The Uncommon Language

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Back in the distant days of 2022, mt posted the tnocs.com Year End Review.

I eagerly typed up a comment and hit submit, only to get an unexpected message:

‘Nonce is invalid.’

And my comment failed to post. I was confused.

I scanned over my comment, thinking there was a particular word that the system had taken against. I remember back in the day, there was an issue with the old SG comments system in that it didn’t like certain words.

I couldn’t spot anything offensive. I read through again, trying to see if there was a word or phrase that could be construed as offensive. Nothing. I tried rewriting my comment and still: “The Nonce was invalid.”

I emailed mt to get to the bottom of it.

{Gary, please cue some typical podcasty background music:}

“I remember the moment well.”
“I was in a highly advanced, extremely technical Webinar when JJ’s email came in.”
And I knew that no matter the consequences: I had to log off – and react.”

Turns out there were two elements at play.

One was an IT issue. As mt helpfully explained, a nonce is a specialized version of a cookie.

Or, if you want to get really technical: In United States computing parlance – which was entirely Greek to me:

Well, I mean, that’s no so bad, right?

What I was experiencing was a good old example of two nations separated by a common language.

As over here: a nonce is something particularly… unsavoury:

Uh oh.

The Urban Dictionary provides further variations on this theme.

For an example of how to use it, I defer to The K*nts with their 2022 #20 hit:

As has been pointed out many times before, yes. Our charts are weird. Read here for the context around the song.

So you can see my confusion.

I thought I was being told off for using the word ‘nonce,’ only in very polite terms. Or having confirmed that I had not used the word and that it hadn’t somehow been auto-corrected; that I had used a phrase that could somehow be connected to its distasteful meaning.

Fortunately mt was on hand to sort it all out and I was able to post my comment. Happy New Year!

That led to consideration of other cross-Atlantic misunderstandings.

Along similar lines to ‘The Nonce Perplexity‘ (there’s a film that isn’t getting greenlit on either side of the Atlantic), there is:

The Scunthorpe Problem.

Citizens of surrounding towns may say Scunthorpe has many problems, but I’m staying out of that. The problem with Scunthorpe is that it contains a word not appropriate in polite company. See if you can spot it. When choosing online passwords seems a lot of people lack imagination and a favourite go-to is their hometown.

Except that residents of Scunthorpe back in the 90s found that AOL wouldn’t accept its usage, due the offensive word-within-the-name.

The tech folk at America Online had overlooked the existence of Scunthorpe.

As the article points out it wasn’t just Scunthorpe that was affected. Penistone (no sniggering there, in the back) was similarly afflicted. In case you were wondering, its pronounced the same way as Tennis; Pennis-tun.

Onto other wordplay, there’s the confusing, though not a million miles apart anatomically, example of Fanny. Which you’ll all be familiar with as a reference to the tushy, whereas over here… its female genitalia. Whichever side of the Atlantic, its not surprising that the name Fanny has fallen out of use.

Staying in a similar area, the procurement of prophylactics may be problematic.

Yeah. Tell me about it.

Try saying that after a couple of beers. If you want to buy ‘rubbers’ over here you’ll be directed to a stationers where you’ll find yourself with an eraser. Useful for removing mistakes but not from preventing them happening in the first place. If you want to ensure safe and secure pleasure what you’ll be needing is a condom.

Which is also the name of a town in France.

For more fun, an old fashioned term here for a condom is a “French Letter.” whereas in France its a ‘capote Anglais’ = English Overcoat.

Language is a wonderful thing. 

In using your condom / rubber you will be engaging in sex. Or as British slang would have it; shagging. Which made me do a double take listening to the top 40 rundown when The Tams had a hit in the 80s with There Ain’t Nothing Like Shaggin’.

Aha, so to shag means to dance.

Should you find yourself beside a dance floor in the UK its probably best not to ask that stranger you like the look of if they want to shag. It may result in a slap. Or maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll get more than you bargained for. Don’t blame me whichever way it goes.

Just make sure you have a condom and not a rubber with you.

I’m sure just like in Britain you have many ways of referring to someone being drunk. One of our most popular is being ‘pissed.’ Of course one can be an angry drunk and therefore be pissed (US parlance) whilst being pissed (UK parlance). Strangely, we do refer to being angry as being ‘pissed off,’ but being ‘pissed’ is only used in terms of inebriation.

Its not all fun and games, though.

Recently theree has been controversy over the use of the word ‘spaz’ in songs by Lizzo and Beyonce. In Britain, very simply: spaz is an unpleasant insult deriving from ‘spastic,’ which relates to neurological disorders such as Cerebral Palsy. When I was a child The Spastics Society was a well known charity helping people with such conditions. Spastic or spaz entered common usage as an offensive way to call someone stupid or unco-ordinated.

