I Mumble; Therefore, I am Angry.

After 15 years of marriage, The Boffin and I still cross our communication signals like all couples do.  We join the Mutual Irritation Society over my mumbling.  It’s simple.  I mumble to myself to process my thoughts.  He automatically assumes something is wrong and asks if I am OK.  I get annoyed that he assumes that I am angry yet again.  He gets annoyed that I am annoyed that he is looking out for my welfare.

And so it goes.

When it happened yet again this morning, we knew it was a blog post.  The Boffin said, to him, it’s an environmental thing.  Where he grew up, muttering to yourself meant that you were angry, and he can’t escape that social conditioning.

There is a popular Twitter account called Very British Problems that has even turned into a TV show.  It discusses the stages of anger.

The Boffin thinks that needs to be compressed a bit.

In order to severity:

1) Look everywhere else but at the person

2) Shake your head slowly, outside of their peripheral vision

3) Mumble

4) Tut

5) Stare aggressively at the back of the offender’s head

6) Invade the offender’s 2ft personal space radius

7) Engage them in polite conversation. Persist until they leave.

I can’t help but think his being in America so long has him resorting to the nuclear option of engaging in polite conversation.  And I am not sure where writing letters falls into this.

Regardless, back to our marriage, he knows when I am truly angry because I am a slow burner who goes silent.  I can control my temper very well, and someone can intervene to keep me calm and reason with me when I am on the edge.

But when I go…well, as far as having a “fight or flight” impulse, The Boffin has stated that there is not much flight in me.  I mostly have “grenade or baseball bat”.  Let me put it this way, whenever I take a The Big Lebowski personality quiz, Walter Sobchak always shows up.

walter-sobchak-shomer-shabbos
And no, I don’t roll on Shabbos either because I can’t bowl to save my life.

It is a case of my husband knowing my true personality vs. a conditioned response.

Some will say we are perpetuating stereotypes by proposing this idea. It is a valid comment. Of course, not all Britons mumble when they are angry and not all Britons would interpret mumbling as anger.

However, we are also talking about communication and how society agrees on what gestures and actions mean. Verbal language is hard enough, and we have dictionaries and other reference materials as guides. The Boffin is not the first British person who has interpreted my mumbling as “She’s in a strop,” which is something I have never encountered on this side of the Pond.  My mumbling has been interpreted as confusion over here, which is a different stereotype altogether.

So I can only give you my narrow experience with this, and I know it is not definitive. It would be interesting to hear how others have had their actions interpreted internationally.

America Does Things Big.

I would love to come back to the UK and see the size of one of these things.

Probably wouldn’t hold a candle, really.

Oh, and this is in Dayton, Ohio, so making election comments are tempting.  But I am going to ask for restraint.  My readers are above cheap shots. 

I’m not, but you are.

Marital Codes or Why We Don’t Have Many Friends

The Boffin and I will be celebrating our 15th anniversary on December 28th. And I realize, like many couples who have been together a long time, we have come up with our own code words and phrases that make sense to us but classify us as weirdos to the general public. I thought I would share a few in the spirit of making us just a little more understandable.

Lord Lucan 1 – “Lord Lucan” has become a long lost object: the forgotten leftover in the back of the fridge, the screwdriver that had been misplaced, that important piece of paperwork that was needed a month ago, etc. You get the idea. “I’ve found Lord Lucan!” is the tip-off sentence.

John Mills 2 – The ideal of masculinity that I jokingly thrust upon the Boffin.  I even have John Mills’s picture as the avatar for the Boffin’s contact info on my phone.

John Major voice – The Boffin is good at the former prime minister’s voice and characterizing this person. It is the voice of the overly educated, pedantic Englishman who complains about the most nitnoid things. (I don’t want to hear a word from the Boffin’s family.) It is the voice of the worst letters sent to Points of View. It is the person pointing out the blatantly obvious who is taking everything literally. The Boffin just wrote this letter as an example.

Dear Sir,

After 15 years of almost daily use, my Worthington Bishop 12oz teapot recently met with an untimely accident.  As a result, I found to necessary to procure a new teapot.  However, I was shocked and dismayed to discover that the Worthington Bishop no longer is made in the 12oz size, and I was therefore reluctantly force to buy the Worthington Bishop 16oz pot.  However, I have discovered that because I only fill the pot with 12oz of water. In order to compensate for the additional evaporative cooling resulting from the larger headspace, I have had to raise my house’s thermostat by 0.1°C (not an easy feat as it generally increments by only 1°C).  Assuming that this pot also lasts me 15 years, and similar issues are happening in every household in the United Kingdom, I have estimated that this will force us as a nation to consume the same amount of energy as Huddersfield consumes in about 1 minute and 23.2 seconds.

