Monday, July 25, 2016

It's only words

While Winston Churchill stole and adapted the phrase from playwright George Bernard Shaw, Shaw in turn had stolen and adapted it from Oscar Wilde, the phrase being in reference to Britain and the United States, the US probably not so united when the the matter was first noted by Wilde. The phrase is, two countries divided by a common language. Poor old Australia is caught in the middle, mostly opting for the British way, but at times the American way, and at other times, we ourselves are just confused.

I am quite aware of American term, fanny pack, but not everyone is. Here we used to call it a bum bag. I am not a hip young thing, so I am not sure of current terminology but young Australians would probably know what you mean if you said bum bag. The American meaning of the word bum is known to Australians, a street person or a person down on their luck. I want to say hobo but that is a US word too. Australia has its own terms for such people.

In the US fanny means bum, butt, ass and I believe they at times even say arse. Fanny means something completely different in the UK and it used to in Australia too. Maybe it still does. Recalling an horrific childhood experience was a moment when to me or to someone it was explained that a baby came out of a woman's front bottom.  The UK knows the word fanny as a woman's front bottom, not her rear bottom.

s onSo, slap a US woman on her fanny, she might take great offence. Slap a UK woman on her fanny, you will probably be locked up. We poor old Australians just adapt to the differences as best we can and take it in context.

Enough fanny slapping. Where it really goes wrong for Australians is with chips. Again this may not apply to young people. In Britain cut up potatoes cooked in fat or oil are called chips. In America they are called French fries or just fries. In Britain the baked and salted or flavoured crisp potato slices bought in a packet are called crisps, in America they are called chips.

Once again, poor old Australia is stuck in the middle, or at least middle aged Australians like me are, who reject the McDonalds corporation and everything it stands for. I refuse to use the term French fries or fries. They are chips, and even in a weak moment when I visit McDonalds, I always say chips.

The problem is for Australians is we never really adopted the British word, crisps. So, we have to judge chips by the context and let me assure you, when chips used to be written on the shopping list, it had to be checked with the other Highrise abode resident, do you mean crisps or chips. So we have taken to calling them crisps now, well sometimes, not always. Crisps have become an impulse buy and not listed on the shopping list, while chips are part of the regular meals. While it may make no sense, if we have to say what sort of chips we mean, we might say potato chips, which literally makes it no clearer, but we know what we mean as potato chips are crisps and not chips...... or French fries.

I am pleased I have given great clarity to folks on each side of the Atlantic and to Australians. You did follow all that, yes?

 It is only a matter of months ago that I noticed that in the US sulphur is spelt sulfur. (My spell checker agrees with sulfur. No surprise there). Apparently Australian scientists now use the spelling sulfur, reinforced by our McQuarie dictionary and it is now the official spelling. I am quite sure in the Oxford dictionary sulfur would be noted as an alternative spelling. Most of my Australian readers are of a certain age. How would you spell sulphur? Should we march on the streets about the change? Or should we just let the water flow to sea and the grasses bend in the wind? The wisest will say, doesn't matter. We know what either means. However, I am slightly infuriated.

26 comments:

  1. Andrew AmE and BrE have different spelling so when I asses my students exams I have to know both forms so sometimes I must check it in dictionary.. both forms are acceptable for students in one essay..

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    1. Gosia, that must be a nuisance when marking exams. I suppose students there pick up American spellings from tv and the media.

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  2. This dinosaur belongs to the sulphur camp. Of course.
    And I hear you on the chip conundrum. If we are buying them, hot or cold, both are chips.

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    1. EC, that is not a bad way to differentiate the chips from the chips, hot or cold. You are aware of the sulfur spelling?

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    2. I was aware of sulfur - and dismissed it.

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  3. We call them frozen chips ~ but real homemade chips in the oven are always better. The snack chips have become known as chippies thanks to marketing and the Gobbledock. Of course we really like the brand where the flavour really hits you (watch out for falling BBQs).

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    1. Carol, I like chippies. I'm afraid I don't watch enough tv to have seen the ad with falling barbeques.

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  4. If my students used American spelling, grammar or vocabulary in their writing, I would be reluctant to accept it. But they are all adults... they learned English correctly.

