The following is a guest post.
I recently published my list of 10 silly American words – expressions that I still find ridiculous, despite having lived here almost 12 years. I generally try avoid situations when I have to utter the words “bangs” or “rutabaga” or other such words that I find to be just, plain silly. I have my pride, after all.
To be fair, there are many British words and sayings which humo(u)r or confuse my fellow Americans. Just last week, I used the word “slapdash” in a meeting, only to get what I call “the look” from colleagues. Anyone who’s been a traveler in a foreign country trying to make themselves understood knows that look. It infers, “I have absolutely no clue what you are trying to say but I’m going to nod and smile nonetheless.”
Being a communicator at heart, getting “the look” pains me. But at the same time – and with the glass half full – I seize the opportunity to clarify my statement (which can sometimes lead to further hilarity) or, at the very least, educate my audience about the meaning of the expression so that the next time they find themselves in the room with a Brit, they can nod sagely rather than inflicting “the look.”
Here’s a shortlist of some of those British expressions that have caused me to be on the receiving end of “the look”:
- donkey’s years (= a very long time)
- putting a spanner in the works (= throw a wrench)
- Bob’s your uncle (= and there you have it)
- gone barmy (= gone mad)
- a lotta bottle (= a lot of courage)
- picking up fag ends (= listening to the end of conversations)
- dog’s bollocks (= cat’s meow)
- fancy dress (= costume)
- chuffed to bits (= very pleased)
- gobsmacked (= amazed)
I confess that I also proactively alter the way I pronounce several words here to avoid getting “the look.” For example, I’ll ask for wahder, say tooona (instead of tuna) and ask for tom-ay-to. It pains me but “the look” pains me more.
Samantha is a Brit who came to the US almost 13 years ago with her work, intended to stay a year, went on a blind date …. and is still here! Before moving to the US, she lived in France so technically, she’s not lived in the UK for over 16 years, so please do not ask her for restaurant recommendations in London. You can read more of her observances about the expat life, motherhood and more over at Keeping the Glass Half Full.