I have learned a few new words, although it was completely accidental and totally humiliating and not the way I would have planned it. If you’ve seen my list of things I like about the UK, you’ll notice that “cursing” is at the top of the list. These people are truly cursing geniuses. I just LOVE hearing them rattle off a list of insults…words like “bugguh” and “wankuh” sound so harmless, you never can tell whether the speaker is pissed or just enthusiastic. In fact, they use curse words in pleasant conversation with one another…for instance, the way we might say, “Get out!” to someone who just told us something unbelievable, they will say something involving a cleverly pronounced word beginning with ‘f’ and it ISN’T considered rude.
There are bad words, though, that are REALLY bad, and no one from the United States is even aware of it until it’s too late, and you are left standing there like a cartoon, with a thought bubble above your head full of symbols like this: *#@!!!!!!!
Apparently, calling your butt a fanny isn't okay...a fanny is actually a bad word for a girl's private parts. So while at the grocery store, when I called out to the boys to "get your fannies over here right now before I come over there and whack them," I wasn't being stared at because I joked about spanking, as I had previously thought. But at least I was anonymous when I said that one. No one at Tesco knew me. The second one was among people I knew – ones I had just met, in fact. It was humiliating because it is SO bad…and when I say bad, I mean that this word was definitely the mother of all vulgarities. It was by far the worst thing I have ever said – and those of you who know me know that I am particularly proud of my command of profanity and my ability to throw it out there. But this…well, this was just plain and simple WRONG.
The second word was “spunk” and what it actually means here - and this is so embarrassing to even type – well, it means, in proper terms, ejaculate. And because of identical spellings, I need to clarify that I mean “ejaculate” as a noun, not in the verb form. Stress the second syllable, not the last. Like say the last syllable with a short ‘a’, not a long one. Are you getting it?
Yeah, and so I was at this lovely cocktail party, enjoying an evening in the beautiful home of a new friend who was generous enough to invite us over for an evening to meet other some families. All of the children were upstairs doing the kid scene with the exception of one little girl who was more interested in the grown-up conversation. She was such a kick…she was like a little adult in a child’s body, wearing these sparkly dress-up high heels, a red and black velvet dress, and carrying a pink and purple plastic handbag with matching bangle bracelets and headband. Even her name was beyond her age…it was Betty. Betty and I were chatting it up for about 20 minutes before her mother said it was time for Betty to go upstairs with the other children.
After Betty left, I told her parents how much I loved talking with Betty, and that I’d love to just put her in my pocket and take her home with me. I complimented them on their cute, spirited little girl who was so much fun, so full of spirit and spunk…that I just loved spunky little girls like Betty.
The room went from cozy and full of conversation to that empty silence where you vaguely hear a cricket chirping in the background. Everyone sort of froze in their places, looking at Betty’s parents and me. I glanced around, wondering what the hell just happened, when my eyes met Husband’s, which were as big as basketballs as he gestured the universal sign for SHUT UP NOW. He was doing the pointer-finger-as-a-knife-across-the-throat gesture. I said, “What? What’d I say?” and he smiled sweetly and replied, “I’ll tell you later.” Like a scene from a sitcom, the party instantly kicked back into motion and moved along. Conversations, sipping wine…I even think the music came back on, all as if nothing happened. You gotta hand it to the British…they are experts at keeping things on an even keel (except at a soccer game, that is, but I digress.)
My question is this: If words considered harmless in the States are profane and insulting in the UK, what else is out there, waiting to ambush me with embarrassment? How many more times will I make an ass (or an arse, as they say here) of myself? (And that’s a rhetorical question…do NOT answer it.)
Fortunately, Betty’s parents were cool, understanding, and well-traveled so they totally "got it" that the whole thing was a language snafu and I really hadn’t intentionally called their six year old daughter a bodily secretion. But oy. Really.
If you have a reliable security program on your computer, go ahead and Google (use this one, the UK version: http://www.google.co.uk/ ) the words "spunk magazine."
Yeah, I know, right????