Stiff One-Upper Lip
I’ve spent a lot of time in England, and when you do, you can’t help but pick up the merry slang and laugh at someone willing to fight to the death at being called something so innocent-sounding as “minger.”
But one thing I noticed about the slang, really the whole terminology, is that it tries to one-up us. What I mean is that whenever the British and the Americans have two different terms to describe the same thing, The British word always has one more syllable than the American word. For example, your typical American will say acclimate while your Brit says acclimatize. In the U.S. it’s airplane, in the UK, aeroplane. American terms as simple as baby carriage become monsters such as perambulator; vacationers mutate into holidaymakers; and I don’t even know how to pronounce their word for Tylenol: para-SET-a-mol? paraKEET-a-mol? pare-a-CAMel? No matter how you say it, it sounds like some animal’s getting hurt.
They’re even so petty as to discard the soft and call it a fizzy drink, and even their obscure ’30s-cartoonist pop-culture references have to one-up ours: We say Rube Goldberg machine, they say Heath Robinson contraption.
Nevertheless, the revelation of Britain’s syllabic one-up-manship should come as no surprise–they’ve been at this sort of thing for quite a while now, as evidenced by their flagrant inclusion and overuse of the vowel U in every word: colour, honour, flouur, Tuupauc Shaukuuruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu, and so on.
“But Nat!” You’re probably saying, “What about lifts and crisps and cheers and all that? Those words are all one syllable!”
“No they’re not!” I write back…sharply…because if you’ve ever heard any Brit pronounce a monosyllabic, you’ll immediately pick up on a slight aspiration following each word–Crisps-suh, Lifts-suh, Cheers-suh–much in the manner of how our Southern Baptists have turned the name Jesus into a rather violent-sounding three-syllable word: JE-SUS-SUH. It’s subtle, but it’s there.
Now, whatever reasons they may have for trying to top us, well I don’t have an answer–so in lieu of that, here’s some more ridiculous British terms and phrases and their American equivalents, courtesy of Wikipedia.org:
UK: Glandular fever
UK: builder’s cleavage
U.S.: plumber’s butt
U.S.: stuck up
UK: lollipop man
U.S.: crossing guard
UK: Belisha beacon
U.S.: orange ball containing a flashing light mounted on a post at each end of a zebra crossing. (Even after reading the definition, I’m still not sure what the Hell this means.)
UK: compulsory purchase
U.S.: eminent domain
UK: building society
U.S.: savings and loan
UK: Cor blimey!
UK: Fancy a snog and slash from a red gaffer, love?
U.S.: Would you care to engage in excessive kissing followed by urination with an old Manchester United fan, darling?
UK: Bob’s your uncle! (Sometimes extended to Robert’s your mother’s brother!)
U.S.: Looks like we’re related! Good thing we didn’t snog!