POH-TAY-TOE PER-TAR-TOE – How The British Are Far Too Harsh On Americans And Why Americans Can Be Right
You have to feel just a little bit sorry for the Americans. Everyone used to love them and their vibrant culture. Now everyone hates them, though that hasn’t stopped worldwide consumption of Hollywood films and hamburgers. America is in the same position Britain was in round about 1910, when the British Empire was the dominant world power.
But we’d had a two century run up at it and had given other countries a chance to get used to us shamelessly plundering their natural resources. The Yanks have only really been in the driving seat properly since the end of WW2.
Britain –or really just England if we’re being candid- has this special relationship with America. It’s a bit like the special relationship a fifteen year old hooker has with her pimp. She loves him because he’s been so nice to her in the past, though she hates all the stuff he makes her do. But she does it anyway.
We got pimped out when the American government foreclosed on all our debts on the very afternoon the war officially ended. A trick that would make even the most hardened ghetto pimp wince while adjusting the rooster feather in his leather fedora. But this is a distinction we Brits conveniently miss. Their government did it to our government. They didn’t all do it to us personally.
To take a more recent example, most of America did not vote for George Dubya, in the same way most of us did not vote for Tony Blair. And not a single one of us voted Gordon Brown in, so their actually a step ahead of us on that score if you think about it.
All is confusion and misunderstanding, and naturally a great deal of this is down to our respective usage of our common language. There is a famous, though probably apocryphal story involving Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. They were a passionate honeymoon couple when they starred in the film adaptation of “The Taming of the Shrew.” The American director tried to take advantage of this situation by getting them to be a little more physical than two co stars might otherwise consent to being
“Grab Liz’s fanny,” he said, “And drag her around the room by it”
Even Burton, an earthy Welshman, raised an eyebrow at this unusual suggestion. “Are you absolutely sure?” he replied.
“Definitely” said the director.
Richard shot a quizzical look at his new bride and she shrugged and returned him a look to say “Well I’m game if you are” and off they went. Richard did exactly what he thought he’d been told to do, and there was uproar on the set. The production crew were in hysterics and the director was mortified. The footage was immediately pulled out of the cameras and burnt.
There are countless examples like this which demonstrate the American mangling of the English language and these put ointment on the wound that is the fact we no longer have an Empire. Most of them, like this one, are probably made up. So, to redress the balance, I thought I’d set the record straight on one of the all time favourites of the condescending Yank hater.
It’s not the Poh-tay-toe /Per-tar-toe issue that the title might suggest. No one says Per-tar-toe, not even the most weak chinned, horse faced aristocratic types. One thing guaranteed to get up the nose of every self respecting Englishman is the American insistence of saying “Aloo-min-um” instead of “Al-yoo-min-ee-um”.
I’d love to be able to say that I’m the tolerant exception to this rule, but tragically, this isn’t the case. This is doubly annoying in light of the fact that, technically speaking, the Americans are right.
Aluminium- I’ll continue to spell it that way despite being wrong –was discovered by the renowned English chemist Sir Humphrey Davey as a result of his habit of arsing about with crucibles and electricity. At first he called it Alumium; a clumsy name, but the discoverer gets to name the element- them’s the rules. Several years later, he realized this wasn’t a terribly good name and changed it to Aluminum. Everyone, including the American Chemical Society, received the news and dutifully changed it.
Sir Humphrey’s English contemporaries were not happy at this. By now there was a fashion for ending elements with the Latin suffix –ium. So they just did, and it began to be accepted practice. Aluminum became aluminium.
Sir Humphrey made no comment on this. By now he had ditched his crucible habit for the habit of getting whacked off his tits three or four times a day on laughing gas. He never approved the change and so, to this day, Aluminum is the correct spelling
So, if you’re American, the next time some patronizing English tit picks you up on this point, you can put him straight with extreme prejudice. In fact, why not just trawl the net and trap one. Crowbar the word “Aluminum” into chatroom conversations until one of them bites. Just don’t tell them who told you or they’ll kick me out of the Patronizing English Tits’ Society.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2013