One of the things that I constantly get asked by people back in the UK is how long it’s going to take for me to lose my British accent, or get some kind of mid-Atlantic twang. Frankly, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen, and if I ever start talking about a-loo-min-um foil, or begin to refer to my ‘mom’ then something is rotten in the state of Brooklyn.
And don’t get me started on words like ‘Peter’ and ‘water’ – somehow the t’s appear to go missing in action in this country, only to be magically replaced by d’s. If you ever hear me asking ‘Peeder’ if he wants a glass of ‘warder’, then you have my absolute permission to shoot me.
Of course, it’s the natural instinct of man to adapt to his surroundings. When The Matchmakers used to come to visit me in the UK, Mr Matchmaker was an incredibly adaptable accent chameleon. By the end of a week long stay, he could conceivably find gainful employment as a butler in the most old-fashioned of country piles.
For me though, there’s one reason above all others why I could never give in to accent slip. It’s the fact that I could never manage to say ‘what’s up’ with a straight face.
For the vast majority of Americans, the word ‘hello’ has been replaced by ‘what’s up’. Walking out of the office to get a sandwich yesterday, I was ‘what’s upped’ by no less than four people in a thirty second period. Including two people who simultaneously what’s upped me as I left the
liftelevator. And another who slapped me on the shoulder.
To most Brits, ‘what’s up’ is used as a phrase to denote concern or worry. It is not a greeting, and it is certainly not a rhetorical question. Only now am I slowly reali
szing that I do not need to respond. For the last three months, my casual greetings have gone something like this:
Vague acquaintance: “Hey, what’s up?”
BOOW: “Well, I’ve been struggling recently with a bit of a sore leg. I think it all started when I went to the gym and got tangled up in that elliptical thing that really hurts your back if you’re on it for too long. You know, the one with the ski handles? Anyway, then The Special One made me carry sixty three boxes up the stairs to the apartment, and I think I might have done some permanent damage, as I’m really having difficulty sleeping. Anyway, just as I finally managed to sit down, the phone rang and then I got caught up in a thirty-five minute conversation with a call centre in Mumbai about why I should take car insurance. I wouldn’t mind but we don’t even have a car. Apart from tha…”
Vague acquaintance: “Sorry to interrupt, but I’ve got to go gnaw my own arm off.”
I have no idea why ‘hello’ won’t suffice, to be honest. Or even a simple ‘how are you?’ At least I know that’s a question that demands an answer, even if the person who asked it isn’t remotely interested in the answer. It just allows me to respond to with a jaunty ‘I’m fine’, and be on my way. As it is, I now just laugh like a halfwit when anybody gives me a ‘what’s up’, in a manner that’s designed to say ‘Things are crazy around here’ but which probably just sounds like ‘I’m a nervous socially inadequate Brit – please don’t hurt me.’
Incidentally, I quickly Google searched ‘what’s up’ to see if I could shed any light on its origin. I didn’t get very far before being bogged down in 4 Non Blondes videos, but I did find a fascinating entry on Wikipedia. The short article claimed that ‘what’s up’ is now being abbreviated in many forms for the SMS and IM era, notably “sup”, “waz up”, “wts up”, “wts new” and “waz happenin”. My personal favourite though is “waz crackalackin”. And you wonder why I’m confident that I’m not going to find myself Americani
Anybody who can provide documentary and verified evidence that they managed to use the phrase ‘crackalackin’ at least once in a work context, by the way, gets a gold star and the freedom of the Brit Out Of Water kingdom.