Friday, September 14, 2007

on/in the playground

(December 2010 updates in red)

Once upon a time, Grant Barrett forwarded to me the following item from issue 343 (29 March 2007) of Popbitch:
Confessions of an 80s pop fan
ishouldhaveknownbetter writes:
"I met Simon Le Bon at a house party. Everyone was playing it really cool so when he came to say goodbye I just exchanged air kisses, but then as he turned away for some reason I blurted out, 'Simon, I just want you to know that when I was younger I had a whole wall covered in posters of you at jaunty angles'. He went quiet. So I continued, 'And once I had a dream that you and Roger Taylor came to call for me on horses and then we all went out and played on the climbing frames.'
He left the party immediately."
Grant thought a girl [*ahem*] of my generation would appreciate the Duran Duran reference (I never actually bought any of their albums, but did bother to have an opinion on which was the [orig. AmE] dreamiest). He also pointed out the non-Americanness of climbing frame, which he ably figured out is equivalent to (orig. AmE) monkey bars and/or (orig. AmE) jungle gym. Monkey bars is used in the UK now too, and in both dialects it can refer specifically to a contraption like the one below, from US company ChildLife, with a ladder-like structure several feet above the ground.


But in both dialects monkey bars is also used more loosely sometimes to refer to any kind of structure built for children to climb on--i.e. a climbing frame/jungle gym.

Most of the other amusements on a playground have the same names in both dialects, although swing set, to refer to the apparatus involving swings and the frame that they're suspended from, seems to be more popular AmE. Better Half says he'd just call the whole apparatus swings [although the OED does not mark swing set as AmE--see comments]. See-saws are see-saws, but teeter-totter is a dialectal AmE word for the same thing. (I grew up with both terms.)

And those round things that one kid pushes (a)round and (a)round while the kids on it get sick--well, as a child in New York State we called these things merry-go-rounds or roundabouts, but the American Heritage tells me that roundabout in this meaning is 'chiefly' BrE. As a child, I preferred roundabout, because I liked to reserve merry-go-round for the kind of powered thing with horses, also known as a carousel. (Let's ignore the traffic-related meaning of roundabout. That deserves its own post.) Oxford dictionaries like to claim that carousel is spelt carrousel in AmE ('frequently' in OED2, but simply presented as the AmE spelling in my [admittedly out-of-date] Concise). I don't recall seeing it spelt that way anywhere but in an Oxford Dictionary--and, now that I've looked, in the American Heritage, which lists it as an alternative spelling, but not the predominant spelling. The OED also says that attributive use (i.e. placed in front of another noun, to modify it) of carousel, as in carousel music, is chiefly AmE. Nevertheless, their most recent (2007) addition to the carousel entry in the OED On-line is BrE carousel fraud (a kind of scam to reclaim [BrE] VAT/[AmE] sales tax)--indicating that BrE speakers use it attributively too.

Going through my mental playground inventory, the only other dialectal difference that I can think of is AmE sandbox versus BrE sand-pit. But I suppose that this is as good a place as any to mention BrE bouncy castle versus (in my day) AmE moonwalk (or today) bounce house, even though they're generally not found on playgrounds everyday. The naming difference reflects the different ways in which these things are decorated and marketed. The bouncy castle is a big inflated thing that is usually shaped like a castle. Moonwalks tend to have space themes. I've found inflatable castle as an AmE term for the castle shaped ones as well. Apparently, there's some controversy about whether these things were invented first in the UK or the US.

Other business:
  • This is it! I've finally got to the end of the answerable queries from March! Now I'm only five months behind!
  • As for tomorrow's appearance on Ant & Dec, it might be a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of affair. We spent at least an hour together taping yesterday (charming young men!), but I have no idea what they'll edit it down to. But here's the evidence that we have breathed the same air:


Ant, Lynne, fellow Scrabbler Kat, and Dec
(thanks to Stewart for the photo!)

27 comments:

Kim said...

Where I live in CA, we call that thing that you rent that is filled with air for the kids to climb in and jump around in, a "bounce house".

John Cowan said...

Here in NYC, my daughter says that these inflatable houses have no generic name at all: they are individually named according to the theme by which they are decorated.

There is also the distinctly British metaphor of what you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts (sometimes vice versa or expressed in the opposite order or both), which has no direct AmE equivalent. Apparently it derives from this 1912 poem.

Cameron said...

I was surprised to see you refer to "swing set" as AmE. When I was a wee boy in Glasgow (the original), we had a swing set in the back garden/yard. I think AmE terms have tended to catch on quickly here since at least the 1920s, due to Glasgow's huge love affair with the cinema/movies. But I had no idea that one originated there.

Cameron said...

PS that would have been at least from the early 1970s.

lynneguist said...

Thanks John C--I'd meant to mention swings and roundabouts, and completely forgot about it. As I've just hinted at, one often hears it in a shortened form: it's (all) swings and roundabouts. I'm having a hard time believing there's not an AmE equivalent of some sort--it feels like it's on the tip of my brain...

Cameron, I have probably jumped the gun on swing set. My tiny poll of Southerners yesterday indicated that they didn't know/use the term, but it's not marked as AmE in the OED. I'll make an edit in the post.

Joel A. Shaver said...

I *definitely* grew up (US, Washington state) saying 'bouncy castle'. My wife (also WA) says she hadn't heard 'bouncy castle' before arriving here (Glasgow), hadn't heard of 'moonwalk,' and didn't have a generic term for them.

lynneguist said...

I think moonwalk is probably a bit dated, from before the days when people (AmE) rented/(BrE) hired them for their children's parties. But if you grew up with the term, then you are a much younger person than I (or from a more exciting place). I didn't see my first one until I was in my teens, in the 80s.

deb said...

At my son's school playground (in Michigan), the climbing frame/jungle gym is called a "play structure." Only the actual horizontal ladder itself is called "monkey bars." This is an important distinction, because the devilishly dangerous "zipper" (which lets children hang from a wheeled handle and quickly slide along a bar until they are stopped abruptly by a crossbar at the other end) connects to the monkey bars, but is not part of it. Given that the zipper has accounted for several broken arms that I know of, it seems useful to be able to say, "Jenny, you can play on the monkey bars, but not the zipper."

Words said...

These days I think of 'sandbox' as a computing term ( a safe place to archive viruses), but I was really posting to say that you made me watch Ant & Dec's show for the first (and probably last!) time. Good to see you and Kat with the stars!

lynneguist said...

I've had to re-publish this post three times today because one or the other of the photos has (until recently, BrE) gone missing.

Apologies to those of you who have received it repeatedly through your RSS/Atom feeds.

molly mooly said...

Joel A. Shaver: The OED has explicitly requested evidence of "bouncy castle" from before 1986, and describes it as "orig. and chiefly Brit." so you may be able to help them out. [See BBC Wordhunt Appeal ]

Almeda said...

On the playgrounds I frequented in Chicago between roughly 1979 and 1988, the 'flat circular platform with railings that spins on a central axle' piece of apparatus, when present (rarely! Not many playgrounds had one, because of a spate of lawsuits when I was little), was called generally a 'spinner' or 'the rainbow spin' (because they were almost always painted bright colors, in pie-wedge style from the center).

mollymooly said...

Just noticed the post title: do American children play "on the playground"? Young Brits play "in the playground".

lynneguist said...

I thought about that after I posted it, then didn't do much about it. In the playground is about 6 times as popular as on the playground on UK sites, according to Google. I'll make the change (cheatingly) now...

Sili said...

Fascinating. I had no idea that "swings and roundabouts" was English.

It's the corus of a famous Danish song -- well, I think of it as famous, but I'm rather dated for my age. 60es-ish, I think it was.

Jill said...

In my American-living-in-London mind, the US equivalent of "swings and roundabouts" is "six of one, half a dozen of the other."

Sadly, I don't have a British informant handy, so I don't know whether that phrase is used here or not.

Simon said...

I know this isn't entirely on-topic, but I was tickled to see that Ant and Dec stand in their correct order even in photos!

johnb said...

Six of one, and half a dozen of the other ... is used in my BrE family.

mollymooly said...

“It’s six of one and half-a-dozen of the other” is not the same as “what you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts”. Suppose opposing footballers are arguing over who was fouling whom. If the TV commentator says “it’s six of one and half-a-dozen of the other” he means each was equally guilty (or equally innocent). If he says “it’s swings and roundabouts” he means that, even if the referee makes the wrong decision in this instance, he is bound to make a mistake later that favours the other side. A non-British equivalent is “It all evens out in the end”.

bill said...

Growing up in Massachusetts, I called the "play structure" a Jungle Gym generally, and on the Jungly gym might be a set of Monkey Bars and a slide or two...but no swings. Anything with swings on it would have been a swingset even if it had monkey bars and slides somewhere on it. But if it was one of those things made entirely out of pipe and was in various forms, used purely for climbing and pushing people off in (in retrospect) horribly violent games of "King of the Hill" was called either monkey bars or the jungle gym.

And as for the Moonwalk/Castle Bounce, we tended to combine the two into a "Moonbounce" regardless of how it was decorated.

flatlander said...

Like Bill, my childhood was spent in New England and we called those things moonbounces. "Moonwalk" referred to the Michael Jackson dance move (from the Thriller video, I think?) in which one moves backward while appearing to walk forward.

Anonymous said...

The piece of playground equipment that has a distinctive American dialectic name is the "sliding pond," a term for a slide that is unique to the greater NY metropolitan area. According to William Safire, this is a corruption of the Dutch word "bahn," meaning "track." It definitely confused folks when we moved to New Hampshire.

kathe chandler said...

BEING OF TWO VERY DIFFERENT PARENTAL BACKGROUNDS, FATHER : BOSTON IRISH. MOTHER: CAJUN FRENCH. WORDS IN MY HOUSE WERE MUCH COFUSED AS WHAT HAS BEEN SAID BEFORE. MONKEY BARS WERE A SET OF UNEVEN BARS AS IN THE OLYMPICS. JUNGLE GYMS ARE TALL STUCTURES USED FOR CLIMBING, LIKE SCAFFOLDING PAINTERS USE.ROUNDABOUTS ARE MERRY-GO-ROUNDS,OR CIRCULAR TURNS IN A ROAD WAY.HAVING BEEN RAISED IN TEXAS ALL MY LIFE,MOST SAY I HAVE AN UNUSUAL WAY OF SPEACH, AH WELL, LIVE AND LEARN. KATHE

J. L. Bell said...

I once went back to my Massachusetts elementary school's playground and heard a small child refer to what my peers and I had all called a "jungle gym" as a "climbing structure." And a perfectly straight face he had, too.

Cathy Moore said...

In the Chicagoland park I played in (1960s), we must have been singularly uncreative. We called the round platform that spun the "turn-around thing."

Anonymous said...

Like Lynne, I'm a Western New Yorker. But like Kim, I've mostly heard the inflatable bouncing apparatus called a "bounce house"

As for metal playground equipment (increasingly phased out recently in favo(u)r of boring plastic crap), I grew up calling the horizontal ladder the 'monkey bars', while the sort of hollow geodesic dome that doesn't seem to have been mentioned much in this conversation was the 'jungle gym'.

outerhoard said...

The only Australian contributions to the naming of playground equipment that I can think of are "flying fox" (which I mentioned in an earlier comment) and "slippery dip" (BrE "slide").

Other than that, we mostly follow the British terms.