I think of myself as bilingual – equally conversant in American English and UK English. This hasn’t always been the case. In fact, it is the result of several somewhat embarrassing situations that forced me to treat English in the UK as a foreign language that must be learned.
I was 26 when I attended my first business meeting in London. I was one of two Americans around the table – and the only woman. Within five minutes, I was completely befuddled. The chair said he was “tabling” a discussion. Thinking like an American, I thought he meant postponing it for a later conversation.
I was wrong. In his vernacular, he meant it was going to be discussed. As the conversation ensued, I wrote a question mark on my notepad and showed it to an older male colleague. He nodded his head and whispered he’d translate later.
A man glared across the table at one of his colleagues and said “spit the dummy” in a tone I understood to mean he wasn’t happy about what I thought was simply an attempt to be politically correct. Also wrong. A “dummy” is a pacifier and spitting it out illustrates the childish indulgence in angry behavior.
Learning the difference between how we use the “same” language became my quest. I never wanted to be too confused to speak up at a meeting again.
I wish English to English: the A to Z of British to American Translations had been available back then. It’s easy to follow and I love the fact that you can look up words from either the British or American perspective. The writing style is enjoyable and you can tell the work was a labor of love. In fact, the author provides an email address to let her know if she’s missed anything.
When I sent her an email with the phrase “hole in the wall”, I received an email back the next day thanking me and promising to include it in the next edition. The book can be purchased from Amazon in book form or as an e-Book.
Have you ever been confused when speaking to someone who you thought spoke the same language? What words or phrases have tripped you up over the years?