Disclaimer: This post will be of interest mainly to English-speaking North Americans.
Septic? Why ‘septic’?
If you had this fine book, you’d be able to look it up and discover that to some in the UK it means ‘American.’ The origin is from rhyming slang, ‘Yank’* = ‘septic tank.’ Which might be taken as somewhat uncomplimentary, but could be worse, and is certainly preferable to being called ‘Residents of the Great Satan,’ (or, what--‘Great Satanians’?)
The author of this slim volume, Chris Rae, writes, “I'm banking on the cosmopolitan modern American not minding being called ‘Septic’. The wife thinks this is mistaken.”
Chris runs a very useful website that used to be called English2American.com (and now goes by the name SepticsCompanion.com). Although the dictionary he has compiled is extensive, it makes no claims of completeness: “I’ve tried to restrict myself to words which are known and understood throughout the whole of the UK. When talking about British language idiosyncrasies some people delight in trotting out phrases that no Brit would ever have heard unless they lived in a particular part of Dorset, in a particular street, and were present at a particular incident in the fourteenth century.”
Chris invited those who found the website useful to express their appreciation by using PayPal to buy him a pint, and then posted pictures of himself drinking the pint in question at various locations around the world. (My pint donation was consumed at the Peppermill Casino in Reno, Nevada.) A few of the pints were consumed by his wife, who, incidentally, looks stunning in a toga (see the pic on the page in question).
So, if the whole dictionary is still on line, why should you shell out for the book? Well, aside from the basic good karma, the first 30-odd pages explaining how the UK works range from nicely put (“Gaelic is a soft, cooing, mellifluous language that sounds as if it were invented mainly for soothing animals”) to a bit more acerbic:
The 2001 survey showed that just over 1% of Scots spoke Gaelic. They were all, without exception, irritating bearded people who want to drone on about heritage and force the government to spend millions of pounds making dual-language road signs that nobody ever reads. The census showed they lived with their mothers, and at home they secretly spoke English.
(The author, of course, is a Scot, so he can get away with this. His bionotes indicate he now lives in Seattle; one has to suppose the rest of the US was too sunny for him.)
This is a perfect gift for any North American headed for the UK, and is a hell of a lot more useful than most tourist guides. Where else can you find a wholly candid guide to going our drinking that not only explains the complex rules of pub etiquette, but also describes in detail the technique for carrying four pints of beer simultaneously?
You can buy this fine book from Amazon, or you can buy it directly from the author. It’s cheaper from Amazon, but if you buy it from the author, he offers not only sign it, but to also draw a picture of anything you request on the inside cover (even Goldsboro Books can't match that). Since he confesses his "artistic skills are inferior to those of an inebriated monkey," this is an offer difficult to turn down.
*I’ve had people in England apologize for using the word ‘Yank’ instead of ‘American.’ For the record, I happen to like ‘Yank.’ The term ‘American’ could logically refer to anyone living between Baffin Island and Tierra del Fuego, and it’s nice to have a have a word of one syllable rather than four (or, in the case of ‘effing Americans,’ six).
‘Yank’ has its drawbacks. To most people in the US, “Yankees’ are the inhabitants of the six states of New England, those itty-bitty ones stuffed into the upper right corner of the country. These states account for less than 5 percent of the US population, and less than 2 percent of the land area, so referring to everybody as ‘Yanks’ is a bit like referring to everybody in the UK as ‘Welsh,’ but the only people likely to take offense are Southerners. (Southerners tend to refer to people from any state that opposed slavery in the Civil War as ‘Yankees,’ with said term often preceded by a colorful adjective. People from the South usually aren’t too keen on being called ‘Yanks,’ but it’s nicer than some of the other things they're called, so I think they ought to smile and leave well enough alone.)