A Meatball By Any Other Name (and other humorous British/American language confusions)

wordsofautumn

Like most transplanted Americans to Great Britain, I am well-qualified to talk about the quirks of language and slang. That’s why this week’s writing challenge was made for me. It can be amusing (and just a whole lot embarrassing) if you are ignorant of the (rather large) differences in the meanings of some words. I have lived in the UK for over nine years now, and so I have mostly come to grips with calling bangs (in relation to hairstyle) a fringe, a trash can a rubbish bin, an elevator a lift and I accept various pronunciation differences in words like “garage” and “vitamin” and, of course, spelling differences (so much so that words like “colour” and “humour” and “neighbour” and “honour” do not look right to me sans the “u”). After this many years, I rarely ever slip up and call something by their American names. However, there is the rare occassion (especially when I’m tired) when my American-ness will surface….with varied results. I will get to my latest occurance in a bit; first I want to highlight some common and highly amusing examples of getting lost in translation with Americanisms and British slang.

Let’s take the word “fanny”. To an American, you have just said “bum”, “butt”, “backside”, “derriere”, “gluteus maximus”. However, to a Brit you’ve just used a slang term for female genitalia.

If that wasn’t funny enough, let’s try it the other way around. Say, “Fancy some faggots for tea?” You have just asked a Brit if he/she wants a very tasty foodstuff (somewhere between a meatball and a meatloaf but made with pork, really nice with gravy and mashed potatoes) for his/her evening meal. Say “faggot” to an American and you have just used a derrogatory term for someone of the homosexual persuasion. To further confuse matters, a slang term over here for cigarettes is “fags” (and it has nothing to do with the afore mentioned tasty foodstuff) while “fag”, to an American, is simply the short version of “faggot” which, as I have explained, is a very insulting name to call a gay person.

Biscuits and gravy? Tasty breakfast to most Americans (especially those of a southern persuasion). Say that to a Brit and they instantly picture Oreos (or some other cookie) that you must be destroying in your obviously disturbed and twisted mental state by covering them in meat gravy! Well, that does sound pretty sick, doesn’t it? I remember when my husband (fiancé at the time) came to visit me in the States the first time. He asked me what Americans like to eat for breakfast. I started with my list and came to biscuits and gravy and saw the look of horror that crossed his face. He was turning shades of green, so I quickly had to explain, “U’h…no, no, no…think savoury scones with a white gravy made from sausage.” He was still dubious until I took him to a Cracker Barrel restaurant and ordered some for him to try. “Not bad”, he said.

Fancy a shag? You are either an American carpet salesman or you are propositioning the person you’re talking to (although, I suspect, most Americans are wise to this one now thanks to Austin Powers…Yeah, Baby, yeah).

This brings us to “whacking off”, and my recent experience with it. I was talking to a friend (an English friend) – yes, I have friends – and talking about getting my hair cut. I remembered to call “bangs” “fringe”. And, I said something like, “Yeah, I’m just going to whack it off and have a fringe again.” I said it a few times without thinking about it, until my friend could no longer contain herself and said, “Autumn! Stop saying ‘whack it off’, please!” She was laughing pretty hard by now and having a difficult time catching her breath, when it finally dawned on me…

See, say “whack it off” to most Americans and you will have just told them you are going to cut something off (be it your front hedge or a tree limb or your hair). Say “whack it off” to a Brit and, well, there’s really no way to put this delicately… it’s a slang term for masturbation.

Yep. And, there I was, going on about whacking it off. She was in bits. I had simply forgotten and fallen into an old pattern of speaking. Humorous? Definitely. Embarrassing? That, too.

Dare I mention the perfectly innocent (to the American mind) words “toss” and “spunk”? I fear, for the British mind (with the exception of, perhaps, the more dirty minds amongst us), I may have taken this post a tad too far (my sincere appologies to those with more delicate sensibilites; I really don’t mean to offend…I’m just attempting to prove the point).  For, your simple throw of something (in the former word) or your characteristic of a vivacious personality trait (in the latter) mean something entirely different over here, with “toss” resembling my whacking it off and “spunk” the result of the whacking!! Oh, dear.

