Vernon looked up to see his barista. It was an innocent question, but it confused him as he came into the bar successfully imitating an English accent that fooled everybody, including the bar staff, or so he though. He looked at her for a moment, wondering if she had more to say before responding.
"What makes you think I'm a yank?" he maintained his accent in a low voice.
She brought a pencil from behind the bar, and pointed to some words on his notebook, specifically the word "specialize." He didn't understand the connection, until she pointed to some newspaper memorabilia at the other end of the bar, with the same word written in big, black bold letters, spelled "specialise."
"We spell things differently here, yank."
"So you do," he spoke in his natural, Midwestern American voice.
"Your accent wasn't bad though," she told him with a smile. "What brings you over the pond?"
"Was visiting a few friends. One of them was in Edinburgh."
"You might be the first yank I've heard pronounce that right. I guess all anyone can correct you on is your spelling."
Vern shook his head at the blonde who looked to be his height, which was pretty tall by standards from either side of the Atlantic.
"It doesn't need correcting for the American college I have to submit this to."
"But you're still spelling it in my country," she teased him with smile. Their faux argument got a small smirk out of him, somewhat of an unexpected benefit for a planned night of silent, yet atmospheric studying, since his room several floors above had terrible furniture for studying, he found.
"The way I hear it, a lot of your country is starting to see things the American way, using the 'z' correctly, so some of that British English might start to be come a little antiquated. We can't rely on Latin derivatives forever."
"You meek Greek derivatives, at least with the '-isation' words."
Vern looked at her, and realized he she was right. Before embarrassment could set in, his barista questioned
"What are you going to school for?"
"You might need to study a little harder," she looked at his papers, "Vernon, especially if a small-town barista is schooling you on your own subject."
"'American' English. And what did you study Ms.?"
"Tilly," she shook his hand. "Psychology. A Junior; off for the summer."
"What do you plan to do with your 'American' English degree?"
"Going to be an English professor?"
"And some day you'll only teach students the American way to say things, depriving them of a real education." Vern noted how good Tilly seemed to be with drawing out someone into a conversation. He knew it was happening to him, yet he willingly obliged.
"If my students want to learn the British English way, I'll happily send them to a travel agent and give them your address so you can school them in your cultural ways. You can explain to them why all your British English words get the red squiggly lines in word processors."
"American word processors; too strict compared to our versatile ones. Why have them go through all that trouble when I can school you, here and now?"
The English major didn't know if it was politically correct anywhere in the world to say that a girl had balls, but Tilly did have them, and had no trouble trying to prove hers were bigger, figuratively speaking. Of course he appreciated the irony of being schooled in English by and English woman, but still, his ego wouldn't stand for being outclassed in someone from another field of study.
"How would you intend to school me? Is there a blackboard behind you I can't see?"
Tilly just smugly smiled and turned his notebook towards her to a clean sheet, and started writing with her pencil. She turned it back to him to show him what she wrote.
"Class is in session," Tilly told him.
"If the lesson is how to spell correctly, my straight-A streak continues," Vernon's wit volleyed back at her.
"No, this is to teach you the difference between your way and mine."
He looked at her almost crossly, for her overstating what was going on. The only thing that stood out to him was how the ends of all the words lined up for some reason.
"If our difference is known, what are you trying to show me here?" is what his expression told her.
Tilly's pencil didn't touch the paper, but ran down in a straight line.
"Recite the words as I highlight them."
Vern recited each, curious as if there was anything to read between the lines. He ended with 'finalize,' and looked back at Tilly, still wondering what he was missing.
"Again," she told him. She highlighted, and he recited, still looking for the connection. He grew more impatient while she still seemed adamant and confident that there was a point to this.
"Once again." Promising to himself to do it just one more time, she ran down the list of words a little slower this time, and he yawned while saying 'finalize,' as if already feeling drained from the futile exercise. Her smile never deterred against his confusion.
"Still don't see it, do you?"
Vernon lazily shook his head.
"Ok, well here's my list." Tilly wrote out the same list of words, spelled in British English.
"And this time, I'll do the reciting."
