Watching this promotional Video for Britbox brought to mind a conversation I’ve had countless times with Brits in America.
Them: I’m going to make my kids say “mummy”. None of that American “mom” stuff.
Me: Why are you choosing to raise them in the USA but insisting they speak British English? (I realize some people don’t choose, but most do.)
Although I brought my kids up to know their British heritage, and apparently we did a lot of things that weren’t typically American, I never once chided them for using Americanisms. OK, (just in case they’re reading), I did go a bit full-on making sure they said “Please”, which quite a few Americans seem to omit. (Calm down, I’m not saying anyone’s necessarily rude, but I’ve done unscientific surveys on it and the actual word is often absent.)
Anyway, I’ve never understood Brits in the USA who insist on using their British English vocabulary and worse, get annoyed or sneer when Americans don’t understand them. As Rob Lowe illustrates here, some British words are so different from American English that no one would stand a chance if they were trying to guess the meaning.
Trainers – I suppose an educated guess here might yield results since these shoes were originally designed for exercise, but I knew never to use it in the US anyway. Interestingly, despite the plethora of American words that cross the Pond every year, I’m not noticing Brits saying “sneakers” much.
Settee – now this is an interesting one. I would imagine many Americans know this word, and although the meaning is the same – a piece of furniture on which more than one person can sit – the posh factor is different.Like Lowe, many Americans think of “settee” as a fancy sofa, on which one drinks tea with the pinkie extended. However, another of my unscientific polls on social media showed that Brits think the word settee is the least posh of the three most common options – sofa, couch and settee. Wiki bears that up, describing ‘sofa’ as “U” and ‘settee’ as “non-U”.*
*Upper class author Nancy Mitford popularized the phrase ‘U and Non-U’ — referring to upper-class and non-upper-class words. To quote Wiki’s witty observation –
Mitford provided a glossary of terms used by the upper classes (some appear in the table at right), unleashing an anxious national debate about English class-consciousness and snobbery, which involved a good deal of soul-searching that itself provided fuel for the fires.lled a settee or a couch, they’re no higher than middle-middle. If it’s a sofa, they’re upper-middle or above.
Author and social anthropologist Kate Fox wrote about it in her excellent book “Watching the English” – If an upholstered seat for two or more people is called a settee or a couch, they’re no higher than middle-middle. If it’s a sofa, they’re upper-middle or above.” Ah yes, not content with a fairly robust class-system, we Brits have divided ourselves even further than upper, middle and lower or working class. (That’s a whole nuther post, but you can read a little about it here.)
Dosh – I mean how on earth would an American know what this means, unless you were waving a fist full of dollar bills around while saying it? (It means “money”, by the way). Apparently, it was also used in the USA but has disappeared there for the most part. I’d be interested to know if any Americans still use it. There are various opinions on where this word comes from such as being a mash-up of (Australian) dollars and cash, or possibly a modern version of “dash” meaning a “tip” or “gratuity”. (Dash is believed to derive from “dashee”, a West African word that first appeared in print in 1788.)
Plonk – in the video, it’s a noun meaning wine, but it can also be a verb. To plonk yourself on a sofa, for example, would be to drop yourself unceremoniously onto it. When it’s wine, it’s typically used to describe the cheap stuff; “cheap plonk” being a phrase that is commonly used. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us this word originated in Australia and is possibly a misuse of the French word for “white” – blanc. (Now having flashbacks to a university end-of-term ball involving copious amounts of blanc-de-blanc.)
Skint – is another word that gives no clue about its meaning, hence Lowe suggests it might mean “tired”. To be skint is to be short of money. According to the fabulous web site World Wide Words (dot org),
It can be traced back in that spelling and pronunciation to the early years of the twentieth century as a variant of skinned. To be skinned or skinned out was to be deprived of all your money by gambling, frequently of the rigged sort.
The cockney rhyming slang for skint is “brassic” or “boracic”. That, in turn, comes from “boracic lint = skint”. Prizes if you can work this one into the conversation in the coming week. (Virtual prizes, that is.)