How To Speak Brit

I became a member of a new library last week.  It’s not even really a new place, as it was built in 1999.  It’s out in Oak Grove, which is a community, though they’ve tried to be their own town for years and years.  It’s actually where I attended most of my primary schooling.  But we were always members of the Hattiesburg Public Library, because it was the only one around when I was growing up.  I knew this one was being built, and I knew when it was an established library, though I was out of school by the time, but just barely.  But, I had only been once; when Wizard Rock bands were all the rage (inspired by Harry Potter of course).  A friend of mine got them to come to the church that I attended in my childhood (her current church) and I saw several bands play.  Later, some of those bands played at the Oak Grove Library, so I went.  

It was tiny, but nice, and yet I never even thought about joining.  Even my parents joined 10 or more years ago, though don’t go anymore.  It was really only because I attended a lecture at the Hattiesburg Library about a Mississippi authoress and they had none of her books to check out.  Which is really bothersome.  So, I looked into the Oak Grove one, and living in this county, I can join for free, so I just went and joined up.  They did not have any of that woman’s books either, but will try to get them if you request them. I decided to wait on that, for manners sake, but I did come away with some great books for two weeks, one of which is How To Speak Brit by Christopher J. Moore; and that’s the one I wish to talk about in this post.

 

 


 

I probably wouldn’t be discussing this book in a blog post, but right after checking it out a group of people I was amongst were discussing the British accent and whether it was true that Americans changed the British accent here, or that British people ended up changing it after the Revolutionary War.  Then they went on to discuss how difficult it is to understand British people and all their terms and phrases and were wondering how we didn’t keep those in our vernacular.  Well, reading this book, tells me that we did keep a lot of it; or at least southerners did.

There’s about a dozen or so terms in here that I grew up hearing and using on a regular basis; and there are a fair few that I learned in my teens from watching British television.  There’s also a few that I’ve never heard of, naturally, and find them quite adorable and want to use them now.

 

 

 

Terms I Grew Up With:

 

Dog’s Life: a life of comfort and ease

I’m not much of a dog person, as apparently according to this author are most Brits, but I grew up hearing, “He’s (she’s, they’ve) got the dogs life!” from strangers, acquaintances, and family members.  Other terms that are listed in this section that I also heard growing up are: dog-tired (as in the most tired one can be) and going to the dogs (ruins, slum, squalor; not as pristine or good as before) – my own mother used that last one a lot as well as the non dog related “going to hell in a handbasket.”, which could be used for a person, but also for a place as in going to the dogs.

Raining Cats and Dogs: raining harder than usual

I think this one might be known throughout America, as it was referenced/used in cartoons and tv shows when I was a kid, as well as being used by people I was around.  I still hear it from southerners to this day.  But the south is definitely a place you’ll hear weird expressions.  Apparently only Mississippi has the raining term of “The devil is beating his wife.”, which is a pretty horrible expression for the sun being out while it’s raining.

Bottoms Up: a colloquial variation of cheers  

So, for Brits it’s a beginning to enjoying a drink.  Here in the south it’s never used for cheers, but I suppose as a call to hurry and finish one’s drink; whether the bar is closing, you and the other people are ready to leave, or to get kids to finish their drinks so you can… again, leave.  Bottoms Up, here in America, is all about being in a hurry and is not always cheerful.

Meat and Potatoes:  straightforward, with no artifice

This actually has a great meaning in Britain; the basics, getting right to the point.  Over here though, it’s actually quite negative, and really doesn’t extend far from ignorance.  It’s generally used to mean someone who is so stuck in the old that they won’t try new things, especially if those things seem out of their pay bracket or seem too fancy.  As in they’ll only stick to the meat and potatoes that they know.  Those people will use it about themselves too, but they don’t realize that they are stating how limited that they are.

Eavesdropper: a person who listens in on private conversations while remaining hidden

I think everyone here can agree that this is a term that they know of, and is not strictly heard in the south.  Long before Samwise Gamgee is heard to stutter  that he hasn’t “been droppin’ no eaves, sir!”, everyone here got the joke, because it’s a big term here state-side.

Egghead: affectionate and mildly derogatory term for someone who is academic and rather eccentric

Here it’s certainly not an affectionate term.  Being intelligent isn’t prized by the masses, it seems.  And if the person is viewed as odd, then they are seen more as a freak than pleasantly eccentric, the type of person you just don’t trust.  It’s about the same as the British, Too clever for their own good, which is also supplied in this section and is a term I grew up hearing.

Goody Two Shoes: a derogatory nickname for a female who is a little too pious and loves to do good, but in an annoying way

As referenced in this section, “can be shortened to goody, goody”, both terms are in use here and mainly for girls in this manner.  But it has also stretched to simply mean a girl of high school or college age who won’t be “bad” with her girlfriends like drinking or sneaking out.  The girl doesn’t have to be annoying.  It is also, to a lesser extent, used for younger boys by their peers when they are annoying and instead of being smug, is just sort of a pansy.

Lame Duck: pitying term for an official or politician who has a title, but no actual power to do anything

People here use this a lot, and though the meaning here is the same as the British one, I’m not sure that most people understand the term and just bandy it about.  I heard it a lot growing up, but didn’t understand it, because no one was ever talking about an actual duck in trouble. 

Maiden Aunt: a somewhat severe unmarried aunt or old maid who is busy serving the community and stands for no nonsense

It means exactly this state-side, except the unmarried older woman does not need the prerequisite of being busy serving the community to actually qualify for this title.

Warts and All: describes a person whose ugliness is not covered over but in plain view

This has a broader meaning here.  It doesn’t really denote an ugly person who doesn’t hide their outer features, but a person who has less than charming (ugly, but not evil) inner qualities that they don’t feel the need to hide. 

As Pleased As Punch: to be very pleased indeed.  Named after a wicked puppet that was popular with children in years gone by and who delighted in his own bad behavior.

Reading the description, I knew that they meant Punch of Punch and Judy.  I do not like Punch and Judy.  No one in America realizes that this is where this comes from, as we all think it’s just quirky and refers to the party drink of punch.

At sixes and sevens: in a state of disarray and confusion

Did not hear this all too much while growing up, but I did hear it on occasion, and with the same meaning.

Baker’s Dozen: another way of counting thirteen

Mainly people just liked talking about this one (with the history of 13 loaves being a dozen for bakers), though it was also used to saying thirteen of something, but hearing “getting me a baker’s dozen of blahblahblah” wasn’t really said all that much.

Bob’s your uncle: a nonsensical saying meaning “and there you are!”

I know that this is not a saying that most southerners grow up with, but random people would say this to emulate British people.  Unclear if they knew what it meant or not, but it’s just something they picked up form a film or tv show and liked it.

Feather in your cap: a crowning achievement of which one is especially proud

I’m assuming from the explanation that British people will state it about themselves, “…and this is the feather in my cap” over being promoted or winning something or some other such thing; at least on occasion.  This one is used a lot here in the south, but to other people only, mainly to children.  “And that’s the feather in your cap!”

Flummox: one is flummoxed if one is lost for answers or stumped

I’ll go ahead and denote that Americans, while being all for the self, are not purveyors of one, as in “one is flummoxed if one is lost for answers or stumped.” I like it, but it’s not something we generally do.  As for flummox, I always heard old country women say this word the most.

Gobsmacked: lost for words, speechless

Here it means to be taken aback, though not necessarily speechless about it, but can include simply being lost for words.

In a nutshell: a Shakespearean phrase meaning to pack a lot into a small space, or to summarize

Same meaning, but I doubt many people realize it’s from Shakespeare.  I vaguely remember hearing that during theatre class in high school, but it’s not something I always remember.

The King’s English: title of a classic book on English usage and grammar written by brothers Henry and Francis Fowler in 1906

We haven’t had a king since we won our independence and all other nations left.  Besides the fact that while we do technically speak English, it certainly isn’t the King’s English, nor do people here even realize that this book exists.  But they will certainly use it.  Not so much now, as it was mostly older people when I was younger, but it was pretty much when someone was speaking something non-white or non-English, even though American English is made up of all sorts of different languages and the section on Americanisms being bad from this 1906 book is referenced in this Brit book.  Oh Americans saying to use The King’s English, you make me laugh.

Red herring: a false scent or misleading suggestion

Only the misleading suggestion part and not only when referencing detective novels.

Serendipity: a happy accident

I like reading that it’s a made up word by English author Horace Walpole in 1754; the way in which we sometimes make happy, but quite accidental discoveries.  It’s not frequently used, even now, but I did hear this growing up.

Thingamabob: describes everything from a hatpin to a hamster and is ideal for use when a word is on the tip of your tongue

This is definitely a word used a lot in my family, though I have heard it from friends, acquaintences, and strangers before in the south,  but only on occasion.  And just to note, we are not British/English.  My ancestry (at least two hundred years ago) is Scottish, Welsh, and Irish and then Indigenous American.  I say it because I think it might matter a bit, that we’re not fresh off the boat from the British isles, nor is any of our family, and that none of us are English.

