Wednesday, June 27, 2007

tutor

I told my friend The Poet about the RateMyProfessors.com site and its complement, the blog RateYourStudents. Some days later, she e-mailed me to say that she'd found RateMyTutor.com, but didn't think it did what I said it did. What had happened, you see, was that she unconsciously translated the American name of the site into something that made more sense for a BrE speaker--then found that it didn't mean the same thing in AmE.

While RateMyProfessors is used in the UK, the name doesn't quite work, since at most UK universities, only a small proportion of the faculty is/are professors. I won't go into the full range of academic ranks, since they do vary some from university to university, but typically the entry-level position for an academic is Lecturer, and Professor is the highest rank. But whoever takes the teaching role for a course is the course's tutor. Another role one can take is that of personal tutor, a term which is being replaced at my university by academic advisor, and which at my US undergraduate university was simply called advisor: the role in which one gives guidance (and pastoral care) to a student with respect to their overall academic development, rather than just for a particular course/class/module (whatever you want to call it).

In most American universities, the entry level for academics is Assistant Professor, then there's Associate Professor, then full Professor. All of these people are called Professor. So, in the US, I was Professor Lynneguist, but in the UK, I'm just Doctor Lynneguist. In the US, a student might ask another Who's your biology professor? But in the UK, one would ask Who's your tutor for biology?

In AmE, a tutor is generally understood to provide private tuition. (That sounds ambiguous in AmE, since tuition in America usually refers to (BrE) school/university fees. Tutors provide tutoring or tutelage--not fees!) When I was a (BrE) postgrad/(AmE) grad student, I was a logic tutor for student athletes--meaning I helped them understand the lectures that had gone over their heads. In the UK I am a tutor in that I am the person getting paid and doing most of the talking in the classroom--the one whose lectures might go over the students' heads. The (American) RateMyTutor site is about people who provide private lessons to school children.

That reminds me of another thing... Lesson in AmE most often refers to the kind of thing that a private tutor might do. One has piano lessons and flying lessons, etc. School teachers make lesson plans, and may refer to the mathematical part of the day as the math(s) lesson, but once the (AmE) students/(BrE) pupils are old enough to have different teachers for different lessons, the lessons tend not to be referred to as lessons in AmE, but instead are called classes. (This ends up being ambiguous, as the class could be the activity or the group of students.) I thus find it strange when my BrE-speaking students refer to my lectures or seminars as lessons (as in: Could you send me the notes from yesterday's lesson? I had to miss it because my housemate was having her poodle dyed and the bath flooded and ruined my bus ticket so I had to stay at home and watch Countdown instead.). It sounds oddly childish to my ear.

As of this moment, no one has bothered to rate me on that professor-rating site. I simultaneously consider myself lucky and feel a little hurt.

P.S. A second-hand addition to the Canadian count: someone else wondered to Better Half whether I was Canadian. We're now into double-digit Canadian count.

Monday, June 25, 2007

flannel and washcloth

Recyclist continues to let me know about bits of BrE that have confused her during her stay here. A recent one was flannel (in its longer form, face flannel), which is the BrE translation for AmE washcloth. Face flannels are so-called because they were once made from flannel fabric, but these days they're (AmE) terrycloth/(BrE) terry. If you stay in European (including UK) hotels or bed-and-breakfasts, you are less likely to be supplied with a washcloth/flannel than you would be in an American hotel (where I've never not been given a washcloth/flannel). You will, of course, be given towels. My understanding (though you can read other understandings here) is that this is because facecloths are considered too personal to share. People who use them bring their own when they stay away from home. Cotton flannel fabric (originally flannel was wool(l)en) is sometimes called flannelette--moreso (in my experience) in BrE than in AmE. So, Better Half talks about our flannelette sheets, and I talk about our flannel sheets.

It was a couple of weeks ago that Recyclist encouraged me to write about flannel, and she's asked me since if I've covered it yet. I replied that the stated mission of my blog was to cover the bits of cross-Atlantic English that everyone wouldn't already know about, and that flannel/washcloth is kind of like elevator/lift--the kind of difference that anyone with the slightest bit of cross-cultural knowledge would know. She insisted that it wasn't. I figured out later, when I discovered that Recyclist also hadn't heard of Brixton, that I just assume that any (slightly Anglophilic) American of my generation would know certain BrE words from certain songs. I must have learned flannel from Squeeze's 'Tempted':
I bought a toothbrush, some toothpaste, a flannel for my face
Pyjamas*, a hairbrush, new shoes and a case
I said to my reflection
Let's get out of this place
*This site spells it pyjamas, most other music-lyric sites spell it pajamas. I don't know how Chris Difford spelled it, but it was probably with the y.

