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Her World

The Same Language?

July 27, 1986|JUDITH MORGAN | Morgan, of La Jolla, is a nationally known magazine and newspaper writer

"And how did you find us?" asked the Cornish innkeeper as I was signing the bill.

"Through a friend in London," I replied. "He stayed with you last summer."

"No, no," persisted the innkeeper. "How did you find us?"

"With a Michelin map?" I ventured, seeking to answer a query I did not grasp.

He shook his head in confusion. A passing American bailed me out on that spring morning by explaining that "How did you find . . .?" translates, more or less, as "How did you like . . .?"

Proper Responses

An expected response could be "We enjoyed our stay" or "Your inn is pleasant." An unexpected response could be "The food was lousy" or "Your garden's a mess."

Whether the subject is a restaurant, a play or a train ride to Scotland, the English want an opinion in answer to such a question.

Britain these days is reaching out to Americans with the slogan: We Speak Your Language. Of course, that is true, as it is true of Australians, New Zealanders, Indians and others influenced by the erstwhile Empire.

It does not mean we always understand each other.

One afternoon I was having tea with a London friend at the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly.

"I just finished a novel about World War II," I reported.

"Hmmm," he said with puzzled brow.

I prattled on about the intricate plot, the bizarre ending and then mentioned the author.

"Ah," my friend said with a sigh. "You didn't write it. You read it. Hmmm. Yes. I see. Yes. Of course. I didn't think you wrote fiction."

He poured another cuppa, which is far too colloquial to be heard at the Ritz.

Wearing Moss Bross

Another jolly phrase about town is the rhyming "Moss Bross." It's spelled Moss Bros., as in brothers. The 100-year-old firm hires out clothing, especially formal wear, for which it has become a synonym. When tuxedos crush into the Royal Opera House on opening night, you may hear lads call: "You're wearing your Moss Bross, I see." The phrase is the butt of jokes on stage and on screen.

If the English and American languages are different, Australian is more so. Aussie English has been run through a merry sieve and has come out in wondrous chunks. The spelling is usually the same, but they do mince words and add accent.

You may hear "harps," for example, which is 30 minutes past the hour. If you ask a pub keeper what time it is, he'll likely say "Harps 2." Unless it is 10 after the hour in which case you'll hear "Temps 2."

"Flares" are blossoms, "dyes" are days, and Sairdy is the day before Sunny.

And, while there are abundant sights to see in Australia, remember that you, dear travelers, are the "vistas."

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