The Language Thread

Continuing the discussion from iOS 14.6 breaks CarPlay:

Reminds me of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, where it suffered the same problem in translation.

One iconic joke is where Marvin phones the other characters. The exchange goes something like:

  • Where are you?
  • In the car park
  • What are you doing there?
  • Parking cars. What else does one do in a car park?

The US edition replaces “car park” with “parking lot”, destroying much of the humor in the exchange.


My personal favorite, not really an idiom, but a common usage there, not here, is “brilliant” -especially when describing something I have done or suggested. Me - brilliant! Ha!


Douglas Adams (HHGTG) was brilliant at questioning our use of language. So to was Spike Milligan - The Goon Show radio program was full of quirks of language.

I can recommend Bill Bryson’s book The Mother Tongue for a humorous discussion of this topic - particularly the UK/USA differences.


Agree, agree, agree. I have Bill Bryson “A Short History of Everything “ IIRC. Enjoyed audiobook. Recommendation is noted—will look up. I personally am on side of UK language: seems to me us dang Yankees mess most stuff up!

That book from 1970 was “The Lady” by Anne McCaffrey. One of my most beloved reads. One thing I couldn’t figure out is it mentioned some legislature body called Tchokda Dail? I’ve misspelled it surely, and couldn’t find it on the internet. Any help?

I love the quote about the British and Americans being divided by a common language, which I used to think was from Winston Churchill but Wikiquote says otherwise. And I’m Australian, which is another whole can of worms. Hmm, in this context I need to be careful - is “can of worms” a universal idiom? :slightly_smiling_face:


I don’t know, but “kettle of fish” is about a common to me.


The lower house of the Irish Parliament is the Dáil Éireann. No idea about ‘Tchokda’ – maybe some other country or region with a language of Gaelic origin?

In the US, “mugged” is a verb for a street robbery.

And “mug” also a noun for a larger sized drinking vessel, typically used for hot beverages or cold beer. In the US, beer is just about always served cold. In the US, you can get mugged after you’ve had a mug.

And there are beer mug and coffee mug iPhone covers:

And a multi purpose coffee mug warmer/iPhone charger:

That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

What is a restroom usually called in Britain these days? WC? Is that only used for signage or do people actually say that?

I always amused myself about it being called washroom in Canada. But as a long-time Canadian collaborator of mine from the UoS used to explain, “well we sure do a whole lot more washing than resting in there so I don’t know what you guys in the US are up to in there”. My friend definitely had a point. :wink:


It’s fairly strongly class-based. Toilet is probably the commonest. Loo has an effete, upper-class air to it. Bog is more working-class, and not for polite company (those who use loo would say the same of toilet). I’ve never heard anyone refer to a WC in speech.


The Clamshell iBook looked like a toilet seat to me:

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Loo has the additional defect of being French, of course. Perhaps a literal translation might be better, Excuse me, where’s that place?

But seriously: what does one say to the Queen when visiting the Palace?

The origin of the word is debatable, but it looks like its first usage in print was in James Joyce’s Ulysses:

Presumably ‘one’ wouldn’t ask the Queen, as that seems more like a question to direct at a servant. But even then I think saying “toilet” or “loo” would probably be too crude in that situation. You would likely ask where the “lavatories” are. In fact, that’s the word I associate with upper-class speaking. Around here, “loo” is no more posh than “toilet” (though I agree with @jbr that “toilet” is by far the most common word).


Ah yes, of course one would. And if the Queen herself is at a loss in the palatial labyrinth?

The Queen asked the King & the King asked the equerry . . .

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Although it has nothing to do with British idioms, the Hebrew phrase for a lavatory has been evolving for thousands of years, starting with a phrase from the Bible which over the centuries has been replaced with various euphemisms designed to be less offensive.

Although this article has Hebrew text, it is mostly translated. Here’s a translation of the few phrases that were only transliterated:

  • beit kise. Literally means the “chair room” or “chair house”, or in a modern English idiom, the “throne room”. So that’s a pretty ancient one.
  • beit kise shel kavod. Literally, the “chair room of honor”. The article explains the reasoning for that phrase.
  • beit hakavod. Literally, the “house of honor” or “room of honor”.
  • בית שימוש transliterates to beit shimush, meaning (as the article writes), “room of using”. Which is, as you can see, very very far from a precise description. As I understand it, this was the modern Hebrew phrase in the 1970’s before custom switched to sherutim.
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This seems like a good thread in which to let the mind roam. So many colourful expressions…

When I took French in high school, the teacher taught us how to say WC in French (doo-blə-vay say), explaining that we might need the information some day.

Can of worms was common when I grew up in the Midwest. And not to open one, but my favorite (attributed) Australian expression is a poofteenth of stuffall, as in a minuscule amount. I heard it from someone who claimed to have read about once, and certainly that is the only time I have heard it. Is it authentic?

I had never heard the word gormless before Rowling introduced me to it, but I have had occasion to use it since.

Returning to the most common element of the thread, I’ve heard the term biffy, but extremely rarely. Wikipedia tells me it is short for Bathroom In Forest For You, something I had not known until today and which sounds like folk etymology. And I hadn’t known that loo (the word, not the facility) wasn’t used by hoi polloi.

Thank you, all, for the entertainment and the education.


The Monty Python crew used “lavatory” as a refrain in their very popular Lumberjack Song. WARNING! IT IS MORE THAN 1,000,000,000% POLITICALLY INCORRECT. VIEW AT YOUR OWN PERIL:

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Just for the record, we at TidBITS care very deeply about language, so I’m totally cool with this thread continuing. Let’s not dilute the tech discussions in other threads, though. :slight_smile:

If you’ve been enjoying this conversation, you absolutely must check out Adam Sharp’s Twitter account. He tweets lists of linguistic expressions, such as what people in other countries say to convey the meaning of the English/American “when pigs fly” (It’ll never happen). I almost never read Twitter, and I never read conversations that follow tweets, but I make an exception for this guy.