What people really want to know about Britain, part 20ish

The currents of the internet wash search engine questions to all shores, but here at Notes we (and by we, of course, I mean I) read them through to divine what it is that people really want to know about Britain. 

What do you need to know about these questions? Most of them are boring and repetitious. We’ll skip those. A few aren’t boring but are repetitious. If I can find some new way to answer them, I will. I don’t guarantee accuracy. I don’t even guarantee sanity. Enter at your own risk.

I assume that the people who ask these things don’t stick around to find out what I have to say, so I won’t hurt their feelings if I’m a wiseass. If they do, I’m going to gamble that they won’t remember what they asked so they’ll think I’m being a wiseass about someone else’s question. And if I’m wrong about both those things, I apologize. I type equally odd things into search engines and wash up on different shores.

I’ve reproduced the questions in all their oddity.

 

Britain and England

why do people call britain england

Because when England got married to Scotland it changed its last name. That was the tradition back then, and this was before anyone now alive was born, so don’t feel bad about not being invited to the wedding. I didn’t get to go either.

But England had mixed feelings about the name change and used England prominently as a middle name, as people sometimes do when they don’t want to outright challenge tradition but do want to make a vague gesture in the direction of maintaining their own identity. The result has been all sorts of confusion. Quid est demonstrandum, which is Latin for I’m going to the demonstration. Do you have a quid so I can put some petrol in the car?

A quid is British for a buck, which is American for a dollar, only the British are talking about a pound, even though no one measures petrol in pounds and ounces, only in gallons or liters.

And petrol is British for gas. Gas is British for–

Never mind. 

You can tell how old that translation is by its assumption that you can get anywhere on a quid’s worth of petrol. 

I hope I’ve cleared things up.

when was england called great britain

If the search engine questions that wash ashore here are anything to judge by, just about daily, so that’ll take the present tense, please.

reson of great britain being called

Need of its attention gotten being. 

 

Debtors prisons

why were people sent to debtors prison in 1600 england

Well, it’s complicated, so let’s simplify it: They were in debt. And couldn’t pay. And whoever they owed money to got touchy about it. And the law allowed them to have people tossed into prison for debt, so they did.

debtors prison jobs

You’re too late. This is no longer a viable career option.

 

The mysteries of British culture and history

why is it offensive to put 2 fingers up

That depends in large part on what you put them up. Please send details and I’ll explain.

free printable notes for king alfred the great

King Alred the Great is dead. He’s no longer accepting notes–free, paid, printed, or hand lettered on vellum. If you read the fine print of the handbook Once You’re Dead, it explains all this. And, oh, so much more. 

If, however, we’re talking about notes in the British sense, as in paper money, you should understand that they’re free and printable because they’re not legal tender. In other words, you can’t buy anything with them–no cigarettes, no ice cream, no face masks. But as long as we’re clear on that, I’m sure we can find some washing around the internet. You can find everything on the internet.

Finally, if we’re talking about notes as in what you should’ve written down in class so you could pass the test, then (a) you should’ve written them down in class and (b) you might want to break with tradition and find a decent book (or even a decent encyclopedia entry) instead of gamblling on someone else’s notes. 

why are we called great britain

Because we have (somewhere, although I haven’t gone looking for any lately) free printable notes for King Alfred the Great. It doesn’t get any greater than that. 

why do british have dogs

So they don’t have to bark themselves. 

Or is this a trick question? 

how to develop a british sense of humor

If you have to ask, you can’t.

britain went metric

It did. And froggy went a-courtin’. Is there a connection? A lot of people out there would like you to think there isn’t, but it looks awfully convenient to me. 

king john hawley

He wasn’t a relative. Sorry. My father changed his name from Hurwitz twenty-some years after an immigration official on Ellis Island changed his father’s from Gurievich. That’s as far back as I can trace the sequence, but I’m sure it made other twists and turns without ever getting us close enough to a king for us to have given him Covid-19, or whatever its era-appropriate equivalent was.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that there never has been a king named John Hawley. Anywhere. 

how to be an aristocrat

Get born in the right family.

upper class people don’t drink coffee

For all I know this could be true, although I doubt it. Either way, I’m proud to say they don’t hang out with the likes of me. Or vice versa.

how did the catholic church feel about women in medieval england

It had a built-in problem with women. On the one hand, it wasn’t crazy about them. They were (almost) everything the (theoretically) celibate males who ran the church weren’t supposed to think about. The rest of what they weren’t supposed to think about? Men. Children. Animals. Footwear. Anything else their hormones might suggest in an appealing way.

But it was women who officially represented sex, which–forget my earlier list–is really what the (theoretically) celibate males who ran the church weren’t supposed to think about. So when the (theoretically) celibate males sang “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things,” women weren’t low on the list, they didn’t get onto the list at all. Because it would mean they were thinking about them.

But according to the church’s holy book, god told humans to go make more humans, and the male half of humanity couldn’t do that without the female half. And just to complicate things, their god’s mother had been a female. 

So yeah, they had a hard time with this.  

 

Brussels sprouts

from what country did brussel sprouts originate

The one that plays host to Brussels.

+where did brussell sprouts get it’s name from?

Brussels.

brussel sprouts and christianity as a religion

Christianity is a religion. Brussels sprouts are not a religion. Next question.

 

Etc.

how do us mailboxes work

Well, you drop a letter in and someone comes along in a truck and picks it up, along with all the new friends it’s made, and they all get carried to a sorting station. As long as your letter has a stamp and an address, it gets separated from its friends, who are going other places, and gets sent on its way. This is sad, but it makes new friends on the journey, so it’s not too sad.

Or did I misunderstand the question? I answered how do U.S. mailboxes work? but maybe this was a mailbox asking how do us mailboxes work? Apologies. Everything you need to know is in Section 41B, subsections iii through xvi of the Mailbox Handbook

Technically, though, that should be, how do we mailboxes work? 

Have you ever wondered whose bright idea it was to name a country us? It’s as bad as naming a newspaper i–which someone has–so that to quote it you have to write, “i says,” or, “According to i.” 

Anyway, since you’d say “we work,” not “us work,” you’re supposed to say how do we mailboxes work? not how do us mailboxes work?

You’re welcome.

tulpan i kruka

I didn’t recognize the language here–in fact, I wasn’t sure it was language, as opposed to gibberish–so in my relentless search for blog fodder I asked Lord Google about it and he told me it’s Swedish and means tulip in a pot. 

Well, of course it does. We talk about that all the time here.

Interestingly enough, when I typed in the phrase that led some hapless soul to Notes, Lord G. didn’t refer me to myself. That’s not unreasonable, since I never used the phrase, don’t speak Swedish, had just failed the do-you-recognize-Swedish? test, and don’t have much to say about tulips in pots, so I rank low on the list of experts. 

About many things.

Still , Lord G. did refer someone here using that key phrase. I have no explanation to offer. 

birds speaking english

No matter where birds are born, human speech is at best a second language for them. Mostly, they speak bird.

birds speaking english for sale

Oh, hell. This is starting to sound ominous.

What people really want to know about Britain, May 2020 edition

Let’s take a break from doom and disaster. There’s enough to go around, so it’ll be there for us later. Instead, let’s dig through the search engine questions that Lord Google sends me and see what people want to know about Britain. I promise, you won’t learn a thing.

Food-related questions

british baking powder biscuits

There is no such thing as a British baking powder biscuit. Except at my house and they’re the American kind. And I can’t invite you over anyway because we’re still in lockdown–or we were when I wrote this and I trust we still will be when it goes live. Besides, there aren’t enough to go round. Sorry.

There is such a thing as a British scone, but a scone is not a baking powder biscuit any more than my cousin is me. Much to my cousin’s relief, I’m sure. They (and we) do have a family resemblance, which is why you’ll find British people who are horrified at the idea of eating biscuits and gravy. They’ve either mistaken baking powder biscuits (not sweet) for scones (a bit sweet but with a similar look–family resemblance and all that) or for what the British call biscuits, which are what Americans call cookies.

Is that confusing enough that I can stop there? Let’s talk about something else.

can cats eat sticky toffee pudding

Yes, technically speaking. They have mouths, which allow them to eat all kinds of things. But they can only do sticky toffee pudding if their humans (a) bring some home for them or (b) make some themselves. Cats–and I know this will upset some of you—can’t cook and wouldn’t bother if they could. A nice raw mouse is good for the digestion. Both going down and coming up.

You’re welcome.

raisin monday

This isn’t really about food, it’s about tradition, but raisins are food so let’s slip it in here.

Raisin Monday is one of those bizarre, centuries-old British traditions that—

I was going to say that no one can explain but this one’s unusual in that the origin is known. It’s just that even once you know it, it doesn’t make much sense so you still come away feeling like you don’t know. It involves raisins, shaving cream (that’s a modern addition), and silly costumes. Also alcohol, which may or may not be a modern addition. I can’t urge you strongly enough to go read the full explanation.

brussel sprouts and christianity

Is it just me or are the questions here getting stranger?

Brussels sprouts are a vegetable. As such, they have no religion. Neither, for the record, do apples, figs, or green beans. Neither does my cat, Fast Eddie, although he’s not a vegetable. Even the most evangelical proselytizer will, I think, accept that this is how things ought to be.

With that out of the way, we can address what may have been the question behind the question: Do brussels sprouts have any significance in Christianity? I’m probably not the best person to answer this–I’m not only Jewish, I’m an atheist, as I have to (have to, mind you) mention here every so often–but I can take a reasonable outsider’s guess. To the best of my admittedly limited knowledge, brussels sprouts are not mentioned in the Bible. Ask Lord Google about brussels sprouts and the Bible and you won’t end up with one of the psalms, you’ll end up looking at recipe and gardening books that claim to have the definitive word on whichever. They have titles like The Broccoli Bible.

Broccoli, just for the record, is not the same as brussels sprouts. And it has no religion either.

If there is a brussels sprouts psalm, I trust that someone will let me know about it. Or possibly write it. Ignorance like that can’t be allowed to continue, even if it’s mine and I treasure it.

This whole idea that brussels sprouts have some religious meaning comes, I’m reasonably sure, from the tradition of making two cuts in the base of the stems before you cook them. In theory, that makes the stem cook at the same speed as the leafy part. And since the two cuts form a cross (or an X, depending on which way you hold it), you end up with a kind of instant religious imagery, or you do in the minds of people who live surrounded by the imagery of that religion. I’m sure that somewhere along the line, someone told a younger someone, “That let’s the devil cook out of them,” and that got passed down through the generations.

