Thursday, 26 June 2008

Signs o' the Times

Clearing out some of my iPhoto catalogue I came across a few typically English shots. This sign was tacked to a door at Green College:

There are two things going on here. The first is the expression "on the latch," a veddy British expression which means to leave a door so it doesn't lock. I don't think we have that phrase in the U.S. The great U.K. pop band Squeeze includes the line in its song "If I Didn't Love You":
Taking a bite on a biscuit
The record jumps on a scratch
Tonight it's love by the fire
The door of your love's on the latch

Then there's the sign's final authoritarian note: "It is in your interest." I love that.

And I loved this sign at a butcher's in Oxford's Covered Market:

"Hand raised" pork pies. I can just see the little baby pork pies, no bigger then a biscuit, being hand-fed from a bottle of warm gravy. If only they were free-range, hand-raised pork pies, gamboling about the kitchen.


SuburbanCorrespondent said...

There is a British woman who comments on my blog, and I keep having to ask her for translations. Just today, she had to explain to me what a "skip" is. Oh, and a sill (as it pertains to cars)...Do you know?

John Kelly said...

A skip is a dumpster, basically. And a sill is the panel under the door, the bit that runs horizontally along the lower side of a car and always gets rusty--at least on old English cars.

Barb said...

One of the hardest communication moments when I was living in England was when I went to get my hair cut and asked to get my bangs trimmed. In Britain, of course, it's "fringe." But it took us a few minutes to get there.

Candadai Tirumalai said...

Sometimes it is the smallest difference: for instance, Mom in America and Mum in England.

Richard said...

So... you going to buy a nice shiny handgun?


Josh Braun said...

A good friend of mine, who's since passed on, interned for BBC News years ago and on one occasion found himself in a parking lot with Tony Blair's unoccupied car. He took a peek inside (by which I mean, he glanced through the window, of course). A security officer was in his face immediately, asking, "Are you alright?"

To which, he replied, "Yes, I'm fine. Thanks for asking."

I believe he was seconds from being carted away when he realized that, "Are you alright?" translated roughly to, "Are you nuts?" Or, as he put it, more contextually, "Back the &*@! off!"

Deb said...

This one caught me by surprise. My eight-year-old daughter came home from school (in Oxford) and started on some homework. She looked up at me asked if I had a rubber, because she had made some mistakes. I quickly learned that a British rubber is an American eraser.

feckless man said...

I once drafted a press release for a British client that used the phrase "on-the-job training" in the headline. They got quite the laugh out of it, as "on the job" is a euphemism for a sexual encounter.

Sarah Laurence said...

John, while you're at it can you translate this other Squeeze lyric:

"I feel like William Tell,
pulling muscles from a shell."


Deb, I did that once myself in the USA. My American mother always called galoshes rubbers.

Henry said...

Sarah always gives me a funny look before dinner when I am bustling about arranging cutlery and I tell her that I'm laying the table. Apparently I mean "setting the table".

R said...

Cigarettes in the UK are also known as fags.

... and this next bit is rather rude, but you can use a certain verb in UK english which means "to borrow" or "to cadge" a cigarette in UK slang. The word creates a phrase which is rather offensive to US ears, particularly when used with the slang word for cigarette recorded above. The synonym for "to borrow" is "to bum".

John Kelly said...

@Barb: The lesson here, as I always tell my daughters, is that you should never trim your bangs.

@Richard: In my experience, an old, dirty handgun does the job just as well.

@Josh: A telephone repairman who came to pick up some stuff we were Freecycling in Oxford regaled us with the story of when he and a mate were visiting Washington about 15 years ago, saw a bunch of tents set up in front of a building downtown and went over to look. They were milling around the tents when an officer came up with a gun drawn: They were at the FBI building and the director was going to be giving a speech later. None of this "Are you all right" stuff for the Yanks.

@Deb, Feckless, Henry & R: And don't even mention falling on your fanny.

@SL: I always assumed that "Pulling mussels from a shell" was a euphemism for sex. But I could be wrong.

Josh Braun said...

@being hunted by the FBI. My fiancee and I had a similar experience the last time I was working in D.C. She came to visit and I took her out for the standard tour. Suddenly, on an otherwise sunny day, we got caught in the middle of a torrential downpour and ducked inside the nearest building. Unfortunately, the door we chose happened to be a restricted entrance to the Treasury Department. The security officer just about tackled us. I recall him scolding Sarah and me with melodramatic language of the sort you generally only hear in poorly scripted action films. He eventually sent us on our way after he decided we were appropriately frightened and deferential. I love D.C.