BRITAIN REVOKES USA INDEPENDENCE

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This spoof letter is a piece of modern folklore. It appeared in photocopied and early internet forms while George W Bush was POTUS (2001-2009) and purports to be the work of the famous English comedian, John Cleese. Unlikely though that is, the sentiments expressed were commonly heard at the time. Although it gives a clear view of British prejudices against America, it has an uncanny relevance to the situation from 2017 onwards. Read on, and see if you agree:

To the citizens of the United States of America:

In the light of your failure to elect a competent President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your Independence, effective today. Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories. Except Utah, which she does not fancy.

Your new prime minister (The Right Honourable Tony Blair, MP for the 97.85% of you who have until now been unaware that there is a world outside your borders) will appoint minister for America without the need for further elections.

Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire will be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed. To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

  1. You should look up “revocation” in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up “aluminium”. Check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it. The letter ‘U’ will be reinstated in words such as ‘favour’ and ‘neighbour’, skipping the letter ‘U’ is nothing more than laziness on your part. Likewise, you will learn to spell ‘doughnut’ without skipping half the letters. You will end your love affair with the letter ‘Z’ (pronounced ‘zed’ not ‘zee’) and the suffix “ize” will be replaced by the suffix “ise”.

You will learn that the suffix ‘burgh’ is pronounced ‘burra’ e.g. Edinburgh. You are welcome to respell Pittsburgh as ‘Pittsberg’ if you can’t cope with correct pronunciation. Generally, you should raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. Look up “vocabulary”. Using the same twenty seven words interspersed with filler noises such as “like” and “you know” is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication.Look up “interspersed”.

There will be no more ‘bleeps’ in the Jerry Springer show. If you’re Not old enough to cope with bad language then you shouldn’t have chat shows. When you learn to develop your vocabulary then you won’t have to use bad language as often.

  1. There is no such thing as “US English”. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter ‘u’ and the elimination of “-ize”.
  2. You should learn to distinguish the English and Australian accents. It really isn’t that hard. English accents are not limited to cockney, upper-class twit or Mancunian (Daphne in Frasier). You will also have to learn how to understand regional accents – Scottish dramas such as “Taggart” will no longer be broadcast with subtitles. While we’re talking about regions, you must learn that there is no such place as Devonshire in England. The name of the county is “Devon”. If you persist in calling it Devonshire, all American States will become “shires” e.g. Texasshire, Floridashire, Louisianashire.
  3. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as the good guys. Hollywood will be required to cast English actors to play English characters. British sit-coms such as “Men Behaving Badly” or “Red Dwarf” will not be re-cast and watered down for a wishy-washy American audience who can’t cope with the humour of occasional political incorrectness.
  4. You should relearn your original national anthem, “God Save The Queen”, but only after fully carrying out task 1. We would not want you to Get confused and give up half way through.
  5. You should stop playing American “football”. There is only one kind of football. What you refer to as American “football” is not a very good game. The 2.15% of you who are aware that there is a world outside your Borders may have noticed that no one else plays “American” football. You will no longer be allowed to play it, and should instead play proper football. Initially, it would be best if you played with the girls. It is a Difficult game.

Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which is similar to American “football”, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or  wearing full kevlar body armour like (nancies). We are hoping to get together at least a US Rugby sevens side by 2005.

You should stop playing baseball.  It is not reasonable to host an event called the ‘World Series’ for a game which is not played outside Of America. Since only 2.15% of you are aware that there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. Instead of baseball, you Will be allowed to play a girls’ game called “rounders” which is baseball Without fancy team strip, oversized gloves, collector cards or hotdogs.

  1. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry guns. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous in public than a vegetable peeler. Because we don’t believe you are sensible enough to handle potentially dangerous items, you will require a permit if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.
  2. July 4th is no longer a public holiday. November 2nd will be a new national holiday, but only in England. It will be called “Indecisive Day”.
  3. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and it is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean. All road intersections will be replaced with roundabouts. You will Start driving on the left with immediate effect.

At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.

  1. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips. Fries aren’t even French, they are Belgian though 97.85% of you (including the guy who discovered fries while in Europe) are not aware of a country called Belgium. Those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called “crisps”. Real chips are thick cut and fried in animal fat. The traditional accompaniment to chips is beer which should be served warm and flat. Waitresses will be trained to be more aggressive with customers.
  2. As a sign of penance, 5 grams of sea salt per cup will be added to all tea made within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, this quantity to be doubled for tea made within the city of Boston itself.
  3. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all, it is lager. From November 1st only proper British Bitter will be referred to as “beer”, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as “Lager”. The substances formerly known as “American Beer” will henceforth be referred to as “Near-Frozen Gnat’s Urine”, with the exception of the product of the American Budweiser company whose product will be referred to as “Weak Near-Frozen Gnat’s Urine”. This will allow true Budweiser (as manufactured for the last 1000 years in Pilsen, Czech Republic) to be sold without risk of confusion.
  4. From November 10th the UK will harmonise petrol (or “Gasoline” as you will be permitted to keep calling it until April 1st 2005) prices with the former USA. The UK will harmonise its prices to those of the former USA and the Former USA will, in return, adopt UK petrol prices (roughly $6/US Gallon – get used to it).
  5. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you’re not adult enough to be independent. Guns should only be handled by adults. If you’re not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you’re not grown up enough to handle gun.
  6. Please tell us who killed JFK. It’s been driving us crazy.
  7. Tax collectors from Her Majesty’s Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all revenues due (backdated to1776).
  8. Last, but not the least, and for heaven’s sake…..it’s Nuclear as in “clear” NOT Nucular.