I learned to make two cuts in the stem in the Jewish atheist kitchen that I grew up in and around. (That’s not a carelessly worded sentence. Of course my kitchen was both Jewish and irreligious. If you’ve never discussed religion and philosophy with your kitchen, you really should.)

Where was I?

The cuts weren’t a religious act. That was just the way I was taught to cook sprouts.

As an older, lazier, and more skeptical cook, I discovered that you don’t have to do anything more than rinse the things and dump them in the steamer. They come out just fine.

Who let me get started on this? Honestly, you have no one to blame but yourselves.

They also ripen in the winter, so in Britain people tend to serve them at Christmas, reinforcing the idea that there’s some meaning in it all. Much of life, my friends, is meaningless. The meaning is all in what you bring to it. And if that strikes you as profound, consider the source and throw the thought out your mental window.

Which gives us a neat transition to our next category:

The search for knowledge about life’s important subjects

is it called great britain anymore

No. Bucking the trends, it (that’s the country) has decided that Great Britain is too non-binary a name and from here on it will be called either Mary-Sue or Bear. It will (a) choose and (b) send in the paperwork for the change as soon as it decides which gender it is. In the meantime, it would like to be addressed as the country formerly known as Great Britain.

spiffing – do people say this

In the fourteen years that I’ve lived in Britain, I’ve heard it used in one conversation. To be fair, though, once it was dropped into that conversation, we must have repeated it three or four times each to reinforce how absurd the whole thing was. It was a spiffing conversation.

what is the financial system based on giving instad of taxes in churches like the church of England

I think what someone’s looking for here is the word tithe, which isn’t a financial system. Financial systems are things like feudalism, capitalism, socialism. Tithing is what Merriam-Webster calls a voluntary system of giving a tenth of your income to a religious establishment, but there was a time when it was about as voluntary as gravity, taxes, or believing what everyone around you did. This was back when you didn’t talk about “a religious establishment, “ or even “a church,” you talked about “the church,” the one and only, which you belonged to and paid your money to because the church had the power to demand that and you had the power to say yes to it. Imagining a life lived outside of the church was, for most people, like imagining a life lived outside of human society.

Tithing preceded that Church of England. The C. of E. just continued a tradition established by the Catholic Church, and that made me curious enough that I visited an Orthodox Church website to see if the Orthodox Church has tithes. It says tithing is “ is the Old Testament injunction to set aside 10% of all one possesses for the work of the Lord.” So yes, the Orthodox Church does that as well, and I’m going to guess that the tradition predates the split between eastern and western Christianity.

In Islam, the parallel tradition called zakat and it’s considered a tax, but it’s 2.5%, not 10%. In Judaism, tithing first appears in the Torah not as a commandment but as a practice of the patriarchs–or so the website I looked at told me. It’s not that I know this stuff. This being the Jewish tradition, the explanation involved sages with varying opinions on major and minor points and explanations of how the world’s changed since the patriarchs wandered through it and why that does or doesn’t back up the varying opinions. In other words, it’s long and full or arguments. For about half a paragraph, I was filled with nostalgia, then I gave up because it’s not a topic I care about and I’d found what I needed. You’re welcome to follow the link and split hairs to your heart’s content.

first word in the name of a document king john signed

That would be Magna. As in Carta. Although he surely signed other documents as well, in a roundabout sort of way, since signing as we know it wasn’t the way people validated documents then. If you were important enough to sign a document, you had a seal to do it. And if you were important enough to be king, you had people to wield the seal for you. Because why should a king exert himself?

Ihow do i pronounce west derby

I was ready to say, airily, that you pronounce it the same way you pronounce East Derby, only you switch East for West. Then I remembered where I am, and more to the point where Derby (East, West, chocolate, and plain) is. This is an English place name we’re talking about, and English place names are treacherous beasts. You don’t want to turn your back on one, ever. The only safe way to find out how one is pronounced is to creep up on the place in question and, once you’re near enough to see the “You are now entering” sign (or its equivalent; I think “You are entering” is an American thing), point at it and ask the closest person, “How do you say that word.”

And once they tell you, hope they’re actually from there, because if they’re outsiders they might be too embarrassed to tell you they don’t know and they’ll get it wrong.

What people really want to know about Britain, part 19-ish

The search engines have been kind lately, washing all manner of collector’s items onto my shores. So let’s see what people want to know about Britain.

But first, for the sake of clarity: It’s in the nature of search engines to wash people to places they’ll never visit again, so I trust I’m not insulting anyone by being just a touch a wise-ass about their question. If I am, take heart from knowing that at this very minute someone somewhere else is making fun of the questions I left behind.

 

Irrelevant photo: A tree. Pointing–as trees around here do–away from the coast and its winds. Also, incidentally, a repeat, since I forgot to toss in a photo until the last minute. But who’ll notice?

The endless search for knowledge about Britain

why is two fingers an insult in britain

Why is anything an insult? It all has to do with intent, and with the conviction behind the words or gesture. If you can pull together enough toxin, you can insult someone by calling them a fish fry, but it’ll be more powerful if the weight of social agreement says that fish fry is an  insult, or that you’re part of a category of people who can be freely insulted. We’re social creatures, and it makes us vulnerable to hostility from our fellow humans. Even if we don’t share the assumptions their insults are based on, they get to us.

Take the word fat. These days it’s an insult, but only because of the culture’s belief that thin in good. At different times and in assorted cultures, being fat was good. It was healthy, it was sexy, it meant you were rich, or at least solvent. Being skinny? That was the insult. 

As for the two-finger insult, it’s not clear why it’s an insult. The generally accepted explanation is generally accepted to be bullshit. It’s an insult because it’s an insult. And because it’s understood as one.  

sticking two fingers up as a greeting in different cultures

As a general rule, if you’re wandering around a culture you don’t understand, don’t try out a bunch of random hand signals to see if one of them turns out to be a greeting. I can’t prove this, but (humans being what we are) I’m pretty sure the world contains a lot more insulting hand signals than friendly ones. That would mean that, the odds are against your coming up with anything friendly.

british understatement

I keep getting these questions, and in the midst of the Brexit uproar it finally hit me: British understatement? How did the country ever get a reputation for that? MPs in the House of Commons bray and roar at each other and call it debate. The Brexit mayhem has included a prime minister accusing the opposition of surrender at a time when the country isn’t at war. The word betrayal is flying around often enough to pierce the serenest citizenly moment. So understatement? What would happen in public life if the country’s reputation rested on over-reaction? 

Which brings us to the next question.

brexit forgetting evrything you blieved in

Yes, a lot of people have done that.

And that takes us to the next question.

why is britain so great

Well, it invented the scone. And the shortbread, thank you very much. Not to mention the two-finger insult, Brexit, and understatement. If I’d done any of those things–.

No, if I’d done the first two things, believe me, I’d brag about it. In an understated sort of way, and since I’m American no one would expect that.

It’s also managed to con a lot of people into thinking that a geographical description is a statement about its general wonderfulness. 

cuntegrope

Well, of course this question found its way to me. I attract strange questions. It’s part of my understated charm.

I have a vague memory of writing about British street names at one point, and Cuntegrope Alley, or something along those lines, came into the discussion. Along with an Isis street, alley, or place, named after a nearby river and causing no end of trouble for the residents in these twitchy days.

was the uk always called the uk

No. Once upon a time, it wasn’t called anything. No one who used language lived here–or anywhere else. Then people came. We’ll never know what they called it, but the place wasn’t united and it wasn’t a kingdom, and English hadn’t been invented, so almost surely something else. Besides, the area we’re talking about had no reason to think of itself as a single country.

After a while other people came and called it other things. We’ll speed this up because I’m getting bored. The place has been called a lot of things, and oddly enough it still is, with varying degrees of formality: Britain, Great Britain, the United Kingdom. Check back with us in a decade or two and we’ll let you know if we’re still using the word united.

enclosure movement 16th century

Holy shit. This is a sensible question. It’s more than a little frightening to find myself passing as a source for genuine information. I do everything I can to keep this mess accurate–really, I do–but I’m no historian, and posting something weekly means my research is necessarily shallow, even when it’s wide. Cross your fingers for me, folks. Or wish me luck. Or wish the rest of the world luck. I do my best. Let’s hope it works.

isuk road are nartow

Probable translation: Is UK road are narrow. 

No. In most places, they’re wide enough for two conjugations of the same verb to pass each other with barely a scrape.

can i drive a ninefoot wide vehicle on british roads?

That’ll depend in part on how well you drive.And on where you plan to find a 9’-wide vehicle. A Hummer (the widest thing I could find in a short and uninteresting search, although I’ve never seen one in Britain) is roughly seven feet wide. If we jump out of the car category–you did say “vehicle,” not “car”–your standard semi (called an articulated lorry here) is 8’ 4” wide, plus a few decimal points. I’ve seen them squeeze through amazingly tight slots, and one of them did it backwards. 

On the other hand, periodically one or another of them gets stuck between two houses that are less than 8’ 4” wide. And shows up in the papers.

If you’re holding out for the full 9’, though, you could load a prefab houses on the trailer. They’re wide enough to travel with escorts carrying  Wide Load signs. 

Can we assume you have a license to drive one of these things?

photo of wooden floor in tudor times

Taken with an actual Tudor camera, please. Post in the comments section. Reward offered.

photos of british female wigs

Wigs are not, strictly speaking, either male or female. They reproduce asexually.

what are brussel sprouts called in britain

Brussels sprouts. The real question is what they’re called in Brussels.

 

Questions using the U.S. as a reference point

american in britain “legally obliged” brought weather with you talk about weather

Americans are not legally obliged to bring their own weather to Britain. Even in its most nationalist and mean-spirited phases, the country invites visitors and immigrants alike to share in whatever weather the country has going–all the more so because the British generally figure that anything the weather offers will be terrible. So why not share?

Neither are the British legally obliged to say anything about Americans having brought the weather with them, although the occasional Briton may fall back on that old joke because she or he can’t think of anything else to say. 

I have a hunch–and I can’t support this with anything like data–that the joke about bringing the weather with you is usually made by men. As always, I’d love to know if I’m completely wrong about that.

