I was staring at Rodent’s kitchen floor and hating the broom, not yet having found the kind I like, which is a Chinese fan-shaped broom that takes lots less effort than any other shape of broom.

“Where can we get a Chinese fan-shaped broom that’ll make sweeping easy?  I never see them at Tesco—is there a Chinese store around here?”

Rodent’s kitchen is in his house which is in England.

He looked confident.  I was suspicious.

“Don’t worry,” he said.

This was a millenial shift from his usual, “We’ll see.”

I carried on hating the broom and his kitchen, especially since it needed painting and a new floor, as well as new lighting, stove, fridge, sink, countertops and cabinets.

I hung up the broom on the side of the cabinet next to the wonderful “Shit Happens” apron hanging near a never-used DustBuster, dead-batteried “torch” (flashlight) and two sets of keys that worked nowhere.

Did I mention that dear Rodent is a native of Scotland, and for many years has lived in England?  That qualifies us, since I’m a native USAmerican, as a couple divided by a common language.

Months before, he had recoiled immediately, and uncharacteristically, when I’d told him to change his pants.  We debated the UK and USA meanings of “pants” long after he had actually changed them.  I had meant his khakis; he’d thought I meant his briefs.

These word debates have stretched throughout our loveship and tend to happen at inconvenient times, such as the first time I wanted to bake an apple crumble, and he said the oven is part of the cooker.

“Where’s the cooker?” I asked.

His reply, God help us, was: “In the kitchen,” followed by, “and the cooker is the cooker.”

“OK,” I said, settling down for a long debate:  “Where’s the oven, then?”

“It’s inside the cooker, of course.  Where else would it be?”

I took a seat and wondered just how to commit suicide using a gas oven which seemed present but unidentifiable.

An image came to me of the Chinese cleaver, ever handy in the Slicey-Choppy drawer next to the thing I had thought was the stove, on top of which were things I had used as burners but which were called “hobs”.

With inordinate patience and creativity, I said, “I’m going to the toilet now, that little room next door which contains no bathtub.  If it contained a bathtub, I would have to call it “the bathroom”—not “the toilet”—or the Building Society would be forced to condemn the house and its occupants for lack of Englishness.  When I return to the kitchen, please have the door of the oven, which is in the cooker, open, so that I can put the apple crumble in it.”

When I returned from the toilet, I noted with immense satisfaction that the door of the oven was open and there was no sign of a cooker anywhere to be seen.  In went the apple crumble followed by a 15-minute explanation of Gas Marks 1 to 8, as distinct from Fahrenheit-designated oven temperatures.

It didn’t take dear Rodent long at all to provide me a broom for the kitchen.  He’s a man, after all, and men have to Do Things in order to continue qualifying as men.  This I guess is the case in both our countries.

He appeared, grinningly pleased with himself, in the kitchen, holding a push broom.

Seconds passed, grin still strong.  I waited for a move of some kind, some sign as to why he had brought a push broom into the kitchen.

“You got a job sweeping Tesco’s car park, and you want to practice?” I offered.

“This is your broom for the kitchen,” Rodent said triumphantly, his mission accomplished.

“It’s a push broom, and it’s usually used out of doors or in the garage, but not in the house.”

“You wanted a broom—and this is a broom,” he insisted.

“I agree:  It is a broom.  But as you can see it bears little resemblance to the broom that I usually use in the kitchen,” and I grabbed the derelict kitchen broom.

“That’s a brush,” Rodent countered.  “You didn’t say you wanted a brush.  You said you wanted a broom.”

“What does a kitchen brush look like, then?” I asked.

“Like what you’re holding,” he said.

“Are there any kinds of brooms other than the push broom you have brought?” I wanted to know.

“No, just that.  It’s the only kind of thing we call a broom.”

“So, if I want something to sweep the floor in the kitchen, I will call it a brush—not a broom.”

“Or you could call it a broom, and here it is,” he said patting the push broom.

No doubt because he’s a man, he began Doing Something.  He began using the push broom.

I couldn’t stand it.  He was pulling the push broom, not pushing it.  Over and over again.