Language really is a seriously funny old thing.  Communication is a very tricky thing. Tread carefully, my friend. Your innocent comment or invitation to dinner might be someone else’s offensive comment or offer to get it on (or take it off… or, indeed, whack it off, as the case may be).

I can explain it to you…

Image

Do you ever feel like a radical whirlwind, like a tempest? A force of nature. A force with which to be reckoned. I do. I really do. Sometimes.

However, most days I feel more like an anaemic breeze, just a whisper of a wind, fighting to be heard – to be understood  – above the clamour.

Image

Most days we can talk and we can blog until we’re blue in the face, but people hear only what they want to hear and see only what they want to see, and their preconceived notions and judgements make us incomprehensible to them.

So, why do we keep fighting this losing battle? Why do I?

I’m a glutton for punishment.

Paul prayed for the church of Ephesus that God would open the eyes of their understanding. No one will ever be convinced by debate or argument (no matter the passion of the debater nor how well-informed and educated the argument is). Arguments are never won, regardless the eloquence of the words or the intelligence of the one who speaks/writes them. They (the arguments/debates) can be conceded and defaulted, and you can live to beat someone over the head with your club another day. But, until the other person “sees” it, there will be no convincing them. This is a matter of revelation. The aha! The epiphany. And, you can pray for people to have that, but you can’t make them have it.

I can explain it to you. But I cannot understand it for you. If you are determined not to get me, you won’t.  And so, to get along, to function in society, we agree to disagree. Or, we don’t, and wars (big and small) ensue. But, what if we all prayed that the eyes of our understanding would be opened and enlightened? What might happen then? What if we were no longer incomprehensible? What if we all really understood?

Food for thought? Or me just beating the drum again…

C.S. Lewis’s most forgotten work, and his best…

Tillwehavefaces

Ok, so perhaps it is only in my not so humble opinion that this is his best work. I am very biased, after all; this is my favourite book of all time. Thus, when Daily Prompt asked their question today:

Tell us about a book you can read again and again without getting bored — what is it that speaks to you?

I certainly wasn’t going to let an opportunity pass to gush about it.

I have lost count how many times I have read this book. It frustrates me that in all the C.S. Lewis quote pages I am subscribed to both on Facebook and Twitter, I have never seen any quotes from my beloved Till We Have Faces. I can’t figure it out…or, maybe I can.

Till We Have Faces is not an easy read, in that you are slapped right in the face with yourself. It’s painful to read something that so lays your soul bare – something that so exposes the true nature of yourself. I’d like to say that like so much of fantasy fiction (or, in this case, the re-telling of an ancient myth) that clothing the truths in the guise of a well-told story will lessen the blows it delivers. But, I’d be lying to you if I told you that. This book brings one face to face with themselves and, most of the time, that just isn’t pretty. It is, however, very liberating.

Every time I read this book I get something out of it. It never fails to speak to me.  And, while its lessons may be hard to swallow, it manages to remain entertaining (a spoonful of sugar afterall, perhaps). I certainly wouldn’t want to scare you off from reading it (I, personally, think it should be required reading for every person on the planet), I suppose someone might be able to ignore the obvious while reading it and simply read it for its most excellent story. But, I suspect, one would really have to be utterly obtuse to get through it without seeing the message at its heart.

The core of the book lies in the difference between selfish and real love. It shows, in great detail, what we do to others when we say we love them but how often everything we do is out to serve ourselves and not what is best for the one we confess to love. It also examines how too often we only see and hear what we want to see, even when the truth is staring us right in the face.

Till We Have Faces is a re-telling of the classic myth of Psyche and Cupid, told from the perspective of Psyche’s older half-sister. It is a first person narrative, and I defy anyone to not see and hear themselves in Orual. I certainly identify with all her struggle.

I would implore you to read it. I would get down on my knobbly knees and beg for you not to delay after reading this post but go secure yourself a copy. I would plead with you to discover this most forgotten but best of C.S. Lewis’s works for yourself. But, eh, who listens to me, huh?

There really was something about this particular Mary…

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named  Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary,  who also  sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.  But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her,  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But  one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”  – Luke 10:38-42

Be still, and know that I am God. – Psalm 46:10

During a recent time of worship, I wrote a song based on this account of Martha and her sister Mary from the Gospel of Luke. It is also based on the first part of Psalm 46:10.