Blackball: to ban or bar someone from membership of an exclusive club or institution

This is mainly used, here in the entirety of America, for the film industry.  If an actor is difficult to work with, then they will be blackballed in Hollywood and no other directors or producers will hire them for a film.  It doesn’t necessarily correlate to SAG, which is the organization of actors.  You might be thinking this form of blackballing does relate to an exclusive club or institution, but really, it doesn’t. 

Don’t mind me!: typically British phrase that is confusing for non-Brits because it can be used both as an apology and an admonishment

This entry goes on to mention “Tell me about it!” and “You can say that again!”, which we use both here in the states, though I’m not sure they mean entirely the same thing.  It seems that from Moores writing that they are not agreement terms, or at least the first one of “Tell me about it!”, which he states is “I already know this so well, so don’t even begin to tell me about it!”, which almost seems like a flippant teenager not wanting to be harped at.  Yet, here in the states, both of these terms are akin to “You’re preaching to the choir” which means, “I’m hearing what your saying and totally agree; I’m on board.”

As for don’t mind me!, it’s always used as an apology here and never an admonishment, so that is weird from an American view point.

Elbow grease: hard work, not necessarily by using one’s elbows but using considerable effort

Yep, loads of people in the south use this one, with the same meaning behind it.

Hair of the dog (that bit you): dubious hangover cure consisting of a small amount of the same drink that led to the hangover

I’ve heard the full phrase, but mostly the first part.  I think more people in America have heard this since it is in films and on tv; and while it does mean this, it is also used to mean anything the person claims is good for your hangover, though I’m not sure if people just don’t understand the term or its meaning morphed a long time ago.

Humbug!: an exclamation of disgust used by Dickens’s fictional character Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol

Everyone in America knows that this comes from A Christmas Carol, but no one here uses it in the way stated in this book.  The times that I heard it growing up it was used to describe a person who didn’t have any Chrstimas Spirit or was a Scrooge at Christmastime. 

Mind your Ps and Qs: a gentle admonition, usually to children, to mind their manners, perhaps as they are about to go to tea with a maiden aunt

I’m not certain if everyone in the south got this term, as most people got the term sass instead for them to mind their manners.  It could be used before they went to someone’s house, while at someone’s house before they had a chance to act up, or if they had already acted up.  “Remember to not sass your grandma.”, “Now, don’t sass anyone while you’re here.”, and “Don’t sass your aunt, apologize now!”  Or if they’d already acted up and lost their manners, most southern children got the term ugly; “Quit bein’ ugly!”, which could be followed by a “and hush up” or a “and sit down.”  However, I was explicitly told to mind my Ps and Qs when visiting my ancient Yankee grandmother.

I like that a possible origin is that it’s French, when dance instructors would tell their charges to mind their pieds and queues (feet and wigs).  I like that one, more than the other origin explanations given in this book.

Rigmarole: a complicated, petty set of procedures, such as those set by government departments

If you read a lot of my blog, you’ll see this one come up pretty often, as it’s a term from my childhood that I liked a lot.  Southern people do use this a lot, even today.

Turned our nice again: a half-hearted greeting

This was used a lot by older people when I was growing up to discuss the weather being nice, but not in a half-hearted way.  It wasn’t merely to fill the void of silence while passing someone on the street, as this book suggests for its Brits.  No, here it was something you said to people you knew and liked because you were happy with how the days weather was going.  Probably something to say to pass time, but here it was almost used like a greeting to open more conversation instead of a passing comment. 

 

 

 

Terms I know:

 

Chelsea: an affluent area in London that his home to the annual Chelsea Flower Show

I don’t know about a flower show, but I’ve heard of this area since my teens and know it’s pretty poshy.

(The) Continent: an affectionate, if slightly patronizing, expression to describe where non-Brits in Europe live

I understand from the film, About A Boy, as well as history that England thinks of itself as the end all be all, so it doesn’t surprise me that The Continent would be see as less than to the “mighty” Island Nation of England, but I never realized that until this book.  The Continent is the continent, so I just thought it was purely geographical.

Dickensian: gloomy, squalid

The term Dickensian is used to describe acute conditions of poverty or deprivation; this term, in America, is mainly only used by literary intellectuals.  It’s their three dollar word to throw about when discussing a slum, or even if the rainy weather was just too grey that day.