Tilly went over each word in a voice low enough to keep it between them, but with much more enthusiasm poured into her voice, presenting them with the flair and quality of an easy listening radio host. She did it two more times to match his three, her voice going deeper the more she spoke them, her accent purposefully stressing the 's' sounds so they stood out. Vern thought he was finally getting her point, that she was trying to say the British English version sounded better, and certainly trying to present it as such. It didn't help his case, realizing how monotone his voice grew when he recitation compared to what her voice did. Preposterous as it was to think how someone pronounced in either form of English could make a difference, Tilly knew how to sell it.
There was a low hiss sounding off after she was done. It was low enough that he couldn't tell whether it was coming from her, but he guessed so when she spoke more loudly
"Subjugate. A favorite word of mine. Just felt like saying it."
"Okay, well, are you done with your non-point?"
"Unfortunately for you, I am actually done."
"Why unfortunate?" Vern asked without thinking.
"Because you still miss the point. It wasn't just about the words - it was about who was reciting. Go on and recite yours again."
He started from colonize, and slowly started reciting each word, even slower than before thanks to Tilly's direction with her pencil. One thing that Vernon noticed is from his point of view, her pencil covered and pointed to each "z" in his list. The column of z's were more foreground while the rest of letters making up words remained in the background as he recited the list from memory. He reached finalize, only to have Tilly's pencil start again from colonize, and he kept going at a slower and slower pace. His voice was monotone yet again, and somewhere in the middle of his list Tilly had begun speaking.
"...and that sounds so drowsy, and kind of boring. If a teacher is supposed to teach the value of English and all he gets caught up in is nothing but 'z's,' his students will surely follow to just coming to the brink of sleep, to be tipped over by the gentlest breeze, or the softest whisper."
Vern vaguely remembered there was a point to be made in this exercise, and he figured Tilly was explaining the finer details of her point, but the information was lost in how soft she was speaking to him, a voice meant to relax, not meant to gloat.
"But if you teach them the 's' of British English as well, they'll have the option to keep them focused on something interesting. Reciting my list of words is fun, especially with words I happen to be studying, like analyse, tranquilise, hypnotise, mesmerise. There's that lovely hissing 's' sound that might remind one of snakes, surely one of their most fascinating qualities. And you know when people do it, they end it with a word of their choosing, a planned word, or even something that surprises them. And you can extend the length of that his as long as you want, and people will wait in helpless rapture for you to reach it. That word will have an even greater impact once spoken. So I'll go over my list..."
Tilly soothingly recited her list and pointed out each "s."
"...sssssoften. Another nice word to say, appropriate at that. I'm tempted to do it again, just to see what word I come up with next."
Recite the list again Tilly certainly did, watching his eyes follow the pencil and list of words, drowsy but focused on the next word she'd come up with.
"....sssssuccumb. Hmmm. Interesting, warming, wrapping sort of feeling attached to that word. What might I think of next, after coloninse, analyse, modernise....sssssoporific..easily letting the night call to our senses for rest."
"Now, doesn't the 's' sound like an important learning tool to you?"
Tilly's voice never rose an octave higher once she dropped it, and she figured that would drop him off, but he still tried answering her.
"Still not convinced? Well, let's do one more comparison. I know it's hard to keep saying those words, but feel better knowing it's the last time you'll have to say them anytime soon. Just look here and follow along,"
Vern yawned before he started, speaking slack-jawed, even slower than the pencil highlighted the 'z's.' It was a struggle for him to even finish, pausing every so often to correctly pronounce each word.
"Very good Vern, those 'z's really get to you, as if any word ending with '-ize' is a heavy burden. '-ize' so heavy, on your mouth and the rest of you, wanting to put the '-ize' to rest. You can, soon, just let me finish the comparison, and it will be all over. Colonise, analyse, modernise, prioritise, hypnotise, capitalise, tranquilise, mesmerise, finalissssssssssssleeep."
Tilly watched Vern carefully, loving how is eyes looked like they were grateful to finally close, and how peaceful he looked resting his head on the bar. From a distance, he probably looked like any random drunk, or a lightweight that got knocked out from the almost-finished beer next to him. From behind the bar, he looked like a passed-out infant, down to the drool on the table. She wanted to chastise him for that, but it's not like he planned to end up that way.
"So Vernon, you have much to learn about British English, how to use it, where to use it, even to realize how it's really the correct English, and not just being another arrogant wanker thinking you know best. You have Tilly to do that thinking for you now."