Saturday, May 12, 2007

strikes and prying in the Grauniad

We buy the Guardian every Saturday because Better Half just cannot live without the Guide. It's a lot of paper to buy just to get the television listings, but this doesn't deter BH. It's a nightmare for me, though. Once a newspaper crosses my threshold, the only section that I can bear not to read is the sport(s) section. On a good week, it takes me a full seven days to get through the whole paper. I haven't had a good week in ages.

So, excuse me if I treat the following as news, 'cause it is to me. The British pound is worth more than two US dollars now, which gives all news outlets an excuse to write about British shopping tourism in the US. The Guardian joined this particular fray (21 April) by playing the game that BH and I play at the airport: guess the nationality. They stood outside Macy's in New York City and guessed at which shoppers were British. They had a hard time distinguishing the Brits from the Scandinavians, but they're pretty easy to tell from Americans:
New Yorkers claim they can detect British exchange rate shopaholics a mile off, through a combination of the rabid Buy Now look in their eyes, the British male's sideburns - American men usually shave them off - and over-reliance on Diesel clothing, and the women's slight scruffiness compared with their highly-groomed American sisters.
I think the scruffiness comparison only works in urban America. There are a lot of other clues, though. Middle-aged women in sweatshirts with embroidery or appliqué: probably American. Older men whose hair hangs below the tops of their ears and their collars: probably British. And so on and so forth.

But back to the article. The first couple they approach is/are indeed British. The second is/are Danish. Then we come to the third:
The third attempt gets another strike.
I thought I understood that sentence until I read the next one, which, in my estimation, contradicted its predecessor.
Avril and Stuart MacFarlane from Edinburgh are very much over here for the shopping.
Finally, I reali{s/z}ed that a baseball metaphor was getting in the way. If an attempt at something is described as a strike, an AmE speaker would naturally assume that it was a failed attempt, since in baseball a strike is (rather illogically) a failed attempt to hit a ball. The strike in the Guardian article is, of course, more related to the sense used in to strike gold or to strike oil--i.e. to succeed in finding something. Interestingly, the use of the noun strike to mean 'an act of discovery' is originally AmE too. But still it didn't sit right in my brain, as the baseball sense is rife in AmE, both on and off the playing field. A common saying is three strikes and you're out, meaning (as in baseball) that a person should only be given three chances before they're not given any more. This metaphor carried over into American legislatures, where three strikes laws have been passed in various states. Such laws guarantee that the penalties for a third criminal offense are extremely steep -- characteristically, life imprisonment for a third felony. This has contributed to America's prison overpopulation problem.

Now turning to another topic, which is only related by the Guardian connection, Strawman wrote to point out a correction in Monday's Guardian. (And he actually asked about it on Monday. I can only assume that Straw leads a life of leisure if he can actually read a newspaper on the day it comes out. I believe he also won a prize last year for playing more tournament Scrabble games than anyone else in the country that year. Some people know how to live...) The correction said:
American (or Canadian) usage slipped into a report, Robbers superglue man to bike (page 26, May 4), about a South African crime victim: "Paramedics used chemicals and petroleum jelly to ... pry the man's skin from the bike." Pry: to make an impertinent or uninvited inquiry (Collins). British English calls for "prise".
...and Strawman wrote to ask whether Americans indeed use pry to mean prise. All the time! (And also to mean 'to be nosy', as it is used in BrE.) But the Guardian is not absolutely correct in its implication that pry=prise is just a North Americanism; the OED lists it as 'dial. and U.S.'--i.e. it is used in some British dialect(s) too, particularly, it seems, in Suffolk and Essex. Incidentally, the OED lists the alternative spelling prize before prise, but in AmE, as in the Guardian, prise seems to be preferred nowadays.

The Guardian is sometimes (as it was in Strawman's e-mail) nicknamed the Grauniad, because of its past reputation for typos. I liked the fact that the entry for Grauniad in Urban Dictionary includes an unintentional misspelling. (Or at least I am pretending to like that fact because I think it's ironic. I'm not sure like is the right word here.) The definition also has misinformation in it. Par for the course in UD.

19 comments:

strawman said...

Thanks for clarifying that, Lynne.

I certainly agree about the misinformation in the UD Grauniad entry. I believe the good old Manchester Guardian had a reputation for excellence, but standards began to slip when the paper was moved from Manchester to wherever it's based now (some town down south, quite close to Brighton, I understand).

zhoen said...

I don't think I've ever used prise. Know it, don't use it, don't hear it used. (Am/E)

flashgordonnz said...

strike out: one can do this on one's own, but you can also do it with a member of the opposite sex. The later seems to use the baseball origin, but the former? Is it a bit like strike up a conversation and are these related to strike oil?

the_sybil said...

From my BrE standpoint I'd assumed that the "strike" reference in that Graunaid article referred to ten pin bowling, where a "strike" is when you knock down all ten skittles at once.

David said...

Why does this post remind me of William Safire? New York, baseball, the weekly paper, and an interesting tale?

Strike, in its variants, is such a potentially confusing word!

Incidentals: I'm surprised to see that the entry in my 1973 SOED covers almost one and a half pages. What does that length tell us, and what words have longer entries?

Not-so-incidentals: striking out could be confusing in some contexts; strike seems to have contradictory meanings that go well beyond international differences in use: striking a deal is not the same as striking for a better deal. One might mean agreement while the other might mean disagreement. Similarly, struck off, meaning remove, contrasts with stroke, as in leaving a mark.

lynneguist said...

