Inglish, It’s An Odd One

I know I mis-spelt the word in the heading! Irritating? Confusing? Not as much as the following will be…

I guess you have to be born in Britain to fully understand the peculiarities of our language. Most of the time you don’t have to explain what you mean – like belonging to a gang that has it’s own idiosyncratic lingo, the English have words, phrases and grammar that does not always make sense to a foreigner. Add to that, the odd dialectic words that are peculiar to geographic areas; that you don’t find anywhere else in the UK, and you have a potential minefield.

  • Stuff we say – but don’t mean:

“How are you?” Mostly, the English don’t want to know how you are, this is simply another way to say ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’. You’ll come across this in a place of work where people are hurrying past each other – “How’re you?” or “You alright?” (depending on location), is answered with “Fine. You?” then move on.

“That’s quite good.” Usually translates as, “That’s rubbish!” We’re just being polite. Don’t take it personally. An English person would actually recognise this as being quite a barbed comment, if said with the right tone!

With respect.” Probably said at work or in middle of a heated debate. This usually means, “You’re an idiot! I’m being patient with you. And I don’t agree with anything you’ve said!”

When invited out for a social event, or to visit your home, you might suggest getting together sometime. An English person will most likely say, “That’d be nice.” What he or she is thinking is, “Oh no, please don’t invite me out. I can’t think of anything I would less like to do.”

“It’s fine.” Watch this one. You have most likely offended. It actually translates as, “Are you a f***ing idiot!”

If an English person says “Thank you” in a determined way, or “Your welcome” it is most likely in response to another person being rude – i.e. not holding a door open, or not making eye contact when giving change. They are pointing out your rudeness.

“I beg your pardon?” If it sounds like a question, we’re not asking for your pardon, we’re miffed at something you said or did. It means, “Explain yourself, you disgusting creature!”

  • Words that mean more than one thing – reading and speaking are two/too different things:

Vowels sound different depending on the job of the word, stress placed on beginning or end of a word makes it a different noun.

The farm was used to produce produce.

The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

I did not object to the new object.

The psychologist had to subject the subject to a test.

  • Britain still has a class system; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you are lucky, or unlucky depending on your point of view, you might mix with all four! Yes, despite what some would like to believe, Britain is a multi-layered society and we all know our place!

    Upper class are the posh peeps; ‘old money’, though many these days have little cash as their stately homes have sucked it all up. They don’t usually have a job.

Middle class (and within this are the upper and lower middle), these are the aspirational, moneyed, living in comfort. Managers in private companies, government employees and teachers fit n here.

Working class (within this are also two levels; according to pay, benefits, lifestyle) are what it sounds like, workers in lower paid jobs; industry (little of that left), shop-workers, teaching assistants, nurses and carers.

Trying to say the correct version of a word in a given social situation can even trip up the English!

Toilet, Lavatory, Loo – or Bog?

Bicycle, Bike, Cycle?

Lunch or Dinner?

Pudding, Sweet, Dessert – or Afters?

Sick, Ill, Poorly, Unwell – or Under The Weather?

Pardon, Sorry, What?

Napkin or Serviette?

Front Room, Lounge, Living Room?

Settee, Sofa, Couch?

Pants, Undies, Knickers?

  • Names that will fry your noodle:

Place-names as well as family names in Britain can be complicated. If you mispronounce a place-name the locals might have a laugh at your expense, but it reveals that you are ‘not one of us’. If you mispronounce a family name (especially those complicated upper-class ones), then you a revealing that ‘You really are NOT one of us’ (ugh!)

Name                              Not like this                                 Say this

Aldeburgh                   Alda-berg                                       Olbra

Beaulieu                      Bow-lee-oo                                     Bewlee

Beauchamp                 Bow-champ                                   Beecham

Cholmondeley            Chol-mon-delly                             Chumley

Dalziel                          Dalzee-el                                        Deeyell

Farquhar                      Far-que-har                                  Farkwa

Gloucester                    Glaow -cester                              Glosta

Mainwaring                 Main-wearing                             Mannering

Norwich                        Nor-witch                                    Norritch

By the way, American English is another thing altogether, just don’t talk about it with a Brit!!!! 

