Saturday, March 22, 2008

Down and Dirty, If You Please!

In addition to constantly asking you and everyone else I meet to give me examples of interesting British slang and British euphemisms, I have of course been independently scouring blogs and online reference materials on my own. In the beginning I had no real vision of the specific categories of slang I wanted to collect--anything and everything was fine by me. But I did want it to be funny. Or at least interesting. Or somehow curious.

There have been many words and phrases that I have come across that are clever. But I am finding that "clever" is apparently not the precise criterion for the book I envison. I just realized that. Cockney rhyming slang is clever. To some, at least. But that's not the book I want to write.

Being an American male who is anticipating marketing a product to (probably) mostly American males, I have made myself stop and ask the obvious question: "What do I myself find interesting and humorous?" The answer is important because I myself represent the target audience. More specifically I must ask, "What would I pick up and buy if I saw it staring back at me from a shelf at my local bookstore?"

I am beginning to see a pattern here. At the same time, I am starting to see why it is so difficult for you to offer me suggestions. This difficulty stems from the fact that not only are we separated by a common language, we are also separated by two very divergent cultures in general. By that I don't mean to imply that we don't have common roots; we do--in many, many areas. But we have, over many years, grown very much apart in many cultural aspects. It is becoming more and more plain to me that one of those cultural aspects is humor.

Did we ever have humor in common? Truly? I don't know. What I seem to be hearing from the British is that American humor is direct and coarse and doesn't make one think at all. On the other hand, what I am personally seeing in British humor is that witty-ness and cleverness is more prized; one is supposed to have to think before he "gets" the joke. In other words, it goes back to that Alan King story I was talking about yesterday. ("British humor 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.”)

Why am I bringing this up again? Because what I as an American thinks is funny defines the kinds of British slang and euphemisms I want to collect and write about.

Many of the things that you have shared with me over the past couple of weeks have been ever so clever and interesting. I especially liked, for whatever reason, things like "knackered" and "bugger this for a game of soldiers." Even though neither will make an American audience drop to their knees holding their sides or make tears run down their faces; they are still humorous enough to make it into said "An American's Tongue-In-Cheek Guidebook to British Slang." If there is one point that I would like to communicate with this post, it is the point that MUCH of your slang WOULD make an American laugh. Not chuckle. Not titter. Not cluck. LAUGH. Frankly, that probably wouldn't include "bollocks" (although, since I personally really like that one, it would almost surely make it into such a book), and it probably wouldn't include Brass Monkeys and/or their brass balls. That's clever. It made me chuckle. I'm not looking to chuckle. I'm looking to laugh out loud so that the other bookstore patrons will look over at me disapprovingly.

So, today and for the next few days, I hope you will allow me to gently steer you in the right direction by giving you some examples of British slang that an American male would think are funny. You will quickly get the idea and you will quickly come to understand the criteria. Happily, there is really only one criterion: the material must be outrageously off-color. See? That wasn't hard, was it? No oblique references, none of those cutesy ever-present double entendres. Just say something like, "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, who had so many children her cunt fell off." That's all. Only say it using those unfamiliar British words, like "Mimsey."

Here I must hasten to remind you that I am speaking only of the American male of the species. American females won't buy this book, probably--at least not in as large numbers as men. Their men will buy it and, when they bring it home, the ladies will read it. They will read it and they will roll their eyes up to the ceiling and they will shake their heads. And they will say, "This is terrible!" "This is disgusting!" Because that's what American women do, by and large.

So if you understand clearly that our target audience is the younger, reasonably-affluent, book-buying American male, then we have come to a real understanding. Because we suddenly see our common bond: young American males and young British males both enjoy vulgar humor and shocking potty talk. That's all. We've never really grown up. We're still in school with our buddies. So, once we know what we are searching for, of course that search will become easier.

Let me turn aside one last time and quicky add that I am not looking for pure gutter talk and filth here. Absolutely not. I do not want vile words just for the sake of shock value. I am very overly guilty of that kind of thing in my own writing, and that is NOT the kind of thing I want included in this book. But outrageous British euphemisms for those various acts and deeds? Absolutely!

