Weird Things Americans Say

Having my first book edited has pretty much brought home the fact that my linguistic abilities are seriously messed up.

I blame the British.   

With their weird grammar and random additions of vowels, it’s not surprising I’ve lost the plot. Which means, uh, gone a little mad. My poor editor…

But since I have complained about the British and their odd grammar habits, I think it only fair that I point out a few of OUR odd habits. Especially the rather strange things we say.

For instance, one day in conversation I referred to something as a doohicky. Now, any self-respecting red-blooded American knows exactly what a doohicky is. No explanation needed. However, it is completely foreign to the British ear. The poor man looked completely baffled. “Doohicky?” he repeated, as if not quite sure he’d heard me right. “Whatever is a doohicky?”

How to explain a doohicky? “Ummm…” I began (most intelligently), “it’s a doodad.” More bafflement. “A thingamajig. A thingy. A whatsit.” I think he finally got it, but I’m not really sure. Hopefully he didn’t think it was anything dirty. That would have been embarrassing.

The second odd thing Americans say isn’t really something most Americans say at all. It’s something my soul sister Sheena started and which proud tradition I have continued. When surprised by something, rather than saying the typical, “Oh, my gosh,” one says, “Oh, Mylanta!” British friends have found this odd. Probably because they don’t actually know what Mylanta is until I explain it. Which makes it much less funny.

One of my more embarrassing moments happened shortly after moving to London. I was in a conversation with a group of people and commented that I needed to stop fannying about and get with the program. Admittedly, this is not a particularly common phrase even in the good old USA, but it raised quite a few eyebrows. Fanny means something entirely different in British. Something entirely rude, I might add.

The first time I asked for toilet paper, no one knew what on earth I was talking about. Despite the fact that “toilet paper” was written in big letters over the paper products aisle at the grocery store. I know better now. I ask for “toilet roll”. Or if I’m feeling posh, it’s “loo roll”.

The way I pronounce towns sends everyone into either fits of giggles or ardent rapture. Evidently I make Doncaster sound exotic. Which takes some doing as I’ve been to Doncaster and it’s far from exotic. They’ve also decided Seattle sounds better when I say it, too. Naturally. I know how to say it properly.

I want to take this moment to let all my American readers know that I have yet to hear a British person use the word “smashing” as an exclamation except as a joke. No one under 80 says “jolly good” or “toodle pip”. And they still laugh at me every time I say “awesome”.

How about you? Any funny words or phrases from your neck of the woods? I promise not to laugh. Much.

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4 thoughts on “Weird Things Americans Say

  1. Never really figured out why woods have necks, but I guess that’s just one more attraction of the English language.

    The English lanuage, of course, is one of the great gifts to humanity. Just wish you Americans would leave it alone! 🙂

    I must admit the first time I read about a fanny bag I was mystified as to why the male character would be carrying a hold-all for sanitary towels, and I still need a glossary to read most Grisham novels with their southern states settings and weird foods.

    The big question, as we move inexorably to a digital reading world where one book can be simultaneously available in all English-speaking countries, is how much our language will drift into a universal English, perhaps quite distinct from British English or American English as we know it today.

  2. Hey Mark,

    Well, you know us Americans. We just like to improve things. 🙂

    To be honest, I think we’re already seeing the drift. In just the last five years I’ve noticed more “Americanisms” slipping into everyday British English. Mostly due to the popularity of certain American television shows. More and more people back home are starting to embrace “Britishisms” as people begin discovering the joy of English telly (Doctor Who, anyone?). I personally speak Manglish (mangled English).

    The beauty of language is that it’s constantly evolving. I say bring it! I wonder if in another 100 years whether anyone then would be able to understand us now?

    Tally ho, and all that!

  3. Hi Shea,
    Who says ‘whatever’ any more? You sure you haven’t punched a hole in the space/time continuum and been transported back to the 1800s? 🙂
    Come up to yorkshire. We’ll sort you right out! 🙂
    By the way, I know what a doohickey is. same for doodad, thingumy, wotsit, wotjacallit and all the rest. I use them all the time! Must be my love of American Movies. Or maybe I’m just inarticulate hahaha

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