The British are also not legally obliged to talk about the weather. That would be like passing a law requiring everyone to respect gravity. 

Visiting Americans are welcome to talk about the weather, but they’re not legally obliged to either.

As always, I hope I’ve been able to clarify things. I do think it’s good when we learn about each other’s cultures.

alcohol content us vs uk

Are we talking about the alcohol content of the people? At what time of day? Do we exclude children under the age of five? Or is that the alcohol content of the countries themselves? The first question’s tough, but I don’t know how to even approach the second one. The land–the rock and soil and so forth–I think we can safely exclude. The water–or at least the sewage–may show some second-hand alcohol content. I’m not sure what’s left once the body processes it. I know it shows traces of cocaine, estrogen, antibiotics, and other fun stuff. 

Sorry. I don’t think I’m the right person to answer this.

what do brits really think of americans?

Really, really think of Americans? You mean, when they’re not being understated or hopelessly polite? I could gather up a random patchwork of things people have told me and pretend they stand for what one entire country thinks of another one, but the real question is why you care. I can’t help wondering if this is a particularly American form of paranoia –a sense that the world beyond the borders is hostile territory. 

Does any other group of people worry as much about what other nationalities think of them as Americans do? If anyone has any experience with this, I’d love to hear from you. 

what brits like about americans

  1. Our accents.
  2. The chance to make fun of our accents. In the kindest possible way.
  3. Our brownies.

 

Questions about the U.S.

why does america have saloon doors on toilets

Because there’s no feeling like swaggering out of the toilet cubicle with your jeans newly re-buttoned and your hands on your six-guns, ready to shoot everyone washing their hands at the sinks. 

Yeah, I watched too many westerns as a kid. The person asking the question did too. May parents warned me.

do canadians talk louder thena americans

No.

how do us mailboxes work

They’re magical. You drop your letter in. Someone who works for the post office comes along and takes it out, along with all its newfound friends and acquaintances, and delivers it to the post office, where someone asks where it wants to go and sends it on its way.. 

What an amazing system.

 

Mysteries

what do brits think.of pulisic / what nationality is gulibion

I thought these were both typos, but it turns out they’re questions about sports figures. I have a severe sports allergy and have no idea how either question got here. 

What the world wants to know about Britain, part 19-ish

The butterfly net I use to trap strange search engine questions has been filling up quickly, so even though I did a what-the-world-wants-to-know post just a few weeks ago, I can’t let riches like these go to waste. The questions are in italics and appear in their original form, however odd it may be.

The search for important information about Britain

england is not another name for great britain!

A-plus for the answer (or in British, A*, pronounced A-star). But what’s your question? And more to the point, why are you bothering Lord Google about something you already know?

Irrelevant photo: roses.

do brits just talk about weather

Before we can answer this, we have to figure out what it means. This should depend on which word just is hanging off of, but English-language writers dump just into sentences according to what sounds good, then figure that what they’ve written means what they think it means. But any grammar obsessive could tell them that the location determines the meaning. I’m not going to rant about that. The language is used the way it’s used, regardless of what the grammar books say, and I’m on both sides of these issues anyway. Passionately.

Still, it leaves me not knowing what the writer meant. So what are the possible variations here? 

Do Brits just talk about the weather as opposed to doing anything about it? Well, pretty much, yeah. You know how it is. We’re all like that when you come down to it. Talk, talk, talk. And the damned rain keeps coming down.

Or, in defiance of the order the words come in, do they talk just about the weather as opposed to, say, talking about feel-good topics like Brexit and global warming? Well, no. The British talk about all sorts of things. Shoes and ships and sealing wax. Brexit and potatoes and school buses.

Okay, not so much about sealing wax these days. And that’s a Lewis Carroll poem that I’m mangling. His version rhymes.

Or–I’m stretching a point here, but what the hell–do just Brits, as opposed to other people, talk about the weather,? No, it’s  a pretty common topic, given that most of the world’s countries (and therefore people) have something that passes for weather.

I’d go on, but the question only gave me three words to dangle just off of.

I hope I’ve been able to help.

why are we called great britain

Am I the only person who hears something plaintive in this? It has a kind of Mom-why-are-they-callling-me-names? quality.

It’s okay, sweetheat. They don’t mean anything by it. It’s because you’re big. Why don’t we sit down and have  a nice cookie?

Or maybe we should call it a biscuit.

ceremonail position in british government black rod

I’m tired of Black Rod, probably because I’ve heard entirely too much about parliament lately, what with Brexit and all. But yes, Black Rod has a position in the British government. Whether you consider it ceremonial or essential is probably a matter of opinion. Me? I’d call it ceremonial to the point of silliness, but I would, wouldn’t i? 

P.S. You misspelled ceremonial. I nevr misspell anything.

ploughman’s lunch history

It starts as a full plate–cheese, a roll, a pickled onion, chutney, butter if you’re lucky. Three grapes and a twisted slice of orange you’ve gone someplace fancy. Then it gets eaten. Or most of it does and the odd bits get left and someone takes them back to the kitchen and scrapes them in the trash and that’s it. End of history. 

It’s wasteful. I ordered a ploughman’s once or twice because it sounded more appealing than a cheese sandwich, but it’s nothing but a do-it-yourself cheese sandwich. 

characteristics of an aristocrat person how do they act

All aristocrats have exactly the same characteristics, to the point where every morning they call each other to work out what they’re going to wear. 

Okay, I shouldn’t get put off when people ask about this, because I wrote a snarky post about some titled idiot behaving badly and I gave it a clickbait heading about behaving like a British aristocrat. So it’s my own doing if I get search engine questions about it.

But if we’ve established that, let’s go on: Behaving like an aristocrat isn’t about having perfect manners, it’s about (a) considering that your manners, however horrid, are perfect, and (b)looking down on people who don’t behave the way you do–or who try to but who have to learn the secret handshakes from Lord Google.

Lord Google  will never tell us all the secret handshakes, just enough to leave us exposed as wannabes. But even if we find the missing bits and behave exactly like the aristocrats, we were still foolish enough to choose the wrong ancestors so we can’t be part of the club.

Silly  us.

It’s depressing to know (or think I know) that someone out there is trying to play this game. Don’t do it, folks. Aristocracy is a closed and toxic club. They don’t want us in and if we have a brain in our heads, we don’t want in. 

when will we know more about brexit sept 2019

We all wish we had the answer to that. And September’s already well in the past.

does a map show you how narrow a road is

Yes, but measuring the width of the map’s lines to the nearest micro-whatsit won’t help. You have to look at the letters associated with the roads. They won’t exactly tell you the width, but they’ll let you figure out how slow your drive’s likely to be, which is a related question. 

M roads–they have an M before their number– are motorways, the best roads the system offers. A roads–A followed by a number–come next. Some of them are hard to tell from motorways. They’re divided highways with a 70 mph speed limit and make a nice straight line from wherever you started to wherever you’re going. And other A roads are nothing like that. They’re two lanes, and they run through the middle of every town along the route. But they’re better than what comes next: B roads, which may be two lanes but may have one-lane stretches.

Then there are roads that no one bothers to give numbers to. Or they give them numbers but don’t bother to tell anyone what they are. In the summer, in touristed areas, they’re lined with nervous visitors who’ve plastered their cars to the hedges, letting the oncoming cars figure out if there’s room to pass.

There almost always is.

how do british cars pass on such narrow roads?

On the narrowest ones, everyone gets out and disassembles the lighter-colored car, moves it past the darker one, and puts it back together.

Why the lighter one? It’s a simple, non-judgmental way to choose, and it saves time-consuming arguments. 

And if they’re both the same color? Well, that’s where your arguments start. We need a better system. Everyone agrees, but we have to settle the Brexit mess first.

what was uk called before great britain

England, Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall. Unless you want to go back to Latin, the Celtic languages, and Anglo-Saxon. And Pictish. For part of that time, though, we’re dealing with micro-kingdoms and it gets messy.

why do british people eat brussle sprouts at christmas?

Because it gives them the strength to face Boxing Day, that extra holiday that comes on December 26.

 

The search for important information about everything else

what is the actual date of 2019/09/04

I can answer that: It was 2019/09/04. 

But let’s talk about dating systems, since someone’s brought them up.. The American system starts with the month, follows with the day, and ends with the year, making 04/09/2019  April 9, 2019. The British and European system flips the first two elements, so the same numbers give you 4 September 2019. 

Isn’t this fun?

The British and European system doesn’t use a comma before the year. Or after, in case the sentence straggles on. The American one does.

Moving back and forth between the two systems means that you can’t be sure what date anyone–including your own bewildered self–is talking about unless they name the month or bring in a day that’s larger than twelve.

I don’t know any dating systems that open with the year, so I have no way to tell what, if anything, the date in the question means. I asked Lord Google for help but he told me I wasn’t asking the right question, so I ended up as fodder for someone else’s post about strange search engine questions.

Lord G., as is his way, wouldn’t tell me what the right question was. Dealing with Lord Google is like being trapped in one of those fairy tales where bad things happen because bad things happen and the world doesn’t reward the just and kind.

So what’s the actual date? My best guess is that it doesn’t exist.

is a vigilante sticking up for someone

It never rains weirdness but it pours it down by the bucketful. Is a vigilante sticking up for someone? Not as often in real life as in the movies. Has someone seen too many movies? Probably. Is a movie watcher having trouble finding the line between fiction and reality? Most definitely. 

For what it’s worth, friends, if you’re facing injustice and overwhelming odds, don’t look for a vigilante. And for pete’s sake, don’t become a vigilante. Vigilantes can propel decent shoot-em-up plots–or if not decent, at least popular–but in real life they end up as lone nuts with guns who leave grieving families in their wake. Try organizing. It’s slower and it’s less dramatic, but it spills less blood and it just might do some good in the long run. 

I have no idea why that question came to me. 

how to respectfully decline an award nomination

Be nice. Explain your reasons. Say thanks. Shut up. 

whats cultural about brownies

They like literature and classical music. They’re not much on visual art.

medieval catholic teaching sex

All the medieval Catholics are dead. So are the medieval everybody elses. That means none of them are teaching sex anymore. But they weren’t much good at it, so don’t worry about having missed out.

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.

Trends

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.

