Friday, April 11, 2008

OBVIOUSLY, English is Different in the UK

I’ve noticed something funny about British speech that doesn’t really carry over into American English. People in the UK use the word “obviously” different than we do here.

In the United States, we use ‘obviously’ to mean “anyone can immediately tell”. For example, “Her hair is really obviously green.” It doesn’t matter if you know her or not, it’s REALLY green, and anyone can tell. Or, “obviously it’s a bad idea to run a red light.” Running a red light is dangerous, and everyone knows this. “Obviously, she made chicken for dinner.” It’s not beef tonight, it’s chicken, and I can smell it.

In the UK, people very often use ‘obviously’ to mean “It has become clear to me now.” “Obviously, I was at the hospital, and that’s why I forgot to cancel my account.” It becomes clear to me now that I forgot to cancel, because oh, right, of course, I was at the hospital. “Obviously, I entered my card for my mum, and she’s forgotten to cancel it.” “I hadn’t realized my mum forgot to cancel it, and you certainly would have had no way of knowing, but it’s become clear to me now.” “I’ve come to the end of my free time, so obviously I want to cancel.” None of these things are obvious to me at all (as someone who does not know them personally), nor do the people expect me to know. Interesting.

It’s kind of funny, because obviously, I’ve started to use ‘obviously’ when I talk to them. (See, that wouldn’t be obvious to you, the reader, at all.) And nobody ever says “That’s not obvious at all!” It’s just fine because it’s kind of like an interjection.

In the US, ‘obviously’ often confirms a common understanding between people talking, and in the UK, the understanding is not implied or expected, and ‘obviously’ is frequently a simple transition in conversation.

[Also, many, many men call me “my love” the same way many Italians call random people beautiful (“Hello, beautiful!”), and the same way that old American ladies call people “sweetie.” “My love” sounds less diminutive, though.]

No comments: