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!