Rodent’s proposal for a scholarly paper had been accepted. 
 
For 4 months he’d been preparing his paper entitled “All’s Boman!” (“All’s Good!”) about cant language in London in 1724, which only 3 other people in the world would fully understand.  All 3 of them would be attending the lexicography conference at Oxford, carefully noting his research and discoveries about the language that criminals used to communicate with each other. 
 
I figured my role was as Adjunct Rodent—or, more precisely, Rodent Control, because he’s often unaware of other people, his mind preoccupied with research.  No one is more ruthless at research than dear Rodent.  No one.  He would cut his granny off his list of credible sources if he couldn’t corroborate her stories.
 
Before we left for Oxford, I began carefully calibrating my every word in order to advance dear Rodent’s aims, saying such things as “Perhaps the 4 pages explaining the difference between ‘hicked’ and ‘kicked’ could be shortened to a paragraph” and “It might be entertaining to include newspaper reports of Jack Sheppard’s arrest and hanging.”
 
As always, Rodent was way ahead of me, but he sweetly responded to every Rodent Control suggestion.
 
The week before the presentation, he had cut the paper down from 40 to 25 pages, but needed to lop off 5 more pages to meet the 20-minute time limit.
 
He sat at his desk with a kitchen timer and read his paper aloud, his sonorous voice describing 18th century cutpurses, pickpockets, whores and housebreakers.  After several read-throughs, he had chopped off the final 5 pages, and we were ready to go to Oxford.
 
Once in our Oxford hotel room, he again timed his speech.  A perfect 20 minutes.  We were completely satisfied with it. 
 
Because Rodent’s presentation was the last one of the conference, we got plenty of prior exposure to how the panels operated.  While the paper presenters analysed Ukrainian phonemes, definitions of slang, and OED historical citations, I sat and doodled, silently praying for an all-college electrical failure.
 
Thankfully, things picked up during Q/A sessions as attenders flamboyantly showed off their knowledge, often interrupting and arguing with the presenters. 
 
Finally, it was Friday.  We arrived in Room 7.  Two other panelists had also come early, as had the moderator, an expert at OED who collects examples of the earliest uses of words. 
 
In a few minutes, 50 attenders filled up the room.  They proved a lively group, throwing plenty of questions at pre-Rodent presenters. 
 
Then dear Rodent stood up and distributed 3 handouts.  He took his place behind the podium, placed his watch in front of him, and began reading his paper.
 
The last row was loudly mumbling as they reached for the handouts, but to keep to his allotted time Rodent neither stopped nor slowed his reading.  I turned around and gave the back row A Look as Rodent’s first paragraphs sailed by unheard.  At last things quieted.  In fact, the audience seemed unusually attentive, turning to their handouts at the appropriate times, their eyes on dear Rodent’s handsome face as they listened to his Scottish lilt. 
 
After 10 minutes, the moderator held up a big green poster to Rodent that said:  “YOU HAVE NO TIME LEFT.”  Rodent didn’t see it.  He then held up a bright red poster that said “STOP NOW”.  Rodent didn’t see it.  So he handed it to a woman seated directly in front of Rodent.  She leaned forward, and with both hands shoved it onto the podium.  He glanced at it, looked down at his papers, spoke two sentences, and stopped. 
 
The moderator stood, thanked Rodent, and asked if there were any questions.  Total silence in the room.  I prayed.  He repeated:  “Does anyone have a question?”  I waited for one of the 3 people in the world who knew what Rodent had been talking about to ask a question.  No hands went up, no one spoke. 
 
Desperate to spare Rodent embarrassment, I raised my hand and asked a simple question which he happily answered.  Then someone asked a brief question which Rodent gratefully answered, and the moderator pronounced the session over.
 
When most of the attenders had gone, the moderator began furiously typing on his laptop.  Rodent wandered over to see what he was doing, and they chatted a bit.  He came back, and I said, “So what was he doing?”
 
“Oh,” said Rodent, “he was checking up on the OED mistakes I had pointed out in my paper.”
 
That evening we went to the conference’s final celebratory dinner at St Anne’s College.  A fellow panel member waved at Rodent and sat next to him at the table, and they talked animatedly throughout most of the dinner.
 
Later, I asked who the man was. 

“He writes the Language column for the New York Times”, Rodent said.  “He’s buddies with the moderator, and said he had stopped his presentation early, too.”
 
Happy Rodent.  Happy me.  ALL’S BOMAN!

HOLLYWOOD, CA-

It started in childhood, of course. Everything does.

The year: 1987.

The film: THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

Starring: Cary Elwes…and his steamy British accent.

