Posts Tagged 'Britain'

What? I Mean, Pardon?

By Sarah Chamberlain

The great Irish playwright and wit George Bernard Shaw once said that America and Britain were “two countries, separated by a common language.” It may seem like a throwaway line, but the more time I spend in Scotland, the more I realize that aphorisms like this exist because they’re painfully true.

Be cautious when it comes to slang

Be cautious when it comes to slang

When I returned from my year abroad in Edinburgh last year, one question friends and acquaintances frequently asked was if I had had any trouble understanding the Scottish accent. Fortunately, 99% of Scots do not sound like Groundskeeper Willie, and I could understand everyone I met in Edinburgh almost all the time. Where my gaps in comprehension emerged were in my understanding of Scottish slang. Sometimes I wouldn’t recognize at all a word my Edinburgher friends used, like when they referred to a bunch of “neds” (best defined as the Scottish version of white trash, instantly recognizable by their uniform tracksuits, very shiny white sneakers, and bling).  But more frequently, I would hear a word being used in a way that I’d never heard before. The best example of this is the word “pants”. Americans use it to refer to jeans, or slacks, or the two-legged things you wear on your lower half. But in Britain, “pants” is short for “underpants”. This resulted in some embarrassed amusement on the part of my mates when I was telling them about the new wool pants I’d bought. Now even when I’m back in the States, I will always refer to the things I wear on my legs as “jeans” or “trousers” as a protective mechanism. And to make matters worse, in Scotland, saying that something is “pants” means that it’s lousy. The first time I heard one of my friends say this, my response was something along the lines of a stunned “I beg your pardon?” Complete slang overload.

Unfortunately, the confusion is more on the side of the Americans than on the Brits. The U.S. has been exporting their cultural products to Britain for decades, making American English something commonly heard on concert stages, on TV shows, and in movie theaters. Since we haven’t imported nearly the same amount of British culture to our shores, much of it is mysterious to visiting Americans. So if you are going to study in the UK and want to be ahead of the curve, start watching some British TV! It is very educational, as well as being hysterically funny. Blackadder is especially good.

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