C is for Cilantro

Sometimes itโ€™s the small capitulations that signify the beginning of the end. Who said that? Nobody. But I feel some famous smart person must have said something pithy in this regard once upon a time.

Today felt like that to me. Today was the day that I texted child 3 that I had just bought cilantro. It felt weird. And a little bit wrong. But sometimes, being an immigrant, you just have to accept these ‘when in Rome’ moments. What I wanted to type, of course, was coriander.

Trouble is, in America, coriander is only used to describe these:


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The leaves:

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are called cilantro.

It’s not really a big deal. The Latin name for the plant is Coriandrum Sativum and it doesn’t take a genius to take the leap from Coriandrum to coriander. I did have a bit more trouble with this line from Wikipedia though:

Cilantro is the Spanish word for coriander, also deriving from coriandrum.”

Eh? Who starts with coriandrum and jumps to cilantro? I’m no linguist (clearly) but that seems like a bit of stretch.


R is for Roy G Biv

What the… I hear you say in the U.K. Roy G Biv?? What on earth is that??

But everyone in the U.S. (I bet) knows exactly what this is. Yet we have lived here for 8 years now and I only found out about this phrase YESTERDAY! It came about like this:

Child 3 and I were driving along in the car at about 5.30pm. The wintery sun was setting up ahead and there was a lovely range of colours on show that child 3 said “made the whole sky look like a rainbow”. And then she asked me if I thought the rainbow included indigo and violet or “just purple”.

This was the moment I discovered that when we lived in Canada between 2008 and 2010, so Child 3 was aged between 3 and 5, she was taught that the colours of the rainbow were… wait for it… (and feel free to sing this in your head to the tune of twinkle twinkle little star)

“Red and Orange, Green and Blue, Shiny Yellow, Purple too.”


Well, I was shocked. I mean that’s just wrong. Am I right? I am.

Because as everyone in Britain knows, the colours of the rainbow can be remembered using the mnemonic Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain. In other words red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. In my mind, the Richard of York referred to here was always this guy:

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This is Richard III (who I have always liked btw. I named a hamster after him once – Richard III the last Plantagenet King. We called him Plantagenet for short) who was the King of England from 1483 to 1485 when he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field. I love Richard III, I’ll admit. From Shakespeare’s play to Sharon Penman’s fantastic historical novel The Sunne in Splendour and on to Josephine Tey’s crime story The Daughter of Time, Richard III is a very interesting person to know about. When I was pregnant with Child 3 we even used to say if she was a boy we’d call her Richard because she’d be Richard III. But this morning, I’ve just read that he IS NOT the Richard of York in the rainbow mnemonic.

According to The History Girls blog, the Richard of York of rainbow fame was in fact Richard III’s father, also Richard, who was never a King himself, despite being the father of both Edward IV and Richard III. Gosh, those Wars of the Roses were complicated. Many battles were fought and Richard never did come out on top. He died in 1460 and since he certainly battled in vain, I’m drawn to believe he IS the right Richard remembered in the rainbow thingy.

I hope readers will take a look at the History Girls blog post (link above). I enjoyed it very much, especially the comments section where it was suggested that another version of the British rainbow mnemonic was Richard Of York Got Boiled in Vinegar! Probably this is significantly less historically accurate than the way I learned it, but it is definitely fun and memorable which (and, yes, I am finally back on my transatlantic track here) is a lot more than can be said for Roy G Biv.

Back to the car journey last night.

After Child 3 stunned me with her Canada rainbow revelation, I obviously had to check what she had been taught after we imported her to the States at the tender, sponge-like learning age of 5. And that’s when she told me about Roy G Biv as the way she remembers Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

I feel it is important to note on a language-type bloggy that Roy G Biv is an acronym and not a mnemonic, even though it serves the same purpose. There is nothing wrong with a good acronym, I don’t suppose, and at the very least it does at least include indigo and violet rather than the catch-all purple at play in Canada (at least according to Child 3).