So much so that The Spastics Society changed its name, and spastic is no longer used in a formal manner.

Using spaz understandably created controversy here due to its connotations, with many calls for the lyrics to be changed – which they subsequently were. As this Snopes article points out, its also understandable that this usage wouldn’t be common knowledge in the US.

None of which is to say either side is wrong or right in their usage of it and the right to be offended.

It just goes to show what a minefield this common language can be.

And that’s before regional variations come into play.

My wife comes from Derbyshire, where there they refer to ears as ‘tabs’. Whereas where I come from in the North East of England, less than 200 miles away but a whole world of vocabulary away, ‘tabs’ are the colloquial name for cigarettes.

Not that I smoke, but all I’m getting if I ask for a packet of tabs in Derbyshire are weird looks.

OK, I think that we can all agree:
That’s quite enough Photoshop for one day.

I’m sure someone could write a whole book on common misunderstandings across the world.

In a way they have, they’re called dictionaries.

Anyone got any favourites they’ve experienced?

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JJ Live At Leeds

From across the ocean, a middle aged man, a man without a plan, a man full of memories, a man like JJ.

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Virgindog
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January 17, 2023 9:37 am

We had a British exchange student staying with us in the early 1990s and she nearly had a heart attack when an Energizer bunny commercial included a fake ad for something called The Fannisizer. I had no idea why, but she explained once she caught her breath and picked herself up off the floor.

https://youtu.be/Hy1xuM2ouuw

mt58
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January 17, 2023 9:51 am
thegue
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January 17, 2023 10:59 am

What a great article JJ while keeping it on THIS side of PG-13!

  1. Years ago when I taught World Cultures, I spent a few days on vocabulary…and I started with the Inuit, who supposedly (incorrectly, I now know) had 30+ words for snow. I had the students try to identify topics for which we had multiple words, and they almost always came up with “cars” and “money”. I then shared that the English could take ANY noun, but “-ed” on the end of it, and it meant they were really, REALLY drunk.
  2. I’m not sure how true this is, but considering a British friend of mine in Syria once told me about a time being “trousered”, and I completely understood.
  3. England, 1999. A friend and I are backpacking Europe while staying with that same British friend in Clapham. Friend asked me where my “fanny pack” was. Fat Bastard (British friend) responded, “Do you bring batteries for it?”
  4. Speaking of the Spastics Society, I believe the terms “idiot”, “moron”, “imbecile” et al were used as scientific terms for a person with a specific LOW score on the IQ test. Over time, these terms receive a negative connotation, so new ones are given…until the same cycle occurs.
  5. Back in the days of chain e-mails, someone sent me a “Guide to Traveling England”. I’ll see if I can find it, but it’s brilliant.
thegue
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January 17, 2023 11:21 am
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FOUND IT.

MONEY: The Brits have peculiar words for many things. Money is referred to as “goolies” in slang, so you should for instance say “I’d love to come to the pub but I haven’t got any goolies. ” “Quid” is the modern word
for what was once called a “shilling” – the equivalent of seventeen cents American.

MAKING FRIENDS: If you are fond of someone, you should tell him he is a “great tosser” – he will be touched. The English are a notoriously tactile, demonstrative people, and if you want to fit in you should hold hands with your acquaintances and tossers when you walk down the street.

CUSTOMS: Since their Tory government wholeheartedly embraced full union with Europe the Brits have been attempting to adopt certain continental customs, such as the large midday meal followed by a two or three hour siesta, which they call a “wank.” As this is still a fairly new practice in Britain, it is not uncommon for people to oversleep (alarm clocks, alas, do not work there due to the magnetic pull from
 Greenwich). If you are late for supper, simply apologise and explain that you were having a wank – everyone will understand and forgive you.

RELAXING: One of the most delightful ways to spend an afternoon in Oxford or Cambridge is gliding gently down the river in one of their flat-bottomed boats, which you propel using a long pole. This is
known as “cottaging.” Many of the boats (called “yer-i-nals”) are privately owned by the colleges, but there are some places that rent them to the public by the hour. Just tell a professor or policeman that you are interested in doing some cottaging and would like to know where the  public yerinals are. The poles must be treated with vegetable oil to protect them from the water, so it’s a good idea to buy a can of Mazola and have it on you when you ask directions to the yerinals. That way people will know you are an experienced cottager.

