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Hi all,

anyone know what on earth a 'wetback' is?!

I've come across the word whislt reading 'Farewell America' but have no idea what it means - I'm guessing it's one of those american words not in use on this side of the pond! :-)

The sentence reads:

"Texas offers.........cheap labor (poor whites, negroes and wetbacks)"

Thanks

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Hi all,

anyone know what on earth a 'wetback' is?!

I've come across the word whislt reading 'Farewell America' but have no idea what it means - I'm guessing it's one of those american words not in use on this side of the pond! :-)

The sentence reads:

"Texas offers.........cheap labor (poor whites, negroes and wetbacks)"

Thanks

Francesca

It's an unfortunate, disparaging word for someone from

Mexico who crosses the border illegally. They were named

"wet backs" because most would swim across the Rio Grande.

Bill C

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Francesca,

Don't feel bad. I had to ask Stephen Turner what a sprog is. (It sounds worse than wetback, but apparently isn't.)

hehe, no it isn't bad at all - well unless you don't like kids I suppose! :-)

The many language differences between americans and brits always amuse me. On my first visit to the US in 2003, wandering around downtown Dallas, I got some very strange looks for asking where the nearest 'chemist' was - until I remembered I should be asking for the 'drugstore'. :-)

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Francesca,

Don't feel bad. I had to ask Stephen Turner what a sprog is. (It sounds worse than wetback, but apparently isn't.)

hehe, no it isn't bad at all - well unless you don't like kids I suppose! :-)

The many language differences between americans and brits always amuse me. On my first visit to the US in 2003, wandering around downtown Dallas, I got some very strange looks for asking where the nearest 'chemist' was - until I remembered I should be asking for the 'drugstore'. :-)

There are various variations of the joke about a Brit who comes the US and asks where he can get some 'fags' (1) or goes into a stationary store and wants to buy a 'rubber'(2). When I went on a road trip to Canada with some friends we were quite amused by the sign we saw at gas stations that read "We’ll rotate your rubbers for $ 10". Now that we're on the subject the French city of Condom has serious problem with British tourists who keep stealing their signs.

When I was in London I saw a sign for the 'subway' and ran down the steps hoping to catch a train and was quite disappointed to see nothing but a staircase leading up to the other side of the street when I remembered I should have been looking for signs for the 'underground'

I hope this part isn't deemed in appropriate for this forum. I won't go into the details but years ago I was quite confused when my English girlfriend said something about her 'fanny' (3) we learned then to our amusement that it refers to entirely different parts of the anatomy in American and British English.

1. In the US it means homosexual males, in Britain cigarettes.

2. In the US it means condom, in Britain it means eraser, in Canada it means tire

3 In the US it means buttocks, in Britain it means and organ she has but I don't

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As a student in Hamburg in the 1960s, I registered for a trip to Berlin. An American female student who had also registered for the trip was concerned about the early start (6am) and worried that she wouldn't hear her alarm clock. So I offered to "knock her up". "You'll what!" she exclaimed. I had no idea that this harmless expression in British English has an entirely different meaning in North American English. If you search for "knocker-up" in Google you'll find that this is actually a job description (now dated), namely a person who went from house to house in the early morning to wake up workers by tapping on the bedroom window with a long pole.

I have relations in Canada. I am getting used to code switching when I visit them and using "gas" instead of "petrol", "trunk" instead of "boot", "hood" instead of "bonnet", "faucet" instead of "tap", etc. But they still look puzzled when I exclaim "bollocks!" or describe someone as a "wanker".

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Hi all,

anyone know what on earth a 'wetback' is?!

I've come across the word whislt reading 'Farewell America' but have no idea what it means - I'm guessing it's one of those american words not in use on this side of the pond! :-)

The sentence reads:

"Texas offers.........cheap labor (poor whites, negroes and wetbacks)"

Thanks

*******************************************************

It was also a term I became familiar with when I was living in Key West in 1963-64.

It was used to describe the Cuban nationals coming ashore by small boat, dinghy, or raft.

