Minding My Language

Yesterday I travelled by train to an area south west of London. A young woman boarded the train a few stops after mine, and immediately made a call on her cell phone. I don’t think she needed the phone, she could have just shouted. Then she made a second call, and said this: “Hiya! You all right, love? Guess who died?”

I can’t imagine what response she got on the other end of the line. (I couldn’t hear because the callee didn’t shout.) The caller then said, “Only Doris, off Gavin and Stacey.”

I gathered she was a big fan of this romantic comedy that has now finished its run on BBC, and was sad that this dear actress had passed away. I did, however, find her method of sharing the news quite fascinating.

So that made me think that it was time for another post of talking forrin. If you’re new to my blog, this is something I write about from time to time: sharing new words and expressions that I hear here in the UK and words that I know from a lifetime in Zimbabwe and South Africa, that I know mean nothing over here.

Here are a few links to previous such posts: English as she is spokeSo this is where I learnt to speak funnyThis blog’s seriously going southDoes this make sense? I doubt; I’ll be there now now; Blogging is not pants;  Is that your new wife? Shame

I’ll start with English expressions I’ve heard:

  1. To get the hump: this means to go into a sulk, to get upset or fed up about something. I watched a quiz show the other day on the telly (as television is fondly known over here). When asked how she’d like to spend her prospective winnings, a contestant said she’d like to travel to Egypt to see the Pyramids and to ride a camel. (The programme was clearly filmed before the current events in Egypt.) Her adversary, who’d not been doing as well as he’d hoped, then said to her, “Well, love, sorry but you won’t be able to ride a camel.” “Why?” she asked. “Because I’ve got the hump,” he said.
  2. Flower. This is a term of endearment, used particularly in the north east of England, around Newcastle. A Geordie term, if you like. I travelled up to Newcastle for a conference last year, and I absolutely loved the city – it was such a beautiful surprise, and I’d love to travel there again when I can spend more than two days there. I am also mad about the Geordie accent. I went into a little newsagent in central Newcastle, and the shop owner said to me, “Can I help you, flower?” I immediately adored the expression and wanted to put her words and her accent into bottles and buy a dozen.
  3. Thick: this means dim or unintelligent. It is often accompanied by putting your tongue between your bottom teeth and your bottom lip and making monkey-type noises.
  4. Go on! This expression crosses the cultures, for me. Its use as I’ve heard it in England is quite different from its use by my Dad. In England, if someone is trying to persuade you to do something, and you’re hesitating and not quite sure whether or not you want to do it, and then decide you will, you’ll say, “Ok, go on!” By contrast, I grew up with my Dad saying this to me every time I’ve told him something that I find amazing.  “Hey Dad, the Springboks have just won the World Cup! Again!” He would say, “Go on!” which, in a slightly patronising way, means, “You don’t say?” or “Well, I never” or “Knock me over with a feather”.
  5. Gutted. This expression means cut up or distressed or extremely disappointed by something. So, for example, if your house burnt down and you lost all your possessions in the fire, you could well be completely gutted.
  6. Knickers in a knot. If you get yourself into an unnecessary panic about something, you could be getting your knickers in a knot.
  7. Faff: this verb means to waste time doing unimportant things while you’re supposed to be doing something important. It could take the form of procrastination, or it could be fiddling about doing things when you’re supposed to be going out. You can either faff or faff about. Either is annoying.
  8. All over the shop: this means everywhere or disorganised. For example, “He was trying to explain to me what happened, but his mind was all over the shop and I couldn’t follow what he was saying.” The equivalent expression I would use is all over the show.
  9. Argy bargy: argument, disagreement, fighting. For example, a sports commentator might say, if there is a potential fight on the field, “Ah, now there’s a bit of argy bargy going on there.”

And on to some of my words and sayings from Saffa:

  1. Naartjie (pronounced narchy): this is the term I would use for tangerine, Clementine, mandarin. It refers to any orange citrus fruit (apart from an orange) that has an easily-removable skin and is easily divided into segments (which I call skyfies, pronounced skayfies).
  2. Chaff (pronounced charf): this word also has a dual meaning, and is no longer really in common use. It can mean to chat up someone, or it can mean to stretch the truth. So, for example, a guy might meet a girl and, if he fancies her, he might chaff her. When I was at junior school, I remember reading our school magazine during one of my holidays. It was quite an honour to have your story or poem featured in the magazine, and I always read others’ writing with interest. I remember reading a story written by a girl who was a year younger than me, which would have made her about nine. It was a fantastic tale, that I was struggling to believe, but I persevered with it because, hey, it had been featured in the magazine. When I got to the end of her story, she had written “Chaff chaff.” (Which meant she had made up the entire story.) I was horrified.
  3. Ja (pronounced ya): this means yes.
  4. Is it? This is an expression of interest or surprise. Is that so? For example, someone might say to you, “There are terrible riots happening on the streets of Cairo right now.” You might respond by saying, “Is it?”
  5. Hanguva: this means very or a lot. For example, in London lately, it’s been hanguva cold.
  6. Stroppy: this means difficult, aggressive, uncooperative. For example, actor Russell Crowe sometimes gets stroppy with the paparazzi.
  7. Koppie: this means a small hill. There is a koppie in the middle of a park near where we live, and if you walk to the top of it, you get a great view over south east London.
  8. Dof: this means dim, or not very intelligent. (See thick above.) For example, if you can’t find something or don’t understand something, you might say, “Sorry for being dof, but I don’t know what you mean.” So it usually refers to a temporary state of mind, rather like having a brunette moment.

I hope this has expanded your vocabulary horizons somewhat, and I’d love to know some of the interesting words and expressions that you use at your ends of the stick. I won’t get the hump if you don’t, but I’d be hanguva interested to learn more words. Thanks for reading, flowers.

Sunshine signing off for today!


49 thoughts on “Minding My Language

  1. These are so fun. I love argy-bargy, gutted and — imagine — stroppy!

    We are clearly having a shared linguistic moment, even intercontinentally (say that fast!) and transatlantically (whew!) — as my blog today is all about journos’ jargon, from heaves, ticktocks and thumbsuckers to berliners.

  2. What about “just now” and “now now”?
    My Princess asked me (she asks lots now) what they mean’t….. i coudl not quite explain without confusing her. Haha.

  3. Ah, “flower.” I wish we could get away with this one in the states.

    It made me think of something: When I was in my 20s, I went through a brief phase where I called all my friends “kids.” I thought it sounded companionable: “So, what kind of trouble do you kids have planned tonight?” I said something like this once to a girl who was a few years younger than me. She got all offended, and said, “Who are you calling a kid?” I had to apologize all over the place before she forgave me.

    So, no. “Flower” would never fly here.

    1. There are so many terms of endearment that people use here, Maura … darling, love, pet, hen. I love it – it’s so quaint! In SA, I have often been called “lovie” but it’s not as common as it is here.
      I am sure I’ve heard some of my sons’ friends calling each other “kids” – I kind of like it; sorry your friend back then didn’t …

  4. Fascinating post, Sunshine! One of my late uncles and his family lived in England for many years, and I just loved hearing my cousins “talk forrin,” calling different parts of a car by words like “boot.” There’s so much we in different parts of this world can learn from one another — thank you for sharing with, and educating, us!

    1. Boot and bonnet! My late mum-in-law, who was Scottish, used to call an estate car (which I grew up calling a station wagon) a “shooting brake”. Have you heard that one before? We used to tease her about it! Glad you enjoyed the post, Debbie.

  5. I’ve definitely heard “knickers in a knot.” I remember “thick” from Newfoundland, only it’s pronounced “tick”: “She’s a bit thick, eh?” Means the same thing as in England! I love “flower” although I don’t think it would “fly” here either!

    When people in Saint John take an emergency trip to the hospital, they don’t go to “emerg”…they go to “the outdoor.” I don’t know why (or even if I’m spelling it correctly…maybe it’s “out door”).

    Fun post, Sunshine!


    1. Thanks, Wendy. I love the similarities and the differences in our use of language. I wonder if the out door refers to “outpatients”?
      Glad you enjoyed the post, Wendy – another fun one to write!

  6. I love colloquiallisms! this is a great post–language, and how we use it, is so interesting to me…
    and, of course, I can’t think of a THING to add–anything we say here…it’s like having a million questions for your teacher…until she calls on you.

  7. “Are you feelin me on dis” or ” I feel ya” No not sexual grabbing but ” do you understand?” and ” yes I connect.”

    “Drop a dime”(US 10 cent coin) means to expose someone’s lie or hypocrisy or to alert police of one’s illegal activity usually drug sale.