I called it to his attention.  He explained: “That’s because I’m inside the house trying to sweep up some dust, obviously—not outside trying to sweep up some leaves.”

There’s a special kind of laugh-weep reserved for UK-USA couples.  It leads to big, floppy, weak hugs and kisses.

This laugh-weep keeps the Queen’s English alive alongside its dimly reflecting colonial vocabulary, and it assures us of our places next to one another as partners in ongoing ignorance.

It also breeds patience.

TAGS: , , ,

JUDY PRINCE, a retired college teacher and union activist, now lives half the year in Norfolk, Virginia, and the other half in Darlington, UK.  She has published articles in the L.A. Times and the Virginian-Pilot, and was a Chicago Dramatists Short Plays Competition finalist.   She is now at work on a play about Shakespeare the woman, and recently launched Frisky Moll Press with the poetry pamphlets of Robin Hamilton (Anacreon translations) and Patrick McManus (On The Dig).   Her own poetry pamphlets have been published by Phantom Rooster Press (2006 and 2009). Prince's work is included in the first James Kirkup Memorial Poetry Competition Anthology (Red Squirrel Press, UK, 2010). Her Poems2 is reviewed in SPHINX 12, HappenStance Press .

29 responses to “The Great Broom Debate”

  1. Simon Smithson says:

    Ha! I can remember being in the US and having a conversation like this:

    Me: ‘Hey, so, where do I go to post something?’
    Them: ‘What are you posting?’
    Me: ‘Just a letter.’
    Them: ‘But… to who? You need to know what wall to put it on.’
    Me: ‘Uh… wall?’
    Them: ‘Yeah.’
    Me: ‘I can’t just put it in a mailbox?’
    Them: ‘Why would you…’
    Me: ‘We have different meanings for the word ‘post’, don’t we?’

    • Judy Prince says:

      Simon, that “post” distinction never occurred to me—of course, yeah, USAmericans’d post something on a bulletin board or board or wall, but not into the “letter box” (those great round red Royal Mail wotsits we all know from Dr. Who).

      Come to think of it, “wotsit” is thoroly English, and seems to mean a “thingie”.

      Here’s an English word I love, but can’t entirely get my head around: “whinge”. It sort of means “whine” or complain, but Rodent insists it’s distinct from those. Example: “Oh God it’s raining again; bloody typical, isn’t it?” It’s complaining that seems to apply to situations that can’t be fixed, and that must be endured. Also, a “whinge” most often is about what affects most folks, not a unique-to-the-speaker situation.

      R U Aussie, then? Canadian?

      • Irene Zion says:

        Judy,

        We have “whatsit.”

        You’re funny.

        • Judy Prince says:

          You definitely have “whatsit”, Irene! Hence, my gratitudinous thanks!

          I feel the need for a MiniPoo. Nothing else quite scratches the itch.

          Speaking which: Where’s Rich?

        • Irene Zion says:

          Rich is pretty mysterious, Judy.
          He could be anywhere!
          (I’d check in your bedroom. You never know.)

        • Judy Prince says:

          GAH—Irene! Rich is a mysterious TNBer, then?! I just had a look in the bedroom, as you’d suggested…..and discovered we needed to wash the sheets and pillowcases. It’s altogether possible that Rich has chosen to hide in my peanut desk on the main floor, tho. He’ll hafta stay there for a bit, then, honing his co-MiniPoo skills and p’raps preparing dinner.

          Just for you, Irene, I’m gonna om—-OMG! The Comment Robot has deleted the last half of my comment—-and only bcuz I committed an intentional misspelling which I was going to do just for you as a kind of homage to your writing talents (don’t try to make sense of this, Irene; just indulge me).

          A nother comment I made today never managed to make it into print, so I re-sent it, and the Comment Robot responded: “This is the second time you’ve sent this message—-HA HA HA!” after which I noted that neither of the two messages had been sent, and that’s been oh 15 hours ago or so.

