American English?

I was brought up to say “there is a big bee behind you”. Apparently here in North America people don’t talk that way. For years I have been telling the kids – don’t say “in back of you” say “behind you”. It really bothers me. How hard is it to say the word behind? “In back of” just sounds so…… wrong!

But then again we see nothing wrong with saying “open” or “close” the light – must be because it translates well from French.

Language is a many splendoured thing!

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  1. David says:

    It’s less a question of language than it is of dialect, how a given language is used within a region. Being brought up in New England, I too was taught to say that there is a (something) behind you.

    The classic example that is used to explore dialog is the word “soda”. Again, in New England, it is common to hear the word “pop” used. In the Deep South, it’s always “coke”, even if it is Pepsi. Other parts of the United States use cola. No usage is wrong, but a given usage is common.

    Just be careful about how you use the word “Basement” in parts of the (close-in) Metro Boston area. ;-) [For many years, the bathrooms of the public schools were always in the basement, hence the term became a euphemism for the bathroom. Or the water closet for you folks who hail from the other side of the pond...]

    • sheldan says:

      Actually, in the South, it’s pronounced “Co-Cola.” :-)

      My wife (a Pittsburgher) refers to it as pop. (Ironically, several years ago, we had a store providing sodas which was called the “Pop Shop.”) “Soda” in some cases implies an ice cream soda; “cola” may be the generic word.

      I think that “soft drink” is probably the term that most describes the product.

  2. Annette says:


    I think “open” and “close” the light sound horrible but I have no problem saying “in back of you”. (Delurking after reading for many months!) By the way, “open” and “close” the light is also a translation from Hebrew, I believe.

    • Mrs. S. says:

      Actually, in Hebrew, one says lehadlik (to light or to kindle) and lechabot (to extinguish).

      In contrast, “to open” is lifto’ach and “to close” is lis’gor – neither of which is used with respect to lights.

      • Ah… but you do say open or close the switch, and as the light has gotten attached to it… it translates that way into English… sort of. I had two ulpanim, and the various instructors in both use it that way, but that was mostly because they couldn’t remember the English word for switch.

  3. tina says:

    In french, you don’t say open or close the light.

    You say “light” and “extinguish” the light. However, you would open and close a water tap in french.

  4. David says:

    There is an irony in the use of open and close respecting light bulbs — to turn a light on (to “open” it), you close the circuit allowing electricity to flow, and then open the circuit (and “close” the light) to stop electricity from flowing.

  5. lady lock and load says:

    My European born father used to say “make on the light” or “make off the light”. He was probably translating from yiddish or something. My sister once told her friend to make on the light and her friend was laughing.

  6. tina says:

    Yeah, “make on the light” is German german…

    In Austria we say “turn on the light”

  7. G6 says:

    In my house we say, “A BEE…. OMG A BEE…. LOOK OUT…. A BEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    (sorry – I know this was supposed to be a language usage post, but I couldn’t get past this :) )

  8. David says:

    @G6 You don’t live in a forest, do you? [Snicker]

  9. J says:

    Turn on the light/ Turn the light on
    Turn off the light/Turn the light off

  10. sheldan says:

    I agree with J. You don’t “open” or “close” a light; you turn it on or off…

  11. Eli says:

    I suppose I was raised wrong too. I was taught to say behind you…never to say “where is such and such AT”…to button my outer coat with one hand, to open the door for my elders and give up my seat as well, to also wait on my elders, and to always call it “soda” although Sheldan, I did grow up in an area where everything was “coke” too :)

  12. Eli says:

    Oh yeah…we “hit” the light as in “can you hit the light” to turn it on or off :) I also don’t say “hi”, I say “hey” – always. And I am made fun of because here in Pgh they say “hore – ible” and I, properly enunciated natch say “hawr-ible” as well as “awe-range” and “Flaw-rida” – I don’t know where they get it from! ;)

  13. HaSafran says:

    You should hear the Chicago-isms going thru my head right now.

    Here are a few:

    These are pretty much right on, and my wife can confirm that I have personally used the phrase “I’m getting me a sammich from da Jewels over by dere” on more than one occasion. And we do have a Junk Dror in the Frunchroom.

    • David says:


      • HaSafran says:

        Yes, I did – which made it even more interesting when we moved to Boston for a few years and I started taking on the Southie/Malden accent, because that’s where all my co-workers were from.

        I was missing “r”s here, adding extra ones there – it was a mess.

  14. Chavi says:

    I’ve never heard anyone say “in back of you!”

    So take heart! There are still some English purists still alive :)

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