A Different Blue
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“Blighty is a nickname for Britain. We have nicknames and phrases that would make absolutely no sense at all to any of you. In fact you might need a translater for a while if you lived in London for any length of time, just like I did when I came here. Luckily, I had a couple mates that looked out for me at Uni. I've had years to become Americanized, but I find that old habits die hard, so I thought you might like to hear some British slang. That way if I slip and say something wonky, you'll have an idea of what I'm referring to.
“For instance, in Britain we call an attractive girl a fit bird. It works for blokes as well. You might say that's a dishy bloke or a dishy bird. We would also say scrummy – which I suppose comes from the word scrumptious. Food is scrummy, naps are scrummy, books are scrummy. You get the idea. And if we like something we say we fancy it. If you fancy a scrummy bird you see at a do or a party, you might try to chat her up or flirt with her. If I were to call you a twit or a tosser I would be calling you an idiot or a jerk. If I were to say you looked smart, I would be referring to your clothing, not your intelligence. If you're daft or nutters or barmy it means you're crazy. And if someone is brassed off or cheesed off in England, it means they're fed up or angry. Not pissed, mind you, that means drunk. We don't say trash or garbage, we say rubbish. And, of course, we swear differently, although we have adopted many of the curse words your mother would object to.”
“You say bloody and bugger and blast, right?” someone volunteered from the back of the room.
“Among other things.” Wilson tried to keep a straight face as he continued.
“We don't 'call' our chums on the phone, we give them a ring or a bell. We also don't have hoods and trunks on our cars, we have bonnets and boots. We don't have bars, we have pubs. We don't have vacumns, we have hoovers, and an umbrella is a brolly. Which, by the way, you must have in England. It's cold, and it's wet. After spending two years in Africa, the thought of going back to Manchester was not appealing. I discovered I loved the sun in large doses. So, although I will always consider myself an Englishman, I don't think I'll ever live in England again.”
“Tell us some more!” Chrissy giggled.
“Well, if something is ace or brill it means it is cool or awesome,” Wilson added. “If I were in London, I might greet you by saying 'All right?' And you would respond with 'All right?' It basically means 'What's up?' or 'Hello, how are you?' and it doesn't demand a response.”
Immediately, the whole class started asking each other 'All right?' with terrible British accents, and Mr. Wilson continued over the top of the chaos, raising his voice a little to rein the class back in.
“If something is wonky or dodgy, it means it's not right, or it feels suspicious. Your latest score on your test may strike me as a bit dodgy if you have failed all of your previous exams.
“In Yorkshire, if someone says you don't get owt for nowt, they would mean, you don't get anything for nothing . . . or you get what you pay for. If I tell you to chivvy along, it means I want you to hurry, and if I tell you to clear off, it means I want you to get lost. If someone is dim they're stupid, if something is dull it's boring. A knife isn't dull, mind you. It's blunt, so get it right.” Wilson smiled out at the rapt faces of thirty students, rapidly taking notes on British slang. It was as if the Beatles had invaded America once more. I knew I was going to be hearing “chivvy along”, and “she's a fit bird”, in the hallways for the rest of the year.
Wilson was just warming up. “If you diddle someone, it means you ripped them off. If something is a doddle it means it's a cinch, or it's really easy. If you drop a clanger, it means you've stuck your foot in your mouth. Like asking a woman if she's up the duff, which means pregnant, to find out she's just a bit fat.”
The class was in hysterics by now, and it was all I could do not to laugh with them. It was like a different language. As different as Wilson was from all the boys I'd ever known. And it wasn't just they way he talked. It was him. His light and his intensity. And I hated him for it. I rolled my eyes and groaned and snarled whenever he asked me to participate. And he just kept his cool, which made me even more “brassed off.”
My irritation only increased as Wilson proceeded to introduce a “special visitor,” a blonde girl named Pamela who presented a power point on Roman architecture from her recent trip. Her last name was Sheffield, as in the Sheffield Estates – a popular hotel in Vegas that was designed to look like an English estate. Her family had apparently built the hotel that still bore her last name. Apparently they had hotels all over Europe. Pamela told us she had majored in International Hotel Management and traveled to all the different hotels owned by her family, one of which was near the Colosseum in Rome. She sounded exactly like Princess Diana when she talked, and she was elegant and glamorous and said words like “beastly” and “brilliant.” Wilson introduced her as his “friend from childhood,” but she looked at him like she was his girlfriend. It made more sense that he was in Boulder City if his girlfriend worked for the Sheffield Estates.
Pamela droned on about this or that stunning example of Roman ingenuity, and I despised her cool loveliness, her knowledge of the world, her obvious comfort with herself and her place in the universe, and I taunted her a little during her presentation. It was easy to see why Wilson would like her. She spoke his language, after all. It was one of youth and beauty, of success and entitlement.