Fries, Chips, Pommes

Love_Actually_colin Most people I know have seen the movie, Love Actually. Remember the part where Colin decides to try finding love in the USA? After he gets to Wisconsin, Colin meets up with Stacey, Jeannie, and Carol-Anne, “three stunningly attractive women who fall for his Basildon accent”. Actually, that swooning over accents is sort of me. I could easily sit around playing “you say tomato and I say tomahto” for hours. And with books, I get to indulge in an variation of this fascination.

After reading an extremely well liked book by an British author (review coming, I promise!), I have been on a glom of other books written by authors across the sea. One reason is the language. Now, I rarely fall for the lyrical beauty of prose. It is not that I don’t appreciate it, but I am a fast reader, so I tend not to dwell as much on the elegant combination of words. However, I do notice colloquial speech, slang,or descriptive new words. Right now, I am loving British/Australian/Irish/Canadian expressions. For the most part our lives are very similar. We go to work, visit friends, watch television, party at clubs,fall in love. How we differ, such as en suite, or master bedroom, fish and chips, hamburger and fries, Chicken Parmy and pommes, Marmite,vegemite, mushy peas is engrossing to me. I might never get to visit these countries, but I feel like I have a snapshot view of the culture through books.

One of the most amusing parts is the slang. From the books that I have read recently, I discovered that dog diarrhea can be called slurry, layoffs are redundancy. Plus bollocks, and oh sot it, sound so much more exotic then my standard expressions.

Of course, it doesn’t even have to be foreign authors. One American author put in the expression “isn’t that skippy”? Of course I knew what it meant, but I am thinking where in the world did this come from. It is like skipping joyfully across a playground or taken from the love of Skippy peanut butter? Is this a Northern expression or Southern?

I not saying that I love all idioms. Authors can overload a book with them. And I have to be honest, I quit a couple of authors because the same expression showed up in almost every book. And the main allure for me is with English expressions, allowing me to imagine the place and its history.

I spent my early childhood in the Southwest, but both my parents were raised in the South. “Bless your heart” is out of my mouth before I realize it, along with, “Oh, for crying out loud.” So when an author uses these expressions in her book, it is like a touch of home.

How about you? Are you as fascinated with cultural and regional terminology? Do you say “He doesn’t know beans when the bag’s untied!” or “She needs some fries to go with that shake” or he is plonker or nong? When I asked some of the other reviewers how they describe someone who not all there (I tend to say he is dumber then dirt) I got a lot of different variations: A kumara short of a hangi, dumb as a box of hammers, dumb as a box of rocks ,dumber than a fence post, not the brightest bulb in the box, has a few crayons missing from his box, a few french fries short of a Happy Meal. What expressions are used in your community? Do these add to books for you or bring you out of the story? What are some of your favorite sayings you have come across in books?

– Leigh Davis

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40 Responses to Fries, Chips, Pommes

  1. JML says:

    I don’t see those kinds of sayings in books very much, but the ones that always makes me grin is when a character uses ‘in high cotton’ or ‘ ‘New York minute’. They don’t take me out of the story so much as make me pause to smile.

    My maternal grandmother was French and my maternal Grandfather was English. (I thought their story would make a great romance but my mother said it would have been a book without dialogue since they argued a lot – and did it silently!)

    I grew up hearing my mother quote her parents with things like ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’, ‘carrying Coals to Newcastle’ and ‘singing to the choir’ so while I don’t see those phrases in books very often I do use them myself…. and generally no one under 40 understands what they mean.

  2. Leigh AAR says:

    Oh, I know all of those, except “Coals to Newcastle”. As a child if I did something without thinking of others, my mother always would say, who do you think you are, Mrs. Astor? I was an adult before I figured out what she meant.

  3. Sandy C. says:

    Sometimes words like these can take my attention from the story I’m reading. For instance, “hankering” is used in “Lord of Scoundrels”. I have no idea where that word originated, but to me it has a distinctly southern U.S. feel. LOS is set in England, and for Jess to be “hankering” after Dain was rather interesting.

    I love reading Harlequin Presents, which still feature many British authors. This came in handy when I visited an aunt in Manchester last year. She could use terms like “dressing gown” (robe), “jumper” (sweater), “washing up” (doing the dishes), and I knew exactly what she was talking about!

