Friday, 10 December 2021

Betty and Mariah

Despite my reasonably good knowledge of the English language, I do get caught out on occasion. I remember when I first lived in England back in 1992, I had a conversation with a guest to the hotel I worked at. He asked whether there would be any Christmas crackers at the Christmas table. I had only ever heard of regular and cheese crackers and obviously didn't have a clue what he was talking about. It got explained.

My own pink wellies
On the occasion of somebody asking me whether there were any wellies to use, I was by then quick enough to say that 'if you explain, I will tell'. Apparently wellies were Wellington boots (ie rubber boots) and no, we did not have those. And you can picture for yourself the chest/breast story.

Throughout the years I learned more of the typical combinations of words used within the English language, but of course I do still get caught out. When I read a book recently, the author wrote about a hobbled horse. Now, in the Netherlands, a hobbelpaard (paard = horse) means a rocking horse, but this was set in the outdoors. I looked it up. Turns out, a hobbled horse means a horse that has two feet tethered together by rope, leather or chain, preventing it from taking off. 

In another book (The Gulag Archipelago, not your average beach read), I encountered a Black Mariah. I found out it is actually a (black) police car, mainly used to haul away prisoners from the 19th century onwards. 

And then yesterday Anvilcloud used the term Brown Betty. Now, I had heard of that term before, but never really knew exactly what it was. Google proved to be very helpful and immediately came up with several photographs. I couldn't find out why it was called that though, Wikipedia being very short on the subject.



  1. Mara what a great post...and so very interesting.
    As you might remember my job at NCSU was working with students from USA and all over the world.
    In ~1969 I had a very interesting conversation with British student. One of those conversations where one English word had 2 very different meanings. Ummmm this might be a very good FFF story. LOL
    Hugs Cecilia

  2. Hari OM
    I agree with Cecilia - most interesting. Vernacular within a common language can catch out even those of us born to it! Within the counties of England there are some very distinct coloquialisms; then let us not forget that Scots "English" is different again, as is true of Irish and and Welsh, even before going into words from the native tongues of those countries. Then when I got to OZ...

    As for the naming of the teapot in question, even the official manufacturer doesn't really know. There's a nice wee video on that page about the pot. I had a BB in OZ - it is one of the items in one or other of the two boxes that never made it from there to here... YAM xx

  3. The English language sure is a funny one. So many different meanings for the same word depending on where you live.

  4. They are typically brown and without the stripes in your photo --
    at least in my experience. I don't know why 'betty' but probably just because it is alliterative.


Any weighty (and not so weighty) comments are welcome!