What the world wants to know about Britain, part seventeenish

I’m posting this a day early and joining 350.org and WordPress’s digital climate strike. But before that happens, it’s time to find out, yet again. what people want to know about Britain. The search engines have been kind to me lately, pouring a rich mix of oddity onto my stats page. Put on your absurdity goggles and let’s go.


entymolpgy cockwomble

I get a lot of questions about cockwombles. I’m thinking of seeing if I can’t get paid gigs talking to conferences on the subject. I don’t know much about them, but that doesn’t stop other conference speakers so why lose sleep over it?

As for this particular question, I shouldn’t make fun of it, although I will. I regularly have to look up the difference between etymology (the study of words) and entomology (the study of bugs). I look it up, I remember it for a while, then the magic wears off and I have to do a stealthy recheck on the difference between bugs and words. However, fairness isn’t  going to get in my way: The womble is not a bug. It’s an imaginary creature from a long-gone TV show, and the cockwomble is an insult based on it. If you’re interested, Lord Google will lead you to websites where you can buy cockwomble mugs and tee shirts or listen (I assume; I didn’t bother) to songs about them. 

Isn’t the internet wonderful? And no, I’m not giving you a link. If you want cockwomble mugs, go find your own.

Irrelevant photo: A gerbera daisy.

similar to cockwomble

I don’t know of anything similar to a cockwomble. Why is the internet awash in cockwombles lately? Is this political commentary?

urban slang like cockwomble

You could argue that this is urban (as opposed to what? rural?) slang, but I wouldn’t advise strutting down the toughest street you can find and thinking you’ll intimidate someone by calling them a cockwomble. It doesn’t have the punch you’re looking for. 

Political questions

does the house of commons have air conditioning

Nope. It has crumbling pipes, so many fire hazards that it has a constant firewatch, stonework hurling itself to the ground at unpredictable intervals, and little ribbons where you can hang your sword (although, let’s face it, they’re not there for you or me, they’re for someone more important, who also doesn’t have a sword). But it does not have air conditioning. 

The shape the building’s in, it’s doing well to have air.

mps who wear stockings

I’ve had a run of questions lately about MPs wearing stockings. Does some group of people have a thing about MPs in stockings and are they hoping to find a community here? Do they spend hours on the internet, panting over photos of them? We humans are a strange species, and the older I get the more fully I understand that. 

Still, it sounds harmless as long as they don’t inflict their obsession on any actual MPs.

I’m not sure what kind of stockings the people who type this into Google are looking for. Those white stockings that men wore with knee breeches a few centuries back and which, given the British gift for resurrecting outdated clothing on ceremonial occasions, can still show up here and there? Or the kind women wore before the invention of what Americans call pantyhose and the British call tights? 

If it’s the second, I’d bet a sum of money in the low single digits that no one wears them, in Parliament or anywhere else. They’re ridiculous, uncomfortable, and several other adjectives. They’re also (I’m reasonably sure) not made anymore. Or if they are, they’re hard to find.

So I can’t answer the question, since I don’t know quite what it’s about, but I can inform you, irrelevantly, that what Americans call a run in a stocking/pair of pantyhose, the British call a ladder in a stocking/pair of tights.

Yes, friends, I’m here to educate, even if it’s not necessarily on subjects you want to learn about. Think of it as a grab bag. You click your mouse and–look, we’re learning about medieval fireplaces this week! 

berwick as part of ussr

No, no, no. Even if the rumor about Berwick-upon-Tweed being at war with Russia had been true (unfortunately for lovers of absurdity, it isn’t), it never included anything about Russia or the Soviet Union having annexed Berwick. So just to be clear: At no time was Berwick-upon-Tweed part of either Russia or the Soviet Union. It was once part of Scotland–it’s one of those places that moved back and forth between England and Scotland without budging an inch. The border did all the traveling. Berwick’s now English, and Scotland, in spite of anything you may have heard and in spite of being way the hell up north, is not Russia. There’s talk that in case of a hard Brexit (or any Brexit, or–well, who knows these days?) Scotland might well leave the U.K., but no one’s suggesting that it will annex itself to Russia , much less the U.S.S.R., which is hard to join since it no longer exists. 

There’s even less reason to believe that Berwick is planning to annex Russia to itself.

How’s that for starting a rumor by denying it?

Conversational English

worcester pronunciation of wasp

Of wasp? The one word in the English language that you can look at and have a running chance at pronouncing correctly? 

And why Worcester? Do we have any reason to think they pronounce it differently there?