My desire has always been to be like Mary but, I have to admit, I have spent more of my life being rather Martha-like: anxious, stressed out, overwhelmed, frayed and frazzled. And, then there are my really bad days.

This song was birthed equally out of my desire to more like Mary and my Martha-like desperation. It’s a heart-cry and, since writing it, I can’t get it out of my head.

Embarrassment (And What Does It Have To Do With Ducks?)

Image“Like water rolling off a duck’s back”, so the old saying goes. I’m not much like a duck (well, other than I may waddle a bit when I walk, and then there’s that quacking thing…and, my lips, of course). I wish I was more like a duck. How great it would be to have bad experiences just roll off like so much water and not be affected because my God-designed waterproof feathers keep me from getting soaked, damaged and overwhelmed by the badness.

I wish I was more like a duck.

Last night I had a rather embarrassing, humiliating and demoralising experience. To make matters worse, this pickle I found myself in was not my fault (hey, I’ll hold my hands up and admit often I’m the one to blame for my pain, but this time it wasn’t the case). I cried most of the night, kept awake by my anguish.

The whole episode reminded me of a time when I was about 15 years of age and was to sing at a special meeting for Veteran’s Day. Now, I have always been good (or, at least I was so when I was younger) at remembering my words. I never forgot one. Up until that night, when almost every word in the song flew out of my head in an instant leaving me up there blinking into the spotlight while no words came out of my mouth. Some people blamed my age or lack of experience; the truth was I had been singing professionally since the age of four. I had no excuse. This, unlike last night’s experience, was my fault. I had no one else to blame but myself. The experience marked me. I was so embarrassed it made me sick. I have never fully recovered from that night over 20 years ago. So much for “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, eh? What a load of bull-poo!

Of course, that experience when I was 15 was not the end of my musical career. The fact that I was so young worked in my favour even if people were mistaken in thinking that it was youth – and therefore – inexperience that had caused my nightmare situation that night.

Last night was the same, but different. I didn’t forget my words. And, there was very little I could have done to change it other than to not sing at all or stop when my guest accompanist began the song we were doing in the wrong key forcing me to sing it way out of my comfortable contralto range (where we had rehearsed it – and, man, it sounded awesome in rehearsal). The song was part of a bigger programme, so it wouldn’t have done to stop and start again – so, the professional “went on with the show”. Of course, there’s no explaining this to people who don’t understand music. I simply sounded crap (“who told her she could sing?”). There was no way to save my musical/vocal reputation. For this night, and those people, it was ruined. And this time it wasn’t even my fault.

Now, I don’t want anyone to get the mistaken idea that I am badmouthing my extremely talented keyboardist. The man is simply talent on legs. He played what he played absolutely exceptionally (and any decent second soprano could have handled it easily and beautifully, but I am a contralto) it was just, unfortunately (for me and my rep), the wrong key. Believe me, there’s a lot of difference between F and C.

I sobbed most of the night, feeling kicked in the teeth by life again – marked, irrevocably, and not feeling in the least bit duck-like. Humilation is just so utterly sh*tty!

I didn’t get much sleep, obviously. But, after I did mercifully drop off to sleep in the wee hours of the morning, surprisingly enough I woke up without immediately starting to cry again (although, I did tear up a bit as the morning progressed), and I felt led to read Lamentations from the Bible (well, if anyone is lamenting, it would be me…).

Lamentations: 3:14-24:

My own people laugh at me. All day long they sing their mocking songs. He has filled me with bitterness and given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink. He has made me chew on gravel. He has rolled me in the dust. Peace has been stripped away, and I have forgotten what prosperity is. I cry out, “My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the Lord  is lost!” The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord  never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord  is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”

Well! Here I am rolling around in the dust like Jeremiah the prophet was, humiliated, in sorrow and pain…yet. What a great word that is. Yet. Jeremiah chose hope again and so can I. Why? One reason:

am

loved.

