been a source of constant consternation for me, since moving to the States, that every third person I meet assumes I’m an Australian. I’m fairly sure that my Dorset twang sounds nothing at all like the laid back drawl of your average Outback dweller and, ironically, I can’t imitate an Oz accent to save my life.

This is as close to Australia as I have ever been.

It really does happen all the time. A lovely tourist couple from Texas visited our art gallery not long ago and excitedly demanded to know which Australian city I hailed from. They were interested mostly because they spent 12 years living over there – even to people well used to the accent, mine apparently cannot be differentiated.

It’s not that I have anything against Australia – I would, in fact, dearly love to explore its oversized wonders, were I not petrified of giant spiders. It’s just that I spent 30 years cultivating this particular way of speaking, only for people to repeatedly question how successful I’ve been.

I’ve never even been here, in case of insects.

Unfortunately, I recently lost the right to complain about it. I met a lovely lady by the name of Elizabeth at a meeting of the local school board, which I was covering for the newspaper. She was helpful, courteous and friendly and I enjoyed talking to her very much, all the while marvelling that there was an Australian residing in the next town, adding to my observations of small-town Wyoming as so much more culturally diverse than I thought.

You can guess where this is going, can’t you? Yep, she was from Sevenoaks. Which is nowhere near Brisbane at all, but surprisingly close to London, England. It would seem that we British ex-pats slowly lose our accents, apparently by way of Sydney Harbour.

I’ll just go fetch my cork hat and a tinny, shall I?


English as a Foreign Language

My lovely father gifted me a Kindle book this morning – “Notes From A Big Country” by Bill Bryson, in case you’re interested. It was every bit as good as he said it was going to be; so good, in fact, that I found myself reading out a passage to Hubby before I’d even reached the second page. As I did so, our Kinect overheard me.

The Kinect and I have a tumultuous relationship. For those of you who have yet to sample the delights of its technological prowess, a Kinect is a little black box that attaches to your Xbox console, designed with the power to overhear everything you say, spy on you in your underpants and respond to its observations as it sees fit. Largely by opening applications on demand, but only when it feels like it.

Over the past two years, I have come to accept that my voice, specifically my accent, renders it utterly incapable of functioning. In response, I’ve taken to putting on a (really bad) accent when I’m alone in the house, just to save myself the 10 minutes of “Play… play… PLAY… Xbox, play. Just PLAY, would you. PLAAAAY” I’m forced to go through when I want to watch a tellybox show. I’ve made my peace, albeit unwillingly, with the knowledge that, for the rest of my days, I will be deliberately misunderstood by a stubborn and highly primitive AI.

I was not, however, prepared for this:

What happens when your Kinect can't understand you

Eager to please as always, our Kinect immediately assumed I needed its assistance and, because really the only help a Kinect can offer is to dash off to the depths of the internet on your behalf, leaped gallantly to its search screen, where it diligently recorded everything it thought I had said.

I stress the word “thought”, because I have no idea what a joory is, nor why the Kinect is resolute in its refusal to admit that the words coming out of my mouth are, indeed, the English language. I did mention Florida, but I have never knowingly discussed akosuahs (largely because I don’t know what they are, either).

In conclusion, I can express no surprise whatsoever that no search results were found.


Language Lessons

After confusing a friend of mine on a regular basis with prolific use of “weird English words” in my text messages, I have recently been educating her with a Word of the Day. As well as providing her with endlessly fascinating snippets of information, this serves the purpose of allowing me to be as nonsensical as I please.

A poor-quality picture of the squirrel in our garden, for no particular reason.

Some nuggets from the collection:

Queue: Demoted to simply ‘line’ in American English, the Brits have elevated queuing to an art form as elegant as the word itself.

Ey Oop: Traditional greeting of the yokel, this phrase admittedly loses impact when presented in a written medium.

Gubbins: Interchangeable with ‘nonsense’ or ‘malarkey’, this word nevertheless transcends the mundanity of its alternatives.

Natter: Though there is little difference between this word and “chat”, it is the better choice if said witterings are, or will be, more intense and delivered more rapidly than your average conversation. Applicable mostly to the kind of gossip sessions that please women, but baffle men.

Spanner: ‘Tool’ is a perfectly adequate insult to throw at someone for their idiotic behaviour, but there is something to be said for the greater impact of its inexplicably specific UK counterpart.

Undercrackers: How this word, meaning ‘underwear’, has failed to make its way across the oceans is beyond my ken, but I have plans to remedy the situation. There are few Americans with whom I have come into contact that remain ignorant of the glory of the undercracker.

Suggestions for upcoming lessons will be accepted gratefully.


Puzzled

At risk of outing myself as a nerd, for the purposes of this post I must reveal myself to be a fan of puzzles. Any kind will do – crosswords, logic puzzles, sudoku, they all have the same appeal. My glee was tangible when I discovered bumper puzzle books on sale in Walmart for $1 each… until I got them home.