          Here, then, is a nother misspelled word and our breathless awaiting the Comment Robot’s sanctions against it: I am now subtly misspelling a word in this cemmont. (tick….tick…tick…tick)

        • Irene Zion says:

          I think the homage to my writing “talents” sounds like I misspell things a lot.
          I suppose that’s probably true.

          You can tell if a person grew up in New York, particularly Brooklyn, if they say “Ammana….” for the much longer and totally cumbersome “I am going to….”

        • Judy Prince says:

          Wonderful, Irene: “Ammana…..”! I love it! [btw, I didn’t do the homage bcuz of anything about your spelling; I just wanted a Special Occasion for you.]

          My niece has recently moved to Brooklyn with her husband and their 2 kids, and they tell me their house is 10 feet wide, but very “deep”. [??] She, a native midwesterner and longtime NYCer, sounds very NYC. Dunno after what age a person hunkers down into a particular speech pattern. Some folk are able to shift their speech patterns virtually any time in their lives.

          How will I say a Brooklyn “goodbye” or “au revoir”, then?

          Chirs,

          Judy

      • Rodent says:

        “(those great round red Royal Mail wotsits we all know from Dr. Who)” — another example of the USA/UK linguistic divide — the red hugiekapivots featured on Doctor Who were what we in the Queen’s Own Country normally refer to as “telephone boxes”. Now rendered redundant by the advent of the mobile phone.

        Now a mobile phone is what we call a … whot’sit?

  2. Darian Arky says:

    Separated by the bonds of a common language, right?

    • Judy Prince says:

      In a word, Darian, yes. I like your photo; it says everything about you. Don’t tell me it’s a photo of your neighbour…..well, unless your neighbour is your identical twin. Are those billed caps terribly helpful? Must be, I guess, or they wouldnae be so popular. My own preference would be for a bill to be at the back as well, for symmetry’s sake. In addition to control issues, I apparently have design issues.

      Now I’m gonna make myself into a “larger size” by clicking those words above.

      It may necessitate a larger billed cap.

  3. Darian Arky says:

    It’s getting to be too old a picture for me to keep passing off as “me”, I’m afraid. My wife took the picture very early one morning on the beach in Turks and Caicos (where we were taking a break from life in Haiti) in 2002. I had just been kvetching about having to wait another 30 minutes for the hotel to start serving breakfast — i.e., to make coffee available — and she said something to make me smile and feel foolish at the same time. I still have the cap (and a few others), but you’ll only catch me wearing one like this if I’m on the beach, hiking or skiing.

    • Darian Arky says:

      Ugh. I’m always forgetting to click “Reply to this comment”…

      • Judy Prince says:

        You’re just tryna get your lovely photo displayed twice, Darian, and I can hardly blame you.

        BTW, this wife who’s not named by you: Why not give her credit for the remark she made that caused you to smile and feel foolish at the same time? [TNB’s highly “couple” participatory, I’ve been noticing. Wait—that sounds a big dodgy. Where is Zara when I need her to explain “dodgy”?!!]

  4. Erika Rae says:

    Oh, but this was fun to read. I love how he has to continue doing things to prove that he is a man. More Rodent stories! More Rodent stories!

    (Oh, and I got slammed against a wall once in England because I said that my “Grandma has spunk.” Heh.)

    • Rodent says:

      That’s not so much the “common tongue divided” business, Erika, as your encountering a linguistic illiterate. The slang and non-slang senses of “spunk” in the UK are pretty much distinct, and usually distinguishable by context. Unless you were intending a deliberate pun?

    • Judy Prince says:

      Ah, Erika, you’ve breathed life back into Judy in her full moon phase [i.e. completely freaked, ready to burst, convinced that Rodent stories are stoopid and pointless, and wondering if I have a food allergy but realising I’d hafta give up food groups one by one in order to see which one has loaded my ample torso with itchy red bits].

      “More Rodent stories!” you say—-you will have them, then! I will continue to throw my sweet Rodent under the bus, kick him to the kerb, and try to reduce the size of his gravatar……..all for Erika and for the sake of Art [Art, well, he’s a nother story].

      Bless you for resurrecting this writer’s spirit,

      Full moonly yours, [and Rodent will comment on your wall-slamming experience]

      Judy

      • Rodent says:

        No further, he won’t.