In keeping with the Government’s environmental policies, I suggest that you reintroduce the Worthington Bishop 12oz pot and, perhaps, bring out it’s Eco-qualities in your marketing campaign.

Yours Sincerely

Mr Herbert Q. Pedant

George and Mildred 3 – The elderly couple cruising at 20 mph in front of us.

Tom and Barbara 4 – Whenever The Boffin and I are in a gardening or, more likely, in an us-against-the world mode.

Woody and Tinny Words – Woody words are pleasant sounding words. Tinny words are harsh sounding ones.  Thank Monty Python for this one.

“My Hovercraft is Full of Eels” – Our response to a nonsensical statement. Of course, we have to attribute this to Monty Python too.

I like cheese. – Code for “My brain hurts. Let’s talk about nice things.”  Sylvester and co. are our friends.

PEOPLE! AAAAH! – Quoting Gossamer from the Bugs Bunny cartoon. Our “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off” exclamation.

So, do you and your partner have any odd phrases you want to share?

1. To make a long story short, John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan disappeared in 1974 disappeared upon having a warrant for his arrest for the murder of his children’s nanny and the assault of his wife. To those in America, chances are, you haven’t heard of him. He was quite an interesting character to say the least.

2. If anyone has heard of Sir John Mills in the U.S., it is usually either as Hayley’s dad or the father from Swiss Family Robinson. Meanwhile, from the 1940s to the early 1960s, he pretty much epitomized English film masculinity: stiff upper lip, courage under fire, wry humor, knowing when to break the rules and when to conform. The running joke is that nobody has seen the beginning of Ice Cold in Alex in years because they happen to catch it while channel flipping and remain stuck watching it until the end. Sir John Mills never mattered to me until I met the Boffin.

3. George and Mildred was a spinoff sitcom of Man about the House. It was the equivalent of The Ropers being the spinoff of Three’s Company.

4. From the sitcom The Good Life or Good Neighbors, depending on where you live. Tom and Barbara Good, played by Richard Briers and Felicity Kendall respectively, were a couple living in the London suburbs who decided to become self-sufficient by growing their own food, raising livestock, and bartering to meet their needs.  The disconnect between the two worlds made for some classic comic moments.

Veiled Communication at Its Best

IMG_0780

In other words…

Dear Chicago Residents:

We know you do not like piles of crap in the park, but we are working on it.  Give us a chance, will ya?

We also know you hate it when we have these massive concerts like Lollapalooza because of the hordes of people causing mess, disturbance, and general mayhem, but you have a choice here.  We can either up your taxes even more, so you can have your nice parks, or we can have big events, and you have to learn to live with the inconvenience once in a while.  Are we clear?  Good.  Now shut up.

Sincerely,

The Chicago Park District

Do Accurate Accents Matter in Entertainment?

“Mary Poppins3” by Trailer screenshot – Mary Poppins Trailer. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

My American in-laws and I had the pleasure of seeing the Chicago production of Kinky Boots yesterday.  Those in the U.K. would know the title as the 2005 movie based upon the true story of a man who inherited his father’s shoe factory in Northamptonshire and turned to making footwear for drag queens and transvestites to save the company from going under.  Well, what I saw was the Tony-award winning musical crafted in the hands of Cyndi Lauper’s music and lyrics and Harvey Fierstein’s dialogue.

I started to panic when one of the actors came on the stage, in character, and performed a monologue on his cell phone about how he had to go to work in the shoe factory and the audience needed to shut their phones down.  It would have been really clever, if there weren’t slips in the accent punctuated with a distinctive honk in his voice when he said “wanker”.  It only got worse from there.  What I heard afterwards was a cacophony of various approximations of English accents.  Some of the actors did their homework.  Others weren’t up to the challenge.

