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It’s an ‘ickle’ ‘barmy,’ but she’s ‘keen’ on it

It’s an ‘ickle’ ‘barmy,’ but she’s ‘keen’ on it

Posted: Friday, May 14, 2010 8:58 pm
By: By GLENDA CAUDLE

If you know anything about me, you know I’m a committed reader — of virtually anything that appears in print. I prefer entertainment and enlightenment and encouragement, but I’ll settle for the heavy black block letters warning me not to put the plastic bag in my hand over the head of a small child — provided nothing else is available at the moment. Just give me something that strings letters together into comprehensible words and — for the state of my aging nerves — try to make them adhere to established grammatical practice.
For the past few years, I confess with no small amount of pride, I have even consumed books in another language.
Those of you who attended school with me in the 1960s are, no doubt, betting that I’ve unearthed my old Latin textbooks and indulged in a few of Virgil’s torrid Roman tales from ancient days. Sorry to disappoint, but I wasn’t very good at translating historically riveting conversations between folks like Caesar and Cleopatra then and I’m no better now, although I will carry to my grave the import of masculine and feminine singular and plural endings for nouns. Otherwise, I would be hopelessly lost when it comes to deciding, on a daily basis, whether to refer to those who graduate from accredited institutions of learning as “alumnus,” “alumni,” “alumna” or “alumnae.”
Or maybe you’ve recalled my heady triumphs in French class. Me neither, sad to say. So I’m not delving into any serious treatise on Robespierre and the revolution (theirs, not ours).
Au contraire (just another little something I do recall from my experiences in foreign language study, so you’ll know I really did participate), I am instead devoting serious blocks of time to works that explore complex relationships, eternal truths and perplexing questions and are written by, or about, people who speak (and write) the Queen’s English. Don’t be misled by the term “English.” It is not necessarily what you have spoken all your life, unless you’ve spent a major portion of it in jolly old England.
For example, if I were employing the Queen’s tongue, I might either say to my closest working associate (and that is a reference to proximity of our world view and not necessarily a statement on the positioning of our work spaces) or jot down in the priceless genuine plastic-bound daily journal of heady moments in my life:
“He was absolutely barking as he pawed through the skip and, having finally located his favorite jumper at the bottom of the heap, threw it into the boot and headed for Hermione’s flat.”
By contrast, were I seeking to impart this important information in my beguiling Tennessee twang, you would hear me say: “He was absolutely insane (wacky or nuts) as he pawed through the dumpster and, having finally located his favorite sweater at the bottom of the heap, threw it into the trunk of the car and headed for Hermione’s apartment.”
Here’s another conversational gem I might employ under the influence of the gracious Elizabeth (she’s the Queen, you know): “Many considered him thick, but, in truth, he simply fancied the cow and dreamed of snogging her, no matter what cheeky comments his mates uttered.”
But in deference to my own local upbringing, I would offer instead: “Many considered him stupid, but, in truth, he simply had a romantic attachment for the (unflattering reference to) woman and dreamed of kissing her passionately, no matter what insolent comments his friends uttered.”
Are you beginning to appreciate the challenges presented by the Queen’s English?
Let’s try this one then: “The underground’s loo was just around the corner, but the lift wouldn’t wait for him and so he tossed his crisps and pudding in the bin and, jerking on his trainers, bounded toward the football field.”
You might be left completely in the dark if I failed to provide the following Tennessee-based translation: “The subway’s bathroom was just around the corner, but the elevator wouldn’t wait for him and so he tossed his potato chips and dessert (of any kind) in the trash can and, jerking on his sneakers, bounded toward the soccer field.”
Or imagine your appropriate response to this important piece of news: “His mum’s fringe had gone all frizzy in the short trip to the outhouse and now she looked a sight as she searched for a plaster and shouted at Henry to turn off the wireless.”
No doubt it would be helpful to know the Tennessee equivilant is: “His mother’s bangs had gone all frizzy in the short trip to the garden shed and now she looked a sight as she searched for a bandage and shouted at Henry to turn off the radio.”
Next, suppose I asked you to decipher this: “The bonnet gleamed, but the wing mirror was streaked with greasy fingerprints put there by wee ones who had indulged in too many chips and were — even so — still begging for biscuits.”
In Tennessee, of course, we would speak thusly and you would be properly amazed: “The hood of the car gleamed, but the mirror projecting from the side of the vehicle was streaked with greasy fingerprints put there by little ones who had indulged in too many fries and were — even so — still begging for cookies.”
Or should it fall your lot in life to interpret the following from a lunchtime chat we might share: “She finally found his pants, stuffed behind the dresser and wedged against the skirting board, along with an elevator and a cozy her youngest son had snatched from the table, and she admitted to herself the dodgy boy might not be public school material, after all.”
You could pick up the conversational ball and keep it rolling in appropriate fashion if you knew the Tennessee rendition: “She finally found his underwear, stuffed behind the cupboard used for dishes or kitchen utensils and wedged against the baseboard, along with a lift for a shoe and a padded or quilted cloth covering for something like a teapot her youngest son had snatched from the table, and she admitted to herself the untrustworthy boy might not be private school material, after all.”
And, finally, were I to impart this warning: “If you’re wanting a cracker, best make sure all the runner beans and jacket potatoes are gone, and don’t be looking for any jam, either.”
You and all other Tennesseans would appreciate knowing what I clearly mean is: “If you’re wanting a tube of cardboard wrapped in fancy paper and twisted at both ends with a small party hat or gift or joke inside, that is usually pulled apart at a Christmas celebration, best make sure all the green beans and potatoes cooked with the skins on are gone, and don’t be looking for any jelly (the term ‘jelly’ in the Queen’s English would refer to something like our Jell-o), either.”
The challenges afforded Tennessee readers of poetry and prose produced in the Queen’s preference are, clearly, formidable, but I’m getting the hang of it.
As a result, I’m dead chuffed when I cotton on and I refuse to be dissuaded from this endeavor by any blighter who suggests it’s a barmy bad job!
And, just so you know, the Tennessee version of that is: “As a result, I’m really happy when I catch on and I refuse to be dissuaded from this endeavor by any annoying person who suggests it’s a silly waste of time!”
So there.
(Headline translation: It’s a “little” “crazy,” but she’s “enthusiastic” about it.)
Mrs. Caudle may be contacted at glendacaudle@ucmessenger.com.

Published in The Messenger 5.14.10

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