        Rodent intends in this instance to assert his manhood by refusing to pander to Mz. Prince’s rapacious demands. [(Also “spunk” in the sense that Erika was mistakenly taken as employing it isn’t something Nice People talk about. (Look it up in Urbandictionary.com.)]

        Hey, you could try asking Judy to describe how she uses the word “Tissue!” as a command, in her own idiosyncratic fashion. 🙂

        • Judy Prince says:

          “Tissue,” being my subtle request, dear Rodent. And you’ve never failed to meet—even anticipate—my requests. Best to be subtle, I’ve always thought. Which’s why I haven’t told Rodent “Trolley” stories on TNB.

  5. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Great Googly, where to start?

    At the bottom, then? “Kerb” you say, Judy? That’s the curb with sharp edges, innit? Just as the Nor’east pop is really the midwestern soda offered to Nigerian who asked for mineral. And so on. But not really, since “kerb” and “curb” are just alternate spellings, so let me throw out that entire sentence. ‘xcept I’m lazy so I won’t…

    But before I let that go, I wonder whether it’s a “kerb job” or a “curb job”. I’ve only ever seen the latter. Ow, OK, I pass on, shuddering…

    For the best word for transatlantic titters, I nominate: fanny, pants, pissed, fag. And the winner is…

    Of course you could compile an even more hilarious catalog of the like, e.g. between Cubans and Colombians. “Chicha la hua-hua” goes from an everyday expression to a description of a despicable act…

    And Darian, I bet you can tell us some good ones about, say, Czech versus Polish versus Russian. We were playing indoor soccer against a bunch of Bosnian Serbs Saturday and I overheard their keeper saying something that sounded an awful lot like “boli m v krku” (for some crazy reason one of the bits of Czech I know), but I immediately wondered whether it was really a pain in his throat he was complaining about, or perhaps something a Bosnian shade of rude.

    Simon, yeah, you know, on fences in old cartoons and films I’d see signs reading “post no bills” and I really thought it was an admonition not to use checks (checques?) rather than cash when sending money to your creditors.

    And by my stars there is only one sort of broom belongs in the kitchen. It’s called an aziza (Igbo word). It’s made by removing the leafy-part from palm fronds and drying the spines, bundling these together into a very strong, yet supple broom which you can make fan out by tapping on the shorter end, or turn into a stiff scour by doing the opposite. It’s the most marvelous implement ever for cleaning a kitchen floor (yes, it even beats the great brittanic besom, which is saying something), even though it dates from times when the kitchen floor is of fine laterite.

    Hey, that was fun. Thanks, Judy.

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      BTW I wonder whether “besom” is also still the Scots or Geordie equivalent of “bird”, “chick” or “broad”.

      And that does remind me how much fun I had explaining to my Wisconsin-bred wife what is meant by the Yorkie slogan “don’t feed the birds”.

      • Rodent says:

        Ah, I’d quite forgotten the besom (pronounced ? = broom). I was about to say its not Scots, but it’s equally possible I’ve simply never come on it there, so all I can say is its not part of my idiolect.

        As for “besom” as a female person, what springs to mind here as possibly related is “bizzum” (which isn’t how it’s spelled, but I’m in a can’t-be-bothered-to-look-it-up mode) for a naughty female person (naughty as in playing pranks, being awkward, etc., not as a euphemism!), so you might have, “She’s a right naughty bizzum!” applied to a young girl who’s just tied a can to the tail of the cat. (“The pen of my aunt has been affixed to the Tale of the Chat.”)

        “Whit yi on aboot jimmy?” as might be said where I once came from.

        • Uche Ogbuji says:

          Yeah, I think besom as broom comes from Brittany, not Scotland, though I too can’t be arsed to look it up just now.

          “Besom” for a girl/woman is just something I’ve heard from Geordie & Scottish friends, usually in exaggerated dialect mode (pretty much all my friends know I love dialects, and they’re usually kind enough to indulge me). I seem to recall it as a modish sort of slang, though deriving from an older usage, so for all I know it was a blip, entirely.

