Tuesday 23 October 2012

American English

It's very easy to think that Americans speak an archaic and faulty dialect of English, specially with words like "broil" and "gotten". A couple of my least favourite examples are "get" to mean "have" (can I get two coffees? No. I'm the waitress, I'll go and get them, you can have them when I bring them to you.) and "orient" as a verb. The Orient means China and the far east. Which direction something is pointing is its orientation. When you work out where you are and what you're looking at you orientate yourself, if you orient yourself, it would seem to mean that you went to China of your own accord. Believe it or not this comes up a lot in computer programming.

It wasn't until I was talking to an American recently that I realised that British English is littered with equally ludicrous phraseology. Think for a moment about your swimming costume. It doesn't sound at all silly does it? Until you think about the word costume. It means something that you dress up in to pretend to be something else. An actor's costume is what he wears to pretend to be (say) Hamlet. A Halloween costume presents you as a monster, zombie, witch, or whatever, when you're not one. You could only wear a bee keeping costume if you weren't already an apiarist, otherwise it would be your bee keeping suit. When an American hears "swimming costume" they think "swimming disguise" and then wonder what the hell you're going to be dressed as, an alligator? A shark? Michael Phelps?

To get the same mental effect imagine that I called the dirty clothes that I wear to do painting my "painting costume". That's right I was dressed as Rembrandt when I put a coat of emulsion on the walls of the lounge.

Richard "Two countries separated by a common language" B

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