The Special Relationship


Jeff Burks has written here several times about the drinking habits of 17th- and 18th-century woodworkers viz. they used to work like the devil all day and then spend all of their hard-earned largesse on gin (known as “mother’s ruin” here in the old country). Workshops typically set up a system of penalties for unsuspecting apprentices to generate alcohol for the journeymen.

It should not have been a surprise that when students joined Chris for the first New English Workshop course the evenings were, in short, a mess; our group of budding anarchists simply reverted to 17th-century type. They worked like the clappers and then went nuts every night.

Inevitably talk turned to differences between U.S. (i.e. damned colonial) and The Queen’s English. It all started innocently enough with the usual woodworking terms: English “timber” being U.S.’s “lumber,” the English cutting “rebates” whilst Americans cut “rabbets” (though there is evidence that “rebate” was originally pronounced “rabbet” here in dear old Blighty). Then we moved onto the more general terms like “chips” in the UK being “French fries” in the U.S., pedestrians getting hit with the hood of the car in America whereas we run them over by hitting them with the bonnet. You get the picture.


I can’t remember who mentioned it in the deepening alcohol-induced haze but somehow the word “chub” came up, and Chris and another American plain flat out snorted their (warm) beer through their noses. So for the next 5 minutes:

Americans: Hooting with laughter.
English: Staring in shock, bemused.

We managed, eventually, to get out of them that in America a chub (chubb?) is a semi-erect willie, whereas in civilised parts of the English speaking world it is a fish or a brand of lock. I’m serious: Englishmen everywhere lock up their homes with a large Chubb at night and fine upstanding Englishmen spend long hours on riverbanks here trying to catch the biggest chub they can….

15-01-2007 2:56 PM

But then in the U.S. if you have a “semi” you are driving an articulated truck, whereas here in the UK you have a semi-erect johnson… Result:

English: Hooting with laughter.
Americans: Staring in shock, bemused.

But then there are always going be differences: In America “Hooters” is a chain of family restaurants with a friendly owl as its mascot. We also have “Hooters” in the UK but this is dirty, salty, saucy Edinburgh Hooters that has naked ladies of the pole writhing barely inches above your burger and chips. (If my better half is reading this, I heard that on BBC Radio 4, I swear.)

So, thanks to the power of alcohol we established each evening that The Special Relationship is alive and well. Our sorry anarchic crew would then troop into the workshop each morning, scarf down a litre (about a quart) of water and crack on banging out tails in time to the jackhammer pounding in their head. But then on a course where everyone got their bottom ripped French style (see photo above) at least once isn’t a special relationship just what you need?

– Paul Mayon, the New English Workshop


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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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27 Responses to The Special Relationship

  1. lew60 says:

    Never heard of that American usage of chub, but I live in the northeast. I did live n Kentucky for a year and a half back in 70/71. Don’t know where it’s used that way. Chub is a white fleshed fish of creeks and lakes. Great fun fly fishing for them. I’ve eaten a few in the spring. Nice grilled, but can of course be used for soup stock. Chub can also be used as an endearing nick name for a weoghty person.

    • lew60 says:

      Weighty person.

    • Interesting. I’m from Toronto (Canada but linguistically very close to the Northeast US, especially New York state) and that usage is pretty well understood here I think.

    • Justin Haber says:

      Having lived mostly in NYC and the Boston area, the Chub only refers to a delicious yet inexpensive smoked white fish, available in better delis. The only reference to Semis I’ve ever heard have been to Articulated Lorries. Any mention of a partially turgid male member has been more graphic and less vague.

  2. jenohdit says:

    Could someone please explain why completely innocuous comments that don’t use any words that can’t be found about can’t be posted? That is a very confusing thing. I can’t even begin to figure out what set off the censor bot.

    • I don’t think we have any filters on. What message are you receiving from WordPress?

      • jenohdit says:

        Just that my message could not be posted.

        I was signed in and my message was completely g-rated. Hitting reverse to double check what might have somehow been “naughty” did no good since rather than take me back to my filled in comment box like many systems do I was back to square one with a blank box.

        I am new to wordpress which I signed up for since google + no longer works here. This is the second time it has happened in 3 comments. One contained a word that might be construed as offensive by an overactive filter system (it wasn’t but might be somehow considered an alternate spelling of something else) so I re-wrote it, careful checked for anything that might mistakenly be dis-allowed, and re-submitted at which point it was accepted.

        My last comment had word like “Great Plains” “fish” and the word for fish used above.

        Maybe the name of the state South of Oklahoma was the problem. I could name a few who might find that to be offensive.

      • toolnut says:

        FYI, I get a message “Sorry, message could not be posted” all the time ( when I’m on the ipad using Safari and logged into wordpress) So, I type the message. Copy it. Click “post comment “. Get the message. Close the blog. Go back to the blog. Paste the message. Click post and it posts normally. That started a few months back. Haven’t tested it on the desktop running windows.

      • toolnut says:

        FYI #2. Just tried it with Internet explorer. Same problem. ( I don’t have the problem on Megan’s WordPress site.)

      • jenohdit says:

        Thanks toolnut. So it’s technique and not content. Good to know the work around.

    • abtuser says:

      I’ve had similar problems in the past. The easiest fix for me is to first log in over at the main WordPress site, then put in the url and head over here. I can post anything anytime I log in this way, including this post.

    • Ben Lowery says:

      Do any of you who are having problems posting comments have ad blocking software or third-party cookies disabled? Both of those things can trip up the commenting system and prevent comments from going through.

      • toolnut says:

        I do have third party cookies off. The funny thing is I’ve always had them off and never had a problem with the LAP blog until a few months ago. I do not have the problem with other WordPress sites, only Chris’. It’s not a big deal, because it comes in handy when my own personal brain filters aren’t quite engaged and I almost post something I might regret. I probably could figure out what’s going on with a few test cases but I’ll let the WordPress folks earn their pay.

  3. We can have endless fun with this one!

    A great delicacy in this part of the world (Wales, as well as the West Country) is Faggots and Peas – always on the menu for visiting Yanks!……… Delicious!

    What about “Pulling a Cracker”?
    Meaning, of course, (What else?) a table-top dinner novelty item at Christmas; not to mention the terrific TV series starring John Coltrane. It also means something very good………… especially a joke.

    There are plenty more…… What a fine, transportable language English is. More people speak ‘Broken English’ worldwide than any other language……. as for the Double Entrendre… that’s as English as Tripe Curry.

  4. Joe says:

    Great stuff.

    I can support your alibi by adding that Hooters was discussed on ‘The News Quiz.’

  5. I think it interesting that a discussion on language is censored while pornography and real violence is not. Sounds like you all pronounced “Yall” in the south of USA had a great learning experience.

  6. Here in Toronto (don’t know about the rest of Canada), I’ve often heard the word “semi” used to refer to both “articulated trucks” and a “semi-erect johnson”. Though when using the word in reference to trucks I’ve often heard it pronounced “sem-eye” and when used in reference to the latter I’ve only ever heard it pronounced “semmee”.

  7. @Graham Bevans

    I live in Ottawa, and I’ve never heard semi used for anything other than trucks. Also never heard “chub” used, ever.

  8. bsrlee says:

    Whatever you do, don’t tell Megan! Specially after the squirrelling incident.

  9. Wow…good to see my alibi has been backed up! Sweet mother of mystery…do we really need to know what ‘squirreling’ is!?

    Paul M.

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