        • Rodent says:

          I’ll have to backchannel you on this, Uche — too much for a post. Basically, “besom” is deeply Scottish (apparently), meaning “1. A sweeping implement,” and “3. A term of contempt applied to a person, gen. a woman; some times to a woman of loose character, sometimes jocularly to a woman or young girl.”

          Both DSL and OED imply the meanings are related, but don’t say how. (I have my doubts).

          “bizzum” (sic) is apparently specifically Glasgwegian, so help me god. [Obviously a spelling or pronunciation variant of BESOM n3.]

          You really ought to join ADS-l — probably more your scene than mine, comes down to it.

        • Uche Ogbuji says:

          Thanks R. Excellent.

          Not sure where I got the Brittany idea from, then, but good to know we both had bits of the “besom-3″/”bizzum” puzzle.

          Unfortunately you illustrate perfectly why I’m not sure I dare join ADS-l. I’m sure I’d enjoy it, but I am in terror of the possibility that I’d feel impelled to read every post, and chase down all sorts of linguistic arcana, with the result that my obligations in livelihood will lie fallow, and I’ll become a burden on my poor dear family, or worse, the state.

          But you do tempt me, you do.

    • Judy Prince says:

      An aziza may be the perfect broom/brush for Rodent’s kitchen floor, Uche—but I don’t know if his floor’s of “fine laterite” [wot’s “laterite”?].

      Re “transatlantic titters” [nice coinage, Uche], the most recent word-candidate we heard was from the guy arranging for my Virginia auto inspection [Yup, we’d barely escaped my car being towed for an out of date inspection sticker by talking fast, grabbing our jackets, and shaking the tow guy’s hand after I asked the best place to get the inspection. He backed his flatbed truck outa the driveway, and we drove to the service station he’d recommended—WHEW! (Now Rodent’s thoroly confirmed in his notion that USAmerican police officers and city workers are very polite and friendly)].

      So this auto inspection guy, upon hearing dear Rodent’s speech and branding it “English”, told us he was in England at a friendly family gathering, and after dinner when folk were moving furniture back to clear the sitting room floor, he happily announced: “So now you’re going to shag!” [A couple guys took him aside and said “shag” means “having sex”.] The group response was Veddy English: they all looked down, said nothing, and acted as if the incident hadn’t happened.

      • Uche Ogbuji says:

        Laterite is a soil common throughout the tropical belt and characterized by its reddish tint.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laterite

        The stuff in that picture, though does no justice to what I meant. In the northern parts of Igbo country (e.g. in Nsukka where I went to uni) you get lots of it, and some of it is really fine and can be e.g. laid down with termitarium as an agent for coherence to make a tennis court reminiscent of French Open clay.

        Anyway, aziza are a lot more versatile than just laterite surfaces. In secondary school one of our weekly chores would be to sweep/scrub the smooth cement hostel floors with Izal (think of Dettol, but much stronger). You could use the same aziza as a broom at first, then pulling in the end, as a scour.

        When we moved to the US, my Mom, completely underwhelmed by US broom technology, asked a friend to bring her back a few aziza from Nigeria, and no one in the family would touch a modern broom after that. You do have to bend over to use an aziza, but it’s twice as efficient, and covers 3 times the area, so you get the overall job done much more easily.

        I considered “shag” for the list, but it seems most American now know the British use of the word, thanks to imported TV, films and celebrities. The other minor problem is that I don’t think it’s a word in very common use even in the US (and most commonly as part of a phrase e.g. “shag carpet” or “shaggy dog”). But then again the academy is open to all nominations 🙂

        • Judy Prince says:

          Laterite looks like the soil in my home state (Michigan), in the upper peninsula’s mining country, most beautifully seen at Upper Tahquamenon Falls, where the earth is loaded with iron.

          Brings me, aziza-wise, to the fact that I really want not just a fan-shaped broom, but an accompanying *tall* dustpan. *Tall* is the important word here, so you never need bend down and scootch up the dust and dirt. Do you have an Igbo-equivalent tall dustpan?

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