Lost in Translation: Trouser Tenting, Anyone?

I think we can all agree that the Queen’s English is the English of grown ups.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my New Jersey roots as much as the next guy. But there’s no question that if you want to sound really evolved, you need to get with the (Old) Jersey.

And for the most part, I think I’ve been pretty successful at mastering the subtle differences  – not just in accent, but in terminology – across the Atlantic divide.

I now dutifully refer to my daughter’s bathing suit as her “swim costume” (despite the urge to wrap her in a boa).  I’ve also learned that you’ll raise an eyebrow or two when you confess that your eight year old  has “dirty pants,” because “pants” mean underwear, not trousers. I’ve even come to employ the term “toilet” when in search of a bathroom, even though “toilet” is a bit too literal for my taste. (Can’t we just leave what I do in there to the imagination?)

I even smugly underlined every Britishism Zoe Heller inadvertently slipped into her latest novel, The Believers, when she should have been using American slang. (Take that, you Booker prize nominee!!)

Which is why I was really flummoxed when a British friend of mine handed me a copy of his latest screenplay and asked me to “translate” it into American. I blithely flew through all the standard issue changes: shopping vs. groceries, car park vs. parking lot, etc. etc. But then I hit a speed bump:

The term of art was “trouser tenting.” It’s meant to refer to that time in the morning when a gentleman might be – how to say? – more alert, aroused or otherwise excited. I paused. What on earth was the generic American term for “trouser tenting?”

So I fired off an email to some of my guy friends in the States and got the following responses: morning wood…morning glory…morning missile…breakfast sausage…(Yup, someone really said that.)

My screenplay friend ended up opting for “morning glory” and I was relieved to have held up my end of the bargain. But I have to say, the whole exercise just left me feeling, once again, that the English just sound so much more grown up…



Speaking of good, old-fashioned grown-up English fun, I was delighted to discover the London Travel Log, with this entry on Fuller’s Brewery.

Image: The Knitten Tent by Basheem via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

  • Reply Su

    May 14, 2009, 5:33 pm

    Well it’s new to me and I’m English!
    I always thought is was woody in Americana.

  • Reply Rachel

    May 17, 2009, 11:09 am

    Gosh. We’ve come a long way from simply topping, old chap. Anyone for a snog? Or as we say over here, heavy petting?

  • Reply Cheryl

    May 17, 2009, 4:54 pm

    Not only is it the English of grown ups – why does everyone who speaks the Queen’s English sound so bloody brilliant? It’s not just what the say – its how they say it! Remember in Love Actually when the English guy went to the U.S. Midwest for a holiday and was swarmed by beautiful girls just because of his accent? Hilarious, but I think the scene had some truth to it.

  • Reply delialloyd

    May 17, 2009, 8:40 pm

    cheryl-funny, i just saw that movie this past weekend. stay tuned for a post on it!

  • Reply Mara

    May 18, 2009, 10:48 pm

    Breakfast sausage?, try to translate that into Spanish!!. I really don’t imagine how it sounds in English (or am i supposed to say in American-English?). Moreover, I can’t guess what would happen if you use that expression here, where we don’t usually have sausages for breakfast.

  • Reply Barbara Swafford

    May 20, 2009, 8:40 am

    Hi Delia,

    Great post. Thank you for teaching me more of the Queens English, including “trouser tenting”.

    I remember the first time a blogging friend (from England) wrote a post and said “across the pond”, I was a little confused. Then I realized she meant “across the Atlantic”. Ironically I’m now hearing that term used by news anchors here in the States.

  • Reply Amy Jewell / Cirklagirl

    May 20, 2009, 9:36 pm

    Yup. There’s actually a song called Morning Wood, done a few years back. Love it! I happen to like the trouser tenting too… but then, I am a woman so why not?

    I lived in England for a few years and it was fun learning all of the different phrases. There’s “randy” for “horny” and “boot” for the trunk of your car, too.

    When I lived there, I taught elementary school (I am an American.) and the kids could not understand me at all at first. Apparently, Americans such as myself tend to string all of our words together when we speak and the British tend to crisp their words a bit more. So I learned to crisp my words so the students could understand me. When I moved back home, it took a few months to come back to stringing my words together so people didn’t look at me funny.

    You might think that the British are more reserved, but I can tell you that they are certainly more relaxed about topless bathing than we are here in the US, not that I would know anything about that… [ahem].

    Anyway, thanks for a great blog.

    • Reply delialloyd

      May 21, 2009, 8:58 am

      Amy-thanks for checking in. Had no idea there was a song called Morning Wood….love it!! And yes, I’ve learned to e-nun-ci-a-te everything, down to the last “t” as in “swim cos-t-ume” when I speak…

  • Reply danthelawyer

    May 21, 2009, 6:07 am

    Forgive the late comment: I don’t have access at work.
    Maybe I’ve read too much contemporary English literature, but this phrase seems perfectly normal to me. I would have said it was an American expression!

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