Friday, 5 November 2010

American English

Today at Fruitcake Miniature College the drizzle has intensified to the point that Fruitcake, our Principal, won't go out the back door. Also everything is an hour later, meaning darkness is an hour earlier. Apparently this is to accomodate Scottish farmers. Far be it from FMC to diss Scottish farmers, but a recent scientific survey in a newspaper shows that 101% of British humans find the whole thing a bit tedious and confusing.

The second half of term is underway, though, and today we looked at miniature grammatical differences between the meanings of, say, "Did you hear the news?" and "Have you heard the news?" One of those differences is that the first question would be more common in  American English, and the second would, in certain circumstances, be more common in British English. Interestingly, style-gurus and prescriptive grammarians will happily accept differences between US and British English, and get very hot under the collar about regional differences or things that are changing. "Less" and "fewer", for example. Here at FMC we do know the difference there, for what it's worth. We also know the differences between simple past and present perfect, but these don't get in the press or in life-enhancing books.

So back to the questions. Phil Woolas, a Labour MP and shadow immigration minister, has been suspended from the Labour Party for telling porkies (pies - lies) about a Lib Dem rival in the recent election, and there will thus be a re-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth (if you like names get a good map of the UK). Luckily the letter L is the next feature lexicographically in the FMDE. Look out for 'lies', 'Labour' and 'Liberal' before long.

In fact, though, it's not tiny grammatical differences on either side of the Atlantic that are getting attention here at the moment. 19th century Irish writer Oscar Wilde famously quipped, to Mark Twain for all I know, that Britain and the US were divided by a common language. Nice one, but actually parts of the UK (not to mention Ireland) are just as divided in that respect. I think the big difference, bearing in mind those two minimally distinctive questions in our lesson today, is the Tea Party. Go back under your stone if you are not American and don't know who they are, and don't recall waves of international joy when Barack Obama became President of the USA.

America, you do not have a monopoly on fruitcakes. Here in Blighty we have our own very full complement. However we can't get a handle on your brand of fruitcake at all. This is more baffling than minor grammatical and lexical variations, and our question is: why are they so angry about the idea of something like the National Health Service? We are not communists (in the main). True, flying the Union Flag on the lawn over here would be wet and embarrasing (unless there's an enormous football match), and saluting it before lessons would be rather naff. The NHS, though, it has been said, is actually the nearest thing the British have to a religion. We think it's really good you don't have to pay when you go to hospital. We go there all the time, sometimes just to get out of the rain.

We do know what the media are like. We get clips of your loonies specially packaged, probably. But why do they think that scientists are cross-breeding humans with animals, and that Charles Darwin was any less than a rather clever old buffer who realised that the Lord God Almighty didn't actually put various kinds of finches in different places on the Galapagos Islands actually by His own Hand? Did we do something awfully wrong when we sent Puritans in boats your way?

By the way, we'd rather like all that tea back, actually.

No comments:

Post a Comment