Family gathering
Humor,  Life Experiences

The Hilarity of Language –  When A Brit/Irish English Speaker Learns American English

I was about to go to bed since for once I was actually feeling sleepy. I turned the computer off at 8 pm, which I am doing more often and find I sleep better.

Family gatheringFor the past few days I have had subjects about which I want to write and then, I don’t. First of all, I thought it was because, Kim the Genius, who posts these blogs for me, was attending a conference and that is why the ideas left me. You know how it is…once the passion has been assuaged, the memory follows suit.

So I was about to hit the sack when I suddenly thought of something which I could do for Americans. No, it isn’t political. It is a gesture of compassion and friendship. As Sir Winston Churchill said, “The only thing that separates the Americans and the British is language”. Oh so true, and I have lived to see the day of reality.

Actually Churchill was a wit – lots of books written about him in that respect. My favorite was when he was at a dinner with Lady Astor. She remarked to him, “If I were married to you I’d poison your food”.   To which he responded, “If I were married to you, I’d eat it”. Don’t you love it.

The Meanings of Words

So, nobody told me the different meanings of words when I came here. At first I thought it was still part of the Revolution; that the language would be changed, although it stayed the same. Yes. That’s the kind of rationalization I did in those days. (There – see that. The damned computer is against me. I wrote the correct spelling of the word realization and the computer changed it to a z instead of an s.) I tried to investigate the possibility of the computer printing English English, but no………………every other friggin’ language is available but mine. So I have to keep deleting the Z and insert the S every time I want to spell a word from Britain. Were I to speak with you, I could even tell you how different words are pronounced – like the word “controversy” for one. I can’t write it so we’ll have to wait until we meet.

For some time I have wanted to utilize my voice. I cut some CDs to present them to a voice over company and the woman there told me, “You have two things against you. You are English and a woman.” I would have thought she could tell that over the phone. So if anyone wants one I have a short demonstration of my voice with various commercials and readings! They got me nowhere. Just recently a couple of people have criticized me because I still call London home and I use Brit terminology. We Brits are so civilized and polite, so I tell them to get stuffed and keep their opinions to themselves. Let me make something perfectly clear. Regardless of the passport I hold, I will always be Brit/Irish. That’s the way it is.

Our humor is different from most and I was so grateful when Benny Hill arrived, followed shortly by Monty Python. After that my strange humor was acceptable. In addition, the words that were often misconstrued were understood………………by some anyway. There are still a lot of people who just don’t get it and stare at me being convulsed with laughter at something that sounds cyber-language.

John and Peter in the UK
John and Peter

My brother in law Peter, who lives in Reigate, Surrey UK, once telephoned me.  He insisted, “My wife just said you aren’t fit to live with pigs and I said you are and hung up!”  I was in hysterics for about half an hour and when I told someone about it, they looked at me blankly and commiserated with me on the obvious insult! His wife Joan has been one of my closest friends since I was eighteen. That’s how we are. When I would tell him I was pissed off he would always respond that it is better to be pissed off than pissed on. Ha! He once sent a birthday card to my son Daniel in which he wrote, “You are a wonderful nephew, the very best. I am so lucky to be your Uncle. Happy Birthday Colin.”  (My older son.) Daniel loved it. I have countless stories about him and John together. They’ll appear in a later blog.

So here is where I am kind to you, with some definitions of language interpretations.  Knickers are not pants that come below the knee – they are panties or briefs. So when a girl told me she was so fed up with her mother, who was a fashion designer, who made her wear knickers which were at the height of popularity at that time, she said, “I hate being fashionable and I am not wearing knickers ever again”. Oops I thought. Don’t bend over dear.

We were at my former husband’s cousin’s house in Northeast Philadelphia and had been here for about a fortnight (two weeks). I was sitting in their living room doing a crossword. I made a mistake and put the word in the wrong placing so I asked “Does anyone have a rubber?”  The silence was deafening. So I asked again, louder. Luckily for me his cousin Marcy, whom I adored, asked me what I wanted it for. I told her I had made a mistake in the crossword so I needed a rubber to change it. She whispered the meaning of rubber in the USA in my ear. In the UK a rubber is an eraser.

A year or so later I was at a conference in New Jersey and the weather was awful. It was raining so hard, we couldn’t get out, but one man said, “I have to go out, so I’ll just put my rubbers on”. I was stunned. Where was he going to put them and how would that help to keep him dry. I thought about it and wondered if he intended to go without shoes and put these little things on each toe. Perplexing indeed and I really didn’t want to stay around to watch. However he returned to the meeting place with some black things that he put over his shoes! Did I say the language was confusing?