Have we had a meeting of the minds, finally? I have only last evening clarified my own thinking. I was going through page after page of (a rather boring but very comprehensive) compendium of British slang last night. And out of over a hundred examples found on the first few pages, there were only about seven or eight that I thought, "That's cool! That's funny! An American would snicker at that and read it to his buddy at the office." To make it even easier, I quickly found that all these "good" examples fell into the same general category: they had direct American equivalents, and they were mostly concerning your basic bodily functions, or various sexual acts, or words which describe people who were somehow "different" than the rest of us. Why is that funny to males of most nationalities? If you have to ask, you're not a male. I say that because the real answer is, "I don't know."

But that's what we're after. And ladies, since you are the very bedrock, reason, purpose, and source of male humor, you simply must stay here in the room with us and inspire us. Please. I'm serious. We can't do this without your feedback. Not in a million years. If men don't think it is hilariously off-color they probably won't laugh out loud. But they also need biofeedback from the ladies: if the ladies don't cluck and shake their heads in (feinted) disgust, and roll those eyes, and tell us how juvenile we are...well how will we know how juvenile we are? You simply must stay with us. Women may not understand why men think certain things are funny, but they damn sure know exactly what those things are. Help us out here.

I am now going to list a few of those terms I extracted from that compendium of British slang that I think are humorous to an American male, and which have definite American equivalents that Americans can quickly relate to.

1. Brit. "Floating an air biscuit." Amer. "Cutting the cheese."
2. Brit. "Arse-bandit." Amer. "Fudge-packer."
3. Brit. "Arse-licker." Amer. "Brown noser."
4. Brit. "Aussie kiss." Amer. No literal equivalent. We just say "eating it" or "going down on her". Nothing nearly as clever as your referral to Australia being "down under."
5. Brit. "Baby batter/baby gravy." Amer. "Jizz. Cream. Load. Scum. and more."
6. Brit. "Bang one out." as in "Steve watched Bay Watch on TV and then banged one out before his mum came home." Amer. (far too many American euphemisms for male masturbation to list here.)

Hello? Hello? Anyone still out there?

Ladies, before you slam the door behind you, let me truthfully inform you that every single example listed above came directly out of the prestigious BBC and PBS compendium of British slang. So sit your lovely behinds back down and let's get to work. Guys and gals, now that you know what we're looking for, it's time to search the back corners of your minds for cute descriptions of various acts, deeds, and natural body functions. "Take a piss" is so mundane. "Take a leak" is even more mundane. So Americans say, "Drain my radiator." "Got to go see a man about a horse." "Tap a kidney." And many more. I'm not saying it HAS to be some sort of bodily function. That's just to get you started.

Let's get at it. Last one to comment is a bag of _________ (what?) And, while you're at it, please don't neglect the most interesting natural bodily function of them all, ok?

[He waits anxiously to see what happens. Will they respond? Will they participate? Or has he finally pushed them over the edge? Perhaps the Aussies will leave. (btw: Austr. "ankle-biter". Amer. "Rug rat.") But I'm betting neither the Americans or British will leave. God, I hope not! Please, people, make my email dinger go off. Don't leave me hanging here holding my breath...]


  1. Interesting post.

    Speaking as a Brit who would like both British and American surfers to enjoy his humour (humor) or in fact anyone in the world, galaxy or universe, your article left me quite despondent.

    On a daily basis, I wrestle with little red lines under words in Blogger where no little red lines should be because I've signed up to UK English. (I think Blogger language systems are broke (broken) at the moment.

    To imagine that I have also to consider that my sayings and cliches must be translated every which way tempts me to reach for the Old People's Home Application Form in defeat.

    (Aaaargh, I've just noticed a red line under 'cliches'!)

    But there is a glimmer of sunshine seeping into my consciousness.

    According to my text book on writing, cliches and commonly used phrases are a poor and uninteresting form of writing.

    Perhaps there is yet a chance for me.

    How about this for 'blue sky thinking'.

    Writing for an American audience, I use British cliches.

    Writing for an English audience, I use American cliches.

    Both nationalities will think I'm totally innovative ... Yippee!

