Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Weird Things Americans Say

Having my first book edited has pretty much brought home the fact that my linguistic abilities are seriously messed up.

I blame the British.

With their weird grammar and random additions of vowels, it's not surprising I've lost the plot. Which means, uh, gone a little mad. My poor editor...

But since I have complained about the British and their odd grammar habits, I think it only fair that I point out a few of OUR odd habits. Especially the rather strange things we say.

For instance, one day in conversation I referred to something as a doohicky. Now, any self-respecting red-blooded American knows exactly what a doohicky is. No explanation needed. However, it is completely foreign to the British ear. The poor man looked completely baffled. "Doohicky?" he repeated, as if not quite sure he'd heard me right. "Whatever is a doohicky?"

How to explain a doohicky? "Ummm..." I began (most intelligently), "it's a doodad." More bafflement. "A thingamajig. A thingy. A whatsit." I think he finally got it, but I'm not really sure. Hopefully he didn't think it was anything dirty. That would have been embarrassing.

The second odd thing Americans say isn't really something most Americans say at all. It's something my soul sister Sheena started and which proud tradition I have continued. When surprised by something, rather than saying the typical, "Oh, my gosh," one says, "Oh, Mylanta!" British friends have found this odd. Probably because they don't actually know what Mylanta is until I explain it. Which makes it much less funny.

One of my more embarrassing moments happened shortly after moving to London. I was in a conversation with a group of people and commented that I needed to stop fannying about and get with the program. Admittedly, this is not a particularly common phrase even in the good old USA, but it raised quite a few eyebrows. Fanny means something entirely different in British. Something entirely rude, I might add.

The first time I asked for toilet paper, no one knew what on earth I was talking about. Despite the fact that "toilet paper" was written in big letters over the paper products aisle at the grocery store. I know better now. I ask for "toilet roll". Or if I'm feeling posh, it's "loo roll".

The way I pronounce towns sends everyone into either fits of giggles or ardent rapture. Evidently I make Doncaster sound exotic. Which takes some doing as I've been to Doncaster and it's far from exotic. They've also decided Seattle sounds better when I say it, too. Naturally. I know how to say it properly.

I want to take this moment to let all my American readers know that I have yet to hear a British person use the word "smashing" as an exclamation except as a joke. No one under 80 says "jolly good" or "toodle pip". And they still laugh at me every time I say "awesome".

How about you? Any funny words or phrases from your neck of the woods? I promise not to laugh. Much.


  1. I say any number of stupid things. I say "fudge" instead of dropping the f-bomb, and usually I say it in slow mo, like A Christmas Story.

    Mostly wanted to say that the pic of the moles totally cracked me up!

  2. My mother's favorite "swear word" is snickerdoodles. Followed closely by fiddle sticks.

    Aren't they just the coolest? lol

  3. Oh, I thought of something that's probably strictly American. I say "a whole nother" instead of "another whole".

  4. I do that too! LOL They give me SOOO much grief over it. Start talking with the worst ever "Texas twang." I'm like, dude, I'm from Oregon. I don't do twang.