Sorry, I haven’t been more helpful here. I do try, but this one mystifies me.

how to talk trash in the uk

If you need instructions for this, don’t do it. Just say something you can handle. You’ll be fine.

do british people really talk about weather most

Most what? Most days? Most as in more than any other group of people? Most as in more than other topics? 

Finding what you want on the internet–not to mention in life–starts with figuring out the right question. 

derby pronunciation darby

It’s reckless to guess about the pronunciations of British place names, but I wouldn’t write this trash if I weren’t at least a little reckless, so here we go: I’m reasonably sure that the Derby pronunciation of Derby is Darby. That’s the way the rest of the country pronounces it and why change something that’s traditional and makes so little sense?

Requests for Cross-cultural Information

do the british think of the americans as brothers

Let’s turn that around: Do the Americans think of the British as brothers? 

Are the Americans aware that not every British person is male? 

To the best of my knowledge, no and yes. 

Do they understand why the second question is relevant? 

A lot of them, no, and some subset of them would find it offensive.

I despair. 

do british people like tourists

Oh, yes, every last British person loves tourists. Especially when the aforesaid tourists arrive in swarms, butt into line, and expect to be the purpose of everyone else’s day. 

americans arw blunt brits

Possibly, but they don’t spell as well.

why are the roads in france so small and no strips

Wrong country, but isn’t it interesting how people take whatever they were raised with (a road should be the width I’m used to; a grownup should eat the way I was taught to; people should talk the way I do) and then compare the rest of the world with that standard.  And silly thing that the world is, it doesn’t manage to meet it. It eats with chopsticks, or the delicate fingers of the right hand. It drives on roads that meet a whole different set of needs. And it doesn’t check with us before doing it. 

What is it thinking?

does bell rining strain yiur back

I’m going to have to admit ignorance on this. I’m not a bell ringer. For many reasons. One is that dedicating a fair chunk of time to pulling on a rope doesn’t ring my bell. Another is that bell ringing’s a church thing, and I’m not only Jewish, I’m an atheist. That makes me a bad fit. In my lack-of-tradition, we may ring the occasional doorbell but that’s about the limit of it.

I have never strained my back ringing a doorbell. Have I been living too cautiously?

I know: The question wasn’t about me personally, but I thought it might be good to explain my ignorance. My best guess is that it doesn’t strain yiur back, but that comes a footnote saying, “If you do it right.” 

Bell rining can, however, strain yiur spelling. 

I shouldn’t make fun of people’s spelling, but when people shoot anonymous questions through the blogosphere, all normal rules of good behavior are suspended.

can bellringing damage your shoulder

See above.

are englands roads all narrow

No. Has the price of apostrophes gone up?

Questions Too Deep to Answer Fully

british understatement make others silly

It doesn’t have do. Becoming silly is a choice we make, independent of other people’s under- or overstatements. 

Damn, that was profound. I may start one of those blogs where I advise people on how to live their best lives, regardless of what a hash I’m making of mine. 

Cat ate sticky toffee pudding

I’ve had a run of questions about cats and sticky toffee pudding lately. On the odd obsession list that I’ve started keeping, it’s right up there with MPs and stockings. Here’s what I know about it: 

  • Our resident cat, Fast Eddie, does not eat sticky toffee pudding. He doesn’t request sticky toffee pudding. He doesn’t recommend sticky toffee pudding to other cats.
  • The store where we buy Fast Eddie’s food doesn’t carry sticky toffee pudding. I’ve never asked if they recommend it for cats and as a result they still–silly people–consider me sane.

When I put those two observations together, I’m inclined to think that most cats don’t eat, or want to eat, sticky toffee pudding. I hope that helps.

The more I write about cats and sticky toffee pudding, the more Lord Google will funnel these questions to me, since no one else out there is brave enough to discuss it. Given the opportunity, most people will dodge controversial topics. And the more Lord G. funnels them to me, the more I’ll be convinced that it all means something. 

And the more I’m convinced that it means something, the more I’ll write about it. 

Did I mention somewhere that the internet’s wonderful?

Still, if no one was out there asking the question, Lord G. wouldn’t have anything to send me. So it’s not entirely a self-contained loop.

cotchets vegetable

I started out assuming this was a typo and that the word was supposed to be crotchets. We’ll come back to that. But just to be sure (I don’t know everything, much to my surprise), I tossed it, as spelled, to Lord G., who sent me to WikiWhatsia, which told me it was a noun, masculine, meaning a young cockerel. In parentheses, it said, “Jersey,” so I’m going to guess it’s a word used on the island of Jersey rather than a young chicken in a sweater. It’s from the French coq (English equivalent, cock–as in bird, wiseass) and –et, a French masculine diminutive. So a young rooster.

