Friday, 11 September 2009

Chumley in Translation

A major source of entertainment between my husband and I is English vocabulary. To be more specific, I mean British English vocabulary. As one quickly learns upon arrival, the local Brits don't think you know how to speak English. In sharp contrast, you speak American. The difference between the two can be extreme, if not extremely funny.

One of my favorites was a few years ago, when I asked Chumley how his day had gone. "It's all gone pear-shaped, Claire!" was the reply. My imagination took over as usual, and I pictured all the people at his work suddenly leaving their desks and rushing to one side of the building, so more people were in one portion compared to the other. After expressing my inability to understand with my usual "Huh??", Chumley sighed and explained that if something goes pear-shaped, that means it's gone horribly wrong. That discounted my second imagined meaning, where all his co-workers were suddenly very hippy.

Delving deeper into British vocabulary, we come to the interesting but fairly derogatory term "chav." I've met some chavs walking in the city center (saying "downtown" will get you laughed at and labeled as that charmingly stupid American). A chav is shorthand for a young, ill-regarded member of the underclass, generally wearing designer knock-offs and sporting car hood ornaments as jewelry. Add some bling and presto. I've read the term is derrived from Council House And Vauxhall, which is a reference to where they live (public housing) and the cars they're likely to drive (Vauxhall Nova, the same as the Chevy Nova).

Now that you may rest easy this evening, knowing you've expanded your vocabulary, let me add a word chavs are likely to use, "innit." Innit is a slang shortened form of "isn't it", but has grown into use far beyond its original meaning. With thanks to Urban Dictionary, here's how you would typically hear it used:

So me was out with me boys, innit, and we was going to get some beers, innit,
when this guy, yeah, like comes up to us, yeah, innit, and he was like Gimme
some change, we was like, innit.

The best backfire of innit I've read lately was of the teenage girl who used Cockney rhyming slang to order a taxi for a trip to the airport the next morning. She dialed directory assistance, but when the operator didn't understand that "Joe Baxi" meant "taxi," the girl said, "It's a cab, innit?" The operator transfered her to the number she needed, and the girl told the person who answered, "All I want is your cheapest cab, innit." She paid 180 pounds by credit card, and discovered a lovely office cabinet arrived at her South London home before 10 the next morning.

I've heard Chumley use the term only to get me to laugh. I returned the favor with this joke I read:

What do you call a chav in a coffin?

What do you call an eskimo chav in a coffin?

I've been under Chumley's British English tutelage since we've met, but being in-country brings out an entirely new level of vocabulary. Chumley announced yesterday that he expected a fair amount of "bun tossing" at an event he was due to attend. "Bun tossing?" I asked, wondering if it was related to some sort of lewd Sumo wrestling event. It's a term meaning a weenie fight, common to public (private in American) schoolboys. It's probably conducted by the same people who are prone to "toss the rattle from the pram."

Oh, my head spins. Waah!

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