Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tally ho! Jolly good! Steady on! (And Other Britishness)

"The British accent is ridiculous. So much so that I'm struggling to keep a straight face talking to you right now. Perhaps you might like to use Closed Captioning. Ahh, that's better."
I've realized that, by chance or by design, I'm slowly becoming more British in my expressions and taste. Not just taste in literature, mind you, but in film and television as well.

There's a style of writing that is inherently archaic in its British prose narrative. I couldn't replicate this effect accurately, but authors like Dickens, Doyle, Lewis and Tolkien - Lewis in particular - have influenced my writing articulation and structure with this style. You have to be careful, though! When Aragorn suggests gathering a "faggot" he means a bundle of wood. When he affirms that Eomer of Rohan is "no niggard" he means someone of mental deficiency. (Those archaic words can be tricky. Did you know "weird" used to mean "fate" or "doom"?)

Meanwhile, a selection of British television and cinema have implanted the infectious British accent so heavily in my mind that I cannot hear a thing being spoken in it without almost immediately launching my own rendition, which I'm told is not half-bad. There's just the slightest worry that I will hear someone talk with an accent and take off in my own, either creating a false impression of mockery or of similar heritage. (I doubt I'm that good.)

The movies and television includes shows such as Robin Hood, Jane Austin films courtesy of my sister (Pride & Prejudice (the BBC version), Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion and Emma), Sherlock Holmes (various versions starring Basil Rathbone, Ronald Howard or Jeremy Brett), Jeeves and Wooster, the very British clay-mation films Chicken Run and Wallace and Grommit, The Chronicles of Narnia, Amazing Grace, and most recently of note, Doctor Who.

Insufferably British expressions and profanity have also been known to appear on my vocabulary. Expressions like those in the title, "steady on," "jolly good" and "I say!" are frequent usages. The "profanity" meanwhile, consists of phrases like "bloody" "dashed" "bugger" and "bullocks", all of which may appear shockingly offensive to the sensibilities of a proper citizen of the United Kingdom, but which hold no such offense to the American. (Loophole!) And as someone who objects strongly to profanity beyond "darn" or perhaps "crap" in extreme circumstances, these words provide a happy substitute. Although I do not use it, I understand that the word "ass" still simply means a doddering fool, and that a certain modification is required in order to shape it into its "proper" vulgar form.

Profanity isn't the only set of words that morphs across the pond. There's a whole slew of alternate vocabulary. For example, "holiday" doesn't mean Christmas or Easter, but a vacation. A flat is an apartment. The lift is an elevator. If you sack someone, you've fired them from the job. A "row" (pronounced "raow") is a fight or altercation. Bum is a crass (but not profane) slang for one's rear end. Cheeky means you have spunk. Blighter is a term for a runt or scoundrel. And if you REALLY want to get British, "Ha ha! The cheeky little blighter was on holiday and had a row at work, so he was sacked. He took the lift up to his flat and fell on his bum!"

Here's some good resources if you're interested in further differences:

The American's guide to speaking British

Understanding the British Vernacular

Further links

I am also of the opinion that British architecture is superior to American - by leaps and bounds. I happened to pass a cottage near a highway one day, and immediately noticed that its shape and appearance differed greatly from most American houses. It was simply a classic (and classy) British cottage. I polled the other passengers in the car as to whether or not British architecture is intrinsically superior, or simply more appealing on a personal level. Everyone agreed, it was intrinsically superior. Likewise, there is a pub in town which is unmistakably British, even flying the British colors. I don't go in for pubs or the like, but it has the coolest structure and appearance of any building I've seen in the area, let alone a pub.

Although the politics of the place are generally more socialist and less liberty-minded, I still wouldn't mind visiting the country sometime. Maybe I'll find out just how well my accent blends in.

Blimey! Frognal cogfosters! by Dave Barry

The following are introductions by the BBC on their American outlet, BBC America:

"Not even British people can follow the British accent 100% of the time. Therefore...you, like me, might want to use closed captioning."

"The following program contains accents you would have heard a lot more if you hadn't thrown our tea into Boston Harbor. To find out what on Earth anyone is talking about, please use Closed Captioning."

"I hereby announce that the people of Britain will not be offended if you find their accents too ridiculous and wish to use closed captioning."

"If you find yourself laughing at the British Accent more than understanding it, Closed Captioning might be a good option for you."


At March 26, 2008 at 7:34:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lorks a lordy Dave, I say you seem to have turned your hand rather well to chatting in the British venacular.
Some more lost in transatlantic words/phrases for you:
A fanny, in the UK, is not something that you sit on, and only ladies have them.
A sweater, is a jumper.
There are many more but you might wonder what the dickens I was talking about.

At August 24, 2008 at 8:06:00 PM PDT, Blogger Robinski said...

Nice little summary. But one big mistake: it is not "Bullocks" - but "Bollocks"! A bullock is a type of young livestock - bollocks are what dangle between a mans legs. Oh and one important extra detail showing the complexity of British profanity:
If something is "bollocks" - it's is very bad.... but if something is "the DOGS Bollocks" it is very good...
Of course you also missed "wanker"/"tosser", both equivalent to "jerk off" but the former being satifyingly anglo-saxon and gutteral.

At February 4, 2014 at 10:23:00 PM PST, Blogger Empath in pain said...

Oh dear boy, it appears the Yanks have gone a'roost. While it is always good to research the origins of one's language, it is important to step on with a bit of respect. Know that the Brits speak proper English, formally called "Standard English." It is we Americans who speak "American English" and it is we who have the funny accent, words, and expressions. Have a care with your brain old boy.


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