Becky says things about … being lost in translation

Greetings to you all, most splendid listeners! I have acquired a few more of you since my last post on being cheerful had the glorious fortune to be Freshly Pressed; and, as the majority of you are either from my own humble Englandland or from across the pond in Americaland, I shall say hello in both languages:

English: Good day to you, my old chums! Salutations and hello there!

American: Yo, bud! Waassuuuuuuup??? Hey y’all, how YOU doin’???

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If you excellent Americans have gleaned from the above that we English think you actually talk like that all the time and that you are a nation of  Budweiser-swigging, gangsta-Paula Deen-Joey-from-Friends incarnations, then you are sadly correct.

You see, we in Englandland just can’t grasp your language. Yes we know it’s essentially the same language as ours, but there are such monumental differences, my American pals, such crucial and paramount disparities that we just can’t cope with.  

For example.

You have no idea how a simple greeting from you can throw us English into blind panic.

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We have literally no idea how to answer this question. Do you even mean it as a question? Is it rhetorical?

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If it’s rhetorical, you need to tell us. We are a great nation, but we cannot handle a question so early into a conversation.

This language barrier has also prevented potentially millions of English people from getting jobs in America. Ever wondered why there are so few English people working in your office? This is due to a simple yet crucial difference in the language of architecture: your buildings start on the first floor and move up to the second. Our buildings start on the ground floor and move up to the first. Do you know how many job interviews have been missed, how many hopes and dreams have been slashed, due to this massively important difference?

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But sometimes, America, you’re not just content with moving floors around, you take a word that we can cope with, that we think we understand and you make it mean something else! At school I read the entire To Kill A Mockingbird weeping at the injustice of inequality, rejoicing at the vigour of the human spirit, revelling in the beauty of the writing, and wondering incessantly what the hell Scout was talking about when she mentioned her bangs. 

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Listener, I did not learn what bangs were until about a year ago. For those of my fellow Englishmen who still have no notion: bangs means fringe. As in, the hair that covers our foreheads.

Yes.

I know.

No, I have no idea how they came up with bangs, either.

But bangs is nothing. Nothing, I tell you.

NOTHING compared to the brilliantly astounding lost-in-translation moment that accompanies an American talking about their fanny.

**Pause to allow my English listeners to smirk quietly to themselves.**

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You see, America, we English find the fact that you use the word ‘fanny’ to mean ‘bottom’, unfathomably amusing. I recently told the lovely Lizzy from Big Body Beautiful that I had finally come to like my rather rotund bottom. Lizzy beautifully replied that she was delighted that I was ‘sending pleasing thoughts to my fanny’. This amused me tremendously. 

Oh, America. You wear fanny packs. You sit on your fanny. You want your fanny to be bigger / smaller / thinner / plumper / wider / juicier (enjoying this, England?) – and we English at first gape open-mouthed, and then laugh and laugh and laugh.

Why?

Because here in England, fanny does not mean bottom. Here in England, fanny means

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THAT is why we find a nice American girl saying she’s been working on her fanny to try and tone it up insanely amusing. It is also why I was tormented for years by the aching, unanswerable question of why the hell anyone would invent a fanny pack. 

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And as for the biscuit debacle. Well. How do you think we feel when we see American breakfast menus advertising biscuits and gravy? It throws us into turmoil. A nice, sweet digestive biscuit covered in gravy??? Are they demented??? Our biscuits are your cookies. Would you want your cookies smothered in gravy? Of course you wouldn’t. That is why the concept both startles and repels us. And what about the Great Chips / Fries palaver? We go to America and order steak and chips expecting this:

Courtesy of bbc.co.uk
Courtesy of bbc.co.uk

And instead get this:

Courtesy of @alz
Courtesy of @alz

Displeasing.

But perhaps the greatest example of a potentially fatal translation problem comes from a friend who had the following conversation with a policeman (or police officer, if you will) in Manhattan, New York, at around midnight. In the late ’80s.

