Friday, August 18, 2006

meet with

A problem in writing about the differences between American and British English is that it can be hard to notice the Americanisms if you're an American. As long as people understand you, you go along happily saying American things until the time that someone doesn't understand them and a metalinguistic conversation ensues. One of the first times this happened to me was when I made a brilliant Scrabble move that involved hooking an s on the front of nit. I couldn't believe it when my opponent challenged snit, and could believe it less when it wasn't in the official word list. (This was back in the days before British Scrabblers used the international word list.) A snit is a little fit of bad temper, and I got in a snit when I had to take the word off the board. (But not as much of a snit as when I played drywalls for 230 points and it was disallowed. It is now allowed in the international word list. BrE for drywall is plasterboard, which at 12 letters is much more difficult to play in Scrabble.)

My sometime inability to recogni{s/z}e my own dialectal differences came up when Foundational Friend (whom you met last time) listed some of the Americanisms that she's found herself using recently. These included meet with to mean 'have a meeting with'. (The 'experience' sense of meet with, as in meet with disaster or meet with an opportunity, is common to both dialects.)

The OED (2004 draft revision) lists the 'have a meeting' sense of meet with as Now chiefly N. Amer., meaning that it has been used in BrE in the past, but isn't so much now. Their quotations include meet withs from Caxton, Defoe and Walter Scott, but the two 20th-century quotations are American.

However, considering the frequency of meet with in UK newspapers and government documents, I think I can be forgiven for not noticing that meet with is "chiefly N. Amer.", and I wonder whether that geographical label will be suitable for much longer.
Rice Meets With Top Israeli Officials --Headline, The Guardian, 30 July 2006
Sheikh Qaradawi meets with Ken Livingstone during his 2004 visit --photo caption, The Telegraph, 14 September 2005
'Dead baby' mum to meet with hospital chiefs --headline, The Scotsman, 10 August 2006
While the first of these may have come from an American wire service, the following two definitely originated in the UK. Google reported over two million hits for meet with on .gov.uk sites, and while some of these involve other senses of meet with, 48 of the first 50 hits used the 'have a meeting with' sense, and none of those should be due to American wire services.

Still, transitive meet is used in 'have a meeting with' contexts in BrE. For instance, the Scotsman article whose headline is quoted above goes on to use meet rather than meet with, which is curious considering that headlines are typically more sparing with their words than full articles.
THE mother who underwent an operation to remove her "dead" unborn baby only to find she was still pregnant weeks later is to meet hospital bosses. --The Scotsman, ibid.
The Royal Mail will this week meet hundreds of senior managers and their union representatives as the state-controlled postal giant seeks to prevent a walkout over pay. --The Independent, 25 June 2006
It's probably a signal of the relative strength of meet with in AmE that I want to put withs in these contexts. Without the with, meet so-and-so is ambiguous in three ways. As well as meaning 'have a meeting with', it can mean 'make the acquaintance of' or 'happen to encounter' (as in I met Grover on the way here). In my American way of thinking, if the woman in The Scotsman hadn't made the acquaintance of the hospital bosses, then saying meet is fine, but if it's not their first meeting, I'd want to say meet with in order to avoid the other possible interpretations.

Thus, British English speakers often let the context do the work toward disambiguating meet, while Americans spell it out. You could use that fact to try to form or reinforce some broad cultural stereotypes, but I wouldn't recommend it.

18 comments:

KathyF said...

This is one reason I've become so self-conscious when I speak to British people lately. When repairmen come I just point to something that needs fixing, rather than try to figure out if it's caulk or sealant, etc.

One today poked fun at us Americans because we like to take showers and their sealant apparently isn't meant to be used every day. I refrained from mentioning our American caulk must be far superior since it lasts well over a year.

Rebecca said...

This post keeps showing up and then not showing up for me? I read it on Saturday but didn't comment, then when I came back on Monday and yesterday it wasn't here. Which is strange, because now it is.

The 'meet with' thing always struck me as the same as 'write me'. I don't know why.

lynneguist said...

Hm. Don't know why you've had trouble seeing the post--unless it was at a moment when I decided to edit out a typo or something?

Apologies for not posting in a few days. I've had some deadlines to meet. Hope to post later tonight.

Jen said...

This reminds me of another "up" phrase - meet up with. I'm guessing this in common to both AmE and BrE since I've seen suggestions for "meet-ups" in both US and UK forums.

Janet said...

And this post makes me think of an "AmericaniZm" that makes my husband laugh.

I'll go somewhere to see a friend or colleague and then return home to report that I had a "good visit WITH" them. John says he'd never "visit WITH" somebody, and he finds the expression quite strange.

I wonder if that's a regional American term...I DID spent about half my life in Houston.

