dorsetgirl (dorsetgirl ) wrote in linguaphiles ,

American Idiom Sounds Rude - but isn’t????

The Radio Times last week had an interview with an American actor/actress (I don’t know which term she prefers). In case it matters, the woman’s name is Jane Lynch and she is apparently in Glee.

Ms Lynch is described in the article sub-title as an Anglophile (Britophile?), but unless I’m reading it all wrong, that’s not how she comes over at all.

[1] RT: Is there a programme that you can’t miss?

JL: "Yes, and it’s British! I’m such a fan of Episodes. I’ve gone online to check out the secondary guys who play those American, Hollywood people, and they’re all British - all of them! The only one who’s not British is Matt LeBlanc!"

Further down in her answer to the same question, she says, "I’m also watching the first series of Homeland ... I like the guy who plays the lead, Damian Lewis - another Brit! We’re giving you guys a lot of work. But you can keep coming over because you’re so good."

To be frank, this reply really got my back up. As a native speaker of British English, I think Ms Lynch comes over as being very patronising. She sounds to me as if she finds it quite astonishing that British people can be good actors and do American accents.

And the phrase "We’re giving you guys a lot of work" sounds as if there’s a "...and you should be very grateful" hanging around in the air. To be "given" work is not at all the same thing as "getting the job on your merits". For me, if she really meant to be complimentary, she could have said something like "Some of the best actors in the world are British." Anything less, however polite, would still sound patronising, and would not be worth saying if it's compliments you're going for.

So, is she actually being patronising? How does her phrasing come over to the American ear? Am I reading her wrong, or does she actually resent British actors "coming over here and taking our jobs" (to quote our more xenophobic newspapers)? And what do other British speakers think? Am I being over-sensitive?


[2] RT: Have you got a guilty TV pleasure?

JL: "Yes, and I’m not saying this to blow smoke up your British butt, but I love Absolutely Fabulous and I’ll watch episode after episode after episode."

What the...? What on earth is she saying here? "to blow smoke up your British butt" - I hardly even know where to start, apart from "why not say ‘up your Limey ass’ and have done with it?"

This phrase sounds incredibly rude to me, and frankly I could have done without the disgusting imagery whilst eating my dinner, but then she goes on to praise the programme. So can I assume that blowing smoke up someone’s rectum is in some way a good thing in the US? I’m seriously confused by this one!
Tags: american english, idioms
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  • 91 comments

crumplelush

January 31 2013, 13:07:15 UTC 1 year ago

I'm British and to me it sounds like she's being tongue-in-cheek about it all. I don't think she's serious, and I certainly don't read it how you're seeing it.

dorsetgirl

January 31 2013, 15:13:03 UTC 1 year ago

Thanks for this - I wasn't picking up the "tongue-in-cheek" bit at all, but I know that's probably my failing rather than hers.

lignota

January 31 2013, 13:11:47 UTC 1 year ago

American here. She doesn't sound at all rude to me -- it sounds like she's speaking in a light, teasing tone. I wouldn't interpret it the way you describe at all. That's really twisting her meaning.

For the final idiom, I'd paraphrase it as "I'm not saying this to flatter you."

houseboatonstyx

January 31 2013, 14:10:50 UTC 1 year ago

I agree about the flattery, and overall I think she's sincere.

/ Southern US / Oxbridge /

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

wunderbar

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

petrusplancius

January 31 2013, 13:26:31 UTC 1 year ago

The remarks strike me as being well-intended, even if I won't be adopting that latter expression for use here in Toad Hall. (From down the road in Dorset.)

dorsetgirl

January 31 2013, 15:22:48 UTC 1 year ago

Thanks for replying. I don't think it's an expression I'll be using either, although I imagine I'll see it everywhere over the next few days!

k425

January 31 2013, 13:38:14 UTC 1 year ago

I think you're being over-sensitive. She's being tongue-in-cheek. And also positive. Yes, she could be saying "coming over here, taking our jobs" but her qualifier is that "they're worth it".

Blowing smoke: http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/blow+smoke - to say things that aren't true in order to make yourself look better.