Behold.

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True story, Listener. True story.

So, my lovely American buddies, the next time an English person chortles manically when you say you’ve got an itchy fanny, or gapes bemusedly when you say you need to straighten your bangs, or whispers ‘Sss’ when you say ‘Do the Math’ (it’s Maths, America, Maths), you know why. We’re not being rude, we’re just confused.

Becky says things about … verbal diarrhoea

Firstly, dearest listener of the things that I say, I would like to pause for a second to note the most absurd spelling of a word ever.

DIARRHOEA.

I mean, isn’t it ridiculous? It doesn’t even look like a word. It looks like a concoction that’s been made by a toddler playing with letters, or by someone off their face on crack shuffling around their fuggy room with a Biro and trying to express how they feel by writing random letters on receipts for supermarket oven chips. It’s a ridiculous word, impossible to spell without the aid of a dictionary, and I would actually rather be confronted with the embodiment of the word than the preposterous word itself. That is how much I dislike this word.

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Now that I’ve got diarrhoea off my chest, the above paragraph illustrates beautifully the crux of my problem. I suffer from verbal diarrhoea, or ‘word discharge’, if you will. There is a faulty nub of my brain that detaches itself from the rest of my correctly-operating brain – my Broca’s area perhaps disconnects from my Wernicke’s area in my cerebral cortex, I don’t know, that’s just a guess – and this malfunction primarily occurs when I am faced with large groups of people or people with whom I am not on familiar terms. This gremlin in my frontal lobe (urgh, imagine that –

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– pretty annoying) results in ordinarily calm and pleasurable social situations becoming disturbing, exhausting, and upsetting for all concerned.

There is a veritable bounty of examples of such incidents over the years, but let me give you a couple of significant citations, if I may.

About a year after I left school I went back to collect a project I’d done. (Don’t know why. Maybe I just wanted to leaf through the pages of my former academic eminence and softly weep.) I found myself confronted in the corridor by not one, but four of my old teachers. Enthusiastic greetings ensued, along with demands to know how I was getting on at university, and other such friendly and interested inquiries. My answer was thus:

‘Yes I’m fine, university’s great, I’m loving the essays, though not loving having to go to the launderette and wait for people to come back and collect their washing and drying that they’ve just left in the machines, and I think I’ve had an allergic reaction to the powder I’ve started using, because I do occasionally get skin rashes, I used to get one on my neck years ago and ever since then I’ve had to wear hypoallergenic necklaces, which is a bit of a pain, but I can’t really complain because my friend gets awful eczema all over her shins and she can never find the cream she needs and the queue for the pharmacy on campus is just awful, I was in there for almost twenty minutes the other day when I went in to get some cream, not for a skin rash but for errrr something else, nothing embarrassing, well, moderately embarrassing but it’s fine, the cream sorted it out, but apart from that, yeah, university is great and I’m loving the fact I can buy Admiral’s Pie for 99p from the campus shop and I have it with peas and that’s me done.’

I jape not, listener. That is almost a blow-by-blow account of what I said. To four ex-teachers who had previously considered me a headstrong, sensible, charming young lady. Needless to say, they were rather taken aback. 

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After sinking into an exhausted and mortified silence, I mumbled my farewell and scuttled away with my project under my arm, leaving these poor souls wondering what the holy crumble had just happened and whether anything would ever be the same again. This incident, nearly a decade on, still occasionally wakes me with night sweats.

A second example – if you’ll permit me a second (you will? Oh, you are indulgent, and very pretty too, I might add) – happened just last week. I was at work and had to pop into my boss’s office to get him to sign something. He bequeathed his signature to me, and as I was exiting his office he made the fatal mistake of asking ‘So how’s your writing going?’

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Now, pretty listener, a normal person would have answered, calmly and humbly: ‘My writing’s going very well, thank you; I try and do a bit every night, and I very much enjoy it and hope I finish my novel one day, and thank you very much, sir, for asking, and may I fetch you a cup of tea?’