Oh that melodious accent. It was scintillating. It was fatal. It was official: I was obsessed. From that moment on, I’ve considered myself an accent connoisseur (pronounced with the proper French intonation which evokes thoughts of sweet nothings whispered in a darkened chateau whilst clutching Bordeaux in vintage stemware). I love accents both thick and light, both guttural and pleasant-sounding. European, Australian, even Southern. Accents are music to my ears.

Now technically speaking, everyone has an accent. I mean, we Americans are considered the ones who “talk funny” to, say, the Irish. A very official (ahem, Wikipedia) search confirmed my theory. Groups of people develop accents because of geography, ethnic makeup, and social class. One interesting factoid I unearthed from Wiki: “It has been theorized that the accents of certain groups in the USA today resemble the English spoken by the settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries more than it does the English spoken by most Britons today.” Sweet. We speak the same English that John Smith seduced Pocahontas with.

But let’s get to the nitty gritty: American accents, fair as they may be, are old news to my wanderlusting ears. Ever since I heard Cary Elwes utter, “As you wish,” to Princess Buttercup, I was done. Sign me up. In junior high, a British foreign exchange student named Christopher charmed me (and all the other girls) when he read a poem to the class about his parents meeting in “Smelly New Delhi.” But Southern California in the 1990s was not hot-accent central, unless you swooned when you heard horny guys saying inappropriate things to you as they drove past. I needed more, I needed bigger. I needed the real thing.

My junior year of college, I had the opportunity to study abroad. First choice: England, naturally. I nearly made myself dizzy when I first got there, drowning in the wide variance of British accents that London had to offer. Everywhere I looked, cabbies were calling each other “Cheeky bastards” as they raced through the London streets (on the wrong side of the road, no less). Surly bartenders were calling me “Love” but somehow not really meaning it. Groups of intoxicated, track suit-wearing rugby fans on the street were constantly yelling “Tosser!” at each other and asking me if I’d “Fancy a ride, sweetheart?” And since they, unlike the cabbies, were without means of transportation, their offer could only mean something lewd. But I still loved the accents.

When I got settled in my exchange house in Oxford, I was a bit disappointed to discover that my three male roommates were all from America. Borrrrrrring. But when I finally immersed myself in the dining halls and common areas of Hertford University, which was actually pronounced HART-ford (I think the Oxford dons did that simply to test of who really knew what they were talking about and who was just bluffing), I discovered the most pleasant-sounding accent of all: received pronunciation. Translation: that hot, snotty British accent. I know, I know. Snotty is not good. Trust me, I found that out the hard way.

These British boys, always named Alistair, Duncan, or George, came to Oxford from moneyed families older than my home country, wearing gold rings on their pinkies stamped with their initials, which were also their fathers’ initials, and his father before him. These boys drank and partied like nothing I’ve ever seen, and I soon realized why: because their whole life was already laid out before them. They had gone to the best secondary schools (high schools, in Brit-speak), passed their A levels (the Brit equivalent of SATs), and now were living it up at one of the most prestigious universities in the world before moving to London, getting a top job at a bank, and marrying their equally-rich (and very bitchy) female counterparts.

This is a generalization, of course. But it was disheartening to learn that the majority of these golden-tongued males were only out for one thing: slags (hooches, if you will). And this American slag wasn’t so down with that. Sure, I may have made a few social blunders that made it seem like I was playing their game – did you know “knob” doesn’t mean doorknob in British slang? It was very well-received. As was my declaration that I liked Duncan’s pants. Trousers were what you wore on the outside, I was told. Pants were underwear. Oops.

Even after being pursued by a Jason Statham look-alike whose real name was- I kid you not- George Burns, I started to miss American boys. Men, I mean. Our country grows them nice, I realized longingly from 3,000 miles away. And I had never appreciated them as I should have. After an exciting (and educational) year abroad, I was happy to come home to a country where the men played real sports (cricket does not a legit athlete make), dressed like males (nary a striped sock or pink shirt in sight), and loved passionately. Take that, Italians!

Sure, sure, I still swoon a little when I see a movie starring an actor with a deep and intoxicating British accent (Alan Rickman, Jeremy Irons, and the ephemeral Johnny Depp have the best accents in the business today), or hear an Australian accent in a bar (and trust me, they’re always in bars). But the accent I’ve come to love the most is one I never thought I’d hear, let alone be obsessed with: a little bit rough-and-tumble Maryland, with a twist of New York by way of Florida. This accent caught my ear with the very first words it uttered: “So, uh, what are you doing later? Can I take you out?” And it continues to bowl me over day after day. It’s the first thing I look forward to hearing in the morning and the last sweet, comforting thing I hear at night. Come to think of it, maybe it’s not the accent so much as the person speaking with it that I’m obsessed with.

And that is true music to my ears.