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Language Oddities

When you've visited other countries where English is spoken what kind of regional specific language have you come across? Are there any unusual phrases or slang? Are there any words pronounced strangely or colloquial terms given to things?
13 years ago, April 8th 2008 No: 1 Msg: #31999  
I started to discuss this under 'actors and accents' and then figured it was going off topic a bit. I mentioned that in India I noticed a lot of unusual phrases that made sense but weren't technically 'correct' English. My favourites have to be 'mention not' instead of 'don't mention it' and 'second tomorrow' instead of 'the day after tomorrow' (which is certainly less of a mouthful!)

I also had slight communication difficulties with random words. When grocery shopping I tried to buy an aubergine and got very confused as the shopkeeper had never heard the word before and when I pointed it out he said 'oh, you want bringal?' This led to quite a confused discussion. I was aware Americans called it an eggplant but I had never heard of bringal before. I asked if it was the Hindi word but he said no there was another Hindi name for it and bringal was the English word. He even pulled out a dictionary to prove it which left me very confused as I maintained in England we called it an aubergine and if bringal was the English word how come I had never come across it before!
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13 years ago, April 8th 2008 No: 2 Msg: #32000  
Ok, I'm going to satisfy my own curiosity now. I've just searched the net and this is a pretty good explanation....

But for the most extraordinary example of shifting names we must go to the aubergine, once known also as the brinjal in India. The story starts with Sanskrit vatin-gana “the plant that cures the wind”, which became the Arabic al-badinjan. This moved into Europe, again via Moorish Spain: one offshoot — keeping the Arabic article prefixed — became alberengena in Spanish and on to aubergine in French; another transformation became the botanical Latin melongena through losing the article and changing the “b” to an “m”; this then turned into the Italian melanzana and then to mela insana (the “mad apple”). Another branch, again without the “al”, became bringella in Portugal, whose traders took the plant, and their version of the name, full circle back to India, where it became brinjal in Anglo-Indian circles (the usual term among English speakers in India today is the Hindi baingan, or aubergine). In another branch of its history, the Portuguese word turned up in the West Indies, where it was again, but differently, corrupted to brown-jolly. All names for the same plant.

Although any Americans out there are welcome to explain the name 'eggplant' for something which is not egg shaped nor egg coloured and has nothing to do with birds of any kind!! Reply to this

13 years ago, April 8th 2008 No: 3 Msg: #32005  
I used to have a boyfriend from Nigeria.
When he spoke pigeon English with his friends I did not understand any of it at all.

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13 years ago, April 8th 2008 No: 4 Msg: #32070  
I'll be happy to explain the American rationale for "eggplant." The term didn't refer to the dark purple oblong aubergines, but rather to a smaller, whiter version which resemble eggs. I suppose it gradually became associated with all fruits of that species. We use aubergine as an adjective describing color (of course if you say it's the color of eggplant that's also implied as the purple color, not white).

Another example I run across frequently is courgette (English) vs. zucchini (American). Don't know the origin of that though.
There's also a whole slew of sayings from the southern US/mid-west that Americans from other regions wouldn't understand. Like when it's "cold enough to kill the hogs", or "slower than molasses in winter". Or when something is so great it's the "bee's knees" or when you're so happy you're "tickled pink."

I also find British euphemisms great, even though I don't understand half of them. Apparently if I say "Oh we were just chatted each other up for a while" that doesn't mean the same thing as having a nice, pleasant chat for a while. Who knew? Reply to this

13 years ago, April 9th 2008 No: 5 Msg: #32086  
Yeah we use 'bees knees' and 'tickled pink' too. You don't use 'chat up'? What do you say then? 'Hit on' or something? How about 'snogging' - that's one Americans always seem to find hilarious. :P
Oh and I had no idea you called courgettes zucchinis! I've only ever seen zucchinis pickled in a jar so they didn't exactly look familiar!! Reply to this

13 years ago, April 9th 2008 No: 6 Msg: #32103  
I was on a flight from Ireland to Germany last year. There was an Irish stewartess in her 50s. She found out that a guy on the plane had recently had his heart broken. She stood there with her trolly for the entire flight soothing him with comments that have dirty double meanings in Ireland. Women of this age group often say those comments, unaware of the other meaning. The younger stewartesss and some of the passengers were sniggering and the Germans looked confused but this did not discourage her from her agony aunting. Anybody who wanted something to eat or drink had to call down the plane and she would briefly stop to hand what the passenger wanted to one of the other stewartesses. :D
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13 years ago, April 10th 2008 No: 7 Msg: #32172  
Instead of "chatting up" someone, we'd "hit on" them or try to "pick them up." And I agree that I do find the term "snogging" to be quite amusing. In my mind I hear the words "snort" and "hog" smushed together. It certainly doesn't like something I would want to take part of! If I'm interpreting the word correctly (and who knows I could be completely off) I think we would "make out" with someone instead. Reply to this