Pottering: the art of patrolling and improving one’s garden in one’s spare time

No one stateside uses this term, but it is quite a cute term and I first heard it in my early 20s on some British tv show, obviously.  There is a similar mentality in the south though, and it migh very well carry over from those immigrants haling from that region originally.  The need to own land.  “A piece of British earth that is your own.  This is every British person’s dream.” and “our most important national pastime.”  The word may be the same; gardening, but it means two very different things between southerners and British people.  They want land to cultivate in order to sculpt into a beautiful spot filled with trees and flowers.  Southerners want land in order to cultivate into vegetables, with some flowers thrown in.  But gardening, for southerners, is sort of an important, though regional, pastime.  We find pride and enjoyment in a well tended tomato plant or beautiful squash that’s ready to come off the vine.  A beautiful and functional vegetable garden with great tasting produce here, is the same as the best flower garden on the block over in England.  And if your canned such and such vegetable is the best, that’s even better.

Semi-detached: a modest and ubiquitous home type in Britain build adjoining the next-door neighbour on one side for reasons of economy and space

Is this a British term that has somehow found its way into the housing markets everywhere?  Or is it a housing market term that the British people use a lot?  It sounds like how they’d phrase something more so than Americans, but it doesn’t state a history in this book, so I don’t know how the word came into being.  It’s not something southerners say, unless it’s a southern real estate agent trying to sell a house.  We just call these houses Town Houses or Duplexes in everyday speech (the duplex isn’t nearly as common in the south as town house), and aren’t something anyone really wants to live in, though many people do.

Bangers ‘n’ mash: a substantial meal of sausages and mashed potatoes, often served with onion gravy

This is something people in America have heard of because of British tv and film, but it’s not something people go around saying, though sometimes someone who is trying to be witty will state that their meal of meat (not sausage) and mashed potatoes is bangers ‘n’ mash.

Binge-drinking: the consumption of large amounts of alcohol in a short time, which, in England, usually leads to rude and antisocial behavior such as swearing and brawling

This one people use here, but I’ve only heard since my late teens/early 20s.  And for some reason Americans like the term Binge so much, they’ve tacked it onto other things; Binge-reading, Binge-watching, Binge-driving, Binge-gaming.  I get binge-watching now that there is streaming through Netflix of Hulu, but any other new term seems ridiculous.

Chips: French fries, Brit-style!  Thicker and heavier than the American version, they are eaten with almost anything from bacon and eggs to an Indian curry

Obviously Americans use the term chip for potato chips, which British people call crisps, but since my teens you’ll randomly hear southerners call their French fries chips, mainly when paired with fish so they can say they’re eating Fish ‘n’ Chips.  Not the same thing at all.  They’re the wrong kind of fries and the wrong kind of fish and style.  We fry fish (mainly catfish) in cornmeal (with a little flour), the British people fry in flour, well and so do northerners.

Elevenses: a drink and small snack consumed around eleven o’clock in the morning to bridge the gap between breakfast and lunch

No one uses this term except us really geeky LotR’s fans because Pippin mentions it in The Fellowship.  It’s cute, we all like it, you might hear us say it, but that’s about it.

Bobby: an old-fashioned term for the kindly British police officer of yesteryear

No one really uses this except on rare occasions because they simply want to use the very British term to describe some coppers.  But, I’ve been hearing people say this and first heard the term on a British show in my teens.

English Rose: a type of classic English beauty

I don’t like this term, mainly because when I’ve heard it it’s been from older non-British men who are kind of creepy.  I guess they’re trying to be sophisticated?  They’ve not even said it to describe pasty, pretty girls, so I’m not even sure they know what it really means.  The few times I’ve heard British people saying this in British film or tv, the guy seemed to be a doofus, so that doesn’t help.  Like even the other characters on the show think he’s weird. Thankfully no one’s ever called me this, but I’m too dark and hardy for such nonsense haha.

OAP: old age pensioner; a person over 65 who believes that everything was better in the olden days

I really only know this term (not abbreviated) from British tv shows.  I like it though and it does describe a lot of old people really.  First heard this in my mid-late 20s.

People like us: used by people of the right social set or family background to indicate that they approve of, and belong to, the right crowd

Only know this one from British film and tv, but with the snooty way it was said, it wasn’t hard to guess the meaning.  First heard it in my teens. 

Posh: often used by the lower social classes to describe a person with money and a privileged background

I first heard this term in my early teens, a few years before Posh Spice was being hailed as your favourite Spice Girl.  It was a British film or tv show and it was a lower class person basically saying that this rich person was fancy and they didn’t need fancy around there.  Or something to that extent.  I liked it.  It was easy to use, this word Posh, so if anyone was well-bore and kind of a prig, or just uppity and had fancy stuff, then they were posh.  Lots of people in America use this term and it’s not necessarily the exact way that the Brits intended, I think.  Besides the fact that I alone among my friends realized that Posh Spice would never call herself Posh.  That’s just unheard of.