So, for those of you who didn't listen to Squeeze, I've now done flannel/washcloth. Now go and download Eastside Story to complete your education.

(Brixton I knew about from the Clash--but I've got(ten) to know it better because BH used to live there. Not as scary as the song.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

recuse

The spellchecker will out me. I was writing an e-mail about Examination Board procedures. (Exam boards are a blight on British academic life, and unheard of in the US. I've mentioned them before, here.) In doing so, I typed the word recuse, as in Anyone with a personal relationship with a student should recuse him/herself from discussions of that student. My mail program didn't like recuse. Thinking 'how am I spelling that wrong?', I went to the Oxford Dictionary of English (not to be confused with the Oxford English Dictionary!), where I found the word, spelt as I had spelt it, but with the note: Chiefly U.S. and South African (or something like that--I'm away from that particular dictionary now). I think "Aha! So that's why my British spellchecker didn't like it."* (Although it must be said that it's a pretty pathetic BrE spellchecker, since it insists on one 'l' in travelling.) The OED only lists it as Now rare, but it's not particularly rare in American legalistic settings. The American Heritage definition of it goes:
To disqualify or seek to disqualify from participation in a decision on grounds such as prejudice or personal involvement.
Wondering how one would say this in British English, I had a look in the University's Handbook for Examiners, where they simply instruct the interested party to "leave the meeting while the student in question is being considered." Of course, one could say disqualify in this setting (albeit a little awkwardly), as in I disqualified myself from the discussion of that student. But where's the fun in that?

*Eek! Spellchecking update! Blogger's (American--sort of) spellchecker doesn't like recuse either! Weird, weird, weird. I started to think that my vocabulary is too rarefied for spellchecking. So I googled recuse. It gets over a million hits. Ten times as many hits as uxorious, but the spellchecker has no problem with uxorious (a word that's not in my active vocabulary). Weird.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

mooch

This past weekend was my hen weekend, if one can call anything so civili{s/z}ed a 'hen weekend'. There were no blow-up dolls or L-plates, no public drunkenness, and only a tiny bit of silly headgear. We went to the Cotswolds and ate nice food and went to artists' open houses and had a mooch (a)round the shops. In fact, mooch became the word of the weekend, due to a cross-cultural communication failure.

You see, my friend the Recyclist was there, since she's in the UK for a month, mixing with my UK friends who kept saying things like After lunch we could go mooch round the shops. So, after figuring out what they meant, she explained the meaning of mooch in AmE, and somehow by Sunday it seemed that every tenth sentence had mooch in it.

The OED defines the BrE sense as 'to loaf, skulk, sneak' or 'an act of skulking, loafing, scrounging'. In AmE, I might use scrounge in this sense, though it seems more negative than mooch. Another AmE possibility is troll, as in:
Does this reporter just troll around town looking for the hot cockroach stories? (from comments in Dave Barry's blog)

If you're running in the shoes you had before Brangelina, or kickboxing in the same pink Pumas you troll the mall in, it's time for a new pair my friend. (from Mommies with Style)
The more common sense of mooch in AmE is (from the OED): 'To sponge on or off a person; to go about scrounging.' The noun form of this may be mooch or moocher. The OED doesn't mark the verb sense as AmE, though it didn't seem very familiar to my fellow hens, but the noun sense ('a beggar, a scrounger') is marked as Chiefly U.S.. The verb can be used transitively as well, as in:
Can I mooch some of your chips (AmE: French fries)?
This sense of mooch, in fact this sentence of mooch, was used with gusto by speakers of every dialect when Sunday lunch came (a)round. Upon learning this sense of mooch, my BrE-speaking friends claimed to have 'a-ha!' moments concerning the song Minnie the Moocher, but the lyrics to the song do not make a lot of her mooching.

Thanks to my lovelylovely friends for a lovelylovely weekend!

Friday, June 15, 2007

who speaks Global English?

I just read "A global reach for mind and mouth", an article in the 8 June Times Higher Education Supplement by Nick Saville of the Cambridge University English for Speakers of Other Languages program(me). They're the people who make up (some of) the exams that non-native speakers of English take in order to have their ability in English certified. The article concerns a study that Cambridge ESOL commissioned on the future of the English language, and says:
Demos [the thinktank that did the study] paints a picture of a world in which English is presently dominant as the leading language of international commerce and government. This position has largely been consolidated by English being the predominant language of computing and the internet. However, of the estimated 1.3 billion speakers of English in the world, there are only 330 million native speakers -- and this puts Britons in a minority within a minority.