OH...and in Houston, it's very common to hear people say that they are "fixing to..." do something. (Fixin' to go to the store. Fixin' to go to work. Etc.)

Janet
(lordcelery.blogspot.com)

Cameron said...

I am a Scot, and my wife is from the Houston metro area. I really LIKE "fixin ta" (phonetic spelling), especially the way it can be used for inanimate objects: "that machine is fixin ta break down" sort of thing. I have begun using it quite naturally. I suspect my next of her localisms will be "cookie" for "biscuit."

Traff said...

Whenever I hear someone say "I'm going to meet with Chuck", I always want to ask WHO they're going to meet with Chuck.

Traff said...

I've been doing a lot of thinking about this one and I've realised that "meet with" doesn't bother me that much. It's "visit with" that really gets my goat...

sister-luck said...

Is BrE strop and stroppy stronger than a snit?

lynneguist said...

They're similar, for sure. For me, a strop connotes 'bigger' body language--but I'm a second-dialect speaker!

But we are talking connotations, feelings, rather than differences in dictionary meaning here.

David Crosbie said...

Lynne

Without the with, meet so-and-so is ambiguous in three ways. As well as meaning 'have a meeting with', it can mean 'make the acquaintance of' or 'happen to encounter' (as in I met Grover on the way here).

Four ways for me, since have a meeting with is ambiguous:

1a. 'participate in a planned/formal meeting'
You can be in or at this kind of meeting.

1b. 'attend a personal appointment' as in Meet Me In Saint Louis, 'Journeys end in lovers meeting'
You can only be at this kind of meeting.

Another way of looking at it is to divide your third sense into

3a. 'happen to encounter'
3b. 'encounter by arrangement'

It's this sense of arranged encounter that explains why it makes sense to me that the mother is to meet hospital officials whether or not she has previously made their acquaintance. It would make sense even if she were to meet one official in one office, then meet another in another etc. Similarly with the Royal Mail. The participants probably do know each other — and there may be more than one meeting.

I may be mistaken, but I feel that the quoted headline writers were thinking in terms of 'hold a meeting with' — and abbreviating to meet with.

I would never use the 'make the acquaintance' sense in contexts like the mother and the hospital — still less the Royal Mail — because for me that sense of 'meet' is largely restricted to
• spoken introductions
Come and meet..., I'd like you to meet...

• identifying the start of an acquaintanceship/friendship
We met at University

David Crosbie said...

On another thread Dru said:

Thinking of 'meet with', we (England) don't normally say that. It's not totally unknown, but we normally just say 'meet' with a direct object, or 'meet up with', which is slightly slangy but a bit more purposeful than 'meet'. You can either arrange to 'meet' or bump into someone by chance and 'meet' them, but if you 'meet up with', you've arranged it.

My question. In US English, is 'meet with' more planned, intended, than just 'meet'? Or does 'meet' always take 'with'? And does US English use 'meet up with'? If so, how does it differ in meaning from 'meet' and 'meet with'? Or is 'meet up with' British only?


And Lynne said
May I suggest having the 'meet with' discussion at the 'meet with' blog post?

My (BrE) sense of meet up with is partly the same as Dru's. But for me it can also mean 'meet in order to catch up' — tell each other what has happened since our last meeting in the somewhat distant past.

Intransitive meet up for me refers to the starting time of a suggested social encounter. Let's meet up here at six and then go on to ...

Elian said...

In the same way, can "contact" in the sense of 'getting in touch/in commmunication with" and "being in drect physical contact with, making contact" be used as an intransitive verb as in "for more information, contact with the city's visitor center" and "the asteroid will contact with Earth at 8:28 P.M." or "the wire must not contact with the metal cover." How does that sound? Same queries regarding the intransitiveness of the verb "interview" in the sense of "having an interview" as in "the applicant interviewed with a publishing company", and the verb "consult" as in "I have consulted with four analysts in my life, and all four have fallen asleep on me."

lynneguist said...

No, inanimates cannot 'contact'. They can 'come into contact with'.

Elian said...

How about "interview with someone" and "consult with someone"? Do these ones mean the same as "interview someone" and "consult someone", and hence can be used interchangeably, or are there slighty different sense-wise?

Anonymous said...

'to interview with someone' is not grammatical. 'Consult with someone' sounds more like it's a conversation, whereas 'consult someone' sounds like you're just looking for their input and not offering your own.

Elian said...

Lynne, as far back as "contact" as a verb is concerned, you apparently skipped this one: Can one interchangeably contact with someone and contact someone as "...for more information, please contact (with) the city's visitor center", or can one only contact someone?

lynneguist said...

No, you cannot 'contact with someone'.

You know, you could look up such things on a corpus (see corpus.byu.edu) or even google them. I get the feeling I'm taking on the part of a private tutor here...