Wednesday, October 17, 2012

American English Strikes Again


Okay, so at the moment my pseudonym is co-writing, and it’s fun, except for one thing: my continuing struggles with American English. Here are a few examples that have screwed me over this time. (And please be aware that my arguments are spurious at best. At worst they’re just a random collection of words that signify nothing.)

source
Why do you call your money bills?

Do you people know what a bill is? A bill is not money. A bill is the exactly opposite of money. A bill is something that arrives in the mail from the electricity company demanding money. You can’t pay a bill with a bill. That’s crazy talk.

That thing you have in your hand? That’s a printed piece of paper with a previously agreed-upon value that you can exchange for goods and services. A piece of paper. Are you with me? It has printing on it. Still with me? Do you know another name for a piece of paper with printing on it?

A note. It’s a note.

And that’s what we call them in the rest of the world.

I also have an issue with bedding. It’s romance, guys, they’re going to go there. And pillows and sheets are fine, but what the hell is that thing on top of the bed? No, not the guy with the abs. Under him. That thing that I would call a doona, and my relatives in the UK would call a duvet?

I’m pretty sure you call them comforters.

Really? Your bedding comforts you? Okay, I get that if you’re three — I had a bunny rug as well — but you’re not three any more. You’re an adult. You should be seeking comfort in the same things the rest of us are: cynicism, alcohol and the misuse of prescription medication.

And last but not least: "Write me". WTF is "write me"? 

As in, "Oh, I'm leaving now and I'll miss you terribly. Write me." 

Did you forget the rest of the sentence? Write me what? 

A haiku? 
A ransom note? 
A three-act play set in the the monastery in Melk in 1527 that can later form the basis of an operetta? 

Or do you mean "write to me?" 

Say what you mean, America. Things like this make the rest of the world pissed off. 

Not pissed. Pissed means drunk. Pissed off

There's a difference. Sort it out, America. 





23 comments:

  1. America in this post seems to mean USA? Is that what you intended? What about Canada and Mexico?

    Of course, in Canada we call the USA, 'The States'. People and words are funny, aren't they?

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    1. Funny and fun!

      I don't know what it is about American (sorry, US!) English - the similarities are so many...it's the tiny differences that seem insurmountable!

      Not that I'm stubborn or anything...

      Delete
  2. Aw, come to the US so we can give you a big American hug and embrace you in all our silly domineering culture.

    And now is a good time to come, because that piece of paper you call a note has absolutely no value against anything else in the world.

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    1. Yeah, I think that when the Aussie dollar is performing better than the US dollar, something has gone seriously wrong... but hey, that's because your economy plays rough and tumble with the big kids. Ours sits in the sandpit and is too small to go on the monkey bars.

      I should have been an economist.

      Delete
  3. Speaking for myself, yes I find great comfort in my soft fluffy bedding, especially in the cold weather. If you think that sort of comfort is reserved for toddlers then I feel sorry for you. Also, I'd much rather say "comforter" than use some stuffy French word.

    As for "bill", well, a "bill" and an "invoice" are not the same thing. It would be more accurate to say that an invoice is a type of bill. But the word "bill" is used for all kinds of paper documents so I don't see why it shouldn't be used for paper money if we feel like it. :P

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    1. I promised my arguments were spurious at best!

      My sarcasm notwithstanding, I actually enjoy writing in American English and trying to avoid all the little traps. Sometimes I can, like with I did with comforter, and sometimes I barrel headlong into disaster, like I did with bills.

      Delete
  4. Is your co-author also from a place they don't understand English?





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    1. I believe so, MC -- Alabama.

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    2. Good deal. She'll help you through our abuse of the language just fine.

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    3. She certainly has been!

      Delete
  5. Thank you for this post - it was greatly entertaining. I could add more American language things to the list that make me twitch, like how they say "two thousand forty three" instead of "two thousand AND forty three", and "I just picked up a couple beers"... :P

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    1. I know, Trisha! Maybe, like "write me", they just someone got into the habit of dropping out the small words.

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  6. I don't know, that seems a little unfair. The US has always had its own words for stuff, all the way back to the American Revolution. And no one actually calls money "bills", although they might say "dollar bills", thus differentiating them from the other kind of bills. As strange as it might seem to you, "notes" is strange to us.

    Just because the rest of the world says something else (I like comforter...it's for comfort when you sleep and I don't think it sounds childish) doesn't mean we have to. Can't we have some differences and still get along?

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    1. I never promised to be fair! :)

      Most of my annoyance with American English is that -- despite the fact I make a gazillion of them a day -- I hate making mistakes. And I'd rather blame a language that has centuries of history and millions of native speakers than myself.

      Mistakes? Me? What, never!

      Delete
  7. Here here! I do wonder how they managed to mangle things so much in a few short centuries.

    "Write me" drives me nuts as well.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. It's weird, isn't it? Because Australian and New Zealand and Canadian English aren't that different from UK English. I would love to know why US English ended up so unique.

      And the first time someone said "Write me" to me, my genuine response was "Write you what?" I was ten, and had met an American girl in Fiji. We were BFFs for two weeks, sent a total of about a letter each, then it was all over.

      She was very foreign and exotic to me. She called her brother "Zitface" which was about the most American thing I'd ever heard.

      Delete
  8. LOL. Please come to Texas. You will love it. We run all our words together and make up the rest. American English totally depends on what part of America you are in.

    You love us.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I do love you, Marsha, I promise!

      And don't talk to me about making up words, or I'll get all competitive and get my Aussie slang on. And then no-one will respect me in the morning.

      Delete
  9. Our founding fathers called our currency bills so that one day Destiny's Child could announce their inability to pay their "automo-bills" and rhyme that with "chill." "Can't pay my automo-notes" just sounds stupid.

    I do take solace in prescription medication--after a couple of muscle relaxants and whatever the pink things are my mom sent me, I roll myself up in my comforter and pretend I'm back in the womb, like any self-respecting grown-up.

    Yeah, maybe pissed means drunk if you're a Michael Caine character. In the U.S., schwaaaaaaasteeeeeddddd means drunk. "Jusspukedinyerbathtub" also works.

    And not to start a rumble in the linguistic jungle here, but a biscuit? Is a savory treat, soft and fluffy and covered in gravy-- or Bisto granules if you're vegan. If it's sweet, it's a cookie.

    Finally, ouch--Alabama burn! Though your co-author would probably appreciate it if you didn't say she was "from" Alabama. "Held against her will in Alabama for the last two years" might be more accurate. "Slowly escaping from Alabama Shawshank-style" is also acceptable. She knew not what she did when she signed that piece of paper.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Ladies and gentlemen, meet my awesome co-author!

      "Jusspukedinyerbathtub" also means drunk here, as does "AwwwIloveyousooooooomuch" and "I"mjusgonnalieintheguttertileverythingstopsspinning".

      And of course my co-author is not "from" Alabama, and she will only be there as long as it takes to bring them down from within, right?

      Delete
    2. Precisely. Though am I bringing them down from within, or is it the other way around? Last night I said, "Do y'all need some help?" to a group setting up for an event. I'm from the north, I swear! On clear days we could see Canada across the lake.

      Delete
  10. Okay fine, I just realized my Destiny's Child argument doesn't work because they're referring to invoices, which you've acknowledged are bills.

    It's late, and I had too much coffee.

    How about Prodigy couldn't rhyme "generate mills" with "hundred dollar bills" in "Keep It Thoro" if we called them notes?

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    Replies
    1. And a fair enough argument that is as well! Your founding fathers were indeed wise and far-seeing to consider the importance of rhyming lyrics in the future.

      Delete

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