What people want to know about Britain, part thirteen-ish

It’s time to dip into the search engine questions that lead unsuspecting souls to Notes from the U.K. and see what it is they want to know about this green and pleasant land. The questions are in boldface type and I’ve reproduced them in all their oddity. And because my goal in life is to enlighten the ignorant world, I’ve done my best to provide the information they wanted. Even though the people who asked the questions will never wander back to find the answers. It keeps me occupied and mostly out of trouble.


good manners of britain

Yes, Britain has good manners. So do other countries, but no one notices because we’ve all been trained since early childhood to think British manners are good manners and other countries’ manners are rude flaming ignorance. We’ve also been trained to think a British accent is classy and other accents need a bath. This is all rampant bullshit, of course, and a hand-me-down from the British empire, but good luck convincing anyone of it.

When I say “a British accent,” what I really mean is an accent the listener can identify as British, which won’t come anywhere close to the full range of British accents. And when I say “no one” and “we’ve all,” what I really mean is the group of people I happen to be thinking about. I’m not quite silly enough to think I’m talking about everyone

Irrelevant photo: Orange berries. What would you do without me to explain these thing to you?

why do americans say derby instead of ‘darby’

Because that’s how it’s spelled. D e r b y: derby. Americans are naive like that. In spite of all the evidence that points the other way–and, boy, does the English language point the other way–they still think that if a word’s spelled with an E it gets pronounced as if it had an E.

Silly people.

brits think americans are too loud


swear words england vs american

If you have to look up swear words, they won’t work for  you. Swear words are very particular about who they’ll work for. Stick with the vocabulary you understand. It’ll have more impact. 

should word anglophile be capitaluzed?

Capitaluzed? No. Some people capitalize it, though. Others don’t. Because I’m retired (I used to be an editor; now I’m just an everyday fussbudget), I’m not going to chase down definitive sources. You’re probably safest capitalizing it, but you could defend either choice. 

Which isn’t much of an argument. People defend all kinds of stupidity. That doesn’t make it right.


should all male mps wear a jacket in the commons

Oh, absolutely. Otherwise British politics would degenerate into the kind of farce where people who support staying in the EU throw all their weight behind leaving because it keeps them in power for another twenty minutes; where people argue against a second referendum in the name of democracy; and where amateurs run the government. Heavens to Betsy, we wouldn’t want that.

stockings in the house of commons

It’s not smart to make guesses about anything as improbable as the British parliament, but I’m about to: I’m fairly sure Christmas stockings don’t play much of a role there. The MPs are too old to believe in Santa Claus, although a few still claim to. On top of which, they go home over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, so if Santy exists, he has to look for them there.   

mps are not allowed to wear armor

This is as shocking as it is true: They are not allowed to wear armor in the House of Commons, and it’s a stain on British democracy.

On the other hand, they (like everyone else in the land) are allowed to wear armor outside the House of Commons. On the train going home, say. At the corner store. It’s heavy, it’s expensive, and they’ll get some odd looks, but I’ve never heard of a law that  prevents it.


If search engine questions are a fair representation of what the world’s interested in, the world is obsessed with brussels sprouts. I could turn Notes into the leading (and only) brussels sprouts blog and make a real success of it. Depending, of course, on how we define success.

Here’s a sampling of the brussels sprouts questions.

why do we eat sprouts at christmas

To make sure we’re on Santa’s good list.

why do we have sprouts at christmas bbc

Good question, BBC. The world’s waiting to hear from you on this important topic. Why are you leaving it to amateurs like me to fabricate answers? This is the height of irresponsibility.

the tradition of why we eat spr54otes

The truly traditional Christmas dinner doesn’t involve spr54otes, it involves plain sprouts, of the brussels variety. The 54 was added in recent years as people became aware of how important fiber is to a healthy diet. And the U? It still feels bad about Americans having dropped it from so many words and it’s sitting out this round to make a point about how much it has to contribute.

why do cross a sprout

To get to the other side?

plumpudding brussel

No, people. There is a limit. Never put brussels sprouts in your plum pudding.


what percentage is american beer

That depends on what percentage of what. The world’s beer output?

what do they call brownies in england



why are english roads so narrow / why are english streets so narrow

Because of the houses on either side, some of which were there before cars came along. Also because of the fields. And the hedges, and the stone walls. And because, you know, they’ve been that size for a long time and it works, so why mess with it? And incidentally because they take less space.

Isn’t it odd how people go to another country, full of excitement to see something different, and then judge if by the standards of the place they left. And find it failed to meet them.

why is britain called great britain when it is small

Because it has an inferiority complex and needs to puff itself up as much as possible. We try not to talk about it, okay?


yale door company knob throwing contest

You can find Yale locks in many American doors. And, according to a quick internet search, also in Australian, Indian, New Zealand (New Zealandish?), and British doors. If the company makes doors, as opposed to locks, they’re keeping the information off the internet. But doors have door knobs, and some door knobs have locks in them, and Yale does make those. So we have a connection here.

But the whole thing breaks down after that. The Dorset knob throwing contest isn’t about throwing door knobs, much less whole doors, it’s about throwing a biscuity thing called a knob, which is a bit sweet and, at least as I remember it, too light to throw well, but you shouldn’t take my word on that, you should go and find out for yourself. The next contest is on May 5, 2019.

