I picked up an interesting book the other day. “Let’s Talk Turkey; The Stories behind America’s Favorite Expressions”, by Rosemarie Ostler. You’d think, since I’ve lived in the States for almost twenty years I’d know most of them. Hmmm, it appears not.
Until a few days ago I had no idea what “being behind the eight ball” meant, even though it’s quite a common American phrase. I’d have guessed it was a good position to be in, but no, in fact it means quite the opposite. If you’re behind the eight ball, you’re in serious trouble, or a tricky situation.
OK, what about a “bum’s rush? No – get your minds out of the gutter, it means to be forcibly ejected from somewhere or told to leave in a hurry. Remember, the American word “bum” means a tramp rather than a posterior, so the bum’s rush derives from wanting to rid a place of undesirable characters.
And Brit’s, what do you think you’d be being asked for if someone requested your John Hancock? It hardly bears thinking about really does it? John Hancock was one of the founders of the United States and the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Apparently from the late nineteenth century onwards, John Hancock has been slang for one’s signature. A bit like Cockney rhyming slang without the rhyming.
And finally, the one that I still have to think about although I probably hear it at least once a week, “crying Uncle”. That’s the verb “crying” rather than the adjective. Apparently Mike couldn’t believe that his English wife had never heard this, so common is it in the US. And there’s absolutely no guessing what it could mean. Similar to “crying wolf” perhaps? No – not even warm. It means to surrender or ask for mercy. I would give you the origin but there are so many versions I’d be over my word count.
Toni skated up to the edge of some smutty words but in this half, we’re going to dive right in:
This word is an amazement to me over here for a number of reasons. First, although it is not something you’d hear at a royal banquet, unless Prince Philip was there, it is definitely used more in conversation here than it is in The States. It doesn’t have quite the same sting here; it’s a more friendly pejorative than its colonial cousin.
Also, there’s the matter of pronunciation. Typically, the Brits use softer versions of words and leave the sharpened consonants to us Americans. Bahth is a typical example, which I pronounce bath, with a shortened, sharper “a”. In the case of Twat, however, the Americans pronounce it Twot, with a rounded vowel, giving it the weight of seriousness, whereas the Brits use the more playful, but typically American, “at” sound.
The use is different, as well. While it is used as a euphemism for a woman’s “bottom front” in both countries, in Britain, it also means a disagreeable or silly person, irrespective of gender. It’s the type of jibe a friend might throw at you if you’re acting up: “Stop being such a twat!”
You don’t call a woman a twat in The States unless you want her to introduce her high heels to your groin area.
And I won’t even go into the “C” word.
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