Jan 292011

The British version of the American “Law and Order’ TV show is currently running on TV here. My ‘merican husband’s a fan, but at the end of every show he comes up with a phrase or two he wants me to translate. So we were tickled to see an ad for the show running tonight that was akin to a glossary. It went like this:

My lord… My lord… My lord… My lady… My lady… My lady…
It’s like our ‘Law and Order…just more British
wanker = insulting name
bent = corrupt
rubbish = nonsense
queuing up = lining up
blimey = I’m surprised
brilliant = fantastic
nappy = diaper
bollocks = nonsense
bloody = mild expletive
flat = apartment
mum = mom
mate = friend
bloke = dude
knackers = testicles
flog = sell
baubles = trinkets
pounds = unit of currency

UPDATE: To my delight I’ve just found a longer version of the ad on youtube. How Americans see the curious habits of Brits… Enjoy!


 Posted by at 4:20 am

  32 Responses to “Law and Order UK”

  1. This is why we have a bloody great big ocean between the UK and the US. Bloody satellite TV; this is such a bad idea.

    What was wrong with this…


  2. Talking about police dramas that need a glossary, I (like so many others) watched all 5 seasons of ‘The Wire’ on DVD. I persevered through series 1 in spite of understanding next to nothing and soon became hooked.

    ‘D’ya feel me?’
    ‘True dat’

    Halfway through season 2 I learnt that two of the main characters; McNulty and Stringer Bell were played by English actors (and Aidan Gillen – Mayor Carcetti is Irish, but I already knew him from the wonderful ‘Queer as Folk’) You could have knocked me down with a feather.

    Idris Elba has recently carried a home-grown police drama on British TV, using his own Brixton accent; ‘Luther’. Fantastic show and he was stunning in it, needless to say, but somehow there was something missing. I could understand every word he said – where’s the mystery in that?

  3. Rubbish and bollocks given the same translation?!
    I beg to differ sir (professor)!

  4. Great to hear from y’all. I didn’t catch Judge John Deed. Did I miss something special, Adam? And I didn’t see The Wire either, Jessica, but I’ve heard really good reviews of it. Thanks for the tip. I’ve just ordered it from Netflix – sounds really good and like it’ll help me learn some ‘Chicago’. Another couple of other British actors that seem to pass the ‘merican accent test here are Hugh Laurie (House) and Eddie Izzard (The Riches). ‘Merican husband was astonished when I pointed out it was the same Eddie Izzard he’d seen doing stand up routines.
    Chris, I have to agree. Ha! Any suggestions for how they should have translated them?

  5. Let us know how you get on with ‘The Wire’ Vicki.
    As you probably know, it looks at the drugs problem in Baltimore from different perspectives. The first series focuses on the drug gangs and, as I said, the language was a real challenge. Subsequent series, dealing with the dock workers, the politicians etc. were much easier to follow! I’m curious to know if any Americans had the same experience.

    Talking of the rash of Brit actors masquerading as Americans on TV, I wonder if the transfer works both ways. Apart from Gwyneth Paltrow’s slightly over-elocuted tones, I can’t think of any American actors who can successfully pass themselves off as British.
    Is America such a vast continent that an odd accent would simply be attributed to geographical variation? Are we more attuned to accent in the UK?
    Would American actors even bother?

  6. Ah Baltimore, not Chicago – I’ll definitely keep you informed!

    Re US actors playing Brits, I can’t think of any either, but perhaps some Americans can help us out. Apparently even the next superman is gonna be British:


  7. Good Monday morning question! Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones, Mel Gibson as William Wallace, Scarlett Johansson as Olivia Wenscombe and Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn are the best Americans doing Brits that come to mind.

  8. And, Jonny Depp, of course! He’s done loads of different British accents.

  9. I haven’t seen ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ so I’ll take your word for it. Renée Zellweger, was v. good 🙂 I’d forgotten that, but Mel Gibson is Australian!
    As a Scot, I was not massively convinced by his accent either. Sorry to be picky!

  10. Yes, I admit I’m only guessing at its accuracy with non-native ears, but when I watched the film in Scotland, it was the only time I’ve ever seen an audience stand up and clap in the middle of a film, so I was assuming it wasn’t too bad!

  11. sorry to be picky too but Wikipedia reckons Mr Gibson to be an Irish-American born in New York.
    He went to Australia when he was 12, apparently, but i went to Australia once and it didn’t change my nationality.
    Still, we can’t believe everything on Wikipedia – my niece told me that.
    It might be a load of rubbish but probably not a load of knackers!

  12. If he is American, I’ve just seen the trailer for his new film, the really rather unbelievable ‘The Beaver’ in which he makes a hand puppet speak with a Ray Winstone-style English accent. It’s incredible!

