Wednesday, July 12, 2006

having a Chinese

Someone who regularly reads/comments on this blog (you know who you are, but I won't say because your blog seems pretty anonymi{s/z}ed) wrote yesterday:
we went to the supermarket and then had a Chinese.
I suppose we could put this with the count/mass differences I discussed last week. In AmE you could have Chinese for dinner or have Chinese food, but have a Chinese sounds a little like cannibalism.

This have a [insert cuisine here] construction is used for take-away (BrE; AmE = take-out) meals, rather than fine dining experiences. Other examples:
[on the great nightlife for yoof (BrE slang) in Doncaster:] ...all we can do is go into town on a Friday night. Or maybe go to the cinema and have a McDonalds. (
When in Spain, do as the locals do...have an Indian. (Benidorm Spotlight)
When I have a Burger King I have a diet coke to offset the damage. (What Mountain Bike Forum)

In AmE, you could go to McDonalds or eat at McDonalds or have a Big Mac, but you couldn't have a McDonalds. Unless you were a franchisee, of course.

Better Half points out that in AmE you can get your coffee in a to-go cup, but in the UK it has to be a take-away cup, which might be made of paper or polystyrene (AmE=styrofoam).


Rebecca said...

Oooh, I don't think I've ever been described as anonymous before. It's not so much for myself, but for my web developer husband :)

I've never thought that it could sound like cannabilism... I said it without a second thought, it's bizarre.

Janet said...

My husband would "go out for a meal" -- while, as an American, would "go out for dinner/lunch".

Also, he's just come up with another -- he would "go out FOR a meal or FOR dinner", while I would "go out TO dinner."



Jen said...

Interesting site. I noticed a lot of differences in language when I was dating an Englishman. One of the things he used to say was "I was sat..." instead of "I was sitting..." Have you ever heard this? It doesn't sound like proper grammar to me.

Also, as Janet says, he would say "meal" more often than the average American. I don't really like that word, as it reminds me of "mealy".

BTW, thanks for explaining the rutabaga/swede connection. I finally know what I ate when I visited England. And all this time, I thought the English had discovered a new vegetable!

lynneguist said...

Yes, meal is more common here when talking about going out to eat--especially when it's going out to eat the main meal of the day. Perhaps this is just to avoid deciding whether to say dinner or supper or tea or whatever. I've been told it's "charming" that Americans say dinner for almost any evening meal (and some midday ones too), as it sounds rather formal to ears here.

I was sat sounds odd to Americans because it seems like a passive form, but only transitive verbs should be able to take the passive form and sit is generally intransitive. But it doesn't give quite the same feel as I was sitting, does it? The progressive form sitting indicates that an activity is going on--the sitting activity. I was sat sounds a lot more, well, passive--you'd say I was sat in front of the telly, but probably not I was sat at a lovely cafe talking to the most interesting people!. It's not a standard usage, but it is BrE.

There is some discussion of it at:

lynneguist said...

I should say that the previous comment I left was written without any British input (Better Half is away), so my intuitions about when one would say I was sat could be completely wrong...

Jen said...

On the subject of meals, it used to crack me up every time my ex-bf used to say "I'm eating my tea."

The Ridger, FCD said...

Funny, but before reading the rest of the comments my immediate thought was "I was sat" sounds like it should end "by the waiter at a horrible/nice table".

Technically, BE + -ED is a passive construction. "Was sat" is passive. Yet it's being used to replace "BE + ING" progressive? That's definitely interesting.

lynneguist said...

I wouldn't say 'was sat' is replacing 'was sitting'--I'd say that it's doing a slightly different job.

Tregina said...

Thank goodness for this post! If I hadn't read about 'having an Indian' before going to England last week for the first time, hearing it would have sent me into hysteria! :)

Here's another odd sounding usage in the 'I was sat' category. It comes from a MUD I play whose server is housed in Brighton. When the player arrives in a new location, the description sometimes reads "You are stood in a..." It was jarring the first time I encountered it, but that and 'are/was sat' seem normal now.

Cas said...

