December 28, 2007

Catherine Tate to bovver America

The American Dialect Society's vote for Word of the Year is fast approaching, bringing an end to the WOTY season here in the States. In the UK, a Word of the Year is selected annually by Susie Dent, word expert on the popular game show Countdown and author of The Language Report. This year her choice was footprint, as in carbon footprint. That's an eco-friendly word with international appeal, but last year's choice was a head-scratcher for most people outside of Britain: bovvered. Now LeftPondians will finally be enlightened about the source of this puzzling word, with the US premiere of "The Catherine Tate Show" on BBC America tonight. In the show's comedy sketches, Tate skillfully inhabits various personae, including the teenager Lauren Cooper, who responds to any inconvenience with her now-famous catchphrase, "Am I bovvered?"

As the New York Times review explains, fully appreciating the show often depends on "a nuanced sense of cultural distinctions, familiarity with the latest British slang, and the ability to understand it when it is uttered rapid-fire in Ms. Tate’s signature singsong style." Still, that shouldn't scare off American viewers, especially those curious about the state of British English today. As an appetizer, here are some video excerpts from the show that are particularly rich from a linguistic perspective.

Though Lauren is an expert at slinging her own idiosyncratic slang, she can get tripped up by a trendy Americanism:

In a reversal of expected conversational roles, Tony Blair turns the tables on Lauren:

Lauren ain't bovvered in French either:

And finally here's another of Tate's regular characters, eager office worker Helen Marsh, showing off her (faux-)translating skills:

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at December 28, 2007 12:52 PM