The Queen’s English

By Diane DeVaughn Stokes

You’ve got to love traveling in order to do it nowadays, and you’ve got to have patience if you travel by air, especially during the holidays. Prepare for long lines, prepare to be annoyed and always buy trip insurance, not just because you may have to cancel your trip, but also because you may miss your flight due to security measures that may detain you.

My husband Chuck and I just returned from a beautiful wedding in England and for the first time in ages, there were no pitfalls. We breezed through all the usual chaos, pain-free! This was truly an exciting trip for Chuck as he has always been obsessed with English history, the War of the Roses, royalty, Henry the VIII and others like him. I always tell my mother if she ever finds me beheaded, make no mistake, Chuck did it!

We spent three fabulous days in London seeing the sights, touring Westminster Abbey, enjoying live theater and just happened upon a big event in Leicester Square where they were debuting the movie Eight Days a Week, which was directed by Ron Howard. Ron, Ringo and Paul McCartney were all there for the shindig greeting well-wishers and discussing the movie! Since Chuck and I are both huge Beatle fans this was incredibly thrilling for us both. I felt like screaming just like I did in 1964!

Then we toured the Cotswold’s, a bucolic area west of London with one adorable community after the other with sheep on the hills, thatched roof houses and romantic gardens everywhere we turned.

Even the community names were idyllic: Moreton-in-Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden, and Bourton-on-the-Water. Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon took us back to our high school history and English lessons. Then we headed to Oxford for four days for all the wedding activities of our beautiful niece Nikki and her handsome new husband Alex, whose family became ours immediately. They were simply incredible.

What was most amazing about this England adventure was the opportunity to learn the Queen’s English! Who could imagine that we would’ve had a problem with the language of our “mother country?” All the inflections are even different. I was an English major in college, but my recent vacation reminded me I fared better in France!

Let’s start with the obvious. Most of you know that you should never discuss our state dance over there as “shag” is a dirty sex act, described to me by the groom’s mother as “worse than the f-word!” Luckily, we knew that before going over there, even though we secretly shagged at the wedding reception! And yes, the “loo” is the bathroom.

But let’s chat about food for a moment since it is my favorite past time. The breakfast menus all featured “Bubble & Squeak,” and we learned that it was like a potato pancake made with cabbage and onions. Not bad actually, but I’d rather have grits saturated in butter which could not be found anywhere in England. All desserts were listed on the menu under the heading of “Puddings.” Chocolate cake was served with cream, and we were expecting ice cream, but it was actually real cream that you pour over the cake making it scrumptious. Scones and “clotted cream” were on every menu and were fabulous and decadent. And never mistake a biscuit here for a biscuit there, as theirs is a wafer pastry covered in chocolate!

England is famous for its fish and chips and rightly so, as the batter is light and airy, but the fish pie, much like a pot pie, was not up our alley. Have you ever had a “Scotch egg?” Perhaps it really began in Scotland, who knows, but it was a hard boiled egg coated in loose sausage, breaded and fried. And my favorite food phase was “a cheeky spot of tea.” Yes, we foreigners had a lot to learn.

We were totally in awe when our bed and breakfast host asked us if we would like a “tipple.” It sounded like fun to me, but it’s actually an after dinner, or before bedtime, drink that we would call a “toddy!” This is the same man who asked us if we would like a little “tramp” after breakfast one morning, and little did we know he was referring to a walk around the property.

But some of our phrases took on different meanings in England. Never say “that’s very interesting” to someone you are talking to, as it suggests that this conversation is totally boring and ends right here. A woman told me she had lost thirty “stone” since January. I thought it must have been a grand cleaning out of her kidneys, when she meant it was a mighty good diet.

I heard a man say, referring to a joke that was told to him, that it was “arse over tit.” So I asked him what that meant, and he said, the joke was so funny it made him almost fall over. Now you know! And while on the train going from the Cotswold’s to Oxford we met a man who worked for the “Dumb Friends League,” also known as the Blue Cross which helps homeless animals. Some name, huh?

A sign on the hotel lawn said, “Do not let your dog FOUL our lawn.” A pathway in the park had a sign that read, “Come take a Bluster!” We assumed that meant a brisk walk.

“PUNTING available here” caught our attention, as it is a boat much like a large gondola with a big oar. I went into the boathouse to inquire and asked if they would like some “punters” and no one laughed. I came to find out that a “punter” was a prostitute’s client, not someone wanting to go punting. Stupid American that I am!

And a more impressive correlation is that gaining pounds here is bad but in England gaining pounds is a good thing referring to money. A “row” is an argument, a “bop” is a party, a “nutter’ is a crazy person, a “toff” is an upper class person, a “bog” is a toilet, a “hooker” plays soccer, and Lord knows don’t use the word “fanny” over there as it means vagina. I did, and it wasn’t pretty!

But one phrase that has always been endearing to me was “bee’s knees.” My maternal grandfather, whose mother was from England, always said I was the bee’s knees. I had never heard anyone use that term here, but everyone uses it there. It simply means “awesome.” And that describes our vacation, and the wedding we joyously attended in England. Would I go back again? Absobloodylutely! Now that I’ve had my real English lesson, I am much more prepared to do so. Tally Ho!

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2 Responses to “The Queen’s English”

  1. Rose Ann says:

    Funny and informative essay! Sounds like you had a great (and educational) time!

  2. Pat Davis says:

    Enjoyed this informative and humorous piece by Diane. I can relate to what she writes here. I’m married to an Englishman, and the first time I visited UK with him was an educational experience with a few mistakes in my choice of words. Now I’m better informed when visiting there.

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