And another thing to fry your noodle about English, I have  attempted to stick to English and it’s dialects. Scots, Welsh and Irish have their own idiosyncrasies, but they do speak English. You may have noticed me flipping between the words English and British; I refer to myself as British as I am a mix of Irish, English and Scottish, I am not just English – except on a form when there is not option for Anglo-Irish. There has been a decades long debate about English or British, and because one of the opinions-that I agree with- is that the REAL British are the Welsh, who were pushed west by the Anglo invaders, then I cannot, by my own argument, be British!!!

English – it is what you make it! Good Luck!

“Nice hat.” (Not!)

Do You Speak ‘Proper’ English?!

Good morning, Bonjour, Guten Morgen, Buenos Dias, Buongiorno, Shubh Prabhaat, Sabāḥul kẖayr.

Aren’t words brilliant!

English words I find especially so – as I am British ( I say British as I do not consider myself English; I have Irish parentage, with Scottish and Cornish ancestry) and we are an extraordinarily mixed race that has absorbed, from countries across the world, words that have become embedded so deeply that we have almost forgotten the origins. I love the etymology of words, names, nouns, things, stuff, anything! I think I may have mentioned in a previous post the origin of the word orange – it is from the Persian, narange.


Language changes can denote when a country was historically invaded, when merchants brought more home than products and coin, when integration was necessary. Language is a living, ever evolving, and fascinating marker to our connections worldwide.

My previous snob of a self used to scoff at ‘Americanisms’ – i.e. garbage, diaper, aluminum. These words travelled from Holland and England to the New World and remained in use alongside those from farther afield. Now I understand the use of garbage, as compared to rubbish; it makes sense.

Today’s post is a collection of words that have entered our, English, language from the wider world community, so here is a small, very small, collation to whet your appetite –

Plant, wine, cat, candle, anchor, chest, fork, rose – Roman, circa AD 410.

english language romans

Birth, cake, call, egg, freckle, happy, law, leg, sister, smile, trust – Old Norse, circa AD 900.

english language 3

Army, archer, soldier, Crown, throne, duke, nobility, peasant, servant, obedience, traitor, felony, arrest, justice, judge, jury, accuse, condemn, prison, gaol, ballet, café, genre, garage – French, circa 1066 to present.

english language MP

Boss, coleslaw, landscape, cruise, frolic, rucksack, roster, wagon, onslaught – Dutch, various.

Abseil, angst, cobalt, delicatessen, doppelganger, dachshund, fest, haversack, kitsch, kaput – German, various.

The German v Greek Philosophers Football Match (Monty Python)

Veranda, jungle, bandana, chit, dinghy, pyjama, juggernaut, cashmere, thug, shampoo – Hindi, circa 18th and 19th c.

Banjo, chimpanzee, zebra, zombie, banana, jazz, cola, bozo, boogie, okay – Africa, circa 18th and 18th c.

english language 5

Alcohol, algebra, chemistry, elixir, cipher, zero, zenith, alcove, amber, assassin, candy, coffee, cotton, mummy, racquet, sash, crimson, ghoul, giraffe, lemon, orange – Arabic, various.

english language arabic

Flannel, corgi, penguin, pendragon, bard, balderdash, druid, crag – Welsh, various.

Blackmail, clan, glamour, golf, scone, wraith, tweed – Scottish, various.


Looking into the origins of some words provides us with, not only origins and meaning, but the circumstances under which such words have entered the English language.

I think we should be proud have having such connections and ability to borrow, adapt and absorb words into our everyday use. It makes me feel I belong to a greater community.

english language


For some excellent reading on this subject, take a look at:

english MB

The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg.



Infantilising the English Language – or Not…

Many of you will have noticed that I usually write and post on Mondays and Fridays – today I have a free day, so you lucky, lucky people get an extra this week!!


In the UK, there is and has been a habit of making regular words into a kind of ‘baby talk’. I don’t know if other countries do this – I would be interested to hear what readers from India, Germany, America and so forth, use in their day to day speech.

