Benny Hill! Benny Hill! Benny Hill!
What can you say about Benny Hill?
He was a mediocre actor, a funny TV comic, and a brilliant writer and comedian. To be the writer and comedian, he was also a brilliant linguist, sometimes making puns and jokes in two and three languages.
He got “Son of a bitch!” past the BBC censors by claiming that a French skit character spoke of, ‘Ze sun, over ze beach.’
He talked about having a bent wood chair in his dressing room. Not a Bentwood Chair – but a bent wood chair, because his dressing room was in the damp, BBC basement.
With the moving of a couple of letters on a sign, he turned
Not only was he familiar with French and German, but quite knowledgeable about regional British accents, where, if you travelled 50 miles, the common folk could not be understood, and bread rolls had changed names. Sometimes he used words and phrases that those born on this side of the pond didn’t recognize.
Once, he wrote a bit, making fun of a commercial from Cheer detergent, which had just begun selling in the UK. We’ll take two dress shirts, and pour blackberry juice on both of them. Then we’ll wash one of them in Applaud detergent, (So no-one could accuse him of making fun of Cheer) and the other one in Ben’s Cleanso. Flash out – flash in. And there you see it friends (Both shirts still badly stained) Not a haip o’ the difference.
haip = “wattle, sheaf or heap of straw etc.”
(Therefore – something small, or inconsequential)
And you thought that the word for H was going to be Benny HILL.
I took its meaning from context, but I had to wait for Al Gore to invent the Internet, and then wait some more until stable genius (Like Mr. Ed), Donald Trump perfected it, to meet its parents online. I still haven’t, really. I finally found one word-site which gave the definition, but only said that it was British dialect, and very rare. It did not say what area dialect, although I suspect Northumbria/Yorkshire – up north, away from London and the universities, where the poor folk live. If this word were coined in the US, it would be from Appalachia.
Helpful fellow-blogger and word-nerd Daniel Digby, just introduced me to wordhistories.net, a Frenchman living in Lancashire, who blogs about etymology. At first I shook my head about a Frenchie in England but it makes as much sense as a Quebecois in Ontario. It’s 300 miles from London to Paris, and 300 miles from Toronto to Montreal. Perhaps he’s more successful wrestling search engines than I am. When I get back from Merriam-Webster on Wednesday, we can have a few laughs. 😆