Wellies (Wellington Boots): practical but unlovely waterproof rubber boots and the go-to footwear for country Brits

Long before we were reading about all the wellies (and cauldrons) up near The Burrow door, I’d heard this term from, again British film and tv in my teens.  They’re like American rain boots, only sturdier like American waders, but not nearly as high.  I’d heard them called by the full and the shortened name and realized it was similar to southerners calling all facial tissue Kleenex, so I thought all boots were Wellies.  That’s either not right, or they only make Wellies over there?  Like if I brought the same style mucking boot over there with the name Germaine, would they call it a Wellie?  Or a Germie?  Haha

Queue: a line of people waiting patiently for a service or event, always conducted in an orderly fashion

No one in America queues.  It’s not that we can’t, it’s just that we don’t want to.  Disorder and chaos abound here in the states.  It does seem very English to queue up, like it’s an implanted protocol, as I’m recalling from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; it’s just what people do, they seem to like forming lines all willy nilly.  We, however, like to form posse’s, small groups that move together.  Notice us being forced to queu somewhere and innately we’ll form small posse’s.  People know what this term means for the most part, they’re just against it apparently.

Stiff upper lip: displaying fortitude in the face of adversity, as opposed to a trembling of the upper lip, which to a Brit is an unforgivable sign of weakness

I first heard this as a teenager, as you well can guess from British film and tv.  People know what it means, but no one really uses it.  In American we say “Man up!”.

 

 

Phrases I find adorable!


 

First cuckoo: the sound of the first cuckoo means that spring has arrived and that Brits have begun to dream, in vain, of warm weather

That’s so cute.  The only thing I say that remotely resembles that is to call someone a cuckoo pig.  It’s a line from Haley Mills’ character of Susan in The Parent Trap, as she refers to her newfound twin sister as one.  It’s so 60s quirky that I use it now.  However, as far as spring goes, we just say “Spring has sprung.”  I don’t, but people do.  Spring’s really pretty around here, but I’m always dreaming of colder weather as it’s so ungodly hot down here most of the year.  But I’ll be happy for spring if I can say first cuckoo.

Cut a dash: dressed to impress or dressed in one’s finest attire with the aim of making a sartorial impression

I love it!  I’m not entirely sure how to use it in a sentence though.  Do you just look at someone and say, “Cut a dash!” or can you say “Damn, he’s cuttin’ a dash!”  I have no idea, but right or wrong, I’m going to use this one one.

Doolally: Anglo-Indian expression meaning someone who is a little bit crazy or not quite right in the head

Too precious.  I’m definitely filing this in my head next to cuckoo pig.

Lollipop Man: affectionate term for the patrol person who helps children to cross the road outside school and carries a stop sign resembling a giant lollipop

This is such a better term than crossing guard.  I can’t wait until school starts up and I can see the Lollipop man and call them that.

Nowt so queer as folk: a saying that remarks kindly on the foibles and strangeness of other people, and roughly translates as “Human beings are a funny bunch”

It’s true, so why not say it all cute-like?

Twitcher: a person who inhabits the countryside spending hours on end hoping to catch sight of a rare bird

Basically a fanatical birdwatcher.  I can dig it.

White Van Man: the driver of a small van often criticized by the general populace for his aggressive driving style, yet in reality no worse than other drivers on British roads

I’m going to use it, but in America if you’re a man driving a white van, then you’re thought of as a creep, like the type to lure children to their deaths or take us fat girls into their basement to makes us “put the lotion on the skin”.  But, I like that this is, in essence, just a crazy driver.  I’ll use it for that.

Crumbs!: an expression that is used innocently by children to mean “Goodness!”  

I’m going to make this my new curse word.  It’ll be so much better if I say ‘Crumbs!’ instead of ‘Jesus Fucking Mary Joseph Son of A Bitch Asshole’, don’t you think?  Haha

Load of Cobblers: colourful slang meaning a lot of rubbish or nonsense.  Definitely not for use in polite company.

I say crumbs to that!  Load of cobblers is an awesome phrase and much better than the ever popular American bullshit.  Although it’s cockney for “A load of cobbler’s awls” which rhymes with balls, which just makes me laugh and think of the character Bobby Singer from Supernatural.  So, hell yes I’m definitely using this! 

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