Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Potato Potatoe Tomato Tomatoe

At my work, I have the pleasure of working with a lovely English girl.  If you know her country well enough, she might tell you she is actually Cornish, but in the end, she speaks the English of the mother country.  And while we both speak the same language, it is funny how often we come upon things that the other person doesn't say or says in a different way.

When I worked in the Academy, I taught a specific day or so about British vs. American English, because although the poor kids are learning one language, you can't say zucchini in England and you can't say corgette in the States and have people understand what you're talking about.  Here are some of the differences in vocabulary that I used to teach - let's see if you knew them all.

American English          British English
 french fries                        chips
 apartment                          flat
 parking lot                         car park
 main street                        high street
 elevator                             lift
 eggplant                            aubergine
 trunk (of car)                     boot
 diaper                                 nappy
 round-trip                          return
 schedule                            timetable
 track and field                   athletics
 gas                                     petrol
 sidewalk                           pavement
 soccer                               football
 stroller                              push chair
 truck (semi-truck)            lorry
 street musician                 busker

While I am not teaching the 1 year olds about the small differences in the language, my workmate and I get a big laugh out of it all day.  For example, one day she came up behind me and said  'oh you have a ladder!'.  For me, a ladder is something you climb up to get onto a roof or something no?  What she was referring to was the run in my nylons.  When I asked her if that's what she meant, she started laughing hysterically that I even called them nylons, as in England they call them tights.  What a mess!

Some are quite funny like those, but some differences could get you into a bit of trouble.  In England, the word 'fanny' means a girl's private part but in the States we know it as a tush.  Imagine if you went to Britian and commented that you thought a girl had a nice fanny!  Bad news bears.  Vice versa, if a Brit came over to the new world and said 'I could murder a fag right now', he wouldn't be saying it in a derrogatory way, no no.  In British English that sentence means 'he could kill for a cigarette right now'.  See the problem?! 

The vocabulary isn't the only thing that could make for a sticky situation, but all parts of speech.  In the USA we would say the date is June 31st but in England they would say it is the 31st of June.  Or if you want to meet someone at 5:45pm in the States you say five forty-five but if you're meeting that someone at the Queen's home you would need to say quarter to five.  These little type of things are easily understandable and don't cause much problem between the Yankees and the Brits, but they are things that do stand out.

Spelling is also a doosy.  Theater vs. theatre,  center vs. centre, neighbor vs. neighbour, meter vs. metre, practice vs. practise - things like this drive me insane.  When I used to correct papers, I would sometimes have to think twice - 'CAN it be spelled like this?'  Even my thinking could go both ways because in American we say 'spelled' but in English it's 'spelt'.  Same story goes for dreamt, learnt, spoilt, smelt and knelt.  Poor English learners.

To make it worse are the difficult-in-any-language prepositions.  In the States you play 'on a team' but in England 'in a team'.  For us Yankees, we talk about what we did 'on' the weekend but they say what they did 'at' the weekend.  If I tell you that my old office building in NYC was 'on' 6th Ave., Prince William would tell you it was 'in' 6th Ave.  After speaking the way I learned (not learnt!) for so long, these changes in prepositions sound preposterous to me.  How can my building be IN a street?!

As time goes on though, I see myself influenced by all these mother tongue speakers.  Nowadays, it isn't uncommon to hear the following come out of my mouth:
 - 'I was taking the piss out of her. '  No No, it has nothing to do with pee, but it is the English way to say 'I was making fun of her'.
 - 'Would you like a biscuit?'  and this isn't something I utter at the Thanksgiving Day table.  Biscuit in British English is cookie and since all the kids learn it at school, it is weaseling its way into my vernacular.

Between mixing up vegetables, not understanding jokes and pretty much just being silly, I think the funniest British vs. American English moment I had was a few years ago with my friend from London.  It finally was a sunny day in San Sebastian and I commented 'I'm tired of pants, I'm gonna wear a skirt today'.  She, confused, said 'Amanda, you're not going to wear pants with your skirt?!' to which I said 'of course not, I know some people do, but it's so ugly, I don't like it all!'.  She had a serious look on her face and then asked me...'what does pants mean to you?'.  Turns out pants in British English means undies, so this whole time she thought I was going to wear a skirt sans the knickers!  If you want to say what we call pants in England you must say trousers.  Go figure.

There are tons and tons of differences, and when my workmate and I try on each other's accents we really get a kick out of trying to imitate the other's language.  Unless travelling, it's not so useful, but definitley worth a chuckle, but if you DO go to England, don't forget your 'pants'!



Mom said...

Thanks for the lesson. I've noticed many times you've spoken different due to the Basque way of speaking, like "no" at the end of a sentence. Culture influnences more than we realize. XXOO

Jill said...

Oh man, this post had me rolling!! Your story of not wearing "pants" was hilarious, and I had no idea about these 3! Love it!

trunk (of car) = boot
stroller = push chair
truck (semi-truck) = lorry