I must confess that, professional writer and editor though I am, I often forget the correct usage of toward and towards. The problem is that many experts will give you different answers for this sort of question.
While doing a quick Google search with this query in mind, I came across a fun little blog entry and ensuing Web discussion about the differences between American and British English. The conversation never ends...
In my never-ending discovery of new words and phrases belonging to the English language, I've discovered several that seem to be local to the East Midlands, or even just to Nottingham. Local dialects flourish in England. According to Bill Bryson, that Iowa-born, Yorkshire-dwelling, bestselling Anglo-American ambassador and astute language student:
"A paradox of accents is that in England, where people from a common heritage have been living together in a small area for thousands of years, there is still a huge variety of accents, whereas in America, where people from a great mix of backgrounds have been living together in a vast area for a relatively short period, people speak with just a few voices." (Mother Tongue, published in the U.S. by William Morrow, 1990)
Here a few gems I've learned since living in Nottingham, suitable for mixing it up next time you're bored at an office party.
'Ay up m' duc? Short for: Hey up, me duck? Translation: How are you? or How's it going? Pronunciation: Say it very fast in the front of your mouth. Notes: Do not be offended if a stranger calls you duck, or love, or chicken. Variations include ducky, lovey, lovely and chickie. They're all friendly terms given to a stranger, although sometimes can be patronizing, as doctor Max Pemberton wrote in this newspaper column.
All right? Standard UK Translation: What's up? used as a greeting, not expecting a real answer. Nottingham Translation: That's OK. Notes: As proof that even the English don't always understand each other, my English friend Jack tells this story about when she first moved to Nottingham from London and was working as a checker in a grocery store.
"I'd literally been in Nottingham a couple of weeks and I was packing a customer's bags. She said, 'You all right?" and I answered, "I'm fine, thanks," as I was packing her bags. She said, "You all right?" again and I answered, "Yeah, I'm fine." So she finally said, "No, you're all right, I'll pack the bags myself."
You can imagine how this is confusing to me, who still feels the need to answer the question, "All right?" with "Of course, I'm all right, why wouldn't I be?" instead of the standard, "You all right?" back.
Nesh Translation: People who feel the cold excessively. Notes: This one also comes from Jack, who learned it from her Nottingham-raised husband.
"Because I like to sit next to the radiator all the time, he says I'm nesh," she explained. "They're nesh, all those people who are always saying, 'I'm cold.'"
Jitty Translation: Alleyway between houses. Known as gangways in Chicago. Common usage: "To get to the door, just go up that jitty."
Mackle Translation: Cobble, craft, whip up, as in "I'll mackle something together."
Mash as in "mash the tea" Standard UK translation: brew or stew. "Brew the tea" or "Stew the tea." US translation: steep. "Steep the tea." Notes: Anybody else think, "Mash the tea" sounds funny?
I happened to meet an older woman in Nottingham's Market Square last Saturday, and as soon as she heard me speak she asked the inevitable question:
"Whereabouts in America are you from?"
I smiled and answered, "From Chicago, most recently."
"Ah," she said, and gazed piercingly at me. Not sure what to say next, I responded politely.
"Do you know it?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. There was another pause and she said, "My husband and I used to travel to America quite frequently. But we haven't been in the last eight years."
"Oh, really? Why is that?" I asked.
The woman gave me an incredulous look for not immediately knowing the answer.
"Because of Bush, of course," she sniffed.
"Ah, right," I smiled. "Well, that will all change after Tuesday."
"That's right," she said. "Maybe I'll go back after all."
This is a true story, albeit a dramatic one. As I've reported herebefore, all of the English and other Europeans I know (and, for that matter, Canadians, Australians and South Africans) are elated by Obama's election. My Austrian friend Robin pulled me aside last week to show me his electronic planner.
"Look, Steph!" he exclaimed. "I've got it booked in. I'm going home early from work to watch it"
Sure enough, the time from 1 pm onwards was blocked off by the words "Obama."
I myself made lunch plans for tomorrow, but now that I've realized they cut into the inauguration (it's at 2 pm here in England) I'm sure my lunch mate will be amenable to finishing early. I know she's interested in the inauguration, as well.
However, politicos and analysts on this side of the pond are being cautious about Obama's impending presidency, just as they are at home. I found this Daily Telegraph editorial today by Janet Daley who, from the stories she tells, must also be an expat American. The Daily Telegraph is a conservative paper. I found a slightly different take on Obama on the Web site of the Guardian, a liberal paper. Although both appear to have been written by Americans, I find it interesting that one paper highlights the similarities between Bush's policies and Obama's apparent policies, whereas the other highlights the differences.
You would think (or I would think) that after 16 months in England I would've gotten used to all of the language differences. But no, I am still amazed every few days by words I haven't heard before or that I haven't heard used in the same context. And I'm still (gently) mocked by friends for my use of words.
