Friday, October 19, 2012

Snogging's a no go but some British expressions are now spot on Stateside


Americans don’t like snogging much. The generic term for the genteel art of sticking your tongue down someone’s throat remains kissing.

But more and more British terms are now crossing the Atlantic and ending up in general usage in the same way as US expressions such as “OK” hit Blighty a few decades ago, according to a new survey.
 
Will redheads like Christina Hendricks from Mad Men soon be gingers?

The Britishisation of American English was recently described by a number of news channels while last year Yagoda set up a blog dedicated to spotting the use of British terms in American English.

This hasn’t come a moment too soon for me; although come to think of it, it’s probably come too late. As a British journalist working in America, I always thought I was sensitive to the linguistic differences – that is until I made the mistakes.

“At the weekend?” one copy editor asked me quizzically down the phone, another editor questioned my use of the phrase “taken to hospital.”

“So why did he kill her?” asked the crime editor.

“Because she packed him in.”

“She packed him into what exactly?”

I had more problems explaining to the same editor why a trainer belonging to the deceased lay at the scene.

“So they also killed his personal trainer?”

“No like footwear.”

The problems continued. “What’s wrong with this? Why do you describe it as a scheme?” asked one editor gravely.

“Because a scheme means a project in Britain.”

Most of them were caught before publication. Advert got into print.

And then there was the alarming night I was asked to cover an event at a “shag club.” Boy was I disappointed.

The good news is, according to the BBC, some Britishisms are sticking stateside. Phrases gathering momentum over here include “chat up” and “spot on” as well as the expression “ginger” for a red head.

It seems Harry Potter is responsible for some of the Britishisms. The expression “sell by date,” which means expiration date is also gaining ground.

Of course there are still many British expressions that are yet to arrive in the US. It’s not polite to talk about “smoking a fag,” or buying a “rubber.” (eraser).

But the slow importation of British expressions means it’s probably time to stop casually referring to people as “wankers” because they may stop scratching their heads and end up punching me in the chops.

14 comments:

  1. I remember going into a NYC store and asking for Converse shoes. My fairly simple request was met with a blank stare and "Eh?". I should have asked for sneakers apparently but I would have thought that combining the words 'Converse' and 'shoe' was enough information to arrive at that point, if one had the brain at least the size of a centipede.

    The day you cannot call someone a 'wanker' without getting a punch on the nose will be a sad day indeed. On the other hand, you'll feel a lot more at home. :)

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    1. for real I'll miss not telling people they are wankers Sarah - um not sure I know what Converse shoes are.

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  2. Rubbers used to mean rainboots here...prior to the 70s or so. I did pick up on some British slang from the music I was listening to when I was in high school. I don't get the redhead to ginger thing though.

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    1. really I guess ginger isn't catching on JoJo - oh we call rainboots Wellington boots after the Duke of Wellington.

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  3. LOL I remember a UK visitor wanting to point someone out to me and referring to him as "the guy with the fag over there". I was horrified to say the least. Oh, and another fellow told me he thought he'd wear a jumper since it was cold out- well, back when I was growing up a jumper was a girl's pullover dress. :-)

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    1. too funny Li - I have had strange looks when I have said jumper but I guess fag is the one with the biggest potential for embarrassment.

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  4. Did you take a "rubber" to the "shag club"? It's the safest way to do it (i.e., take notes).

    xoRobyn

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    1. yes of course to erase one's translation mistakes Robyn :)

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  5. I literally understood 3 words of this post. (: Guess I'm not hip on the Britishisms yet.

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    1. Obviously not speaking the old Queen's there Anna

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  6. I love Britishisms and I always wonder if foreigners are as confused by our weird American expressions as we are by their strange terminology.

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    1. there are some strange ones - I remember being taken aback when an American woman said 'fanny pack' in the UK, Alyson..

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  7. For some reason, this made me think of when John Taylor of Duran Duran was doing a radio interview in 1986 (which I still have on cassette tape, it should be noted) and said someone had made him look like a Wally. A DJ asked him if a Wally was anything like a wanker. Well, poor John was just stunned and gave this choking gargle of a guffaw that still cracks me up, when I remember it. :D
    Mina's Resurrection Blogfest!

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  8. Lol - I the allure of cassette - crappy but nostalgic. That's funny because wally is kind of harmless and wanker is saying John was a big old piece of nastiness essentially - although I was never quite sure how masturbation equates to being an idiot and an unpleasant person, but that is how it's used back home.

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