Saturday, October 13, 2012

When the Wooden Planks Rabbit and Pork


It has recently come to my attention that the Americans are imitating British speech. If you happen to be one of them, I have this to say to you:

Stop it. Stop it right now. You sound like a twit. I’ve been living in Britain for 10 years and even I don’t say “Cheers,” and do you know why? Because I sound like a twit when I do. When a Brit says “Cheers,” it sounds natural; when an Americans says it, they say it as if they imagine themselves wearing a tweed outfit and a flat cap. Like it or not, British speech just does not sound right being said by Americans.

How this usurping of the British language began is not important (although I blame Downton Abbey, The X-Factor UK and residual fallout from the Harry Potter franchise) it is only important that you stop. I can only hope this is a verbal fad—like “groovy” (I cannot believe I used to say that with no sense of irony) or “Awesome” or saying “NOT!” after a patently absurd statement—and as such will fade away as did your penchant for counting carbs and your unfortunate flirtation with disco dancing.

Please understand I am only trying to help. I’m sure, despite your sincere desire to sound like David Beckham or Pipa Middleton, you really don’t understand how to use the words Twitten, Boot, Loo, Invigilate, Jolly and Queue properly in a sentence. When you try, you might think you sound sophisticated, but if there are any real Brits in the vicinity, they will secretly be thinking that you’re making a tit out of yourself.

As proof, have a look at the title: do you know what that means? No? Britspeak FAIL! Start speaking American, okay? American speech is brash and brassy and colourful enough that you don’t need to steal someone else’s words. “Going to the Loo?” How pedestrian! I can’t think of anything more depressing than hanging out in an American pub—I mean, bar—and hearing blokes—I mean, guys—saying they are” going to the loo.” What happened to your imagination? “Going to mark my territory,” “going to drain the snake,” “I’m going to the shitter, my back teeth are floating,” – now that’s more like it; crass, bold and in your face; that’s the American way. (Just don’t, in that situation, say, “I’m takin’ the piss” because that is so very wrong on many levels and you just end up looking like an arse.)

And if you don’t care about yourselves, then spare a moment to consider how I feel about it (because, as if you need to be reminded, it is all about me). I turned my life upside down, I found myself in a strange land among strange people with a strange language, and I spent a long time learning its meanings and nuances. It was an accomplishment, something I was proud of, something that marked me out both here and when I returned to the States for a visit. But now, if the rest of you are speaking the same way I am, well, what fun is that. For me, I mean.

If you want the right to use British words then you should do what I did: sell everything you own, move to Britain, marry a British person (you won’t have any problem finding a Brit to marry; they just swoon over an American accent. NOT!) and live here among the British. After a while, you can start using their vocabulary (but not their accent, please dear god, not the accent) and correctly adopt words like Loo, Twitten, Twee, Boot, Trainers and the like.

Only then will you understand how wrong it is for Americans to adopt British speech, and you will join with me in begging them to stop.

But if you remain intent on adopting British ways, you can start by writing your dates correctly, that’s just driving me crazy.

*Title translation: When the Americans Talk


31 comments:

  1. Having married an American and moved to the USA, I now find my husband is picking up my colloquialisms (including "Cheers") rather than my vocabulary becoming more American. I agree it sounds wrong, but then it sounds wrong for Brits to say "awesome".

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    1. Good point! Americanisms over here are just as bad. ;)

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  2. Twitten?? That must be a Southern thing Mike as I have never heard of it (this is presuming it's not a misspelling of Twitter?) Put this British out of his misery and Tell me what it means for goodness sake!

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    1. Steve: Twitten is an old Sussex dialect word, used in both East and West Sussex, for a path or alleyway. So I'm not surprised you haven't heard of it.

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    2. Ah... what we in Yorkshire would call a Ginnel - a narrow alleyway between 2 structures or walls.

      Thanks for that Mike

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    3. mrs Baum11:51 AM

      My husband, who's from Nottingham, would call it a Twitchel.

      I'm from South Wales and I've no idea what I'd call it. An alley or a lane probably. I'm sure there is a Wenglish word but I can't think what it is.

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  3. That should say "Brit" - bloody auto spell checkers

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  4. Glad you explained "twitten". I'm also glad you translated the title; I was always rubbish at Cockney Rhyming Slang.
    BTW that's another British word that I'm hearing over here more and more "rubbish". Not that it's a British word, but...

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    1. Yes, Twitten was a bit of a cheat, as it is a local term. And I never took the rubbish out in the US, so I consider that a UK term.

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  5. Ha! This is really hilarious, Mike, and hits close to home. But what if we Britophiles accidentally start using these words? While I was doing research for my eBook on English food I kept saying things like "tins" of food rather than cans, and my famous gift for spelling is now going down the tubes because I automatically spell some words with an "s" instead of a "z". I haven't had the guts to talk in an accent except when there are only fellow Brit-nerds around, but I do *gasp* talk to myself in an English accent straight from numerous BBC miniseries.

    But what about Brits speaking American? Just listen to Mumford and Sons. They have a song called "Dust Bowl Dance" and with those banjos and electric guitars they sound like they're desperately trying to mimic American country music stars. Personally, I wish they'd stick to British-sounding music.

    OK, off my soapbox now.

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    1. Abigail: but do you call the 'Z' a 'Zed'? ;)

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    2. Ha! Not yet. That would take a long time to get used to....

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  6. Oh, and as for the title, In Yorkshire we (not me by the way) would call you guys "Tin Tanks" or even "Septic Tanks", But I have to accept your version of it as you are a good deal nearer to London and all points Darn Sarf than we are... :-)

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    1. They use "Septic Tanks" here, too, but I thought that sounded too harsh. "Tin Tanks" would have worked; too bad I didn't run across that on one during my research.