I was once mistaken for one while searching for bottles outside of one of the sub basins on the eastern end of the key. Luckily I had my Navy I.D. card tucked in my bathing suit at the time and didn't get hauled off for questioning.

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Guest Stephen Turner

"You say to-may-to, and I say to-mar-to.

When I was in the States in the 70's, I was quite surprised one day when my American Uncle informed me that we were all going out for FOOT LONG GRINDERS. It was also strange to be in a country were A GOOD LONG SHAG, meant dancing the night away.... ;)

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"You say to-may-to, and I say to-mar-to.

When I was in the States in the 70's, I was quite surprised one day when my American Uncle informed me that we were all going out for FOOT LONG GRINDERS. It was also strange to be in a country were A GOOD LONG SHAG, meant dancing the night away.... ;)

Sounds like you were in New England that's the only part of the US that calls long sandwiches 'grinders'. What does "grinder" mean in Britain? Shag for dance must have been a bit archaic even in the 70's.

Regional differences can cause confusion in the US. In most parts of the country a 'milk shake' is milk and ice cream mixed together in a blender, so I was surprised when I ordered a strawberry-banana milkshake in Boston and was served bits of those fruit and milk blended together. When I asked where the ice cream was they told me I should have ordered a'frappe'.

Another time I was in Boston a friend of mine told me to me him at "the spa" on a particular block. I looked in vain for a health club or a place called "The Spa" till I figured out that 'spa' meant convience store in Beantown

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Hi all,

anyone know what on earth a 'wetback' is?!

I've come across the word whislt reading 'Farewell America' but have no idea what it means - I'm guessing it's one of those american words not in use on this side of the pond! :-)

The sentence reads:

"Texas offers.........cheap labor (poor whites, negroes and wetbacks)"

Thanks

In the future such doubts can be cleared up at two free online dictionaries.

http://education.yahoo.com/reference/dictionary/

and http://m-w.com/

Both have definitions for ‘wetback’.

Both are primarily American English dictionaries, can anyone recommend a good free online British English dictionary?

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Try this site:

Michael Quinion's World Wide Words: "Investigating international English from a British viewpoint" - a useful and amusing site that takes an oblique look at the English language: new words, weird words, fun words, slang, etc: http://www.worldwidewords.org

A concordancer that offers a Key Word In Context (KWIC) search is often more revealing than a dictionary. So you don't know what a concordancer is? Then have a look at this page:

http://www.ict4lt.org/en/en_mod2-4.htm

Follow some of the links to websites at the bottom of the page.

One of the best-selling English dictionaries, based on actual usage and authentic contexts of British English, is Collins COBUILD, originally developed by Prof John Sinclair at the University of Birmingham, UK. It used to be available online free of charge, but I guess they were overwhelmed with accesses and they now raise a charge:

http://www.collins.co.uk/books.aspx?group=154

My printed version does not include "wetback" (US) but does include "bollocks" (British).

The "big daddy" of dictionaries is, of course, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It is constantly updated and featured in the recent BBC2 TV series "Balderdash and Piffle", which focused on research conducted among members of the public for evidence of the first occurrences on expressions such as "the full monty", "nit nurse", "something for the weekend" and "ploughman's lunch". See http://www.oed.com - fascinating stuff! When I was about 17 I went to Burton's, a popular high street chain of tailor's shops in the 1950s, to buy my first suit. The salesman offered me "the full monty", but I could only afford a two-piece suit. Puzzled? Check out the above OED website and click on the "Balderdash and Piffle" link.

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I should have mentioned that Google can function as a dictionary and as a concordancer. Use the "define" function in Google, entering the following in the search box

define:wetback (US)

define:redneck (US)

define:mackem (British)

define:ocker (Australian)

define:braai (South African) - I went to a great braai at a conference in South Africa back in 1985.

Use quotes for two or more words occurring together

define:"new age"

define:"operating system"

define:"own goal"

See: Robb T. (2003) "Google as a Quick 'n Dirty Corpus Tool", TESL-EJ 7, 2. Available at:

http://www-writing.berkeley.edu/TESL-EJ/ej26/int.html

Shouldn't this thread be of interest to English language teachers, both English as one's mother tongue and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)?

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