Sunday, 6 February 2011

What are words worth? Part 2

I blogged yesterday about a linguistic experiment one of my fellow bloggers had participated in recently. It looked mainly at how different people from different places said particular words, but it also asked about the words people used for everyday items. I blogged my answers to the questions yesterday (too shy/self conscious to videolog the sounds bit!) and it got me thinking to how we really can be divided by a common language sometimes. 

While the divide is probably most stark between UK and North American English, it happens in the UK too. When I lived for a while in Bristol, and once I'd got over the Somerset accent, I began to notice the other linguistic differences. I knew when I started also using personal pronouns to refer to inanimate objects, (as in, See that Washing Machine, I'm afraid she's broke she is) I'd probably stayed there too long. It worked in reverse too. I can still vividly remember the completely blank look I got in response to my entirely mundane question of 'Where do you stay?'. Apparently the correct phrase is 'Where do you live?' Asking someone where they stay apparently is a Scottish turn of phrase.

But as I said earlier, the richest vein of common language divide has to be between the UK and our North American cousins.  

First of all, we have the straightforward 'same thing, different name' situation;
  • aubergine/eggplant
  • coriander/cilantro
  • spring onion/scallion
  • lorry/truck (to choose a non-cooking example!)
Then we move on to the similar word but just slightly different;

  • Mummy/Mommy
  • Maths/Math
  • sledge/sled
Of course, we also have the whole spelling thing going on;

  • colour/color
  • centre/center
  • neighbour/neighbor
And apparently even the punctuation can be different!

Most fun, perhaps - or at least to my infantile sense of humour, are the words that look the same but mean something completely different and can get you in a whole lot of trouble if you're not careful;

  • crisps and chips v's chips and fries
  • road and pavement v's pavement and sidewalk
  • trousers and pants v's pants and panties
  • rubbers and condoms v's erasers and rubbers
  • fanny and arse v's v-jay-jay and fanny
Going to the hairdresser in North America to get your bangs seen to is perfectly acceptable, but in the UK might lead to the aforementioned establishment being raided by the Vice Squad. Likewise, being sacked in the UK is unpleasant and economically disadvantageous, whereas in North America I understand it can also be an embarassing experience that happens mostly among co-eds at school (de-bagged I think is the UK public school version). And as for cottaging, well in Canada it's an activity the whole family can enjoy. Try the same in the UK and you'll end up on the Sex Offenders Register faster than, well a fast thing! Likewise, beaver hunting in Canada and the UK are very very different pastimes.

For more serious students, try this for a more erudite, less puerile, exposition of the subject. Meanwhile, I'm of to chortle into my coffee and make a mental note to take that book on Scottish slang out of the (children's section) of the library again - how many different words for your Shareen??

1 comment:

Just Frances said...

And to think, you've just barely scratched the surface with the differences between UK/US English! They really are different languages!

Oh, and to clarify, in the States we have both coriander and cilantro. Coriander is the seeds (whole or ground) and cilantro is the greens. I have recipes that call for coriander and cilantro - it confused Paul to all levels!