Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Come Again? 7 Words the English Taught Me

When traveling to an English-speaking country, there is sigh of relief knowing you might actually understand when they announce your train has been delayed or what you are ordering from a menu. Especially after living abroad for 3 months, there was no end to my glee when I heard the drone our Air France pilot, "I'd like to welcome all of our passengers to England," in English!

But as anyone who has traveled between the mother country and that Yankee territory will tell you, there is American English, and then there is English English. Same words, different meanings. Or more often (and more confusing), same words, different contexts. The thing about being a language lover is, I fell in love with some of those words we Americans know but never really use. So I just had to share my top 7 of the British vernacular:

1. Rubbish. Everything is so rubbish. That band you listened to last night? Rubbish. That Thai place you went with your friends. Rubbish. Those American politics. Real rubbish. Rubbish can be used to describe any and all things you consider subpar, unhealthy, or just plain tasteless. And once something is rubbish, there is no saving it. What I especially loved about this word is how it maintains the class of the issuer while still executing the insult. How very English.

2. Posh. This is the opposite of rubbish. This is class itself in an adjective. If an English person calls you that, pack up your bags and get ready to bust into Buckingham, baby! But really, this word generally refers to the upper crust of life, from people to parties to places to pop stars (Let's be honest, never to pop stars). This is where money must reside with good upbringing. And never mingled with rubbish.

3. Proper. A close cousin of posh, we often think of proper with being polite. In England it more often refers to the right way of doing something, the way something should have been done all along. One may snack now and eat properly later. One should have a proper job when one finishes university. And one should know a proper bachelor when one sees one. 

4. Sorted. Things in England don't get figured out, they get sorted. This makes me chuckle, as I feel "sorting" is a far more orderly and sensible way of providing a solution than that hippy "figuring" business. And in true English form, there is less room for discussion when something has been sorted. Because it's probably been sorted properly.

5. You alright? "Yeah, do I look like I'm not?" My response the first dozen or so times I was asked this by well-meaning Northerners who were just being polite. As opposed to the American use of this phrase when they sense someone is out of sorts or in trouble, This phrase is the equivalent of "How are you?" in the north. I kept thinking, do I have something on my face?

6. Can't be bothered. If an English person doesn't want to do something, it's not that they don't want to do it. It's that they "can't be bothered" with it. Freeing the speaker from all responsibility, they assume a position of superiority over the task. It's not that they don't have time, inferring a flaw in the speaker's time management skills. It's that they can't be bothered by something that doesn't hold enough weight to be considered in their already important schedule. How very clever. 

7. Cheeky. I didn't think this word was used outside of movies with bad British accents, but lo and behold, there were cheeky blokes everywhere in London! Cheeky children on the Tube, cheeky tourists clogging up the streets, even cheeky pigeons dive bombing pedestrians. Then I got suspicious that perhaps I was being set up... surely cheekiness is limited to the London mob. But no! There were cheeky sheep in the countryside, cheeky ads on the telly, cheeky youths at the train station. I am happy to report, then, that all of England is cheeky.

Okay, now to activate part two of my plan: we all start using these words on the reg and confuse everyone, everywhere. Really, pick a word and use it all day. I bet you get some strange looks, but trust me, it will be worth it. We will confuse tourists, we will confuse Americans, we will confuse Brits. And if that isn't cheeky, I don't know what is!

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