Guest Post: Anglo-American Relations by Jenny Twist

The Union Jack and the Stars and StripesToday I am thrilled to welcome my guest, Jenny Twist. Hailing from the UK, Jenny seems to have discovered a language barrier when communicating with her American friends, and I don’t think she is alone here!

“England and America are two countries separated by a common language” – George Bernard Shaw

Until last year, when I started making lots of American friends, I had no idea how true that quote was. It not so much George Bernard Shaw -1936that we have different words for things. It’s that we use the same words to mean something completely different. For instance, an American might be quite shocked to hear an Englishman say, “I’m just going outside for a fag.” when he only means he wants a cigarette. And it can be equally embarrassing the other way round. The word fanny may be slightly vulgar in America, but it’s downright rude in England, where it is a euphemism for a woman’s private parts. The first time I heard the American usage was in a radio interview with a recently divorced starlet, in which she said she first realised her marriage was going wrong when he stopped patting her on the fanny. I was shocked rigid! She said fanny! On the BBC!

Guest Blogger Jenny Twist And then there’s all the things you have in America that we don’t have in England like Independence Day and Thanksgiving and English muffins (I have yet to meet an English person who knows what an English muffin is!).
But we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that you don’t have Pancake Tuesday, the Royal Family or faggots (a kind of meatball made from liver and served in a very rich gravy).

But the thing that worries me most is the English sense of humour. It is based on sarcasm. We often say the exact opposite of what we mean because we find it amusing, as in “Isn’t it a lovely day!” to describe a passing hurricane.

And we think it’s funny to insult each other. A dear friend of mine, on being pursued by a rather unattractive man and having tried to put him off several times, retaliated with, “I admire your taste, but I’m afraid I find you repulsive!” I didn’t stop laughing for days!
And that same friend couldn’t stop laughing when a work colleague said to her, “Haven’t you got a lot of freckles? Disfiguring, aren’t they?”

I am so afraid I’m going to get carried away and say something sarcastic to one of my lovely new American friends. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve deleted an email or a comment at the last-minute because I suddenly realised that only an English person would know it was supposed to be funny.

So I would like to say RIGHT NOW, if I have ever said anything to anyone that was insulting, blasphemous or just downright rude, that I didn’t mean it. Honest. I thought I was being funny. I can’t help it. I’m English.

Biography

Jenny Twist was born in York and brought up in the West Yorkshire mill town of Heckmondwike, the eldest grandchild of a huge extended family.   She left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant, she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford.
She stayed in Oxford working as a recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married her husband, Vic.
In 2001 they retired and moved to Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat.

You can find out more about Jenny Twist here:

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Email: casahoya@gmail.com

Books by Jenny Twist

The novel Winter Wonders The novel Warm Christmas WishesThe novel SpellboundThe novel Curious HeartsThe novel Take One at BedtimeThe novel Domingo's Angel

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32 thoughts on “Guest Post: Anglo-American Relations by Jenny Twist

  1. What a t\great post. I did not know that fanny was such a bad word. I can imagine your shock when you heard it on television. I do love the British sardonic and sometimes sarcastic sense of humor.

  2. Well, I guess the BBC and all of England would twirl in shock that a major loaning institution in the USA is FANNY Mac. LOL Food separates Americans from the English as well. Internal organs like kidneys and liver is a turn off for most of us and fish for breakfast does not appeal to many Americans. I do like pancakes–the kind with maple syrup. We here in the United States can be sarcastic as humor but not the insulting kind. That would be considered rude and might run off our friends instead of making them laugh.
    a very interesting comparison between the language of Americans and the English.
    All the best to you.

    • I LOVE that. Wait till I tell my English friends! I think I must be a true Brit. I love offal and enjoy kippers for breakfast – it has to be smoked fish, nothing else will do. Also I can’t abide anything sweet at breakfast time. I always thought I was one of those people who could go anywhere in the world and happily eat the local cuisine, but discovered I refuse to compromise on breakfast – has to be cooked, has to be savoury. I have actually threatened to beat up waiters and demand they open the kitchen when presented with nothing but cereal and toast. Why don’t other nations, particularly the Mediterranean peoples, understand about breakfast? In Greece they give you yoghurt with HONEY. Ugh!