    British words seem so much more interesting than American ones, and in some cases, make much more sense, too! Examples: “Mobile phone” instead of “cell phone”, “indicator light” instead of “turn signal” (after all, you’re not always turning), etc.

    And as for movies/films, I only have two words: “Alan Rickman”! I could listen to him all day.

    • MarySkl says:

      Sandy C.: Sometimes words like these can take my attention from the story I’m reading.For instance, “hankering” is used in “Lord of Scoundrels”.I have no idea where that word originated, but to me it has a distinctly southern U.S. feel.LOS is set in England, and for Jess to be “hankering” after Dain was rather interesting.I love reading Harlequin Presents, which still feature many British authors.This came in handy when I visited an aunt in Manchester last year.She could use terms like “dressing gown” (robe), “jumper” (sweater), “washing up” (doing the dishes), and I knew exactly what she was talking about!British words seem so much more interesting than American ones, and in some cases, make much more sense, too!Examples:“Mobile phone” instead of “cell phone”, “indicator light” instead of “turn signal” (after all, you’re not always turning), etc.And as for movies/films, I only have two words:“Alan Rickman”!I could listen to him all day.

      Being from the south and agreeing that “hankering” sounds southern, I looked up its etymology. It’s origin is thought to be Dutch and first appeared around 1600. Since this is a word that I do occasionally use, it had to get to the south somehow. The first settlers to the south were not Dutch. They were English or from the British Isles and there has never been a large Dutch immigration to the south, so I am assuming that “hankering” got its start in England and then was transplanted to the south. Many “southernisms” got their start in England, Ireland and Scotland with a large dose of African thrown in. What I thought interesting is that the contraction “y’all” which is probably the most quintessentially southern word did not appear in written usage until the mid-1800′s. Some have connected it to the Scots-Irish phrase “ye aw.” So, in my rather circular and rambling way, “hankering” could have been in use in England if it hit the British shores before the American ones.

      As far as Southern idioms/sayings, one of my favorites comes compliments of my mother: “he looked like he swapped legs with a killdee(r) and stole its paunch.”

      My BIL is British and my daughter’s fiance is Irish and we love to discuss words and phrases. One of the differences between Ireland and America is time. 3:30 here would be “three-thirty.” In Ireland, they say “half-three” (and the three would sound more like “tree”). I would imagine that phrase is a shortening of half past three. What do most of you call the heating element on top of the stove? I have always called it the “eye.” My daughter’s fiance had no clue what she was talking about when she asked him to “turn on the eye.”

  4. farmwifetwo says:

    An online friend use to write her blog in British english and then put in quotes the American word. What I found interesting is that I understood both words. That for the most part in Canada we use a combination of the 2 or atleast we use to until the last 30yrs or so. I still remember reading the word “fortnight”…. Although not common anymore, anyone who’s read Anne of Green Gables should know what it means.

    We have many opinions on other cultures. Read a mystery written by a foreign author about another country. You’d be surprised at the truth.

  5. Oh, yes ma’am. I’m a sucker for accents of most types (German, not so much, but the deliverer of said accent might alter my perception). In fact, that scene in Love Actually would be me (haha, if only I *looked* like any of those girls!).

    There’s also a line in Eurotrip where a character comments that the Brits “swear on a whole new level” and I agree. Words that I cringe at here, they use in everyday language the way some of us use “shit” or “damn.” I’ve taken to using “arse” in my conversation because it *sounds* more sophisticated to my ears, even though it means the same thing. “Bollocks” and “sod it” are also favorites. I write Regency romance, so I even get to slip them in there, too, sometimes! *grin* No matter the meaning behind it, the British curses just sound better to me and more acceptable than some of the American curses.

    I have been fortunate enough to meet people from around the world online and though I’ve never been to their countries, technology allows me to experience their culture through their eyes. And if not for Skype, I would actually get my work done! But the allure of hearing a British or Irish accent is too great. The time zone differences suck, though. :D

  6. I like characters who speak in unique and different ways, perhaps because my maternal grandfather had a unique way of speaking which was filled with lots of idioms. I think when I hear them it reminds me a little bit of him and that is a pleasant thing.