  13. Chris, I stand corrected. I’ve been in Spain for 20 years but it doesn’t make me Spanish. It’s probably because I’m old enough to remember him in the original Mad Max and ‘Tim’, and he certainly seemed to have an Oz accent then (but an Australian might hear it differently!)

    Tony, the clapping during Braveheart was probably more to do with the Gib wiping the floor with the effete, duplicitous English, than with the success of his accent. A while back Vicki did a post about Brits as baddies in American movies and if you look at MG’s filmography he certainly likes to choose films which show the British in a poor light; Braveheart, The Patriot, Gallipoli even Pocahontas!

  14. Effete!!!!?
    I BEG your pardon!!
    No, it’s ok, i chose to be picky – so it serves me right 🙂
    In reality i thought he was Australian too and was going to point that out but you beat me to it whilst i was checking on wiki.
    then i thought i might get away with looking intelligent.
    That’ll teach me.

  15. I wouldn’t put too much store in Gibson’s interpretation of history, he’s probably not the most reliable source.

    Vicki mentioned Eddie Izzard in ‘The Riches’ Wasn’t his co-star, Minnie Driver, also a Brit? Is it me or are the British taking over quality US drama?

    Just to return to ‘The Wire’ (I will convert you all, Ha!) here’s a fun fact. One of the leads, Dominic Gerard, who plays McNulty, was actually at Eton with David Cameron!

  16. How about Ewan McGregor? granted not on TV, but has been in films doing ´merican accents.

    You can find him listed here for non-Americans in American Sci-Fi:


    I can not forget the luv” of the first time I watched Tim Roth in Lie to Me. He is a good example of a pond crosser who has made a name for himself in the US with his savvy accents. Not seen him do a bad acting job to date. He even improved the woeful Braveheart.

    Mel Gibson though was like Russell Crowe in Robin hood, wavering between what seemed like multiple accents. Crowe did try to justify it in interview, but I am not entirely convinced by the accent.

    Have started watching the new series from the Green Wing stars; episodes. This plays up the differences between Brits and Americans. Might be a hit, but too soon to judge.

  17. Another penny has just dropped!

    I thought I recognised a face from the Law & Order UK trailer that Vicki posted at the top of this blog. The actor Jamie Bamber (on the left in the poster) played Lee Adama in the recent remake of Battlestar Galactica. Turns out he’s British too.

    Which leads me to two conclusions: 1) There are far more Brits playing Americans on US TV than we realise and 2) I obviously watch far too much telly.

    Oh, and they also spell ‘nappy’ wrong.

    Thanks for this Vicki. I’ve really enjoyed it!

  18. seems like other people are thinking about this too, though from a superhero angle, this might be interesting to read;

  19. You’ve all had me teeheeing merrily away here as your exchanges have come in – it almost seems rude to interrupt! Thank you so all much! Ha!

    I thought Mel Gibson was an Ozzie as well, but actualy thinking about it, it makes much more sense that he is ‘merican. But at the same time, when I look at stuff like Braveheart and The Passion of Christ I think a more relevant Q is, what planet does that guy come from?

    I’m impressed by not only eveyone’s movie (and TV show) buff knowledge of great performances by Am actors of Brits. Maybe my trip acoss the pond has led to a fall in standards on my part but I have been totally convinced by Renee Zellweger and yep, I can see that Gweneth was perhaps a bit clipped, but I lapped it up and it definitely didn’t make me flinch.

    And I’m also conviced utterly convinced by your argument, Jessica, that there are more Brits doing the pond crossing that ‘mericans.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, I want to point out that any Brit playing superman here is going to have to don an American accent – so it doesn’t negate the ‘Brits are baddies in Hollwood’ argument in my opinion.

    Stew, I went hunting foir the ‘Episodes’ series but I’m gonna have to cough up hard cash to see it. And also, probably more importantly, find the time. Are you sure it’s worth it?

  20. Cancel that question Stew! I’ve just found ‘Episodes’ on Netflix as well. Ha! Looks like we have a feast of TV shows to watch.

  21. new series that I really got into recently are the Modern Family, also watched Caprica and was miffed it got canned. No good Sci Fi out there anymore, even thought Enterprise wasnie bad. House still remains a winner, as does the IT crowd.
    Idiot abroad, the new Gervais baby could be intriguing for showing cultural clash. Started to watch Outsourced but that fell flat with me, as did 30 Rock. This year could be one for films.

