By in Humor

Butt, Fanny!! We Don't Speak the Same English!

I have many friends and acquaintances whose first language is English, but they are not from the United States. They are English, Australian, Irish, New Zealanders, Scottish, Canadian, and more.

As a little girl, I read many stories written by authors from these countries, so I realized that American (US) English was not always the same as British English, which was spoken elsewhere.

I remembering feeling a bit more "cultured" when I was able to recognize (recognise) the differences, utilize (utilise) them when I wrote, and find some humor (humour) in how I might use other words strategically, though defined much differently in common language. The difference? The country where it was spoken.

I read a post by a fellow writer on another site where she used the terms, "water infections" and "my waters." This was new for me, though I easily understood what she was relating based on my own experience.

In this case, she was referring to urinary tract infections (UTIs). Here in the US we are much more "clinical" and less genteel about it, especially when we are referring to this bodily function and fluid.

Medical professionals, including doctors, will ask, "Is there blood in your urine?" or "Does it burn when you pee?"

Over the years, I have learned that the words and phrases we use in different English-speaking countries can get us into some trouble or be confusing, at best.

Consider the words used to describe the part of the body upon which one sits: Bottom, backside, butt, bum, behind, rear, buttock, rear end, ass, arse, fanny and tush. One of these words is a label for a different part of the body in some countries.

"You four--George, Fanny, Pat and Bo! Get off your ass, go to the bottom, pick up any butts you may find, put them in your fanny pack, get back on your ass, and come back in from the rear!" might frighten one who is not well-versed in all the meanings each of these words may have.

Bo (a student from China) watches the others for clues, and follows their lead: He dismounts the pack mule, walks to the depth of the canyon, picks up any cigarette filters thrown by smokers, put them in the waist pack attached to his belt until the litter can be disposed of properly, and gets back up on the animal to ride back up to the top, and rejoins the team at the back of the line, along with George (on holiday from England), Fanny (the 80-year-old adventurer from the Midwestern US who was named for her great-grandmother), and Pat (from New York City).

Is it any wonder that non-native English speakers who are learning it as their second language might have problems with this language? Even those of us who do speak English as our native tongue would interpret the statement very differently.

I think it is about time I share some of my stories about how I learned some of these differences. One involved the Australian Navy in 1980. The other is from a 1999 Christmas holiday I took in London, when asking for directions from a proper, British woman.

Until then, it is time I rattle my dags, even though my dogs are barking, or I will have to stay on my own ass until I get it all done.

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Adapted from original piece originally written at Bubblews on March 10, 2014

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paigea wrote on June 14, 2015, 9:14 PM

That is an entertaining way to point out these word meanings.

CoralLevang wrote on June 14, 2015, 11:27 PM

Thank you paigea . It seemed like it needed to be said! LOL

wolfgirl569 wrote on June 14, 2015, 11:29 PM

Yes our english can be very confusing to some one learning it.

CalmGemini wrote on June 14, 2015, 11:59 PM

Now I am eagerly looking forward to all the articles you will be writing about the usage of '' English " in different parts of the world-especially about your Christmas holiday in London.

valmnz wrote on June 15, 2015, 1:40 AM

I confess American English is a mystery to me at times, especially the spelling! I know what you mean though, coming from down though, we do have a slang of our own - slang, not accepted English - so I know about rattle your days 😊

valmnz wrote on June 15, 2015, 1:41 AM

Sorry, I meant rattle your dags

BarbRad wrote on June 15, 2015, 2:36 AM

I love your examples. Have you ever read Marvin Terban's books about the peculiarities of our language? They are for kids, but have illustrations of literal meanings of common idioms, homonyms, and other confusing words. I just featured these on a page on my new website.

MegL wrote on June 15, 2015, 2:44 AM

Yes, I have used fanny pack and bum bag recently in a post. They mean the same thing but have very different meaning s in US and UK! Very funny post!

CoralLevang wrote on June 15, 2015, 5:10 AM

As an ESL teacher/conversation coach, I was the one that was honest about what things meant. Helping others to understand the "swear" words keeps them out of trouble. None of us should try to swear in another language. It just doesn't work well. LOL

CoralLevang wrote on June 15, 2015, 5:11 AM

Oh, goodness! I shall embarrass the hell out of myself. emoticon :winking:

CoralLevang wrote on June 15, 2015, 5:14 AM

It was a C130 Kiwi pilot, Brian M., who taught me about "rattling my dags" and also pavlova. Let's just say the uncooked pavlova was all over the ceiling and walls Ah! I was in my mid-20s and life was carefree when I was stationed in Hawaii.

CoralLevang wrote on June 15, 2015, 5:15 AM

Thanks, BarbRad . I have not heard of them, but shall have to look them up. I would probably like them.

CoralLevang wrote on June 15, 2015, 5:15 AM

Oh, yes! MegL You will enjoy the story I tell about the Aussie Navy. emoticon :winking:

melody23 wrote on June 15, 2015, 8:50 AM

A friend of mine who travels the world for work had a friend staying with him once who was from Germany. She told me my English was terrible! I was quite offended at first since, being Scottish, Englsh is my native language - but then she explained herself the only way she knew how: 'What you are speaking is not English, not like the Queen, the Queen speaks good English' it then dawned on me that the language we speak daily is not the same as what is taught to people who learn English as a second language.

I also grew up in a town with an American Navy base in it, which was all sorts of fun with the slightly different versions of the English language. Our parents (those of us who were Scottish) used to give us into terrible trouble when we asked if we could wear our 'fanny packs' (this was the late 80's, they were cool then honestly) because that means a whole different thing here, what we wanted to wear were 'bum bags'.

Last Edited: June 15, 2015, 8:51 AM

CoralLevang wrote on June 15, 2015, 11:56 AM

Oh, yes, melody23 ! LOL I fully understand that one. Like with MegL , I think you will appreciate my own Navy story. I just hope I have time to write it in the next couple of days.

wolfgirl569 wrote on June 15, 2015, 2:31 PM

I used to know the ones in German as we had exchange students from there one year in high school

HappyLady wrote on June 16, 2015, 4:22 AM

I have had some funny experiences over the years. I once had great trouble locating Jelly to go with peanut butter sandwiches whilst babysitting for American friends. I was also very puzzled about the combination of peanut butter and jelly. Jelly is your Jello. Your Jelly is our Jam.

seren3 wrote on June 18, 2015, 4:05 PM

CoralLevang I think English would be a difficult language to learn. The spelling could be updated for one thing. And there are more exceptions to the rules than there are rules!

CoralLevang wrote on June 19, 2015, 11:52 AM

Yes, I was aware of that. We all do speak an interesting language, most definitely!

I had a student want to know the difference between "seaman" and "semen," as I had corrected his paper when he was writing he had been "a semen in (his) country's Navy." Can you say, "Awkward!"?

CoralLevang wrote on June 19, 2015, 11:53 AM

seren3 I agree, having taught ESL! See my reference above in comments. LOL