Thank you for your co-operation and have a great day

John Cleese

See previous posts on The Bullshit Detection Bureau and The Last Great Act of Defiance

 

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A RHYMING SLANG LETTER FROM THE IRON WRENCHES OF WORLD WAR ONE

The following rhyming slang letter appeared in a World War 1 British ‘trench journal’, or soldiers’ newspaper known as The Direct Hit of July, 1917. Apparently penned by Lce-Corp. A. J. Lilliman, RF, it provides an insight into the popularity of rhyming slang among World War 1 troops. It is couched in the form of a letter to the writer’s sister, providing some news of training camp activity and expected departure to the front and of a planned visit home during an upcoming period of leave. It is unlikely that this letter was ever sent, or that it was ever meant to be; it seems more likely to have been a manifestation of the fascination for rhyming slang at the time and place, something the editor of the Direct Hit also mentions in introducing the letter. Many of the terms are not recorded in the usual compilations and dictionaries of rhyming slang, or have other meanings, and so can either be considered personal inventions of the writer and/or terms that had a brief and perhaps restricted currency among those with whom he socialised.
MY DEAR JUST-MISSED-‘ER,
Many thanks for the all-the-better and the Windsor Castle received the last pip-squeak. I am glad to hear mother and the old pot-and-pan are still keeping fit, and that the Giddy-Gaby is doing well. The contents of the parcel were highly appreciated by the Sain-Foys in my water-butt; the piper’s knees went down well for supper with a piece of mine-host made in front of the old-cove, and a drop of pig’s ear. The you-can-bets smoked like small American bars. Keep on sending the bones-and-rags. The give-and-take was one of the best, whilst the small-kits came in very handy on the stiff-as-starch.

We are all still hiding in the rob-and-pillage and expect to be here until the lager beer. I suppose we shall be going on-our-knees early in the wedding ring; it is quite time we put some of the Germans’ Hampstead Heath down their ugly nanny-goats. I am fed-up with cleaning my small-trifle to satisfy the Sergeant’s mince pie, and with firing nothing but muddy-banks.
I went sick the other day with a saucy-goat, but the oh-dear-oh! only gave me a darling-mine with Sleeping Beauty, so I went on first-aid the following day. I am pleased to say I am quite William-Tell again now, although the tough-as-leather has left me off with a bit of a up-the-hill and a slight old-toff.
I had a double-mine from Jimmy last week. He has been in the iron-wrenches for three weeks now, and so far has come through all John-Bright. He says he is going back to the fried-fillets in a day or two for a give-and-be-blest. I am glad he is safe and baker’s-round, for Jimmy was always a good world’s-endt o me.
Now I must hurry up with my you-and-me, get a wave-after-wave and a shine up just call in the always-man to light me to my white-and-red tonight, and then I’m off to the knock-me-down to see the pictures at the new near-and-far.

I am hoping to see you shortly, for I believe we are to get four day’s Adam-and-Eve. So keep you’re eye on six o’ clock, and be sure to meet me at the Birth-of-a-Nation when I let you know the only-way I am coming, and the time the might-and-main will arrive.
Write soon, and don’t forget the old-nags.
Your loving Brother, SAM.
Lce-Corp. A. J. Lilliman, RF.
The rhyming slang terms used in this letter translate as:
just-missed-her  sister
all-the-better  letter
Windsor-Castle  parcel
last pip-squeak  last week
old pot-and-pan  old man (father)
Giddy-Gaby  baby
the Sain-Foys  the boys
water-butt  hut
piper’s knees  cheese?
mine-host  toast
old-cove  stove
pig’s ear  beer
you-can-bets  cigarettes
American bars  cigars
give-and-take  cake
small-kits  biscuits
stiff-as-starch  march
rob-and-pillage  village
lager-beer  new year
on-our-knees – overseas
wedding-ring  spring
Hampstead Heath  teeth
nanny-goats  throats
small-trifle  rifle
mince-pie  eye
muddy-banks  blanks
saucy-goatsore throat
oh-dear-oh!  MO – Medical Officer
darling-mine  number nine pill ( a laxative)
Sleeping Beauty  duty
first-aid  parade
William Tell  well
tough-as-leather  weather
up-the-hill  chill
old-toff  cough
double-mine  line (letter)
iron-wrenches  trenches
all John-Bright  alright
fried-fillets  billets
give-and-be-blest  rest
safe and baker’s-round  safe and sound
world’s-end  friend
you-and-me  tea
wave-after-wave  shave
always-man  batman
broom-handle  candle
white-and-red  bed
knock-me-down  town
near-and-far  cinema
Adam-and-Eve  leave
[the] six o’ clock  clock
Birth-of-a-Nation– station (from the title of D W Griffith’s movie just released at this time)
only-way  day
might-and-main  train
old-nags  fags (cigarettes)

