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Divided by a common language

February 8, 2009

I’ve recently posted the copy-edited version of Persona Non Grata/Ruso and the Root of All Evils back across the Atlantic to Bloomsbury. Although the books are the same on both sides of the pond, a kindly American copy-editor revises my spelling and suggests amendments for anything which makes no sense to readers across the water. (‘Flagstones’ had to go from Terra Incognita, as did  a baby’s  ‘grizzling’.)

Evidently our languages are more different than I realised. Thanks to Phil for asking on behalf of American readers what on earth ‘wellies’ are (they appeared in the Snow post below.)

It’s an abbreviation of ‘Wellington Boot’, a term used for reasons I can’t remember (but Mark’s provided a link to a Wikipedia article that includes a delightful section on ‘Wellingtons in sport and song’).  Those below were seen  on a damp day at the Greenbelt festival. Mine, sadly, are just plain and boring.

Wellington boots

Translation, anybody?

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6 comments

  1. Hi Ruth,
    I remember Wellies well, but since moving to San Diego we haven’t had much call for them. This article might clarify the origin of Wellies. Although I must confess that I’m mystified by “grizzling”, that seems more the domain of men who haven’t shaved in a few days, or bears — for which some men are occaissionally mistaken.

    Mark


  2. Grizzling? It’s what my mother used to call the noise a baby makes as warning of imminent serious crying if something isn’t done very soon. On the other hand, it’s sometimes the grumbling prelude to dropping off to sleep… The trick is to be able to tell the difference.

    There definitely aren’t any bears involved, although in our house an unshaven man was known to lift his head from the pillow and ask sleepily, ‘What does he want?’ as if I was likely to know the answer.

    Thanks for the Wikipedia link, Mark – for some reason WordPress has edited it out of the comment so I’ll put it in the post.


  3. Gum boots? Or is that something you chew? The Swedish is definitely ‘gummistövlar’. The stuff you chew is tugg-gummi. Ggggg…


  4. They’ll be Gummistövlar in our house from now on.


  5. Thank you all for the education. I have learned about Wellies and I have received yet another in a long line of lessons in humility. Seems like a guy should have known at least some of that fascinating stuff in the Wikipedia article. Well.

    In the musical My Fair Lady, Professor Higgens sings a grand song of lament of how the English speak english and during the song slips in the acute observation “Why in America, they haven’t spoken it in years”. Hard to argue with that.

    Good night from Oregon,
    Phil


  6. Thanks for raising the question, Phil.

    Interesting how language evolves – I went to an exhibition of medieval writing last night (at the King’s College Library in Chancery Lane, in case anyone nearer than Oregon reads this and fancies a look).

    Exhibits dated back to the days when educated folk wrote in Latin. The rest barely wrote at all. Even when they did, neither English nor Americans would get far reading Anglo-Saxon without a dictionary these days. Yet this, with some French mixed in, is more or less what we both speak…



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