What the world wants to know about Britain, part fifteenish

How can I tell what the world wants to know about Britain? It sends me questions on search engines. The method is roughly as reliable as reading tea leaves, but it’s what we’ve got. They’re reproduced below in all their oddity.

how do brits interpert tourist

Is “badly” a good enough answer? The British are famous (at least among themselves) for not learning other people’s languages. So interpreting for tourists? Don’t visit the country on the assumption that someone’s going to step in and do this for you–at least not unless you know how to find a community of people who share your language.

Of course, if you don’t read English, you’re not likely to be reading this.

Or is the question about how the British understand tourists? If so, the answer is simple: How is anyone supposed to tell you what an entire country thinks?

This raises the question I keep circling back to when I dredge the search engine pond, which is why so many people assume that a whole–excuse me–fuckin’ culture feels or thinks the same way about anything. And for what it’s worth, the questions are usually about some bit of triviality, like whether the British like soft cookies or how the British feel about tourists.

Excuse me a minute while I go into the corner and yell at the paint. 

Irrelevant photo: A camellia. The entire British nation loves camellias. Everyone who doesn’t left in disgust.

what do londoners think of american tourists

All Londoners? Okay, first we have to define London. It’s made up of 32 boroughs plus the City of London. The City of London is not London. So just to be clear, or possibly to confuse the issue a little more, there’s a difference between the City of London and the city of London. The City (capitalized) is a tiny little place with lots of financiers and a bunch of arcane traditions. If we’re talking about London itself, which an outsider might be silly enough to call call the city of London, we’re not talking about the City of London.

Is that clear?

The question is, do you, O prospective tourist who typed the question into a search engine, plan to visit all 32-plus boroughs? If not, maybe it’s only the single opinion held by all the residents of central London that matters to you. And, of course, they all hold that one opinion.

Or maybe it’s the opinion of the people who live in, work in, or commute to central London.

You see how complicated this gets.

Next we have to make sure they can tell American tourists from other brash English-speaking tourists. My Texas-born (although not usually Texas-accented) partner has been mistaken for Australian. She sounds roughly as Australian as I do, and I have a New York accent, although it’s not the accent some people think is the only New York accent. (Sorry. Life’s complicated.) We’re both regularly asked if we’re Canadian. I’m convinced this is an attempt at politeness. But you see my point. Are we talking about what all Londoners think of people they think are American tourists or of people who genuinely are American tourists.

And then there’s that whole business of what American means. I seem to be stumbling into this issue a lot lately. America involves two continents and that central bit that connects them, part of which isn’t Central but North America. American isn’t just the U.S. of What-do-we-call-this place?

If all that is murky enough, I think you’ll understand why I’m not going to answer the question. No answer is possible.

Conveniently, though, the question was followed by yet another one about the two-finger insult, and I’m grateful for that because I’d like to use it just now.

Nobody has yet asked what Americans think of the two-finger insult, but I’ll tell you anyway: They have no idea what it is.

You’re welcome.

what beer uk has that american doesn’t

Among many others, Doom Bar. Ask for that in a bar in Fridley, Minnesota, and see what happens.

Some of my most popular posts are about beer. Which I haven’t tasted in years. That qualifies me as an international expert on the subject.

why is britain called great britain

Because Big Honkin’ Britain lacks dignity and would lead to me being investigated by the Parliamentary Committee on Un-British Language.

why is called grand britain

Because you have cotton in your ears.

history of the plougman’s lunch

I came, I ordered, I ate, leaving the pickled onion, the chutney, and most of the salad untouched and making myself wonder why I’d ordered it, since what I actually ate was a do-it-yourself cheese sandwich on a very big plate.

If you want a more general history of the ploughman’s lunch, as opposed to a report on the one I got, you’ll find it here.

difference between british and american bueaurocacy

One of them has a second R in it. The other one also has a second R in it. We won’t get into the vowels. They’re best left to the experts.

The people who work for one will say please and thank you and will expect you to do the same. The people who work for the other won’t say thank you and will think you’re up to something if you work in a please. If you’re not sure which is which, leave me a comment and I’ll clarify it.

british manners

This is related to that thing about bureaucrats–or bueaucrats if you prefer.

The people who type this question into search engines have read a nineteenth century novel, or many nineteenth century novels, and think British manners involve knowing which of seventeen forks to use for the fish and not calling anyone by their first name until you’ve known them for as many years as you have forks on the table.

They haven’t noticed that different centuries have different manners, and so do different groups within a society. So, basically, British manners depend on who you’re talking to. What’s universal is that you don’t jump the queue (translation: butt into line) and you do say please and thank you.

A lot.

An absurd lot. In our local store, before it closed, I was thanked when I handed over whatever it was I wanted to buy. I was thanked again when I handed over my money, then thanked again at least once more–possibly when I was given my change or when I walked out the door. By that time I’d generally lost track of what I’d done to trigger it. Every so often, I was told, “Thank you, thank you very much, thank you.”

Yes, that’s a direct, undoctored quote.

Why did the store close? It ran out of thank-you’s. You can blame Brexit if you like. They got held up at the border in anticipation of a no-deal crash-out.

At first I worried that I wasn’t managing to say enough you’re-welcome’s in response, but it turns out that no one expects them. I still haven’t figured out what is expected. You’d think after thirteen years I’d have worked that out, but you’d be wrong. I just thank people back. Not quite as many times, but as many as I can manage.

It’s okay. I’m American. People expect me to be rude, or at least strange. I like to think they make allowances and notice that I am trying.

You also say please a lot. The American form of politeness is saying can I? or could I? as in “Could I have  a can of Coke?” Here that sounds rude if a please doesn’t hitch a ride on the request, and it sounds absurd either way, because the question isn’t whether you could or couldn’t have it, it’s about whether you’d like one.

Final bit of politeness? You never, ever butt into a line. Not even if you’re bleeding.

stéréotypes of u.k

That the British don’t do emotions, or possibly even have them.

That they have seventeen forks to a place setting and know what to do with them.

That they have Manners–capital M because they’re so important and so British that no one else will ever get them right.

That everything stops at 4 p.m. for afternoon tea.

That no one uses teabags.

That they all have a single, posh accent. Except for the ones who sound like Dick Van Dyke in the first Mary Poppins.

Please note: I’m not claiming any of those are true. They’re just what I happened to dredge out of the lazy stereotype pool at short notice.

morris dancers

Morris dancers are what prove that whatever you think British manners are, you’re wrong. Why’s that? Because everyone who isn’t a morris dancer makes fun of morris dancing. Even if we don’t want to. The social pressure’s immense.

For further information on morris dancing, I refer you to that well-known non-expert, me.

how to be an aristocrat

You arrange to be born into a family with a title, silly.

You didn’t do that, you say, and you’re trying to correct your mistake? Too late. You blew your chance. Because that’s the thing about aristocracy: It’s a closed group. Sure, people have historically been given titles who didn’t start with them, but don’t think the people who inherited theirs are impressed. They’ve all known each other since before their great grandparents many times over were born and they’re not anxious to expand the gene pool.

Why does anybody think they can (or want to) worm their way into this foolishness? I have no idea, but I get regular variations on the question, all because I wrote a post about an aristocrat behaving badly and put a snarky title on it. I don’t recommend using him as a model.

I don’t recommend using any other aristocrat as a model either. 

is sticky date pudding bad for cats

The last version of this question I got was about whether sticky toffee pudding was bad for cats. I thought it was a glitch–just one strange cat owner who’d gotten loose on the internet–but apparently there’s a new idea loose in the world: feeding sticky puddings to cats and worrying about whether it’s bad for them.

When did the world get so strange, people?

why are mps wearing roses

On May 8, MPs wore white roses during Prime Minister’s Question Time–a slot dedicated to making the prime minister of the moment squirm and suffer. The roses marked World Ovarian Cancer Day. The only thing Parliament can agree on at the moment is that ovarian cancer is bad, but at least no one spoke in its defense.

Several perfectly sensible news articles covered the story, and they’re where I found my information. How did someone asking about it land here?

What the world wants to know about Britain, part fourteenish

What you’re about to confront (should you choose to stick around for a few paragraphs) are search engines questions that lead people, poor unwary souls that they are, to Notes. I have preserved them in all their oddity, complete with typos, a lack of question marks, and an absence of capital letters. And in case I sound snotty about the caps and question marks, I don’t use them when I type search questions either.

The questions are in italics. I’m to blame for everything in roman type, which is (you learned something today) what non-italic fonts are called. Okay, there’s also gothic, a.k.a. blackletter, but that’s a side issue.

News and culture

what is the unfornunate news from britain

That we’re governed by either amateurs or professional incompetents. I’m still trying to figure out which.

I should clarify that. Professional incompetents are different from incompetent professionals. They’re people who make a living–and a good one from the sound of things–out of their incompetence. If that isn’t enough unfortunate news, it’s hard to get a decent bagel. Even more shockingly, where you can get them, they’re spelled beigels, which could account for why good ones are so hard to find.

How unfortunate did you want to get? I could talk about Brexit.

Irrelevant photo: hellebore.

sticking two fingers up

I’ve had a cluster of questions about the two-fingered salute lately.

A two-fingered salute is the rough equivalent of the one-fingered salute, but with an extra finger thrown in for bad luck. And yes, Britain recognizes the single-fingered one as well. The British are nondenominational that way. Or ambidextrous. Or as an American football player once put it, amphibious. (“I’ve always been amphibious,” he told an interviewer who’d asked about his ability to throw with either hand. I don’t remember the player’s name. I used the quote to see if Lord Google would remind me and I found any number of people claiming to be amphibious. Unlike the football player, though, they seemed to understand that amphibioiusness involves water, not hands or footballs. I’m guessing they also understand that it’s physically impossible for humans, but who am I to say what’s in another person’s head?)

But we were talking about sticking two fingers up. To do this, you use the index and middle fingers–the same ones you’d use for a peace or victory sign, but facing the other way. If you’re looking at the back of your hand, you’re okay. If you’re looking at the palm, you more or less told someone to fuck off.

All you non-Brits who are reading this: If you visit, keep your hands in your pockets if you want to order two beers. It’s the only way to keep yourself from holding two fingers up wrong way round, because your muscles will override your brain. Unless you come from a country where you start counting on the thumb, not the index finger, in which case you can wave your hands around any way you want.

