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Fun Stuff > Britishisms That Elude Americans

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message 1: by Joel (new)

Joel Bresler | 1552 comments Mod
Often I find myself wanting to add British expressions and things I've heard and get a kick out of in books I'm writing, only to hold off because no one 'round these parts would have a clue what they mean. For example,
"Robert's your father's brother" - Bob's your uncle (which in itself is uniquely British).
Anyone else have some good ones?


message 2: by Will (new)

Will Once (willonce) | 445 comments Irony
Spelling
Tolerance
Having a passport
Knowing that football is played with a ball and your feet


message 3: by Jay (last edited Oct 08, 2017 10:42AM) (new)

Jay Cole (jay_cole) | 5437 comments Mod
Will wrote: "Irony
Spelling
Tolerance
Having a passport
Knowing that football is played with a ball and your feet"


I thought Joel was referring to British expressions that don't translate across the pond. This tickled my curiosity, so I googled list British Idioms to see how many there might be. However, due to an unfortunate typo, google returned list British Idiots, which turned out to be a much longer list.

In America's defense, Will, I must state that "irony" is as American as apple pie. Note, our elected representatives were looking after their own interests instead of the public interest, so we elected a world-class narcissist to fix the problem. We now live with this irony every day.

I somewhat agree with you on spelling. Not the British vs. American spelling issue, which I consider simple evolutionary change, but the American public's blatent lacke ov ah exential skille.

Tolerance is written into the US Constitution. Note, we even gave women and slaves the vote. 'Nuf said.

No one in America needs a passport. Most of us are just a short drive away from an Italian deli, a Chinese restaurant, etc. We can also view opulent mansions and squalid slums, wide open plains and thunderous ocean surf, burning deserts and frozen wastes...nearly any culture or landscape we choose. And if we happen to see things we don't like, we can always change the channel. Try that with a passport.

Lastly, all this football bashing is unnecessary. I think the Brits are just jealous because they failed to invent a sport that combines naked male aggression and brain damage.

Boy, a defense this excellent should be sent to "FOX News"!


message 4: by Melki (last edited Oct 08, 2017 03:14PM) (new)

Melki | 3518 comments Mod
I always liked "gone pear-shaped." I believe I first heard it on the show MI-5. Originally RAF slang, I think it has something to do with the shape of a plane hitting the ground.


message 5: by Joel (last edited Oct 08, 2017 05:43PM) (new)

Joel Bresler | 1552 comments Mod
Tosser comes to mind.


message 6: by Joel (new)

Joel Bresler | 1552 comments Mod
I also like referring to someone as a dozy sod.


message 7: by Brena (new)

Brena Mercer | 617 comments Joel wrote: "Often I find myself wanting to add British expressions and things I've heard and get a kick out of in books I'm writing, only to hold off because no one 'round these parts would have a clue what th..."

Chelsea tractor (Lexus)
Clever clogs (ponce)
he is brown bread (dead)
toodlepip, footsloggers, form, nick, publican, punter, nancy boy, arse, hoover, barmy git, smoking fags, are ya havin' a laugh?, I tell a lie. I also noticed we say um, and they say erm.
I obviously watch a lot of British TV.


message 8: by Guy (new)

Guy Portman (guyportman) | 349 comments Joel wrote: "Often I find myself wanting to add British expressions and things I've heard and get a kick out of in books I'm writing, only to hold off because no one 'round these parts would have a clue what th..."

This is a excellent English (not British) one Joel - 'It's not cricket' - something is unfair or dishonest


message 9: by Guy (new)

Guy Portman (guyportman) | 349 comments Brena wrote: "Joel wrote: "Often I find myself wanting to add British expressions and things I've heard and get a kick out of in books I'm writing, only to hold off because no one 'round these parts would have a..."

I thought a Chelsea tractor would be a range rover.


message 10: by Guy (new)

Guy Portman (guyportman) | 349 comments Joel wrote: "I also like referring to someone as a dozy sod."

I think everyone should get that one.


message 11: by Guy (new)

Guy Portman (guyportman) | 349 comments Melki wrote: "I always liked "gone pear-shaped." I believe I first heard it on the show MI-5. Originally RAF slang, I think it has something to do with the shape of a plane hitting the ground."