British butt has alliteration, which Limey ass doesn't. Limey is definitely a term that is used in the States with derogatory overtones (the word doesn't have those overtones in the UK, but a lot of Americans don't realise that) and if she considers herself an Anglophile she'll know it's derogatory, so she's far less likely to use it.

dorsetgirl

January 31 2013, 15:15:26 UTC 1 year ago Edited:  January 31 2013, 15:17:29 UTC

She's being tongue-in-cheek.

You're not the only one reading it that way - I just can't see it at all, but that's probably just me.

British butt has alliteration, which Limey ass doesn't.

I [mis-]read "up your British butt" as being very rude and dismissive and I thought she was trying to pretend she wasn't being rude by softening the words. I was trying to make the point that choosing softer words doesn't necessarily soften an insult. But I'd apparently read it all wrong anyway.

mamculuna

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

vic_vega66

January 31 2013, 13:38:37 UTC 1 year ago

I don't find it patronising at all, more teasing and slightly tongue in cheek. She sounds nice to me!

dorsetgirl

January 31 2013, 15:18:16 UTC 1 year ago

OK, thanks for this! I'm obviously failing to pick up the "tongue in cheek" markers.

no_touching

January 31 2013, 14:02:57 UTC 1 year ago

She's quite a well known comedic actress who ends up in all sorts of indie wry comedy. And that's pretty much the tone she is going for here.

sorrowis_stupid

January 31 2013, 14:05:53 UTC 1 year ago

I agree, these comments don't sound negative to me at all, and they're basically in line with her style.

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

elegant_bonfire

January 31 2013, 14:09:38 UTC 1 year ago

"Blowing smoke up your ass" = false flattery.  Some context: we had an international level dressage trainer J come to our stable to give a clinic.  One of our rather insecure adult amateurs rode in the clinic and got good comments from the trainer.  Later, she asked me and  the stable's head trainer N if J really meant what she'd told her in the clinic.  N replied, "Trainers at that level don't just blow smoke up your ass."

dorsetgirl

January 31 2013, 15:12:00 UTC 1 year ago

Thanks for the explanation. So is it a phrase people would use in "polite" conversation? Or would you only say it someone you knew wouldn't disapprove of swearing, bodily-functions imagery etc? It doesn't sound like something you'd say to someone you didn't know very well.

teaoli

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

germankitty

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

elegant_bonfire

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

teaoli

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

elegant_bonfire

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

elegant_bonfire

1 year ago

electricdruid

January 31 2013, 14:32:56 UTC 1 year ago

She's being crude, but not rude. She is a comedian, after all, and this sort of brashness is a part of her personality that people like.

I'm an American, and I actually have no idea what the phrase "to blow smoke up someone's ass" means. UrbanDictionary says that it either means 1) to compliment someone simply to gain something in return, or 2) to say something simply to get a reaction out of someone. Either way, she's trying to say that her words may not necessarily come off as a sincere compliment to some, but that's how they're intended. "Up your Limey ass" is not a phrase I'm familiar with, but I don't get the sense that it has the same meaning.

dorsetgirl

January 31 2013, 14:57:11 UTC 1 year ago

She is a comedian, after all, and this sort of brashness is a part of her personality that people like

Ah, I see. I've never heard of her so I just took it all at face value. I didn't realise she was a comedian - she was described as "the Glee star".

"Up your Limey ass" is not a phrase I'm familiar with

Maybe I just made it up! It was just that I [mis-]read "up your British butt" as being very rude and dismissive and I thought she was trying to pretend she wasn't being rude by softening the words. I have the impression that "Limey" as used by an American is derogatory, so I was kind of making the point that choosing softer words doesn't necessarily soften an insult.

But it turns out that it wasn't an insult after all - and that question was really the whole point of the post - so there you go. Just a misreading on my part of a strange, and in my opinion rather ugly, idiom.

electricdruid

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

muckefuck

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

muckefuck

1 year ago

kirstenlouise

January 31 2013, 14:36:54 UTC 1 year ago

She's a comedian and you are definitely reading her incorrectly.

dorsetgirl

January 31 2013, 15:21:20 UTC 1 year ago

OK, thanks for this. I'm not sure what it says about anything - but I think it's worth considering anyway - that it seems necessary to know she's a comedian to read her replies correctly.

