22 April 2010

Under the Volcano, and Over It, and Around It

That darn volcano in Iceland (this week renamed Warmland) disrupted a lot of things and a lot of people. Last weekend the London Book Fair proceeded with virtually no participants from North America.

The London Book Fair traditionally ends midweek, a day one correspondent tagged Volcanic Ash Wednesday. He reported the fair was quieter than usual, with many fewer Americans about. Some European publishers who ordinarily would not show up at the USA version of the event, BookExpo America, are now booking hard-to-obtain transatlantic seats in hopes of meeting the missing Americans in New York city next month.

We kept our noses in the news every day this month, because long ago we had picked this particular week to fly to London. When and if our plane does touch down at Heathrow we shall cheer and applaud, watching through portholes as our plane skids through volcanic debris. I’ve heard that most of the English now are permanently covered in Icelandic volcano dust. Anti-influenza masks are in fashion, and lemon-scented tea is served with a light covering of ash on each dainty cup.

We’ve packed extra lungs in our suitcases, so we should be OK, unless KwaklbakleLackle (or whatever the volcano is called in Warmlandic) should exhale again, or perhaps its sister exhale 12 miles away. Health care is free in Britain, so unless there’s a queue we expect to have substitute lungs installed as needed.

The question was raised today on local radio: Is Mother Earth angry with us? She’s busy, everywhere exploding, earthquaking, global warming, ocean rising, glacier melting. We dig her fossils for fuel (and she sets fire to oil rigs in Louisiana, blows up mines in China and Appalachia) and we drain her aquifers faster than she can refill. What did I leave out? Oh yes, we fight wars in her deserts and clearcut her forests. No wonder Mother is annoyed, especially today, the 40th Annual Earth Day.

Earth Day. Now there’s a concept. What are the rest of the days – Not Earth Days? Sky Day? Earth & Sky Day? No wait, that name’s taken by an annoying radio program. Of course every day should be Earth Day, just as every day should be Christmas, New Year’s and the Fourth of July. It’s not yet possible, but we’re working on this. You can fan us on Facebook.

In addition to lungs and masks, we’re packing Britishisms as well, to get ready for the lift, the lorry and the courgette, whatever that is and please don’t enlighten me.

Things that are singular over here, such as teams or companies, are plural over there. My sweater becomes a jersey; trousers are kecks, shoes are gutties or plimsolls or wellies. A fight is a row, scrumpy is cider. To swot is to study and if one is anti-social in a pretentious way, prepare for the oft-tossed epithet “toffee-nosed.”

Some of these Brit terms are simply cute. The postman is a postie. A wanker you don’t want to know. A wart, on the foot, is a verruca. If you develop a wart on the tip of your nose, it’s still a verruca.

And as for food, there’s toad-in-the-hole, don’t ask, and clingfilm for your takeaway.

I’d love to get into the much larger selection of dirty words and insults, older terms such as blockish grutnol and grouthead gnat-snapper, but bollocks, we’re out of time. Now don’t get all argy-bargy on me. Back in June.


Some of the terms quoted here came from “Blooming English, Observations on the Roots, Cultivation and Hybrids of the English Language” by Australian linguist Kate Burridge. Published in 2004 by Cambridge University Press paperback $26.99. ISBN 0521548322.

Burridge’s follow-up book:

“Weeds in the Garden of Words: Further Observations on the Tangled History of the English Language” by Kate Burridge. Cambridge University Press paperback $24.99. ISBN 0521618231.

Burridge plays the hurdy-gurdy with the medieval music group, Carnevale and does readings of Old English. She currently is professor of linguistics at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Short biography here where it also is possible to view her “Wise Words” segments on the Australian TV show “Can We Help?”


Anonymous said...

Toad in the hole is a delightful sausage and fried buttery eggy batter thing that will make you take back all the nasty things you've ever said (or heard) about English cuisine. We make a version with our local Italian sausage and garden veggies that the English might not recognize, but we love it and look forward to any excuse to have it.

The name arises from the fact that, as it cooks, that the batter rises up around the falling sausage bits, so they, the toads, end up in their little holes.

Gawd, I'm salivating, just thinking about it.

The English (the few who do) also know how to drink coffee ... about half cream. Cream, not half and half.


ps: keep up the good work

Paul in Davis said...

Remember: Iceland is green, and Greenland is ice.

All the other days of the year, besides Earth Day, shall be known as Bearth Day.

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