adventures in language

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I've been a dabbling anglophile for most of my life. These days my fascination is more with Scotland than with England, so much so that I had to coin my own term for it: albaphile. ("Alba" is the Scots Gaelic word for Scotland.) But there are still things about England that fascinate me. One of the more fun details of English culture is rhyming slang.

You may have seen the Uber Eats ad with Elton John and Lil Nas X where they're riding those coin-operated horsie things, only Elton's isn't moving so he hits Nas up for money. As he's asking for said money, he also asks Nas for "bangers and mash." You probably know bangers and mash are an English culinary dish, and I'm probably using the term culinary very loosely. But EJ isn't asking for food. "Bangers and mash" rhymes with "cash."

Another example is in Doctor Who when Cassandra possesses Rose Tyler's body in the second season (series in the UK) of the revival show. Tenth Doctor is not yet wise to this and contacts the person he thinks is "Rose" and asks where she is. Cassandra says something about the "apples and pears." She means stairs.

Get it?

Okay, so in the process of learning about all this, I finally found out where the American term "raspberry," to describe making a farting noise with your tongue, comes from.

It's short for "raspberry tart."

Which rhymes with...

Got it!

That's literally the only example of American rhyming slang I've ever heard of in my life. I really hope we have more, and that one of these days I find them.

(I suppose I could have googled it. Gee, why didn't I think of that? But it's not the sort of thing I remember to do when I'm in a situation that I can actually do it. Oh well.)


Speaking of wordplay. My second child's father, Matt, has a horrific punning habit.

(Once I said to him, "Punning is the lowest form of wit."

He replied, "No, it's the foundation of all wit."

I said, "Right. Because you put a foundation on top of a house.")

It wouldn't be so bad if he didn't make a point of trying to be the cleverest person in the room at all times -- to the point of forcing the puns, which of course doesn't work very well.

I don't think anything annoyed him more, in the realms of Wordplay and Being Clever, than when I snatched a really good one out of the air without thinking. Which doesn't happen very often, so I treasure my zingers when I find them.

Before Matt and I got serious (years ago... long over), I was staying with Horrible Triple-Aquarius Boyfriend (mentioned here). This was when Bill and I were still more or less okay. He was married, and he and the wife had a semi-open thing going on, and she and I were friends (I thought). They had a little boy who at that time was maybe two years old at most. One thing we all had in common, except the kiddo, was a half-assed command of tourist-level French.

One evening we were eating dinner and one of the foods on offer was some sort of bread with butter to spread on it. The kiddo was at that age where they all want to lick the butter off the bread and ask for more. He was no different.

I watched this go on for a few minutes, then said, "He's a real beurre for his butter."

Three... two... one...


In stereo.

It was the finest moment of my life.


Speaking of bears. I had one of those "oh fucking DUH" moments some years back when I was reading up on bear species. Bears have so captured the human imagination that at least one bear genus/species name combination incorporates both the Latin and the Greek words for "bear." This is unusual, as Greek words are normally reserved for naming extinct species.

Anyway, the Latin word is ursus, and the Greek word is arctos.

Hm. Arctos. Sounds familiar...

So I thought about it some more, and I realized:


"Arctic" basically translates, very roughly, as "there are bears here."

So that means "antarctic" translates very, very roughly as "there are no bears here."

You know, if they'd taught it to us that way in school, there'd probably be a lot fewer Americans who think there are polar bears at the South Pole.

...Okay, I'm probably too optimistic.

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Last updated: 17 November 2021