I remembered my grandfather when he would comfort me when I was little, and he’d say, “You’s bein’ wuv-ved” (wuvved – pronounced like wuvv-ed). He didn’t have a speech impediment and he was quite well-spoken and a very intelligent and well-educated man. But, when he was affectionate with his family, he used language like this with us. I still hear him say it, though he has been gone these many years, when I feel very vulnerable and very unloved. “You’s bein’ wuvved.”

This morning it was as if my Heavenly Father was saying to me, “Autumn, there’s hope. All is not lost. This situation has affected you greatly and maybe you can never forget it, but you can put it behind you today and start afresh, because you’s bein’ wuvved.”

So, we have established that I am not much like a duck where it counts but I am somewhat like an ancient prophet. We have pretty much made it clear that humilation sucks big time, and – judging from past experience – we can pretty much assume that I am not likely to “get over” it anytime soon. YET. We have seen yet. And, that one little word makes a big difference going forward, because I can’t go back and change anything.

Thank God for yet, for hope, for grandfathers, for music, for ducks and, most of all, for wuv.

Behind The Mask

We all wear masks. Sometimes you run into people who are convinced they want to see the real you. I always suspect this is like the person who says, “I really do want to know how you are”, but always ends up regretting asking the “how are you?” question if you are indeed honest with them about how you are doing. The only ones that can handle the people we are behind the masks we wear are the individuals who genuinely love us.

Only in the safety of real love can we begin to take the off our masks and confidently be ourselves with someone else. And, when I say love, I mean real lovebeyond a superficial affection that can change with the wind: love is a real, unchangable force. You either always love a person, or you never loved them at all. Love is constant. You can fall in and out of infatuation, you can fall in and out of lust, you can fall in and out of friendship, but you cannot fall in and out of love. And, anyone who says otherwise is lying to themselves and everyone else.

The truth is, while we do wear masks to protect ourselves, we wear them just as much to protect the other people around us. Most people simply cannot cope with who we really are.

What are some of the masks you wear?

Sometimes a mask becomes so much a part of us that we begin to even accept ourselves better with the masks on. Most people don’t like themselves, let alone love themselves, so it can become easier to be fake with yourself, as well. I know I do it. Vulnerability and authenticity – even with oneself – don’t always come easy. However, most of the time, I am rather brutally honest about my warts and all – to myself, anyway – and I’ve chosen to be painfully honest in this blog. As one blogger I admire puts it, “put away your rainbow and be real.” I think it’s nearly as annoying to be superficially positive all the time as it is to be genuinely negative 100% of the time.  I don’t sugarcoat much of anything. I can afford to be rather transparent. But, I assure, I have protected you from a lot that is me. I notice that when I do dare to share a bit more of who I am, it isn’t well-received. People just ignore it all together because…as I say, they can’t handle it.  If it doesn’t compute, if it makes your brain go tilt, if it isn’t really relatable to a wide audience, then it doesn’t make for the best blogging fodder, does it? Certainly, the number of likes I get on some posts, as opposed to the total lack thereof on others, confirms my theory. Then, I always end up coming back to the question, “Why do I blog?” To answer that question I must go back to the tagline I wrote when I started this blog.

While I’d love to touch a wider audience, this blogging experience is for me to express…MYSELF. Whether YOU can handle it or not, whether you like it or not.  I do this for the sake of the fragile, broken, wreck of a person behind the mask.

No One Else But Me (Behind The Mask)

Take it off

Put it down

All of these pretences

Curious?

Do you want to know

Who dwells behind the defences?

You should walk away

You should understand

The walls are there to protect you

Just as much as they are there to protect me

Behind the mask, behind the mask

There’s nothing you want to see

Behind the mask, behind the mask

There’s nothing you want to be

Behind the mask, there’s nothing left but me

Nothing else but me

Look at me

Feel the pain

And all that longs for freedom

Can you stand

To hold my gaze –

The anguished eyes of the broken

Please don’t walk away

You should understand

The walls come down only by love

Take that chance and you’ll find out

Oh, you’ll learn

You must learn

Behind the mask, behind the mask

There’s all that’s left of me

Behind the mask, behind the mask

Desperate to be free

Behind the mask, just scared to be

No one else but me

 – © Autumn Dawn Leader