And as far as I’ve been able to figure out, no one says, “Sticking up two fingers.” That raises the question of what you’re sticking them up. It’s “sticking two fingers up.” If you don’t think about it too much, it makes sense.

Anyway, having addressed the question in some post of other, I seem to have become an international expert on the of sticking two fingers up. I couldn’t be prouder. Clearly, no other website welcomes intellectual curiosity the way I do. So with however many fingers you have free, pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable. We’re happy to entertain bad manners here at Notes.

Within limits, of course.

What limits?

It’s hard to predict. Push them and you’ll find out.

And who’s this we I’m talking about? Me and the dead mouse Fast Eddie brought in this morning.

This should be clear from the context, but let’s not take anything for granted: Fast Eddie is the cat. My partner’s Ida and she does not bring in dead mice, but she’s very kind about picking up the ones Eddie brings us.

dress code for female parliament in uk

No tutus. No fairy dresses. No shorts. MPs can wear tee shirts but the speaker will disapprove so intensely that he’ll pretend they’re invisible and they won’t get called on if they want to say anything. I haven’t read this anywhere, but I’m pretty sure jeans are frowned on. It’s the only reason I haven’t run for office.

I suspect it would be very bad karma to dress up as the queen.

No nightgowns. No pjs.

But it’s not entirely a list of no’s. MPs are supposed to wear businesslike attire. What does that mean, though? I’d love to see what happens if one of the women shows up in men’s businesslike attire. Or, since what used to be considered strictly men’s clothing has crossed the gender divide somewhat but women’s clothes haven’t, what happens in one of the men shows up in women’s businesslike attire.

By way of answering the question fully, I should point out that the parliament, being a thing instead a creature and is neither female nor male. And doesn’t wear clothes.

who wears stockings in the house of commons

Theresa May. If she’s still there by the time you read this.

why arent more mp’s in the house for debate?

Ooh, good question. Because the debates aren’t about convincing anyone of anything, they’re about a bunch of people who suffer from the illusion that the world’s listening and are therefore making a statement to that world. What they say goes into a print record, called Hansard’s. Does anyone read it there? I have no idea.

Do they sit around and listen to each other? Hell, no. They’re in the bars, in the pubs, getting haircuts, waiting for the bell to ring so they can hustle back and vote.

kett;e throwing contest

Okay, this got weird enough that even though I can’t tell you much about it I have to leave it in. Lord Google couldn’t find me any kettle-throwing contests. Given Britain’s gift for thinking up unlikely contests, this indicates a gap that some enterprising town or village could fill–profitably.

What I did find was a series of references to throwing a kettle over a pub.

Since there’s  no logical order to any of this, I’ll drag you down the trail I followed. First, I stumbled into a site for people learning English. Someone wanted to know what throwing a kettle over a pub means because the phrase popped up in something they’d read. Assorted people explained that it’s a colloquial expression and that it isn’t a colloquial expression; that it’s used in dialogue on various TV shows and that it isn’t; and that it should be taken literally, as in (I assume) you shouldn’t try to read any deep meaning into it.

No one said it shouldn’t be taken literally, so at least they established something

Then I found something called NewsThump, which claimed that MP Nadine Dorries had tweeted that David Davis was the perfect guy to negotiate Brexit because he could throw a kettle over a pub.

I thought that explained a lot about the Brexit negotiations and how the negotiating team was selected. Davis did negotiate the Brexit deal. He then resigned because he couldn’t support it.

He did not throw a kettle over a pub. Or if he did, the House of Commons was empty because the MPs were all off drinking and getting their hair cut, so it went into Hansard’s but no one saw it.

If I kettle flies over a pub in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a political difference?

I’m not sure Theresa May can throw a kettle over a pub. I suspect not. She looks a little thready to me.

Maybe that’s the problem.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably say the NewsThump is a satirical site and that Nadine Dorries probably didn’t really tweet that, although it’s getting harder and harder to tell satire from reality these days. David Davis really did resign because he didn’t like the deal he’d negotiated. Theresa May really does look thready. I doubt I can throw a kettle over a pub either, but I haven’t tried yet, so don’t count me out.

I don’t say that to in any way excuse Theresa May.

I still don’t know whether throwing a kettle over a pub is an off-the-shelf British comparison–sort of like saying something is the size of Wales. It could also be some random collision of words that I’m running into improbably often. If it’s a standard issue comparison, I hope someone will let me know because I need to get one. Or two, really, one for me and one for Ida–you know, the person in my life who so very kindly picks up dead mice. (Oh, but she’s so much more than that.) We’ve lived here fourteen years now and I’m not sure how much longer people will put up with us operating without a full set of off-the-shelf comparisons.

Why did the question land here at Notes? I have no idea but I’m grateful. I learn a lot from these experiences.

do british tourists feel wary about pick pockerters in other countries

No, they’re perfectly comfortable about it all. They just speak louder, in English, to be sure the relationship’s proceeding as it should..

do the british observe april fools day

Do they ever. Beware of newspapers on April 1. The island of San Seriffe? The spaghetti harvest? April Fool’s Day stories.

Luces and maces age 2019

No idea. I googled that myself and the closest I came to anything sensible was a bunch of YouTube stuff uploaded by Lucas and Marcus, whoever they may be and whatever age (or ages) they turned (or will turn) in 2019. The question wandered in here because I wrote about the maces in Parliament. I don’t remember mentioning luces, but in case the information’s useful it’s the plural of lux, which is a unit of illumination. 

I had to look that up, so there’s no chance I used it so casually that I forgot. It’s also the plural of luz, which is light in Spanish and which I also haven’t mentioned.

The internet is a very strange place.

British food

What do they call brownies in britain

Sidney.

do they eat brownies in the uk

Yes, but only in secret. It’s illegal. After you’ve learned to call them by their first name, eating them seems barbaric.

do brits not like soft cookies

Of course they don’t. They cringe at the very thought of them. More to the point, why do people who write these questions think entire nations like and dislike the same things? Have you ever look at Quora? People ask things like, “Do the British like the color blue?” Of course they do. Every blue-besotted one of them. It’s because their skies so seldom turn that color.

weet-bix like muffets

Where do I start? Weet-Bix is sold in Australia and New Zealand. Weetabix is the British equivalent. Neither one is a muffet. Nothing is a muffet. Muffet is not a word.

Miss Muffet is someone in a nursery rhyme. She sat on a tuffet. Please don’t recite the rest of it. I may have to throw myself over a pub. I have a kettle but I use it to make tea and don’t want to wreck it. I’m also pretty sure that the only way to get it over the local pub would be to use air mail.

A muffetee is a scarf. I never heard of it either.

Weetabix and Weet-Bix are also not muffins or muppets. They’re cereals that go limp if they get within three yards of milk. Please do not bring either of them into my kitchen. I will attack them with my kettle.

“british lasagna”

This is in quotation marks because–. Okay, it came with the quotation marks, but British lasagna isn’t really lasagna, so it deserves to be quarantined in quotation marks and never allowed out. It’s made with a paste-like white sauce and tastes like noodles overcooked with paste-like white sauce. The lasagna you find outside of quotation marks has red sauce–the stuff made with tomatoes. And taste. Lots of taste.

And no, I’m not in the least biased. I just happen to know what’s right.

It’s entirely possible that the stuff with the red sauce is American lasagna. If that’s not the way the Italians make it, they’re wrong too.

where does lemon drizzle cake originate from

The island nation of Limonaria, where it drizzles a lot.

when did brussel sprouts arrive in uk

7 pm. They were due in at 5 but the flight was delayed.

how many brussel sprouts are eaten in december world wide

73.

british iconic easter eggs

I don’t know about iconic, but if you want overpriced I write about them every Easter. I can’t seem to stop myself.

The United States

do americans have letterboxes

No. The letter carriers just chuck our mail under the nearest bush. This is hard in built-up areas and in deserts, where bushes are scarce. Sometimes we have to walk long distances looking for our mail. 

What the world wants to know about Britain, part I’ve forgotten what

It’s time to review what the world wants to know about Britain.

How do we measure that? Why, by looking at what leads people to the definitive voice on all things British, a.k.a. this blog. As usual, I’ve preserved the questions in all their original oddity, including the odd spelling and the lack of question marks and capital letters. Where I’ve gotten several related (but equally odd and therefore worthy) questions, I’ve combined them.

FOOD & DRINK

make cross in sprout religious; is there a religius reason we put crosses into sprouts; english eating brussel sprouts

As we edge closer to Christmas, the flow of questions about brussels sprouts gets heavier, but they form a steady drip throughout the year. I can only assume these come mostly from British people because who else knows that brussels sprouts are as essential to the British Christmas as two desserts and eight reindeer?

Irrelevant (and out of season) photo: hydrangea

The crosses at the bottom? The religious justification as I heard it (and don’t ask where because by now I haven’t a clue) is that it was to let the devil out. Or the evil spirits. That may or may not be what anybody in the past actually believed. People have a habit of working backward to come up for a reason for something they see being done.

So why did people start doing it? Probably so the stems would cook as quickly as the leaves. I used to nick the stems but haven’t bothered in years. It doesn’t seem to make a difference and if I’ve eaten any evil spirits I’m none the worse for it. But then, I wasn’t very good to start with and I’m not a fussy cook, so you shouldn’t take my word for it.

But why do the English eat sprouts at Christmas? Because they do. And because they ripen at a time when not many other vegetables can be bothered to.

In 2015 I wrote a post about this and said, recklessly, that the British eat them at Christmas because the Druids worshiped the Great Brussels Sprout. I thought I was very funny and was convinced it was a ridiculous enough claim that no one would take me seriously. Then some blogger linked to it as if it was Truth with a capital R. I still thought I was funny but had just enough decency to also feel bad about it.

In late September of this year, someone else linked to it, this time treating it as Truth with a capital U. So I’ve now prefaced the post with a health and safety warning (the British are big on health and safety warnings; the Druids really did worship them) explaining that no one knows much about what the Druids did, that the article contains a slight exaggeration, and that the writer may contain nuts.

I also sent the other blogger an apology.

The worst of it is that I still think it’s funny. Although I continue to feel bad. I’m sure that makes it okay.

do they have peeps in the uk

That has to be from an American wondering if civilized life is possible outside the borders of the U.S. of A., because Peeps are the measure of civilized life.

