Wednesday, January 09, 2008

2007's Words of the Year

Better late than never, I hope (I have a fairly good excuse...), here are my picks for SbaCL Words of the Year. Thanks to all of you who have nominated words...

In the category of Best AmE to BrE Import, I was fairly convinced by dearieme's nomination of subprime (though I took some convincing; see comments back here for the discussion). But I've decided against it in the end because (a) I'd like to see if it lasts in BrE beyond the current mortgage crisis, (b) the American Dialect Society chose it as their Word of the Year, so it's already had a lot of attention (and I like to support the [orig. AmE] underdog), and (c) I was reminded of another AmE word that made British headlines this year, which has demonstrated staying power in BrE.

So....the AmE-to-BrE SbaCL Word of the Year is:

cookie

Why, you ask? Well, British television has been wracked by controversy this year because of several incidents in which contest results had been fixed, and none of these was stranger than the Blue Peter controversy. On that children's program(me), there was a viewer vote on what to name the new Blue Peter kitten. The viewers voted for Cookie, but the production team named the cat Socks instead. This is how the Blue Peter website explains the situation to the kids:

Back in January last year we introduced you to a new kitten and asked you to suggest names that would suit him. You gave us lots of great ideas and then voted for your favourite name on the website.

Your first choice was Cookie and your second choice was Socks. Part of the production team working on the programme at the time decided that it would be better to choose Socks, as they felt this suited the kitten better. This was wrong because we had said that it was your vote that would decide.

They then tried to make up for their misstep by introducing another kitten and naming it Cookie. No one seems to know why Cookie was deemed unsuitable. One theory is that it's because the name could encourage child obesity. I can't help but wonder if it wasn't because the name was felt to be too non-traditional (i.e. American!).

But the success of Cookie in a poll of children indicates that the word is now entrenched in BrE. What it doesn't show is that the meaning of cookie has shifted between AmE and BrE. In AmE, cookie refers to what BrE speakers would refer to as biscuits, but also to a range of baked goods that were not typically available in Britain until recently--what we can call an 'American-style cookie'--that is, one that is soft and (arguably) best eaten hot. Since in the UK these are almost always bought (at places like Ben's Cookies or Millie's Cookies), rather than home-baked, they also tend to be of a certain (largish) size. In BrE, biscuit retains its old meaning and applies to things like shortbread, rich tea biscuits, custard creams and other brittle things that can be dunked into one's tea, but cookie denotes only the bigger, softer American import. (In fact, twice this year I heard Englishpeople in shops debating the definition of cookie, and had noted this for further discussion on the blog...and here it is. For previous discussion of this and other baked good terminology, click here.)

The front-runner in the reader nominations for best BrE-to-AmE import was pint, to refer to a unit of beer. The nominators report that the pint measurement is not literal in this case (and anyhow, the British pint is 118 millilit{er/re}s bigger than the American). I've not experienced non-literal use of pint in the US...but then again I wasn't drinking on my last trip to the US. As fine as the support for that nomination was, I'm going to be entirely selfish (what, again?!) and give the award to a word that was personally very relevant this year. So, the BrE-to-AmE SbaCL Word of the Year is:

(baby) bump

That is, the abdominal protuberance evident in pregnancy, illustrated (unflatteringly) here:

I distinctly remember first hearing this term from Kate Winslet (not in person!) when she was pregnant with her daughter in 2000, the year I moved here. At that point, I assumed it was a Winsletism, but soon learned it was general, informal BrE. (While the OED has only added it in its 2007 draft, its first citation for it is from 1986. The first American citation is from 1999.) Shortly thereafter the American celebrity gossip media started using it too, to my chagrin, as I thought it was a nasty term--too (orig./chiefly AmE) cutesy, in a crude way. And I'm not the only one. Google-search hate baby bump, and one finds lots of American discussions of the term, including:
Can we have a moratorium on the phrase "baby bump"? Ugh... I hate it so much. (commenter on Jezebel)

And yes, by the way, I, too, absolutely hate that stupid term "baby bump". It is EXTREMELY annoying. It sounds like something that a 12-yr old might say because their uncomfortable with the word "pregnant". Any adult who uses the term is a jackass. (commenter on Huffington Post)

The term 'baby bump' sounds so juvenile and pedestrian. How did this term come in to existence, and why do presumably semi-intelligent people use it? (commenter on StyleDash.com)
No one in these discussions seems to reali{s/z}e that its origins are British, and one wonders whether they'd have more affection for the term if they could associate it with "the Queen's English" (not that Her Majesty would ever say baby bump). I should say, in the UK, one is more likely just to hear bump, while in the US it seems more often to be prefaced by baby.

As I said, I used to hate this use of bump, but goodness, if you've got one, it's a useful term. So, in hono(u)r of ex-bump Grover, it is the BrE-to-AmE WotY.

21 comments:

jhm said...

What is a "baby bump?"

lynneguist said...

Oh dear, what a bad teacher I am--not defining my terms! I'm going to sneak back into the entry and add a definition now--and maybe an unflattering picture, as penance.

Matt said...

Super-congrats on the new family addition. That is very exciting.