Here are a few that stand out from recent conversations:
We've had quite a cold snap in England the last several weeks, with temperatures hovering at or below freezing. When some folks commented, "You shouldn't be cold, you're from Chicago!" I replied, "No, I am cold. I've clearly acclimated to English weather." Cue the merriment. "Acclimated?" they hooted. "What a silly word. It's acclimatised." "That depends on where you are from," I said, perhaps with just a touch more austerity than was necessary
2. yonks: an age, a long time ago
Last Tuesday I was meeting with a colleague and she said, "I haven't seen Bill for yonks."
"For what?" I asked, quite puzzled.
"Yonks," she said, louder, not realising that I had no idea what she was talking about. After a moment, though, I figured it out.
"Does that mean 'ages?'," I asked.
"Oh, sorry," she apologized. "Yes, it does."
Yesterday I heard the word used again in conversation.
3. me old mucker: friend
When meeting up with my friend Kristen awhile back, she greeted me with, "Y' aw right, me old mucka?"
"Your old what?" I asked, quite astonished and wondering if I should be offended.
"Mucka," she said. (Well, really she said mucker, but with an English accent you don't hear the "er" part). "I guess it's a Nottingham term for friend. You know, it's what you'd call some guy down at the pub."
"Aha," I replied. "I love it! As long as it's not an insult."
It's hard to tell, sometimes.
Although I was unable to travel home for Christmas, I had a busy two-week holiday that included festive fun at home with the family I live with in Nottingham and visits to Northamptonshire, London and Cambridge.
My "English Gran" and "English Mum" find a spot amidst the present wrappings to watch the Queen's speech.
First and foremost among traditional English Christmas pursuits is watching the Queen's annual Christmas speech. Given each year by Queen Elizabeth II since 1957, good British families know that they will settle down in front of the telly at precisely 3 pm.to hear the Queen's message. Of course many Britons could care less about the Queen's speech these days, but I live with a rather traditional family that is proud of its heritage, and I am glad to be here experiencing English life with them.
I hadn't ever seen it before but felt that the Queen's 2008 speech, which emphasized that the happiest people in troubled times are those who give of themselves, was excellent. Especially as it was under 10 minutes long! The other television highlight of the day, of course, was the first broadcast of a new Wallace & Gromit televison show, "A Matter of Loaf and Death."
The rest of the day was occupied with walking to the local parish church for the Christmas Day service, attending the neighbors' annual Christmas drinks and appetizer fete, and spending time with my adopted English family. We ate a delicious, traditional feast of locally-raised, free-range roast turkey served with roast potatoes and parsnips, Brussels sprouts and carrots, pigs in a blanket (sausages wrapped in bacon), bread sauce, cranberry sauce and giblet gravy. Then, of course, there was the flaming Christmas pudding, platters of cheese, biscuits and fruit (a selection of rich English cheeses served with crackers, chutney and fruit) and the omnipresent boxes of chocolates. It was truly a festive occasion and, for the first time that I can remember, I fell asleep after eating--while I was stretched out on the living room floor in front of the fire in the midst of several loud conversations. It was bliss.
On Dec. 26, or Boxing Day, which truly is a second day of Christmas, I was picked up at 9 am by my dear friend Ruth and her brother Stephen, who drove an hour each way from their family home in Kettering to collect me. Ruth and her family had invited me to spend a few days with them relaxing with another English family, this time in Northamptonshire. As soon as we arrived at Ruth's house her mother instructed us all to get ready for a bracing country walk, so we obligingly pulled on our boots, hats and scarves. England has been in a prolonged cold snap with daytime temperatures hovering right around freezing, which is, of course, much warmer than Chicago but unusually cold for the UK, so we wrapped up and tramped out into the frosty air. Stephen laughed at all of the rest of us as we put on our coats, and instead got himself up in two jumpers, a woolly hat, and his father's Wellington boots, which was a rather amusing sight.
Here is the young English man on his traditional Boxing Day walk.
It was certainly cold outside (I do think the dampness does makes 32 degrees F feel colder in England than it does in Chicago), but the rare sunshine that favored us that day made everything look more beautiful, even this rather humdrum park scene.
One thing I do love about England is that no matter how cold or grey it gets, the grass always stays green.
After our brisk walk we were more than happy to sit down for generous helpings Mrs. D's delicious sweet potato soup, which I was delighted to discover was served with more cheese and biscuits. We then played a few board games, which got us nice and hungry for an afternoon cup of tea and rich, fruity slices of Mrs. D's deliciously moist Christmas cake. I'm sure many Americans wouldn't care for English Christmas cake (which is, essentially, fruitcake with a sugary icing) but I adore it. When it's made right it is an explosion of wintry flavors.
I found something very comforting this Christmas in sitting around the fire with friends who've become like family as we enjoyed Christmas treats, played board games or did trivia quizzes, or even watched the television Christmas specials as I worked on my knitting (thank you to Katie & Shanel for the fun care package filled with knitting materials!) Of course I did miss my own family very much, but England is feeling more and more like home.