Every now and again, someone on the internet will provide the commendable service of attempting to explain British English to Americans.
On the whole, I applaud their efforts.
After all, Americans use a very basic, occasionally childlike version of Her Majesty’s English (remember, these people gave us movies to refer to moving pictures), so helping them out in the event that they should meet a Brit not plucked from the set of Downtown Abbey can only be a good thing, right?
Well, yes, you’d think so. Except that these attempts to explain ‘Britishisms’ (their term, not mine) usually come from the very same Americans who don’t quite understand them in the first place.
Sure, many of them get the general idea, but more often than not it seems that the subtleties and complexities of British English are lost on our friends over the ocean.
Take the rather wonderful Merry Mix-Ups, in which the good folk at Dictionary.com give their take on 9 British Terms That Flummox Americans.
Things start off well. We’re told that, whilst our friends in the US might think of a saloon as the kind of door-swinging, spit-and-sawdust bar familiar to fans of Western movies, in the UK, the last thing you’d want to do in a saloon is drink because it is, of course, a car.
So far, so good, until we move to the next definition.
And then it all starts to get a bit pants. Here’s how Dictionary.com advise using the word:
The word pants means “underpants.” If you must discuss the heavenly breathability or superior fabric grade of your new slacks, consider using the term trouser to ensure it translates accurately.
Now, I’m not saying they’re wrong, but I am saying that we’re not all quite so formal over here.
Tell the average person on the streets of England that you like they’re pants, and they’ll more than likely thank you -assuming you to mean the long item of clothing which covers their whole legs from waist to ankle- than walk away wondering how on earth you managed peak at their Y-fronts.
The word trousers still get used but often in a more formal environment.
Just to confuse matters further, pants can also refer to something that is rubbish or naff, but let’s not get ahead ourselves.
I was almost ready to forget all about Merry Mix-ups and get on with the sad, empty existence known as my life. Then the Dictionary dudes decided to have a go at explaining the differences between the British and American understanding of the word biscuit.
In British English, the word biscuit, also known as a digestive biscuit, or sometimes just a digestive, refers to what we might call a cookie or cracker.
OK, that’s partly right. Yes, what we call biscuits, the Americans know as cookies, and what the Americans call biscuits, we call yummy bread things we don’t s really have in the UK which is a shame but anyway.
That’s fine. This whole digestive business isn’t. A digestive biscuit is a certain type of biscuit in the same way that an Oreo is a certain type of cookie.
Or, to put it another way, all digestives might be biscuits but not all biscuits are digestives.
Make sense? Good, now maybe I can get on with looking forward to ‘tea time,’ ignoring my dental hygiene and saying C’or Blimey like a good little Englishman.
PS: For the most hilarious British/American translations on web, have a butchers at this feature from the Huffington Post.