The report says, moreover, that the UK had rested on its laurels and that its approach towards English is more suited to days of empire than to a world of global commerce and travel. The British have failed to address the need to learn other languages adequately (we have the lowest levels of bilingualism in the European Union) and are equally disdainful of those who speak other forms of English than our own, especially new varieties such as Spanglish (a Spanish-English dialect), Hinglish (a mix of Hindi and English) or Singlish (a Singaporean, Malay, Indian and English melange).
It goes on to discuss how Cambridge ESOL copes with this. I started reading this article expecting something completely different than what I got, however. The article takes up about 3/4 of a tabloid page and never once mentions American English (or the United States or North America) by name. It doesn't mention any other nations whose main language is English either, but in discussing the role of English in the global marketplace, it just seems weird not to namecheck AmE--particularly in pointing out the spread of English through computing and the internet and British disdain for other varieties of English.

American English: the elephant in the global English living room.

Friday, June 08, 2007

moving

In our e-conversation about upping sticks, Nancy F mentioned finding a book called How to Move House and Stay Sane, noting the Britishness of the phrase move house. Americans simply move (and the British can too). So:
AmE or BrE: We're moving this weekend. [intransitive]
BrE: We're moving house this weekend. [transitive]
Now, don't tell me that your dialect's version makes more sense than the other, because they're equally problematic from a literalist, logical point of view. The intransitive version seems like it could apply to exercising one's muscles. The transitive version seems like it involves relocating a building. But, of course, both involve the relocation of the contents of a dwelling and an address-change for the individuals associated with that dwelling. Language isn't about literal, logical description; it's about communication--and these both work, if you know the conventions of the dialect in which they're said.

I was reminded of this when talking to my friend the Recyclist the other day. She's recently come to the UK for an extended stay, and was confused by a television commercial she saw in which moving home was mentioned (and the same day I saw a billboard in London with the headline Moving home?). As an AmE speaker, Recyclist interpreted this as 'moving back in with one's parents'. It took Recyclist a few beats to figure out why people who were 'moving home' would need a mortgage (or whatever it was that the ad(vert) was about). In BrE moving home means the same as moving house, but is perhaps used in advertising to make things sound a bit hom(el)ier.

As long as we're talking about moving, Americans often comment on the (AmE: real) estate agents' signs in the UK that indicate properties in search of tenants. In the US, such signs say FOR RENT. In the UK, they say TO LET. And Americans almost invariably have the reaction: 'I want to put an i in that sign'. Occasionally some (probably young) joker does just that.


(Photo from here.)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

badges and buttons

I was in a meeting with a Pro Vice Chancellor last week (who would be a Vice Chancellor in most US universities, but in the UK the Chancellor position is mostly ceremonial, and the true head of the university is the Vice Chancellor--at least at a lot of universities). At that meeting he said that I had earned a Blue Peter badge--and added "You can put that one on your blog!" So, here I am doing that.

Blue Peter badges came up in a lunchtime conversation in Sweden last week, and happily there was a Scottish Welshman (or was he a Welsh Scot? I got confused) to explain that a Blue Peter badge is fairly equivalent to a gold star. In other words, it's a mark of merit that children get for extra special efforts.

The Blue Peter badge comes from the television program(me) Blue Peter, a children's show that's been on the BBC since 1958. The badges come in different colo(u)rs and are awarded to children for various kinds of good deeds. The badges are valuable in more than just sentimental ways, in that they allow holders free entry into various attractions--but this has not been without controversy. Trade in counterfeit and second-hand Blue Peter badges led the Edinburgh Zoo to stop accepting badges as entry passes. Apparently, Blue Peter badges are now issued with photo ID cards, so that holders of badges can prove their legitimacy.

I've never seen a BPb in the flesh, but they appear to be made of plastic, which is not necessarily what an AmE speaker would expect from something called a badge. With my AmE ears on, I would assume that a badge was cloth, like Girl Scout (in Britain and elsewhere, Girl Guide) badges. There are other kinds of badges (e.g. police badges), but the word badge is not used quite as generally in AmE as it is in BrE. In AmE, the BPb would probably be called a pin.

The type of usually round, plastic-coated thing-with-a-pin at the right (from the 'button collection' at the International Institute of Social History) is called a button in AmE and a badge in BrE.

And as my social studies teacher Mr Russell used to say, "That's all she wrote when the pencil broke." The 'pencil' in this case being my concentration...