CONSENTING TO DIE IN THE GREAT WAR

Why did men consent to fight the First World War? This is one of the most difficult of all questions about a conflict that remains an enigma despite the millions of words written about it.

Patriotism is one answer. Glory another, though soldiers soon discovered there was little, if any, of that in the trenches. Social pressure from the White feather fanatics was a factor for some.

But a more surprising answer lies in the mechanism that frontline soldiers created to negotiate their consent to fight and quite possibly die. This mechanism took the form of sometimes rough and ready magazines and newsheets written, illustrated and edited by soldiers themselves.

The Dead Horse Corner Gazette, the Bran Mash and The Whizzbang were just some of the many hundreds of titles in the trench press. In the sometimes scribbled sometimes printed pages appeared verse, short stories, songs, pays and a host of parodic and satirical items written by soldiers. These squibs were often illustrated with cartoons and sketches that made the sharp toothed humour even more pointed.




Nursery rhymes were recast for gallows humour effect:

Little Jack Wrench
Sat down in a trench,
With a ‘pork and beans’ and some bread,
When an Allemande shell
On the parapet fell,
So he got ‘iron rations’ instead.

Trench songs expressed the universal desire to be ‘out of it’, as in this version from the Canadian The Sling:

I want to go home, I want to go home,
The bullets they whistle, the cannons they roar,
I don’t want to go up the line any more.
Take me over the sea, where the enemy can’t get at me.
Oh! my, I don’t want to die, I want to go home.

Officers might be called to account, if to little effect, as recorded in The Swell, ‘The Regimental Rag of the 13th Battalion the King’s Liverpool Regiment’ in January, 1916:

On Monday we had bread and bully,
On Tuesday we’d bully and bread,
On Wednesday and Thursday we’d bully and toast,
Well that’s only bully and bread;
So on Friday we called out the major,
And asked him for a change, so he said
Alright, so on Saturday we got for a change
Some bully without any bread.

The humble classified advertisement provided endless opportunities to spoof the war a specialty, though not a monopoly of the British Wipers Times:

“TRY OUR NEW CIRCULAR TOUR, EMBRACING ALL THE HEALTH RESORTS OF LOVELY BELGIUM. Books of Coupons Obtainable From R. E. Cruting & Co., London. Agents Everywhere.”

WANTED – to rent for the winter season, DRY WARM DUG OUT. Must be commodious and in healthy locality untroubled by hawkers and Huns. Good price offered for suitable residence. Apply – Reggie, c/o this paper.

Although these publications were primarily for soldiers they had a less obvious but even more important readership. The trench press was a back channel of communication between the trenches and the generals, politicians and home front press. Many trench newspapers went home to wives, mothers, brothers, sisters and friends. Some were even featured in the mainstream press. This gave trench soldiers a way to let those for whom they were fighting the conditions on which they would consent to do so.

They would do it on their own terms. Not for the pap of patriotism spouted by the blimps in politics. Not for the bloodlust of the generals. Not for the risible rubbish in the popular press. They would do it for their families, for their homes and for their conception of a way of life that they desperately wanted to return to as quickly as possible. They would therefore take the piss out of the military, the war and the press at every opportunity. They would crack their grim jokes about death, maiming, gas, tanks and anything else they could possibly laugh about in a war of numbing horror. And those who were the targets of their jests would take it. By and large they did, as discussed in my The Soldiers’ Press: Trench Journals in the First World War.

This was not revolution or insubordination but a reactionary defence mechanism. Trench soldiers rarely rose up against the war. Instead they sent it up, if within certain well defined and mutually understood limits. Criticism and complaint were tolerated as long as it was masked in rumour and humour. This displacing and distancing technique was used to perfection by the trench journalists in the ‘Things we want to know’ or equivalent column carried by virtually every soldiers’ newspaper. And if the message was not clear there, the spoof advertisements, dark parodies and sharp satire that crammed the remaining pages did the job.

The end result was a negotiation of the terms on which trench soldiers would fight the war so strongly prosecuted by their superiors.  They fought not for them but for those intangibles that made life worth living. Only for that were the soldiers of the trench willing to die.

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