Thursday, August 09, 2007

My Word

Spending time with friends who hail from England invariably leads to comparisons between how we use language, between American and English. We had great fun mimicking each others' accents, being baffled by how we can use the same words so differently, and generally having a good time.

British: I'll knock you up in the morning.
American: I'll come by your room tomorrow.

In England, a pencil eraser is a "rubber" and in the U.S., that's slang for a condom. In the U.S., "fanny" mean your backside as in "fanny pack," which the British call a "bum bag." Why? In England, "bum" is slang for your butt while "fanny" refers to ... well, a woman's privates.

One night, a friend wrote out the following phrases, taken from a book on how to talk like a Brit. I gather there's a similar book on how to talk like an Australian. She asked us to read it out loud, phonetically, through slightly clenched teeth:
Dring Spotty.
Wonker noodly sair noffa bot this trooleh mofflis spook!"

So I stumped them with this conversation between two Southern gentlemen:
MS Duks.
MR Not.
MR 2.
CM Wangs?
M R Duks!

A shiny Euro to the first person to translate both of these correctly.

I think the late John Ciardi got it right in the introduction to one of his wonderful browser's dictionaries when he described the root meaning of homo sapiens, homo coming from the Greek humus or clay from which humans were said to have been fashioned by God and sapiens meaning to think. So humans are the clay that thinks. Ciardi went on to point out that humans are not the only animals that appear to have thought processes. Some primates have even shown the ability to make tools, so Ciardi's conclusion was that we should really be called homo locquatious; the clay that speaks. If there is anything that distinguishes us from other animals it must be our ability to constantly invent, use, extend, and adapt language.


Greybeard said...

Fun, John!

Get stuffed!?

I work with a Brit and continually have to ask him to "say that again... in American!"

Anonymous said...

Not all "brits" speak with a cockney accent.........

Kevin said...

I'm an ex-pat Brit, but I can translate the Southern...

MS Duks.

Them's ducks.

MR Not.

Them are not.

MR 2.

Them are too!

CM Wangs?

See them wings?


Little B, (not 100% sure of this one)

M R Duks!

Them are ducks!

But the Aussie has me stumped.


John said...


You got the southern speak almost right. The "LIL B" is supposed to be "we'll I'll be."


The Brit-speak examples I quoted are NOT cockney. In fact, said through clenched teeth, they're decidedly uppah claahs.

The Asian Badger said...

What a wanker.

Hamish said...

Yeah, Cockney it ain't... (said with the authority of one who was born with a long-gone upper-middle-class accent and who was dragged around ear-frigger by his parents as a child). I spose one can hardly say enough about this truly marvelous blog, though :-).

John said...

Or perhaps a plonker?

Here's the Brit-speak translation, though I'm sure Hamish could do it.

Drinks party.
One can hardly say enough about this truly marvelous book.

Hamish said...

Well, I'm embarrassed to admit that the British phrases were immediately obvious, and the Southern ones only took a few seconds to work out.

There's a similar phenomenon for the Australian English that I also grew up with: "Strine" (see "Strine" being, of course, how a supposedly typical Aussie pronounces "Australian"...