Five American Expressions The British Don’t Understand

"Bite me, Mitchell!"

“Bite me!”
What is this? A gesture of masochistic defiance? A ‘sticks and stones’ statement of invulnerability? It’s just I’m fairly sure that the relationship between a biter and bitee tends to favor the one with the teeth, otherwise vampires would be afraid of necks. So the invitation to bite is hard to fathom, given the context in which the phrase is used. Or is there an implied bodily location where the biting should take place, which would return the power to the bitee? Are you saying “bite me on the ass” or “bite me on my unmentionables”? Or is it a threat, as in “OK, seeing as you’re so smart, bite me and see what happens”? A little clarity, please!

“Blow smoke up your ass”
Sycophants often have to do degrading things in order to truly express the intensity of their positive feelings, but even the most monstrous egos in the world of showbiz would surely halt at accepting an offer of smoke blown up their fundament, whether as a gesture of extreme approval or some kind of fire-based cleansing ritual. It’s not only gross, but a serious health risk to everyone concerned. Which leads me to conclude that the only sane answer to someone saying “Hey I’m not trying to blow smoke up your ass” is “I should bloody hope not!”

“Oh snap!”
Oh what? Snap? Snap what? What ARE you on about? And what purpose does this expression serve? Are you saying it to commend a smart-ass for their witty quip, or pat them on the head condescendingly for trying? Is it one of those phrases that started out as a high fiving “oh you got SERVED” and has now ended up meaning an eye-rolling “nice try, Seinfeld”? It’s just that we’d probably be quite good at saying it, if it turned out to be the latter. Eye-rolling is a British specialty, after all.

“Could care less”
A minor niggle, but a niggle nonetheless. When people say they couldn’t care less about something, that means there is literally no amount of care left in their care sack for the issue in question. Their feelings are entirely devoid of caring, on this topic. They’ve pulled up the bucket from the care well and it is empty. When they say they COULD care less, that means there is still some residual care, lying at the bottom of the well, should anyone wish to go and get it. If anyone ever said “he could care less” meaning “he’s still got some leftover issues about it, but they’re on the wane,” it would be fine, but no one ever does. They only ever use it to mean “he couldn’t care less.” So why not SAY that? That’s what the British do.

“Momentarily”
I only found out about this the other day, but it’s a good one. It seems that our two great nations have different understandings of the same word. Suppose you have friends coming over to stay, and they send a text message when they’re just around the corner, just to be sure you’re ready for them: “Hi! We’ll be there momentarily!” In America, this means “we’ll be there in a moment,” but in the UK, it means “we’ll be there FOR a moment.”

Something to bear in mind, if you’ve made a big meal for your British guests.

 Fraser McAlpine is British. This explains a lot.

 

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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