Tuesday, May 08, 2007

dishpan hands

A colleague who teaches French knocked on my door today to ask about an Americanism that his student had encountered in a translation exercise: dishpan hands. The student was imagining someone with hands shaped like dishpans. Oh no!

Dishpan hands are hands that have spent too much time in the dishwater--i.e. they've suffered the drying effects of soap and water. I was amused to see that it's a condition that's listed in the Houghton-Mifflin Medical Dictionary--I had no idea it had reached disease status! Oh, how we suffer.

Dishpan is an AmE word for the basin in which one washes dishes, though I wouldn't use the term myself, as it sounds old-fashioned to me. But I see that Rubbermaid use(s) the term, as do lots of other folk on the web, so what do I know? I'd probably say dishwashing basin (as do some others on-line) and others also say dishwashing tub. In BrE, it is called a washing up bowl. Here's a beautiful one from Norman Copenhagen. I can't decide whether I wish I could afford a £35 dishpan/washing-up bowl (though the brush is included!), or whether I think I'd disgust myself if I spent that kind of money on trying to look cool while (AmE) doing the dishes/(BrE) washing up. I just (BrE, informal) bung everything into the dishwasher anyhow.

Thinking about dishpan hands reminded me of a recent interaction with Better Half, in which he was searching for something-or-other that was right in front of him. I exclaimed, You're soaking in it! (I do a lot of exclaiming), only to discover that he had never had the joy of Madge the Manicurist in ad(vert)s for Palmolive (AmE) dish detergent/(BrE) washing-up liquid. I believe you can see one of those ad(vert)s here (though I don't have the plug-ins to see it on the computer I'm on now). Catchphrases don't travel well through time or space.

31 comments:

Fnarf said...

Thet thang there is a dish tub, and sits in a sink. The basin's in the bathroom, but only if you're really old fashioned. Dish pan is so old-fashioned its off my radar, and honestly I don't think I ever heard "dishpan hands" outside of the Palmolive ads. I have exclaimed "you're soaking in it" many times, though.

dearieme said...

"(AmE) washing the dishes/(BrE) washing up." Sorry to be a bore, but where I grew up (Borders) it was "washing the dishes".

lynneguist said...

You're right--washing the dishes is fairly dialect-neutral. I meant to say doing the dishes. I'm going to sneak back in and correct that.

strawman said...

I think doing the dishes is also dialect-neutal, and seems to be used with or without the definite article in both AmE and BrE.

The Palmolive ad to which you linked uses the slogan softens hands while you do dishes on the bottle, although Madge actually says "softens your hands while you do the dishes". (Well, you wouldn't want it to soften someone else's hands while you do (the) dishes, would you?)

The advertising slogan that I remember from the 1960s in the UK was Now hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face, with mild green Fairy Liquid. (They sure knew how to write snappy slogans in those days.)

zhoen said...

Am/E - I throw dishes in the dishwasher. Mom used to do the dishes in the sink, after she got a double sink. I also stack the dishwasher. If I had to have a plastic pan to clean dishes, I would call it a dishpan. And I'd get dishpan hands. Could be a generational change, I'm over 45.

David said...

Another slightly related lexical unit is "rid the table", which as a child we used all the time at home, which for me meant to take all the dirty dishes off the table. But when I grew up I realized that a lot of people didn't have that in their vocabulary or it had a more generalized meaning of getting rid of anything.

flashgordonnz said...

In NZ we would "do the dishes". Good n proper.

It has always struck me as unusual to place a plastic thing (for which you have to find storage space) in a perfectly good kitchen sink. Why? I noticed that the Brits do it, and ex-pat Brits in NZ tend to do it. Our own fry(ing) pan is almost too large for the sink as it is. Is it so slops can be tipped down the side into the sink while washing is in progress?

flashgordonnz said...

Is this off-post? But "You're soaking in it". I did not realise that most of the world knew that phrase! Does anyone else remember "Then he said 'now we can all get some sleep'", from the Claytons ad? "The drink you have when you are not having a drink"? Suddenly the Clayton's solution, the clayton's holiday, etc entered our volcabulary. Does anyone else still occassionally use "clayton" to describe something that purports to be something that it isn't?

Rebecca said...

You might not know Fairy's catchphrase for years and years - it went out a few years ago now though. But it was kind of similar to the one you quoted. It was "hands that do dishes can be soft as your face, with mild green fairy liquid" and I could sing it to you right now. The new Fairy slogan doesn't appear to have stuck in my mind, though. Unless they haven't change the slogan and only changed the jingle?

Babychaos said...

Interestingly a northern British way of saying do the washing up is "washing/doing the pots" this is what my Glaswegian father in-law does... along with a couple of Liverpudlians I know and a Mancunian. I do the washing up in a washing up bowl. Actually, no, I don't! Like you I stick it all in the dishwasher... or washing up machine as we called it here in the 60s and 70s. (quaint).

I have never heard the phrase "you're soaking in it" what a great way of saying "you can't see for looking" or I suppose our "you're right on top of it" is a little closer. Will definitely be filing that away in my mental stack of phrases to use.

Cheers

BC

lynneguist said...

