Tuesday, November 14, 2006

veg

American reader Jackie e-mailed to say that after some time living in London:
"I can't tell you happy I am to be back in [a] country in which veg is a verb."
Now, I trust that Jackie has some happy memories of London as well, but you can understand a girl's homesickness for a comfy verb like veg. Not that she necessarily had to miss it here. To veg or to veg out, while originally AmE (a clipping of vegetate), is used in BrE too, as the following Guardian headline indicates:
Saturday night's all right for vegging (8 Jan 2005)
But veg is more common in BrE as a noun, a clipping of vegetable(s). In AmE, it's more common to affectionately refer to vegetables as veggies. Here we have examples of clipping in both dialects (let the clipping wars re(-)commence!), but also another interesting case of count/mass distinctions in the two dialects. Americans eat mashed potatoes and veggies (both plural), while the British eat mashed potato and veg (both mass nouns). One is tempted to say that this is because of the traditional British tendency to cook vegetables into unrecogi{s/z}able sludge. But that might not be nice. Then again, does one need to be nice to people whose culinary contribution to the world is mushy peas (pictured, right)? [I might not be allowed to sleep in my own bed tonight after that one.]

Then again, it could be argued that it's in the plural in AmE because Americans are more gluttonous. But using mass nouns does not seem to have stemmed the 'obesity epidemic' in Britain.

In order to distract attention from the incendiary statements (particularly the food criticism) above, I should point out that veg shows its, ahem, face again in the expression meat and two veg. This has two meanings. One of these refers to a type of traditional diet. In the same way that Americans would call someone a meat-and-potatoes man, a (male) traditional eater in the UK is a meat-and-two-veg man. That phrase can, however, provide a double entendre, as it also slangily refers to a man's genitals. I'll let you work out the details of the metaphor in your own time.

Postscript: Two things I meant to mention here, but failed to (due to the heat of my debate with Better Half about the political/culinary (in)correctness of this entry). First, as Rebecca's pointed out in the comments in BrE veggie (also veggy) means 'vegetarian' and works both as a noun and an adjective. Second, British supermarkets typically have a section called Fruit and Vegetables or Fruit and Veg, but in the US, it's generally called the produce section. One is more likely to come across a greengrocer's shop in the UK than in the US. American Heritage lists this word as 'chiefly British'--I certainly knew it before moving here, but not because I ever needed to use the word. While one could call such a shop a greengrocery, people tend to say I stopped by the greengrocer's, much as people prefer the butcher('s) over the butchery.

14 comments:

Rebecca said...

Yeuch, I hate mushy peas.

I'd say 'veggie' meaning vegetarian.

You could do a whole post on slang for the genitals.....

lynneguist said...

Thanks Rebecca--I meant to say BrE veggie = 'vegetarian', but got carried away looking for pictures of mushy peas instead.

I think I'll just let the genitals crop up (so to speak) as and when rather than doing a whole post, as there are already websites out there listing genital slang.

Ginger Yellow said...

'Veg' as a verb is very common among young British people, probably imported from the US.

'Butchery' is what boy bands do to old classics. I've never heard it used for a food shop.

dearieme said...

What do you suppose Fats Waller meant when he sang about "All that meat and no potatoes"?

lynneguist said...

I'm quite sure that that doesn't mean the same thing as 'all that meat but not 2 veg'.

One doesn't usually see/hear (two) veg without the meat as a body-part term, but I have found one example:

"Afterwards in the assembly area Dave confirmed that I was slow through this corner and that a bigger pair of 'two veg' was required." From an account of a classic car race

Here I'm assuming that the writer means he needed more power or chutzpah or something--as Americans (thanks to Spanish) would say, bigger cojones. But, that's a pretty creative use of the phrase--not something you'd typically hear/read.

ally said...

It's strange really, the 'two veg' generally resemble (new!) potatoes much more strongly than they do broccoli and carrots, say. Hmm.

And re: greengrocery, I think it's more common in AmE (correct me if wrong, obviously) to say, eg, 'I'm going grocery shopping this evening'; in the UK i think most people would call the greengrocer's just the grocer's, and wouldn't really refer to general food items as groceries. Might just be me though.

aidhoss said...

People whose culinary contribution to the world is mushy peas

Has the US made any real contribution besides fast food and products like 'whipped cheese'? I'd take a sunday roast with a yorkshire pudding and a pint of ale over a happy meal 'any day of the week', as it were.

dearieme said...

"I'm going grocery shopping" in Scotland becomes "I'm going for the messages".

Paul Danon said...

Interesting and witty as ever. May I quibble? I'm not sure a BrE speaker would stop by anywhere. I think they'd go to the greengrocer's but not to the greengrocer (who is a smiling gentleman with slightly muddy fingernails). Tesco may trade without an apostrophe, but you always go to Tesco's, never Tesco. At the butcher's you may engage the butcher (smiling too but with bloody fingers this time) in a little banter, but butchery is about horrible things which (characteristically) humans do to each other with gore everywhere and not a mushy pea in sight.

Paul Danon said...

I'm not sure if it's a clipping, but BrE gents/gents' is a short version of gentlemen's but also the plural of gent, a clipping of gentleman. Thus, it can be used to express a chirpy, cockney-style respect for a group of men but one can never quite escape a lavatorial undertow. A hairdressers' near me in west London, run by non-native speakers, has on its door the word Gents. They mean that, in contrast to the adjacent ladies' salon, this is the gentlemen's department, but I can never get a haircut there without wanting to wash my hands afterwards.

While I'm risking a ban for being rude about Scotsmen and non-native speakers, let me write about a now-defunct sandwich-shop near where I work in central London. Its NNS-proprietors christened it the Trio Bar and then got irritated when people kept coming in asking to be served alcoholic drink. All they sold in addition to sandwiches was takeaway tea and coffee in polystyrene, but what the language-police could have explained to them was that a bar isn't just a counter you serve stuff from but somewhere you get intoxicating liquors.

But don't get me started on takeaway coffee. I'm fed up with being corrected by staff in those expensive places over my perfectly correct Italian pronunciation of latte. No, no, they insist. What I'm actually after is something which sounds like Lar Tay.

Well, since I've started, may I warn you never try to order Grolsch lager while affecting an authentic Dutch accent. Barmen will check if you're actually after a White Horse whisky, or maybe you need a hot toddy for that nasty cough you've got. If you don't want to die of thirst, give in, go with the grain and pronounce it like it was German.

Same problem with Oranjeboom lager. I don't know how to do IPA* on these comment-postings to illustrate how the Dutch say it, but rest assured you'll never get your laughing-gear around a frothy pint of that stuff in London if you don't ask for an orange boom.

* International Phonetic Alphabet, not India Pale Ale

Suzannah said...

Oh Aidhoss, that was harsh!! Muffins with tops, and (real) peanut butter, that's all I have to say! :-)

AllieTheKiwi said...

Have you come across the verb blob? To blob is to veg in New Zealand English, but I'm not sure if it is used in other variations of English, too. "I'm just blobbing in front of the telly tonight."

lynneguist said...

I don't recall hearing blob used in that way, but I'd certainly understand it if I did...

Johnny E said...

Not at all related to the post, but the first paragraph reminded me of a (possibly Aussie, not sure) stand-up comedian's opening line at a UK gig, "it's scary to be in the only country in the world where "glass" can be a verb..."