More than just a bookshop in Davis, CA
"A good bookshop is just a genteel black hole that knows how to read."
- Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett once said of the library at Unseen University that it was connected through L-Space to all libraries anywhere, ever. Same of bookshops. I can believe that many bookshops are somehow connected through some mysterious dimensional twist. I have been in so many second-hand book shops, and gotten myself lost in time so often, that I am starting to wonder. Stroll idly through the second storey of the one on Mansfield Road in Nottingham, and you suddenly find yourself shoulder to shoulder with a Professor of African Studies in the library of Cairo University. Step back, and an afternoon has gone.
is was just like that. Nestled away in downtown Davis, it's an apparently normal bookstore, between a coffee shop and a restaurant. They sell publisher's overruns, out-of-print and used books, and there's that pleasant booky aroma every time you walk in. "Borders doesn't even smell like books!" as one soul has written. Shelves and racks and stacks of books, leading to the dark and mysterious back of the store. Okay, nothing unusual there. So what's the big deal?
Nose contents, and trousers
Simply this. No self-respecting bookshop owner in England, I reflected, would name their business "Bogey's Books". In the UK, a bogey is what small children (and some larger children too) pull out of their noses. A grolly or booger to you. It simply wouldn't do, it would be like calling a City gent's trousers "pants" - a gentleman wears his pants under his trousers. (On which note, I've spotted too many young women showing their underwear - thongs and low-slung hipsters don't match, it's just wrong.) But I digress.
Outside the shop, I see one of the ubiquitous students padding down the street. This one is smoking, and I have a sudden, brief compulsion to rush over and say "Excuse me, can I bum a fag off you?" But of course, I don't, and for two very good reasons. Firstly, I have given up smoking (it's over a year, now), and secondly, I'm not quite certain that "bumming a fag" has the same meaning in American English as it does in British English.
I hope I don't have to explain all these terms, and their respectively transAtlantic meanings, it would get so tiresome. Generally I'll just sit here with a superior British look on my face, and preen as I watch you scurrying about like ants, clicking through to compare meanings.
Okay, just this once. The phrase "fag" is well-known as meaning "homosexual man" on the one hand, and "cigarette" on the other. "Bumming" is generally begging or cadging, but can mean something very different. Not to be too coy about it, it means buggery (or sodomy, if you prefer). The word "faggot" itself has a number of meanings in the UK (from a meat-ball-type of food to a bundle of sticks). A "fag butt' means very different things to me than the average American. Now, I have to avoid using "butt" when I am referring to the end of something, just in case my audience thinks I'm talking about bottoms.
No Sex Please, We're British
Actually, that is the name of a rather successful West End comedy, and a rather less successful film (that it has Robin Askwith in it would be enough to put me off). Typical British understatement, there.
Anyway, there are so many idiomatic turns of phrase that are sexual in nature, that I couldn't list them all even if I want to. In any event, many of them are adequately covered elsewhere. The first time someone mentioned a "fanny pack", I almost wet myself as my imagination ran riot. To my very English mind, the fanny is more frequently applied to that part of the female anatomy sometimes known as the "front bottom", the pudenda, call it what you will. I would call that thing a "bum bag" - goodness knows what an American would think I meant by that ("some sort of gay sex toy" was one response)¹.
Another time I was looked at quite sternly for telling someone that I was really tired (I may even have said "shagged out") because I'd been humping boxes all day. I have no idea why that was so funny. What's odd about lugging packing crates? Could the words "hump" and "box" possibly have another meaning? Yeah, right. And the popular American given name "Randy". The Brits laugh like drains at that one. "Hi, I'm Randy!" the Ameriboys will say, and the Britgirls will arch eyebrows at them and walk away, giggling.
"Snatch" is another such word (although most Americans have never heard of the perfectly excellent "minge", so I can play with that one). Then there's "flange". "Poonanner". The excellent English word "spunk" has two meanings; in the US, it means courage, in the UK, it's a slang term for semen. "Betsy's a spunky girl" suddenly takes on new meaning, doesn't it? Maybe I should leave this topic alone, eh?
A Sorry, Mangled, Morality Tale
I have a friend who was moving house. I'd asked if she'd like a hand, and she'd said yes. I told her I would knock her up the morning she was moving, to help her to hump some boxes. She hesitated for a long time, but finally agreed that I could come round. She did ask me some odd questions though.
We were moving furniture, and her belt broke whilst lifting something, and she said she should put on some suspenders to hold her pants up². I found that strange, but was shocked when she asked if I could help her. I declined, of course. She came back wearing braces, and I told her I liked them. She's a bit of a cracker†, but not very bright. When we were packing away some of the towels and linens, I asked her if she had a big box. The look on her face! She even looked oddly at me when I told her I would fetch a rubber‡. She'd written the wrong thing on a label, and I just wanted to change it. When we carried things to the car, I asked her to open the boot, so I could put a trunk in there. She ignored me. Americans are strange³.
To The Pure, All Things Are Pure
There are, of course, non-rude words. I had no idea what it meant to broil something. Whenever I mentioned grilling foods, the locals were thinking "barbecue", I was thinking "cooker". Then there's vest, which is a singlet to one, and a waistcoat to the other, torch and flashlight. Wellies and brolly are unknown words to the average American, and "cart" and "fender" generally mean very different things to the British ear.
There's "garbage" and "rubbish", "estate car" and "station wagon", pumps and plimsolls. When an American says that someone is "pissed", they mean something very different from drunkenness, and for a Brit to call someone "narked", the same. "Napkin", "nappy" and "diaper"? "Can" and "bottle" and "tin" are a minefield. I have no idea. Put the words down, and slowly back away, Kevin.
Back to the bookshop
I digress again. There's a rack of books on American history and culture here, and poetry and literature. Oh, and English history, a big chunk. And there, look is Sherlock Holmes, leaning against Tom Sawyer. And dictionaries, Webster's and the Oxford English Dictionary, cheek by jowl. Behind that shelf, a mysterious room marked "Private, Staff Only". There's L-Space, right in there. See you in a year or so.
¹jessicapierce says "bum bag" sounds to me like an enema apparatus.
²If you need help translating, come and ask me, for goodness' sake.
³So are Canadians, Australians, South Africans, Kiwis. YMMV
† BR: sexy US: Southern US - derogatory, racist, poor trash
‡ BR: eraser US: condom
Glowing Fish says Imagine if you were Randall Richard, and you went by "Randy Dick". ::: giggles like a school girl:::
paraclete says I was reading a book aged 7. That book was 'My Friend Flicka'. I was enjoying it, until I reached the sentence that described Flicka's boy owner slapping her on the fanny. Exposing a seven yr old to the concept of bestiality is never going to end well.
DylanDog says here in the Midwest pioneers often had to content themselves with sod houses made of cut turf. Try bumming a fag in one of those!
Sadly now, due to the pressures of modern commercial landlords, Bogey's is no more. R.I.P