It’s happened again. Always does. I go in to a coffee shop I haven’t been in before and ask for a coffee. At the moment, it’s a decaff cappo. No problem so far.
Barista is all smiles. But wait, I’d like it in a mug please. A wha?
“A mug, m-u-g. Mug.”
You see, though I don’t trouble her with the science bit, the surface area of a mug is smaller than that of a cup so your coffee stays warmer longer.
I know how she’s struggling because I’ve been there myself. Years ago, I spent a year at the School of Peace Studies in Bradford University. In Yorkshire. It was going to be a great year and breezy as a bird I swanned into the nearest cafe and asked for a coffee. That’s how it was in those days: you asked for tea or you asked for coffee. And you took what you got. Fine. No problem so far.
The man looked at me, a question mark on his face: “Moog or cuup?”
A straightforward, everyday enquiry except it took a few seconds for me to rearrange the vowels and give meaning to them. Remember, I’d just arrived up from London, in white dungarees ( yes, that’s how fashion forward I was) and carrying the Guardian under my arm. To say I stuck out would be an understatement.
However, we got the mug business sorted and I had a great year in Bradford but now here I am in Oxford though it could easily be Dublin, Cork, Glasgow or London. But it’s Oxford and the barista has no idea what a mug is. So I go in to English-as-a-foreign-language-teacher mode: “It’s like a cup but without a saucer.”
The barista beams and picks up a saucer.
” No, you don’t actually have a saucer with a mug….Look, it’s sort of like a cup but taller than a cup.”
She beams again and picks up a paper cup which, in my view, is really a mug. A mug without a handle, though so not really a mug. Or is it?
This is no good. My impromptu English lesson is getting none of us anywhere so I settle for a sort of lopsided saucer with a cup sitting to one side of it. Not a great way to start the morning.
Last week, it was something else. I was in my regular coffee-shop and the male barista ( why not baristo, by the way?) got the mug thing right but then there was the next step: to carry out, to go, to have here, to take away, to stay?
The man behind me was a university librarian. He’d know.
“Which is it, do you think?”
He smiled and shrugged: “Doesn’t matter as long as he understands what you want.”
Dammit, he’s right. Out go all my ideas about correct English, well-spoken English, good grammar, bad grammar, loan words from France, Italy, America. From America? OMG.
And don’t even mention those journalists – that’s you, BBC – who think ground ( the solid surface of the earth) and floor (walking surface of a room or vehicle) are interchangeable.
Anyway, that’s today’s rant. Up coming: the apostrophe. :))))))))