A different site says it’s Norman, so French-ish, but old. Or to put that another way, an old young rooster. 

Then Lord G. sent me to a site about last names, which told me that the origin of the name Cotchets is unknown and left the meaning blank. I asked Lord G. to tell me about a few random first name/last name combinations involving Cotchet and couldn’t find anyone to match. Which could explain why the origin’s unknown: There are no Cotchets. I think the site will accept anything as a last name–hell, it could be possible–but if it’s never seen it before it gives out no information. 

So we’re talking about young vegetarian roosters on Jersey or young roosters on Jersey made of vegetables. 

And a crotchet? It’s a bit of British musical notation. Americans (and I think Canadians) call it a quarter note.  

the guardian brits and their dogs

This is a good demonstration of why commas matter, although search engine questions almost never use them. If this is “the guardian, brits, and their dogs,” we’re talking about three things: a guardian, brits, and a group of dogs hanging around mysteriously and belonging to one or both of them. But if it’s “the guardian brits and their dogs,” then we’re talking about some equally mysterious brits who guard something–with their dogs. 

None of it makes any sense, mind you, with or without commas, but at least we know what it is that we don’t understand.

153 thoughts on “What the world wants to know about Britain, part seventeenish

  1. In passing: Derby. It is not usually pronounced DERby in English English, it would more often be DARby. DERby with emphasis on the first, long syllable (D-E-R-by) would be very rare. DARby would be more common usage and, in fact, the local (East Midlands) accent would have a very short second syllable – so ‘DAR-be’ really. Does that help?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can’t for life of me work out what the difference between DERby and DERbe would sound like, to me they are identical…

      After unless you are insinuating that the “by” of DERby is pronounced like by (the by the sounds like bye) but I don’t think you are…

      For context I am British, northern, but have live in the south a long time.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I am sorry not to be more clear, using words to describe fine elements of punctuation is difficult. I think the conventional British pronunciation of the midlands city name would be Dar-bee – roughly equal weight on each syllable. I think the local i.e. East Midlands version would have a shorter second syllable, so Dar-Be, where the ‘be’ is almost (but not exaggerated) a BEH sound, so Dar-Beh. I hope that helps. I do not claim specific linguistic expertise, nor any specialisation in regional accents, British or otherwise, and I happily stand aside for any such expert who wants to correct me.

        Just out of interest and in passing, I think that Derby, as in Donkey Derby and also Derby as in the hat would both typically be pronounced DERby and not DARby. Don’t ask me why – just my observation. Its a very confusing place to live, sometimes, in’it?

        Liked by 2 people

        • I edited a series of kids’ books and we had to add a glossary at the end, which included pronunciations. I learned that it’s almost impossible to write out English pronunciations without using specialist markings, because how many letter combinations in English have a single agreed-upon pronunciation? The damn glossaries were harder to deal with than the content of the books.

          For what it’s worth (and in this conversation, that’s not much), in the U.S. the word’s pronounced the way it’s spelled, regardless of what it means.


  2. Also, fun fact about Jersey. Jersey is the largest of a small group of islands (called the Channel Islands) which are actually just off the coast of France. They were in the possession of William, Duke of Normandy who invaded in 1066 and became King of England (not getting into the argument about invaded/liberated and whether or not he was already King, long story). Anyhow, he had possessions in France too although they were gradually taken off the Kings of England by the Kings of France in years of wars, except the Channel Islands, which still belong to the Duke of Normandy. And interestingly, HM Queen Elizabeth is the Duke of Normandy when she is in these islands – note, not the Duchess – she is the Duke. Like, when he is in Scotland, Charles, Prince of Wales is Charles, Duke of Rothsay, I think. Look, don’t blame me. I don’t make this stuff up, I just live here.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Two more passim: By bell ringing (campanology) I am assuming mainly as in church bells? Rung with ropes from the bottom of a bell tower? Wouldn’t normally affect your back, because you stand with a straight back, rope in your hands in front of you and you ring by moving your arms up and down, you don’t (shouldn’t) use your back. Ish. Think, sort of, bicep curls in the gym? I suppose you could strain your shoulder, though. Actually, with the correct technique, there is not much pulling involved and once the rhythm is set up, it is more maintenance and not main effort.