    “Dats sooo dope” means really super cool and hip

    “Splitsville” time to leave or I’m outta here (1950’s)

  8. I love the use of “hanguva” to mean very. Here a hanguva is something you get the morning after a night of too much drink! 🙂

    Sometimes we say, “like a bull in a china shop” if someone is clumsy or awkward and maybe knocking things over.

    Ah Sunshine, another great post!

    1. Ah, jacquelin – that’s so funny! hahaha! Hanguva is a version of “helluva” – quite different from a hangover! 🙂 I wonder where “bull in a china shop” originated? The mind boggles.
      Glad you enjoyed this – thank you!

  9. I really enjoyed this post. Fourteen years after leaving SA we still say naartjie and dof.

    Stroppy is in common use in English, but maybe it’s just oop north.

    Did you know The Kop stand at Anfield (Liverpool’s ground) was named for Spion Kop?

    How long have you been here?

    1. Hi Tilly – thanks so much for coming by, welcome to my blog. I’m so glad you enjoyed this, and that you know the words! Some of them stay with you forever, don’t they?
      I didn’t know about the Kop stand at Anfield – that’s interesting. I wonder how that came about?
      We’ve been here since September 2009 – still newbies in this huge city!

  10. I remember when I had an English pen pal while I was in elementary school and I read in a letter that her hobby was collecting “rubbers”, which was/is American slang for condoms. I knew that wasn’t it, so I had to ask. She meant decorative pencil erasers.

  11. Here I was, faffing about on a Saturday morning, gutted because Felix has a very early football game and we’re all deprived of a sleep in and there you go, brightening my day with some wonderful verbal decoration….here in the home counties we say knickers in a twist…. bit easier than knotting them like you London birds.

  12. It’s been a while since I heard “chaff” and “dof”! Takes me back a few years 🙂
    How does one pronounce “argy bargy”? Haven’t heard it before and it sounds like a very handy expression.

  13. I’ve been meaning to write a similar post about all the South African words (some of which were originally English) that are different from American English words. My boyfriend and I have had quite a few miscommunications over words like this. Many of them, interestingly, relate to driving and cars. Some examples:

    Pickup=Bakkie (LOVE this one)
    Gas=Petrol (a much more pleasant word)

    I’m sure you’ve written about some of these in your previous posts but I haven’t gone back to those yet 🙂

    1. Ah, I’d love to read a post about language from your perspective – that’d be brilliant!
      I love your contributions – thanks so much for these. The only one I’ve written about previously is “bakkie” – I love that word, too! It can also be used to mean a plastic/tupperware container/ice cream tub – have you heard that before?

  14. Hi, I’m from London originally, now living in Wales. Of the English expressions, 6. is more often ‘don’t get your knickers in a twist’, and 8. is also ‘all over the place’ and I’ve not heard anyone use ‘argy bargy’ in decades!!
    In your Saffa expressions, 6 . ‘stroppy’ is used in London, too with the same meaning.

    I shall go and read all the others you’ve linked to – these are fun! (I’ve come over via a comment you posted in Carl D’agostino’s blog, by the way).

    Have you come across ‘Gordon Bennett’, yet?

    1. Thanks for the clarification, Val. These are expressions as I’ve heard them over here – I’m just observing what is new and interesting from my perspective, I’m certainly not providing the definitive guide to language! I’ve heard argy-bargy used by sports commentators quite a lot!
      I have heard Gordon Bennett, but I’m not sure what it means.
      Thanks for coming by, and for your comment.

      1. Gordon Bennett defeated me for years til I realised it was an alternative to ‘gor blimey’ – in other words, swearing. Or, if you’re a God fearing person (which I’m not) – blasphemy!

  15. I love your Talking Forrin posts, Flower!! I learn so much from them 🙂 I know a few of the English ones, except for Flower which I thought as just darling and get the hump and argy-bargy which I hadn’t heard of before!

    Back in the late eighties when I was in Medical school, we used the word ‘heavy’ a lot! Most often it meant My! My! For example, if a girl (who we felt was undeserving), was dating some guy that was rolling in cash, we would be like ‘Heavy’! I have no clue how that even got started. Sounds so lame now 😛

    1. Thanks, Harsha! Glad you enjoy these – they’re such fun to write, and I keep discovering new words here and remembering old words from home to add to the list! Flower is my favourite word of the moment – being called it, anyway!
      Heavy is such a rock’n’roll word – hilarious! I think we used it for a while, but were never cool enough to pull it off! 🙂

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