The Brits

Spoiler alert: I am an Anglophile. My father was born and raised in England until he was seventeen — born in a suburb of Oxford and raised near Worcester. His family, going back generations, was British through and through. And his mother who married an English gentleman had roots going way back in Scotland. Ironically, her great-grandfather came to this country and fought against the British to assure American Independence from England.

I visited England twice, once on a Fellowship which allowed me to visit Oxford University and travel a bit and later I visited with a friend during which we traveled for a week in the Cotswolds — and visited Oxford once again. My friend is a former student and an attorney and while we were in Oxford we decided to visit as many Pubs as possible (doing sociological research, of course). We learned a great deal, as you can imagine. I don’t remember much.

I love England and most of the English people I have met. Moreover, my wife and I are addicted to British television shows, especially the mysteries in which detectives solve crimes with their brains rather than with their fists and guns. My favorites are such shows as: “Vera,” “Inspector Gently,” “Endeavour,” and “New Tricks.”  And I must add two brilliant British comedies: “Mum” and  “Detectorists.” Beautifully done.

But, let’s face it, some of the things the Brits say are a bit bewildering. They put in syllables where they don’t belong — as in aluminium. And they pronounce lieutenant “leftennant.” Of course, it might be said they invented the language and they can bloody well do with it as they choose. And speaking of “bloody” note how often this word gets a workout in British parlance — as in a “bloody big boat” sitting in the Thames. But there are other expressions that are equally endearing. I list a few here and would welcome additions from other anglophiles (or even British readers themselves).

For the British “Worcester” becomes “Wooster.”

The family of Beauchamp is referred to as “Beechum.”

“Telling porkies” means telling lies.

They “chat to” others while we “chat with” others.

Things are “different to” for the British while they are “different from” for us.

They speak of “maths” while we say “math” or, when we feel a bit full of ourselves, “mathematics.”

The British live in “flats” while we live in apartments.

They play football while we play soccer. (Their word makes much more sense since the game is played with the feet for the most part while our game requires that three hundred pound men run at one another as fast as possible and try to smash each other to pieces. Their game requires finesse, ours requires steroids).

They try to avoid “Yobs” while we try to avoid thugs and delinquents.

They line up in queues  (or queue up) while we wait in line.

Their “bobbies” are our policemen.

When they know someone has misspoken they shout “bollocks” while we shout “Bullshit” or “Horsepucky.” (Their word seems so much more refined!)

The Brits whinge while we just complain.

We think of an exceptional student as bright the Brits think of her as clever.

When the Brits want to know they ask “What’s that in aid of?” On the other hand, we ask: “What’s that for?”

In Great Britain when your car breaks down (from driving on the “wrong” side, perhaps) you open the boot and get the spanner after which you raise the bonnet to check out the engine. In this country we open the trunk, take out a wrench, and open the hood to check the engine.

And if it’s dark you will need your torch, which we call a flashlight.

Great fun! There are many more and any you can think of please pass along. (And if you would like to you may copy this and take it along with you on your next trip to Great Britain. No charge!)

 

 

 

 

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U.S. Independence Revoked!

My wife’s niece heard from Queen Elizabeth II and she asked me to share the message with my readers:

To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

In light of your failure in recent years to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. (You should look up ‘revocation’ in the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except North Dakota, which she does not fancy).

Your new Prime Minister, David Cameron, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections.

Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

We now have to learn to speak “proper” English — not American English. This involves pronouncing “lieutenant” with an “f” as in “leftenant.” Apparently the Brits don’t like the way we say “LOOtenant.” Also we must insert an extra syllable in “aluminum” so it sounds like “aluMINeum.” And “laboratory” must be properly  pronounced as in “laBORatree” and not like “LABratory” We need to watch those “r’s” — we hit them too hahhd. The word “guy” must be replaced by “bloke,” and if they are delinquent young  blokes we call them “yobs.” Also, when we swear we must learn to say “bullocks!”

The Queen’s letter also includes 15 rules that we must henceforth follow: We must immediately add the letter “u” to such words as flavor, labor, and neighbor. And, echoing the linguistic advice given above, we are admonished to stop using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with gestures and filler noises such as “like” and “you know.” (She has a point there.) Needless to say, July 4th will no longer be a holiday and all other holidays will henceforth be referred to as “bank holidays.” We must learn to resolve conflict without using guns, lawyers or therapists  (now there’s a hard one!).  She thinks our reliance on such things simply proves we are not ready for independence. Accordingly, we will not be allowed to carry in our possession anything more potent than a vegetable peeler — and we must have a permit for that.

