Tuesday, November 07, 2006

kit

A correspondent on the American Dialect Society e-list expressed surprise at the following Briticism spoken by an American character in the American television show/programme Law & Order: Criminal Intent:
He liked to dress in women's clothes - panties, bra - the whole kit.
In BrE, kit is used both more frequently and in more ways than in AmE. Used alone, AmE kit is likely to refer to a set of parts that one can put together to make something--as in She built her car from a kit. It's also used in various combinations. For example, a shaving kit or Dopp kit is a travel bag for men's toiletries. (Dopp is a trade name, but Dopp kit has been generici{s/z}ed.) Kit is also heard in the AmE phrase the (whole) kit and caboodle--that is, the entire collection of things related to a certain task or context:
Dell's modular approach is an attractive proposition for those who wish to avoid lugging around the whole kit and caboodle every time they hit the road. --Newsfactor Network
For some etymological information on this phrase, see The Maven's Word of the Day.

In BrE, kit is used to refer to any collection of related things, particularly equipment or clothing. For instance, in the second (if I remember correctly) episode of the new BBC program(me) Torchwood, newcomer Gwen experiences a lot of whizzy gadgets in a vehicle and says (sarcastically) to her colleagues (again, if I'm remembering correctly), Got enough kit?

The Law & Order quotation above shows the clothing/equipment sense, which is most often used in relation to what one would carry/wear for a sport. Thus tennis kit (typically used without a or the) would consist of the clothes, the shoes and (often) the racket.

The 'clothing' sense of kit is often heard these days in get one's kit off, as in:
Sometimes in life it's nice when people are complimentary about you without trying to get your kit off. --Don Pablo Escobar on bangingtunes.com
Other ADS-list correspondents noted having heard BrE-like kits on another television show/programme and in the cycling world--so it seems to be infiltrating AmE.

I'll stop here because an IBook failing-battery horror caused me to lose (another version of) this entry once already. I need new kit!

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'll stop here because an IBook failing-battery horror caused me to lose (another version of) this entry once already. I need new kit!
Having spent much of my working life selling multi-million pound/dollar computer systems, I have lost count of the number of times I have told my technical colleagues not to call the hardware 'kit' or, even worse, 'tin'.

I guess it's not so bad for the relatively cheap iBook, but it still grates everytime I hear (see) it!

Simon said...

I'm sure you're right about the general differences between AmE and BrE use of kit. However, to my ears the Law and Order usage - particularly because of the word whole - sounds more like an abbreviated version of kit and cabooble than anything truly akin to the BrE clothing usage.

Rebecca said...

PE kit! The horrors!

I had a friend (a strange friend, I admit) who called me Kitten Caboodle.

Dave Rattigan said...

I believe the occurrence of "kit" in expressions like "the whole kit" comes from the army. I have a friend (I'm in the UK) who uses phrases like that all the time, and attributes it to having been an army wife for a long time.

lynneguist said...

Thanks for the comments.

Simon--I think there's a little of both in the Law&Order usage. It certainly struck some of the ADS-L people as Britishoid.

Rebecca--the AmE term for PE kit is (or was back when I had to go to PE) gym clothes.

Dave-- it definitely has a military connection. Articles of kit were a soldier's equipment, and in AmE we still have mess kit and the like. The military use of the word goes back to the 18th century--and it's diffused throughout the culture in various ways now. Interestingly, the original meaning of kit was a kind of wooden vessel for holding water. From that to a basket, from a basket to the things carried in the basket...

dearieme said...

A friend of mine used to be rather pleased with his kit - he managed a huge petrochemical plant. The area was called his "patch" and the hardware his "kit".

lynneguist said...

Have switched to Blogger Beta, and for some reason it has switched one of the quotations in this post to font size 0. Every time I try to change it, it re(-)inserts that code. I've no idea what's going on--if anyone has a clue how to solve it, please let me know.

Aviatrix said...

I'd read the law and order usage as implying a "dress as a girl" kit, and unrelated to British kit=clothing.

If he had said "all the kit" that would have been British, but "the whole kit" comes of as kind of a joke, that such a thing exists. It's common, especially prefixed by do-it-yourself (never D-I-Y as in Britain).

"Gee, pilot hat, pliers, fake ID card -- it's a do-it-yourself terorism kit."