I like that one too Melki.


message 12: by Jay (new)

Jay Cole (jay_cole) | 5437 comments Mod
We seem to have overlooked an obvious one: Chips (French fries) and crisps (potato chips).


message 13: by Brena (new)

Brena Mercer | 617 comments And biscuits for cookies....


message 14: by Brena (new)

Brena Mercer | 617 comments Jay wrote: "We seem to have overlooked an obvious one: Chips (French fries) and crisps (potato chips)."

And biscuits for cookies...


message 15: by Joel (new)

Joel Bresler | 1552 comments Mod
Jobsworth. That one seems to be popping to mind more and more, lately.


message 16: by Will (new)

Will Once (willonce) | 445 comments Or look at it this way. For every "Britishism" that Americans don't understand there is a corresponding "Americanism" that the British don't use:

Cookies for biscuits.
Fries for chips.
Potato chips for crisps.
"Loo"tenant for "Lef"tenant.

They are words that we use differently. They are only quaint "Britishisms" if you can only see the world from your own perspective.


message 17: by Brena (new)

Brena Mercer | 617 comments I love the nuances of languages, and I think a lot of Americans are fascinated by Britishisms because it does give us an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective.

I have never heard anyone say a British term is wrong. I have heard British people make fun of the way Brits from different areas speak. We do that here with the diversity of language and cultures in this country.


message 18: by Jay (new)

Jay Cole (jay_cole) | 5437 comments Mod
Will wrote: "They are only quaint "Britishisms" if you can only see the world from your own perspective."

As a "Yank" across "the pond," I can see your perspective quite clearly. However, I think globalization, while in its infancy, is making more and more people aware of the diversity of views, culture and language around the world. In LA, for example, the PBS stations offer news from the BBC, RT (Russia), NHK (Japan), Al Jazeera (Middle East), and others. Also, many people, like myself, read newspapers from around the world. The US is not nearly as insular as many people believe.

Let me tell you a story...

(Too) Many years ago, one of my friends in the navy was a tall, skinny black fellow who was assigned to the shipboard council on race relations (I forget the council's formal name.). We were talking about his new assignment one night over a game of pinochle, and I asked what his new position entailed. His response was (roughly): "If a white sailor and a black sailor come back from liberty [military euphemism for beer and women] and get into a fist fight, we have to decide whether it's a racially-motivated incident or just two drunks fighting."

People do tend to see the obvious, and yes, many will think no further, however there are indeed many other people who are eager to look deeper. They not only see diversity, but genuinely appreciate it. I think it's a fair perspective to say that the noted "quaint Britishisms" are all in good fun.

Please, pass the chips.


message 19: by Joel (new)

Joel Bresler | 1552 comments Mod
Oh, and pillock.


message 20: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 2422 comments Mod
Joel wrote: "Often I find myself wanting to add British expressions and things I've heard and get a kick out of in books I'm writing, only to hold off because no one 'round these parts would have a clue what th..."

I tend to do this, too. Then I edit them back out, since my characters, in the places they are set, wouldn't use those expressions.

It's not a question of considering British expressions "quaint." They are just intriguingly different from what we hear down at the grocery store. Ditto expressions and accents from different parts of our country.

But really, I was astonished to hear a British friend use "reckon," because I, too, thought that was only from old westerns.


message 21: by Will (new)

Will Once (willonce) | 445 comments Rebecca wrote: "It's not a question of considering British expressions "quaint." They are just intriguingly different from what we hear down at the grocery store."

Absolutely! The inference of quaintness is part of the problem.

You may hear Britishisms in your grocery store. I sometimes hear Amercanisms in my supermarket.

The "we" on Goodreads is international. That's why I'm intrigued when you talk about "we" and "our country" as if it refers only to Americans. There are a fair few Brits on this website. I'd like to think that in this context "we" means all of us.

"Reckon" is an interesting one. It comes from the old Norse "reikna". In the UK, it is mostly used as "I reckon" as part of the Yorkshire dialect. You are far more likely to hear it in the north than in the south, partly because the Vikings didn't settle too far down the south of England.