I suspect my fellow countrymen mostly share my mistaken belief that we have a full understanding of American culture, thanks to our constant exposure to tellybox programmes, movies and other forms of US entertainment. However, I am now discovering how much is left out of our transatlantic education, which makes any type of question-based puzzle problematic.

I have no idea which football teams sport which colours, what the defining feature of any particular state is or what catchphrases to attribute to which of the myriad celebrities I’ve never heard a whisper of. I’m even flummoxed when asked to name a bean that serves as a salad bar staple, because a) we don’t eat many garbanzo beans in England and b) a salad bar where I’m from tends to be resolute in its offering of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and a bit of onion if you’re lucky.

The problems don’t end there. I stared at a fill-in-the-blanks style puzzle for several irritated minutes, before realising that the word I was trying to cram into the box wasn’t fitting because I was adding extra vowels to it. My brain is set up to recognise “colour” as a potential box filler, not “color”. And what is a “Halloween maze box”, for Christ’s sake? It turned out to be “bale”, which I’m still not convinced I understand. I am going to assume they meant “harvest maize cube”, which is what it would have been in an English puzzle book. Sometimes an extra vowel is not a bad thing.

Even the phrasing of most of the clues foxes me. For example: “Non-southpaw”. What? The answer was apparently, “Righty”. Righty then. I have literally no idea what either of those things means; the crossword questions in this slightly parallel dimension are as slightly parallel as everything else. I don’t use the right slang, nor do the same phrases spring to mind, nor do I recognise the same foods, geography and popular culture, nor do words always mean quite the same thing. I think, for now, it’s best I stick with the wordsearches, and the odd bit of sudoku – even I can’t mistranslate a number.


Anniversary Learnings

As of today, we have been married for six months – how quickly time has flown. So what have I learned in this time?

Photobucket

1) It is not as much fun shouting “HATCH” when you see an upward-opening car door as it is shouting “THATCH” when driving through the English countryside. It is, however, easier to drive through smaller settlements without going hoarse.

2) Not having to take buses, trains and the Underground everywhere is its own form of bliss.

3) Certain members of local society are unable to resist staring at me, presumably in case I grow an alien head and eat them when they turn their backs.

4) You can get extra scoops of ice cream if you have an English accent. You cannot, however, get anyone in Walmart to understand what it is you need. Swings and roundabouts.

5) It helps to have a translator available when talking to those unused to one’s accent. I have the good fortune to possess a husband who immediately jumps in with, “She means two weeks,” when I accidentally use the word ‘fortnight’. This has the added benefit of making me seem important and exotic.

6) Winter is not nearly so unpleasant when the sun shines onto the snow. Conversely, my umbrella now cries itself to sleep in the drawer, assuming I no longer love it.

7) My editorial training is deeply ingrained, making a mountain out of every US English-based writing molehill. All documents must be triple checked for the purpose of adding commas where I do not think there should be any.

8 ) Cereal aisles are still terrifyingly incomprehensible. Doughnut aisles are not.

9) I have work to do on my telephone etiquette. Thanks to my terribly English phone voice, my sister-in-law has literally no idea what I am saying to her. She is mortified by this, I am amused by my own ineptitude. Not only that, I don’t seem to be able to grasp the correct greeting/goodbye process and am often left wondering why I have not been allowed to go away yet.

10) PED XING means ‘Pedestrian Crossing’. Obviously.

11) It is not possible to get away with a fake fur coat from New Look and a thicker pair of socks during blizzards. It is, however, inadvisable to request help from one’s father-in-law, who will punish your lack of foresight by making you wear a giant babygrow.

12) For all that I miss my family and my friends (and Bisto gravy), it’s an honour to be able to call this place home.


A Biscuit Conspiracy

I have uncovered new evidence in the Great Biscuit Debate. For the three people in the world I have not yet bored senseless with this question, here is a brief recap:

1. A biscuit in England is called a cookie in America.

2. A biscuit in America is a scone (minus sugar) in England.

3. A scone in England is called shortcake in America.

4. Shortcake is a type of biscuit in England.

It’s a circular sort of problem, as you can see, and I can’t imagine what in God’s name possessed everyone to start swapping names about. Americans look at the jam and cream on a scone in horror, while Brits are constantly perplexed at the concept of putting gravy on a biscuit.

I’d just about got used to it, but now I feel cheated. While watching an episode of Lost this afternoon, I noticed that Sawyer referred to the yummy treat he won from the bear-training cage as a fish biscuit.

Fish biscuit. Yes, biscuit.

It then occurred to me that, when we give out treats to the pets, we use dog biscuits.

Dog biscuit. Not dog cookie.

It would appear that you buggers have known what a biscuit is all along. The only question remaining is why animals are allowed them, but not humans.