    Even though the use of idioms might remind me of my grandfather, I don’t want their use to yank me out of the story…and they don’t if the ones used fit the character and his or her way of speaking.

    He’s dumber than a box of rocks would sound strange coming out of the mouth of a character who always speaks in very correct, proper, formal English for example. Language is a part of who we are…it expresses who we are…words are in fact invented in cultures to describe the things within those worlds. So the language needs to be consistent with the character and the character’s background and geographic region.

  7. Ellen AAR says:

    I love regional accents and idioms. I’m a bit of a royalty watcher and I looked up some clips of Prince Haakon and Princess Mette-Marit of Norway speaking English. They have almost no accent at all. Queen Margrethe of Denmark speaks English with a British accent. My niece recently married a man from Kent and he speaks estuary English (I love it).

    I’ve had student workers from France, Rwanda, Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Georgia (the country). All of them spoke excellent English, but they admitted the idioms sometimes befuddled them.

  8. elainec says:

    Hi Leigh,

    Bringing coals to Newcastle meant doing something redundant or unnecessary because Newcastle was the first coal shipping port in the UK. It already had coal. I’ve heard the expression many times and knew what it meant, but not why it meant that. I Googled it and instantaneously there it was. Google gives information for which I used to have to take a trip to a library to find an Oxford English Dictionary.

    My family and friends used the expression “Dumber than a Door Knob” for describing a person tho wasn’t too bright or who did something stupid.

  9. JML says:

    Leigh AAR: As a child if I did something without thinking of others, my mother always would say, who do you think you are, Mrs. Astor?

    LOL! I am in an area of NY where the Vanderbilts had a summer home (mansion) and my mother would always ask if I thought I was a Vanderbilt. No, as a teenager I thought I was a Rock Star…

    Sandy C: Jumper always left me thinking Huh? It was years after reading it the first time that I realized what it was. One of the things I LOVE about the Kindle is the instant dictionary.

    Arse is a word that drives me crazy. I know it’s historically correct but it just throws me out of a story.

  10. Janet W says:

    Leigh, I love this topic. One of the great joys of reading British Chick Lit is the hysterical and sometimes bizarro terms. Sometimes, though, like you said, it can be off-putting. I just reviewed Separate Beds by Elizabeth Buchan at … here’s what I said about language: “At first the language and the objects and the milieu seemed to smack of otherness. What did prelapsarian mean? What was a package of mange-touts or early Jersey Royals? But then I was plunged into Annie’s world.” When I’m thoroughly immersed in a book, language differences seem to melt away.

    So this estuary English: is that the language of London? How people on the Tube and in offices and restaurants sound? I must look it up!

  11. Susan/DC says:

    I love that not only are there national idioms but regional ones as well. For example, I was taught “preaching to the choir”, not singing to it. For the not so smart, the expression was “not the sharpest tool in the shed”. My aunt used to disparage homemade clothing by saying it looked like “loving hands at home” — not quite sure why this represented poorly made, but she made her living as a seamstress and was quite proud of her own skills. And for trashy a la Jersey Shore, the term was “low rent”. It’s also interesting that we seem to have far more negative than positive expressions, but maybe that was just my family.

  12. Suzanne says:

    Oh, I love accents! And I love the different terminology…like instead of waiting in “line” it would be the “que”. My neighbor is English…he always says “mate”. Another neighbor is Swiss, speaks French, and what I love about her is how she says English words…”idee” instead of “idea”. The best was a Scottish man I worked with…I’d have done anything just to listen to him speak! Swoon worthy for sure! And I love how Irish people say “Grand”.

    I have a few sayings that always come out of my mouth…for someone who is lazy or worthless “what a waste of flesh” is my saying. The other ones are “for crying out loud” and “for shit’s sake”. My mother aways said “for Pete’s sake” and I remember being a smartypants and asking her “who’s Pete?”. Also, growing up between Texas and Oklahoma, I always said “fixin’ to”…ex. “I’m fixin’ to go to the store” and always said “y’all”…which I have since dropped now living in California for 20 years.

    @MarySkl – I’m with your daughter’s finace…I have never heard “Eye” for the stove either…I just call it a burner.

