signs you wouldn't see in America

Hej från Sverige!

That is to say, Hello from Sweden!

English in Sweden is interesting because (besides being impeccable) it more often sounds American than British (at least in terms of vocabulary). My former Swedish tutor attributed this to the fact that Swedes get a lot of their English from television, and most of that English is American. In fact, flipping channels on my hotel room television (which gets Swedish, Danish and German channels), my choices now include a Will Smith vehicle, Lost and MTV's Jackass, subtitled in Swedish (or Danish, depending on the channel--I'm on that end of Sweden).

While Swedish English is usually very natural, I was initially puzzled by the following instruction, embossed in the control panel of the elevator/(BrE) lift in my hotel:


In AmE, the 'box' part that you enter in an elevator/lift is called a car, and according to the British information on lift/elevator safety equipment that I can find on the net, they're called cars in BrE too. However, when I tried to use car as an example of polysemy (multiplicity of meaning) in a semantics class in the UK, my students told me they'd never call a part of a lift a car, so perhaps it's not a well-known term in BrE. Anyhow, while/whilst it's correct to call that thing a car in (at least American) English, it is not idiomatic AmE to drive the car of an elevator. I think that such an instruction in AmE would read "Insert room key to operate elevator" (or, more probably, "To operate elevator, insert room key").

But talking about this Swedish sign is just a weak introduction for talking about "Signs You Wouldn't See in America". Of course, there are many signs in the UK that one wouldn't see in America. The speed limit signs look different, the (AmE) YIELD signs say (BrE) GIVE WAY and, of course, there are no signs in America for Ansty Cowfold. But I know people like reading about taboo words (if the number of comments on the toilet post are any indication!), so here are a few more for you.

This picture, advertising an event on my (BrE) uni's campus, would of course not be seen in America, where people would have made sure to abbreviate association as Assn or Assoc. (Go back here for discussion of ass/arse.)

Another one, which I haven't managed to capture in pixels (One used to say on film... What does one say now?), is at the local Bon Marché (BrE) shop/(AmE) store. This company, which sells inexpensive, larger-sized women's clothing (and which, as far as I know, is unrelated to similarly-named companies in the US), has recently taken to re-branding itself as BM, and offering the BM Collection. (Americans, stop your giggling right now!) As my brother Bill will tell you, you don't want to be a BM. When he has to initial things, he uses his 'proper' initials WM, because of the tee-hee-hee factor of BM. BM, you see, stands for bowel movement. In other words, it's a way to avoid saying shit.


  1. I sometimes wonder if the Swedes, Danes etc. have such impeccable English is because they don't re-dub television shows. Italian TV dubs everything - and it's quite surreal, everything is from the 80s too, so I found myself hungover in La Spezia watching "Il principe fresco di Bel-Air" - rather than using subtitles.

    By the way, I will continue to use on film to refer to digital photography in that sense. There must be plenty of examples of similarly anachronistic terms, I just can't think of any.

  2. I think another anachronistic term still hanging around is the use of 'dial' when phoning someone. One can't precisely dial when one is pushing buttons these days. But we still say that's what we're doing.

    I agree about the subtitles versus dubbing. We had a family from Holland here for dinner a couple of weeks ago, and talked about this very subject. Apparently the Netherlands tends to subtitle, too, even for lots of children's programmes.

    I'll admit to not having a clue what was wrong with BM!

  3. The BM association is fading, a generational thing from a laxative (Dulcolax?) who had the slogan, "For a BM in the AM." BS is much more of a titter trigger, I think.

  4. I am hoping you are still in Svee denn, because it would be nice to see some examples of SwE spellings and use cf. AmE spellings and use.

    I'm thinking you are a stickler for consistency, and so, if you are out of Britain, the operative focus of your posts would shift away from BrE to the E of whatever country you are in.

    Besides, it would be interesting to hear about AmE words that started in Sweden and somehow became English. And, uff da, I don't mean Ikea! Leave that one for the ombudsman on a moped.

  5. Even after reading the sign a couple of times, I never thought it meant "association". My best guess was that the fund raiser was in "the rear end" of the building and someone chose poorly in their dictionary.

  6. When I was at Uni, similar signs would read that such and such a meeting would be held in the 'Stud. Ass'. Ah, it was a mighty 'fit' building that Students' Association!

