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Questions for Anglophiles

bpath Oh Sophie
May 14, 2019

We just watched a movie called "Going for Gold". It's about the 1948 London Olympics, focusing on a sculling team. We enjoyed it, but we have couple of questions:

The Olympic committee didn't have enough money to supply shorts to the scullers, but they would provde "whitefronts". What are those? Are they trousers? Shirts? The shirts they wear to compete?

At one point we see Matt Smith hop on his bicycle...from the right side. Is that a British thing, like steering wheel on the right? Neither DH nor I think we could possibly mount a bicycle, or a horse, from the right.

Comments (35)

  • Bunny

    Oh jeez, I can't imagine mounting a bike or horse from the right.

    I did live in England for a number of years and drove on the left with right-handed drive. In a car it's more a mirror image thing, where the driver's eyes are closer to see oncoming traffic. I drove fine, but I used to mixed up right and left-handed functions (e.g., turn indicator and headlights).

  • Fori

    I can't imagine mounting a horse. Period.

    Bike? I honestly don't have a preference and didn't know there was a normal way to do it!

  • augment

    White front is a shirt, probably akin to a tee shirt of today. Here is a photo of a square neck whitefront. (Part of a sailor's outfit). https://www.silvermans.co.uk/products/naval-square-neck-white-fronts?variant=44257206787

  • dedtired

    Fori, LOL

  • bpath Oh Sophie

    Augment, thank you. Because they were scullers, a whitefront makes sense. I'd never heard that term.

  • msmeow

    I'm with Fori...I didn't know I was supposed to mount a bike from the left! LOL


  • Bunny

    Maybe the horse-mounting goes back to having servants assisting, like with shirt buttons. I'm right-handed but I was taught to hold the horse's reins in my left hand and anything else feels off. Not that I ride horses anymore.

  • DLM2000-GW

    Now I need to re-watch Downton Abbey and pay attention to how Mary gets on a horse! Left side for me whether horse or bike. I can get on a bike from the right but it feels quite awkward.

  • IdaClaire

    Here's an observation I've had about British speech patterns. It's not an indictment of any sort, merely an observation and one that I find interesting. I've mentioned this "phenomenon" to several English friends, all of whom deny that it even happens! (Oh, it happens.)

    The name Roger (ending in 'r') would be pronounced "ROJ-uh", but the name Edna (ending in 'a') is often pronounced with a soft 'r' on the end. "ED-ner." I wonder why this is. Not an earth-shattering "need to know" sort of thing ... just an observation that's caused me to ponder. (And yes, I am quite sure that I pronounce a number of things strangely myself!)

  • bpath Oh Sophie

    Ida, that occurs in some Eastern US accents, as well. It usually has to do with what sound the next word starts with. For example, "Edna is going" might come out as "Edner", while "Edna will be going" might come out as "Edna". Kind of like the rule governing "a/an".

    However, there is another aspect to the accent that I think colors our perception. For example, we learned a new word in the movie, "repechage". We assumed it was "repercharge", inserting the "r"s we thought the accent omitted. Turns out, it is indeed "repechage", from French for "fishing out" as in rescuing. (See the "pêche" (fish) in the middle?) and it's a rowing term for when the losers of an early race have a second race to qualify (kind of like wild card?)

    We also learned that the arts were an Olympic category for a few Olympics (a worm of art inspired by sport, including visual arts, music, literature!) And also that Hugh Laurie's father took gold in rowing in 1948. (It had nothing to do with the movie, just came up when we were googling during the movie.)

  • IdaClaire

    Interesting, bpath! And I understand yout point about this being dependent on what the next word starts with, although I have heard it when the sentence was along the lines of, "ED-ner, do you want to go to the shops?"

  • amicus

    Ida, I have no British born friends, but do have friends from India, who pronounce my name with an 'er' sound at the end, rather than the 'a.' So I assume the British colonization in India must have impacted their pronunciation, and carries on through future generations, long after India obtained its Independence.

  • jojoco

    You all sent me down a google rabbit hole...Mounting a horse from the left goes back to wartime when soldiers carried swords. Since the majority of people are right-handed, it made sense to mount from the left so the horse didn't get bumped with the scabbard. Consider a bicycle, per google, as an iron horse. I think it is out of habit nowadays. I used to ride horses and in my mind I always thought a horse would react negatively if I ever tried to mount it from the right.