Like zhoen, I would naturally use pry in contexts like pry the lid off (of) a paint can (BrE tin or pot). I believe I have used prise, but would only do so in a particularly hard-or-delicate-to-pry/prise situation.

The_sybil: I hadn't even thought of the (BrE ten-pin) bowling meaning, but of course you're right! I think that the baseball meaning is more entrenched as an exclamation. The umpire stands behind the batter (which in cricket would be a bats[wo]man) and yells Strike! or Strike one/two/three! when the occasion arises. This is sometimes, and stereotypically, stretched out to Stee-rike! Googling 'stee-rike', I get 555 hits and about three times that many for 'steerike', indicating that this pronunciation is fairly well recogni{s/z}ed as needing its own spelling.

David, are you trying to insult me with the comparison to Safire? (You may have succeeded!)

lynneguist said...

P.S. Am I the only person for whom Bloglines is having a problem with this blog? (Any idea what could be wrong? The other Blogger blogs on my Bloglines are not having troubles. I even tried changing the feed...no good.)

David said...

I suspect you are referring to political differences rather than linguistic. Or maybe it's a generational thing. But no insult intended, nor imagined. I have known people who bought the Sunday Times simply to read his column in the magazine. People who were not the least bit sympathetic to his politics.

But perhaps there are unfavorable comparisons that I don't know about. If so, I'll take it all back!

Jan said...

I'm no angler, but my first thought was fishing; 'strike'(AmE, at least) is the jerk when you've hooked one, I believe.

dearieme said...

"the only section that I can bear not to read is the sport(s) section": dear lady, that's the only bit of the Darniuga that tends to get its facts right. As for "strike": it might just be a botched attempt to use an Americanism. You must hear those quite often?

Stephen said...

'The Grauniad' comes from 'Private Eye'. Because of the vagaries of British Libel law, its lawyers advised it not to use the real names of institutions that could sue it for libel.

'The Torygraph' is another Private Eye name. 'The Vicar' is another one.

lynneguist said...

Glad to hear you weren't intending to insult me, David! Safire and I don't see eye-to-eye politically, but also his linguistic proclamations are often problematic. Not that mine aren't, but...you know...professional pride. He's an amateur!

I must make an apology to Better Half, who's reminded me that he regularly reads more than just the Guide...he reads the Family section religiously because he's addicted to the Living with Teenagers column. I try not to take that as a commentary on what it's like to live with me. He has been seen to read other sections too. Poor BH, I abuse him so...

Joel A. Shaver said...

I guess that would explain why OED doesn't have an entry for 'pry-bar'(an alternate term for 'crow-bar' in my usage). Is 'crow-bar' standard in BrE?

Chris said...

"Because of the vagaries of British Libel law, its lawyers advised it not to use the real names of institutions that could sue it for libel."

I very much doubt that is true. Under British libel law, as long as the defamee is identifiable (as "The Grauniad" or "The Daily Hellograph" surely are), then a plaintee can claim libel.
It's more likely to be just an extension of the Eye's widespread use of silly nicknames for people and institutions.


The Guide is great. Beyond the TV listings, there's the inimitable Charlie Brooker, the film listings, usually at least one decent feature and all the previews. Disclaimer: a friend of mine writes for it now and then.

Chris said...

That should be a "plaintiff", of course. I guess reading the Grauniad is rubbing off on me.

Ginger Yellow

lynneguist said...

Yes, Joel, crow-bar is good BrE. I don't know pry-bar, but would certainly understand it if I heard it.

An informal BrE word for a small crow-bar is jemmy, but in AmE, this is usually jimmy (OED says it's also used in some BrE dialects). James is another word for the same thing--a bit tongue-in-cheek, I think. I've not heard this in AmE--nor in its natural habitat in BrE. I just know it as a Scrabble word. My friend the Postman and I have verbal duels in which I have to say a male name that is also a common noun for every female name he says. Oh, the fun we have.

jack said...

Is it really cheaper for British people to fly to New York to shop than it is to buy the same amount of things at a local store? Or is it just the "thrill" of shopping in a place like New York? Airfare must not be very expensive.

lynneguist said...

New York is the cheapest place to fly in the States, typically, because there's lots of competition as well as continuing flights from other parts of the world.

Before Christmas, which is to say back when the pound was worth only $1.90, the Guardian did a comparison that figured in flights, hotel, import duty, etc. and came to the conclusion that it was worth it if you spent above a certain amount and bought certain kinds of things (for which the difference was greatest--I think iPods were one such thing).

But it must also be remembered that the British travel much more readily than Americans anyhow. Besides the encouragement of the exchange rate and the desire for better weather, most Brits have 6 weeks of holiday/vacation per year, as opposed to the American norm of 2. A lot of people are going because they heart NY and shopping offers a great excuse to go.

BahamaMama said...

This has made me think of words or phrases that mean opposite things in BrEng and AmEng.

I remember when being in the US once, I was talking to someone who had just got their cancer results.

They told me that they'd "lucked out". I, responded with lots of sympathy. They looked at me very oddly.

In England, whilst "lucked out" itself is not a phrase we say that we are "in luck" so I assumed he was talking about being out of luck.

Needless to say, we were both happy when we worked out the confusion.