We don't have Fairy Liquid in the US, but old advertising pictures from it can be found in many gay shops. I've been in several gay households (can a household be 'gay'? what silly phrasing) in the US with 'Fairy' magnets on the fridge or posters on the wall. I think many people have them without knowing that there is an actual product involved.

Joel A. Shaver said...

AmE - I use dish soap! For me, detergent is only for the laundry. That was a problem my first couple of weeks here in Glasgow...

lynneguist said...

I can say dish soap too, but I would consider that to be a little more informal.

On the packages, it seems to be dishwashing liquid, though that is not something I'd say unless I were an actor on a television commercial.

What I have found in the process of checking this, is that manufacturers seem to use dishwashing detergent or dishwasher detergent for the stuff one puts in dishwashers.

Tom Roper said...

Returning to the matter of dishpan hands, the closest Br Eng expression I know of would be washerwoman's hands, or washerwoman's wrinkles, sadly a dying profession. Cf the Anglo-Indian dhobi, as in dhobi itch.

Stephen said...

---"Cf the Anglo-Indian dhobi, as in dhobi itch"---

Dhobis was clothes though, not dishes.

Incidentally, I'm surprised you don't have Fairy Liquid in the States; I have no trouble getting it either in Saudi or Sri Lanka

lynneguist said...

But why would the US import Fairy liquid when it's just like other products produced for the US market? Presumably Fairy was imported to Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia because there were gaps in the market there...

Anonymous said...

Instead of "you're soaking in it" my husband, from Oklahoma, says "If it were a snake it would've bitten you." I like "you're soaking in it" and will have to use that sometime. I recall those commercials fondly.

Joel A. Shaver said...

I told my wife (also from the US) about the dishpan hands discussion and she wasn't too sure what it meant. When I explained it she said 'oh, you mean raisins?'

lynneguist said...

I assume that raisins are what I would call prunes or pruny hands--i.e. fingertips that are wrinkled after coming out of the water. This could happen in a bath or swimming pool.

Dishpan hands are not that. They are hands that are chapped because you do the dishes often (without gloves), not because your hands just came out of the water. Dishpan hands aren't wet--they're dried out.

Stephen said...

But why would the US import Fairy liquid when it's just like other products produced for the US market?

Presumably Proctor and Gamble sell Fairy under another name (I've never seen 'Joy' anywhere so that may well be the US brand name -- you're in more of a position to do the research).

It's the biggest seller in Spain as well. So it looks to me as if P & G decided the name was not right for the USA but fine for everywhere else.

As Fairy is like Hoover or Pampers often used as a generic word, it would be interesting if you did a couple of articles on different brand names, particularly in those areas outside food and cars where there is unlikely to be any cultural preference for the product as opposed to the name.

lynneguist said...

The UK has more positive associations for fairy...fairies at the bottom of the garden and all that.

In the US, the 'homosexual' sense is probably much stronger.

Mugs said...

One of the advantages of growing up in Australia is that we become proficient in both AmE and BrE. Dishpan Hands is an easily recognisable concept amongst my (smallish) test group here. But definately one of those grammatical metaphors we are cautioned about using in texts designed for ESL friends!

Dr. Tom Roche said...

The object of putting the dishpan into the perfectly good sink is to allow one to rinse a dish in cold water, outside of the dishpan, allowing the sudsy water inside the dishpan to remain hot. Nowadays many people dispense with dishpans altogether, if they have a dual-basin sink, allowing hot water to wash on the left, and a separate basin to rinse in cold, usually on the right. But these double basin sinks are far from ubiquitous.

CollyCarrot said...

when I was growing up and it was my day to do the dishes, my parents both used the term "Time to do the pots and pans young man". I did once try to avoid doing half the washing up by taking them literally, however that actually work in my favour too well. I digress though, my main point i wanted to make was regarding "dishpan hands". Victorian England nobility would actually look at a servents hands before hiring under the illusion (or perhaps not) that those with "dishpan hands" were hard working.

Alexis said...

When I was in the UK, a friend of mine from the north of England told me that where she was from, "washing (the) dishes" was posh, and "washing (the) pots" was what regular people said.

Anonymous said...

My mother used to say "washer woman's fingers" and her mother was a washer woman.

Anonymous said...

In the past, I've seen an old UK television advert from the 50's or 60's.

This was "Dreft - for dishes"; a liquid detergent.

I believe that it was succeeded by "Mild Green Fairy Liquid".

Incidentally, a certain UK consumer-test magazine performed their usual testing upon hand dishwashing liquids. The winner by far, was the standard "Mild Green Fairy liquid".

Robbie said...

For the delight and edification of those on both sides of the pond, might I recommend the website Telly Ads. An ongoing archive of current commercials, and now also quite a large collection of classics.
http://www.tellyads.com/

Melissa said...

This is the craziest conversation I have ever seen! But I definitely have dishpan hands from washing the dishes. Some say "warshing".

Debbie said...

We had that same advert here in New Zealand, from Australia, so I always think of it as quintessentially Australian!

Mikkis said...

Just stumbled upon this post and felt I have to point out that Fairy originates from US as a brand name. Here's a short history
http://www.fairiesworld.com/fairygifts/fairysoap.shtml