  7. "IBM, UBM, we all BM for IBM."
    --David Gerrold, When Harlie Was One.

    Other techno-anachronisms are icebox, which is dying out, and tinfoil, which I think is holding its own. Certainly tin can is far from extinct. Some such words are so pervasive, especially when they use Latin forms, that they are effectively invisible: who remembers that manufacture once meant 'make by hand'?

  8. In my experience most people speaking English as a second language, outside of the Commonwealth, sound American in both accent and vocabulary.

  9. I feel so dumb - I didn't get that a BM was a bowel movement at first and was racking my brain to figure out what it meant ("Bad mother?"). My parents knew though, and told me I've led a sheltered life:P

    Also, few telephones truly "ring" anymore, yet people still call it a ring. It reminds me of a Sunday comic strip ("Frazz" I think) in which a child asks the main character (a school janitor named Frazz) why people say a telephone "rings" when it really makes a "warble" sound.

    Also, I sometimes hear people refer to DVDs as being "videos" and CDs as being "records." In fact, I find myself still using "record."

    Also, I betcha that long after tube televisions are long extinct that people will still call it the "tube"/"boob tube," etc.

  10. Music is still being used when clearly, nothing produced in the past 15 years can be called music!
    I'm being facetious of course, there was a song back in '95 that qualifies.

  11. I must say that BM reference was over my head. However after reading the whole thing, my thoughts?

    This, from a country, where saying 'Fanny Bag' loudly does not embarrass anybody?

  12. The signs in Ireland (both the Republic and NI) say 'Yield'. I remember because my friend and I were tickled by the fact we were being told to YIELD! which to me, sounds really odd.

  13. I have a youthful memory of photographing a "Way Out" sign, and a recent memory of a trip to Wales that said something about "Humps next 50 (?? distance)" (although the first image I found when searching on the net for a humps sign was one in Iowa).

  14. My parents taught me and my siblings to use the word BM. (They didn't like kiddy-talk like poop, poo-poo, etc.) This was in the late 70s/early 80s.

  15. Steph: believe it or not, in old Bangalore, they have signs that announce rumbler strips (to get drivers to slow down in residential areas) similarly. Signs say: Humps Ahead.. causing much mirth to outsiders.

  16. --------------------
    ... which I haven't managed to capture in pixels (One used to say on film... What does one say now?

    I usually say I've digitized something to say I've taken a digital picture of it, or scanned it.

    soo.... "Which I haven't managed to digitize..."

  17. Haven't caught on camera?

  18. A CD IS a record, and a DVD IS a video. We just got used to thinking those words referred specifically to vinyl records and VHS cassettes, but they needn't. Granted it is easier and more specific to refer to a record on CD as "a CD" and a DVD video as "a DVD", but both those things can be used for purposes other than music or video.

  19. Interesting - I've never ridden in an elevator car. The elevator gondola, sure, but never a car.

    Of course, I keep things cold in an icebox, carry a pocketbook, and go down cellar to find the fusebox, so perhaps the gondola is anachronistic too?

  20. It says a lot for its marketing prowess that BMW is a prestigious brand in the US.

  21. In France a BMW is called a BM. That wouldn't work in America, where it's called a Beemer instead. A French friend of mine who speaks English calls her mother-in-law (sa belle-mère) her BM, much to our amusement. We finally explained it to her.

  22. ---------
    This, from a country, where saying 'Fanny Bag' loudly does not embarrass anybody?

    That's "fanny pack," not "bag." And while the phrase may not be as hilarious in AmE as in BrE, rest assured that we Americans certainly laugh at people wearing the article itself.

    I've found myself wondering whether or not it's a coincidence that the American pop-rap group that popularized the term "cameltoe" via its song of the same name was called "FannyPack."

  23. With reference to the outsize shops , there was a chain in England c. 1980-85 (I haven't the faintest idea if it's still around - I'm a bloke !) called Richard Shops . Fine , except (I suppose)for the few chaps called by that name .
    What then happened was that it re-invented itself as just "Richards" ... which caused huge hilarity to anyone with any knowledge of Cockney rhyming slang . There was a very funny Ronnie Barker sketch with him as a vicar giving a sermon in rhyming slang .

  24. Initials BM are not as bad as mine.....MF!


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)