Your 2012 Five A Day – May

What is it about jokes of the ‘bodily function’ variety that reduce one to a giggling adolescent?

As an Aussie making her life in the UK, I cannot tell you the amount of times I have let it slip that I got my pants wet stepping in a puddle on the way to work. Or that I left my thongs at the door to avoid getting your carpet dirty.

Yes, trousers and casual summer footwear take on a whole new meaning on the other side of the planet.

But this month’s Five A Day reminded me of another Aussie twist on the English language…with the word root.

Here are few definitions from Merriam-Webster. It’s an Encyclopedia Britannica company so it must know:

1a : the usually underground part of a seed plant body that functions as an organ of absorption, aeration, and food storage or as a means of anchorage and support and that differs from a stem especially in lacking nodes, buds, and leaves b : any subterranean plant part (as a true root or a bulb, tuber, rootstock, or other modified stem) especially when fleshy and edible
2 a (1) : the part of a tooth within the socket (2) : any of the processes into which the root of a tooth is often divided b : the enlarged basal part of a hair within the skin—called also hair root c : the proximal end of a nerve; especially : one or more bundles of nerve fibers joining the cranial and spinal nerves with their respective nuclei and columns of gray matter—see dorsal root, ventral root d : the part of an organ or physical structure by which it is attached to the body
Nothing odd here. Long, complicated and a bit boring (actually I ‘switched off’ about two lines in). Just what you expected, right?
But in that land Down Under (you know, where women glow and men plunder), root is another word for having sex.
Yes that’s right.
So when you ask us to root around and find that information, we suppress a childish giggle.
And when you ask us which route you should take, those fresh off the boat may let an adolescent snigger escape. (The rest of us are sniggering on the inside.)
And heaven forbid when you Americans say you are rooting for us…
So what cross-cultural euphemisms have caught you out? Go on, you can tell me.
It’ll be our little secret…

Five A Day Back catalogue

If Language Be The Food Of Love…


It means I have found it.

The El Dorado, the essence of life, the I Ching, the holy grail…

It’s a funny thing isn’t it, that when you start exploring a particular topic, the floodgates open and suddenly, you are awash. Where previously you could find or you knew very little, in an instant a whole deluge of opportunities to broaden a particular horizon appear.
Those of you who have been following along for a little while now will know my fascination for the trials and tribulations of the translation kind here in my adopted homeland. The nonsensical expressions of the natives, the faux pas of my own making, the idiosyncracies of place names and the general labour of love that is communicating with the locals.

Source: pinterest

And let me put this in context. I come from a land Down Under where women glow, men chunder and pretty much the only language spoken is English. As do the locals – speak English I mean…although there are about half a million Australians in the UK…but I digress.

And my I Ching? It is quite simply the definitive Anglo-EU Translation Guide. Shared with me (wry smile for free) with my over-the-partition German work colleague.

Some were familiar from my Boden Bonanza back in May 2011.  But there were others that were new – and enlightening. ‘You must come for dinner soon’ does not constitute an invitation from a Brit (but may from any of the other nationalities in my sphere). ‘I only have a few minor comments’ is not a well done/pat on the back but is rather likely to precede a complete re-working of…well, everything you were working on.

Needless to say I spent much of my first few years in Blighty hungry and over-worked.

There’s been a spike of visits and page views over my last post, where I introduced you to Jack Scott from Perking the Pansies (reciprocal back-scratching at its best, I say). Jack has set up a very useful Expat Glossary on his site to help the immigrant ingenue in fair Anatolia navigate the colourful, lotus-eating-expat populous. Inspired by this charitable act, I have decided to create a glossary of my own, Mind The Gap! to help those fresh-off-the-boat to chart a safe course through the nuances of the indigenous vernacular here in the UK.

As the disclaimer says, Mind The Gap! represents the views and experiences of the author and whoever else she can earbash at the time. All idioms, ideas and idiosyncracies have been pinched without prejudice…and without apology.

In the spirit of community, sharing our experiences to enrich others and supporting our expat brothers-and-sisters-in-arms (aka blah blah blah), if you’re prepared to be earbashed and pinched without prejudice, let me know if you’ve got any personal pearlers to add.