    The clouds have rolled back!

    There is a new dawn!

    I'm going to be rich :-)


    Now where's that Old People's Home Application form, they said I must fill it in.

    I don't want to get into trouble with nursee.

  2. Ah, Rob.

    Do I detect a dribble of intelligence oozing out of the vast cesspool that is our internet? That will never do, Rob. You'll go insane. Get in the boat with the rest of us and let us all drift down that polluted river together, holding hands and wistfully singing "We Shall Overcome.."

    We shan't you know. They have taken it all away from us. When you do make to that nursing home, you'll find old Max sitting in the corner with a sad smile on his tired dog-like countenance. Fuck the spell-checker, says I. Write the way you were taught and let them all be damned.

    Try not to think of them as cliches, Rob. Think of them as a delightful rainbow which colors our otherwise dreary HumanSpeak.

    Thanks for your company at 5 am in the USA mountain west.

  3. I was going to offer "Point Percy at porcelain", but on looking up its origins I found a host more from the same source (Barry Humphries):
    "Now listen mate, I need to splash the boots. You know, strain the potatoes. Water the horses. You know, go where the big knobs hang out. Shake hands with the wife's best friend? Drain the dragon? Siphon the python? Ring the rattlesnake? You know, unbutton the mutton? Like, point Percy at the porcelain?"

    OK, can we move on to grown-up subjects soon? ;)

  4. Why, it's Lady Marmelade! Things are looking up, now! :) How are you this morning.

    I was about to ask you what you are doing up so early, but then it isn't early there, is it. Probably noon already, or thereabouts.

    "Spend a penny." Help!

    She must know he spends LOTS of pennies, he thinks. So it must mean something sly or profoundly insightful. Pause, while he opens his trusty BBC British slang dictionary. Hmmmm. "Spend a penny..." He's guessing she wouldn't yet bother to read that lengthy post, so it probably isn't vulgar. Have patience, my dear. Don't give up on me...Let's see now..."Sparrowfart", "Spatchcock", "Spearchucker",....ah, yes, "Spend a Penny!"

    Marmelade! You do yourself proud this morning! Absolutely in context. And therefore, you must have read that awful (and I don't really mean to say "awfully, Rob) long post! Marmelade, I think I love you! That's one that is going in the book, I promise. Won't you make a pledge to put up with my mouth and stay and play with us a while longer? I LOVE the stuff you've come up with so far! You're like a breath of fresh are. [She thinks he's on another sarcastic rant, again. He's not.]


    May I start over? That was really an interesting phrase. I honestly hadn't heard that one before. And I'll bet it is pretty common, too. Right?

  5. Good morning A.!

    I dunno--that "shaking hands with the wife's best friend" sounds pretty grown up to me!


    It's all babble, dear a. I must wait for Linda to show up. Unless you would yourself care to enlighten? That would be even better, because I wouldn't have to wait! :)

  6. My dear Max,
    This morning I woke up (quite late, the question is, what were you doing there so early) with a strong desire to both update myself on your delightfully nonsensical dangerously dirty content of your mind, and well, spend a penny. I did it in that particular order.

    Now, this is the highest compliment I have ever payed, sir. Don't let me down!

  7. Dear A.

    Upon re-reading your post again 23 times, my poor football brain has reinflated just enough to detect that there is a definite pattern in your examples. And, after only 3 more readings, old Max perceives that pattern.

    Bravo, a.! And I though Americans had lots of ways to say that same thing! But, no!--babes in the woods peeing on the trees, it seems.

    Siphon the python? Oh, a.! Indeed we must move on to a higher order of body functions here. Everybody agree?

  8. I won't let you down, Marmelade. Promise.

    So he goes into the bedroom. Still dark.

    Wife, sleepily: "What are you doing up so early?"

    Max: "That's what Marmelade just asked, too."

    Wife: "Wha?"

    Relax Max: I have to spend a penny.

    Wife, still asleep: "Wha?"

    Max: "Spend a penny."

    Wife, raising her head now: "On what?"

    Max: "I dunno. Guess that's what it used to cost in England to take a leak."

    Wife: back asleep already. If she asks, I'll tell her she must have been dreaming.

