My recent column on the encouraged some of my friends to debate on the subject of Englishism vs Americanism, the Toilet vs Restroom scenario ? the use of the English language in countries the world over. Some of them already on the throes of leaving Bahrain shores for countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand seemed curious to know the intricacies of the subject, brushing up their adaptability genes on the English language ? some just wanting to expand their knowledge and curious to know if I could assist in this task. I was clear that my viewpoint would hold good from a North American context.
I was queried as to how did I cope up with the language in terms of its usage in the day to day work during my 5 year stay in North America. Having already assessed myself as an average student of the ‘Queen’s English’ I responded that initially it did prove to be a problem but as time rolled by I got used to it. Having said that, personally till date it has always been frustrating understanding and correcting the assistant who has to constantly look out for the American spelling vs the English one in my business letters or strategic proposals, e.g. Optimize vs Optimise or Color Vs Colour. It is all the more annoying when people point this out when the flippant word means the same. It does bog you down when you spell a word ‘cheque’ and have your American colleague correct you that it is ‘check’ which is unrealistic cause ‘how does one check a check for errors’.
For the benefit of the people who are North America (Canada specifically) bound, I have taken it upon myself to shed some light on certain basics in regard to the English language having lived there. These sentences, phrases, words are purely my personal experiences. With due apologies to Shaw who claimed that English and America are two countries separated by a common language, here are some specific disparities which I experienced on the language front.
‘I called for a Taxi’ should be referred to as ‘I called for a cab’
‘Throw it in the dustbin’ should be referred to as ‘Throw it in the Garbage or Thrash can‘
‘Oh here have some biscuits’ to ‘Oh here have some cookies’
(Biscuits in America are unsweetened dinner or breakfast pastries)
‘Use the lift’ to ‘use the elevator’
‘Ground Floor’ to ‘First Floor’
‘I need to fill up on Petrol’ referred to as ‘I need to fill up on Gas’
"day/month/year" in terms of the date would be month/day/year in American terms? something that I am still to get used to.
On the idioms front ‘knock on wood’ took precedence to ‘touch wood’ and ‘a skeleton in the cupboard’ would always be ‘skeleton in the closet’. The list is endless and I can go on and on.
Here’s some advice if you do not want to land up with a bloody nose or just looked at scornfully think twice before using words like ‘fag (for a cigarette) it refers to a gay or a lesbian,’. Addressing a lady as ‘Madam‘ can land you in a spot, as Madam refers to a lady in charge of a house of ill repute’.
Having schooled in India, there are some Indian idiosyncrasies which one needs to watch for "freaked out" does not mean having fun, it means scared or shaken’ and ‘Boot or trunk’ of the car should never be referred to as the Dickey’.
As a kid in school unknown to the vagaries on the language front (not related to Americanism vs Englishism), I still remember asking my colleagues to pass the pencil and the rubber . Today, I think twice before using the word ‘rubber‘ whilst supervising my son’s homework. The conversation with my 4 year old son now goes "That’s not right Ethan, that’s a mistake where’s the eraser".
On a concluding note, a humorous incident pertaining to the intrigue part of the English language – the word ‘fanny‘ comes to mind. I happened to be on the tube (train) on a cold snowy morning in Toronto sitting few seats away from this asian pacific origin lady who seemed very involved in her conversation about her pet dog with her friend. The discussion was loud and clear and people in the compartment were compelled to let the ears do the listening. She was praising her poodle to the skies saying "Oh my fanny is cute, my husband dotes on her, he adores her bringing her a cookie everyday". I looked around to see eyebrows raised, smiles, smirks and kind of shy faces. It took me a few minutes to understand what does fanny mean from an American perspective. It just reinforced my thoughts on the English language ? a great language…complex without a doubt.
About the Author:
Author: Irwin Rego- Bahrain