13 years ago, April 10th 2008 No: 8 Msg: #32196  
I think the problem is none of these expressions actually make sense when you think about it. I have no idea where 'snogging' comes from. Mind you 'make out' in England means to imply something. 'He made out he knew where it was' or something.... not that that is particularly good English either!!! Reply to this

13 years ago, April 11th 2008 No: 9 Msg: #32338  
B Posts: 5,195
I like the 'mistakes' that are made by speakers of english as a second language - where it almost identifies their native language.

Brazilians almost all pronounce the e in the 'ed' of a verb in the past tense.

"I really liked him"

Hungarians; the language is so different that; only one personal pronoun exists - he/she - is 'er' (actually o' but this keyboard wont make it) - in English - he and she will be used often randomly leading to confusion about cross dressing brothers etc - also "my brother and we went" something I remember from there.

No offence intended to anyone - most of these people were better in English than I in their languages! Reply to this

13 years ago, April 14th 2008 No: 10 Msg: #32579  
B Posts: 71
Living in England provided me with a whole heap of wierd expressions Id never heard before. The first day I arrived, the lady at the place I was staying said she was going to get me a duvet.. In Australia we call it a doona so who knows where that came from. When I wanted to eat a capsicum, I'd have to ask for a pepper. They wouldn't eat chips, they would eat crisps. I couldn't say Four Thirty, Id have to say Half Four and I would have to ask someone if they'd "fancy a pint?". Id get used to hearing about Chav's and Pikeys. If we were in trouble we'd have to look out for "The Fuzz", if someone is talking crap you would respond with "oh bollocks". I'd find myself calling people wierd names like, twat, git and knob-ed. If you picked up a girl you would shag her and if someone was making fun of you you would ask them if they were taking the piss?.

Of course this was all just every day speech. If you ran into a proper cockney and he said something along the lines of "Bloody 'ell check out the boat and bristols on that. Ahh pony that was my trouble on the dog. OK china better finnish me pigs and hit the frog or I'll be in barney, know wha' I mean?".. Good luck understanding that.

Americans have a whole heap of sayings thats easy enough to understand only because we hear them a million times in movies and the like. The biggest problem I had there was with the r at the end of words. We would say beer and would come out sound like beee but the yanks really prenounce the r's so when I ask for a beer they wouldn't understand what Im saying. I'd have to make sure Id ask for fries there. One time after ordering a hamburger and chips, I got a hamburger and a bag of crisps. Id then have to tell the waiter to 86 that bag of chips and bring out some fries. Oh and dont forget the ketchup.

Ahh the wonders of English and how its evolved over the years. Im sure there are a million other things that people have found from their travels. Reply to this

13 years ago, April 14th 2008 No: 11 Msg: #32582  
I didn't know it's courgette in England, which I suppose was borrowed from the French who use the exact same word. And I must say that "snogging" is probably my favorite British word. Reply to this

13 years ago, April 14th 2008 No: 12 Msg: #32583  
Personally I have problems understanding the whole crisps/chips thing. In England we call them crisps because, well they're crisp? Chips are fried wedges of potatoes which the Americans just seem to call fries, although their fries are really skinny. Pancakes are another oddity - in England they are the traditional fare of Shrove Tuesday and are large and flat while in America they seem to be tiny and fat and eaten for breakfast. Meanwhile an English muffin is breakfast or teatime food and is more like a crumpet whereas in America a muffin is a type of cake..... it's a wonder we ever understand each other!!! The whole jam/jelly thing gets me confused too. You would not believe how long I actually thought Americans put jelly in their sandwiches along with peanut butter!! By the way does anyone know what they call jelly (as in the kind you eat with ice cream?)

By the way a barney is a fight or arguement... you might say 'we had a bit of a barney over it'.
We do say four thirty as well. Half four/ four thirty either one will do.

The best Australian difference I've heard is thong instead of flipflop. I knew someone who was travelling in Australia and went into a pub only to be confronted with a sign that said 'No Thongs'. She was so confused why anyone would want to check what underwear she had on before being allowed to enter!!!! Reply to this

13 years ago, April 14th 2008 No: 13 Msg: #32584  
I don't think we use a specific term for what you call jelly for ice cream. I have put strawberry syrup or strawberry sauce on my ice cream, but we don't really have one word for it. As for the difference between jam and jelly - I think jam has pieces of fruit in it whereas jelly is smoother. Reply to this

13 years ago, April 14th 2008 No: 14 Msg: #32595  
B Posts: 71
Yer Im not sure about chips, we just call both the hot ones and the packaged ones chips. To distinguish one from the other I guess we just say hot or cold chips.

