Jonesey's Blog

Jonesey's Blog

The ubiquitous Jonesey


So here's what's circulating in my head now - the hoary old subject of English vs American English.

I've lived in the US since 2006, but still trip over differences from time to time. Most recently, my remark that the phrase "Donald Trump is a gift to democracy" had been mistyped fell flat when it turns out that "git" isn't an insult here. My spell-checker can't even recognize it as a word.

I've been exposed to a whole area of language which I hadn't needed for a long while, with the addition of a granddaughter to the Jones family. I had long been delighted by the fact that instead of buying a nappy rash cream you could get Butt Paste...but the sentence "I think the pacifier is in the bassinette" had to be translated for me. (for fellow-Brits, it means "I think the dummy is in the crib").

Last time I moved house I discovered that Americans have no idea what a clothes horse is. And that a cooker is called a "range".  Well, when my Range stopped working, I'm afraid  I disproved the old lyric "seldom is heard a discouraging word".

I'm still not quite sure what a "maven" is.

The differences are simplest when the US uses an entirely different word to the UK. So you learn that a cafetiere is a French press, that a cooker is a range, coriander leaf is cilantro, spring onions are scallions, and so forth. Also that kids don't progress from year one to year two etc - they are freshmen, then sophomores, then juniors then seniors... I thought it was easier just to count. ("I love to count...that's freshmen, sophomore..." doesn't work really)

Then there's the other thing - where the US and the UK use the same words, but they mean different things.

I remember as a kid reading in a novel that somebody ("sopped up their gravy with a biscuit". I thought this was some strange colonial habit (and indeed it is) but had no idea that neither "biscuit" nor "gravy" meant what I thought they did. 

In the UK we walk on the pavement. I'm fine with renaming this "sidewalk", but then (sometimes but not always) the road  surface is renamed "pavement" . This could be fatal...

Then there's the pint. An American pint is sixteen fluid ounces. To remember this they have the mnemonic, "A pint's a pound the world around.". Unfortunately for the veracity of that phrase, for everybody else that has  a pint as a measurement, it's 20 fluid ounces, giving us the mnemonic "A pint of water ways a pound and a quarter".

In my first winter here, I went into a local bar and made to sit on an empty bar-stool.Now, it was absolutely freezing outside, so when I was informed that the stool was occupied, but that the bloke had just stepped outside for a cigarette, I said something like "Wow, he must really love his fags". You could have heard a pin drop.

But my favourite bit of cross-Atlantic double meaning comes from the 90's Superman Adventures cartoon. Now, Lois Lane is always falling off buildings, being blown up, etc. only to be rescued in the nick of time by Our Hero. As she wears a short skirt, it's obvious that much of Metropolis is treated to the sight of her underwear from time to time (although the angle from which the action is drawn always preserves her dignity as far as the viewer is concerned}. In one particular episode, there's an explosion behind her, and her skirt blows up, obviously treating Jimmy and Perry to an eyeful. She says "I shoulda worn pants!" US viewers obviously take this to mean "If I'd worn a pair of jeans people wouldn't have seen my underwear". To us Brits however, for whom "Pants" are underwear, it means "My skirt blew up and I'm not wearing anything underneath."  

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