  • bpath Oh Sophie

    So, maybe Matt Smith (in the movie) is just left-handed! DH is lefty but only for writing and, I think, archery, he mounts a bike from the left.

  • chispa

    I have heard more people add the R sound to the end of a word in the northeast (New England states) than in the UK.

  • Zalco/bring back Sophie!

    The R ending is regional in the UK as well. You hear it in Cornwall, not London or Leeds.

  • cawaps

    John F. Kennedy did the added Rs. Idea came out idee-er.

    Could the preference for mounting bikes from the right come from the chain being located on the right? That seems to be true of the vast majority of bikes from everywhere (this discussion as to why was interesting). When I had a bike with a kickstand, the kickstand was always on the left, so of course you got on from the left.

  • Oakley

    Pronunciation studio silent R I read western England pronounces R the way we do.

    Cawaps, I'm addicted to Quora!

  • chispa

    Nope, my grandparents lived their whole lives in Cornwall and they didn't add any spare Rs to their words! Neither do my other relatives there.

  • chispa

    My MIL from RI adds them to every word! ;-)

  • dedtired

    In Baltimore everyone says warsh, and Warshington.

  • Lars

    In the movie Auntie Mame, Mame is told to mount the horse from the right, and she said, "My right or the horse's right?" I've always mounted horses and bikes from the right but was never sure why.

  • Zalco/bring back Sophie!

    So it turns out this r at the end if words is called the intrusive r. It is common throughout the UK. I have heard it more strongly in a friend of mine from Penzance in Cornwall, but that was a red herring apparently. Here is a BBC piece about it for English language learners.

  • Zalco/bring back Sophie!

    IDK why my video is not loading. Here is a link for it https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DCJrFM3hdlg.

  • Bunny

    When I lived in England, I found the incidence of Elmer Fudd R's (e.g., cwazy wabbit) more common than in the US, esp. in middle/upperclass accents. I always wondered if it was caused by eliminating the R sound entirely, not like when followed by a consonant.

  • pennydesign

    My parents are guilty of the intrusive R...I no longer am even when I slip into the accent when around them...or when I'm angry. :) I suspect the bicycle thing was because it's the same way you get on a horse...same side and chuck your leg over the seat...

  • Bunny

    I have a SIL who was born in Spain but moved with her mom to England when she was about 8. She went to boarding school and has a very British accent, no trace of Spain in evidence. She now lives in California. When visiting her she mentioned a "messer" and I couldn't figure out what she was talking about. It was talking about a "mesa."

  • Annette Holbrook(z6b-7a)

    You mount a horse from the left because back in the day knights or soldiers kept their sword on their left. So you don’t want to swing the sword over the horse.

    My mother was a kiwi and she added the R to the end of words that ended with a vowel.

    A southern (USA)accent is from the aristocratic British accent.

    Accent explained

  • nosoccermom

    Regarding getting on the bike:

    If you're right handed and push your bike, it's easier to do this when you're to the left of the bike. So if you get on your bike, that's already the side you're on. Plus, the (oily) chain is on the right side.

  • teeda

    Bpath, is it possible they were saying "Y Fronts" rather than "Whitefronts"? "Y Fronts" are British for what we call "jockey shorts" or "tighty whities", lol. They weren't introduced in Britain until the late 1930's, so they might have been considered a reasonable alternative to sculling shorts!

  • Oakley

    Annette, your video made me search for southern VA. accents because my whole family is from VA except for myself and my brother. I swear I could never understand a word they said. I was constantly saying "Pardon?"

    This short video explains what I had to deal with. My mom kept her accent until the day she died, after living in OK since she was about 23. She did have a lot of silent "R's."

  • bpath Oh Sophie

    teeda, I'm pretty sure they said whitefronts, because it does refer to a nautical shirt and because they were provided with whitefronts but had to provide their own shorts...and they were shorts, not tidy whities!

    Bunny, I hear that "w" R in some British accents, too. My DH says it's a kind of lisp, but I thinks it's part of the accent?

  • Olychick

    I've also wondered why some Brits pronounce TH as an F, as in saying "wif something" instead of "with something"?

  • DLM2000-GW

    Oakley that video is fascinating - I can't believe how fluidly she flips in and out of accents!

  • IdaClaire

    Oly, sometimes the "th" also becomes a "v", as in "bruvah" for brother.

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