November 16, 2005

learning the lingo

In this edition of the Hollywood Reporter, we shall be investigating Los Angelean greetings and mating behaviour and teaching you some unusual grammatical forms that you didn't know existed in the English language.

A common greeting between young people in Los Angeles is: "Wh'aaaad uhhp?" (What's up?) to which the desired response is a (not very enthusiastic) "nuthin'?". The question mark indicates the upward inflection at the end of the word, a very common feature of American speech. What this greeting may lack in warmth, it certainly makes up for in coolness - you can not say "nuthin'?" with a geeky grin on your face. You have to remain unemotional throughout the entire exchange.

If you want to be 'ghetto', you can also say "Wh'aaaaad uhhp, Cracker?" as in "Cracker-ass", which is a very rude way to describe a white man and his bottom. You know, pasty white and dimply with cellulite, like a Ritz cracker. This greeting should be used with extreme caution only. You could lose friends. 'Cracker-ass' is a reaction to the word 'nigger', so use prudently and in the right circumstances.

By contrast, the question: “How ARE you?" (capitals indicate where the emphasis lies) should be answered with a very enthusiastic: " I'm GOOOOOOOD?" My first instinct is to ask: "at what?", but then that's just me being a stickler for grammar. Before I came to California, I did not know that "good" was a state of mind or physical health. You live and learn.

Another popular misconception in English is that "there is" can only be followed by a singular noun and "there are" by a plural. It transpires that you can use "there is" for EVERYTHING. Like French fries, it goes with anything. So you can (and should) always say: "There is lots of people on Hollywood Blvd" and never "There are lots of people". My French students learning English are going to be so pleased when I tell them that. Less to remember.

P.S. All the literate Americans I have pointed this phenomenon out to, deny outright that they themselves do it - only 'the others', the hill-billies and Texans speak like this, they say...and three sentences later a "there's too many cars on the road" or something similar slips out. At this point, there is usually mild tension between us because I brought up a grammar point, so I don't dare burst out with a "SEE???"

LESSON OVER - please tune in again for another episode of "How to speak English in America".

No comments: