Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Course Corrections

It is half-past midnight in cactus country where I am, so officially it is now the 4th day of this new blog. (I don't know why the date still shows March 11. Must still be before midnight in Googleland. Or else they haven't yet changed their servers to Daylight Savings Time. Whatever. Pretend it says March 12.)

While I am, in general, pleased at what has been happening so far, and so quickly, it is also pretty obvious that some changes need to be made with regard to the vision and direction of the blog. It is already getting out of my control, if ever it really was in my control. I am steering by the wake, as it were. I am not unhappy that you are taking control from me, but I do crave some sort of purpose and direction.

This blog was started rather on the spur of the moment when I was out entrecruising (as I call it) and noticed that I kept coming across very interesting and very literate blogs which all seemed to be located in the vast territories of the former British Empire. I kept reading interesting stuff, but soon realized I didn’t really understand as much of it as I would have liked. Indeed we are truly separated by this common language we share. I would stare at the words. The words were obviously English words. English is my native language (honestly). So why wasn’t I understanding the nuances of these posts?

I happened to be trying to read the football commentary on magpieszone.com when the spark of the idea for this blog entered my head.

I still believe in the validity of the basic premise, but at the same time it is becoming obvious that some changes--course corrections--need to be made. I hadn’t thought the blog concept through deeply enough. We are adrift. There have been bright spots, of course: For one thing, I hadn’t anticipated that proper British ladies would so love to bully unsuspecting American men. I love it. But that’s not what I am really talking about.

My general vague plan on day one of this blog was for me to continue roaming the internet and harvesting examples that I truly didn’t understand, and then bring those examples to your attention. Then you would translate for me, in a helpful and friendly manner, and, gosh, what a fine time we all would have. Ha.

The first thing that I quickly realized was that there was really no need for my inept “harvesting”, and I found out even faster that I wasn’t very good at it anyway. I mean, not knowing what the words meant, how was I to know if what I was choosing was interesting to you, the audience; whether it was mundane, or whether it was a real nugget to be examined and savered until all the marrow had been delightfully sucked out.

The second thing I quickly learned was that while American humor is direct and hits you right in the gut fast and hard, British humor is much more subtle. You lean toward nuances, comparisons, stories, and, of course, you are masters at metaphor and the fine art of the double entendre.

Perhaps the differences between American and British humor are best explained by this rather tidy summation which was given by the late great American commedian Alan King (whose picture appears at the head of this post.) I saw this on HBO many years ago. Mr. King had been invited to a student comedy competition at a famous school in Britain. Cambridge, I think. It was the kind of competition where the two sides each sit on one side of the small autditorium, and the audience would move to seats on the other side of the aisle whenever they were swayed by the comedic prowess of the speakers, who took turns. I remember that Mr. King spoke first to the very bright young British audience. His words summed up very succinctly the point I am grasping to make here.

“I love British humor.” he began. “It is very instructive. It makes you think. It is very, very witty. It is incredibly cerebral. It is ever so clever. It just isn’t fucking funny.”

I am going to, in the main, stop my feeble attempts to harvest what I think to be interesting tidbits of unusual examples of the British vernacular. Instead, I am going to let the experts do that. The experts know the territory. The experts don’t stumble around like I do.

You are the experts.

Have at it. I can’t hold a candle to you, anyway. I am a babe in the woods, compared to you. Just let me moderate. Let me make commentary. Let me ask questions. Teach me about the real English language; the one that is still so very much alive and vibrant in your country’s ethnic subdivisions and neighborhoods; the language of my ancestors. Listening in on your talk among (amongst) yourselves, it is obvious you have no clue as to the incredible treasure you have inherited. Having grown up with it, you take it for granted. Time and distance has slowly alienated Americans (and, sadly, to a great extent, Canadians) from this birthright, little by little, over the years.

But I want to do more than try and learn to understand English. I want also to feel free to ask you questions about other things (besides language differences) I (and other Americans) have long been curious about but were afraid to ask. Or had no one to ask. Since I am far away and you can’t just reach out and slap me for asking stupid questions, let me give you an example of an American stupid question:

Just what exactly does being British mean, anyway?

I mean, you have your English, your Scots, your welsh, your Irish. But what is being British, exactly? Any random combination of the above? Hardly, I suspect. Those might even be fighting words to you. Hell, I don’t know. You have England. You have Britain. You have Great Britain. You have the UK (which I know is supposed to be followed by the words, “of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” Please bear with me. It has been many years since this stuff was crammed into my head as a 10-year-old in rural Michigan. I know about England and I know about Scotland. I know about at least one Act of Union. I don’t think there was actually an Act of Union when you got Wales so long ago. I think you just went and took it one afternoon. I know that what is now independent Ireland is no longer under British rule, although I don’t have a clue about the circumstances of the separation.