Peeps are bright colored, over-sugared, marshmallowy things that have been extruded from some pipe in an industrial kitchen, which forms them into vaguely chickish shapes. At least they look like chicks if your eye’s been trained to see them as chicks. They’re known for giving nutritionists conniption fits. What’s a conniption fit? No idea, but I have it on good authority that you don’t want to have one.

Twenty seconds of research tells me that peeps are  sold in the U.S. and Canada. So yes, civilized life is possible outside of the U.S., but only in Canada.

Why did anybody look deeply enough into the question to read whatever I may have written on the subject? Because, people, Peeps matter.  

our American beers weaker; compare alcohol content budweiser uk and canada; beer alcolohol content uk vs isa; why does beer in england taste better than usa beer?

The strength of American and British beer occupies a large portion of the internet’s collective mind. And by the time that mind goes online to research alcohol content, it’s addled by all the hands-on research it did first. 

That explains the typos.

british peopme chocolate chips; leom drizzle where did it come from

These are what people want to know about once they’ve drunk all the beer in the house.

what do the british call baking-powder biscuits

For the most part, nothing: 97.6% of British citizens have never heard of them. And 93.7% of all statistics are made up. But gasp, wheeze anyway because the world contains people who never heard of baking powder biscuits. The thing is, people don’t just talk differently in different countries, they eat differently.

When I lived in the U.S., my partner and I just called them biscuits, but she’s Texan and we didn’t need to explain what we meant. Now that we live in Britain, we call them baking powder biscuits so that friends won’t expect them to be cookies, because what Americans call cookies the British call biscuits.  

WEATHER

londoner never talking about weather and how miserable (x2)

There are two  things the non-British think they know about Britain: 1. The place is wet, which means it’s miserable. 2. People talk about the weather and nothing else. Beyond that, I don’t know what the question means but someone does because I got it twice.

PLACE NAMES

why is worcester only 2 syllables

Given the oddities of English spelling and the even odder oddities of British place names, there’s only one possible answer: Because.

are we still called great britain

Yes, dear. It’s a geographical designation and no one’s sawed off a part of the country yet.

widemouth bay pronunciation   

Widmuth.    

how to pronounce river eye uk

I can’t even begin to guess, but I can tell you how to find out. First you have to locate it, which is going to be messy because there are two of them, one in Leicestershire (talk about pronunciation oddities) and the other in Scotland. The Scottish one is also called the Eye Water. And at its mouth is a town called Eyemouth.

You have to love this country. It’s weird enough to make your eyes water.  

Once you’ve figured out which river you want, you have to find someone local–preferably someone without a sense of humor–and ask how to pronounce the river. If at all possible, avoid trying to pronounce it when you ask, because you’ll get it wrong. Warning: If you’ve asked someone with a sense of humor, they’ll tell you it’s pronounced “brussels sprouts” and then spend the rest of the year giggling.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

No one without a strong local connection can be trusted to do anything more than guess at the pronunciation of anyplace in Britain. I recently got an automated message reminding me that I have an appointment coming up in Tavistock, which is pronounced TAVistock. The voice pronounced it tavISStock. And Tavistock’s one of the easy ones.

british place names that sound like clothes

Sorry, but I can’t think of any. If you want kitchen appliances, though, Towster is pronounced toaster. The kitchen appliance department is straight ahead, toward the back of the store. The clothing department is hauntingly empty and needs to be filled, so if you know of any pronounced like clothes (or, what the hell, other kitchen appliances or body parts or anything else particularly bizarre), do contribute to the general weirdness by leaving a comment. 

WIGS

I probably get as many questions about wigs as I do about beer. Most of them repeat the ones I’ve already quoted, but every so often a new one comes in. Including this:

attorney living with wigs with you and orange on the bishop hat

Anyone who knows how to answer that, please oh please leave a comment. I can’t do this alone, people.   

BRITISH CULTURE

what do british people think of american accents

Oh, every last one of them thinks they’re fabulous. The British are known for all thinking the same thing. That’s why the two main political parties are so gloriously united.

show me a tricorn hat worn in the house of lords

I could, but it’s not nice to make fun of the sartorially challenged.

Oh, go on, then. You twisted my arm.

what does it mean when it says I hope your birthday is tickety-boo

It means someone sent you a birthday card that’s been around since the 1930s.

do british people say spifing

No. They might, just remotely, say spiffing, but you’ll go blue in the face if you hold your breath till someone does. I also get questions about spiffing. I am now Britain’s formost spiffing expert.  

in what way is folk music similar to christmas carols

Well, both are music and as such involve musical notes. They also involve words. Both can be sung either well or badly but you could say that about all songs. A large part of both can be sung by people without much musical background–that’s their beauty and their limitation. They come out of a tradition where people sang because they were having a good time, or at least because they were drunk. Some people were better at it than others, but no one–originally–was a professional. Both lean toward the idea that people will join in.

Christmas carols were originally a folk tradition and for a while were looked down on for it.

Sorry to get all serious on you. 

PROBLEMATIC ASSUMPTIONS

why was great britain named england in victorian times?

It happened back when the country was a teenager and had one of those identity crises that teenagers are prone to. The country thought England sounded better than Britain and hoped that would make it more popular. It changed its name back to Britain after Victoria died and it doesn’t like to talk about it now, so could we move on, please? Show a little respect here. We were all young once. And if you’re still young, you were once younger.

And no, please don’t link to that to explain how to unmuddle the names Britain, Great Britain, England, and the United Kingdom. Try this post instead. 

in england, the speaker of the house is not allowed to speak

Which is why he (and at the moment he is a he) is called the speaker.

photograph of cockwomble

A womble is a  creature invented for a BBC children’s show. You can hear the womble song here, and I’m sure you’ll be a better person if you have to fortitude to listen all the way to the end. I didn’t, but then I’m not a better person. It’s not, technically speaking, a photograph, since the creatures run around with tubas (have you ever tried running with a tuba while dressed in a womble suit?) and other stuff, but it’s close enough. 

The cockwomble was not invented by the BBC and if you’ve been called one you were not on the receiving end of a compliment. You won’t find a photo of one because it’s not an actual thing, as in it doesn’t exist, but you can find images for cockwombles here. My favorite is the ribbon for International Cockwomble Day. 

letterboxes invented in uk

Well, no, they don’t seem to have been invented in the U.K. They were introduced in Paris, in 1653. As far as I can tell, the first one in Britain was introduced in 1809. 

I haven’t dug into this very deeply, so I’m not 600% sure the dates are the absolute firsts. But the world–or at least the internet, which isn’t exactly the same thing but does exist within the world–contains a pretty large group of people interested in mailboxes. Or letterboxes, which are the same thing in a different place.

I’m not sure why the wording is that they were introduced, not invented but we’ll work with it.

what is causing all the problems with letter boxes in England

It’s true that British letterboxes have been gathering in city centers late at night to guzzle beer and sing Christmas carols. Residents report feeling too intimidated to ask them to keep it down and the police haven’t taken the situation seriously enough to intervene effectively. No one knows what’s causing it. And no one knows why I put this in the incorrect assumptions section.

Don’t link to this either.

CORRECT ASSUMPTIONS

england is not britain

It took a while, but we finally got that straightened out.

why is it wrong to say we all came from britian

Just off the top of my head, I’d say it’s because not all of us did. But credit for knowing something was wrong there.

ODD QUESTIONS

puffing pants; puffling pants

I was baffled by why the phrase was leading anyone here. Other than wearing a random selection, what do I know about clothes? But it turns out that back in 2016 (remember 2016? It came right before 2017) John Evans left a comment that said, “In the recent BBC4 comedy series about Shakespeare (Upstart Crow), there was an episode in which Shakespeare (brilliantly played by David Mitchell) encounters ‘puffling pants’. Ah, life would be so much more fun if everyone wore puffling pants.”

So that explains why questions about puffling pants find their way to me. It doesn’t explain why so many people care, but I got enough question about them, with a variety of spellings, to make me wonder if humanity really should survive.

For a while, I thought they were some current style. I’m dyslexic about fashion, so be a little kind about that, okay?

See what you’ve done, John?

saudi news

I’ve made no headway in figuring out why this one landed on my doorstep. Lord Google, explain thyself.

onterage goshen ny

Ditto. But that’s probably entourage.

what is hefeweizen

Wheat. In German. Lord Google helped me out with that one, because the only German I know is gesundheit, and by now that’s English.

but he prefers keeping his private life out of the media as much as possible

I can see why he’d feel that way. Whoever he is.

coke fabric yard

I get regular blasts of this question, and I can’t resist quoting it when I review the questions that lure people into my spider web. Unfortunately, quoting it reinforces the link between the phrase and Notes. In another couple of years, I’ll be the world’s foremost expert on whatever the hell it means.

best trader joe’s meats

I’m a vegetarian and probably the wrong person to ask about this.

And with that, I think I’ve enlightened you enough for one week. Stay out of trouble if you can. It’s a very strange world out there.

That was your health and safety warning. Be healthy. And safe.

What the world really wants to know about Britain, part 10ish

What do the wide-eyed innocents of the internet want to know about Britain? Or, to change that to a more accurate form of the same question, what do they ask that leads them here?

All sorts of strange stuff. Sometimes even sensible stuff, but we’ll skip that. It’s boring. As usual, the questions appear wearing the clothes they wandered in with, which usually means they don’t have question marks or capital letters and they sometimes use creative spelling. I’ve added italics so we can tell the questions from the answers.

what do mps wear

Clothes, and as a rule not particularly interesting ones. You want exotic, go see what Black Rod wears.

Irrelevant (and, um, soft focused) photo: a bee (yes, it is there) in a strange flower whose name, as usual, I don’t know.

why are there hedges on the side of the roads in england

This came in twice–same wording, different days–so someone, not having found the answer they wanted, came back to see if they couldn’t find the answer they wanted in the same place where they didn’t find it the day before. So it must be important. Let’s answer it:

It was hard to drive when the hedges were in the middle, so many and many a year ago the Department of Middle-of-the-Road Hedges became the Department of Roadside Hedgeways and all hedges were moved from the center to the side. The accident rate went down dramatically and everyone has been much happier. They didn’t live ever after–the would be asking too much–but they did live longer.