    Secondly, do we Brits (yes, I am one) think of American’s as brothers? There was a fashion for calling American’s ‘the cousins’ but I think that is out of date, probably. In WW2, the locals (who were grudgingly fond of ‘the Yanks’ really) described the GI’s as being ‘overpaid, oversexed and over here’ – but that was more about competition for the womenfolk, I think. My favourite reference was Oscar Wilde, who said that America had been discovered long before Christopher Columbus but previously it had always been hushed up.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s confession time. I don’t use punctuation or capitalisation when I ask questions of Lord Google. I do try to get the spelling right, though, and my questions make sense. He has started sending people who ask weird questions my way recently. Goodness knows what they think when they reach the post he’s chosen for them. I’d like to hope that it encourages them to write clearer questions, but I doubt it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m truly sorry to have to report to you that here in America pantyhose are still sold so ubiquitously that one must hunt with a magnifying glass to find the miniscule section with any actual stockings in it — also that all hosiery here is sold two sizes smaller than indicated on the package. I think it has to do with the size the customer wishes to be once (if) she ever actually wrestles them on. As for garter belts, we have to order those from England …

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Since they’re so uncomfortable, so you likely don’t want a pair, you might not actually care, but I happen to know you can still buy tights. They’re just a bit harder to find these days than they used to be, because most shops have got sick of trying to sell them to people who clearly don’t want to wear them, or to people who do want to wear them, but keep getting annoyed because the shops don’t have a magic formula for stopping them getting ladders in them almost as soon as you put them on.

    Oh, and regarding cats and sticky toffee pudding: I’ve had several cats over the years, and though they all showed an interest in many types of food, I have to say I don’t recall any of them showing the least interest in eating sticky toffee pudding.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, the sticky toffee pudding thing is a real mystery. It’s sort of like asking about dogs and sloe gin fizz. Who thinks to put those two things together? As for tights, stockings, and anything related to them: It a miracle that they manage to sell anything that gets itself ruined so quickly.


    • I don’t think my cat would turn up his nose at any edible thing, but what he truly hates is music. He can’t stand the stuff–live, recorded, vocal, instrumental. I tried out just five perfect notes on him the other day, and he insulted my singing by glaring at me and giving a disgruntled meow.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We’ve had two cats who registered that music was taking place. One used to sing with me–not necessarily in key or using the same concept of rhythm, but very definitely with me. The other used to explode out of the linen closet where he liked to sleep if I sang and leave through the window. I have to admit, it hurt my feelings.

        I don’t remember either of them responding to any kind of recorded music.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Enjoyed reading your post. It goes well with my morning coffee as I slowly wake up. Good bits of information. Never know when some of it may become useful. I always use complete sentences when addressing google. Without punctuation. I am against apostrophes. Down with them.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for the comments about Scotland. Pretty and I have been watching Outlander for more time than we should admit, but we know very little about the Scots v. Brits v. Everyone else.
    Please do mention the Jackobite (american spelling) rebellion in one of your upcoming posts.
    P.S. I joined the Climate Change organization on your website.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Starting from the bottom and working up: Cool. Yes, good suggestion, although I suspect it’s going to get immensely confusing. And hmmmm, I watched it briefly and bailed, but what the hell, if you enjoy it, enjoy it. I don’t know if historical background would add to the enjoyment or get in the way, but it’s worth a try.


    • Nah. I only make fun of it in search engine questions. I regularly fuck up both in comments, which I very seldom bother to proofread. As long as I can decipher what someone’s reaching for (which isn’t always easy when they have autocorrupt turned on), we’re good.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Or is it “The Guardian”, Brits, and their dogs ?

    The news from both Britain and the Former Colonies is clearly why so many are eager to be sure they are using the term “cockwomble” correctly; As in “President Cockwomble…”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Looking forward to your advice column- ask Ellen, hear how it is.

    Thanks for the laugh. I’m sure glad yes (ye’s, ya’s, cant figure how to spell that) ain’t rining any bells. The price of the apostrophe is a lot. A paper changed the font, I wish I remember the details. Maybe that they didn’t point the line at the bottom of a t – it’s all I can think it could have been. Or didn’t dot the i’s and saved a fortune in printing. So I heard. True or not? I wouldn’t know, and can’t recall the details to check.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. So, Berwick is planning to annex Russia. That’s interesting. Now I can post that and say that I read it on the Internet, from a well-respected (or is that well-rested?) source of all things English, British and UKish. I’ll have 1,000 more followers by dinnertime (or is that supper?) I think you answered that once. I’ll search.

    Once again, you can expect to be mentioned in a post from my place. I don’t shove links into other people’s posts, but you know…google and stuff. You’ve given me a great lead-in for a post I’ve been struggling with. I’m sorry, but you will have to live with that.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. A Jewish atheist? Isn’t that a bit of an oxymoron?