I told the rubber story at a presentation I was making in Arizona and another Brit was in the audience. She said she had a similar experience, but better. She went into a Chemist (Pharmacy) one Sunday morning where there was a group of men preparing to go to play golf and purchasing their Sunday newspapers. She had a letter to post (mail) and realized she hadn’t written the correct address so she said in a very loud voice, “Does anyone have a rubber I CAN BORROW???” She said they all filed out in silence. Hysterical.

The Famous Prison Pecker Story

Being pissed. Being drunk. Plonk – cheap wine. Cheque – check. Ring up – call.  No “H” in Birmingham. We don’t pronounce our “R’s” either. It is New Yawk to us. I could go on and on. In his amazing book, Divided by a Common Language, Christopher Davies has long lists, more than I can remember. He left out my favourite (note the spelling there) which happened to me in a major penitentiary. No, I wasn’t incarcerated, although once I went through those gates it felt like it.

I was doing some group work on attempted recovery with men who had a high rate of recidivism and used the prison as their home address. I worked with them for a while and then one night when I was there I was competing with a basketball final. They were not happy with me, very apathetic and I got fed up with them. I told them I was leaving and they didn’t care. So I told them I would be back next week and to keep their peckers up. Now this story has gone national and it is the truth. They all started laughing and one actually fell off his chair. The guard came in and asked me what was going on and I told him I didn’t know. All I said was they should keep their peckers up until I returned. He frowned and said, “We try to keep them down in here”. I hadn’t a clue. Finally, he took me outside and explained how yet again I had screwed up the American English language. After all, it is called English and if you are going to be so pedantic about it why isn’t it simply called American? In England, your pecker is your chin. It means Keep Your Chin Up – Be cheerful. NOBODY TOLD ME. When I went back the following week the class size had doubled. I don’t know which pecker they were considering, but there they were, awaiting more faux pas!!! How could I possibly improve on keep your pecker up? Good work Winston.

A few weeks later I was in Philadelphia talking with a school Principal who wanted me to do some drug and alcohol education, when to my horror, across the road on Market Street there were three of my former prisoners. No, not Market Street, the one that has no traffic – is it Chestnut. Anyway there they were, yelling across the road, “Hey Doc how’s your pecker!”. As whomever I believe in from above, the Principal left me.  I don’t know what he thought I was hiding. For their trouble making, I made them take me to lunch. They owed me. That story has followed me all over the country. I usually include it in a presentation to lighten the atmosphere, which changes on impact.

The funniest thing is when people really love the story and tells others, getting it wrong. I spoke at a conference in Bucks County a few years ago and on request, told the Prison Pecker story. Some months later I returned to that Agency and one of their magnificent counsellors (yes we have two L’s in that word) came up to me and told me she had been with a group of colleagues, telling them about me. She then told the story and said “I think I got it wrong. I said ‘keep your dicks up’ and they didn’t laugh.” I told her the word was pecker and she planned to meet with them again to correct her presentation.  Friggin’ hilarious.

Christmas bow on head
Keep calm and carry on being hilarious.

I am so blessed to have funny people in my life. Isn’t it wonderful that when someone tells a story it reminds another person of a story and so it goes. It works out that my misinterpretation of words has brought more hilarity than I could have imagined. The strengths of these memories is sharing with others, also understanding the secret of humor with human connections is always laughing with, never at. I would love to hear some of your stories.

I was presenting at a retirement community last year, telling some life tales, which means hilarity. Very few people shared during that hour but after I finished, they lined up to tell me the funniest situations. I asked them why they hadn’t shared during the hour. They didn’t have an answer and I told them – what a waste! One woman told me she and her friend were on a tour boat and they were looking through one of the circular windows to get a better view of the harbour (yes, there is a u in harbour)! They were both rather buxom and got through the window but their boobs got stuck and they couldn’t get back through the opening. I was crying as she told the story with the right gestures including her voluptuous appendages. The audience would have loved it. She was a riot. There were others.  So many really funny people. Whether it was because they lived in the same community and were too shy to share, I don’t know. All I saw was a long line of people waiting to tell me their experiences. I could have been there for another couple of hours and truly, my face ached in the best way when I left. What a glorious feeling. That’s what life’s funnies do.

Keep calm and carry on being hilarious – the most underestimated healing on the planet.

 

 

3 Comments

  • Ruthie

    You made me laugh out loud. Laughing feels sooooo good. Love your stories & your hilarity!!!! So very happy to have you back in my life.
    Your John & you are a wonderful pair!! What marvelous humor you both have

  • Daniel M Newman

    My Dear, Dear, Friend! Never forget that crazy minister in Indianapolis that did a one hour presentation on “How to Poop in Public” in full on clergy gear. I’ve never seen you laugh so hard. You even yelled at me you had to rush and re-apply your makeup before your presentation. I love it when I can make you laugh!

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