  13. Suzanne says:

    @Susan/DC – It wasn’t just your family, we definitely had more negative than positive sayings…maybe they are just more fun?! And this one is really bad and comes from my mother…instead of “Low Rent” for trashy or skanky, she’ll say “that girl is Dirty Underwear”. It’s funny to me, but kinda gross too.

  14. Cam says:

    I live in Melbourne Australia, my husband is aussie. I grew up with Americans so it took my a bit to understand them, I love the way the say
    “you fancy” instead of “you like” I just love when they say “I fancy that dress” is so cute. Shops instead of store, afternoon tea that means dinner. Can I see the pudding menu instead of can we see the dessert menu.

    But my favorite one is “don’t be a goose” figure that one out :P is my husband favorite

  15. Leigh AAR says:

    Sandy C. . I read Harlequin romances for the same reason. I really am drawn to the Australian settings. While I know what jumper is, when I first read it I always think of sleeveless dress, and then I have to adjust my thinking.

    Farmwifetwo. . I guess your friend doesn’t still do that? If she does, I would love to read it. One of my favorite mystery writers is from your neck of the woods (do you guys use that expression?) Susanna Kearsley. .

    Noelle, I am going to try to change some of my words to sod it. Although some of them just slip out. . .

  16. Leigh AAR says:

    Elainec. . . I love google to for finding out the meaning of sayings. Honestly, that is how I figured out the Mrs Astor comment. And yes, I have heard dumber then a door knob too.

    Janet, I am going to have to look up prelapsarian? One of the books that I just recently read had references to lot of different candy. While I didn’t know exactly what type, candy has a universal appeal doesn’t it?

    MarySkl “he looked like he swapped legs with a killdee(r) and stole its paunch.” Is completely new to me! what is a killdee? A bird? going to have to check this one out for sure. I never refer to the heating element as eye. . . always has been burner, even with smooth top stoves.

    Susan/DC. . . loving hands at home. . . Almost sounds like that old Dolly Parton song. . coat of many colors. I have heard preaching to the choir, and not the sharpest tool in the shed too. .

    Suzanne Have you read Rachel Gibson’s book “Simply Irresistible”? She used “crying all night” instead of crying out loud, which I had never heard of until then. Like you I use crying out loud. I didn’t get the y’all. Instead picked up you guys from Arizona. . . I drop the g’s too. . . And instead of saying naked, it comes out more like necked. .

    • MarySkl says:

      Leigh AAR: MarySkl “he looked like he swapped legs with a killdee(r) and stole its paunch.” Is completely new to me! what is a killdee? A bird? going to have to check this one out for sure. I never refer to the heating element as eye. . . always has been burner, even with smooth top stoves.

      A killdee (killdeer) is a bird with a huge belly and skinny legs. My mother said she got the saying from my grandfather.

  17. Leigh AAR says:

    Cam. . . the pudding comment would throw me. I was reading something about Kate Middleton’s favorite desert “sticky toffee pudding” and it looks like cake to me with a topping. . . I don’t see any pudding(grin)

    Love Australian accents. . .

  18. Heather says:

    My grandmother was Canadian, and her favorite expression was “Go chase yourself,” or in other words, get out of my hair and leave me alone!

    Other Granny was Scottish, and she always referred to “a wee bit”, as in a wee bit of tea, a wee bit of time, a wee bit of something.

    for someone who isn’t altogether there, they are 2 cans short of a sixpack, or their elevator doesn’t go all the way up.

    And finally, my mother never uses the ladies, or goes to the restroom, or anything like that. She always had to “go a place.”

  19. LeeB. says:

    Cor blimey! Fun column.

  20. Leigh AAR says:

    I found this. . . I don’t know if it is accurate but it is fun:

  21. Leigh AAR says:

    LeeB. . . Thanks. . . Everyone made it great with their comments.

  22. I’m from the UK, Manchester for most of my life. We tend to use the “f” word as a minor swear word (if you don’t believe me, look up interviews with the Gallagher brothers, Noel and Liam, or watch the British TV series “Shameless.”) I have to stop myself, because it’s definitely a regional thing. Even scousers don’t use it like that.
    From my visits to the States, I’ve learned that the UK and the US have completely different mindsets. That’s where the idiom comes from.
    BTW, do you know what the Aussie “Budgie smugglers” are? (Speedos!) Love that one!

