Just brilliant

I’m slowly learning my newly adopted language, despite the galling lack of a rosetta stone (of either the granite or CD variety) in American English to help me along the way. Admittedly I’m still thinking in the English language and consciously translating into American, but we’ve all got to start somewhere, huh?

This lunchtime in the liftelevator, for example, I managed to correct myself just before telling somebody I’d spent ten minutes in the queue at Hale & Hearty, and reluctantly spluttered out the word ‘line’ instead. In a meeting this morning, I impressed even myself when I was able to say ‘process’ with a hard vowel sound rather than the more soothing soft ‘oh’ that we use in, well, English.

But there are plenty of Englishisms that I simply can’t – and when it comes down to it, won’t – remove from my vocabulary, however incongruous they sound when used on this side of the pond. I’m still on the pavement, for example. I won’t wear a sweater and pants, but I will wear a jumper and trousers. And most of all, I’m still completely brilliant.

‘Brilliant’ is one of those words that I’ve now used for approximately 30 years, to describe anything from Manchester United’s attackingoffensive play through to a great meal. I’ve used derivations such as ‘brill’ and ‘skilliant’ (and the closely associated ‘skill’), and I’m more than capable of saying it three or four times a day if I’m having a particularly pleasant time.

Sadly, of course, saying it in America suggests that I’m referring to whiter-than-white whites, or a remarkably striking blue sky. And I suppose technically they’re right, according to the dictionary:

adjective 1 (of light or colour) very bright or vivid. 2 exceptionally clever or talented. 3 Brit. informal excellent; marvellous. Derived French brillant, from briller ‘shine’, probably from Latin beryllus ‘beryl’.

While Americans will generally understand what I’m saying, they’ll give me one of those looks that says “you think you’re from a classic line of eccentric Englishman and that you can get away with it, but you’re actually just an idiot.”

I suppose I should start using ‘awesome’, brilliant’s lesser American cousin. But given that Americans appear to pronounce it ‘are-some’ (hello, there’s a ‘w’ in it, people!) it’ll be a cold day in hell before I fall into that habit. In any case, by switching to an alternative, I’d be losing one of my favourite words in the English language. And that would be far from brilliant.

9 thoughts on “Just brilliant

  1. Melanie Seasons

    I think part of the problem is that you’re in New York. I’ve never heard of anyone pronouncing awesome as are-some. I’m thinking that has to be an accent thing.

    I use awesome, but also brilliant. I know a lot of non-Anglophiles who do too, so don’t feel weird about saying it. Really, I think “wicked” is the only positive exclamation that hasn’t been accepted over here. (Except in New England, where I think they use it more than “yous guys”)

  2. belleandthecity

    Don’t change your language! People are not looking at you because they think you are an idiot, but more likely because they really are confused by the words you are using. Although you may have trouble finding paper towels in Duane Reade (“kitchen roll? what’s that?”), it’s worth it to stay true to your roots.

    We’ve been state-side for 4 years now and my boyfriend STILL hasn’t adjusted–saying lift, queue, hob, hundreths and thousandths (seriously?), rubber, toilet roll, you name it–which I think is actually a good thing. Being from the South, I also keep all of my colloquialisms because they’re a part of who I am. Y’all will never get me to say “you guys” instead!

  3. belleandthecity

    Don’t change your language! People are not looking at you because they think you are an idiot, but more likely because they really are confused by the words you are using. Although you may have trouble finding paper towels in Duane Reade (“kitchen roll? what’s that?”), it’s worth it to stay true to your roots.

    We’ve been state-side for 4 years now and my boyfriend STILL hasn’t adjusted–saying lift, queue, hob, hundreths and thousandths (seriously?), rubber, toilet roll, you name it–which I think is actually a good thing. Being from the South, I also keep all of my colloquialisms because they’re a part of who I am. Y’all will never get me to say “you guys” instead!

  4. Dylan

    So the upshot is that I’m not that unusual, and even if I am, I should stick to what I know?! Always good to know you’re not a complete freak though, I guess!

    Belleandthecity – surely hundreds and thousands is a much better name for those things than ‘sprinkles’?! I appreciate that you sprinkle them on top of your ice cream or fairy(cup)cake or whatever, but the action required to use a product doesn’t necessarily need to become its actual name. Hence calling a ball a ball, rather than a ‘kicks’…!

  5. Paul Sheffrin

    I so identify with so many of your comments, also being a BooW (in my case in Canada). I don’t have so much trouble with vocabulary as such, however; we have seen enough US shows in the UK to become familiar with their version of our language. But it’s the peculiar pronunciations that bug me. My pet peeve is the corruption of “route” so that is is pronounced like “rout”. This means that only context will distinguish between a highway and a complete vanquish. “We were routed across the downtown area” sounds the same in N America with either meaning. The hardware that splits an internet signal between several computers sounds here the same as the hardware that gouges grooves in wood. English has different pronunciations to aid communications. In any case, if it was OK for Chuck Berry to pronounce the word in “Route 66” to rhyme with boot, why is it now no longer acceptable?

  6. belleandthecity

    But hundreths and thousandths takes too long to say! Sprinkles is much, much better. And don’t even get me started on pinny and bathing costume. Why do y’all insist on using terms from the 19th century to describe clothing items?

    At least you use reckon like we Southerners do, but I bet when you say it no one calls you a hillbilly!

  7. Dylan

    Paul – thanks for the support, especially as I had a long and involved conversation with The Special One about ‘route’. She’s spent too long with me now, and has forgotten how to say it herself…

    Belle – reckon is one of my favourite words! Although you’re right that nobody has called me a hillbilly. Yet. And nobody uses pinny anymore really. The Special One did look at me a bit funny when I asked her whether she’d seen my bathers on honeymoon, admittedly. Although Americans call it a costume, and that’s surely weirder? I mean, me dressing up as Robin Hood is a costume – me pulling on something to swim in doth not a costume make…

    Tea towels is my latest favourite to try to explain…I don’t even know whether you have them, let alone call them by the same name…

  8. belleandthecity

    Bathing costume is a term used by my dearest Cornwallian, as is pinny. Guess they are a *bit* behind in that part of the country.

    Southerns have tea towels, at least my grandmother does. They are like nice, thin towels that are usually embroidered, right?

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