Quite Uncommon

posted 11 August 2005

Sorry for the huge break in posting. Life's been busy, and I've not had time to blog about anything.

The things you take for granted.

I've lived in the UK for more than 5 years now. When I first arrived, I was constantly running into situations where my lack of cultural references was confusing. I didn't know the other meaning of "helmet", leading to some unfortunate comments while watching a war film. I didn't know what "ming" meant. I'd never heard of Rainbow (and frankly, I still have trouble believing you all loved a program involving a huge stuffed hippo). Blue Peter is a vaguely defined arts and craft show with a dog for me, not a major cultural institution. I only know Ant and Dec as Ant and Dec, not PJ and Duncan from Byker Grove (and I had to Google to remember the name of the show). I think EastEnders is lame, don't care about Hollyoaks, and only watch Neighbours to see if there's anybody cute in it (and there never really is). I am perfectly happy calling them Starburst, not Opalfruits, and Snickers is a much better name than Marathon.

But with five years under my belt, I feel I'm pretty well anglicized when I step out of my office into a cold, grey "summer" day and think "oh, how nice! it's not raining!" But occasionally, things come along that remind me that I'm a foreigner to this country, just pretending to be a native.

This week, I was helping a colleague with some coding work. This involved me calling out a variable name to him. The name of the variable was, for example, thisvariable. Now my co-worker, being a good coder, automatically used camelHumpNotation to type out a multi-word variable name. So to correct him, I pointed at the capital V and said "no, use a common letter".

Readers of this blog being overwhelmingly British or American, and pretty much exclusively under 50 years old, you will therefore probably be just as confused by this instruction as my colleague was. Thus it was that I discovered that Trinidad is, it appears, one of the last remaining places in the world where the opposite of a "capital letter", i.e. just a regular letter, is referred to in schools as a "common letter" -- rather than just a letter, or a lowercase letter. References to a "common letter" in this sense of the phrase on the web are vanishingly few.

And I've gone for five years without anyone noticing this pretty fundamental difference in terminology. It makes me wonder what else I take for granted that isn't actually true?