  23. AndyR says:

    I googled one of my father’s favorite expressions and discovered Wiktionary. Very interesting. My father used to use the following a lot with us kids. “I see said the blind man to his deaf wife over the disconnected telephone.” There are a lot of variations.

    I’m from northwestern PA. When I was in high school a new girl introduced us to you’ns–never heard it before. I thought it was a Pittsburgh area thing but I hear it alot around central PA(western edge) too.

  24. Lynn M says:

    This one is small and regional, but my in-laws are from western New York, and when they want something in the basement, they tell you to go “down cellar” to fetch it.

    I love listening to non-American English accents and sayings. I find Australian slang and sayings to be the most interesting. One of my favorites is “as useful as teets on a bull”.

    However, I also love listening to some regional American accents as well. A lot of my family is from southern Indiana near the Kentucky border, and they have a very unique accent. One of my favorite TV shows right now is “Justified” which is set in Kentucky, and between the accents and their unique way of phrasing things, I feel like I’m at a family reunion.

  25. Lynn M says:

    One other thing – I’m also fascinated by words or phrases that mean one thing in the US and something else in other places. For example, the word “quite” in the US means something very good. If you say “I thought he played the piano quite well” you are saying that he did a great job. But I’m told by my UK friends that if you said that in England, you’d be saying that he didn’t play very well at all. That saying something is “quite” whatever, you are saying that it wasn’t as good as it should/could be.

  26. Leigh AAR says:

    Lynn M, I don’t know if this is true or not. . . but per the link I posted previously, this is what it says about excuse me:

    Excuse me – This is a great one! It’s what kids are taught to say when they belch in public. We are also taught to say “pardon me” if we fart out loud. Unfortunately in American “excuse me” means you are encroaching in someone’s personal space and you say “pardon me” when you don’t hear someone properly. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that actually Americans are not belching and farting all the time.

  27. Ellen AAR says:

    This is one I love: Years ago there was a PGA golfer named Bobby Clampett who always wore knickerbockers. He was competing in the British Open and was leading after the first round. The press was asking him questions about his attire and he answered using the term “knickers”. Every time he said that word, the press snickered. Finally someone said: “Oh just tell him” and one press member said, “Mr Clampett, in Britain, knickers means ladies underpants, what you wear is called plus-fours”

  28. Becky says:

    My fiance’s parents are from Scotland and I’ve learned a whole world of new expressions from them…bye just now, and baffies (slippers) are two of my favs. Scott (yes, Scott from Scotland) had friends who would call his house just to hear his mother’s accent on the answering machine, particularly her proununciation of the word “tone.” In fact, they got a Christmas card last year from one of his friends addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Tone!

  29. Leigh AAR says:

    Ellen, what a weird name. . . plus fours. . . I need to research that. Funny story. . .

    Becky, love your story. And yes there are answering machines I would call for that exact same reason. .

  30. Lynn M says:

    Leigh – that’s interesting about “excuse me”. I tend to say “pardon me” when I do something like burp (sorry, I try to ignore public flatulence LOL!). And I’ll say “excuse me” with a question mark (excuse me?) when I didn’t hear something or understand what someone has just said – used often when someone has a thick accent that I couldn’t quite understand, so as my polite shorthand way of saying “what did you say?”. I’ll also use “excuse me” when I accidentally bump into someone or get in their way.

    And of course here in the US we have to turn everything into some form of aggression – using “EXCUSE ME?!” as a way of saying “I can’t believe you just did that to me!!!” is something I only use with my children when they are misbehaving.

  31. Leigh says:

    Lynn, the author definitely was right about how I use it. . . Pardon me, for when I don’t understand them, and excuse me, when I am in their personal space.

    I don’t really consider your example aggression just loudly expressed sarcasm (grin). . .

  32. Oona says:

    Down cellar is commonly used in New England. Or it used to be, before everyone had basements!

  33. Joyce says:

    I am Canadian. My mother used to say “You could ride to Banbury on it” when she encountered a dull knife. I think it is a saying that comes from England.

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