    Pronunciations… Edinburgh really gets me. It “looks” like ‘Ed-in-berg’ but, hearing it spoken, it comes out ‘Ed-in-bur-row’. I keep thinking someone stole some letters or, didn’t like a hard ‘g’ sound. *scratching head* 🤔🤨

    Liked by 2 people

    • Someone’s always stealing letters around here. Woolfardisworthy? It’s pronounced Woolsery. It helps if you don’t try to make sense of it.

      Jewish atheism? It may sound like an oxymoron but you don’t stop being Jewish just because you’re not religious. It’s hard to define Jewishness. It’s a religion, but it’s also a culture, a history, an ethnicity.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It was interesting to me, I was in a part of london that the taxi driver (driving through) told me was a predominantly jewish area. I just found it interesting (jewish, not religious). Maybe because I know the religious are all going to be in areas because of shopping and schooling and praying but didnt expect it when there is no such needs that have to be met.

        Liked by 1 person

        • There is a part of London that’s intensely Orthodox, so there’d be a pressure to stay in a small community where the food’s kosher, the schools are religious (in their terms, because there’s no universal standard), and everyone you ever knew is next door. I’m sure that was where you were. Where the religious glue breaks down, though, people integrate into the larger culture, although to an extent we’re still defined not just by a shared history/culture/ethnicity (to a larger or smaller degree) but also from outside, by the prejudices of the non-Jewish community. I had a much older cousin who said, “As long as there is antisemitism, I am Jewish.” I think he was onto something.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I know the intensely orthodox area, I was referring to an area that isn’t at all orthodox, the guy who was in the taxi going there (shared a taxi with me, he was part way to where I was going) was jewish, probably jewish agnostic – he has no clue if he believes in god. The taxi driver told me when he left that the area was a wealthy area and 90% jewish. It was a surprise to me because it’s not a religious area at all….

            and yeah, religious in their standards, because there are so many jewish schools around that are all held up to different standards.

            Liked by 1 person

    • May I suggest Ed-in-bu-ra – no w on the end. British place names are more complex than you might expect and contain more information than you might expect. -burgh endings, for example (Edinburgh, Middlesbrough etc) are mainly in Scotland and north east England. There is Germanic and Danish influence and the word endings crop up in Germany, too. It related to s fortification or a castle, a defended place and by 12th c was being used to denote a town or curt approved by the King. Place names ending -ter, in contrast, are on the sites of Roman cities or settlements (or forts) – so, Exeter, Gloucester, Chester, Leicester, Doncaster. There are none such in Scotland because the Romans never conquered it (or decided not to – who can tell?). England really only became one identifiable country in the 900s or so (not fully historically accurate but I’m generalising) and prior to that the north and east were in the hands of the Danes, sort of, and the south and west weren’t.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Ra. Row. Either way, Edinburgh looks like it would be pronounced like Pittsburgh…pitts-berg. I was using “row” merely as an example of pronunciation, not as a suggested spelling.

        Ellen is right. Forget trying to make sense of it. We still have people that get into arguments over the pronunciation of envelope.

        The shifting sands of the UK area is complicated, no doubt.

        Liked by 2 people

              • Re-reading some of this, I suddenly had a flashback to my almost-decade in Texas. “Buda”, Texas, is not pronounced like “Reclining Buda”, as a short “u”. Texans pronounce it “Be-you-da”, dragging that poor little “u” out as long as possible. Then, there is their own take on the Mexican-Spanish words. In downtown Austin, there is a road called Manchaca Lane. I’ve driven on it. It is referred to as “Man-check” Lane, because, well, that extra “a” is so unnecessary. Never underestimate the power of a Texan. They used to be their own country. Don’t even get me started on the German words in their culture. Large German influence in the central part. And, I’d be curious to see what they have done with the language that the ARVNs brought with them to Arlington & Houston.

                Liked by 1 person

              • And then there’s the Arkansas River, which Texans don’t pronounce like the state but stubbornly pronounce the way it’s spelled arKANzas.

                I’ve noticed that the British pronounce Houston Hooston. And the Houston Street in New York is HOUSEton. What a language.


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  14. my life was quite full already without knowing about cockwombles. and tempting as it might be with this new found knowledge to acclaim a certain individual to indeed be one and the same it would totally be a disservice to all cockwombles to slur their good name by associating them with said individual. now i need to scurry back across the pond and besiege Dan with the question if there is a quasi-religious group forming who’s sole mission is the deprogramming of cockwombles…

    Liked by 2 people

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