Source: pinterest

You never know. This could mark the beginning of a quiet revolution…

The Silent Letter…

One of the things any Australian coming to the UK feels assured of is the ability to speak the language. You know, to communicate, be understood, that kind of thing. And after almost eight years here, despite some early faux pas (the use of words like pants and thongs come to mind), I don’t find myself thinking twice about the way I speak.

However, working for a global business, I am surrounded by colleagues whose first language is not English. My team mate is French and a close colleague who sits across the partition from me is Turkish. Within a couple of desks away are three Germans so by the time you add the erstwhile Aussie to the mix, the locals represent less than 50% of the seating arrangements in our area. 
There’s often much hilarity as sayings go a bit awry with regularity. We’ve had the dog barking at the wrong door (vs up the tree), don’t let the bugs bite (the bed just went amiss), cookie (vs brownie) points and my personal favourite, a ‘one pony trick’ which leads the mind in a significantly different direction from the one trick pony!

But on the train home today, I was reminded what a real minefield the ‘English’ language can be, particularly when it comes to place names.

It’s not just the longer prefixes to the shires that trip one up on this green isle – I mean how do you get ‘wooster’ from Worcester – or the fact that words tend to dribble away here as opposed to the emphasis-on-every-syllable pronunciation employed by my lot (eg. Bir-ming-ham rhymes with ‘I eat SPAM’). 

It’s the presence of a letter.  A letter that just sneaks in there, quiet as you like. And upsets the natural order of things.

The letter ‘W’.

It’s a dastardedly affair. The ‘W’ sound is happy to lead off, loud and proud, at the beginning of a word – Walthamstow, Windsor, Worthing are fine examples. 

But the rules seem to differ when that little ‘w’ ensconces itself right in the middle of things. So Southwark is pronounced ‘Suthick’ (vs my fresh-off-the-boat South-walk all those years ago), Harwich is pronounced ‘Harrich’…

…and today, I automatically corrected my collègue français’ Flitwick – without skipping a beat – to ‘Flittick’.

My family keep telling me I sound more and more English every time I speak to them.

I think they may be right.

12 Steps…Losing My Religion?

I’ve been dashing about London in the rain today – appointment to appointment, jumping around puddles and waging a battle with my brolly in the wind. (Incidentally, I lost that battle but managed to snaffle a cab so feel I won the war.)  It seemed that after posting my moment of inspiration on Facebook this morning – “Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass. It’s about dancing in the rain” – the fickle London weather seemed determine to dampen my mid-week mambo.

On the homeward-bound bus at last, I opened up my weekly Australian Times e-newsletter (I’ve had a whole new love of commuting since the advent of my Desire) to be greeted with the question Are You Losing Your Australian-ness?.  After the rubbishing I got while visiting loved ones in Melbourne over Christmas (about my Ocker-Oh’s referring to my tendancy to intersperse flat ‘Australian-speak’ with a few English-sounding Oh’s and Ah’s), I thought I should read on.

Lee Crossley actually identifies twelve signs of disappearing Australian-ness but I am pleased to report that I have only identify five signs after seven years of living here:

THE phrases ‘Mind the Gap’ and ‘alight here’ no longer seem a tad odd.  In fact, I find them quite sweet and quaint.  I mean who ‘alights’ anything any more?

YOU no longer grumble on a crowded tubeSimply hours of fun to be had ‘minding the gap’ and ‘alighting’.  Plus no-one likes a whinger.

YOU expect miserable weather.  And am conversely delighted to a slightly hysterical degree at any 2 plus run of warm-weather-days. I must point out here that we are classifying mid-20(c)s as blissfully warm. I just do not have the wardrobe/patience to deal with anything hotter any more, unless lying prone next to the pool/beach in holiday repose.

YOU start to wonder where all the English people have gone in London.  Yep. Pretty much. I think they all live ‘elsewhere’.  Like Oxford.  Or Spain.

YOU accentuate the ‘ie’ in unbelievable.  Actually pronounced un-be-leeeeeeev-able and can be applied to any moment of wonder/dismay/disbelief.

Yes, 5 out of 12.  That’s 41.66%, an average of about 5.9% a year.  By my reckoning, that means this insidious creep will have completely subsumed my Ocker-ness in just under a decade.

