Bits and bobs

Posted: March 20, 2011 in Life in the UK

One of the things I initially struggled with a bit upon moving to the UK is what to do about the language differences, something I alluded to in this post. Do I take on British pronunciations? Should I use British terminology? If I use British words will I come off as mocking them since I will say them with an American accent? These are questions I never fathomed I would consider prior to moving here.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I plan on retaining the American pronunciation of various words. Perhaps I’m being obstinate, but I just find it so very odd to say tomato in the way the British do (pronounced tomato, with a short “a”). However, another issue (pronounced iss-oo here in the UK) is whether or not I should use British terminology. Just to give you an idea, here are some examples:

Instead of that’s “great” or “wonderful” it is quite common for people to state that’s “brilliant”

Instead of saying something is “crap” or “garbage” it is commonly referred to as “rubbish”.

Instead of figuring things out, one “sorts” them out.

Instead of stopping by someone’s office, one “pop’s by”.

Instead of trying something, one “gives it a go”.

A list of objects that don’t quite go together aren’t “odds and ends” but are “bits and bobs”.

Finally, something isn’t sketchy or off, but it is “dodgy”.

Some of these different words I quite like and have started to incorporate into my vocabulary. For example, at a recent lab meeting in which I was describing a compound known to have a lot of off target effects, I noted that the drug was a bit dodgy. This comment got a couple of chuckles as I imagine it sounded odd stated with an American accent. I also like sorting things out, giving things a go, and describing poorly constructed lab equipment as “rubbish!”. However, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say “brilliant” the way the British do with a straight face. All I can think of is those ridiculous Guinness commercials from several years back where they advertised Guinness being sold in a bottle….BRILLIANT!

I’m curious to see how many of these new words stick with me when I go back to the states, and if I get any odd looks from my US friends and colleagues when they inevitably slip out. You can take the American out of the UK, but how much of the UK will stick with the American?

  1. Worm Pilot says:

    I don’t know if you’re like me at all, but if I was living in the UK I think I would pick up not only their slang but also the accent. And I’m sure when I went back home I’d get shit for it. It might be an interesting experiment to just go with the flow, not think about it and see where you end up when this is all over, or what your friends and family say back in the states. I moved to a different part of the US that doesn’t even have a strong accent and I’m still saying certain words with that accent 2 years later!

    • funkdoctorx says:

      It’s funny you mention this. The first time I visited England back in 2002 for a week, I started picking up a bit of the accent by the end of the trip. However, this time, I haven’t picked it up at all. I suppose there is some sort of developmental effect here, I guess I’m no longer an impressionable youth any longer! Some of my friends have asked me if I’ve picked up the accent, prepared to make fun of me if I do.

  2. Give it a couple of years and enjoy people from your home country complaining that your accent has gone 100% native, while people in your new country still can’t understand you because you sound so foreign!

    IMHO there’s nothing wrong with being a linguistic and accent chameleon. I still use some slang words I picked up while living in Scotland, with an Irish flatmate, to add to all my Yorkshire- and Canadian-isms!

  3. tideliar says:

    I’m a Brit living in the US (did my PhD and postdocs here – 12 years in to my tour). I remember when I moved over I kept my British pronunciations as form of emotional security blanket. But after the nth time of not being able to order a (e.g.) pizza because they couldnt understand me when i said tomarrrrto, I started switching to US from time to time.

    Now, after 12 years, I switch between US and Brisitsh pronunications almost without thinking LOL – If my brother or dad heard me say tomayto I’d never hear the end of it!

    Also, a big motivator to moderate both the strength of my accent and my pronunciations was when i started teaching labs in grad school. The students would just stare in wonder and not actually listen to the content of what i was saying…

    Centrifyoogal or Centrifigal force?
    GnomenKlayture or Nomenklachur?
    Skeleetal or skeletal?



    • funkdoctorx says:

      Thanks for the insight! I’ve often wondered what a Brit would do in the US. However, I find that we don’t have much of an issue with people understanding us. I feel as if the folks here in the UK know a lot more about us Americans than we know about the Brits in terms of pronunciation. I imagine this is probably because of the prevalence of US television here in the UK (holy crap, Friends is running 4-6 times a day, 5 days a week!). This has probably led to us being less likely to change our pronunciations simply because we haven’t really run into the issue of people understanding us.

      Nonetheless, I’m reluctant to admit that at a recent trip to a city in the UK at a bed and breakfast, I said to the person serving breakfast that I would like a grilled tomaaato, something that took me by surprise! So who knows after a few years what the hell I’m going to pick up!

  4. FatBigot says:

    Of course, you must see what the English really mean:

    ♦ I hear what you say
    What They Mean: I disagree and do not wish to discuss it any further

    ♦ With the greatest respect
    What They Mean: I think you are a fool

    ♦ Not bad
    What They Mean: Good or very good

    ♦ Quite good
    What They Mean: A bit disappointing

    ♦ Perhaps you would like to think about…./it would be nice if….
    What They Mean: This is an order. Do it or be prepared to justify yourself

    ♦ Oh, by the way/Incidentally
    What They Mean: This is the primary purpose of our discussion

    ♦ Very interesting
    What They Mean: I don’t agree/I don’t believe you

    ♦ Could we consider the options
    What They Mean: I don’t like your idea

    ♦ I’ll bear it in mind
    What They Mean: I will do nothing about it

    ♦ Perhaps you could give that some more thought
    What They Mean: It is a bad idea. Don’t do it

    ♦ I’m sure it is my fault
    What They Mean: It is your fault

    ♦ That is an original point of view/brave option to consider
    What They Mean: You must be crazy

    ♦ You must come for dinner sometime
    What They Mean: Not an invitation, just being polite

    ♦ Not entirely helpful
    What They Mean: Completely useless

    • funkdoctorx says:

      Hmmm…thanks for this…I’ll have to keep these in mind as I go about things here and see if they truly do hold up. However, I do find people to be much less direct here, which can be frustrating at times.

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