Separated by the Same Language

One of my first experiences with English being my second language happened over 15 years ago.  I was going on a double date one evening with Ramman and his friends.  It had been a beautiful summer day but was already getting cold and the other girl of the party was wearing a very short skirt.  Fearing that she would be cold, I asked her if she wanted to borrow a pair of pants.  It was the first time that I saw that look on someone’s face: blank misunderstanding.  I began gesturing wildly “You know to cover your legs.  I don’t want you to get cold.”  She smiled and said “Oh you mean TROUSERS!”  Pants inEnglandare underpants – which was highly embarrassing when you think about what I was implying!

My favourite story of a Brit in theUShappened to a friend of mine.  She went toNew Yorkand went to a bar.  She asked where she could find a fag machine and was told, in no uncertain terms, that “We don’t know how you do things inEnglandbut we don’t put our fags in machines here!”  Fags are slang for cigarettes in the UK.

You’d think that after 16 years of living inEngland, I’d have heard it all but I’m still learning new slang words and phrases.  It’s probably because Helios is originally from the South West that I’m learning again.  It seems that different regions have their own ways of expressing themselves.  For instance, Americans are called “Septics” in Cockney Rhyming Slang (location: East End London) while Americans are called “Spam” in the South West.

Spam, I think, is an easily explained term that came about when GIs were stationed inEngland: they brought Spam.  Cockney Rhyming Slang is harder to explain.  TheEast Endis notorious for the quantity of criminals and, in order to throw the fuzz off the scent, the criminals developed two-word slang where what you actually intend to say is the rhyme of the second word in the phrase.  For instance, butchers hook is the phrase and hook rhymes with look.  Therefore if you’re “taking a butchers”, you’re “taking a look”.  The phrase that best describes Americans in this slang is “Septic Tank” where tank rhymes with “Yank”.  So Cockneys call Americans “Septics”.

If you would like more information, see this informative and fun website:

British Fox