Thinking (rhapsodically) about Syndol has me thinking about expressions that are used in AmE that I didn’t really understand until I had met them the BrE context—because over the counter is one of them. We say this in AmE to mean ‘non-prescription medications’, but I never understood why we say it, because in my American experience only prescription medications come from the other side of the (AmE & BrE) pharmacist’s/(BrE) chemist’s counter. The non-prescription medications are just out there on the consumer-accessible shelves in the (AmE) drugstore/(BrE) chemist’s (shop)/(AmE & BrE) pharmacy. But in the UK, a real over-the-counter category exists for things like Syndol. Plain old paracetamol/acetominophen can be found out on the shelves in many shops—and can be found in other types of shops, like supermarkets, (BrE) petrol/(AmE) gas stations and (BrE) corner shops. But for Syndol and real Sudafed (i.e. pseudoephedrine, my other drug of choice at the pollenous moment), you must go to a pharmacy and must ask for it from over the counter. Upon doing so, you will be faced with a number of questions from the pharmacist or their assistant, such as Are these for you?, Have you taken these before? and Are you taking any [insert name of drug that might interfere]? Give the wrong answer (like that you’ve been taking something for a while and your symptoms haven’t cleared up) and they won’t sell you the good stuff, but will tell you to do something sensible, like seeing your doctor.
I presume that all medications used to be truly over-the-counter in the US too—since shopping used to be more like that in general. I don’t know if it’s just because the UK (and most of Europe, as far as I can tell) maintains the over-the-counter category and the US doesn’t, but one can get much better drugs without a prescription here—including painkillers with codeine, which I also enjoyed until my last two doses of similar-but-prescription-requiring stuff landed me (sorry, British taxpayer) in (BrE) A&E (Accident and Emergency -also known as Casualty)/AmE the Emergency Room (or ER, or, as my friend who works in a hospital insists, the Emergency Department—though I don’t know anyone outside hospital employment who uses that phrase). I only took the recommended dose, I swear! I’d just developed some kind of allergy to opiates. (At the first A&E visit, the doctor insisted that it couldn’t have been the pills that put me in so much pain--hence the second visit, that time via ambulance. Many apologies, British taxpayer! And a tip: be very careful with the phrase cold and clammy if you phone NHS Direct. Unless you want an ambulance at your house.)
I said I was thinking of expressions (plural) that involved this kind of linguistic eureka moment, though to be honest, there’s only one other that I can think of: pratfall, which I mentioned back here.
So, expatriates of one brand or another, have you had similar experiences in which your own language made more sense only after hearing it in another dialect/context? And what are the American things that British expats have become dependent on, and vice versa?
In other business:
- I'm planning to announce the winner to the Limerick Competition tomorrow (that is, if I manage to contact all my co-judges by then). So act quickly if you have an entry to submit!
- Lexiophiles is running their Top 100 Language Blogs again, so nominate a blog you love!
- I'm experimenting with Google's AdSense here, having kept this a strictly not-for-profit blog for the past three years. Let me know what you think.