Bugger!* Best bring out the big guns…

*Please don’t take offence.  Click on the link if you really think I am being rude.  I am not.  Truly.  I’m just a laconic, dinky-di colonial.

ps…if you want to keep a watchful eye over my continued slide progress, find out what the other seven are by going to Lee Crossley’s article here and keep checking in at Gidday from the UK for updates. 

Lost In Translation

When I first moved to the UK, my direct approach (or if you prefer, my ‘Australian bluntness’) resulted in a quite a few hackles-on-the-rise, particularly at work.  Seven years on, I like to think I have learned to play a little more by the rules – or at the very least, understand the boundaries before pushing firmly, but ever so charmingly, against them.

I was going through my mail from the week yesterday and, noticing that British fashion brand Boden had sent their new Spring/Summer catalog in tabloid format, thought I’d have a quick flick through.  Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a full-page guide to navigating the ‘English’ language (I tried to scan it in for you but it was too big/my scanner is too small).  Let me just say that HOURS of angst and general hair-tearing could have been avoided if I had only known:

…that when the English say ‘It was quite good’
     what they mean is ‘I was mildly disappointed’.

…and when they say ‘I was a bit disappointed that…’
     what they mean is ‘I am most upset and cross.’

…also that when the English say ‘I’ll bear it in mind’
     what they mean is ‘I will do nothing about it.’

…and when they say ‘I’m sure it’s my fault’
     what they mean is ‘we both know it’s your fault.’

…and very importantly, from a work standpoint,
    when they say ‘Could we consider some other options?’,
     they don’t actually want more of your input,
     what they mean is ‘I have a much better idea than yours.’

(I am reliably informed that this is actually the sound of a penny dropping). 

Do you realise that this list could transform English relationships with the rest of the world?  Seriously, it should be incorporated into some sort of Welcome Pack, guiding foreign dignitaries through the seething mass lying just beneath those polite English manners and helping we who are ‘just-off-the’boat’ to get the ‘lay of the land’.

Now THAT would be ‘the dog’s bollocks’!

The Language Barrier…Mind The Gap!

I’ve lived here in the UK for just over 7 years now.  I came from another English-speaking country – a colony of the British Empire no less, built on the entrepreneurial and criminal exploits of those shipped in from the Mother Country.

And I have spent a not insignificant proportion of my time explaining passing comments, pithy retorts and ironic witticisms that lose their essential meaning when transported to the other side of the world.

The comment that sparked it all off 7 years ago was this:

I went for a fossick on your desk.

I had presumed that fossick was a word in use in everyday English language but clearly not.  And I found myself, flush-faced, explaining to the wide-eyed recipient of said comment that it meant to rummage about for something, using all of the relevant Aussie ‘looking for gold’-isms I could think of! 

I am secretly quite proud that I haven’t yet fallen for the whole ‘I was walking to work today and my pants got wet’ gaffe (for those non-English people out there, pants are underpants here) but there have been a few faux pas including thongs and vests (both also undergarments) and a few smiles/sniggers/raised eyebrows at comments like this week’s pearler, ‘suck it up Princess’ (directed at one who needs to get over oneself!)

And it reminded me of some of those truly ‘choice’ (the English would no doubt say ‘cracking’) sayings that I had under my belt when I arrived ‘off the boat’ that captured the essence of a sentiment in the way only an Aussie can:

(Best I warn you here: if you would rather avoid references to swearing and general, unlady-like behaviour, you should stop reading now)
Feeling like a shag on a rock – the shag being a bird of the feathered variety – does not mean I would like to have sex in an uncomfortable place but rather that I’ve been (to use another metaphor) ‘left out in the cold’.
As useless as t*ts on a bull – which has now been replaced by the more genteel ‘as useless as a chocolate teapot’ – you get my drift, right?

…and one of my all time favourites…

Don’t p*ss down my back and tell me it’s raining – which is really not for use in anything other than highly-social, alcoholically-lubricated situations but really sums up what the little voice inside my head is screaming saying sometimes.
So now you’ve had a peek behind the sunburnt brow of this ridgy didge Aussie Expat.  Shocked?  Well, I may not have painted a very erudite picture, but I’ll bet you wouldn’t have learnt any of that watching Neighbours!

But you can do your bit for British-Aussie relations yourself by clicking here and swotting up courtesy of the The Australian Slang Dictionary.

Then we might actually be speaking the language!

And that’d be bonzer mate…