I'm Amazed We Can Talk At All

>> Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I was recently "challenged" by a blogger I just met from "across the pond," kailexmummy.  She was challenged to write about the "Ten Things that Make Me Happy," which she did here when she also challenged, er ... invited? ... me to do the same. 

I'm tickled pink ... no, wait.  I don't like pink.  Let's think of another expression.  Hmm.  Blue means hypoxia, purple and red mean angry, green means jealous ... what's left?  How about orange?  Okay, for today, I'm tickled orange by this challenge (and/or invitation). 

First of all, I just "met" this woman.  Either she really, really loves my blog, or she was desperate to find enough people to send the challenge too.  I know what I really believe, and I know what I want to believe, but the beauty of blogs is that I can choose to wear whatever shade of glasses I want, and no one can stop me.  (I won't opt for pink.  As I said before, I don't like pink, even if you call it rose.)

The second reason I love this idea is that my new bloggy friend is from "across the pond."  That makes communication a whole lot of fun.  I can learn all kinds of new words like, "chuffed," and then I get to figure out what they mean. 

For example, she referred to her blog post as a "meme".  I don't know that word, so I looked it up.  According to the ever-so-reliable Wikipedia, a meme is defined as follows:

A meme (pronounced /ˈmiːm/, rhyming with "cream"[1]) is a postulated unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. (The etymology of the term relates to the Greek word μιμητισμός ([mɪmetɪsmos]) for "something imitated".)[2] Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate and respond to selective pressures.[3]
The British scientist Richard Dawkins coined, or adapted, the word "meme" in The Selfish Gene (1976)[1] as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given in the book included melodies, catch-phrases, beliefs (notably religious beliefs), clothing fashion, and the technology of building arches.[4]
There was more, but I spared you the pain.  Interestingly enough, this particular entry in Wikipedia is specifically identified as being improperly cited, potentially unreliable, and subject to removal.  So, not only does the definition seem confusing, it may be more likely to be wrong than even your average entry.   As a result, I'm no further along with figuring out what a "meme" is than before I started.  I made an executive decision that I would pretend she said, "memo" and just move on. 

Even better than the individual words we use on one side of the pond and not the other, we also have the added fun of being able to have whole conversations where we might think we understand each other, but we don't. 

For example, she might tell me to get "on the pavement" because a car is coming.  I might, sadly, think she is telling me to get on the road and walk right into traffic. 

She might offer to loan my child a jumper, and I might try to figure out why she wants to put my kid in a romper at his age, or I might think she meant a child's jumping toy of some sort.

If she were to offer me a "nappy" for my baby, I might, after thinking about it for awhile, decide she was offering me a napkin to wipe my baby's face.  In fact, she'd be offering me a diaper for his backside (or his "arse" if you will).

I might tell her I thought her children had "a lot of spunk," and she might wonder why I'm speaking of a male bodily fluid not usually discussed in polite company. 

My all time favorite, though, is a sentence suggested by another mom I met several years ago.  "Let's get pissed and go smoke some fags." In American English, I have just said something very offensive, and depending on the circumstance, potentially an illegal rallying cry for immediate violent action against homosexuals. In the Queen's English, I've just suggested we go get drunk and smoke cigarettes.

With these kinds of potential misunderstandings, it is a wonder the United States and the United Kingdom are still such good friends. 

Even more fascinating, both countries still claim to speak the same basic language.  I, on the other hand, disagree.  Apparently, we do not even use the same rules of grammar.  For example, I attended "a" university, while my friends in England attended, "University."  I go to "a" or "the" hospital when I need help or visit someone, while my friends simply go to "hospital."  When we talk about singular groups such as corporations, we can't even agree whether they are singular, or plural.  I would say, "Disney is releasing a new movie," and my friends would say, "Disney are releasing a new movie." 

Sometimes we even have roughly the same idioms, but we put them together using different parts of speech (nouns versus adjectives, or similar).  In England, someone may be a "nutter" and "crackers" but in the United States, we might call them "nuts" or "cracked."  So close, and yet ... so distinctinvely not.

Putting all these difference together, I strongly believe that there is a major market need for an "English to English Dictionary."  You can add that idea to my list of get-rich-quick schemes.

Now, for my Ten Things that Make Me Happy ... tune in tomorrow.


MOLLYC May 12, 2010 at 5:01 PM  

I loved this. I think your writing just keeps on getting better and better, not that I am so high and mighty! I always am confused about British English: terms like "vest" and "plonk." I wear my vest over my shirt and plonk books down on the table! I have always wanted to live in London, however, and find all those vast country houses so irresistable. I wish I had a manservant. molly

saywhatyouwill May 14, 2010 at 9:01 AM  

i love the bit about a/the/plural.

Karin Kysilka May 22, 2010 at 6:18 PM  

saywhatyouwill -- Did I miss any good ones?

Molly, if you have one of those country houses (which are waaayyy cool), it would help to have a dustservant, too. That's a lot of dusting. I couldn't clean those floors on my knees.

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