#2: The English Language
The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane. – Stephen Fry
It’s admittedly hard to find photos to go with this post, since 1) I rarely photograph people, and 2) it’s nearly impossible to capture the essence of this English nuance in a photo. Maybe some picture of a bloke with two fingers to the world, or other rude hand gestures… I don’t know how to visually represent it. I do know how to use words, though my words won’t do justice to the words that the English use. Everyone knows about the quaint linguistic differences between British English and American English, like “queue” instead of “line,” “row” instead of “fight,” and “flat” instead of “apartment.” It’s called an “Underground” and an “Overground,” which are astonishingly accurate descriptions. You should “mind the gap” on the “Tube” and “mind your head” on a bus. These, plus hundreds of others, capture your ear from the minute you step off the plane at Heathrow. There are even greater things too, of which I’ll point out just a few.
The first is the use of the word “cheers.” It took me until the end of my time in London, when on the phone with a properly English person (do you see what I did there?), when we went to say goodbye, that I realized there are multiple ways to use cheers. More than I even understand, as I said “cheers” in a “goodbye” way, and they responded with “you’re welcome,” which suggests that I used it in a “thanks” way. Of course, one can always “cheers” over a few pints, and “cheers” hello and goodbye. “Cheers” can mean agreement, in both a positive way, like “dude, I totally agree,” or in a negative one, like “unfortunately, you’re right, dammit.” It’s all about inflection and usage. I’ve never found a more versatile word, or one that allows, for the one syllable, the American and British to sound exactly the same saying it.
Just as cheers can mean multiple things, there are also a variety of words that all mean the same thing. I’ll do my best to be polite in this, but we’re talking about the F-word, folks. (I think it’s quite likely that my family, possibly my younger brothers, are now reading regularly, so….) But, in England, you can tell someone to bugger off, to sod off, to piss off, to arse off… Or something can be bloody ridiculous. There are so many ways to express one’s displeasure! Which isn’t to say that the Londoners I’ve met do this frequently, but it’s certainly nice to have versatility here too. When I get a near miss on my bike, I’ve got options for expressing my feelings to the driver. It’s nice to have options, and I never knew that I had so many until I lived among those people who can properly speak the English language.
Do you see what I did with this last photo? Who gets it?