But Roy G Biv? Really? I am generally firm in believing that American English is as good as British English and that all the differences between the two are wonderful and interesting, but Roy G Biv?

No. Give me Richard every time.


T is for Thanksgiving

So I am a week late with this but I have been mulling over a few aspects of Thanksgiving, perhaps because of my new perspective as a US Citizen. Thanksgiving was not mentioned on the list of 100 facts about the USA that we learned off by heart (and are already sadly forgetting) in order to pass our citizenship test, but I think it really should have been. Feeling the need to fill in my knowledge gap, I found this nice little 3 minute video on Thanksgiving history…


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And here is a cute (or weird?) bobble head doll of Sarah Josepha Hale who (as outlined in the video) wrote to Abe Lincoln advocating for the need to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. She is also known for writing this…

“Mary had a little lamb, it’s fleece was white as snow and everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go….”

Just the kind of unnecessary trivia I like to collect ๐Ÿ™‚



P is for Pocketbook

Here’s a funny thing about bags. In America it seems like lots of people don’t call handbags, handbags. They call them pocketbooks. Which is odd. As child 3 so beautifully put it… “I would have thought that a pocketbook was some kind of book you put in your pocket.” But no. It is a handbag. Or a purse. Recently the lady on the checkout in my local Wegman’s said pocketbook but I think most people I know call it a purse. Apart from me. Calling it a purse would not be possible because my purse is what I keep my credit cards and money in. Only here, that’s a wallet. Which is odd because to me, wallets are carried by men. And don’t have zips.

But the biggest shame of there being all these pocketbooks and purses over here is that the following clip probably means nothing. And yet it is one of the best delivered lines of a play in the history of the universe. In my opinion anyway.

H is for Hooker and S is for Sideburn

Here are two men that I just recently learned about from Child 2:

On the left is Ambrose Burnside. Burnside was a Civil War officer with a bit of a checkered career: at one point being conspired against (according to Wikipedia anyway) by the man on the right, Joseph Hooker.

But that’s not what is of interest here, nor was it particularly fascinating to my current student of Civil War history, Child 2. No, what he wanted to share with me is that sideburns are known as sideburns because of Ambrose Burnside’s fancy whiskers, and that the word hooker, meaning a prostitute, came into the language because of Joseph Hooker’s fancy for the company of ladies of the night. Always good to talk about prostitution with your fourteen year-old son, no?

But beyond that, was he right?

Hmm. Well, in the case of Hooker, maybe not. The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary cites ‘hooker’ as first making its appearance in 1845. Although Joseph Hooker was born in 1814, he wasn’t really famous until the Civil War started in 1861. But while I was looking this up I could not help but look over the vast number of words for a prostitute listed in the dictionary.


Here are a few side notes:

The first entries (not quite in this pic) are from Old English, confirming prostitution’s claim to be the oldest profession. Here are a couple to challenge pronunciation skills:




And here are a couple that stand out from the crowd:

Winchester goose (in use 1606-1778)

marmalade-madam (in use 1674-1717)

Twopenny upright (in use 1958-1978)

I could go on…

But instead, let’s switch to whiskers. Ambrose Burnside’s facial hair definitely brought the term side-burn into both American and English languages. My big fat dictionary has a section on ‘sidewings’ which it says was first used in 1811:


Side-burns, we see, crops up in the language 1887, amidst a clear up-tick in the need for words to describe men’s facial hair. Obviously I had to google Dundreary whiskers and Piccadilly weepers and am so very happy to be able to add a couple of photographs here of Edward Askew Sothern:

Sothern, an English actor, played Lord Dundreary in a play, The American Cousin. I can’t imagine a better example of an English eccentric and it seems both terms come back to this very fetching looking gent.

As a further interesting bit of trivia, The American Cousin was the play that Abraham Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated in Ford’s Theatre in 1865. Although not with Sothern in the Lord Dundreary role.

S is for Suspenders

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


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:


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


I mean these:


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


And they are called a garter belt.

Which made me think of this:


Now that’s a long way from those:


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:


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