List In Translation

crisps = chips
chips = fries
jam = jelly
jelly = jello
braces = suspenders
suspenders = garters

All these and more can be found at Chris Rea's English-to-American Dictionary. It's funny for me to see so many phrases that I wasn't aware of when I lived in the States. I wonder... did my friends and colleagues have any idea what I was talking about half of the time or did they gloss over the parts they didn't understand? That might explain the lukewarm response to some of my best jokes.

I was good at French and German vocabulary in school and really lousy at grammar, and I put this down to simple economics: when you "pay" one word and get one back that's a worthwhile return on your investment. Grammar was never so satisfying so I tended to avoid phrases and whole sentences wherever I could. (Still do. See?) Two U.S. phrases in particular I could never adjust to:

be sure to = be sure and

"Be sure to do your homework" in Britspeak means "do your bloody homework or else" whereas in Yankspeak it seems to imply two separate actions: "be sure that you want to do your homework AND then do it". I know that's not what it means but, on face value, that's what the words mean. Isn't it?

by accident = on accident

What the Shakespeare is going on here?! When you do something "by design" that's also "on purpose". It's all prepositions and abstract nouns and I could never get my head around which made better sense. But it grated every time I heard the natives say "on" and I'm sure my use of "by" had a similar effect on them.


Anonymous sarah said...

I never use the phrase "be sure and" or "try and"--the poor grammar drives me insane. I think they're common in the U.S. now because grammar's never taught anymore but there's no way I'll ever accept that either are correct. I'm a fan of using "accidentally", avoiding the pronouns altogether.

Blogger Brad said...

"What the Shakespeare" hehe

Oh, i'm a geek.

Blogger thisismarcus said...

Sarah: you have the common-sense solution, as always. Thanks!

Kosmo: I wrote that for you, and for Nichole who had exactly the same reaction when she heard it.

Blogger Clint said...

From my experience, "by accident" and "on accident" are interchangeable in US common-speak.

I probably hear the "on" version more often, however.

Blogger Candace said...

I think it's probably a regional thing. I hear "by accident" far more than "on accident." I've always associated "on accident" with lesser educated folks, but I don't know if that's really the case, or just my impression.

Did you ever hear "Are you coming with?" (The "me" or "us" is just left off.) I think that's primarily a Midwestern thing.

How about "bubbler?" That's a drinking fountain if you're in WI and maybe IL.

Though I can be a bit picky about grammar, I have to admit to liking "A whole nother" for emphasis and "prolly" as a timesaver - especially when typing. :)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My brother told me that he went to college with a gal from England, who went into the college bookstore and asked where the "rubbers" were. This produced much confusion until finally it was learned that rubber = eraser, not condom. Fun stuff.

Anonymous nikki said...

Who’s Nichole?

I knew a Frenchman who was reported for sexual harassment over the rubber/eraser thing. The secretary where he worked in Texas demanded to know why he wanted a rubber. “Because I want to use it.” Duh.

Even better in France when you ask for food products without "preservatives".

Language is a funny thing.

Blogger Trundling Grunt said...

My favorite is the whole "fanny" thing. When I first got shipped to the US I walked into the cafeteria and walked into a display of "Protect your fanny, buckel up" signs. I was gobsmacked and assumed I had walked into some bizarre Mid-Western chastity drive. Turned out it was a road safety thing (seatbelts).

Took me a while to work out what a fanny pack was - sounds quite icky in the British context?

Two nations divided by a common language....

Anonymous sarah said...

Fanny sounds icky over here, too. I mean, it's just not a good-sounding word. When my family took a trip to England several years ago, my dad kept threatening to talk loudly about his fanny pack, just to mortify me and my sister (we were teenagers, at the time).

Blogger Candace said...

Tee hee! Fanny is like a Grandma's word for "bum" here. No one but a Granny would use it, AFAIK. Fanny - or, er, fUnny, huh?

Blogger DrHeimlich said...

I do hear "a whole nother" here and there, it's true. No says it, but wouldn't the most technically correct choice of words there be "a wholly other?"

My personal favorite is the Brit spelling and pronunciation of "aluminium." To borrow from Eddie Izzard, putting that extra 'i' in there is just "cheating at Scrabble."

Blogger thisismarcus said...

Nikki: Nichole is an amazing hottie I met the day before I repatriated (I don't think you know her.) Fanny packs here were called "bum bags". Presumably they still are, even though it's not the 1980s any more.

Candace: you're right -- all English words must have a 'U' in them!

KitKat & Grunt: good examples!

Blogger Major Rakal said...

Hm, I don't think I've ever heard anyone say "on accident". Were you in the same U.S. I'm in? ;-)

How about biscuits = cookies?

And what generic term do you use for carbonated beverages? Depending on where you grew up in the U.S., it might be soda, pop, tonic... there are probably others that I've forgotten.

Blogger thisismarcus said...

Soft drinks, "fizzy" drinks or just by their names. Ah, the power of branding!

Your cookies are definitely our biscuits. We have cookies too but they're a specific type of dough. And what you call biscuits doesn't translate at all!

Blogger The Paranoid Mod said...

"You say 'erb, we say herb... cos it's got a fucking 'h' in it"
- Izzard

Blogger thisismarcus said...

It's a French word, innit? Eddie should know. Does he want us to pronounce "foyer" as it's spelled too? He's a funny man but a lousy actor - if you're into logical fallacies.

Blogger Trundling Grunt said...

Well, US biscuits are really a sort of scone from my experience, athough "biscuits and gravy" is seriously dubious.

I've always wondered about the whole US herb thing. I work for an agrochem company and someone I worked with started talking about 'erbicides. I just thought he was being a pompous twat. Maybe he was, come to think of it, but I found it to be an affliction that he shared with many people.

There are a ton of other weird translations - renaissance for example - but they lose something in print. Potato-potato?

The whole 'u' thing is all down to Noah Webster who has a lot to answer for,

Blogger Candace said...

LOL! I never thought about how "biscuits and gravy" would sound to a Brit. EEEeeeew! So you don't have our kind of biscuits at all? Hmm - we had buscuits with jelly on them for breakfast, but I guess that translates to cookies with Jell-O on top. Also eeeew!

IMO, the most amusing Americanism for 'soda,' 'pop,' or whatever you want to call soft drinks is "coke." In the South it's all "coke" as in:

"You wanna coke?"

"Yeah, sure."

"What kinda coke ya want? Sprite? Root beer?"

Oy vey!

Blogger Major Rakal said...

Watching an episode of The City Gardener on HGTV tonight (the city in question being London), I noticed another "translation". They were talking about the two ways of creating a new lawn, with seed and with "turf". In the US, that would be "sod", which if I'm not mistaken means something quite different in the UK.


Blogger Kathy said...

Oooh, "foyer" is one of my pet peeves. If it's properly pronounced in French, it's actually "fwa-yay", not "foy-yay". "Foy-yay" is a totally made up franglais pseudo thing.

In my book, you either pronounce it the way the language of origin pronounces it (thus, "fwa-yay") or you just pronounce it the way it would be pronounced in the language it's migrated to (for America, this would just be your garden variety "foy-yer". In Britain, I suppose it would be closer to "foy-yuh" or something like that, depending on where you're from, but I'm not expert.)

Gosh, that felt good. For this pet peeve, I have my college diction teacher to thank. I think I was happier when I was blissfully ignorant of this little foyer problem.

Blogger Trundling Grunt said...

I struggle over here with Notre Dame which is a hugely debased word in Merkin, along with Illinois. It puts the herb discussion in context.


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