You know when you’re staring off into space, your eyes looking at (but not really reading) some mundane writing in front of you, like the nutritional content of your cereal box, or the safety notice in the bus? That’s what it was like this evening, as I stood at the kitchen sink, washing dishes, my eyes looking toward-but-not-really-at the bottle of hand soap on the sink’s edge. And then I noticed what the label said:
If you’re American, does anything strike you as odd about this slogan? I mean, I’ve had this soap for a couple weeks, and never thought anything of it, either. But tonight it occurred to me that I don’t/can’t use protecting in this way (as a present participle, I guess?). I would rather expect to see the slogan “Protective Antibacterial Handwash.” I think the only reason I noticed was that, as my eyes focused on the words, I realized I was expecting more of them. In fact, my mind completed the superhero-esque slogan that wasn’t there: “Protecting Antibacterial Handwash From The Evils Of …” (oh, I dunno, what evils attack handwash?) “… Dirty Water, Everywhere!” But this then leads to the bizarre reading of the label on the bottle as indicating that the bottle contains something which protects handwash, rather than being handwash that protects hands.
I’ve been living in the UK for seven weeks now, and as I suggested in my last post, the differences between US and UK English strike me as either big-n-obvious or small-n-subtle. Much of the time they feel particularly subtle because I can’t even tell if they’re features of the majority of UK varieties in the area or if they’re specific, jargony aspects of Oxford (as Stan Carey‘s comment on my last post suggests). In this case, I don’t know, offhand, if this soap slogan has anything do with UK Englishes or with the Carex soap brand, specifically. Perhaps one of you will tell me. Yet if even if you do, I wonder if I’ll ever get to the point where Americanisms and Britishisms are clearly, distinctly categorized in my mind, or if I’ll just continue to blend the two, so that my range of what feels grammatical simply expands increasingly? Someone should ask me in a few months or a year if I find anything wrong with Protecting Handwash…
(Note-to-self to speak with my friend, Jennifer Nycz, about second dialect acquisition!)