Sunday, June 04, 2006

reckon and figure

Something that my American visitors often find surprising about British English is the copious use of the verb reckon, as in:

Well, here's what I reckon. I reckon that Rowling wasn't a fat teenager herself. And I reckon that her older daughter (the baby is too young to be considered) isn't remotely fat herself.
I reckon these things because, when I was 10, I ballooned almost overnight from being quite a slim child into a very fat one."

Last 3 in the house are never the ones I want there, so I reckon it'll be Craig, Derek and Kemal.

Since my American visitors have all, like me, come from the Northeast, the use of reckon is noticeable because it's a word we associate with the Southern US or with rural dialects. Americans tend to think of the British as speaking "better" English, and Americans from the North tend to think of the English of Southerners as being "worse" English. So, if one has those attitudes as background, hearing the word in a British accent can be a little disorient(at)ing.

In a Voice of America interview, Dileri Borunda Johnston, author of Speak American: A Survival Guide to the Language and Culture of the U-S-A, seems to express that surprise:

JOHNSTON: You know, like in England, it's quite common to say 'reckon,' which in American English is quite unusual, or you might here it in the South perhaps or in more old-fashioned contexts."

AA: "Like, 'I reckon I'll go in when the sun gets too hot.'"

JOHNSTON: "Yeah, and people in England say it sort of quite seriously, without meaning it to be funny or ironic or anything like that."

(Johnston goes on to discuss the perils of being an American parent in the UK: "A lot of the grammar is slightly different, so you would have things in British English that perhaps you wouldn't want an American child to learn because it might sound slightly incorrect. Like you wouldn't say 'I haven't got any more.' You would rather an American kid would learn to say 'I don't have any more.'" Gosh, it's hard to be a parent these days, what with drugs and internet porn and variant auxillary verbs...)

The nearest US equivalent to reckon, in most contexts, is figure, as in I figure I'll go for a walk soon. Better Half says: "That sounds sooo American."


Anonymous said...

In Finland, when I was a child back in the seventies and the eighties, we learnt a rather bland or sanitized variety of British English. However, I never heard or read the word "reckon" at school. I picked it up from Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings", when I took the great pains of reading it in the original, at the advanced age of seventeen years. At that time, I thought it was a fine archaism.

lynneguist said...

Not an archaism at all, I reckon!

Jon said...

An alternative to figure is the verb "think", which works in most cases.

"I think I'll take a walk tonight."

"You know what I think? I think she's out to get me."

Anonymous said...

Although I do use reckon quite a bit (Brit), I used to go out with an Aussie girl and she "reckoned" far more - e.g. using "I reckon!" in the style of "Ya-huh!"

Ken Broadhurst said...

In my dialect of American English (coastal North Carolina), "reckon" means either "think" or "guess", as in.

I reckon/guess/think I'll go on home now.

I reckon/guess/think so.

I don't think we would ever use "reckon" in a question as it is used in BrE. I never heard anybody say "Do you reckon...?" until I met British people. We would say "Do you think...?"

Paul said...

I saw this post linked from the (h)erbs and (h)aitches post.

I never knew that Americans thought this about the word "reckon".

I just assumed Americans didn't use "reckon", not that they thought it had connotations of being unsophisticated.

The comment from the fellow with the Australian girlfriend made me laugh. You still hear people saying "D'ya reckon?!" as a way of saying "Really?!" -- sort of like the American "Ya think?!" we seem to hear a lot on TV.

clerambault said...

My impression, based unscientifically on English novels of the first part of the 20th century, was that English people believed that Americans used "guess" in every third sentence, incidentally displacing any possible use of "reckon."

disccodoris said...

So I'm assuming that you don't get American financial modelling tools and tables referred to as 'ready reckoners' either - where the reckoning is actually a calculation? In fact, that leads on to what such things ARE called in the US?

lynneguist said...

Some US dictionaries have 'ready reckoner', but at least one marks it as 'U.K.' I can't think of an AmE equivalent.

Anonymous said...

hanging out with people from australia, i hear "reckon" a lot, and i think it is more frequent in aussie english than in is in british english. just like it is more common to hear "mate" in the UK but way more in Oz (to american ears).
love your blog btw, much love from italy.

Anonymous said...

I'm late to this...
Come to Western Oklahoma or the Texas Panhandle... We say 'reckon' all day.

Was only when I moved to Boston that I discovered how many words I use that are practically never heard outside my old stopping ground. A few big ones: 'savvy' for 'do you understand' .... 'divan' instead of 'couch' or 'sofa' .... And ' breakfast, dinner, supper' instead of ' breakfast, lunch, dinner'

Mindy said...

I am even later to this post, but I post anyway.
In the Midwest you tend to her reckon or figure from the older people like my grandparents who would be in their 70's. But to my ears it sounds very more hickish, or low class whe said wit a southern accent, but just old fashioned when said by my Grandparents.

Tom Muckian said...

I'm from Ireland. I live in Texas. I am friendly with a couple from NY city. I used the word Reckon, and they were shocked. They said it was a word used by southern hicks.

Susanne Hope Eby said...

I've been to Flordia. I was born and raised in the midwest (suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska), been to S. Dakota .... I've lived in California. I've lived in Texas (the ye old south where the suburbs of Houston are). I've met people from all over including a Brit girl. I've heard 'reckon' very few times. SOME Brit Porn....some brit videos. The Brit girl I knew never said it. And rarely do you hear the word on Brit tv shows/movies. Very few Americans actually use that word and that includes the south (even lived on a farm before-no one ever said that word)- I believe "reckon" is a word used more often by very small communities that are relatively more country than city in America- very Archaic. Hell all the Boston boys I've met never used or wrote that word in any context. Yet people are writing as if an entire city or state says it. They are wrong. Their perception is based on a preset knowledge of their own experiences.
Like here in Houston, Texas I tell people there is hardly anything Asian here. Yet they tell me there's so many. Oh yeah...a whole lot. I tell them...take one step into San Francisco, CA. Get on the BART or get off MUNI on Sunset. Houston, Texas in comparison has nothing. NOTHING. And it is a lot of Asians in SF. However to a Japanese person who comes from Japan, they feel like SF is nothing asian in comparison to Japan.
But I've watched a lot of Brit shows and movies since I was a kid. First time I heard an actual Brit say it was in a porn. And that was only twice. For a word that is so frequently used in the UK, it's relatively nothing in their media. I do believe that everyone is exaggerating their use of 'reckon'. While more wide-spread than America, I don't think Brits are using it everywhere nor every damn second like people are exaggerating on these posts. Saying it in infrequent sentences does not mean they say it a lot or in every region. Like the term "wotcher" as an equivalent to "how are you" being more frequent in LONDON and the south of England than say Newcastle or Sunderland. Heck, go to youtube with those brit kids testing their accents. Two girls (friends) on the same video from the same area (wiltshire). One was extremely posh and the other not at all, yet neither one used reckon nor did they agree on the term 'trolley' for a certain carry-basket. It depends on their upbringing and the general area of whether or not they use 'reckon' a lot or at all. In British English, it is not associated with the lower class (rather more of the common class cause I doubt Royalty use it in such abundance), but it is obviously not as common as an American believes otherwise it would be in brit media as much as "can't be pissed/arsed" or "are you taking the piss/mickey" is.

lynneguist said...

Sorry...what was your point?