kirstenlouise

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

lignota

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

lizvogel

1 year ago

stacyinthecity

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

mary919

January 31 2013, 15:03:58 UTC 1 year ago

She's a very silly and irreverent comic actress. Her irreverence is her "schtick" (Yiddish-- comic theme or gimmick). She's actually being very complimentary here. Americans often fuss that British actors take all the good roles in American films-- we mean it in jest, affectionately, with a great deal of respect.

dorsetgirl

January 31 2013, 15:25:05 UTC 1 year ago

Thank you very much for these insights; I really appreciate your taking the time to explain.

frances_bea

January 31 2013, 15:05:08 UTC 1 year ago

I agree with the above poster who said she's being "crude, not rude". She's saying that on American television British actors who can do convincing American accents are taking a surprising number of roles playing American characters. And she's saying that as long as they are great actors she couldn't be happier about it. I suppose someone could be affronted that she felt the need to address the question of whether it's okay for so many of these roles to be given to non-American actors, but it's a question that's bound to be asked and her conclusion couldn't have been more complimentary.

The "blowing smoke up (someone's) ass" expression is more than a little crude, but it refers to false flattery as others have noted. Inserting the word "British" made it clear that she meant she wasn't trying to falsely flatter the interviewer as a British person, as opposed to not trying to falsely flatter them as an individual, as an actor themselves, or something else. Swapping "ass" for "butt" may have been necessary to not get bleeped depending on the program, or it may have been the alliteration thing. I personally find that using rhetorical devices like alliteration while being crude makes the crudeness starker and more shocking, so "butt" instead of "ass" could have ironically increased the shock value while decreasing the conflict with censors.

I had no idea that Damian Lewis was British before reading this post. I haven't seen Homeland, but I was very impressed with him on Life. He's clearly got the accent down very well if I can't tell he's not actually American.

frances_bea

January 31 2013, 15:21:33 UTC 1 year ago

Looking back, I noticed that she described "Episodes" as a British TV show, not an American one. I had never heard of it, so I looked it up, and it appears to be an American TV show about making an American remake of a British TV show. So even if a lot of the actors are British (I wouldn't know), her statement may have been a little inaccurate.

Unless... "Episodes" could be an American remake of a British show itself, with Ms Lynch referring to the original. I didn't find anything like that on google, but it's a difficult show title to search for. It seems unlikely.

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

no_touching

1 year ago

iddewes

1 year ago

no_touching

1 year ago

keestone

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

teaoli

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

stacyinthecity

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

muckefuck

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

muckefuck

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

aindreas

January 31 2013, 18:47:17 UTC 1 year ago

On a note so relevant note, I do find it surprising that so many Brits pull off passable American accents in films! Having lived in the UK for the past four years, I have yet to meet anyone, at all, ever, who even comes close to being able to accurately imitate an American accent.

muckefuck

January 31 2013, 18:55:33 UTC 1 year ago

As with so many things, I imagine access to proper instruction makes all the difference. Most Brits probably don't know how to wield a sword convincingly either.

wosny

1 year ago

iddewes

1 year ago

stacyinthecity

January 31 2013, 19:56:55 UTC 1 year ago

"To be frank, this reply really got my back up. As a native speaker of British English, I think Ms Lynch comes over as being very patronising. She sounds to me as if she finds it quite astonishing that British people can be good actors and do American accents. "

Nope, she sounds like she genuinely likes that British show and the actor and is just being friendly/conversational about it. I

"And the phrase "We’re giving you guys a lot of work" sounds as if there’s a "...and you should be very grateful" hanging around in the air. To be "given" work is not at all the same thing as "getting the job on your merits". For me, if she really meant to be complimentary, she could have said something like "Some of the best actors in the world are British." Anything less, however polite, would still sound patronising, and would not be worth saying if it's compliments you're going for."

Nope, sounds light and conversational to me. I can imagine saying a similar thing myself about friends of mine or something. It really isn't meant to be how you are interpreting it at all. I think that what is going on here is, if anything, she is pointing out how much she prefers British actors and tv shows to American ones, which might be odd since she is American and surrounded by American culture (but NOT because it is bad or British actors are bad or it is weird or anything like that). She is kind of being jokey about it, but there is a definite genuineness that I'm reading here.