FOOD AND WINE: British cuisine enjoys a well deserved reputation as the most sublime gastronomic pleasure available to man. Thanks to today’s robust dollar, the American traveller can easily afford to dine out several times a week (rest assured that a British meal is worth interrupting your afternoon wank for). Few foreigners are aware that there are several grades of meat in the UK. The best cuts of meat, like the best bottles of gin, bear Her Majesty’s seal, called the British Stamp of Excellence (BSE). When you go to a fine restaurant, tell your waiter you want BSE beef and won’t settle for anything less. If he balks at your request, custom dictates that you jerk your head imperiously back and forth while rolling your eyes to show him who is boss. Once the waiter realizes you are a person of discriminating taste, he may
offer to let you peruse the restaurant’s list of exquisite British wines. If he does not, you should order one anyway. The best wine grapes grow on the steep, chalky hillsides of Yorkshire and East Anglia- try an Ely ’84 or Ripon ’88 for a rare treat indeed. When the bill for your meal comes it will show a suggested amount. Pay whatever you think is fair, unless you plan to dine there again, in which case you should simply walk out; the restaurant host will understand that he should run a tab for you.

TRANSPORTATION: Public taxis are subsidized by the Her Majesty’s Government. A taxi ride in London costs two pounds, no matter how far you travel. If a taxi driver tries to overcharge you, you should yell “I think not, you charlatan!”, then grab the nearest policeman (bobby) and have the driver disciplined. It is rarely necessary to take a taxi, though, since bus drivers are required to make detours at patrons’ requests. Just board any bus, pay your fare of thruppence (the heavy gold-colored coins are “pence”), and state your destination clearly to the driver, e.g.: “Please take me to the British Library.” A driver
 will frequently try to have a bit of harmless fun by pretending he doesn’t go to your requested destination. Ignore him, as he is only teasing the American tourist (little does he know you’re not so
 ignorant!). For those travelling on a shoestring budget, the London Tube may be the most economical way to get about, especially if you are a woman. Chivalry is alive and well in Britain, and ladies still travel for free on the Tube. Simply take some tokens from the baskets at the base of the escalators or on the platforms; you will find one near any of the state-sponsored Tube musicians. Once on the platform,
though, beware! Approaching trains sometimes disturb the large Gappe bats that roost in the tunnels. The Gappes were muggled into London in the early 19th century by French saboteurs and have proved impossible to exterminate. The announcement “Mind the Gappe!” is a signal that you should grab your hair and look towards the ceiling. Very few people have ever been killed by Gappes, though, and they are
 considered only a minor drawback to an otherwise excellent means of transportation.

AIRPORTS: One final note: for preferential treatment when you arrive at Heathrow airport, announce that you are a member of Shin Fane (an international Jewish peace organization-the “shin” stands for “shalom”). As savvy travellers know, this little white lie will assure you priority treatment as you make your way through customs.

Safe travels and Bon Voyage!

lovethisconcept
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January 17, 2023 11:32 am
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Fabulous.

dutchg8r
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January 17, 2023 2:38 pm
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Ha! That was like that Hungarian book translation skit from Monty Python!

dutchg8r
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January 17, 2023 2:58 pm
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Virgindog
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January 17, 2023 3:30 pm
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My hovercraft is full of eels. Classic.

cstolliver
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January 17, 2023 12:22 pm

This discussion makes me wonder all the more what the Gibb brothers were thinking when they wrote and recorded one of my favorites of theirs, “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love).” I mean, given their homeland and upbringing, how did they think folks were going to take the title? (In the U.S., it was no big deal, other than the fact that Fanny/Fannie as a woman’s name definitely wasn’t contemporary, Match Game celebrities aside.)

Last edited 10 days ago by Chuck Small
Virgindog
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January 17, 2023 12:25 pm
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They spent a lot of their younger years in Australia. Anyone know if “fanny” has the same meaning there as in the UK?

thegue
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January 17, 2023 1:49 pm

This leads to one of my favorite urban myths of all-time:

According to legend, the highest rated TV show in South Korea was the first episode of “Joanie Loves Chachi”…because Chachi means “penis” in Korean.

How disappointed the locals must’ve been with the actual show (almost as disappointed as we were!).

Truth be told, it was only shown on the Armed Services Network, not available to Korean locals.

cappiethedog
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January 18, 2023 12:38 am
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I like how in Pineapple Express, the filmmaker painfully shows the audience how as we grow older, younger people don’t get your pop culture references.

I laughed so hard at this.

James Franco and Seth Rogen sell weed to middle schoolers. While everybody is lighting up, James Franco fist-bumps a kid who says way to go Chachi; his friend answers: “Who the f*** is Chachi.”

This, of course, was way back before Scott Baio’s second life as a media star.

