How Did We Come Up With That?

>> Thursday, August 6, 2009

I've spent several days in the recent past watching BBC America. While I have enjoyed the programming, I am continually struck at how difficult a time I have understanding what some of the actors are saying. I am a reasonably intelligent, fairly well traveled human being who usually has no trouble understanding my friends who live in all parts of Great Britain. Accents are mostly not an issue with my comprehension.

Still, I struggle. I have concluded that I struggle because the Queen's English is full of idioms and expressions we just don't use on this side of the pond. From my perspective, those who speak the Queen's English use a remarkable amount of expressions that just don't translate at all into American English without some explanation. (When one of my friends in Scotland once wrote that she was "chuffed" at something, I thought she was mad. Nope. That isn't what that word means.) I wonder if the British think the same about ... say, an episode of ER? Does American TV contain a lot of hard-to-undertand phrases and expressions? I think I'm too close to my own language to ever answer that.

While thinking about this, though, I have started to also think about some of the expressions we do use in American English. They are rather odd, when you think about it. I'm thinking I might do some research on the origins of some of these sayings ... but probably not. I'll probably not get around to it. (Take that phrase, for example. Why do we say we will "get around" to doing something? Then again, what else would we say?)

Some phrases that have piqued my curiousity are these:

1. Pulling my leg-- This seems awkward to me. Who pulled the first leg, and why, and how does this have anything to do with playing a joke on someone?

2. More ____ than you can shake a stick at -- I'm really confused by this one. Why would you shake a stick at something, and what actually qualifies as a bona fide "stick shake" Do you have to be really close? Is the general direction okay?

3. Two shakes of a lamb's tail -- OK, this one makes sense in that it means "quickly," but why a lamb? Why not say, "Two shakes of a dog's backside?"

4. All get out (as in, "as (insert adjective) as all get out.") -- I have no explanation for this one. It becomes even more odd when spoken quickly (as it usually is). Then it sounds like, "That's as scary as all gadout." I don't know what "all get out" refers to, but I don't want to meet it in a dark alley, or anywhere else for that matter.

5. Out the wazoo -- Let's keep this PG and say, I might understand it a little more if it was "up the wazoo" but I don't get "out the wazoo". Where (or what) is the wazoo, d'ya think?

I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that I could go on and on about this (ad infinitum, ad nauseum). I think we may need to revisit this topic in future posts.


  © Free Blogger Templates Skyblue by 2008

Back to TOP