As for the blowing smoke bit, it is a normal idiom, I think others have covered the meaning. "British butt" is just alliteration, which can be a form of humor, and she is a comedienne, so... Seems totally fine. Plenty of people that aren't comedians could say that too. Seems like something normal, random people might say.

And I don't think that you need to know that she is a comedienne to get the humor. Alliteration is a pretty normal way to create humor and her entire tone seems to be to be friendly and familiar rather than the patronizing that you hear.

infrogmation

January 31 2013, 21:39:31 UTC 1 year ago

US English speaker here. When I first read the quotes, it sounded to me like the actress was rather naive, perhaps a teenager only recently interacting with people from other countries and cultures. Then I googled the actress's name, and found she was born in 1960.

I'm not sure what to think, possibly she was trying to be amusing, I don't think it comes over well in print.

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

ningloreth

January 31 2013, 21:00:19 UTC 1 year ago

It's quite common for the Radio Times to interview Americans for that column, and it's quite common for for those Americans to talk about/praise British TV/performers, so I suspect the Radio Times actually asks them to talk about British TV, thinking that that's what the readers want to read. That would explain why she seems to be so enthusiastic about British performers!

As a Brit, I didn't read her comments as patronising but as exuberant and, from purely from context, I assumed that the smoke blowing phrase meant something like 'I'm not sucking up to you when I say that...'

dorsetgirl

February 6 2013, 22:36:28 UTC 1 year ago

'I'm not sucking up to you when I say that...'

Thanks for the translation! I just didn't get it at all.

greenkrokodilla

January 31 2013, 21:21:15 UTC 1 year ago

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=blow+smoke+up+your+ass

dorsetgirl

February 6 2013, 22:36:40 UTC 1 year ago

Thank you.

its_anya

January 31 2013, 22:24:46 UTC 1 year ago

I'm interested that pretty much all of the responses see this as being complimentary and tongue-in-cheek, because I (British, from SE England) certainly read it as being very patronising and rude as well. If someone said this kind of thing to me I'd find it very irritating. Cultural differences?

thedinglestarry

January 31 2013, 23:25:33 UTC 1 year ago

Hmmm... well I'm also British from SE England and personally it seemed tongue-in-cheek, jokey, light-hearted and non-patronising to me. Sometimes American media speak does get on my nerves and sound false and OTT to me, but this actually seemed pleasingly wry in a way that felt compatible with my cultural context (despite obviously not being from my cultural context). I guess when it comes down to it it's an individual thing.

muckefuck

1 year ago

thedinglestarry

1 year ago

dorsetgirl

1 year ago

anastasis

February 1 2013, 00:03:32 UTC 1 year ago

She said "British butt" and not "butt" because Absolutely Fabulous is British and the interviewer is British. So she meant "I'm not saying this to impress you just because you're British; I just happen to love this British show." That's why the ethnicity was mentioned.

I think idioms based on gross body stuff lose most of their disgustingness when everyone is used to them and no longer thinks about what they mean (imagine what it's like for a non-native speaker to hear something like "you're s**tting me", haha. NOBODY thinks about what that actually means). It probably just sounded gross to you because you'd never heard it before.

dorsetgirl

February 6 2013, 22:45:01 UTC 1 year ago

Thanks for the explanation.

That's why the ethnicity was mentioned.

Hmm, I think I was subconsciously bringing various other bits of baggage to the phrase:

(i) up your British butt

I read this as analogous to "move your Klingon ass out of my way", which tends to mean "I want you to move because you are Klingon and I hate Klingons".

(ii) up your British butt

"up yours" is short for "stick it up your arse" which obviously isn't very complimentary.


imagine what it's like for a non-native speaker to hear something like "you're s**tting me"

Never mind non-native, my reaction to that would be "I'm - what? Oh, right, American speaker. So, er, joking or attempting to mislead? Is that what you think I'm doing?"

And yes, it certainly did sound gross to me!

beganwithayes

February 1 2013, 20:22:28 UTC 1 year ago

Look for her on YouTube. You'll get her tone, I think.

British actors and their training are highly regarded here in the US.

dorsetgirl

February 6 2013, 22:53:17 UTC 1 year ago

Thank you for this; I'm interested to hear that British actors are well-regarded in the US because I just didn't get that at all from this.