Further, we must immediately convert to the metric system and make all intersections roundabouts. This will apparently help us appreciate more fully the British sense of humor. “Gas” will be replaced by “petrol” and the price will go to $10.00/gallon where it is in Great Britain. This is supposed to teach us true thrift and increase global awareness. She also wants us to get rid of “football” since it doesn’t involve much kicking and is really “run back-and-forth and throw the ball.” And baseball must also go because we insist on calling our national championship “The World Series” even though we don’t invite other countries. There are a couple of other rules as well, but they seem to me to be silly. These are the important ones.

I  must say I would have thought the Queen would be fairly pleased to see that we had reelected our President after the other guy had been over there trying to tell them how to run the Olympics. But apparently not. In any event, imagine what the Brits — and the rest of the world — must think about our spending billions of dollars on an election to essentially leave the present government unchanged — while at the same time not ridding ourselves of the lunatic fringe we call the “Tea Party.” I can imagine that’s an especially sore point with Her Majesty given the history of our two countries and all. I guess she was just too polite to mention it.

Better Off?

The theme of this year’s Republican National Convention centered around the question “are you better off today than you were four years ago?” While I did find Mark Cuban’s response to the question most interesting, I realize (as he must) that the question is rhetorical: the Republicans are convinced that we are not “better off” than we would have been if the Democrats hadn’t won the White House. This theme is built around the commonplace counter-factual “what if?” and involves us in endless speculation with no assured answer in the end. It may have opened a can of worms for the GOP as pundits (including Cuban) are jumping on the theme to remind us how bad things were four years ago and to note that Mitt Romney, for one, is much better off than he was in 2008! But it made me think about a much more interesting question: are we better off than Thomas Jefferson and the boys in Philadelphia expected us to be as a result of the revolutionary war?

I have referred a couple of times in my blogs to John C. Miller’s remarkable study of the Origins of the American Revolution and came across the following paragraph in his discussion of the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Miller says:

While demolishing the reputation of George III and the monarchy itself, Jefferson gave his countrymen a new goal toward which to strive: a republican system of government in which human rights would take precedence over property and privilege. No one who has read the Declaration could fail to see that an experiment in human relations was being made and that the new order which it established was to be chiefly for the benefit of the common man. Equality and liberty — government by the consent of the governed — were the ideals now held up to men.

Miller is right, of course, as a careful reading of the Declaration will bear out. But one must ask the pressing question: did it all pan out? Is the system we live in a “republican system of government in which human rights . . take precedence over property and privilege”? Does it, in fact, “benefit the common man”? The answer is a rather resounding “No!” Though they don’t wear crowns, property and privilege in the year 2012 are in the ascendency and the rights of humans, in particular ordinary American citizens, are largely ignored — certainly by those who would have us remember how things were four years ago. The Republicans are all about money and if they gain control of this country it would suggest that as a nation we are as well. Heaven forbid!

The wealthy in this country would deny that their wealth and position are a “privilege,” of course. They would insist it is a right — it is theirs by dint of such things as hard work, sweat of the brow, intelligence, and initiative. But this is a half-truth. None of us is where we are without luck and the help of a great many other people — right down to the woman who served us our meals in grammar school and the janitor who cleaned up our messes — not to mention the man who drives the successful business man to his important meetings. No man is an island, as they say.

But we are told in a most interesting blog that Americans don’t believe in luck: the majority of Americans tend to side with the wealthy in believing that the poor, for example, are poor because they are lazy. This is nonsense: few of us are poor simply because we lack effort any more than the wealthy have a “right” to money and prestige: it is in large part luck, good or bad. We may have worked hard to be where we are, but we have been lucky and have had a good deal of help from a great many other people — or failed to have it when we needed it most.

Much has been said about the infamous 1% who control nearly half of the wealth in this country and who are in the process of buying the government outright. And in this discussion it is also noted that the middle class is shrinking while the poor are becoming more numerous. The plan on the political right is to make it even more the case that “property and privilege” control the way things are done in this country and “human rights” are largely ignored — such basic things as food, shelter, and an education sufficient to allow ordinary citizens to gain a foothold in the political process and a job that pays more than minimum wage.

We may or may not be better off than we were four years ago. But we are decidedly further away from Jefferson’s ideal now than we were when he wrote that remarkable document. Surely we need to remind ourselves again and again why we fought for independence from Great Britain and restore the notion of “unalienable” human rights to the center of politics where they belong.