Jul

12

 London first became known for its coffee houses in the 1600s and the glorious tradition lives on in today's coffee shops. Coffeeology, in the borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, recently posted as its message for the day, "There is too much blood in my caffeine system." Not far away is a new coffee shop enigmatically named "Kiss the Hippo." As I passed by it a young couple was smooching passionately out front. They were so entwined that I could not determine whether the lass was inspired by a resemblance between the lad and a hippopotamus.

In the same vicinity a prominent sign proclaims a building's address: One Kew Road. British propriety being what it is, no similar sign adorns #4 on that street. What baffles the American visiting these precincts is the Britons' inability to master their own language. It is not just a matter of their atrocious misspellings, e.g., tyre, kerb, programme, sceptic, soya bean. Neither is what we from the States find most jarring their stubborn pronunciation of "schedule" as if it were spelled "schedule." Rather, it is the British misuse of even the most basic vocabulary.

For example, I spied signs in shop windows reading, "Baristas Required" and "Stylists and Receptionist Required." Well, duh! Of course it requires baristas to run an upscale coffee shop and it requires stylists and a receptionist to operate a hair salon. In America, the verb we ordinarily use in such circumstances is "Wanted," but if we were to approximate the Brits' message we would write-accurately-"Baristas Needed." Over in the land of Shakespeare and Milton they fail to grasp what "required" actually means.

At a W.H. Smith shop I spotted a placard advertising a 500-ml bottle of water. The regular price was 99p, but the offer was, "Only 49p when you buy anything instore." Imagine, half off if you buy anything in the store! Naturally, I bought a bottle of water. Riding in an Uber I saw another curious sign that read, "Use cycle path, not carriage way." Presumably, refusing to follow the rules of the road constitutes cyclepathic behavior. Despite the Brits' linguistic confusion, I am pleased to report that correct-that is to say, American-usage is making steady progress in the UK. For example, the bizarre construction "Mothering Sunday" is being supplanted by the more euphonious "Mother's Day." Yet when greeting cards appeared with the message, "World's Greatest Mom," the retrograde Telegraph, far from applauding the nation's advance toward retiring the silly-sounding "Mum," urged the government to impose a tariff on American English in retaliation for President Trump's tariff on British steel. Readers from Birmingham, apparently the most enlightened section of the island nation, posted online protests that they do in fact call their mothers "Mom."

Well, that covers the highlights of my recent visit to Merry England. The natives attached great significance, though, to their national team's successes in the world championship tournament for soccer, a sport they seem to confuse with football. The country is also said to contain several sites of cultural and historical interest.


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