Sunday, August 19, 2007

Crossed wires

Last night, whilst watching an episode of Seinfeld, I saw an example of the most confusing phrase in American English: "I could care less". What is going on here? In UK (i.e. proper) English we say "I couldn't care less", which surely gets across the point properly. "I could care less" infers that you do, in fact, care.

There are loads of weird contradictions in our languages. The Americans say "burglarize" instead of "burgle", and "Realtor" instead of "estate agent"; we say "Sellotape" instead of "Scotch tape" and "press up" instead of "push up".

British words not used in American English

American words not used in UK English

9 Comments:

Blogger Jenny said...

I guess I don't usually say "I could care less," I think I say "I couldn't care less." But maybe in the heat of (im)passion I might say "I could care less." You know what? I might say it both ways, but really only because I will often confuse phrases.

That's funny that you call it sellotape. Do you think it's because you don't like the Scotch reference? I suppose I'll say Scotch tape, but really only when I want to clarify which kind of tape. Usually I'll just say tape. But never ever will I say sellotape. In fact, if you were to say that to me before I read this blog entry, I would have no idea what you were talking about.

What's wrong with burglarize and realtor? Estate agent just sounds a bit stuffy.

I'm always really fascinated with these differences!

2:06 am  
Blogger Jenny said...

Wow, you wouldn't use 411 as slang for "information" in your neck of the woods?

2:08 am  
Blogger Jenny said...

wait, you wouldn't call a candy a candy?

2:10 am  
Blogger Jenny said...

I'll tell you what's not on that British Wikipedia article but should be - rocket. That has confused me each time I have been to the UK. I never expect it to mean "lettuce."

2:21 am  
Blogger Jenny said...

You do not really call cupcake sprinkles "hundreds-and-thousands"? That just seems like it'd be too long for the effort.

2:32 am  
Blogger swishfish said...

I can almost see you reading those articles and posting as you spot something strange.

Sellotape: that is the main brand here, like Scotch tape is for you. I don't think I've ever seen Scotch tape.

Burglarize: just weird. Like one of those made up verbs: "he meddaled in the 100m".

411: never heard the phrase before...

Candy: we call them sweets here, never candy.

Rocket: it isn't lettuce, it's the leaf that you would call arugula.

Hundreds-and-thousands: that's what we call 'em, never sprinkles.

9:11 am  
Blogger Jenny said...

Here's the 411*: I was actually reading the article as I was going along, hence the multitude of comments. I tried to hold back but just couldn't stop myself on the weird ones.

*411 is what you dial in your phone to get "Information," which consists of you giving the person's name, city and state and they'll give you their phone number (or address, if you can convince them). It used to be free, but now it costs a lot to use. There are differing rates if you are on a cell or LAN line, but I think on my cell phone it costs $1.25 per use.

Scotch tape is the brand name, but it's also common parlance. The brand itself looks like it's wearing a tartan because they have plaid packaging. I guess I never put it together that it was acting "Scottish." I can be a bit dim sometimes.

I just think it would take too much time to say "I'd like a cookie with hundreds and thousands," rather than saying (as I normally would because I LOVE them), "I'd like a cookie with sprinkles."

I've heard of arugula, but I don't know if I've ever had it over here. I don't think it's very common compared to other kinds of lettuce (I'd have to say that romaine, green leaf and iceberg are the most common kinds). Whenever I saw "rocket" over there, though, I kept on expecting it to be some sort of fancy spread/sauce on a sandwich. Like maybe something with horseradish in it.

5:24 pm  
Blogger Danny said...

Have to take issue with the 'sprinkles' thing, never knew that was an Americanism, my kids have always called H&Ts sprinkles ... maybe they watched too many Americanised kid's programmes when they were small!!

8:17 am  
Blogger swishfish said...

I think that the diagnosis is bad: your kids have a nasty case of Americanisation...

I know that I'm not a youngster any more, but I have only ever heard the term "sprinkles" used by Americans. For me it has always been hundreds-and-thousands or chocolate vermicelli.

11:03 am  

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