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It starts when the eyes meet across a crowded room. She’s got that special something, he’s suave, debonair, and looks as if he might not smell. They gradually make their way towards each other, eyes forming a burning bridge across the hubbub, tossing knowing glances back and forth like a dog with a wet sock. And then, they’re face to face, desperate to communicate the feelings that are suddenly bubbling up like coke in a fresh straw. He gazes deep into her eyes and purrs “I fancy you, you fancy me: let’s get hitched, and you can be my trouble and strife.”
Her response is equally swoony: “Cor! I just love an Otis Redding! Alright, love, you’re on.”
Actually, the good news for anyone hoping to create a transatlantic union that will last an eternity, is that barely anyone British calls a wedding an Otis Redding – we’re not all cockneys – and referring to your missus as your trouble and strife will not endear you to her, so it’s best left in the pub. However, there are a few little expressions of affection and general warmth that are unique to the British Isles, and it’d be a good idea if you knew what they were, should you be in a proposing mood.
The word love is problematic in itself. In that there are areas of the country where it’s used as an affectionate noun. You might walk into a shop, and behind the counter is a friendly lady who says “what can I get you, love?” Now, this is where punctuation becomes important. She’s not saying “what can I get you? Love?” she’s just being friendly. While love is a contracted form of my love, which has been elongated in the West Country to my lover (with a long, drawn-out ending on the errr), these people are not soliciting your affection, they’re just being nice. And it’s perfectly fine to address people of the same gender with these terms.
In Cornwall, there’s been a movement towards my bird and my handsome as a further development of these little word-handshakes. And again, they’re applicable to either gender, from either gender.
Meanwhile, the catch-all fancy is the word you’d use to define the fizzy feeling of first attraction. It’s entirely separate from love as a concept, being closer to am attracted to than am infatuated with. You can fancy people off the telly and it’s fine. What you can’t do is attempt to discuss this with them on Twitter.
And if it’s more of a loving feeling you have, the Brits have their own versions of the universal crazy for you. If you take a mild slang word for mental illness and equate it with love, you can extend these phrases infinitely: They’re daft on you, you’re potty about them, we’re all nuts about each other.
Once you’ve met and snogged the person you like, and feelings start to grow, you become loved up. Then maybe you start talking about moving in together, living over the brush, until you’re ready to take the plunge and propose.
And of course if all goes well, you could find that you (or your wife) is up the stick, up the duff, sprogged up, up the junction, y’know…in the family way. But that’s another story for another day.
Which British idioms confuse the bally jeepers out of you?
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