  9. Mmmm, changing the subject a bit and probably going off topic. (What was the topic?)

    ... Er, probably wandering a bit, here!

    Ah yes, your picture of Mrs Thatcher.

    I'm afraid I've just wrecked my laptop screen by using her photo for darts practice. Three direct hits :-) Pretty good, eh?

    Er, are you a relative? 'Cos I was wondering whether she would send me the funds for a new one :-)

    I saw somebody at a folk festival in Sidmouth, UK, a few weeks back with a T-Shirt proudly stating 'I Still Hate Thatcher'. I noticed people were stopping and congratulating him so he had some support.

    Hey, here's another idea. Why not find a photo of somebody hated fanatically by right wingers in Britain, as well, and make a totally clean sweep of your potential Brit audience.

    To be honest, I don't really hate Mrs Thatcher or get anger attacks anymore ... Well, as long as I keep taking the pills and visit my counsellor twice a week.


    Oh well, banned from another blog.

    Never mind. I can still enjoy singing - even if the other residents don't.

    "We shall overcome. We shall overcome."


    Oh! Oh!

  10. Calling Connecticut. Are you there yet Linda-Susie? Rise and shine. It's 8:30 there. Come talk to us!

    Any of the servants there? Anyone?

  11. Rob, you'll never be banned. Not for darting Maggie, anyway. In order to reconcile her puzzling presence on my pitiful little blog, you'll have to backtrack through several day's post until you see the conversations where the ladies order me to take my beloved floozy down off my header. Something about her despicable red triangle being photoshopped on. Even though I had chosen her for her Union tank top, and not her red knickers--who they mob claimed were not knickers at all--they insisted I replace the floozie with something more suitable for such a high-class blog. Then, having further photoshopped some suitable Easter flowers over the sad red triangle, I attempted to reinstate my Floozie in her proper place. But then the word brazilian came up, and I simply left her lying at the top of a recent post, waiting for another chance. Are sure you want to hear the whole story about this, Rob? Maggie and Eleanor (Roosevelt) are my revenge on these prudish British Lady complainers. Actually I think it was the American ladies, now that I think about it...

  12. PS, Rob...if you haven't yet found someone to hate, you apparently haven't yet perused my most recent post. There's plenty of him to go around for everyone.

  13. It just occurred to me that it would probably have been much more cleaver of me to just lie to Rob and tell him this was an ultra-conservative blog and that we all loved and revered Lady Thatcher here and how dare you...

    Well. Too late now, I suppose.

  14. Or "clever" either one. (Rob is paranoid about his spell checker, so I wanted to clarify that I had truly misspelled that word. :)

  15. Dear Rob:

    I just re-read that earlier post, and find it really confusing and run-on. May I clarify?

    You are looking at Lady Thatcher's picture on the header of my blog because certain regular visitors to this blog are being punished for their sexist intolerance and general potty mouthing.

  16. Calling New York. Aerten? Calling Albany. Are you up yet, Aerten? Come play with us.

    Wake up and smell the Hudson, Aerten.

  17. Yes, yes, Max. Aerten is here. Slept in late, which is something I hardly ever do any more.

    I have a question, though. Do you really want to limit your compendium of phrases to those pertaining to bodily functions? Because, personally, I find things like putting the bumbershoot in the boot to be pretty funny. On the other hand, I am not your target audience, being a female American.

    And really, my sense of humor is so damaged that I think the word "spleen" is hysterically funny.

    So carry on.

    I'm going to drop a few more cards, then spend the day watching Battlestar Galactica and create art.

  18. @Aerten. Points well taken. You are right, of course. On both counts. Must market to everyone. Must not simply talk about bodily functions. Found that out already, by the way. Strange how that seemed like a good idea at 3am this morning. But then, so did Dubya. :) Go figure.

    That's why I feel this project will be successful--My friends are here to gently guide me down a more sane path. Thanks.

    See you when you get back.

  19. I would gladly help with the rude stuff :)

    Especially how to fob off those wankers that try it on.

  20. I was just going to say that. Fob off those wankers. (Linda?) (Please?)



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