S is for Suspenders

Only in America would you get a text like this one from a neighbour:

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To be fair – it is Halloween. But this is not the kind of neighbourhood where people borrow each other’s intimate underwear (thankfully). No one wanted one of these:

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What they wanted were braces. By which I do not mean these:

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I mean these:

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Which left me wondering what these are called over here, if not suspenders…

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And they are called a garter belt.

Which made me think of this:

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Now that’s a long way from those:

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But the Queen here is wearing robes as a member of the Order of the Garter which is one of those British things that you grow up hearing about but really not having a clue what it is. So I have done some highly superficial research and from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica I have learned that the Order of the Garter began in the 14th when Edward III gallantly picked up and wore a garter which had fallen from his dancing partner’s leg. Here he is in his Order of the Garter get-up:

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All which is a long way to go from someone wanting braces/suspenders for a Halloween costume. But I liked it.

C is for Chorus and Chorale

Here is a report of a very recent chat between me and Child 3 who, now eleven, has recently started Middle School.

Me: “So, did you have choir today?”

3: “Mom. It’s called chorus.”

Me: “Oh, yeah. I knew that. Sorry. It’s a British thing.”

3; “It’s fine. I understand. And I know what you mean. Just don’t say it in front of anyone else or they’ll think you’re weird.”

Actually, that’s probably funny enough in itself, but it gets worse. Child 3 has also auditioned and got a spot on the school’s vocal ensemble and when I was telling Child 1 about this in the car on the way home from wherever, we had a conversation that went like this:

1: “Oh, yeah. They have that in High School too, except it’s called ‘corral’.

Me: “Corral?”

1: “Yup.”

Me: “Seriously?” (sniggers a tad)

1: “What’s funny about that?”

Me: “Well isn’t that something you do with horses?”

1: (witheringly) “It’s spelled C-H-O-R-A-L-E”

Me: “Really? I’m looking that up when we get home.”

It turns out that he is correct of course. Which means that Child 3 has opened the door to another world of linguistic intrigue and surprise for me. Chorale? Pronounced like corral or core-Al. Who knew?

But the best part of this debacle was (for me anyway) yet to come. Googling around for a picture of some choir (chorus or chorale or who cares what you call them) to illustrate this post, I came across this:

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These are the Sutherland Sisters! I love them! I had already come across the sisters and their six feet or so of hair each, somewhere or other on the web, but I didn’t realize that they were first famous as a singing group!  Even better, by 1884, these seven sisters from Niagara County, NY, were part of Barnum & Bailey’ Greatest Show on Earth. Yes!! Because not only do I have a thing about writing about Barnum, I also have an interest in writing about sisters. And now here they are helping me out with my other little hobby of linguistic difficulties.

Such a happy day🙂

A is for Aluminum

On Tuesday Child 2 found something I said so amusing that he had to get his phone out and record me. Seriously, that’s just wrong. Isn’t it??

Anyway the word in question, as you may have guessed, was Aluminum, because in Britain its not Aluminum, its Aluminium.

To be clear:

US English – Aluminum – pronounced Aloominum

UK English – Aluminium – pronounced Al-you-min-eum

For the record I can tell you that after you’ve repeated it 20 times for the entertainment of your 13 year old, you can no longer pronounce either right and may well wish you’d wish you had not been born.

So why this difference in spelling and pronunciation for the 13th Element of the periodic table? Well I did a little research and for a while I thought that the element was first identified at the beginning of nineteenth century by this man, Humphry Davy:

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So I read a bit more about Humphry Davy and found out he (maybe) invented the Davy Lamp (which I remember learning about at school) and also that he was addicted to laughing gas (which wasn’t on the curriculum, sadly). Also sadly though, it turned out he didn’t discover aluminium/aluminum and the website I read that on was wrong. That’s because this man, Hans Christian Orsted, discovered it instead:

Hans_Christian_Ørsted_daguerreotype

You can just tell by looking at him that he wasn’t addicted to anything, can’t you? Although he did write poetry, so perhaps I’m wrong.

After all that, I have failed thus far to shed any real light on the aluminum/aluminium difference, beyond the common, post-Independence divergence of the language. But I did get a giggle in a thread of comments I read on the About.com chemistry page on Aluminum which I have a snapshot of here, just to show that squabbles over US/UK language differences are alive and well on the good-old internet:

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P is for Piss Off

Oh my, oh my. This has totally made my day!

w2poff_f-lThis is apparently a wet-suit shampoo which I’m sure is a very useful product for wet-suits wearers (not me).