Wiseassery aside, however, England’s hedges are monuments to a lot of history and shelter to a lot of wildlife. I’ve been meaning to write about them for a long time but somehow never get around to it. I’ll write myself yet another note and see if I actually do it this time.

who has right of way on one lane country roads

This is complicated. Unless a sign gives priority to traffic from one direction, no one in particular. This leads to the occasional standoff, but they’re rare. Basically, the person who’s closer to a wide spot where two cars can pass should back up. Sometimes, though, one driver (generally a visitor) freezes, in which case the more competent driver should take charge of the situation and back up. Or the nicer one.

For the most part, drivers are impressively polite about it, working it out seamlessly and finishing with the driver who did’t back up giving a small wave to the driver who did, which the second driver returns. Occasionally, though, someone is clearly being a pig–entering a one-lane stretch when another car’s already there, say, or refusing to back down when the other car would have to back into traffic or would have to back a long distance or back around a miserable bend–and that’s where you get standoffs. I did once turn my car off while the other driver fumed. I know someone who claims to have poured himself a cup of tea and opened the paper.

For more extensive tales about the right of way on narrow roads, allow me to refer you that widely unknown expert, myself.

are all country roads in england one way

Yes. And they all lead north, ending eventually at Dunnet Head, the northernmost point in Scotland. When enough people–and of course their cars–collect there, a ferry takes them south, distributing them at various points along the way to Land’s End, on the southern tip of Cornwall. By which time the ice cream’s melted. It’s inconvenient as hell and makes grocery shopping a nightmare, but unless you’re going to walk, what can you do?

I just love being an expert.

is devon road very narrow?

Devon has–maybe you should be sitting down when you read this–more than one road. Some of them are narrow. Some of them are not, although your idea of what’s narrow depends on what you’re used to. If you’re American, they’re all narrow. If you’re from Cornwall, they range from normal to wide.

And they all go north.

what are chocolate chip cookies called in England

They’re called chocolate chip cookies.

Yes, it is confusing.

the secret of lawyers wear white wigs

It’s hard enough to keep a wig secret when you’re sporting one that tries to look like your own hair, but it’s impossible when it’s as unlikely looking as the rugs British lawyers slam on their heads. If any of you happen to run a spy network, please, save your time and money That is not their real hair. Everyone knows it and you can’t blackmail them about it. Go ferret out some more useful secret.

The world–or at least the online world–is full of people who are obsessed by British lawyers’ wigs. They could, I’m sure, be doing worse things with their time, but it does strike me as strange. A quick sampling of recent wig questions brings us history of ill fitting wigs, what are english trial wig, and british lawyers build case against wigs. 

From the world of wigs, let’s drop briefly into the inscrutable:

circle the sound that you here .wants to meaning

I have no idea what that means or how it led here. I only reproduce it here because I didn’t want to be left alone with it.

manners in uk yes sir

Yes, sir, the British do have manners. Of course, everyone has manners, it’s just that they differ from place to place and culture to culture, and my manners may look to you like no manners at all.

People from cultures that are (or once were) dominant have a habit of thinking their manners are manners and everyone else’s are an absence of manners. And often enough, other people believe them. So any number of people think the British know how to do manners and could teach us barbarians a thing or six.

What the question probably means by “the British” is the British upper class, although I can’t swear to that. What I can swear to is that Britain isn’t one uniform culture. The manners that work in one class look either ignorant or silly if you transplant them. Not that people are judgmental about these things…

If the question is whether people in Britain say, “Yes, sir,” then (in my experience) no. Except on cop shows, and even there the “sir” tends to drag in a beat or two after the “yes” to prove its reluctance.

My answer may be colored by the fact that not many people call me “sir,” except over the phone from time to time, since my voice is low. I’ve been called “madam” once in a while when I’m buying something, although to my ear it often takes on a hostile tone. I’ve worked with the public. I understand how it can make people hostile, although my temper never took that particular channel. But “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am”? I can’t remember hearing either.

I’m grateful for that.

tell me about village life

People are born. They die. In between, they live. And that in-between period can be interesting. Not to mention messy.

I don’t know about all villages, but where I live most of the young people move away. Some want to live in a city, with all its opportunities. Others would love to stay but can’t. There aren’t many jobs around here and what jobs there are don’t pay well. If that isn’t enough of a problem, housing’s insanely expensive. Some do manage, but the village is aging.

How is village life different than city life? There are fewer people (to state the obvious), so we tend to know each other, or at least know of each other. In cities, you hear short stories about other people’s lives. Here, you get the entire novel, sometimes in multi-generational form. There are no secrets, although there’s a hell of a lot of misinformation.

why do americans have mailboxes

To get their mail. Also to mail their mail. Same word. Oddly enough, I’ve never heard anyone get mixed up about which one does what.

A few related questions also came in:

a row of letterboxes in the hamptons; a row of letterboxes in uk

If “the Hamptons” refers to the overpriced cluster of towns on Long Island, then you won’t find a row of letterboxes, although you might find a row of mailboxes. The two countries are still trying to negotiate a treaty that would allow them to call the things by the same name. This has been going on since the U.S. declared independence.

If you think Brexit’s difficult…

do amerians not have post boxes

No, Amerians do not have post boxes. Or maybe that’s yes, Amerians do not have post boxes. Either way, see above. They have to make do with mailboxes. It’s shocking, I  know. Amerians do, however have a C in the middle of the word that describes their nationality.

But this gets us into another difference between the U.S. and the U.K.: In British, “Do Americans not have” is a perfectly normal way to phrase that question. In American, it wouldn’t be. We’d be more likely to say, “Don’t Americans have.”

how do american mailboxes work

Well, you drop a letter in and it sits there, out of human sight. It communes with all the other letters people have dropped in. This is good, because otherwise it might worry about the wicked witch who lives in a gingerbread house in the forest. The someone comes and picks it up, along with all its new friends, and takes them to a sorting center, where they get (yes, this will surprise you) sorted. Then–but we’ve gone past the limits of the question, which was about the box itself.

Unless of course the question’s about the mailboxes people put outside their house (or that landlords put in apartment buildings) for incoming mail. The letter carrier drops the letter in and it sits there till someone takes it out.

It truly is an amazing system.

swearing in public uk magna carta

The Magna Carta was an agreement that King John and his barons signed in 1215. Neither side honored its commitments and in case that wasn’t enough it ended up being nullified by the Pope. Great moments in diplomacy. At least they didn’t have to agree about what to call that thing that holds letters. The mail (or post) hadn’t been invented yet.

As far as I can tell, the Magna Carta wasn’t sworn, just signed. It re-entered British political life after King J’s death and is now part of Britain’s unwritten constitution.

What’s an unwritten constitution? Good question, and I keep asking it myself. You gather up every element of precedent, every major political agreement, every major court decision, and the sweepings from every last one of London’s hair salons, and you interpret them for the present day.

Good luck.

Is there much public swearing in Britain? That depends very much on what you count as swear words. And who you hang out with. By anyone’s reckoning, I do enough swearing that I don’t always much notice how much other people are contributing. Good manners might tell me to leave more room for them instead of monopolizing it. I’ll give it some thought.

I have never yet heard anyone swear about the Magna Carta. It’s way in the background of everyday life.

In a brief, sensible aside, let me add that any public oath a person has to take in Britain allows them to either swear, which is a religious form of saying you’ll tell the truth, or affirm, which is a non-religious form. I appreciate the space made for a non-religious person not to have to be a hypocrite in order to say they’re telling the truth.

swear words uk vs us

Oh, surely you don’t want two entire lists, do you? Sex organs tend to go by different slang names in the two countries, which is why the American movie title Free Willy cracked up the British. Bloody isn’t a swear word in the U.S., it’s a description

This is very much off the top of my head and I’m sure I’ve missed a lot, but the important thing is that you can insult someone from one country using the other country’s swear words and pretty much count on being understood. And if the detail gets lost, the tone of voice will carry it.

*

In an effort to add this post in my stack of upcoming posts, I hit Publish weeks ago, before I’d changed the date and ended up sending it out too early, at which point I did my best to disappear it. Apologies to anyone who wasted internet time chasing it after it disappeared. I’d apologize for looking like a lunatic but I’m not sure that’s apology material. And I’d reassure you that I’m not, but since I haven’t sworn or affirmed it, I might not be telling the truth.

Using search engine questions to accomplish nothing

It’s time to read the tea leaves that search engines leave in the bottom of the cup after they drop in at Notes from the U.K.

You didn’t know search engines drink tea? This is Britain. Of course they drink tea.

Why do we want to read the tea leaves? So we can predict the future of humanity, of course.

Too depressing? Don’t worry about a thing, we’ll just change the question and ask what people want to know about Britain. Or at a minimum, what strange questions lead people to Notes from the U.K.

Why is it time to do that? A) Because I’m bored, B) because I have a shitload of small tasks I don’t want to tackle, and 3) just because.

Why am I asking so many questions and then answering them? Because it’s a quick, lazy way to organize a piece of writing. I don’t recommend it, I just use it now and then.

As always, the search questions appear in their original form, without question marks or (except in rare cases) capital letters. I’ve added the italics, but only so I can pretend to have done something useful with myself.

Variations on the usual questions

do brits realize hoew stupid the wigs look in court

Probably not. Silly people, the whole nationful of them.

Does the person who asked this realize that misspelling a simple word has a bounceback effect when he, she, or it is calling other people stupid?

Also probably not. Some people shouldn’t be turned loose with a keyboard.

british manners

Yes, they have them. So do other nations. Don’t let it keep you up at night.

Irrelevant photo: Starlings in the neighbors’ tree. They were gathering in larger and larger flocks in late February and early March, probably getting ready to migrate. The Scandinavian starlings spend their winters here and consider it the sunny south. The starlings that spend the summer here consider it the frozen north and head south for the winter. If they were bureaucrats (see below) we’d say this is inefficient. Being as how they’re birds and all, we say it’s impressive.

great britain why is it called

This is so simple that it’s profound. The place has to be called something. Back when we let countries wander around nameless, they couldn’t tell who was being called home to eat supper or go to bed. It was confusing. Plus when they went to war, it was hard to crank their people up about who they were supposed to hate. “The people over there.” “Where?” “There. You know, the tall, ugly ones we were friends with last time.”

So, yeah, the place needed a name and Britain was as good as anything else. So was Great Britain. So was the United Kingdom. So, if you don’t understand the situation, was England, although calling it that does tell everyone else that you’re clueless.