Hehe yer we use thongs not flip flops. I mean honestestly, which genius came up with the name flip flop? Was it so they know when they have them on the wrong feet and the sound goes flop flip? (A bad joke I know but blame a man called Jimeoin for that one)

Dont you Americans call jelly jello?
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13 years ago, April 14th 2008 No: 15 Msg: #32596  
B Posts: 109
it would be Jello
that is the name of the brand i think, so their jelly is called jello

sorry we aswered at the same time 😉
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13 years ago, April 14th 2008 No: 16 Msg: #32598  
Yeah, I've heard of Jello before. I just wondered if there was an overall term for the product rather than just a brand name.
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13 years ago, April 14th 2008 No: 17 Msg: #32607  
You eat Jell-O with ice cream?! We do not do that here, so I did not realize that's what you were talking about. The generic name for the product would be a gelatin dessert, but everyone just calls it Jell-O. Reply to this

13 years ago, April 15th 2008 No: 18 Msg: #32612  
This conversation really got me thinking how necessary it is to break things down into their most literal definitions since the language used to define the word I want to describe, needs to be defined itself! So Jam, Jelly and Preserves are all, essentially, sweetened fruity compotes thickened with pectin. Jelly is seedless, Jam has seeds, and Preserves have bits and pieces of the fruit in it. I don't know what gets put on top of ice-cream but I would agree with Kate that we would call it a fruit sauce or an "ice cream topping". But I suppose it would be confusing considering the most common brand for both jam/jelly and ice-cream topping is the same, Smucker's.

We call crumpets "English Muffins", scones are called "biscuits" and biscuits are called "cookies." And what we call a scone I couldn't find a word for in England (plus I didn't come across one anyways). I remember when I was I offered a crumpet for breakfast and I was very excited because I had never had one before and it was just an English Muffin (which I never much cared for at all). But, I will say, I did not like them before because I had never had a fresh, warm one right off the stove top drenched in honey, only the dry, old packaged ones spread with margarine. Now I am a huge fan.

And regarding beer, there used to be a series of commercials whose tag line was "Fosters, Australian for Beer!". I imagine a beer is a beer, yes? Reply to this

13 years ago, April 15th 2008 No: 19 Msg: #32627  
Hmmm, wow, we really are all out to confuse each other huh?
Ok a crumpet and a muffin are different. A muffin is more bread like, you cut it in half and put in a filling while a crumpet has a hole-y texture and you just put butter and jam on the top.
A preserve and a jam are the same thing really. A jam is a fruit preserve, you cook the fruit, mix it with sugar and put it in a jar... the only time I have come across jam without fruit bits is in the little plastic tubs you get at cafes and so on.
A jelly is a 'soft fruit-flavoured transparant dessert set with gelatine' so I guess a gelatine dessert is a more accurate term, it just sounds rather unappetising. Yeah, we would put sauce or syrup on top of ice cream. Jelly is just something you generally eat at kids parties with ice cream etc.
A cookie is a sweet biscuit, whereas a biscuit can be sweet or savoury. We tend to refer to chocolate-chip cookies, and everything else is a biscuit - RichTea Biscuit, Digestive Biscuit, Chocolate Biscuit etc.
Candy is crystalized sugar, usually in candy cane form. Candy floss is the fluffy pink and white stuff at funfairs and everything else is just called sweets.
What else? Oh yeah 'pants'!! I still find that amusing no matter how many American films etc use the term. Pants is short for pantaloons which are underwear. In England we tend to refer to men's underwear as pants and women's as knickers (knickbockers of course!) although specific types have different names - briefs, thongs, french knickers etc.
Can anyone think of anymore? Reply to this

13 years ago, April 15th 2008 No: 20 Msg: #32663  
B Posts: 5
I'm Australian and I teach English in Japan, but the English we teach is mainly American. So as you can imagine I often come across words, pronounciation and phrases that are different from what I would say. The most difficult one for me to teach is have vs. take. In American English you guys say take a shower, take a bath, take a nap but I never say that. It's always have a shower, have a bath, have a nap etc. So it is so hard to teach to my Japanese students which is correct when in fact I totally disagree with what I'm teaching!! Reply to this

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