Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Getting back on topic for just a minute...

I remember when I first started this blog as a means of collecting some of the differences between British English and American English (hence the name of the blog), and how I used to just ask you to give me words that were different. Looking back, that was pretty naive: how could you know? You had no idea that you talked funny! Of course, we came up with a pretty long list of the obvious words and phrases that both of us know are different. Then we involved the Australians and South Africans a bit, because their English derived from your brand, mostly (I didn't think of India for some reason, but we had one Indonesian.) But those had drifted a bit far afield from the way you speak today. Australian is pretty much a world of it's own, for example. We put together quite a list, though, before I stopped asking you to think of words for me.

Most of you know I have never stopped collecting your words though; I just learned that the only way to do it was to have written "conversations" with you, and then pore over what you write, both to me and in your blog posts. By doing this, I finally began to get what I was really looking for - the TRUE differences in the way we speak, and the REAL words and phrases you use every day; words that you have no idea are different to an American's ear. I have been skulking you. But most of you know that. Anyway, my collection is of much higher quality now.

From time to time, I need to ask you what something means, when I can't find the word or phrase in one of those special "dictionaries" or when it isn't obvious from the context. Today is one of those days. I think I know what the phrase means, but I want to make sure, and it isn't in the special dictionary that I could see. Here are a couple of extracts from my (our) friend Sage's blog today. Help me on these, please.

1. "Nothing could be done in the dark, so we had a couple of portable fires to warm up the bedroom and living room but we were still very cold when we went to bed..."

2. "I made roast chicken for tea, with roasted potatoes and carrots... and served them with some mashed swede. I should have also done some runner beans but forgot."

Okay, I'm guessing the first is what we would call "space heaters", but I want to make sure. Swede, I remember from before. Runner beans I've forgot if I ever knew.

I am reluctant to just ask Sage on her blog because it will sound stupid to her readers in the comments.

Okay, now I will go back off-topic as usual tomorrow.


  1. Portable fires, well I'd call them fan heaters, or (bottled) gas heaters, or paraffin heaters, or whatever they happened to be. But let's be honest, portable fires gives a much more interesting mental image, now doesn't it?

    Runner beans are more of a problem. They aren't French beans or haricots verts. They're flat, but not flat beans if you're French. Do you know the variety "Scarlet Runners"? No? Does green bean mean anything to you? Phaseolus coccineus. Look it up. I've just read that in the USA people think it's a flower.

  2. Mmmmm! runner beans, fresh picked, young ones (leave them too log before picking and they go stringy. Just steam them briefly, melt a knob of butter on them and serve.
    The bit A forgets to mention is that you eat them complete with the pods.
    Oh.. and a little coarse-ground black pepper.

    As for portable fires? nope. Nobody I know would ever use that phrase. We'd look blankly puzzled.
    We know the difference between a heater and a fire.
    Zippo make portable fires.

  3. Yup portable fires make me think of lighters or those gas camp stoves. But then again, now that I think about it, my Granddad has an electric heater, which is portable and looks like a fire. Hmmm...

  4. 'Portable fires' sounds like a term used in certain parts only and must refer to any sort of portable heater.

    'Runner beans' are just disgusting!

  5. I like runner beans :( Re fires - what A. said.

  6. @A. - Thanks. I think. :) I think I understand now.

    @Soubriquet - Well, thank you for the beans and the Zippo. :)
    Actually, I just found out that the beans are used as and economic energy source for olympic marathon participants, hence the name. Though some say the name derives from the fact that they easily damage nylon stocking if one weeds the garden wearing those.

    @Caroline - I think I will give up ever knowing for sure. Maybe it is a brand name for a space heater. And the beans? No comment? I googled portable fires and all they showed was outdoor fake campfires or like those little bbq pans. I don't think you would heat a bedroom with one of those

    @Adullamite - I think you are right about the heaters. Runner beans are disgusting? I think they are just pole beans. Long grean beans that you break up and cook. But there is a kind of more flat green beam I have seen and that might be it.

    @Alison - Thank you Alison. That was quite helpful. :)

  7. Those of us raised in the South have the term "runner beans." And you're right, they're just pole beans. You put them on stakes and string, and the plants "run" up the string.



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