  3. Great post, Jenny. I’ve often had these discussions online, expecially when I wrote for a Candian online company with people from all over the world! And in Scotland, we often have words and expressions specific to certain regions. Isn’t langauge great!

    • I love it. I have a Canadian friend and she says you can speak UK or US English in Canada, or even a mixture. Then there’s the French!
      I love Scots English. Got a lovely Scottish couple staying with me at the moment and I love listening to them speak

  4. What a fantastic bit of rubbish! Ok, so that’s my stab at sarcasm and the English language. Being an American friend, I’ll never be offend by a word you say Jenny. Thanks for a fun post.

  5. Being American is one thing. Being American and Southern is another. When I was studying the original and development of the English language, one of my texts stated that Georgians, specifically those in north Georgia, spoke an English similar to that spoken in Chaucer’s time. Perhaps not so much now, with the advent of the Internet, but for a research paper I did for my Masters, I looked into that, and found it true. I found also many phrases, etc., that I’d heard on the BBC, though with a different intonation. Sometimes I feel it’s a pity that soon the South may sound just like the rest of the world and all those “Old World” phrases we’ve spoken will disappear.

    • It’s very odd the way language develops. You are quite right, some Americans speak an idiom closer to the original English than that in the UK. The trend seems to be that language sort of flattens out with the media deciding on ‘accepted’ versions and we lose regional differences, yet right now it seems to me a huge variety of different usage is being introduced and UK and US English seem to be getting further apart. I watch with interest.
      Very interesting response, Tony-Paul. Thanks so much
      xxxx

  6. Hey Jenny, great post and good to share our differences. Try throwing some kiwi into the mix and it gets even more difficult, UK/US/NZ all so different. I think our biggest “mistake” in US was using the word ‘toilet’ – not a word for utterance anywhere, let alone in a fast food restaurant

  7. I think it’s possible to get into trouble even when you’re speaking to your own countrymen … via email. I’ve often had to damp down hurt and offence, unintentionally deliverd. Tone of voice departs when you communicate electronically!

  8. I love this piece, Jenny (and thanks for hosting, Amelia!)… being the granddaughter of a Brit, and adoring British lit, I love the expressions used across the pond. A lot of Canadian humour (and spelling) is British in nature and origin. Regional differences abound here, as well. The most extreme is the Newfoundland dialect, for which there is actually an app to help you understand common expressions out east), but having lived in various parts of Ontario, I can testify that people speak differently in the north than they do in the south. Fascinating, as Spock would say…

  9. All so true, Jenny! And, as you say we have differences here in the UK. Snicket and ginnel? Nope, I’d call it an alleyway! And don’t get me started on teacakes, barmcakes, ovenbottoms, and baps(etc)!
    Also, aside from our sarcastic ‘wit’, I think we Brits are often at a disadvantage when it comes to promoting our work, since we’ve been brought up with the unwritten rule that we shouldn’t ‘show off’ or brag about our own achievements. We’re expected to be quietly modest, which is the opposite of promoting ourselves!

  10. I spent my formative years in the USA and most of my 20s in Europe. The sarcasm Jenny twist described is in my experience a most European way; rather than just British.
    I felt at times that I had one foot in one culture and one in the other…the funny thing is that in America I am considered brutally honest or too blunt. In Europe that would have been construed as just plain forthright!
    Some words can be tricky….and this post was great at pointing this out.

    • Hi Maria. You are quite right about Europe. I live in Spain now and people here say exactly what they think without trying to be diplomatic. The other day I met one of my neighbours on the market. She looked me up and down and said, “You are getting very fat.”

  11. Its not just England and the United States. Different regions of the US have different meanings for words. When I moved From Louisians to Alabama (northern) I worked with someone who kept using the term ill. I could never understand what he meant beacause he looked fine so one day I asked. He laughed, ill meant he was in a bad mood.
    Another instance; I said I have to get home to pick up my horses. Wow, they must be heavy, he said.
    And slang is another language here altogether. I just say whatever.

    • Hi Virginia
      Pick up your horses? What does it mean?
      We also have regional differences in England. My husband laughed like a drain when we were visiting an old school friend of mine in Yorkshire and she told him the nearest shop was down that snicket (a narrow open path). I asked him what he would call it and he said ‘a ginnel’. Now, to me, a ginnel is a tunnel in a row of terraced houses…

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