I am Mexican, whose spoken AmE all my life and just moved to England. The other day a Brit friend asked me if he could "pinch a fag" and let me say we were not in a gay club. Can you imagine my surprise when he expained that he was asking for a cigarrette? Any idea were that expression came from?

literalminded said...

It's also common in AmE to say, "We had McDonald's/Subway/..."

Emmet said...

Love the blog! Sorry to comment on an old post, but I'm working my way backwards...;)

I'm a native speaker of both BrE (well, IrE, but I spent a year doing a((post-)graduate course/degree in England)) and AmE, and I see "bused" as the preferred past of "to bus" in both. Google has it at about two to one, and the latter probably includes a few "kisses" anyway...

Emmet said...

posted to the wrong post, sorry!

Anonymous said...

Whenever someone says "I was sat" [somewhere], I can hear my late mother say sternly "Sitting!". It is not correct usage in British English, but is becoming increasingly common.

Kate (Derby, UK)

Richard Gadsden said...

This reminds me of the fantastic Goodness Gracious Me sketch "going out for an English".

Johnny E said...

I'm not sure it only applies to takeaways - a sit-down meal at a low/mid-range restaurant would be "going (out) for a(n) [nationality]". As in that "going out for an English" sketch.

Johnny E said...


"but 'have a Chinese' sounds a little like cannibalism."

Is there a difference in use of "a Chinese" for a person? Because I've seen it a few times from American sources, but I have a feeling many Brits would avoid that construction. I suppose once upon a time we might have said "a Chinaman" (a la Frenchman, Irishman, Englishman), but that's got racist connotations too. "Chinese person" seems to be the only option remaining.

lynneguist said...

Americans wouldn't generally call a Chinese person 'a Chinese' but it's the most natural way to interpret the phrase if we hear it, rather than a meal interpretation.

David Crosbie said...

The OED hasn't yet accepted a Chinese, but this is part of the entry for Indian

10. Brit. colloq. (a) A meal served at an Indian restaurant; (also) a takeaway Indian meal; (b) a restaurant serving Indian food.

1982 P. Redmond Brookside (Mersey TV shooting script) Episode 4. 60 C'mon, we're going out for an Indian.
1988 C. Keatley My Mother said I never Should ii. 25/2 We could get a take-out Indian.
1995 D. McLean Bunker Man 183 At Grant's party, at the Indian, the way you just walked out!
1998 A. Warner Sopranos 164 We've got Light of India and yon Bamboo place..but when ya grow up in the villages, well when are you goan have an Indian?
2002 Time Out 2 Jan. 47/2 The basement dining room aims to rival London's finest Indians with a set dinner menu costing £39 per head.

The quotation from Sopranos grabbed my attention. However, it turns out to be not the American TV series but a Scottish novel.

Anonymous said...

As a Brit, I would say you can omit the article i.e. saying "Do you want to have Indian/Chinese/Malaysian etc. for dinner?"

Also I'm pretty sure 'sat' is a quasi-adjective in 'I was sat' describing a state (analogous to "I was hot"). It seems to focus more on the actual seated position to me, emphasising the seated posture, whereas 'I was sitting' is more incidental.

David Crosbie said...

Culinary a Chinese still hasn't made it into the OED online, but Oxford Dictionaries subsidiary dictionary has it as British informal in two senses:

• 'a Chinese meal' e.g. a takeaway Chinese washed down with Chardonnay

• 'a Chinese restaurant' e.g. we found a Chinese in Soho

David Crosbie said...

I think we've discussed was sat elsewhere, but can't find the link.

In the northern half of England, and probably in other regions Perfect forms like I was sat, I was stood etc are perfectly normal and acceptable. In parts of Southern England some people regard them as non-standard. For me personally,

I was sitting focusses on the posture
I was sat focusses on the location
I was seated also focusses on the location but is much more formal

Present Perfects formed with be rather than have have a long history in English, but have dwindled in recent centuries. According to a recent Historical Syntax of English by Bettelou Los, these forms continued until about 1900.

I suspect that was sat, was stood were preserved — if only in regional variants — because they were no longer Present Perfect in meaning.
• I can say I was sat in the front row
• but I can't say I am was already sat there for an hour or I am sat here long enough.
• I can only say I had already sat there for an hour and I have sat here long enough.