Up until this moment I thought that the main US/UK confusion over the word piss was confined to the state of being ‘pissed’ which in  US means cross and in the UK means drunk. But on this evidence ‘piss off’ is also different. To me saying ‘piss off’ to someone is only a slightly less offensive way of saying ‘f off’.  Clearly I need to interview some American chums on this topic asap.

But for now, given that piss (I think) in both countries means a pee or a wee or even a ‘number one’ if that’s what you choose to call it, the fact that this product is yellow is…. just perfect.

F is for FLOTUS

Let’s begin with a little confession. A couple of years ago I watched a whole series of VEEP thinking that the President (who was never seen because the programme is all about Selina, the Vice President) was actually called Potus. I thought it was his surname. Thankfully my lovely husband was able to put me straight and so I was able to move on in life knowing that POTUS means President Of The United States and his wife is therefore FLOTUS: First Lady of the United States. Doh. Sometimes I can be a bit slow on the uptake!

So the FLOTUS is on my mind today in particular because I was listening the British radio this morning and apparently some woman back home turned 90 today and its a big deal😉

As there is no monarchy over here, there is no direct equivalent, but there is the First Lady and I have been writing about First Ladies this week with my book reviewer’s hat on. I’ve been reading and writing about Louisa, The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams by Louisa Thomas, an excellent biography of the wife of John Quincy Adams, the sixth POTUS. I also did some research about First Ladies in general and found that there are regular surveys carried out asking US historians and scholars who the ‘best’ First Lady is/was. Without preempting my article for Bookbrowse, here are some amusing facts about First Ladies that I learned this week:

Laura Bush tops the list of First Ladies who “could have done more”.

Mary Lincoln rates pretty poorly and drags down her husband to 7th place in the best “power couple” category. In the First Ladies’ ranks she comes in at a lowly 31st, but in previous years has been in last place.

Number one in six out of 10 categories is Eleanor Roosevelt. She was also the longest serving First Lady.

Dolley Madison ranks as 4th best First Lady but I’d personally like to recognise her as the First Lady with the most jolly name. Here is a picture of Dolley who was First Lady from 1809-1817. I think she looks pretty jolly too:

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Michelle Obama joined the rankings the last time this survey was conducted (in 2014). She does well, ranking 5th overall, and also tops the list of First Lady who ‘most effectively managed family life while in office’.

Only two women have been married to a President and the mother of a President: Abigail Adams and Barbara Bush. Abigail Adams (FLOTUS of the 2nd POTUS) also tops the rankings for Integrity and Value to the President, placing 2nd overall to Mrs Roosevelt.

Jackie Kennedy takes 3rd place overall and wins out in the categories of Being a White House Steward and Public Image.

Hilary Clinton came in 6th place in the 2014 survey but she tops the rank in one very topical category…… First Lady most capable of being President!

 

C is for Caucusing

Feeling topical this morning, I have been dittering around on the internet – and dipping in and out of my much loved Historical Thesaurus of the the Oxford English Dictionary – wondering if the word caucus originated in the States. Caucus, and in particular the -ing form (gerund or participle? maybe depends on the usage?) sounds like an old sort of word. It makes me think of wassailing, and I don’t think that’s only because caucus rhymes with raucous.

It seemed to me there would be a bit of history out there about caucusing and caucuses, but what I came across instead was the perfect literary use of caucusing that I am a) only sad I hadn’t remembered myself from reading the book, and b) delighted with because it pretty much summed up some of the electoral craziness that has been going on over here for months.

I refer, of course, to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and in particular, to this:

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Chapter 3 of Lewis Carroll’s famous novel (first published in 1863)  is called A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale, and here is the pertinent text:

“What is a Caucus-race?” said Alice; not that she much wanted to know, but the Dodo had paused as if it thought that somebody ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything.

“Why,” said the Dodo, “the best way to explain it is to do it.” (And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter-day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (“the exact shape doesn’t matter,” it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no “One, two, three, and away!”, but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out “The race is over!”, and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, “But who has won?”

This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.”

Particularly given the close results in the Democrat caucus last night, it seems to me that Alice might have grown up and turned into Hillary Clinton and that Bernie Sanders could be The Lory, who also takes part in the Dodo’s race and claims superiority over Alice because he’s older than she is. No? Just a thought.