You see? There is much more fodder for this blog than simply teaching me real English (although that is still the biggest reason for this blog’s existance.) It seems to me that the enlightment of Americans' rather poor understanding of (some of) their ancestor’s culture, without restriction to only the language part of it, is a worthy purpose as well, and it occurs to me that this blog can serve as a vehicle to that worthy purpose. Talk about a run-on sentence, eh? No, I haven’t been drinking. It just strikes me as a good idea. Potential for more intellectual abuse by the ladies, as it were. Because, like it or not, with regard to knowing about their roots, Americans, in general at least, are dumber than stumps. Whatever you tell us, we’ll believe. It could be great sport for you.

So let’s begin our 4th day together with that new premise. No more restrictions as to subject matter. You talk, I’ll ask questions and make dumbass uninformed comments. It’ll be fun. You’ll see.

Start with the one I have already posed. What the hell, truly, is “British” anyway? Or what do you think it is? And don’t toy with me. Or do toy with me. Whatever.


  1. Not being either British or from any of the US of As, I'm not sure I'm even allowed in here. I'll risk it though. Since I was once married to a Brit - a Folk musician and cricketer, whose Mum was an English teacher, and with whom I produced 2 half-British brats - I feel British by proxy.
    What's British? According to my late ex - the sound of leather on willow.
    I've been lucky enough to be allowed to observe the British on their own turf, as it were...
    I've spent innumerable afternoons watching men in their whites standing around green fields, using words like silly mid-off, duck, maiden over, square leg and out for naught.
    Cricket may have come from India, but cricket is very, very British.
    So are fish and chips and Sunday dinners/lunches. Roast beef with gravy, veg and Yorkshire puds. Top it all off with sticky toffee pudding and you're all set for a trip down the pub.

    These are some of the observations I've been able to make, as a wog who was once allowed into the very core of true British family and social life...

  2. @stine

    Welcome to our new blog!

    Norway. Wow. I never cease to be amazed at the reach of entrecard. It may be pretty useless as an advertising tool right now, but it sure is bringing us together, isn't it?

    Please don't feel you can't visit us just because you aren't British or USAn--where do you think the British came from? Some of them at least. Vikings. Yo.

    We need you. We want you. Please visit us often. Please ask questions, too. The Brits are an odd lot; I'll bet you have some secret questions of your own.

    I love the pictures on your website. Is that you on the horse? If so, I'll have to introduce you to Trish.

    Thanks again for stopping by.

  3. @stine

    Forget to mention how much I loved your interesting and funny Britishisms. You've just got to stay with us.

  4. To toy or not to toy that is the question :)

    British to me:
    Only someone English would call themselves British or immigrants that have moved here and have become a British Citizen.

    I am more likely to call myself British then English, not sure why.

    Characteristics of being British, sarcastic,cheeky,miserable,complaining,loves a good double entendre (nudge nudge wink wink).

    I would happy to provide samples of english that I use for real, not just to wind up lovely over the ponders :)

    (take off comment moderation and word verification it annoys me!)


  5. @stine

    "British by Proxy"? Does that mean it rubbed off on you? No double entendre intended. Or as our "subtle Clair" (as we've begun to call her) might say, "nudge, nudge, wink, wink."


    See? I just knew you could be serious for a moment. But I don't want you to be. Only one serious sentence per comment, please. By the way, I think I am going to just start posting the words I don't understand as interjections within the main post of the day. That way the people who don't read our comments will get to see them. We are starting to build a sort of subculture down here in the comments section that the "just-passing-through" crowd is not pivvy to. Perhaps that's for the best, though. Plus, it will make you read my posts.

    Do you really want me to turn off moderation so all that commercial sewage and them porn invites can seep in? There are no depths to which the American spam industry will sink, you know. But perhaps some might be good for a laugh. And, if there is anyone I would love to see fully unleashed and unmoderated, it is you.

    So it's a quandary. I'll think about it.

    Don't say it Max. Don't say it. "A bit of a sticky wicket" is what I mean. (Slap.) I told you not to say it. Don't try and fit in, Max. You're not one of them. They won't think you're cool for trying..


  6. @stine

    I meant "forgot".

    Your daughter is ever so talented, by the way.

    Oh. I get it. That's the same horse as the on your entrecard widget. How pretty! Tell us about her.

  7. @ stine

    I meant "one on". Will stop now.

  8. @ claire

    "Cheeky", eh? Yesterday at this same time, I would have quickly boasted, "I know what that one means!"

    Not today. I won't touch that one with a 10 foot pole. Christ. Even 10 foot pole sounds like a double entendre. You have me paranoid. Backed up against the wall. Afraid to comment. Right where you wanted me in the first place. How easy I must seem to you.

  9. Good Boy for removing the comment moderation, next shall be the word verification! Not that I am bossy but well you did mention the whips and chains.

  10. Ok, Claire. We'll see. But right now I need you to drag your whips and chains over to my post of a few minutes ago and tell me what's going wrong. I'm not making any headway here. Thanks!

