Idris Elba as “Luther”
My husband and I have been watching the compelling but brutal English detective show “Luther,” on Netflix. We recently noticed people greeting each other with the one word, “Wotcher.” I had to look up what it means. Apparently, it’s more common in the south of England and was used frequently in the Harry Potter books. I read and loved all of them (well, Book 5 was a little tedious), but I have no recollection of coming across any wotchers. Certainly, Voldemort never greeted anyone that way.
The explanations I found were that it’s a compression of any common greeting that begins with “What are”: What are you up to? What are you doing? In other words, or word, Wotcher up to? Wotcher doing? —except the Brits leave off the ends of the questions.
Another theory is that it comes from 17th century British slang that meant “What cheer?” another way to say “What’s up?”
Now I know.
“England and America are two countries that are divided by a common language.”
This astute observation has been attributed to Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill, but the consensus credits the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw. Is it still as true today as it was when Shaw made the observation? The March 2015 Atlantic ran an article, “Mind the Gap,” in which British and American linguistic differences were explored.
Here are a few; I’ll list the American words and phrases first, then the British.
Trunk (of a vehicle)/Boot
Shag (Southern dance, haircut, type of carpet)/Sexual intercourse
Knock up (make pregnant)/Knock up (call you or knock on your door)
Make a mess of things/Cock up
Baby’s pacifier/Comforter or dummy
Period (punctuation)/Full stop
Thousands more undoubtedly exist, but you get the idea. In addition we have the spelling variances, the most common being the difference between, for instance, center and centre and authorize and authorise, not to mention labor and labour. It’s a wonder we understand each other at all.
By the way, in the same issue of The Atlantic is a wonderful article comparing the British and American versions of “House of Cards,” both available on Netflix. The author and I are in complete agreement about the superiority of the British version (with the brilliantly evil, canny, sly Ian Richardson playing Francis Urquhart (F.U., just as in the American version)), the man who does what he must to become prime minister. I think Kevin Spacey is an excellent actor, but in the two versions of “House of Cards” it’s no contest.