Re ‘A Rank Bouquet of Meanings’

by Jay Nordlinger

In this post, I mentioned the differing meanings of “pissed”: in Britain, drunk; in America, angry. A reader wrote to me,


As an admiral’s aide back in 1993 — the admiral was deputy chief of staff at SACLANT [a component of NATO] — I was exposed to many language differences between the Brits and us. My favorite one:

British Admiral to Boss’s Wife: “So, what did you like best about living in Charleston, South Carolina?”

Admiral’s Wife: “I absolutely loved shagging on the beach. My husband is quite the shagger, if you didn’t already know!”

The British admiral gave no response, and he managed to keep from spitting out his drink. [There’s the British stoicism we know and love so well!] Now, my admiral’s wife was a great lady with a sense of humor. When I explained to her the difference in meanings, she almost passed out, she laughed so hard.

In Britain, for the uninitiated (if that’s the word), shagging means copulating. I wrote back to the reader, “Just to be clear: Did you mean to say that the admiral and his wife hit golf balls on the beach?” (To shag is to practice golf shots, as on a range.) He said, “No — the shag is a dance they do in the Carolinas.” I had no idea.

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