And I am sure some of you are asking why I am being so picky.  Well, let me explain.  The characters were supposed to be born and raised in Northamptonshire, and they occasionally travelled to London as a counterpoint.  So, this was not a musical that could be just set anywhere.  It wasn’t something like Shakespearean play that could be molded into different settings.  There was a lot emphasis about how they were in a “small town” of Northampton with a dying shoe industry.  (It’s only a city of 212,000 people.  Lauper and Fierstein did not get a good enough grip on England to get their facts straight and build up the tension of what was going on.  It made me wish Eddie Izzard was part of the project.)  If these characters are flittering around with their voices, how am I supposed to believe the story they are telling, when I have lived amongst the real people?

My fellow Americans, imagine sitting in a theater in London, and you are seeing a musical set in Atlanta cast with British actors.  Let’s say this a musical where the setting and context is crucial, say the Civil Rights era.  Imagine what you hear is some of the actors sounding like Cooter from the Dukes of Hazzard after downing a fifth of Jack.  Others have the Midwestern neutral accent that you hear on the national newscasts, but quite a few of them regress back into their regular regional voices every third word.  Meanwhile, there are the few gems who nail it, and you just want to run onto the stage and kiss them.  That was my experience yesterday.

Maybe the best thing we can call this is Dick Van Dyke Syndrome.  In the U.K., the benchmark of an American doing a shite English accent is Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.  Everyone else is measured against him.  Even the Boffin asked me, “Were they as bad as Dick Van Dyke?” when I gave my review.  For the record, some of them were better.  Some of them were worse.

I am only discussing theater, but we can certainly extrapolate this point into movies and TV.  And we have heard our fair share of British actors who have mangled American accents.  Exhibit A:  Sean Connery in The Untouchables.  You mean to tell me he was supposed to be Chicago Irish when Chicago permeated every pore of that movie?  Exhibit B: Ewan MacGregor in Big Fish.  His deep Alabama drawl is absolutely pathetic in comparison to Albert Finney’s older version of the same character.  It somewhat undercuts the credibility of the story.  Of course, the bad accents did not completely ruin the movies, but having the main actors nail the accents would have improved them.

I know I am being negative about the whole accent business, but I promise you I wasn’t sitting through the whole show stewing about the voices.  Trust me, the choreography by Jerry Mitchell and the musical numbers were fantastic everything you want from Broadway.  In fact, I told my in-laws I wanted Kinky Boots to be a rock-n-roll opera to avoid the accent issue entirely.  I am just thinking that those extra details would have made the experience better for me, especially since my in-laws treated me to a very expensive theater ticket.  I felt guilty that I wasn’t getting their money’s worth.

But I am in the minority.  I ended up doing a little research about accents in theater and came up with two interesting articles in the New York Times and the Guardian.   If you only have time to read one, read the Guardian one.  In summary of what the article said, actors and directors are in a no-win situation regarding accents.  What the actors were doing on stage were basically what the American audience expected.  Basically, it expects Dick Van Dyke.  (I have my work cut out for me to debunk a lot of British misconceptions.)  Sometimes the directors tell the actors not to go for accuracy to avoid criticism for not doing the voices correctly enough.  It’s better to miss the archery target completely than to aim for the bullseye and only hit the red.  Meanwhile, those of us more familiar with the nuances have to suffer.

Do accents matter to you when you are watching entertainment?  Why or why not?

Wisdom from the Boffin

"Sugar 2xmacro" by Lauri Andler(Phantom) - Photo taken by user. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Sugar 2xmacro” by Lauri Andler(Phantom) – Photo taken by user. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Since I don’t have much time to post this week because I have company, I am going to share my favorite quotations.  This particular line is one of my favorites from the Boffin.

“You do realize lead is a natural sweetener.”

Think about it.

Much ado ablaut shitting

Strong Language is a blog that help you rationalize your filthy mouth because it adds an intellectual bent to it. If you want to dig deeper in the history and the hows and whys of the art of swearing, this is the place to go. Enjoy!

Strong Language

pile-of-poo

Shit has been with us an awfully long time—it appears in Old English as scitan—yet we can’t seem to agree on the past tense of the verb. Is it shit? Shat? Shitted?

My theory for why we haven’t settled this issue has partly to do with its ‑it ending, which, based on similar verbs in English, can get pulled in several different directions as we try to derive a past form. And because shit is vulgar, we generally use it less often than other verbs ending in ‑it.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 11.11.02 AM Not exhaustive, obviously, but an example showing the relative frequency of English verbs that SHIT might emulate.

So rather than having a past tense at the ready, maybe we build it on the go, by analogy:

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