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This place matters

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It's hard for thee to kick against the pricks

It would seem that there is a line at the beginning of Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury which goes, "be firm, be firm, my pecker." In England, it would further seem, pecker means something rather different than what it does here. It means courage. I'd very much like to know how that happened. I don't know about you, but I have a tendency to laugh unwillingly at even the slightest innuendo; I imagine that if I were to have seen Trial by Jury without foreknowledge, I likely would have been escorted out of the theater for being disruptive. 
On the other hand, there's the perfectly innocent word fanny, which over here is how moms and Kindergarten teachers say butt. In England, however, it's rather a lewd term for the body part opposite the fanny on a woman.
Fit in England can be a slang term for good looking, where in the US, phat can mean the same. Here, pissed is a synonym for angry, whereas in England it means drunk. Here, crack is something you smoke, where there it's something you have at a party - fun.
I think in most parts of the US, people know the word oy as half the Yiddish expression oy vey, meaning woe is me. There is, I just learned, a movie called Oy Vey! My Son is Gay, which is maybe the best movie title I've heard in years. In countries from the British Isles to Singapore of all places, Oi is an exclamation meant to get someone's attention, like hey. Wikipedia says that the term, which is most commonly associated with the Cockney dialect, may have come from ancient Romans, but I suspect it's just one of those sound effects that every language just sort of has, like oh and ow. Oi is also the mating call of punk rockers the world over, likely due to the English working class influence on early punk. 
Punk, by the way, started out meaning prostitute, came to mean hoodlum, and probably came to be associated with the genre because it's an insult people often threw at the people founding the movement. I've heard people use the word punk to refer to a state of feeling in ill health "I'm feeling punk today," which appears to be etymologically related to the Native American word ponk, meaning dust or ashes, making it not etymologically related to the music genre. I just noticed that a whole lot of words that describe bad things end in unk. Funk, flunk, bunk (as in bull)...
Knocked up in England can mean woke up, but here it's semi-impolite slang for pregnant, generally of the unplanned or unwed variety.
Ready for a fun one? In England, nark can refer to a spy or informant which goes all the hell the way back to Sanskrit, for nose. It is etymologically unrelated to narc, short for narcotics officer. Did your head just explode? Mine just exploded. I've always spelled it narc, and always thought that it came from narcotics officer. I wonder how many other synonymous homophones there are. 

4 comments:

Things to Do said...

I didn't know the different meanings of fanny. And when I first read that quote, I was like what is this post going to be about? Cause I still so laugh at the same things I did when I was 12. :) Great post!

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

The term's actually from the Bible, although I pulled it from the Johnny Cash song The Man Comes Around.

Thanks for reading!

saltyrose said...

When I went to England in the summer of 2000 they sent the participants in the program a glossary of English slang. A couple of days before I left my mother was quizzing me on it. The word for "wanker" in the glossary was translated "jerk off."

Says She: What's a wanker?

Says I: A jerk off.

Says she: (Genuinely confused) And what's a jerk off?

I didn't have the heart to tell her.

Joshua said...

Can I just say how pissed I am that I've neglected reading your posts for a month? Yeah for Google Reader for not importing all of my settings correctly.

So, from the last time I commented to now...how are you feeling (while I go back and read the last few weeks)?

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