    (What the fuck are you talking about "verification"? Am I blind, or what? What is Google doing to me now? Ok, I'll go look.)

  11. @claire.

    Oh. You mean the verification word you have to type in. No fuckin' way. Have you never woken up to a zillion pornspams placed overnight by robots? If I have to get spammed and read idiotic drivel from time to time, at least it's gonna be from humanoids. Sorry.

  12. WELSH. Not 'welch'. That's a verb and has nothing to do with coming from Wales.
    Grrrrrrrr. I might not guest post for you if you mess up /that/ badly.
    (I'm Welsh. Can you tell?)

    Nothing else to comment on this apart from the fact that the same debate about what it means to be British is going on all over the UK media at the mo. Check http://news.bbc.co.uk - there's a debate on there somewhere.

  13. Hmmm, well, your post made me feel quite exhausted just reading it!

    I don't consider myself British by the way. I was born in England and am English. As most people would consider themselves Welsh, Scottish, Irish...I only use British when stating citizenship, it's just a collective term for all of us.

    What's British/English? Well, certainly the old chesnuts, fish and chips, cricket etc etc, but other than that self deprecation, weather obsession, sarcasm, subtlety.

    Btw, if I'd been in the same room as that King bloke I would have had an insane desire to stab him in the forehead with a blunt spoon, but hey, that's just me.

    If you invite me back again, maybe I'll toy with you and give you a quick Elizabeth I - James I & VI history lesson another day :)

  14. If you get loads of spam I will eat my hat or something?

  15. Very nice, thoughtful, informative comment, Alison. I applaud you. Fish and chips, cricket, self-deprecation (???) weather obsession--I'm writing this all down in my little notebook--sarcasm (no!), subtlety. The tears are starting to well up now. I love it. Alison baring her soul. You're so sweet. But what I really mean to ask was--let me try and phrase this more clearly this time--"What is the geographical makeup of your country? What countries does Britain CONSIST of? England and Wales? Then GREAT Britain is England, Wales, and Scotland? Right? Then, the UK is England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland? Have I guessed right? I was just wanting to get a handle on the historic progression of the current land makeup--how your country came into being, geographically speaking, over the years, and when each was acquired and/or united. I was interested in learning this so my face wouldn't go blank and my eyes glass over if the subject ever came up in conversation, like most American's faces and eyes would do today. Geez.

    But you know what, I"m GLAD I phrased the question incorrectly. I've gleaned ever so much more interesting information from all of you about what BEING British means, than I could have otherwise have hoped to get. Thanks again.

    Finally, dear, dear Alison, just because I am American doesn't NECESSARILY mean that I am automatically without any education whatsoever. EVERYBODY knows that James VI became James I and that he is one and the same guy. (Don't they?) And even Cambodians know who you people named Virginia after when you first came over here and cleared the land for us to later live on. Thank you for that, by the way.

    Alison has gone to sleep. I'm waiting for American Idol to come on. If Alison ever truly gets angry and leaves for good, I swear I'll close this blog in a minute.

    Shorter posts. I hear you.

  16. @catherine

    Yes, I know. I've already made the spelling correction in the post. Please give me the benefit of the doubt when I tell you it was a typing fingers error and not a lack of knowledge error. And I just absolutely know that you would never welch. So I can hold you to that football post, then? I hope? Take your time. Write about all the intricate details of the possible variations. I am truly interested. Sod the others if they aren't as well. (I believe in using new words when I learn them. Or was that incorrect usage?)

    If I am lucky enough for you to actually write a post, just send it to me in an email to the dumbass@boomerwebusa.com

    Pretty please.

    You have, of course, oppened up yet another line of questioning as to how you ended up in Northern Ireland. But I suppose that is a story for another day.

  17. Relax Max, (yes I'm putting an emphasis on the first part of your name) I was going with the comments flow with my British comments! Yes the UK is made up of all of those places and you are right so you can rest easy ;)

    Plus, that's not quite what I meant about James, it was the unification of England and Scotland etc etc Great Britain blah blah blah United Kingdom blah.......I know I hear the zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz coming from you - so I shall go away again and see if you still want me to visit.

  18. No Z's here, Alison. I'm interested. I remember Braveheart and all the QE-1s (Judy Dench, Cate B, and that recent one who sort of looks like your current queen. Even Bettie Davis.) So I am aware, somewhat, that there was sort of a spat of sorts back then. I remember Bess' cousin getting her head lopped off and all. Not sure how Scotland ended up with the upper hand though. England seemed to kicking their butts in all the movies I saw. But, being an American and all, I have only the movies to go by, and some assert they are not always accurate in every respect. Someday I'll crack a book on the subject. zzzzzzzzz. Sorry. Where was I? Oh, I was going to say I would much prefer a castle guide to tudor me on the true inside story. Tudor. Get it? nudge nudge wink wink.

    I know. That was ugli.



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