Watch Your Tongue — Learn a Language Lesson – Farmville


Watch Your Tongue — Learn a Language Lesson

Posted 4:58 p.m. on Saturday, October 29, 2022

was in southern England a few weeks ago (on a research trip to learn more about the evacuation of Basque children to England during the Spanish Civil War) and had the delightful opportunity to meet Mike Anderson, a knowledgeable and very personable town historian in Sussex. While I was there primarily to learn about a colony of 20 Basque children who lived at Pounsley Farm in the late 1930s, I also learned something about the local dialect. Mike and his wife Barbara are also avid language watchers and were able to answer my many questions about local dialects and word usage. Here I share with you some of the things I learned in England.

Mike introduced me to the term “bog-standard” which means “normal” or “not fancy”. An example he gave was “It’s just bog standard for the Ford Mustang.” Merriam-Webster explains that it means “having no special or interesting qualities”. Another dictionary describes it as conveying a pejorative tone perhaps because “bog” is also another name for “toilet”.

And in that toilet conversation, I learned something new. Thomas Crapper was a plumber (English) whose company “Thomas Crapper and Co. Ltd” manufactured toilets with the company name often inscribed inside the porcelain bowl and sometimes with the header “Venerable” as in “The Venerable Thomas Crapper & Company”. (I think it’s important to point out that they also made sinks that displayed the company name.) His name became associated with toilets to such a degree that his last name became a reference for toilets , then people created the verb “to shit” as a back formation and a word which is also slang, informal and not used in formal language.

In England, it was not difficult to understand the use of words that vary considerably from the words generally used in American English. For example, at the airport and on the many trains I’ve taken, there was a phrase that was announced over loudspeakers or appeared as a script running on the train screen at intervals frequent. “If you see anything that doesn’t look right, report it to British Transport Police. See it, say it, sorted”. What caught my attention was the word “sorted”. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “used to describe a situation in which everything is properly organized or repaired”. The dictionary provides the following example: “Did you tell Grant about the party?” “Sorted! We tend to use “sort” to mean “organize into groups” or “browse” as in “My parents sorted all the things in their garage and tagged everything to go to the yard sale.”

Another difference I noticed was the use of the word “scheme” to mean plan and without any negative connotation. An example I heard was something like this: “We have many programs to help the poor and needy in this particular country.” Another example came from a bank that made reference to assistance programs for its customers. Because our use of that same word implies something manipulative or deceptive, I felt a sense of concern for the vulnerable until I realized, after hearing it a few more times, that it simply meant “idea” or “plan”.

In our various language conversations, Mike told me about Cockney rhyming slang. I had read about it but never really encountered it. It is based on the use of clever phrase substitutions that sound like the intended phrase. For example, you could say “I see you’re at your wit’s end” meaning “I see you’re on the phone”. Or “I’m going to go to a butcher” which is short for “butcher’s hook” to mean “I’m going to go see”. The expression “Ruby Murray” (a reference to a famous singer of the 1950s) is replaced by “curry” and “trouble and strife” is replaced by wife. When I asked for a “specific example of use”, Mike gave me the following: “I’m going out for a Ruby, and trouble and conflict is coming with me.” From the quick smile on his face, I believe he had a little too much fun when he shared this with me and his wife Barbara. I later found out though that “pot and pan” is Cockney rhyming slang for “the old man” so I’m glad to see the rhyming substitutions are fairly evenly distributed. I will end with a “baked potato” (see you later) and some examples to discover below. Answers provided at the end.

“Just go up the apples and pears and you’ll see the coin you’re looking for on the right.”

“What’s wrong! Don’t do it like that! Use your loaf (of bread).

“I never believed much of what he said. He used to tell a few porkies (porky pies) back then.

“I would like to go to Spain with you, but I don’t have any bees or honey at the moment.” (from

“To make this cake, you will need to borrow and beg.”

“I hear crying. Go check the basin of sauce.

“There’s no way you’ll have enough bread and honey.”

“Oh-oh. Don’t look now, but here’s the bottle and the cap. You’ll probably get a ticket!”

“Thank you very much for your piece of ice cream. I’m not sure I find it helpful.

“I didn’t order any gin. I ordered a button and a stain.

(Answers in order: stairs, head, lies, money, egg, baby, money, policeman (copper), tips and tape.)

JULIA PALMER is Associate Professor of Modern Languages ​​at Hampden-Sydney College. His email address is [email protected]

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