Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Burning Britches

For those of you who didn’t know, my girlfriend is American, which is a constant reminder of how our two countries are divided by a common language.

I knew about the usage of different words to mean the same thing: pavement vs sidewark; bumper/mudguard vs fender; potato vs double extra mega-fries. I was also prepared for the odd pronunciations: we say tomato they say tamaida; we say lieutenant (pronounced leftenant, of course), they say lootenant; we say aluminium, they say aloooooominum.

What I hadn’t expected was the use of the same word to mean different things. In particular suspender! This was highlighted when one evening Catherine mentioned a girl that had been wearing red suspenders and I was confused and surprised that as a white-blooded man, I had not noticed a girl wearing bright red suspenders. Until I remembered that suspenders are what Americans call braces, as in the things that hold up your trousers (or pants as they insist on calling them), rather than the thing that holds stockings up.

It gives a whole new connotation to the common joke, when told by an American:

“Why do firemen wear red suspenders?”

I can only assume because all that wolf-whistling at girls from the fire station window is just a cover.

PS: for those of you who don’t know the joke and can’t guess it from the information I’ve given above, here is the fully internationalised / internationalized version:

Q: Why do firemen wear red braces / suspenders?
A: To keep their trousers / pants up.

Next week: why Britons should avoid phrases such as “I’m desperate for a fag?”

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