We bought tickets to the Paul McCartney concert at Verizon Arena as soon as possible, and by the day of the April concert I was so giddy with anticipation I had to drive down to the arena to check out the preparations.
Parking near the Junction Bridge, I strolled around outside the arena and paused occasionally to take pictures. There wasn’t much to see besides big trucks and buses, but it was a nice way to burn off a little nervous energy on a Saturday morning.
Driving back, I navigated the roundabout at Riverfront Drive and Pike Avenue, and was reminded of “Penny Lane,” one of my favorite Beatles’ songs: “Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout, a pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray …”
The image started me on a flight of ideas that has lasted well past the concert. (Thank you, Sir Paul, for providing such a splendid time.)
For instance, I had long assumed roundabout was one of those quintessentially British words. In doing a little research on British English vs. American English, however, I’ve discovered I was wrong.
Turns out, an American coined roundabout. According to The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, a book by Bill Bryson, the word was invented by Logan Pearsall Smith, a transplanted American who, in the 1920s, was a member of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Advisory Committee on Spoken English. Before that, British traffic circles were known as gyratory circuses. Bryson notes that Smith also wanted traffic signals to be called stop-and-goes, but that term didn’t take off.
I also discovered I was wrong in thinking Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said the United States and Great Britain were “two nations divided by a common language.”
In Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language, Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman write that Shaw was quoted in 1942 as saying, “England and America are two countries separated by the same language.”
Yet, O’Conner and Kellerman maintain, nobody can say for sure when or where Shaw made the statement. What is certain, they write, is that in 1887 Irish playwright Oscar Wilde said the same thing but in different words: “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.”
Whilst — I mean while — rambling about the Internet, I also stumbled upon some humorous writings by Toni Hargis, a Brit who married an American and is now living in Chicago. Among other things, she’s written a piece titled “10 Words and Phrases That Cause Confusion Between Brits and Americans,” which can be found on the BBC America website.
Here’s part of her take on an American usage of visit:
“My first confusing experience with this word was when my grandmother-in-law (a Texas lady through and through) asked me to visit with her. Had she not patted the empty seat next to her, I would have picked up my coat and waited at the car, assuming we were going out somewhere. In the U.K. you visit people, castles and seaside resorts, but the act of sitting and chatting is not included in the meaning.”
Hargis also writes about her confusion over a usage of favor. When asked if her first child favored her or her husband, she thought the person was asking about preference, not physical resemblance. Hargis’ reply was, “Well, she spends more time with me so she’s probably more attached to me right now, but I wouldn’t say she necessarily prefers me.”
A lifelong Southerner, I’ve often heard favor and resemble used interchangeably. Wondering if this was just a Southern thing, I conducted a highly scientific poll about the usage — well, OK, I posted something on Facebook.
At last count, 117 of my closest friends, from New Hampshire to Southern California, had commented. A Nebraska native said she’d never heard it before moving to the South. An Iowa native said likewise. One Californian said it was “definitely a Southern thang.”
Yet, another Californian said she had heard it all her life. A native Ohioan, now living in Texas, said she’d heard it in those states and while living in Massachusetts.
Many said they had not only heard it, but use it. A typical response: “Goodness, yes, I say that quite often.”
So, I wouldn’t want to draw many conclusions from a Facebook posting, but I think it’s safe to say the usage is not just a Southern thing.
And now we’re out of space. Maybe we can visit about this again sometime.
Colourful sayings? Email [email protected].