Friday, February 1, 2008

American English

Not until I moved to Japan did I realize that non-American English speakers use different language. I do not mean accents, but the vocabulary of especially British English can be much different. Thankfully, because of American movies and TV, most Britons and Australians will translate their words into American for me--not usually necessary anymore I am proud to say. Since I have no close American friends in Japan, I have had to conform to non-American English.

Off the top of my head: they say trousers instead of pants; Pants means underwear; Capsicum means green pepper; Aubergine means eggplant; Prawns are shrimp.

Indeed, I have learned more English in Japan than I have Japanese. Since words and language have always been my pique, I am reading Bill Bryson's Made in America. He has heavily researched why Americans speak such a different language to that of the British. There are several reasons, but it is not my intention to summarize the book in this blog. He also includes interesting tidbits about American history often starkly contrary to what we are taught in school. Much of what we have learned: Paul Revere riding on his horse announcing "The British are coming!" "Taxation Without Representation is Tyranny" and more never actually existed at the time they are said to have occurred, but instead were written by over-zealous historians one hundred years after the American Revolution.

I do want to share some funny names and sayings that existed in America:

Some Puritans in the seventeeth century gave their children atrocious names such as Flie-Fornication, Adulterina, Job-Raked-Out-Of-The-Ashes, Praise-God and Fear-Not.

Among Pilgrims (who arrived in America before the Puritans and are not part of the same religious sect) eccentric names included Fight-The-Good-Fight-of-Faith Wilson, Be-Courteous Cole, Kill-Sin Premble among others.

Some cities in California were once named Murderer's Gulch, Chicken Thief Flat, Git-Up-And-Git, Hell-Out-For-Noon and my favorite.....Puke and Shitbritches Creek.

Boogie woogie was a slang term for syphilis!

And, in the mid-19th century when Irish immigrants were prevalent espeically in New York and the MidWest, their rough bar behaviour rendered slang terms like "Irish Clubhouse" for a police station, "Irish confetti" for a brick and "Irish beauty" for a woman that had two black eyes.

Read Made in America by Bill Bryson if you like obscure history that enriches conversation at a cocktail party or dinner table.

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