Being British and from the North of England sometimes I find myself at a loss here in the US. I know I’m speaking English but no one seems to understand me. I thought for a while it was because most of the TV (or Tele as I would say) was very old British shows like “Are you Being Served” and “Keeping Up Appearances.” But as time goes on and more and more British slang is entering the US vocabulary, I see that it is more to do with my ‘rich tapestry’ of Northern slang.
Coming from just outside Manchester in the North-West of England, I grew up with a mother (Mum) who used a lot of metaphors for life. When things were hard, she’d say it was ‘like getting blood out of a stone’. Or if things were complicated and confusing, then it was “all part of the rich tapestry of life.” Add to this, words like “Bloody Hell” – Darn (USA) or “Dog’s Dinner”- to be dressed nicely (USA) you can see why my initial conversations in the US were sometimes a little ‘Wonky’ or not right as you might say.
But now when I go home and I visit folks in my old College City of London, even I have to pull out the guidebook and work out some of the great Cockney sayings that are now proliferating in the English vernacular. If I invited you to “go for a few Britneys”, what would you think? Of course I’m referencing Britney Spears, but could you really be asking if I wanted to meet a few Britney Spears? No, indeed not, in Cockney rhyming slang Britney Spears means beers – so I would in fact be asking you if you wanted to go for a drink!
Cockney rhyming slang pairs are phrases resulting from taking an expression which rhymes with a word and then using that expression instead of the word. For example the word “look” rhymes with “butchers’ hook.” Often the rhyming word is omitted – so you won’t find too many Londoners having a “butcher’s hook” at something, but you might find a few having a “butcher’s”.
If things can be this confusing on my side of the ‘Pond’ (across the Atlantic in the UK that is) what must I have sounded like to my now fellow Americans? Needless to say 12 years and an American Citizenship have done their best to curb my transgressions with language and I can now be allowed out alone.
Language is a fascinating thing, and even when it is the same language, it is the same, but not as we know it.
Nikki (Boulder Project Manager)