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Thread: U.S.A. Culture and Language Help - II

  1. #41
    Inverarity
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    Quote Originally Posted by welshdevondragon
    Hello,

    I was just wondering if the phrase "he looks like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth" is something that Americans say. I want a 19 year old New Yorker at uni in Britain in 1999 to say it. Whilst I've asked a few American friends about this they've all been living in Britain for a few years now and are unsure whether they knew what this phrase meant prior to coming here or not.

    Basically would it sound odd/ jarring to have an american say "he looks like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth"?

    Any help would be great! Thanks, Alex
    That's a pretty old expression. (According to my friend Google, it dates back to at least 1530.) It's not unknown in the U.S., but I don't think I've ever heard anyone actually use it in conversation, and I think it would sound awfully old-fashioned. So a teenager from New York? Not likely, unless s/he is the sort who likes to use idioms like that (and sound a bit archaic/pretentious).

  2. #42
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    Quote Originally Posted by welshdevondragon
    Hello,

    I was just wondering if the phrase "he looks like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth" is something that Americans say. I want a 19 year old New Yorker at uni in Britain in 1999 to say it. Whilst I've asked a few American friends about this they've all been living in Britain for a few years now and are unsure whether they knew what this phrase meant prior to coming here or not.

    Basically would it sound odd/ jarring to have an american say "he looks like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth"?

    Any help would be great! Thanks, Alex
    That's so funny that you ask that, because for some reason one moment that sticks in my mind of the entire Sopranos series is when Tony says to Carmella "You act like buttah wouldn't melt in your mouth."

    So actually it is vaguely plausible that a '99 New Yorker would say that, even if she was only 19. I'm from northern New Jersey, and while I can't recall when I first became familiar with the expression, and I have to say it's hardly a commonly used expression around here, people would have knowledge of it, and might use it on occasion - especially, perhaps, in those stressful situations when one casts out for a phrase and comes up with something a little odd. I don't think it would be jarring if written well. I might not be the best source though, as my love for The Sopranos and weirdly selective memory has created a bizarre attachment to that phrase.

  3. #43
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    I agree. This seems like a very odd expression, and it is one I have never heard. It actually almost sounds like something that would be said in Newsies: fake New York, I mean.

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  4. #44
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    Thanks Molly, Inverarity and Mina.

    So it's pretty unheard of BUT the character is prentious and he is also obsessed with The Sopranos! However being in 1999 he has, like me (not because of time issues because I can't afford the box set yet ), only watched the first series.

    I can't remember Tony shouting that and a quick google search came up with this page rather than a listing in a quotation website. I know it's a long shot but Mina you don't by any chance know what series it was from?
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  5. #45
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    All the same, I have heard absolutly no one say this expression ever ever (not even on The Sophranos). It almost sounds like something people would say in the twenties.

    Maybe what you found was something said by a character who tends to say rather odd things. But I have to tell you, television is not always the best picture of any culture. We Americans have learned this quite well from watching all that British television we see in an effort to write better Harry Potter stories.

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  6. #46
    Halgy
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    I'm American, and I've never heard that phrase. The first Google result was a UK site, so I'm guessing it's from there.

    Even looking at the definition, I can't think of an equivalent phrase at the moment. Hopefully some other Americans can help.

  7. #47
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    Thanks Molly, but when I asked Mina (or anyone else who knows) that I meant that if it is a quotation from series 1 then he can be consciously quoting The Sopranos, rather than using a phrase that sounds really awkward for an American to say.

    Sorry if that was unclear
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  8. #48
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    I'm American, and I have heard the expression -- it's not exclusively British. However, because it's a very old idiom, it's just not used very often in everyday conversation. It's more likely to be seen in writing, and I imagine that older people (who are more likely to use classical references and idioms in their speech) would be more likely to use it. It may also be a regional thing; I'm no expert on New Jersey dialects, but perhaps it's more common there.

    In other words, if you really want to have an American use that expression, you can. But if it's a teenager, he's going to sound a bit odd.

    Kind of like, "You could have knocked me over with a feather." Is it a known idiom? Yes. Are teenagers likely to use it? Probably not.

  9. #49
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    I can't remember what series Tony says that in, but, unfortunately, it definitely isn't the first, as the plotline that scene is part of doesn't come about until around the fifth series.

    If the characters is obsessed with The Sopranos and from New York, though, perhaps he would know enough to guess at things Tony would say? Not that he's saying something Tony will say (i.e. predicting the future), but that he's saying something Tony would say. While the expression might not be indicative of the mafia, the New York metro area, or 1999, I do think it's in-character for Tony, so maybe when your character says it, he's making an effort to channel Tony Soprano, and in doing so happens to use a phrase that will eventually be scripted into the show (and then he can feel very pleased with himself when he sees it a few years down the line).

    It's a stretch, but maybe if you mean to use the phrase in a scene where the character's trying to be intimidating or assertive, you could get away with it. Well, I'm not really being objective as now I want you to get away with it.

    At any rate, as Inveraity said, you can have him say it, but he'll sound a bit odd. I think the heat-of-the-moment factor will help - one wouldn't use it if given time to think clearly and rationally, but people tend to talk a little funny when they're, say, in a passionate argument.

  10. #50
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    Yeah, I even wonder if The Sophranos even exists in the Potterverse.

    Either way, I would wonder if anyone in the wizarding world even watches HBO...or Cinemax, or whatever channel The Sophranos was on. If they were Muggles, that might be something to consider, but I really don't think most wizards have access to television. I'm pretty sure none of the Weasley children never saw television, and you know how obsessive Mr. Weasley was about Muggle devices.

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