Mind the Language Gap

Let’s face it. Everyone loves the British accent. It’s so sexy. And so refined. Like mustard served on a silver platter, it elevates even the most mundane topics to a more portentous plane.

… So rather than elaborate on what is already an established though frivolous fact, I bring you seven less-known observations and trivial experiences of British English.

Part 1. The Automatic Turn-off

Ladies, if you ever meet a British boy who’s winning you over with nothing but his accent and you know you shouldn’t fall for it but you can’t help it because it makes you think of Colin Firth as Darcy in Pride and Prejudice smolderingly silent with his longing looks, and when he finally speaks, he speaks in those dulcet tones…. Look no further.

Pause Britboy mid-conversation and ask him to tell you how they say sweater in the UK.

Every time I hear the word jumper, it takes real effort not to laugh. It is by far my least favorite word in British English, at least that I’ve encountered yet. I guess it’s like that scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary, but I’m telling you, the guy doesn’t even have to wear a frumpy jump’uh. He just has to say jump’uh, and the magic is gone.

So not sexy.

Part 2. A Mini History Lesson

The ideal voice, the one you expect to hear on a BBC broadcast, is a deep, posh London accent, but there actually are so many variations. Towns thirty minutes apart might have different accents, thanks to the diverse conquerors/tribes who dwelt in those places long ago.

Part 3. Friendly Insults

“You look smart.” I was told this twice in one day, and it didn’t dawn on me until the second time that it might be a compliment, like saying, “You look nice” or “Looking sharp!” I thought instead it was something of an insult, like, “You look like a huge nerd with your ginormous backpack.”

“Are you alright?” The other friendly formality that confuses me, EVERY TIME. It’s as common as saying, “Hey, how are you,” because that’s exactly what it means. And yet there’s something in the tone of how people say it, and the fact that in the States I’d only ask people this if I thought something was wrong, that gets me all spun around. I give the person a quick look and wonder, did I say something was wrong? Is something on my face? In my teeth? Toilet paper stuck to my shoe? Oh, RIGHT. It’s that darn British greeting.

Part 4. Lazy Man’s Language? Or a Drunkard’s Slur?

When I went to Stonehenge via train, I nearly missed my stop. I was on the lookout for “SAL-is-berry” (Salisbury), but little did I know I was actually going to Sahlzb’ry. So when the conductor announced we had arrived in Sahlzb’ry, I looked up in a panic—where am I?!?!—and hopped off the train just in time.

Then it occurred to me: What is up with all these lazy pronunciations?

Gloucester –> Glosster
Leicester –> Lester
Greenwich –> Grenitch
Southwark –> Suthark

It’s probably cuz the people here some two hundred years ago were drinking in broad daylight (actually, they still do that) and, stumbling home, asked the cab driver to take them to Oh, wherevuh, ionno, thasright, Glosssssstuh!

Part 5. Unintentional Political Incorrectness

A sign in the MPA department instructs students on how to open a keycoded door. “The code for the kitchen is XYZ. Then turn the fob to open the door.” I’ll be honest. That got me giggling. I haven’t even bothered to look up what a fob is because not knowing makes it more amusing.

Part 6. What’s in a Name?

When I meet people, I wonder if I should try to fake the British accent when I pronounce their names. After all, to a girl named Katie, her own name is “Kay-tee” with an emphasized T, and I’m reducing her name to “ka-dee,” which really does sound quite different. Or should I call a guy named Mark “Mohck” instead of “mawrk”?

For example, if I were to meet a Chinese person and mispronounced his or her name I would do my best and try to get as close as I could, even if I couldn’t get it exactly right. But in this case, am I technically mispronouncing the name, or just pronouncing it the American way? It feels like I’m not even making the effort, but on the other hand it seems silly to fake a British accent.

Part 7. Loves.

They use big words here. In every day conversation. Even when the automated bus recording tells you to “Alight here for the British Museum…” No one here makes fun of me for using big words. In fact, there have been times that people use words that I don’t even know! Intelligent conversation WIN! Or… a loss on my part, depending on how you look at it.

Lastly, and yet again contrary to the bad rap that Brits get as a stodgy, stuffy lot, I love how plentiful and widely used terms of endearment are. Among women, mainly. If a guy I’d just met started calling me “pet” I’d be worried, but among the girls, it’s just so warm and inviting when people call each other gorge(ous), pet, love, lovely, hun, and the like.

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12 thoughts on “Mind the Language Gap

    1. thanks songbird! haha, sometimes it can be hard, esp in loud places when people speak in low voices. many a time have i just smiled and nodded!

  1. Are you alright? =)

    When I was in New Zealand, the accent attractiveness wore out REALLY fast because the tour guide’s accent was SOO thick I couldn’t understand what he was saying! I think he was from “the burbs.”

    How is the food over there?

    1. oh esther, the stories i could tell about the food. the thing is, the times i’ve eaten out, it’s been good, but i only do that about once/week or less. for as long as i’m eating in the dorm cafeteria, there’s not much to be said for my culinary experience of london!

  2. holy funny. the “turn the fob” bit made me laugh so hard my officemates think i’m crazy.

    well, they already thought that, but you know what i mean.

    1. ha! you would laugh at that, carnebie (long time since i’ve seen that handle!) stop confirming your colleagues’ suspicions regarding your sanity!

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