I went to the optometrist yesterday, since I'd noticed my glasses weren't working as well as they should. I have a "complex prescription" as they say here, which means that the diopters of correction, including myopia and astigmatism, are equal to or greater than 10.
Needless to say, I go several times a year to the eye doctor, for either glasses or contact prescription updates and purchases. (In the UK you see a different specialist for each.) Yesterday, as I sat in the chair reading the eye chart, I struggled as usual to see the tiny lines on the bottom. At one point the eye doctor, a new one I hadn't seen before, corrected me: "Zed."
Oh. The "Z" was a "zed" not a "zee". Or an "H", as I'd mistakenly thought it was. And no, an "H" is not an "aitch" either; it's a "haitch" at least in Southern England. (I've been told up north they refer to it as the Americans do, an "aitch," but I haven't travelled much up there. Or rather, traveled.)
That's when I realized that I'd been misreading the chart all along, all these nine years I've been living in Britain, subconsciously absorbing the local English dialect. I can usually manage to get "lorry" right, or "boot" or "garden" (instead of "yard") but I'd not been mindful of the letters, probably because I don't attend first grade (or "year one") at the local "grammar school".
I do hear the announcer on the Bakerloo line reminding people to "alight here for Zed S L" which stands for the Zoological Society of London. (It has a funny name because it was founded in 1826, before zoos were called zoos.) And I silently chuckle when people say "haitch" as if they're in a Victorian drama. I remember to call it a "zeb-ra" crossing instead of a "zee-bra" crossing, maybe because that actually makes more sense phonetically. And there's a famous map book of London called "London A-Zed" that's been replaced by map apps now.
So I finished my eye exam, remembering to use "zed," but I couldn't bring myself to say "haitch." My life here is a series of phonetic compromises: I say "to-mah-to" but not "shedule". I use periods instead of "full-stops" and place them either in front of or outside of the punctuation, as I see fit.
It turns out my eyes have gotten slightly better, at least one eye has, while the other is worse. But with correction I can see 6/6, not 20/20. And I need something called "occupational" glasses, a combination of computer glasses and reading glasses.
But not even the most up-to-date prescription will make that Zee look like a Zed to me.