To have or have not


The English verb ‘to have’ has a few peculiarities. It doesn’t always mean what it seems to say. If you say ‘I had an ice-cream’ you don’t mean you still have it – it has either long melted or been eaten. If you say ‘I have had a mango ice-cream’ you perhaps mean I tried one once, but never again. However, if you say ‘She had a baby last year’, in by far the majority of cases the baby still exists, she still has it. The ‘had ‘refers in this case to the actual birth. If you say on the other hand ‘She had a boyfriend last year,’ this probably means either she had one and she hasn’t got one now, or at least that she hasn’t got that particular one any longer. 

We also talk about the “haves and the have nots”, which describes the relationship between the rich (the haves) and the poor (the have nots).  [editor] Which one are you?  I’m not rich, but I consider myself a “have”.  

When it comes to having a baby, or indeed being pregnant, there are far too many euphemisms, those ways of saying it without saying it. ‘She is pregnant’ is sometimes rendered quite crudely as; ‘she’s up the spout’, or ‘in the club –’ more specifically ‘in the pudding club’, she may be ‘in the family way’ or even worse ‘she’s got a bun in the oven’!  Often you will hear ‘She’s expecting’ without anyone explaining that it is a baby she’s expecting.

‘She’s popped’ means she has actually had the baby, who, however beautiful they are, may be referred to as a ‘sprog’ or , in rhyming slang a ‘saucepan lid’ ( kid). There are lots of other strange usages to do with couple coming together. In ‘David Copperfield’ Barkis’s proposal of marriage is barely recognisable – just ‘Barkis is willing,’  and some couple’s don’t get married, they get ‘hitched’ or ‘spliced’. A wife or other female partner may be referred to as, ‘the trouble and strife’ (another bit of rhyming slang),  ‘the ball and chain’, ‘her indoors,’ ‘the better half’, ‘she who knows’, and my personal favourite ‘she who must be obeyed’.

Two of these were used regularly in television shows of the 70’s. Try and watch some British situation comedies if you can and you will soon come across lots of such sayings. If at first you don’t understand them , you can always write them down and ask someone later. Older shows such as ’Minder’, ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ and ‘Only Fools and Horses’ are all good fun and full of clever language uses, some of which may seem difficult at first, but which will gradually get easier. Television shows are perhaps easier to follow than radio ones as you can see what is being talked about, but on the other hand listening to radio means there is nothing to distract you from the words. Try ‘Hancock’s Half Hour,’ or ‘the Navy Lark’. These are quite old now, but still feature on BBC Radio 7.  In fact if you can get it I recommend BBC Radio 7 as it has lots of spoken language programmes, as does BBC Radio 4 and the World Service.  Even the children’s stories in the afternoon can help you with your English studies, especially as they are often a little repetitive, and however old you are they are still fun. Who says language learning has to be boring or difficult?

Other euphemisms can refer to death . ‘Popped off,’ ’popped his clogs’, ‘pushing up daisies’ and ‘feeding the worms’ are all ones I’ve heard when people don’t want to discuss a difficult subject. Newspapers often have lists of who has got married, been born or died. In common parlance such pages are referred to as ‘matches, hatches and dispatches’ something that might take you some to time to figure out if you did not already know or had it explained to you.

Does your first language talk about such things plainly or do you have similar euphemisms? It might be a good idea to put together a list of English euphemisms divided according to subject. I wonder how many you could collect. Depending upon which type of English you are using they will vary. You will be learning in a similar way to the way children do. They hear something, then they hear it again, and then they either ask what it means or work it out from the context. This is rather different from learning a language from a vocabulary list or a grammar book, but after all it is how you learnt your first language and that worked o.k. didn’t it?

You can learn more about the verb to have here.