PeiNews
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January 17, 2023 1:31 pm

Don’t forget about “pants”

dutchg8r
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January 17, 2023 2:30 pm

I’m sure there’s been plenty of times I’ve tripped up on word meanings, but I was probably too busy sniggering about it to remember. 😁

When I worked at that summer camp in college outside Carmel, CA, the foreign staff became obsessed with ranch dressing. One, it’s apparently not available outside the States, so it became an exotic element to any salad/sandwich for them. But second, apparently us Yanks sound really funny saying the word ‘ranch’. All summer, anytime an American said ‘Ranch’ (which was often, as that was part of the camp’s name!),, there would be this echo of Brits and Aussie’s and Kiwi’s screeching out ‘RANCH’ as obnoxiously as possible. Nothing to do with your topic JJ, but that’s what I was reminded of as I read your post. Ha!

I will say this though – where hubby grew up, the act of vacuuming a house was ‘sweeping.’ I still, to this day, get tripped up when he mentions sweeping something, as I will always immediately want to grab a broom.

Also I have a tendency to stub my fingers and toes, smashing them on immovable objects. He ‘stoves’ them. First time he told me he stoved his finger I was like, huh? You burnt yourself on the stove top, huh???

dutchg8r
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January 17, 2023 7:35 pm
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Holy canolli Batman, I just looked up that camp for the first time in eons – it’s a big people weekend camp/corporate retreat/wedding venue now. No more exclusive for the Hollywood kiddos.

At least they appear to have retained the look and feel of everything. That was something I’d say to myself every morning walking to the bathhouse – “I can’t believe this view we have here….!”

comment image

Last edited 9 days ago by mt58
Pauly Steyreen
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January 17, 2023 3:46 pm

I had a few of these in Nepal…

Anyone from Colorado would get snickers, because it sounded like “Kalo lado,” which translates to “black penis.”

The largest ethnic group in Taplejung is the Limbu people. The Nepali word for banana is “kira,” but in Taplejung, everyone used the Limbu word for banana “kola.” In the Limbu language, “kira” was slang for the male body part.

Of course, using the word “kola” will get you in the same trouble in a Spanish-speaking country. We change words to avoid a penis association only to create a new one.

Aaron3000
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January 17, 2023 7:08 pm

The Scunthorpe/Penistone bit reminds me of another discussion board I frequent, where certain words are automatically (and sometimes amusingly) censored. Which usually isn’t a problem (it’s a fairly civilized board), except when certain artist names are brought up. A Steely Dan member becomes “Donald f*gen”, the singer of the 1991 hit “Finally” transmogrifies into “Cece thingyton”, and the group that performed “Don’tcha” is gloriously rendered as “The girlthingycat Dolls”.

dutchg8r
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January 17, 2023 7:41 pm
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Girlthingycat Dolls! Brilliant.

I know Dallas’ arena is sponsored by Dick’s Sporting Goods. People often have trouble trying to get tickets to events there, especially if they are trying to purchase tickets on their work computers…

dutchg8r
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January 17, 2023 11:18 pm

MT!!!!

I just now noticed your coming attractions poster.

How does Mr JJ feel about Mr Blobby as his costar??!! 😆

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 18, 2023 7:37 am

My British colleague at McGill U in Montreal was dismayed at how we North Americans abused food terms like “biscuit.” Indeed, Americans made a butchery of UK baking! Trying to figure out what corresponds to what can be a real headache.

(This same guy also sometimes had problems being understood when asking for water, so he eventually started doing an exaggerated American accent: “Waa-tuRRR.” But I digress)

Italians, watch out if you go to Japan: the wholesome toasting phrase “cin cin” sounds exactly like the Japanese schoolyard word for…Penistone.

Eric-J
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January 18, 2023 10:33 am

And clearly you decided not to get into any other words for cigarettes…

mt58
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January 18, 2023 11:45 am
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I was sweating that out when doing the layout, .

And then I remembered that JJ was the author, which meant that I needn’t worry at all about that.

blu_cheez
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January 18, 2023 4:18 pm

“Bird” confused me for a long time, mostly as it related to Beatles songs. In the US, a bird is, well, a bird.

What the F is John Lennon singing about (asked 10-year old me) in “Norwegian Wood”? You never mention a bird being in the house, but now it’s flown away?

Is “Your Bird Can sing” about a bird, or a lady*? WTH, Paul McCartney? Is “Blackbird” about a bird, or black woman?

*I’m still unclear if “Your Bird Can Sing” is about a bird or a lady… I *think* it’s about a bird.

Last edited 8 days ago by blu_cheez
cstolliver
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January 18, 2023 5:42 pm
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I think we can at least think of “Free As a Bird” to be referencing a bird in its simile.

blu_cheez
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January 18, 2023 8:22 pm
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Yes – that is about a bird-bird

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