    Australian school children however seem to come from a more modern country. The grandchildren bought a bottle of tomato sauce that had catsup or ketchup or some such ridiculous word on the label, so I threw it in the rubbish bin and gave them a proper bottle of tomato sauce instead :)

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    1. You wasted a full unopened bottle of tomato sauce simply because of the name on the label???

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    2. Hels, I was at work when I first read your comment and I was nodding wisely about your students, and then I read you chucking the ketchup bottle in the bin and I broke up. I don't understand this ketchup, catsup thing either and it has infected Britain. Give me a good bottle of White Crow tomato sauce.

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    3. Further Hels, while I am sure you are a very loving grandmother, can you also be a rather imperious grandmother?

      River, doesn't that speak of a real conviction? My father used to do things like that. Personally I begrudgingly get through the ketchup and complain bitterly as I did.

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    4. I bought a bottle of Heinz ketchup once because it was on special, about half price, and it was exactly the same as tomato sauce. I used to buy Heinz, Rosella, or MasterFoods and have noticed that all the Heinz bottles are now labelled Ketchup.

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  5. Nice to know I'm one of the wise ones (*~*), bend with the wind, go with the flow, it really doesn't matter in the end.
    In our house it was chips, with the distinction being snack (crisps) or frozen (hot chips). I notice now there is ketchup in the supermarkets, right there alongside the tomato sauces, I'd say it's a fair assumption that most tomato sauces will be called ketchup within a couple of generations. The Americanisation of Australia is insidious and persistent and I don't like it, but I'm pretty sure it can't be stopped. At least we don't have Wal-Mart. Yet :(

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    1. River, that is another one for frozen chips, which is the way we eat them at home too. I've always imagined ketchup is different to tomato sauce, but I don't really know. Being American, I bet it has lots of sugar. Wal-Mart is a downmarket department store, I think, that pays its staff very badly but has good same sex staff policies....maybe. So heterosexual and homosexual all get paid a very low rate of pay?

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    2. Most Americans in those types of jobs get poverty wages, it's shameful in my opinion, but there's been talk of raising their minimum wage and I hope that happens. I think you'd be right saying the American ketchup has lots of sugar, I don't think we've gone down that road yet; even though Heinz has changed their label to read Ketchup, their sauce recipe is the same as it was. For now.

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  6. Definitely sulphur Andrew.. once a colonial always a colonial, I did grow up in Africa you know :) Hot chips and crisps and definitely tomato sauce as opposed to ketchup. I can't understand this obsession with Americanisms.. Aimee lost it at work last week (she was pushed to the limit) and uttered, to the horror of her workmates and herself and myself when she told me, a word that can is often heard on American shows, a sign that she's definitely watching too much rubbish :)

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    1. Grace, I guess the word wasn't 'bother'.

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    2. Not even close 😃😃

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  7. I hate to inform you that fanny packs, bum bags, are out of fashion here. I was told this by a group of teenage girls, with much eye rolling so they must be correct.

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    1. Strayer, much as I expected, but they are ever so useful.

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  8. Your reference to what Australians used to mean by the word 'fanny' drew memories for me.

    I was just out of puberty and aware of my sexual orientation - even if too naive to give it a name then - and I clearly recall my foreign born uncle, perhaps prescient about me, delivering a lecture to me about the difference in how humans and animals engage in intercourse.

    A rather strange lecture to deliver unprompted to a naive man/child I thought later. He said the word 'fanny' which made me blush. I had one thought of what he was referring to only realise later he meant the other meaning.

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    1. Victor, that is both funny and a little disturbing. Thankfully you subsequently worked out yourself what fits where.

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  9. Anonymous9:43 am

    Ah, White Crow tomato sauce...now that takes me back! Vik.

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    1. Vik, I wonder how it would go on langos? Let me know when you reach Budapest.

      "What it is: A plate-sized sheet of fried dough that is usually smothered with sour cream and cheese. Other possible toppings include garlic sauce or ketchup.
      Why it’s awesome: Did you miss the part where I wrote “fried dough”?"

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    2. Anonymous12:16 pm

      What are 'langos'? I arrive into Budapest on Tuesday evening! I'll send you a message when I find wi-fi. By the way, I've discovered that I can reply to you here on my work computer but not at home.

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    3. Vik, meant very kindly and while I did investigate as best I could, it usually at the users end where the problem is, or with site itself. The explanation for what it is, is in my reply, but I omitted to mention it is street food, that is a snack on the street.

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