So there you go. The country was so impressed with the need for a name that it assigned itself damn near half a dozen.

A semi-serious answer’s available here. Just so you know I could answer the question if a bear was chasing me.

Comprehensible but less predictable questions

potatoes in the mould and its taters outside

These are Cockney rhyming slang—the meaning of the phrase rhymes with its last word, which usually drops away (as it has in the second question) so an outsider doesn’t stand a chance in hell of guessing the meaning. Which is the point.

Both phrases mean it’s cold, as does the version I heard one morning, “It’s parky.” (“In the mould” was implied but not mentioned, and no taters were involved.) Being American, I heard “mold,” without the U, but in deference to the guy who said it was parky, I’ve added the U. I’m sure that’s how he would’ve said it if he’d added the moldy bit. He’s not responsible for what I would’ve heard if etc.

I had no idea what he was talking about and he had to translate for me.

For an effort to make sense of parky, go here. I’d send you to my own post about the incident, but it wouldn’t add anything to what I just told you.

why in the uk do they wear hair wigs in court

Those would be hair wigs as opposed to spaghetti wigs? Or seaweed wigs? They use hair because it’s less messy. And you can wear them longer before they start to smell.

As it turns out, the wigs they wear in court are made of horsehair. (That’s not one of my posts–it’s from a wig maker.) That is a kind of hair, although probably not what the questioner had in mind.

For an actual answer—or as close to an answer as you’re likely to get here—I’ll refer you to that expert on nothing much, myself. The post brings in a steady trickle of readers from search engines, but then so do my posts on beer. This is what people really want to know about Britain: Why do they wear those silly wigs in court (I’m quoting, not giving my opinion, which would take much more space) and how’s the beer? It’s enough to make a person despair of humanity.

cock womble origin and british slang cockwomble definition not to mention curse word that ends in womblebritish insults phrases and define sock womble             

In spite of what I said in the last paragraph, these prove that intellectual curiosity isn’t quite dead. Let’s start with by tackling the depressing question: How do we define sock womble? Well, I don’t know about your sock drawer, but when mine’s closed, my socks wiggle out of the matches I’ve made for them and form love matches and when I open the drawer in the morning, there they all are, wombled up next to what they swear are their true and lasting loves.

I used to match them back up the way I wanted them, but it saves time to leave them where they put themselves. And from that I’ve learned that among socks love never lasts. Next time I open the drawer, the pairs have all changed.

It’s womblin’ tragic.

On a less depressing note, the rest of the questions show us that a few people want to learn about either another culture or their own, even if all they want to learn is how to curse more efficiently.

Is cockwomble an efficient curse? Well, it’s obscure. That’s in its favor if you want a laugh. As the one search question put it (without the question  mark), “a curse word that ends in womble”? That rates pretty high on the improbability scale.

On the other hand, if you’re nose to nose with a very angry other person and hoping to convince them that you’re some kind of threat, cockwomble isn’t the first word that should jump into your head. I mention this because I like Notes to be of some use in the world and this seems like the sort of thing you should all know. And you won’t learn it anywhere else.

So like most things, whether it’s an efficient curse depends on time, place, and circumstance.

But speaking of efficiency:

why is uk beaurocracy so efficient

This raises two questions: 1, is it? 2, compared to what? and, C, why is bureaucracy spelled wrong?

Let’s start and end with question 1, since I can’t answer the others.

Or no, wait, I can answer C. It’s spelled wrong because it’s in English, a language that positively begs for its words to be spelled wrong. See Murphy’s Law.

But back to question 1: How efficient is British bureaucracy? Reasonably, I think. It’s not inherently corrupt, which nudges it up the efficiency scale. If we look hard enough we’ll find examples of corruption, but it’s not endemic.

But things that go wrong are always more memorable than things that work—and they’re more fun. At least they are in this context; they’re not in real life. So let’s talk about things that don’t work.

Corruption? A Westminster city councillor whose committee had the power to approve or turn down planning applications was in the headlines lately for accepting 900 gifts and entertainment from developers. He recently became an ex-city councillor, but the story demonstrates that corruption exists. And that getting caught is awkward.

Unless of course it’s all perfectly innocent and he’s receiving gifts because he’s a nice guy.

Efficiency? When Wild Thing—that’s my partner—and I first moved here, the papers regularly ran articles about flash drives and disks holding state secrets being left on the train. Some tired bureaucrat was headed home, planning to put in a few extra hours, first on the train and then after supper. It made us wonder why anyone bothered to assemble a spy network in the U.K. All they needed was a minimally trained crew riding the trains.

We haven’t seen an article like that for a long time. Either the system’s become more efficient or that they’ve squelched the stories.

I miss them.

But bureaucratic systems have a tendency to get trapped by their own rules and become ridiculous. Not to mention ponderous. It’s one of the rules. So when Wild Thing volunteered (briefly—long story, and not one I’m going to tell) to work with a women’s center she had to fill out a form allowing a background check. It’s a legal requirement. I’m not sure how effective the system is, but it seems reasonable enough to at least try and make sure your new volunteer never kidnapped or murdered anyone.

The form required her to choose a title: Miss, Mrs., Ms., Mr. She chose Ms., because we’re Ms. kind of people, both of us.

Soon after, the organization got a call from the bureaucrat whose job it was to process the form. She—the bureaucrat, henceforth known as the twit—had a few questions. Wild Thing happened to be there, so they put her on the phone.

Ms. meant a person was married, the twit announced, so why hadn’t she filled in the information on her husband?

Because she didn’t have one. She had me, the lucky soul, and I’m many things but, being of the female persuasion, I’m just not husband material.

Besides, we weren’t married.

No, Wild Thing said, Ms. didn’t mean anything of the kind. The whole purpose of introducing it, back in the seventies–and yes, she was around back then–was that it didn’t identify a woman by her marital status any more than Mr. identifies a man by his.

But it means you’re married, the twit sententioused (that’s the verb form of said sententiously).

No, Wild Thing florided (that’s the verb form of overstated floridly). It doesn’t.

Et cetera, with Wild Thing getting increasingly florid in her explanations of why the twit was (a) wrong (b)—oh, never mind, you get the picture. W.T.’s from Texas. She understands the beauty of vivid overstatement. It’s one of the things I admire about her.

Unfortunately the twit had the power to approve W.T.’s background, so she got the final say. After exercising her inalienable right to be difficult, W.T. caved and was entered into bureaucratic eternity as Miss Wild Thing. I can’t help wondering where the conversation would’ve gone if she’d said, “Fine, then, I’ll use Mr.”

But back to our point, because we did once have one: What did that conversation cost the county in administrative time? Fifteen minutes, maybe.  Half an hour if you count the time it took the twit to crank herself up for the call and then to change the form.

I said earlier that bureaucracies had a tendency to become ponderous and get trapped by their own rules, and I’ll stand by that, but I don’t want to sound like one of those people who preach that business is more efficient. The recent history of British outsourcing has been a mashup of tragic and laughable. The outsourced security for the London Olympics was handled so badly that the government ended up calling in  the army.

I could go on endlessly about government efforts to rationalize what’s called the benefits system here–what in the U.S. we called welfare. It’s been a disaster, leaving people without money for food or rent. Unfortunately, I can’t find a shred of humor in it.

does the word immigrants need an apostrophe

Not if you don’t add one. Unfortunately, it means something different if you do. Or don’t. That’s why the apostrophe was invented–to mean something.

It’s all about asking the right question, isn’t it?

rude cornish drivers

Oh, dear, we’ve offended someone. On behalf of all of us, I’m so sorry. Genuinely, terribly, grovelingly sorry.

With that out of the way, let me say that if Cornish drivers are rude, polite drivers must be so nice they’re unable to enter an intersection for fear of cutting off someone who might show up tomorrow at rush hour. Admittedly, I’m originally from New York, so my standards are a little rough around the edges, but I’m in awe of how polite drivers are here. But like efficiency, it all depends on what you’re comparing it to.

how to appriopriately drive down through narrow roads

First, don’t worry about the spelling. Or the grammar. Keep your mind on the road. Second, don’t hit anything. Third, if you meet someone coming the other way, don’t get into a standoff, because if you need to ask how to drive on these roads, the other driver will be better at it and standoffs are a time when even polite drivers can turn nasty. Back up if you’re closer to a wide spot and if you’re a competent driver. If you’re frozen in fear (see “competent driver”), look helpless (and for the sake of clarity, both male and female drivers can accomplish this) and hope the other person takes charge of the situation by being the one to back up.

And finally, the kind of question I look forward to

if the mail gets put into the letterbox and not the mailbox and the dog gets it is the postman responsible

Now there’s a question for you. Never mind how it ended up here, let’s stop and admire the embedded insanity—or glory; take your pick—of the English language. It used three separate words that all describe a piece of paper that’s sent from one place to another: The letterbox is the thing in the door (or someplace else) that letters come in through; the mailbox is the thing on the corner (or someplace else) where you throw letters to send them away; and the postman is the man (or woman, English being English and language reflecting a culture’s insanities) who either picks up or delivers those letters—or possibly does both.

In British English, the stuff that comes through the letterbox is, collectively, the post. In American English, it’s the mail. And in American English the woman who delivers it would be the mailman. Or the letter carrier, since mailwoman or mailperson sounds too silly. I’m not sure how British English has dealt with that. Postperson doesn’t have a great ring to it either, but I seem to be the only person around who says “letter carrier.”

If we’ve spent enough time on that, let’s move on to the content. I’m not sure the British post office will pick up a letter if you leave it in your own letterbox—I think not—but the American one will. Either way, though, it’s your letterbox and your dog, not to mention your decision to put the letter where the dog can get it. And you want to blame the letter carrier? This is a serious question? Your hono(u)r—you with the horsehair wig on your head—I suggest this person be sentenced to drive down narrow roads full of rude Cornish drivers and apostrophes until she, he, or it learns to use search engines better.

what does the flag on a mailbox mean

It means the queen is in residence.

+tickety tonk               

I can’t tell you what tickety tonk means or how the question found me. I did write a post about the British phrase tickety boo, and maybe that’s as close as the internet comes to tickety tonk.

Whatever tickety tonk means, it came through with the plus sign intact, meaning we’ve added one. So applying everything I remember from my algebra classes, what we have to do is figure out what would happen if we were minus a tickety tonk.