Readers enter a story through plot or character, but it’s the language I find fascinating. What would Britain be without lorries (trucks), boots (car trunks), jumpers (sweaters) and larders (pantries)?
Language sets the tone. One of our new favorite shows is Life on Mars. The year 1973 comes to life in the sets, clothes, and cars. The unique cultural language of the period is racist and sexist, definitely inappropriate in today’s culture, but important to setting the time period. It’s politically incorrect, downright mean, and hysterically funny in context. What cop will say today, “You are surrounded by armed bastards?”.
Let’s take a look at some of the unique language that makes Life on Mars so colorful and fun:
“A Plod’s bringing in your stuff.”
Plod: a British slang term used to refer to a police officer, particularly one slow-witted or dull.
“Blimey, you look like you gone ten rounds with Big Henry.”
Blimey: Blimey is a short word of “blind me” or “oh dear” It’s used when something goes wrong, etc.
“You’re as white as a ginger bird’s arse.”
Ginger bird: redhead
“Almost dinner time. I’m having hoops.”
“You just need a large scotch and a bit of kip.”
Kip: nap or sleep
“Ain’t uniform got its own boozer?”
“You have to rubber-heel mine?”
Rubber-heel: Rubber heel was British army Second World War slang for a hard, rubbery, fried egg. Now, Rubber-heel is slang for someone who investigates members of his own organization.
“You’re new and you got something big crammed up your jacksie but that’s okay.”
Colorful! I’m not sure this is authentic British slang, I couldn’t find it in my slang handbook, but then I couldn’t find tosser either, but it is authentic Life on Mars. I tried to watch the US version but without the language, especially Gene Hunt’s dialogue, it was flat. Not even the ill-tempered and unpredictable Harvey Keitel could make the American version of Gene Hunt interesting. The language is everything!
I love to watch the BBC with titles; try it-you’ll pick up a bunch of new words to dazzle and confuse your friends. Whenever a unique Briticism pops up, I reach for my handy British to English A to Zed, by Norman W. Schur: A rigorously researched, wickedly witty, and eminently useful collection of nearly 5,000 Briticisms and Americanisms. Another terrific tool is the Oxford English Dictionary, to understand everything about where and when a word originated, how it’s used, and where-available online from your local public library.
What would Britain be without their colorful, culturally relevant, and picturesque language? And, if you haven’t seen Life on Mars, check it out, you’ll enjoy the time travel.