Handy handbook

Are we really cousins?

It is always fun to live in a foreign country using a foreign language, even when the later is English. Obviously, although Shakespeare's mother tongue is now widely recognised as THE universal language, outperforming Esperanto, there are still major vocabulary differences from one English-speaking country to the other. That for instance led George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) to claim about UK and US that they were ‘Two nations separated by a common language.’

Hang on to your haggis.

I often write in this blog about how languages can be fun for non native speakers (read here for a selection of articles) who discover that indigenous words might mean something quite different in their own language... Now imagine what it is if you are said to share the same language!

Chris Rae, a Scottish blogger and eventually colleague, writes “The Septic’s Companion” as a guide to British culture and slang. He once lived in the US and realised that his colloquial expressions were not receiving as expected. And that is an euphemism. You may smoke a fag in the UK, but don't you dare calling someone in the US that way, or you might end up with a punch in your face or with an date in the Village. Over there, their chavs have red necks. Their nosh is faster...

Loads of great fun reading Chris' book and blog, so a great Christmas present to anyone who has to deal with the other side of the pond (or a great "Holiday present" shall I say to remain PC):


  1. Anonymous1:08 pm

    Hello Cédric,

    For 'someone interested in cultural differences' it seems that Gay culture is still fairly alien to you. 'Fag', from 'Faggot' is still very much the most offensive of homophobic terms in use in various English-speaking countries and calling a Gay man a 'fag' is more likely to also get you a punch in the face than 'a date in the Village', as you put it, thus suscribing to the cliché of gay folks as sex maniacs.

  2. I must admit that the Gay culture is indeed alien to me. I would not pretend the opposite... So thanks for the clarification. I am keen on learning every day, about every culture.

    Just to clarify though, I never intended to be homophobic. So my apologies if you felt directly on indirectly offended. You will have probably noted that I am not a native English speaker, so even if I work hard on expanding my vocabulary, I am still sometimes taken aback by the various jargons, slang, idioms... and probably miss out on some subtilities sometimes.

    I initialy came across the word "Fag" in the US Keys, and obviously realised it was related to a Gay-related word (though did not know it was such an insult, so again excuse my acknowledged lack of understanding).

    Neverthless you will certainly understand my surprise, as someone who does not master all English slangs, when a Brit asked me one night if I "had a fag"...

    It was really incongrous a situation: on the one hand, I was thinking he was asking me if I had any Gay friends, on the other hand a guy looking for a cigaret. And the mimic he was doing to explain what he actually meant added even more to the lot...

    That is this personal experience of a cultural/lexical gap that inspired the note, nothing more.