Oh man, the tales we tell!

York Minster, which an American visitor described as ‘That wee little church’


The theme of word confusion has prompted a few readers to get in touch with their own funny stories and I thought that sharing a few might brighten your day.

A rich source of mirth are the things that children say, be they malapropisms, mispronunciations or valiant attempts at the right word. Alastair Smith said his daughter would call her brother ‘Ditchead’ instead of ‘Richard’ and swans were ‘Fonz’. When Lynn Catena’s son was little, she wasn’t sure what he meant when he asked her if he could listen to the ‘old fashioned CDs’. It took her a moment to work out that he was referring to her vinyl LPs. And Teresa Watkin’s son invented his very own word whenever his parents would try to tickle him. “Legoffme!” he would shout, instead of ‘Let go of me’ (I think that word deserves its own entry in the English dictionary). One of Lynnette Brammah’s funniest came courtesy of a friend’s daughter, whose favourite film was the one with Dorothy and the ruby slippers. She referred to it as ‘The Buzzard of Was’.

Lynnette also provides us with an excellent example of when our friends from overseas unwittingly entertain us with their attempts at our very complicated language. She was asked by an American if she knew the way to ‘Can-arse-bow-roo’. Any ideas where that is? I couldn’t work it out! Turns out it’s that pretty town that lies on the River Nidd, otherwise known as Knaresborough. And Lynn Catena was asked by a French visitor if she knew where he could buy ‘shoe’ cream for his wife. He rubbed his face to help Lynn decipher what he meant. “I figured it out,” she says. “He wanted Boots the Chemist. He was close…it was footwear!”

I don’t know about you, but it seems that everything in the USA is bigger than here. Their food portions, for example, are huge, and if you ask for a large carton of cockporn – I mean popcorn – at the cinema, you get enough to feed a small country. The same goes for the width of the roads, the size of the cars, and even the buildings. Dad once told me a story about some visiting Americans who were very proud of their country’s reputation for all things jumbo. He was driving them around York, pointing out the significant sights and landmarks, and they passed a particular one for a second time, at which point one of the guests exclaimed: “Oh gee, look! There’s that wee little church again!” The wee little church? Only York Minster!

And I was walking with a German friend in the Dales a couple of years back, and as we passed by a farm he declared, “Look at all those midgets!”. I looked towards the farm buildings, but not one midget could I see. When he began to flap his arms about his head, I realised he actually meant ‘midges’.  

But it’s not just those from abroad that sometimes get it wrong. It seems our southern neighbours have trouble with understanding the way us northerners might say things. Lucien Smith says: “I had a great Northumberland place name that was Southernised recently. Slayley Hall, pronounced Slay-ley, was poshified to ‘Slarley’. It took me a moment to know where she meant!”

And that brought to mind another memory of mine which always makes me giggle. In the 1990s I used to work in East Grinstead, West Sussex, and as I was handing some paperwork over to a colleague, she said, “It’s Maggie outside.”

“Pardon?” I replied.

“Maggie, outside.”

“Oh, is she? Who’s Maggie?”

“No!’ she laughed, “I mean the weather! It’s warm and maggy!” The penny finally dropped. What she was trying to tell me was that it was a muggy day outside.

On the subject of getting words wrong in church, a reader revealed: “One of my brothers, when he was a kid, used to start the Lord’s Prayer like this: ‘Our father who art in heaven, Alan be thy name…” And one of my friends reported that her daughter used to think that everyone was saying ‘Oh man!’ rather than ‘Amen’. So it turns out that Peter God whom, as I mentioned last time, some of us would thank every week during Mass, now has a mysterious colleague called Alan.

Oh man!

Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 1st October and the Gazette & Herald on 29th September 2021

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