Day 478: Getting Into The Hoo-Ha Of Double Meanings

originally published April 22, 2013

As a Canadian, I find myself uncomfortably headlocked between the sweaty bicep of American hegemony and the sturdy torso of my nation’s British roots. I share familial roots in both countries, though should the Revolutionary War once again rear its violent, musket-y head, my loyalty would fall immediately to Sweden. Who doesn’t love Sweden? Those fun-loving Scandinavian bastards.

I have already penned a kilograph on the spelling quirks between British (the Queen’s English) and American (Screw you, speak American, dammit!) English. But words on both sides of the Atlantic can have deceptive and quirky double-meanings. We all know a ‘tube’ to mean a cylindrical shape with the potential to hold delicious Pringles. But no self-respecting Brit would use the word to describe a television, just as no American would walk down stairs to ride one to work.

Same language, yet very different. If I can’t drag a thousand words out of this, then I have no business calling myself a professional word-puker.

  • If your British guest asks to use the bog, don’t take him out back to that inflatable pool in your backyard where you’ve been growing cranberries. A British bog is a toilet.
  • If you’re wearing court shoes in America, you’re probably headed to play racquetball or volleyball or some indoor sport. In England, a court shoe is a woman’s shoe with a  heel. In America they call those ‘pumps’, which is what British people call the shoes they’d wear to play racquetball or volleyball or some indoor sport. Confusing? Hey, it’s the English language.
  • A restroom in America is a polite term for a room in which one can poop. Poop in a restroom in England and you’ve just defecated where the staff takes their coffee breaks. I’m not cleaning that up.
  • When travelling in England, I found a lot of their food tastes much better than it looks. I’m sure this is the case with the green liquor seen here, which is a broth left after cooking meat or vegetables, often served over pie and mash. American green liquor is either Crème de Menthe, St. Patrick’s Day beer, or something apple-ish and hangover-inducing.
  • Americans can get locked up in ‘the joint’ (prison). Brits can opt to carve ‘the joint’ (a slab of meat). And folks on both sides of the pond can smoke a joint, though in England that refers to a blend of pot and tobacco. Americans would call that a ‘waste of space that could otherwise be occupied by more pot’.
  • In England they’ll hand out rubbers to children so they can erase their pencil-mark mistakes. In America, distributing rubbers in school will trigger an onslaught of angry letters from parents and a vocal debate over birth control and teenage promiscuity.
  • Here’s a true sampling of semantics: if you table a topic in the UK Parliament, you have brought it up for discussion, as though you’d laid it on a table. If a topic is tabled in the American Congress, it is being postponed indefinitely, as though you’d dropped it onto the pile on the table.
  • If you tell an American woman she has nice hooters, she’ll know exactly what you mean. She’ll probably also slap you. In England, you’d use the term ‘hooter’ and either be talking about her nose, her car horn, or the steam whistle she’d just installed to signal the beginning and end of a workday. I’m not sure if that compliment has ever been uttered in regards to a steam whistle.
  • Likewise if you “get into a hoo-ha” in England, you have entered into an argument with someone. Since a ‘hoo-ha’ refers to a vagina in America, the expression takes on a radically different meaning.
  • Rocking a vest in America means you’re sporting something to similar to what these gentlemen are wearing, though hopefully a little less aesthetically vulgar. A ‘vest’ in England is what John McClane wore for most of Die Hard, what Americans call an ‘undershirt’ or – unfortunately – a ‘wife-beater’.
  • In England you can ‘go down’ with a cold, or ‘go down’ from school (meaning you quit). In America, stuff ‘goes down’ when it happens, as in, “Yo, dawg! When is your presentation on our third-quarter Northeast region earnings going down?” Both nations will use the term for oral sex too, so that should alleviate at least some of the confusion.
  • If you’re in A&E in England, then something horrible has happened, and you’re being treated in the Accident & Emergency department of your local hospital. If you’re on A&E in America, then you’re on the TV station that used to feature interesting biographies and culturally significant programming, but is now slathered with wall-to-wall garbage reality like American Hoggers and Duck Dynasty. Not sure which would be worse.
  • If you’re sitting in the stall during a British theatrical performance, then you’re right in front of the stage in the orchestra pit, probably being paid to be there and play your instrument. If you’re in the stall during an American performance, then you’re on a toilet in the bathroom, having wasted your money because your digestive issues are keeping you from seeing the performance. Or, maybe you’re “playing your instrument”, if you catch my meaning.
  • If you protest in America, you are speaking out against something – protesting a law. In England, you might simply be asserting yourself forcefully in favor of something – protesting your innocence. That’s a strange bit of word-twistery.
  • Public school in America is where the common people go: tax-funded and subject to the demographics of the neighborhood. Over in England, public school refers to those prestigious, uniform-wearing snooty schools that cost many a shilling from a family’s own wallet to attend.
  • If you blow off your friend in America, then you opted not to meet him when you said you would. Certainly not a polite thing to do. Even less polite is the British expression ‘to blow off’, which means to fart.

Canada tends to land in the middle of these expressions, often adopting bits of both in our everyday vernacular. It’s important to know what words or phrases take on different meanings wherever you happen to be though, lest you find yourself getting weird looks when you ask someone for a cigarette because – where you’re from, anyway – it’s not a strange thing to ask if you can “bum a fag.”

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