Sadly, my answer did not even remotely resemble that. My answer resembled this:

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My answer to this innocuous and well-intended question was as follows:

‘Ohh yeah it’s going well, I’m writing a novel at the moment which is really hard work and I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, but I do some every night when I can, which isn’t always every night, but I try for most nights when the old self-discipline is going my way, but as my novel is about a pub I tell myself that I’m performing research by going to the pub hahahahahahaha but no seriously, I do struggle with self-discipline, I always have done, it’s just really hard to motivate myself when there’s no definite goal at the end of it, you know, no guarantee that anything will come of my blood, sweat and tears -‘

At this point his friendly smile was fading.

‘ – and I could just really have spent, like, years of my life pouring myself into this novel that no one even wants to publish and, Christ, I think I’d just kill myself with a hammer if that happens, so I’ve just got to pull my finger out really and sit at my desk instead of making cakes and watching videos of snakes eating antelopes on YouTube -‘

He looked at his watch. He actually looked at his watch in front of me.

‘ – which I spend way too much time doing, it’s a nightmare, I was thinking of trying to disconnect the Internet but I write a blog so I don’t want to do that, and plus you don’t realise how much you just need the Internet nowadays, I mean, what would we do without the Internet, I mean, can you believe how ubiquitous it’s become in what’s really a very short space of time -‘

He got up, moved towards me so that I had to back out of the door –

‘ – so the guy that invented the Internet must be laughing, I wonder if he has problems with his Internet connection hahahahaha -‘

– and he mumbled ‘Got to be off’, walked past me and disappeared round the corner.

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Listener, I do not understand what happens to me. The functioning part of my brain knows what’s happening. The ailing part of my brain can do nothing about it. So whilst I am projecting linguistic excreta into the face of whatever poor fool happens to be in my company, the following battle is going on in my head:

Functioning Brain: What are you doing?

Ailing Brain: I’m talking.

Functioning Brain: Yes, but can’t you hear yourself? You’re talking absolute bunkum.

Ailing Brain: I know. I know.

Functioning Brain: Then stop. Why don’t you just stop?

Ailing Brain: I can’t stop. I literally cannot stop.

Functioning Brain: But you are making a monumental donkey of yourself. I mean you are seriously a complete tit right now.

Ailing Brain: I know, don’t you think I don’t want to stop?

Functioning Brain: Then stop. Please. What’s the matter with you?

Ailing Brain: I don’t know how to stop. It’s gone too far. I’ll have to keep talking forever or until someone physically assaults me.

Functioning Brain: I urge you stop before you get to that point.

Ailing Brain: Oh it’s all very well for you to say, you’re functioning. I’m not. I’m ill. You have no idea what it’s like to talk utter baloney at speed in front of someone you don’t know very well and not be able to stop.

Functioning Brain: I do. I know exactly what it’s like. You’re doing it to me now. That’s why I want you to stop. For the love of God. Just stop.

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It is physically, emotionally, mentally, orally, linguistically, grammatically, spiritually, biochemically, fundamentally, metaphorically and literally exhausting. The cause of this terrible condition is as yet unknown to me – perhaps it stems from an ingrained and psychologically scarring fear of awkward silences, or just an intrinsic inability to conduct myself sensibly in everyday situations – and I am yet to find a cure. I battle on with this mortifying, terrible affliction, and I hereby apologise in advance if I ever projectile-diarrhoea my words all over your nice clean shirt. Don’t ask me to pay for the dry cleaning because I’ll just tell you how I can’t give you any money because I spent my last fiver on tins of salmon, which were three for two in Sainsbury’s so I just had to get them because tinned salmon is the sovereign of all tin-encased freshwater fish, but even at three for two it’s rather on the expensive side, I mean, £1.67 for one small tin? I always get the cheaper one that includes the tiny bones and the skin because the bones are the best bit, it makes you feel like an evil giant crunching maliciously on some poor creature’s spinal column and

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