And if we go up to the north east and cities like Sunderland we will find people talking about "canny lasses", with a dialect that is arguably further from the UK English of the south than US English is from UK English.

The reference to old Westerns is apt. A sizeable proportion of cowboys in the "old West" era of 1860-1890 would have been first or second generation UK immigrants. As those immigrants would be drawn from the working class, it's not hard to see how a word like "reckon" could jump across the pond. From the Vikings to the north of England to US immigrants to the western frontier.

Isn't the English language beautifully diverse and rich?


message 22: by Will (new)

Will Once (willonce) | 445 comments Jay - let me tell you a story. When my son was tiny we were walking through a dark wood.

"I'm scared," he said, as he squeezed my hand tightly.

"There's nothing to be frightened of," I said. "We don't have bears or wolves in this country. There's nothing out there that's going to hurt you. All the wild animals are smaller than you. They're more afraid of you than you are of them."

"I know all that," he said. "I'm still scared."

Britishisms aren't "quaint" when you're British. And no amount of reasoning is going to make them quaint. By all means let's have a discussion about how are two languages are different. But please don't start from the assumption that we're all American and that every time our languages diverge it's a "quaint Britishism".


message 23: by Joel (new)

Joel Bresler | 1552 comments Mod
Rebecca wrote: "Joel wrote: "Often I find myself wanting to add British expressions and things I've heard and get a kick out of in books I'm writing, only to hold off because no one 'round these parts would have a..."

Exactly, Rebecca. Not quaint, just really good expressions.


message 24: by Jay (last edited Oct 18, 2017 08:14AM) (new)

Jay Cole (jay_cole) | 5437 comments Mod
Will wrote: "Britishisms aren't "quaint" when you're British..."

Good point, Will.

I guess it's safe to say that, here in the colonies, our perspective will always remain somewhat divergent. However, I'm always heartened when people use warm and fuzzy descriptors such as "quaint" because all too often our differences across borders are described in significantly less attractive terms.


message 25: by Brena (new)

Brena Mercer | 617 comments I don't completely edit out Britishisms. I write mostly in first person, and my main character talks the way I talk. I do go back and add articles to hospital and university.

I just finished a story set in no particular time or place. Very liberating...a compilation of many cultures and scenarios.


message 26: by Martin (new)

Martin (oldfossil) | 355 comments Mod
I know it's really off-topic, but I want to tell this true family story from the point of view of a Brit in New York. Mother told it on rare occasions.

My parents were from artisan/working-class backgrounds on the English-Welsh border. In those days few people owned an alarm clock, so in the industrial towns it was common for workers to be woken by a man who walked down the street, knocking on all the bedroom windows with a long stick. He was, of course, the 'Knocker-Upper' man.

Soon after they married my parents moved to New York to seek better employment. In a boarding house in NJ my father was sometimes away for a few days. On one of these occasions mother was breakfasting by herself when a kindly lady asked: "Oh, Mrs Evans, do you find it hard to wake up when your husband is away?" Mother answered: "No, because that nice Mr Brown from the second floor comes and knocks me up in the morning." Shocked silence in the boarding house breakfast room.

That was the start of a long process of learning American expressions.


message 27: by Brena (new)

Brena Mercer | 617 comments I was teaching ESL, and a line from the textbook was, "The boss ordered his men to take out Guido." My students thought the men were going to take him to dinner. Most of my students were cartel kids and learning to be English speaking criminals.


message 28: by Rebecca (last edited Oct 18, 2017 09:24PM) (new)

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 2422 comments Mod
Will wrote: "Rebecca wrote: "It's not a question of considering British expressions "quaint." They are just intriguingly different from what we hear down at the grocery store."

Absolutely! The inference of qua..."


Will, I think you misunderstand me, because I wasn't trying to imply that everyone here at THC is American. I was explaining the American reaction to British speech patterns and vocabulary. Since I am an American, I used the pronoun "we" to mention what is behind American reactions (and I have little doubt that there are similar reactions in British grocery stores to hearing someone speak American).