I have to admit I was struck by something in your WOTY post. Bear with me through an anecdote as I explain my reasoning:

My first job out of college was in Belgium (a country I still truly adore – please don’t break up). I remember upon arriving in Belgium thinking that it was such an impossibly tiny country by American standards. Not only was this country tiny, it was split into two distinct linguistic regions. On top of that, in Flanders (where I worked) the Dutch was almost unintelligible from the western portion of the country to the eastern. I even remember visiting some friends who were making fun of the Ghent accent. We then got in the car, drove less than a mile (the U.S. sadly has parking lots that span the distance we drove), and were happily eating lunch in Ghent (the home of this fiendish accent). What was remarkable to me was how much language has the capacity to vary in such a small geographic region.

Belying the title of this blog, most of the discussions on this site and the WOTY are almost arcane and academic in comparison to the variance in Dutch I found in Belgium. The readers of this blog are separated by thousands of miles and centuries of history yet we delight in linguistic differences that are so miniscule compared to those I encountered in few hundred mile span of Flanders. We simply aren’t as separated as we fancy ourselves.

lynneguist said...

A friend has pointed out a headline in today's (UK) Daily Mail that uses baby bump (complete with baby. Lots of prettier illustrations than mine! See it here.

Matt, "arcane and academic" are the names of my game! :)

pj said...

Matt - 'please don't break up'?
BrE gloss, please! Is it 'laugh', as in (one meaning of) 'crack up'?

Doug Sundseth said...

I believe that Matt was referring to the possibility of splitting Belgium into separate Fleming and a Walloon states, because of persistent and deep internal divisions in the country. This has been discussed seriously, but my sense is that the probability is currently fairly low.

The Ridger, FCD said...

The HuffPo commenter said: "And yes, by the way, I, too, absolutely hate that stupid term "baby bump". It is EXTREMELY annoying. It sounds like something that a 12-yr old might say because their uncomfortable with the word "pregnant". Any adult who uses the term is a jackass."

But surely "bump" and "pregnant" aren't interchangeable? You don't say "I'm bump" or "This pregnant makes it hard for me do bend over", do you?

Anne T. said...

Baby bump is a great choice for the word (or term) of 2007! It was used so much, maybe because of all of the celebrity pregnancies. I think it is very discriptive and much more to the point than say, "pregnant belly". (And how else do you refer to this?) I wonder if people who don't like the term also dislike the booming attention or focus on pregnant bellies. The current fashion is to show it off rather than to downplay, hide, or disguise it.

That said, it has been used so much, I do feel a bit of fatigue regarding it. The term seems to be everywhere!

By the way, beautiful baby bump documentation of your own! So fun!

Marc Naimark said...

Re "cookie". Here in France, the word has been in use for several years. It refers to American-style cookies, but only of one variety: chocolate-chip cookies.

And congratulations to Grover. Is she blue and fuzzy?

Ster said...

I've only heard "bump" or "baby bump" used for celebrities in gossip publications. No real person in New Jersey would say that.

Cameron said...

Anne, I agree with your apparent dislike of "pregnant belly." It seems to me that bellies can't get pregnant; only the people of whose bodies they form a part can.

Syd said...

I guess I've ended up in the right place, as I have been wondering about the 'baby bump' term for a while. It wouldn't have been the first time 'everybody' knew something but me; I had daydreams about how everyone said it just before I walked into a room or just after I left and soon enough, I was in my mid thirties and just discovering this god-awful phrase.

I'm so glad to know it is actually rather new to us 'mericans. Yay.

flatlander said...

Re: "baby bump"

I'm sporting one myself, in fact. It seems (in my limited experience, being on the receiving end of this BrE-to-AmE import) to be used more in the early "is-she-or-isn't-she" stage. Example: "Is she putting on weight or is that a baby bump?" or "I can't wear these pants anymore thanks to my baby bump."

When it becomes obvious -- third trimester, or earlier with subsequent children -- I'd say one is beyond bump.

lynneguist said...

Around here, bump is used all the way to birth. More than one person asked me the (very English) question of whether I could yet balance a cup of tea on top of my bump.

Congrats on your bump!

Roger Green said...

I'm one of those "bump" haters.
Just yesterday, I read (in People mag or one of its derivatives) where some actress (don't remember who) was "making no effort to hide her bump." And I felt it was definitely pejorative.
Moreover, the covers of these magazines on US newsstands have gone "bump" crazy.
"Bump" makes me grump-y.

Kathrin Passig said...

American-style cookies have been available in Germany for maybe ten or fifteen years - but only today I learned from your blog that they're supposed to be soft. I always thought they were old and stale, you know, America being so far away. Germany has soft cookies, too, but American cookies seem to visually suggest crunchiness, so we're disappointed when they're not. Cookie-coding seems to be another area of international communication difficulties.

disgruntled said...

Hmmm. I understood that the reason for the Blue Peter controversy was that the word 'cookie' was slang for female genitalia and that that was why BP both changed it AND couldn't explain why. I've never heard the term myself, but I'm no longer in the Blue Peter demographic.

lynneguist said...

I came across the 'cookie' = genitalia theory as well, and believe it's just an urban legend. The only evidence that I could find for cookie having such a meaning was in archaic American slang--not a source that Blue Peter viewers or staff are likely to be influenced by.

disgruntled said...

Of course, after all the fuss, even if it wasn't then, it probably is now!

Rachel Ward said...

Coming to this discussion rather late, but the picture of the cat in question makes me think that rather than Cookie being UNsuitable, it's just that Socks is a white cat with grey legs, hence the name suiting him/her/it better.

lynneguist said...

That doesn't seem like a very good reason to overturn a democratic process, though!