  22. Thought other Brits might enjoy my ‘merican husband’s takes on BrE in the episode of ‘Law and Order UK’ he just watched:

    “banged up on remand.” – We use the word ‘remand’ in preliminary criminal hearings where judges decide to either set bail or when no bail is set, to say, “…the defendant is remanded to the custody of the county.” or simply “…the defendent is remanded.” The only place I’ve ever heard that is on (our) Law and Order which is based in New York City.
    As for the British use of ‘…banged up on remand’ it’s clear that it means someone is in jail, but you’d have to be a Law & Order (US) enthusiast to figure that one out.
    BrE ‘tooled up’ = must be a british police expression meaning ‘armed with firearms’.
    BrE “I was dipping one of the girls in accounts” – must be AmE “I was screwing one of the girls in accounting.”
    BrE “…have a moan about work” – AmE “…bitch about work.”
    BrE “Sunday Week”…the answer to the question, when did you last see him. AmE” A week ago Sunday.”
    BrE”…talked about Danny making the footy team.” Footy? That’s cute. AmE “talked about Danny making the soccer team.”
    BrE “get hold of his gloves and forensicate ’em.” Turning forensics into a verb is something we haven’t done in AmE. A police officer here might say “Get a hold of his gloves and turn them over to forensics.” Or was this just a case where the writer was being clever?

  23. Hello Vicki & ‘merican husband.

    ‘Tooled up’ Don’t you think it’s rather telling that an American mind immediately goes for firearms?
    I would take it to mean knives, spanners or any other readily-available weapon, hence ‘tools’.

    Also I’ve never heard of forensicate either. I think the writer has ‘smart-alecked’ that verb.

    On the subject of football, why do Americans insist on using the term ‘football’ for a game that you can clearly play with your hands? Here in Spain, the games of American football and Rugby are indistinguishable in the public consciousness, which really winds up my husband (a rugby player!) but I find rather amusing given how different the games are.

  24. My take:

    Oh goodness, yes, it’s very telling that the ‘merican mind goes to firearms. (Don’t get me started on gun control…)

    And yeah, what does ‘forensicate’ mean? I wondered if it might be an ELF innovation. (I sometimes wonder if I might be able to adjust better to a lot of the things I hear here if I think of them in terms of being ELF innovations)

    Re football – excellent point! (Must confess to being secretly pleased that the Packers won last night though)

  25. “The Wire” arrived and we watched the first episode last night, Wow! It’s so well written. Utterly hooked.

  26. From an earlier generation, Peter Ustinov was superbly bidialectal. There was also an actor whose name I don’t know, but who played an American in one of those Brit costume dramas some time in the 80s. Most actors doing that back in the day were atrocious, but this fellow was absolutely indistinguishable from a native American until the scriptwriter betrayed him. One of his lines contained the word shan’t, which no American has said since Mark Twain’s day, and he pronounced it /ʃɑnt/, RP-style, blowing the whole illusion completely! (Since the word belongs to the BATH lexical set, a suitable faux American pronunciation would be /ʃænt/, which is what I’d say if I were reading aloud, for example.)

  27. Well, I’ve heard plenty of American actors whose British accents sounded convincing to me, but I have not idea how many would convince actual Brits.
    I did hear Michael Caine on Conan O’Brien once, saying that he thought Forrest Whittaker was a genuine Cockney when he first saw The Crying Game. He said it was the only time he’d ever been convinced by a non-British person’s Cockney accent.
    I usually assume that any American who plays a British person in a British film or TV series must sound convincing enough to the average Brit, otherwise they never would have cast him. But I can think of very few examples in which an American was cast. The one that immediately springs to mind is Connie Booth in Fawlty Towers.

  28. I suspect cockney might be very hard to do – so tempting to play it up – and Michael Caine would know, of course. Thank you for raising the case of Connie Booth – a very interesting case. It never occured to me she was American when I watched Fawlty Towers and I was surprised when I found out she was. Not totally suprised though because I was aware there was something a little strange about the way she was talking. I wonder if any other Brits realised she was American right away and did she perplex other Brits?.

  29. […] unveils an ad for the British television show, Law and Order, and discusses translations from UK English-to-US English.  (p.s. Vicki, you really must see The Wire: finger-nail-biting-brilliant!)  Key Dogmeist and […]

  30. […] If you enjoyed this post, you might also like this one on Law and Order UK. […]

  31. On the subject of football, why do Americans insist on using the term ‘football’ for a game that you can clearly play with your hands?

    I guess you’d have to ask the boys at Rugby School that: they started it. American football is an offshoot of Canadian football, which is an offshoot of rugby union. Indeed, the (professional) Canadian Football League traces its institutional roots to the Canadian Rugby Football Union, founded in 1880, about twenty years after rugby union started to be played in Canada. The rules changes that led to gridiron football happened gradually over the period 1880-1905 in both countries, and the Canadian and American games have influenced each other since then, to the point where high schools across the border can easily play games with compromise rules (the same is true of Gaelic and Australian football). Of course, rugby union has changed since 1880 too.

  32. The expletive ‘bollocks’ means a man’s testicles!

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