Does noticing there's a difference and laughing about the confusion caused (or talking about the problem of using the wrong set of vocabulary in our writing, and by "wrong" I mean "not the language that would be used by such a character in such a place) mean that someone is being condescending or assuming their way is right?

Maybe the whole bent of this thread is offensive to you. But if we can't laugh at the confusion and delight caused by the differences in our languages (and yes, it goes both ways), then what the hell are we doing here?


message 29: by Joel (new)

Joel Bresler | 1552 comments Mod
Rebecca wrote: "Will wrote: "Rebecca wrote: "It's not a question of considering British expressions "quaint." They are just intriguingly different from what we hear down at the grocery store."

Absolutely! The inf..."


As Freud reputedly told his daughter: Sometimes a banana is just a banana, Anna.


message 30: by Melki (new)

Melki | 3518 comments Mod
I may have mentioned this in another thread, but once I was chatting with one of my British Goodreads pals, and he mentioned that he was pissed.

I assumed he was mad at me, and instantly apologized. Turns out he was typing away whilst visiting the pub.

But then taking the piss has another meaning entirely . . .


message 31: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Shiroff | 840 comments My son, who's determined to move to England to live his life there as an adult, recently bought this book at a used-book store: https://www.amazon.com/How-Speak-Brit...


message 32: by Joel (new)

Joel Bresler | 1552 comments Mod
What ho!


message 33: by Kate (new)

Kate | 39 comments On the other hand, my sister has lived in London for the past 30 years and once when she brought her husband over here my car blew a tire. I told them "Just wait a sec, I'll put the donut on" and he about fell out of the car laughing.


message 34: by Kate (new)

Kate | 39 comments I myself like the expression Up the Duff and have really enjoyed my recent subscription to Brit Box.


message 35: by Will (new)

Will Once (willonce) | 445 comments Rebecca wrote: " ... if we can't laugh at the confusion and delight caused by the differences in our languages (and yes, it goes both ways), then what the hell are we doing here? "

That is the point - it goes both ways. Laughing at the difference in our languages is perfectly valid and great fun. If this thread had started out looking at both sides, we wouldn't be having this discussion. We'd be happily sharing examples drawn from both US English and UK English. All would be well.

There is an issue on the internet where some forums seem to assume that everyone is American. This is at least the second time on this forum that we've been invited to poke fun at the British. And while it may seem harmless to US English speakers, it can leave UK English speakers feeling either left out of the conversation or not welcome here. When it happens more than once, the feeling is increased.

You may not experience those emotions, but then you're not the butt of the jokes. You don't know how it feels.

I'll give you an example. I was talking to some UK friends recently about the NFL players taking the knee during the US National Anthem. My friends couldn't see what all the fuss was about. They couldn't see what was so divisive about it on either side of the argument.

But then the UK National Anthem does not hold the same weight for most UK citizens as the US Anthem does for most Americans. To understand the point you have to get at least partially inside the heads of the people with the strong opinions. And as getting inside someone's head isn't the easiest thing to do, sometimes you have to respect someone else's opinions even if you don't share them or understand them.


message 36: by Brena (new)

Brena Mercer | 617 comments Will, I am sorry if we offended you. I have never met anyone in the US who didn't like Brits. If you come to this country you will be amazed by how popular you will be instantly. Anyone who speaks with a British accent is assumed to be intelligent and interesting. It is like reverse discrimination.


message 37: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 2422 comments Mod
Will, I get what you are saying. But I might point out that the OP was, if anything, making fun of Americans who don't get it. There was no "looking at both sides" because he is a US writer who was commenting on a problem he has because (I'm guessing) he reads a lot of British novels, or maybe watches Monty Python marathons. It wasn't about there being anything odd about Britishisms, other than that most Americans are too parochial to get them, so he has to edit them out (okay, also has to edit because that's not how most Americans talk, so it's out of character). It was in no way "an invitation to poke fun at the British." I'd say it was more poking fun at the Americans.

You are, however, permitted to be irked that people chimed in with their favorite "funny" things Brits say.

Though it could be worse. You should hear the arguments from different parts of the US over whether you are drinking a soda while sitting on the sofa, a pop on the davenport, or a coke while on the couch. No wonder our politics are such a mess.


message 38: by Jay (new)

Jay Cole (jay_cole) | 5437 comments Mod
Will wrote: "...it can leave UK English speakers feeling either left out of the conversation or not welcome here..."

Will, trust me, UK participation is not only welcome, it's valued.


message 39: by Guy (new)

Guy Portman (guyportman) | 349 comments Lisa wrote: "My son, who's determined to move to England to live his life there as an adult, recently bought this book at a used-book store: https://www.amazon.com/How-Speak-Brit......"

He will be an expert after reading this.


message 40: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Shiroff | 840 comments Rebecca wrote: "...Though it could be worse. You should hear the arguments from different parts of the US over whether you are drinking a soda while sitting on the sofa, a pop on the davenport, or a coke while on the couch. No wonder our politics are such a mess."

As a Florida girls whose mother was from the Appalachian Mountain region, I had quite the diphthong and southern vocabulary as a child that I worked hard to get rid of as an adult. Now that I'm in New Jersey, people will often ask me where I'm from because I don't sound like I'm from around here but they can't figure out what it is I do sound like.

Anyway, an example of what Rebecca is talking about is when I once ordered a Scotch and told the bartender to put "a plug of ice" in it. Apparently, I still had a bit of a twang on the "ice" part because he thought I said "ass."

Also, no one in Jersey says "plug of ice." I don't think the bartender was ever that confused before.


message 41: by Martin (new)

Martin (oldfossil) | 355 comments Mod
Lisa wrote: " I once ordered a Scotch and told the bartender to put "a plug of ice" in it. Apparently, I still had a bit of a twang on the "ice" part because he thought I said "ass.""

A common confusion between barman and customer was "a Bitter Lemon" (fizzy soft drink/mixer) and "a bit of lemon". Maybe that is a Britishism?


message 42: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Shiroff | 840 comments Martin wrote: "A common confusion between barman and customer was "a Bitter Lemon" (fizzy soft drink/mixer) and "a bit of lemon". Maybe that is a Britishism?"

Maybe -- but I think "a Bitter Lemon" would be a great epithet for an angry blonde.

As in, if you don't put a plug of ice in my Scotch I might become a Bitter Lemon.


message 43: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 2422 comments Mod
Lisa wrote: "Martin wrote: "A common confusion between barman and customer was "a Bitter Lemon" (fizzy soft drink/mixer) and "a bit of lemon". Maybe that is a Britishism?"

Maybe -- but I think "a Bitter Lemon"..."


LOL!


message 44: by Kate (new)

Kate | 39 comments I feel like even though America has a ton of slang there are some concepts captured by the Brits we should adopt. Like twee. And taking the piss. Personally, the only thing I dislike about Briton (and Europe in general) is they act as if having ice in your drinks is some barbarian custom. But Brits make up for it with clotted cream! And humor!


message 45: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 2422 comments Mod
Kate wrote: "I feel like even though America has a ton of slang there are some concepts captured by the Brits we should adopt. Like twee. And taking the piss. Personally, the only thing I dislike about Briton (..."

I hold those toast-cooling racks against them big-time. But, then, over here we have State Fair food, and that makes chilled toast look good.


message 46: by D. (new)

D. Thrush After growing up in New York, I moved to California. I went into a pizza place and ordered a "pie." The waitress said with confusion, "We don't sell pie here." In NY, it's a pizza pie and we just say pie. :)


message 47: by Kate (new)

Kate | 39 comments Here in New Jersey I go "down the shore" every week and enjoy it even though I'm technically a "Shoobie". Sometimes I bring a bucket (pails are for those New England people) to make sand castles.


message 48: by Joseph (new)

Joseph | 133 comments Stones as in weight. you managed to keep pounds though, so not all bad.


message 49: by Jay (new)

Jay Cole (jay_cole) | 5437 comments Mod
Joseph wrote: "Stones as in weight. you managed to keep pounds though, so not all bad."

I see no particular advantage to the British version of stone meaning weight. Now, when we get stoned...


message 50: by Joseph (new)

Joseph | 133 comments The advantage is obvious - the scales show a smaller number...


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