Leave your door at home. Also your door knob. They’ll provide all the Dorset knobs you need.  


103 thoughts on “What people want to know about Britain, part thirteen-ish

  1. I always thought that we pronounced ‘Derby’ as ‘Darby’ to confuse Americans, as a punishment for stealing, misspelling and misspeaking our language. Heaven knows what they’d make of ‘Happisburgh’ 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Always enjoy your blog, thank you for th quirky thoughts and smiles!!

    My blog https://fairytales.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/the-fairy-tale-dimension/ is in English and I am German. Since I live in Europe I use Britisch English including many “u” and “s” instead of “z”.

    When I help my children with their English homework I see that the line between the two languages gets blurred more and more. I don´t like it. What do you think?
    Greetings from Hamburg!

    Liked by 2 people

    • The line between British and American English? There’s a certain kind of person in Britain who enjoys, I think, complaining about the Americanization of British English, almost as if it were a contagion. Or a lowering of the standards. But languages change. We can approve or disapprove as much as we like, but they’ll change anyway. I find the process fascinating.

      Having said that, to the extent that I can I resist my own English becoming Britishized. Not because I think one’s better than the other or anything like that. It’s that as a writer, I need to know where my language comes from. I need to hear the overtones. If I could switch back and forth and keep them separate, I’d have no problem with it, but one set of words seem to shove the other set out of my working vocabulary, so I need the set I grew up with.

      I’m not sure that answers your question at all. Does it?


  3. Note to self…
    Stop reading this in the office, you get funny looks when you chuckle out loud!

    Note about great Britain…
    Not a lot of people know this but there is a teeny tiny island called lesser Britain which is identical in every way only much much smaller (about the size of a jam jar) and has different spots on its tummy…this is known as lesser Britain.
    Sadly the location of this has been lost in the mists of time along with the origins of morris dancing and the recipe for Brussels sprout and plum pudding…
    (don’t get it confused with Little Britain…this is different)

    Liked by 4 people

  4. “Isn’t it odd how people go to another country, full of excitement to see something different, and then judge if by the standards of the place they left. And find it failed to meet them.” This explains McDonald’s showing up everywhere – sad.

    I’ve only heard ‘derby’ pronounced ‘darby’ in an episode of The Twilight Zone:called “Passage on the Lady Anne”

    “His wife died in ’28 uh, no, ’29.
    ’29, that’s right.
    The day Trigo won the derby.
    What are you talking about? She died in ’33, the year Hyperion won the derby.”

    I don’t know what derby that refers to, and when I first heard it, I didn’t know it was a derby at all. I guess I should have googled and gotten here earlier.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I like to ask people where they grew up after talking to them a few minutes. Most people like to talk about where they grew up .
    There are accents in the US all over the place. Different words for thsame things, different pronoucations for the same words.
    Most people think the London accent is the way people speak in Britain. I have trouble understanding some British speak. I have trouble understanding some people from different parts of the US.

    Keep us informed. These are things we need to know. No armor in parliament. I will remember that. You said Commons, but I took that to mean the House of Commons. Hard to be sure.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. We’ve also been trained to think a British accent is classy.

    Personally, I’m past annoyed by it. Every American company who wants to make their crappy product seem better than it is hires an actor to speak with a British accent. After a while it becomes more annoying than the Southern Belle.

    I have a question about English pronunciation that has always bugged me. Why do the British pronounce SCH as a soft sound, as in schedule? Obviously it should be pronounced hard, like skedule. Is school SCHool or SKool? Personally, I think its to annoy us Yanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Probably not. I suspect we changed our pronunciation to annoy them. Although I’m not sure, and I’m not sure where to look to find a source tracing the changes in pronunciation. I’m sure they’re out there somewhere. It’s just a question of finding the right question–which I haven’t. But it’s not a universal thing with SCH. School is skool.

      Liked by 1 person

        • I remember once–pedantic idiot that I am–telling a (more or less) three-year-old that the plural of goose wasn’t gooses, it was geese. (I wasn’t quite that pedantic, but stil…) She gave me a gorgeous smile and said, “Geeses.”

          English. What can you do?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Read a biography on Benjamin Franklin who was upset with the lack of rules for spelling and suggested a phonetic spelling system, especially dropping sounds that were created by multiple letters, like ch having a soft and a hard sound. Obviously, it never caught on, but you can see it in some of his writings.

            Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s been over 30 years, but I’m still smarting from the dressing down I received by a Bowdoin College graduate when I mispronounced the name of her college (naturally I said “bow-doyne“). Language is a field of land mines no matter where one lives, I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great exercise and fun answers. I’m surprised that most people’s devices didn’t auto-“capitaluze” more of the first letters in each search phrase. ;)) As an aside, I’m happy to learn the proper British origins of an expression I grew up (in Canamerica) thinking was “Heavens to Wetsy.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not coming up with anything French that’s spelled with an E but pronounced the way the E in Derby’s pronounced in Britain. That may say more about the limits of my French than about the origin of the pronunciation.


    • It is an important issue. The Twat Factor is an essential way to distinguish English-speaking cultures from each other. If it weren’t for that, we’d hardly know who we are.

      Americans also think they don’t have an accent. People are crazy. It’s taken me 72 years to figure that out.

      Liked by 2 people

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