< SWITCH ME >

In 2003, when France spoke out against the US invasion of Iraq, some patriotic Americans began eating "freedom fries" instead of French fries. Now that the UK has snubbed Europe and decided to face the crisis alone, David Cameron is going to have to make some far-reaching changes to our language. 

As the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, John Simpson was not surprised to be summoned to 10 Downing Street. He had been expecting something like this for a while. Ever since the Prime Minister performed the greatest act of his premiership and vetoed changes to the EU treaties, the scent of linguistic change had been in the air.

John was ushered into Mr Cameron's boudoir, where the great man was dressing for dinner with the German and French ambassadors. "Hello, old chap," smiled David, "I wanted to have a word with you about a very important matter."

"Yes," said John. "The matter of the French fries."

"You see, I don't think the American reforms went far enough. And we aren't only sick of the French, we're sick of Europe. So I'd like a thorough overhaul of the English vocabulary."

John nodded understandingly. "I've made a list," he said. "Let's see... there's French kissing (kissing with tongues). Shall we change that to "freedom kissing"? And French leave (departing without permission)..."

"We can call that Scotch leave, now that the Scots seem to think they can go off and join Scandinavia," growled David, whilst fastening his cufflinks.

Girls_kissing_main
Photo: Marco Gomes (CC)
Bohemian lesbians taking French leave to coach each other in the art of French kissing? Cameron says: "That's easy! Cornish feminists take Scotch leave to British Rail each other in the art of freedom kissing."

"Very well," agreed John. "What about going Dutch (splitting the bill at a restaurant)?"

"Going feminist," replied David.

"And double Dutch (gibberish)?"

"Welsh."

Mr. Cameron poured himself a glass of whisky, which reminded John of another relevant phrase.

"There's also Dutch courage (drinking alcohol to combat nervousness)," he suggested.

"Hmm. I think I'd go for Bullingdon courage, don't you?"

You would know, thought John, who wasn't an Oxford man. He inspected his list of words, whilst David downed his whisky.

"It's all Greek to me (it's incomprehensible)," he murmured. "That's actually a quote from Shakespeare, so perhaps you'd like to keep it?"

"No," said David resolutely, "We must halt the Europeanisation of our language! Our membership of Europe is about trade interests, no more, and no less!"

This was followed by an awkward pause.

"That is, perhaps we could change it to 'it's all Scouse to me,'" the Prime Minister added more quietly.

"Rome wasn't built in a day (it takes a long time to do an important job) - perhaps we could have London wasn't built in a day?"

"No, let's have something truly patriotic, something which expresses the feelings of all British people... Buckingham Palace wasn't built in a day!" Mr. Cameron exclaimed, eyeing himself in the mirror as he boomed out the new phrase.

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do (fit in with those around you)," sighed John, who was beginning to feel rather exasperated by the Prime Minister's suggestions.

"That's easy! When in Europe, do as the British do!" replied Mr. Cameron, beginning to tie his cravat.

"But that's - that doesn't mean the same - well, never mind. I'll write up the new idioms and send you the draft of the definitions by the end of 2037."

"2037?" echoed David.

"Yes, that's when the Third Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is scheduled to be completed," said John, although the truth was in fact far more complicated

Mr. Cameron looked crestfallen.

"Oh, and one more thing - that cravat you're wearing..." added John.

"Yes?" asked David anxiously.

"It's Croatian."

John showed himself out.

When the door of Number Ten closed behind him and he was free to wander off towards the station, he pondered the rest of his list. He had wanted to discuss Roman noses (straight noses) and duffel coats (coats originally made from cloth from Duffel, Belgium), magenta (a bright pink colour named after a town in Italy) and marathons. And what about crossing the Rubicon (reaching the point of no return, called after a river in Roman Italy)? Would the Prime Minister want to say "crossing the English Channel"? As an expert on etymology, John was well aware that lesbians came from Greece and denim from Nîmes, that Bohemians came from the Czech lands and coaches from Kocs, in Hungary. And they hadn't even got on to dollars... 

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