Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Word of the Year update

The response to my call for British Word of the Year nominations has not been overwhelming, in part, no doubt, because so many words of the year have already been proclaimed by various sources. So, instead, I propose the following categories for recognition, which are more in keeping with the purpose of this blog:
  • Most useful import from American English to British English
  • Most useful import from British English to American English
  • Best word invented by a reader of this blog
The second category is the hardest, I think. Do people have any ideas about BrE words that have made a splash in AmE this year? I can think of some that were popular in recent years, but this year is harder...possibly because Sacha Baron Cohen's presence is Kazakh, rather than West Staines-ian this year. (What do you call someone from West Staines? Nevermind--I can imagine the answers that some of you might come up with.)

I do recall that we discussed some BrE words from lyrics by The Streets that AmE speakers had been introduced to--but I think I need to hear from people who spend more time Stateside before declaring the most useful BrE import to AmE.

11 comments:

Hieronimo said...

Interesting idea. I'm trying to think of British words that I heard a lot this year. I think the words I personally find most useful are rubbish and bollocks, but I don't think they're in wide circulation. My city is a big beer-drinking city and lately I've seen a lot of bitter being sold. And every small pub is now serving some sort of upscale fish and chips.

None of these words quite does it, though... I think the most useful BrE term of the last couple years to enter the AmE lexicon might be sex up (=exaggerate).

Ben Zimmer said...

WAGs gained some currency Stateside this year, thanks to World Cup and Ryder Cup coverage (e.g., ABC News, Sports Illustrated, USA Today). But I have yet to see the term applied to wives & girlfriends of stars in US-based sports (e.g. Eva Longoria, fiancee of NBA star Tony Parker).

l'americana said...

For the first time this year I noticed that the brits were actually selling cookies, not just biscuits. I thought at first it might be the influence of Sesame Street, but that was years ago and Starbucks seems a more likely culprit. Biscuit seems useful for something butter-based and crumbly or rather plain, but a biscuit jammed with chocolate chops and walnuts can't be anything other than a cookie. Can't say I noticed any Britticisms that really caught on in the U.S. this year, at least not in the western part (unless you count using "got" and "beat" as past participles instead of the more correct "gotten" and "beaten.")

Paul Danon said...

Dare I inject a frisson of discord into the otherwise festive atmosphere? I do have a problem with the idea that gotten is more correct than got (or vice versa). We are surely dealing here with usage, not correctness. It's like Ms Guist's point that virgule's meaning in French doesn't determine its English meaning. Beaten remains the BrE past participle, as far as I know.

Update on 00, my candidate for BWotY: a totally impartial pre-Christmas poll among two young women, i.e. my daughters (21 and 23), found that they, like me, call it zero-zero. Coincidence, valid research-finding, or maybe just something hereditary? BTW, the 21 and 23 are their ages, not their dress-sizes.

I chastised the BBC website for using rookie, not because it's AmE but because it's not globally-understood English. However, they said it was OK to use it, so maybe it's entered BrE because that authoritative corporation says it has. BTW, for those whose BrE doesn't yet contain rookie, it means the young of Corvus frugilegus, a bird of the crow-family.

What surprises me is that, given the amount of exposure which BrE speakers get to AmE through the media, so few AmEisms are used by BrE speakers. BrE speakers may know what boondoggle and boondocks mean (though I don't) and they may understand slam dunk, home run, boomer, creaming and heads up, but they won't use them.

On cookies, they've always been in BrE but they're a type of biscuit in the same way as candy is a type of sweet. You could call a nobbly biscuit, perhaps with flecks of chocolate in it, a cookie (as well as a biscuit) but you couldn't call, for example, a chocolate digestive a cookie, let alone a Rich Tea. On aeroplanes/airplanes in the old, propeller-driven days, the hostess would tour the cabin with a basket of cough candy before takeoff, which came in disconcertingly brown translucent nuggets and which was supposed to stop your ears popping. I tried using the stuff but the little sweets kept falling out during turbulence.

In the European Union there was an argument over whether Jaffa cakes were biscuits or cakes for fiscal purposes. The name suggests a cake but, I believe, there was an advantage to their being classified as biscuits. My mum is rather partial to something called a Jaffa cake bar which I suppose could be a cake, a biscuit, a sweet or perhaps even a fruit. Cf. here latte which means milk in Italian but a type of coffee in AmE. There's BrE Rich Tea which is neither rich nor a type of tea but a profoundly unsatisfying biscuit made for BrE dunking. Custard creams are not creams and I do wonder if the filling is custard. Having a bourbon at 11 in the morning sounds pretty cool, but most certainly isn't, any more than wine gums are. Chocolate cigarettes at the bus-stop were fun but have been banned along with licorice pipes and sweet matches, and God help you these days if you're found boarding a transatlantic flight with a sherbert fountain up your jumper.

Paul Danon said...

Whoops: sherbet. Believe it or not, I do preview this stuff.

Jack said...

I can't think of any British words that have become popular here in the US. If I heard someone say rubbish, I would think it was "old-fashioned" rather than "British," and I've yet to hear "sex-up."

I do wonder, and I admit it is off-topic, but I recall reading an article a while back claiming that "sell-by" and "use-by" are specifically British terms that have crept into American useage in recent years (the article claimed "experation date" was more American). Is this true?

Harry said...

50 Cent's use of 'wanksta' to mean something like 'wannabe gangster' would seem to be derived from the Briticism 'wanker'.

btw, the Jaffa Cake thing: in the UK, foods which are necessities are exempt from VAT (sales tax). Biscuits and cakes are both considered to be necessities, but chocolate biscuits are luxuries. So it's in MacVities' interests to have Jaffa Cakes classified as cakes rather than chocolate biscuits.

lynneguist said...

Come to think of it, I have heard wanker from Americans this year. This deserves investigation! (I'm on the case!)

Jack said...

I think I have heard wanker, now that someone mentioned it. Also, isn't nutter British? I know someone who says that too.

Hieronimo said...

Wanker, yes absolutely. How could I have forgotten. The BrE WOTY in America. No doubt about it. Driven by left-wing political blog Eschaton, written by Atrios aka Duncan Black, who gives a "Wanker of the Day" award, every day. As here, for example. If you do a Blogger search for "wanker," you'll find tons of uses of the term from American blogs, most deriving immediately or ultimately from Atrios.

About "rubbish," I'd say it was old-fashioned if used to refer specifically to (AmE) garbage or trash, but British if used generally to refer to something bad, as in, "Britney Spears is rubbish."

Paul Danon said...

While rapping elsewhere on the web with online chums on language-matters, I just coined grammarak, n., person obsessed with rules of language; inclined to be a sloppy dresser. The word may be analogous with the colloquial BrE use of anorak.