Of course, growing up British, these words were not unusual to me. As I reached adulthood and my world of contacts expanded, I realised that not everyone in the UK uses these words, though they may know what they mean (sometimes), some words are regional.

I had thought it was because we hadn’t grown up, as a nation, linguistically, research proved me wrong. I trawled through many online dictionaries, as well as my trusty ‘real life’ actual dictionary in book form.

N.B: Don’t get your shortened alterations confused with British slang; not the same.


I’m going to give you just a flavour of what I mean:

 Butty – also buttie:  Northern English – A filled or open sandwich. E.G. ‘a bacon butty’. This originated in the 19th Century, from buttered bread, buttery, butty!

Sarnie: British informal – a sandwich. E.G.  ‘…two crates of beer and a plate of sarnies.’   Probably originated in the 20th century; from Northern or dialect pronunciation of the first syllable of sandwich. N.B. I disagree with this; pronunciation of the word sandwich in Northern England uses a flat vowel ‘a’ as in cat. In the South, they pronounce this as ‘ar’ so the word could only have come from the south surely?

Telly: British Informal – television. E.G. ‘he’s watchin’ the telly in the front room’. First recorded in 1935-40; tel (evision) + -y.

Cardy: Short for cardigan. E.G. ‘she had a hole in the sleeve of her cardy’. Traced to the 1960’s.

Veronica’s cardy was knit from reinforced steel, thus keeping her in a permanent pose.

 Welly – also wellie: Short for wellington boot. E.G. ‘I lost my blue welly’. Use of this contraction can be traced as far back as 1817, but became most commonly used from the 1970s onwards.

Chocky Bicky  – also choccie biccie: A chocolate biscuit. E.G. ‘I like a choccy biccy with a cup of tea’. I couldn’t find the origins of this, but I do know they say it in Australia.

Jim Jams: That’s pyjama’s to you! E.G. ‘I’m getting my jim jams on when I get home from work’. Originated in the early 20th century: abbreviation of the pronunciation; pie-jim-jams, alteration of pyjamas.

Baccy: Tobacco, particularly the self-rolling brigade use this. E.G. ‘got any baccy mate? I’m all out’. By shortening and alteration of the word to-bacc-o, we end up with baccy. First Known Use: 1821.

Sister Ermintrude and co enjoyed  the new baccy they were growing on Mother Superior’s allotment plot.

We also say words to children because either they have onomatopoeic qualities or to avoid saying the ‘real’ words!!! So a cat becomes a ‘pussy cat’, (much hilarious usage ensued in TV sitcoms of the 1970’s) or kitty. Bobo’s – sleep. Wee wee – urinate. Poo poo – a shit. Woof Woof– dog. Brum brum – car. Birdy – bird. Moo moo – cow. Ducky – duck. Horsey – horse.

You can see a pattern here can’t you?! If you stick a ‘y’ on the end, that generally works – no don’t be an idiot! You can’t put it on the end of chair – chairy? Really? We aren’t that dumb! Or you can repeat the same word. I t goes on endlessly, and I have encountered a huge amount of ‘baby talk’ dating back to the 1920s and 1930’s, primarily from the upper classes. They seemed to have had a penchant for developing a sickly, fluffy, hurl inducing way of speaking to animals and people they were very fond of –  Ickle wickle is a prime example. (I think I’m going to vomit).Working class folk were far too busy in the mines and pits and ship building yards, rolling their baccy into ciggies, to have time to develop a child-adult-lovers collective language.

I love Dorothy Parker‘s writings and attitude; she once worked for the New Yorker and did a review of A.A. Milne’s ‘The House At Pooh Corner. Parker wrote under the pen-name of Constant Reader. She purposefully mimicked the baby talk when dismissing the book’s syrupy prose style: “It is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.”  Richard Thompson even wrote a song about it, Baby Talk, in which he implores his sweetheart to grow up – ‘I’m sending you back to nursery school, When you start talking you sound like a fool’.

Time for a cuppa and a choccy biccy.

Bye bye for now weaders!