Press-Republican

Columns

May 30, 2012

Mother instilled love for British heritage, language

Britain and America have fought side by side in skirmishes since 1859, and a special friendship has developed, especially in World War II.

For my family, the friendship is personal, because we share British blood. My dad, Artie McGibbon, who was in the Army during World War II, met my mother, Jean Johnson, and they married in 1945 in England.

My mother has made sure we know and experience the English customs and we love them: tea in china cups, egg and chips (French fries) for supper, bangers and mash (English sausages and mashed potatoes), Yorkshire pudding and Christmas crackers (paper cylinders you pull like a wishbone; little presents and a “silly hat” fly out).

The English language — the “real” English language — has been part of our upbringing. When we question my mother about the way she pronounces certain words (i.e., “laBORatory” or “zed”), she’ll say, “I speak the queen’s English. I don’t know what English you are speaking,” with a raise of the eyebrows.

Enter the “UK to US Dictionary” by Claudine Dervaes and John Hunter. A copy landed on our editor’s desk, and it lines right up with our family’s experiences.

Common words Americans use become something else in England, such as lawyer becomes barrister, a bird is a woman, bitters are popular ales, and don’t dare say “bloody” because it’s a curse word. How about “Bob’s your uncle,” which means everything is good; or the bonnet as the hood of the car; and the boot is the trunk. Tell someone “On your bike,” and you’re telling them to go away.

My grandmother Johnson’s nickname was Nellie, but she had nothing to do with the phrase “Not on your nellie,” which is saying, “No way!” The loo is the restroom, and your lughole is your ear. A nipper is a young boy or girl, and a nosey parker is an inquisitive person. If you are knackered, you’re tired.

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