"Comedy always works best when it is mean-spirited" - John Cleese

Author John Corby also writes as "Bulldogge" for the British Canadian newspaper.

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Friday, July 03, 2009

10 Reasons I Left Britain #5. The English Language

The headline in the newspaper read "England Are Ready To Win". Being an Englishman by birth I thought to myself: "I are very pleased to hear that". I was being sarcastic - to myself. I can't remember whether I used English collective nouns while I lived over there but I am certain that I don't now.

When Hell Freezes Over
To the English the word "England" can be singular or plural. England IS a country and England ARE a team. In the latter case the word "England" implies eleven highly paid young men wearing football boots. Outside Britain a team is a unit unless its name explicitly refers to a plural entity (e.g. the Toronto Make-Beliefs). We might say "Canada IS going to win gold at the World Hockey Championships". In Britain they would say "England ARE going to win the World Cup (of soccer)". [Ok gents, that was a very bad example indeed. We are all perfectly aware that England ARE going to win the World Cup right after Hell freezes over which will never happen anyway due to Global Warming].

Enough Already!
When I first arrived in Canada I had to make a huge adjustment. It wasn't just that I had a very clear English accent. Canadian idioms are so very different. I attended a class put on by my employer. The instructor had written on the chalkboard (blackboard) "Welcome already". I had never seen the word "already" used in this context. Answers.com has three definitions for the word "already":

  1. By this or a specified time: The children were already asleep when we got home.
  2. So soon: Are you quitting already?
  3. Informal. Used as an intensive: Be quiet already. Enough already.

The third definition is entirely alien to British English.

Three Guesses

I was similarly confused by the term "second guess". Actually, many Canadians misuse this term. It has two interpretations (from answers.com):
  1. To criticize or correct after an outcome is known.
    1. To outguess.
    2. To predict or anticipate: “She can second-guess indictments” (Scott Turow).

As an Englishman I thought it meant I had a second chance at guessing what the speaker was thinking. I wondered if he would give me a third guess. "Second guess" is also used in Britain now, but mainly by TV presenters who have been to America. They think it is a super-cool way of saying "guess".

Thirty Two and a Half
I also had to re-learn the English alphabet. As a Physics undergraduate in England I earned a language credit in Russian. Russian is a wonderful language that is so easy to understand. But the Russian alphabet is comprised of thirty two and a half letters. I was confused. I was even more confused when I came to Canada and learned that Canadian English has only 25 letters. The missing one is "D". No, not that "D", I mean the "D" that comes between "S" and "U".

And that reminds me of another quirk of Canadian English - excessive use of "quotation marks". Well, when it all gets too much for you, take a time-out and remember that England are nice to visit.

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