“Is that an American expression?”… “I Have No Idea”…

Posted on November 19, 2009 by yankeebean



One of the things that I tend to do is make up random words and slang for everything.  Just for kicks, y’know?  Life’s too short to abide by the Dictionary (although it’s a fine book).  My Mom does it, too and I think I get it from her – sometimes I wonder if we could have a conversation using only our secret code.  Like two spies… or psychic ninjas.

When I first move here, people would ask, “Is that an American thing?” and sometimes I’d say “Yeah” and launch into an explanation.  But sometimes I”d say, “No, it’s just a random Yankeebean thing, I like making up words”. (With lots of hand waving and general gesticulation, of course).

But recently a couple of people have asked “Is that an American thing?” and I’ve had to pause and say, “I have absolutely no idea…”

Half the time I just don’t remember if it’s American, or something I made up – I’m not even sure if it’s just something people say in the NORTH and not in the South in England.  All of the terms of everywhere I’ve lived have all ended up in a big bubbling pot of vocabulary – and the origin is starting to evaporate in to thin air  (I moved once a year from when I was 15 to when I was 20, so there’s a reasonable jumble in there)

So, is it just another expat shamerican thing?  Anyone else forgetting what’s from where?  Or should I make a doctor’s appointment? :D

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What Others Are Saying

  1. Michelle April 12, 2010 at 7:25 am

    My grandma and other Appalachian country folk relatives used to use “reckon” all the time, but it wasn’t used around where I grew up, so I presumed it was kind of a backwoods word and didn’t use it myself, until I heard it used all the time by all sorts of people in the UK.

    Some vocabulary and a couple of other reasons make me wonder if my grandma’s family are from the “Scots-Irish” who emigrated to Appalachia.

    One UK term that I find no easy substitute for in the US is “curtain twitcher”. My mom is one (always spying on what the neighborhood is up to by pulling back the side of her curtains a little bit), so I taught it to her.

    I try to keep the vocabularies separate, but the result is that I speak slower now than I used to, with silent gaps to give my mind time to retrieve the right word for the audience. And still sometimes don’t get it right, so I just appear a bit developmentally-delayed with my erratic pauses. ;-)

    Did you realize that “jerk”, “wanker”, “tosser”, “tosspot” all originally were terms for “masturbator”? There was another one (from the British side) that surprised me that I read about the other day, but I forget it now.

    A word that strikes me as a bit silly-sounding and not very representational of the underlying meaning is “fancy”, as in to “fancy” someone, especially if a macho sort of guy says it about a girl :-)

    Sorry for the rambling, I’m just procrastinating on doing my taxes!

  2. Masha April 11, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    It’s soooo weird to feel like you’ve forgotten American English all of a sudden. I was buying some lingerie for V-day, and one of the suspenders was broken…I was showing it to the lady in the shop, who was a foreigner, and she asked what it was called, and I said, I think they’re called suspenders here, but I’m not sure, we call them something else in America. And then she asked me what we call them in America, and I just completely blanked. It was like garter straps were no longer even part of my vocabulary…I had to go and look it up later. I felt like such a fraud of an American.

  3. Steve Shawcross November 28, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    The irony is that many foreign English expressions come from English dialect words originally, if you trace them back far enough. Thus it all comes full circle I guess… a word that you may think is American may ultimately come from some isolated pocket of Devon!

  4. wickedripeplum November 27, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Well not to get all serious on your ass, but most people have no idea where most of their expressions come from. It’s really only when you first move to a new place that you notice most differences. So as soon as you get settled in the lines start blurring again. Sure if I say something is wicked retarded or accidentally call a milkshake a frappe I know where I picked it up. But where did my habit of calling everything I like sexy come from? I never noticed that I always say street or ave or or whatever after every street name, but people where I live now just say the name of the street until it was pointed out to me. Is that dialectical or idiosyncratic? People just aren’t good judges of word or phrase origins or even of how they themselves speak. So I suppose my conclusion is that knowing indicates a state a of flux and not knowing is the natural state of things.

  5. yankeebean November 21, 2009 at 12:23 am

    I was just IMing with a friend and told him something would be ‘piss easy’ – he said he was laughing so hard he could barely type.

    Another term falls in to the nebulous expat no man’s land!

  6. Almost American November 20, 2009 at 4:48 am

    It’s not just you – I get thoroughly confused too, no idea whether what I’m saying is English or American. This is a bad thing as I’m a teacher, working with new immigrants. Poor sods – they’ll never learn to speak American properly!

  7. Expat Mum November 19, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    Well I’ve been in the States now for almost 20 years and I can never remember what’s English or whether it’s just a family thing. Doesn’t help that my husband is from the (US) South and I swear some of the things he comes out with are made up. Such as “If I had my druthers”. What?

  8. Moni November 19, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    I have the same problem. I’m from Bermuda, which itself is a melting pot of mostly British, Caribbean and American influences, went to school in Canada for a few years, then in the US. I’m not even sure what is Bermudian, as opposed to British or American, amongst words, practices, influences that I grew up with, let alone those that I’ve picked up along the way.

  9. alisha November 19, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I also have just recently found this blog and love it. It’s very comforting and hilarious.

    I also have no idea where half my vocab comes from. And my accent is another thing – I’ve had two people ask if I’m Swedish! One was an American I was talking with back in the States and even after ten minutes she was surprised I was American too – that’s when I knew I’d been here too long!

    Keep up the good work Yankeebean! You are definitely not alone. :)

  10. yankeebean November 19, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    Vanessa! Horrah! I’m SOOOO freakin’ glad it’s not just me. I hoped it was expat-related and not my-brain-is-goo related :)

  11. Vanessa November 19, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    I am so glad I am not alone!! My boyfriend and I have been together for nearly four years and he is still always asking me this. I am Mexican-American too so I never know if it’s a ‘Mexican thing,’ ‘American thing,’ or ‘Vanessa living in England thing’ or just a ‘Vanessa thing.’

    I love your blog! Every entry has me cracking up, shaking my head because I relate so much. I wish I would have had this blog when I first moved over here to be with my boy. It is so comforting. I finally feel like I belong somewhere!

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