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  7. Anonymous11:16 PM

    The first time I saw one of those overstuffed electric armchairs in a shop window I wondered why it was called a La-Zed-Boy.

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    1. I always think of the Zorro theme song (yes, I'm that old) and wonder how they would rhyme ZED with FREE if they imported the show to the UK.

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  8. Darn right! There are those nuances that you have to be born to. I have an English friend and whenever I try to write a British character, she let's me know how badly I get the dialog wrong. Not only are there regionalisms but terms that are dated and words that denote the class of the speaker, and etc. There's no way a Minnesotan could possibly get it right. Of course, no Brit could ever write about Minnesotans like Garrison Keillor can, either.

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    1. Agreed! Meg Gardiner, a thriller writer who lives in Surrey (she's a REAL, international, best selling writer--go buy her books, they're great) said she would never set a book in Britain for that very reason. I didn't listen to her and set 'Finding Rachel Davenport' here and I can't wait to hear the scathing reviews from the locals about how I got it all wrong.

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    2. "Typical American" ;)

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  9. Mike, I can totally relate to the pet-peeve-iness of this post. As an American working, for lack of better options when I arrived in Germany, on a US military post, I feel almost constantly embarrassed in place of my American cohorts who, for total lack of motivation, do not learn German, nor anything but the most Disney-Land-ish about Germany and its culture.

    That said, I must regularly check myself when I think, "what an idiot, this guy can't even bother himself to order a beer in German?! It doesn't get much simpler 'Bier, bitte.'" There is really little reason for an American who will only reside in Germany for 2 years to learn a fairly complex language, as closely related as it may be to English. This person, assuming as much, fails also to learn that in Germany, it is not at all rude to use what would seem like a grunt of a command if uttered in English. And I have completely given up on trying to convince ANY American that German is easy to less horrendously pronounce, if one takes the time to learn the comparatively simple phono-morphological rules.

    But that is really the trick, that as expats, accidental or otherwise, we have learned to become sensitized to the subtleties of our prospective dialects/languages/cultures. And as such, homogenized Americans tend to bug us when using such terms that they likely have not taken the time to learn anything about because they don't know any better. Then again, there are plenty of linguists who are exponentially worse about this, knowing far, far more about the etymology and usage of the terms we complain about others less educated using.

    After all, English would not be what it is without the historical and modern languages we've so heavily borrowed from. Britain is FULL of borrowings from conquering and subsequently conquered (Angols, Celts, Norse, Welsh, etc.) cultures--and the US is no exception, borrowing from Native American languages of immense diversity, and re-borrowing from French, Mexican Spanish, and the languages of European immigrants. The average American simply does not think about these things, we just know English is, and seemingly always has been, a bit screwy, and the Brits, from my experience, are even worse.

    TL;DR?
    You have a point, but that point can be further picked.

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  10. Anonymous2:50 AM

    Help me here, Mike! Which IS it? First, we "Americans" are crass in our language - then some of us pick up "BritSpeak", I think you call it? But that's not good enough either! Which is it? I am British by blood, American by birth, and Southern by the grace of God...I will speak as I wish (not required that I sell everything & come across the Pond - you did it for a GIRL, remember? In a BALLCAP! Not for your admiration of the British.......read your books a few days ago.....interesting to observe your own BritSpeak development. Sorry, but while it's funny you also come across as a snot...

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    1. I think we expats have the best of both worlds: by living in the host country, we get to talk like them, and because we come from a different country, we get to talk like them, as well. ;)

      And this is a humor blog, not an advice column; sometimes people find it funny, sometimes they don't, but they should never, ever take it seriously. ;)

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  11. Anonymous3:15 AM

    BTW - my previous post - as "Anonymous"? Tried to use my subscriber URL and it didn't work out - so I had to post as "Anonymous". I am not Anonymous. I am GRITS (Girls Raised in the South). I am in California for the same reason you are in England - someone I love is here...my son...he was born in Niskayuna near Schenectady - when we brought him home 20 April 1982 there were still ptaches of snow on the ground...I loved it there...so beautiful. Used to go up to Glens Falls to hear The Dead...we were stationed near Saratoga Springs...

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    1. Hi GRITS! Thought that was you up there in the previous comment. So you are familiar with the area I come from in the US, as well. Lovely place, upstate New York.

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  12. Anonymous3:25 AM

    P.S. Watch out! We might just start using aristocratic terms auch as "slapper"! Love, Grits ;)

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    1. Slapper? I've been using that term for donkey's years.

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  13. Hi Mike - did you see the article on the BBC website today at all? It seems you are ahead of the official news after all - nothing like being first with something is there? :-)

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19929249

    "Cheers"

    Steve

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    1. Thanks for that! I had not seen it. I guess I'll feel right at home next time I go over there, and I won't be confusing anyone with my local jargon ;)

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  14. Hi! I found your blog by chance and I think it's fantastic!!

    I completely agree with your post because I've been, more or less, in that situation. I'm Spanish so our English teachers teach us the British English, but most of the series and music we see or listen are American. We mix both, plus our own way of speaking English and the result is that if we go to United States and say "queue" they don't understand us and if we go to Great Britain and say "awesome" they think we are crazy!!
    I don't want to know what they think of our accent!!

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  15. So very true - I was born in Kent where we also say 'twitten', so I think it is a south-eastern thing. Also things like 'mind your own beeswax' for 'don't be so nosy'. Or would that be curious, to a wooden plank? My son has started to say 'awesome' recently. I am hoping that he will grow out of it eventually.

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    1. I get odd looks saying "Twitten" any place other than the south east, so we get to claim that as our own.

      Sorry to hear about your son ;)

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