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:

davy

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!

 

L is for Letterman

Some days – not everyday – it’s all a bit like living in a movie. Normally I feel this way when people start talking about their country club membership (think Caddyshack) or proms and homecoming (think Grease, Back to the Future, Peggy Sue got married etc etc). But this weekend, Child 1 brought home this:

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It’s a furry letter. About 8 inches tall. And all I could think of was this:

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See that jacket Emilio Estavez is wearing? That’s a letterman jacket and above that, is the furry letter that Child 1 has brought home because he’s on the school swim team. Here is what Wikipedia has to tell me about Letter jackets with some my comments…

“Letter jackets are almost never purchased before a student has earned a letter. (What the?? Now I have to buy the jacket??) In schools where only varsity letters are awarded this is usually the practice in a student’s junior or senior year. (No idea what THAT means!) Recently, however, many student athletes have been awarded letters during their sophomore and sometimes freshman year, (Yes! He’s a freshman. This bit applies to me) leading to the need for a jacket much sooner. (Oh Marvellous! – said with heavy sarcasm) Still, the actual jacket isn’t usually purchased until the sophomore year at least. (Wait… what?) In schools where junior varsity letters are awarded, (and how do I know about that??) the jacket may be purchased by junior varsity letter recipients, though the letter is placed just above the left pocket, leaving space for a future varsity letter.” (Seriously? This is way too complicated. It’s a minefield!!)

For those who want to know (and I can’t imagine there are many of you) Child 1 has informed me that at his school – the name of which begins with the letter U – if you are on the American Football team, you get given the jacket in your Junior Year (second last year at school) with the letter already on it. This is good. No sewing or purchasing required. On the other hand, he also said that the boys are given the jacket at the end of year banquet and – wait for it – each boy’s mother gets up and puts the jacket on their son!!! Oh my. I can barely wait. Already gritting my teeth over it.

Funny side note. Last night there was an advert (commercial) on the TV where they played “Don’t You forget About Me” by Simple Minds. “Oh!” pipes up Child 3. “That’s from that movie – The Breakfast Bunch” Aaah. Our own little Mrs Malaprop 😉

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:

caucus

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.

 

 

K is for Kitty corner

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At the risk of sounding seriously American… wow, Google Earth is completely awesome! Here is a screenshot of my local town centre that I just took without having to move a muscle. Or at least none in my legs. Welcome to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and the perfect image to explain the (to me) bizzare term Kitty corner.

The image will already have indicated that this is not about cats. No. This is about direction. Because kitty corner (also catty corner or cater corner) came about through a basic mis-spelling from the French quatre, or quatre-cornered (as in four-cornered) and in effect translately into UK English as diagonally opposite. To put it in context a la “tomAAto, tomato, potAAto, potato” etc, where I’d say the clock is diagonally opposite the white building, an American would most likely say that clock is kitty corner to it. Weird but true.

Interestingly, this one is also used in Canada, land of mooses and maple syrup, and that’s where I heard it first. But what I like about it most is that it sounds like being about cats and then isn’t. It reminds me of this Picasso painting:

picasso_4cats

Why? Because it’s a painting with no cats in it, advertising a restaurant called El Quatre Gats (the four cats)  in Barcelona where they do not serve cat. At least they didn’t when I was there. Thankfully.