Saturday, March 15, 2008

sticks and canes, walkers and frames

I've started several longer posts, but keep putting them aside in favo(u)r of topics that I can whip up a post for with very little research. I'd claim that this is an effect of having an 11-week-old child, except the real truth is that I'm congenitally lazy. I'm afraid that little Grover has inherited this from me, since she usually can't be bothered to burp (orig. AmE--considered slang in BrE according to the OED, but I think that info is out of date) after eating. But she has the good fortune to be gorgeous, which makes laziness a workable lifestyle, since everyone therefore has infinite patience with her. My laziness just causes people to roll their eyes and wonder aloud how I got so far in life.

But out on a walk today, after mocking an innocent bystander's footwear selection, Better Half noted the beauty of another bystander's walking stick, which led me to abandon linguistic-analytical subtlety and do another simple 'they call it this/we call it that' post.

So, say walking stick to me with my American ears on, and I imagine something like a staff--a big stick, possibly picked up while walking in a forest, used by a hiker (or BrE rambler) who wouldn't normally require that kind of support for day-to-day walking. (See photo here.) It probably wouldn't have a handle. But walking stick is what BrE speakers call what AmE speakers call a cane--a stick, like the one to the right, with a (usually curved) handle and often with a rubber anti-slip bit at the end, used by people with (BrE) dodgy feet/legs/knees/hips/ankles. Very often, walking stick is abbreviated to stick, as in Could you pass me my stick?, which was said by my hospital ward-mate last week. (Yes, if you couldn't guess from the last post, I was in (the) hospital again last week.) I asked Better Half if he'd ever use the word cane. First he came up with (AmE--but making inroads in the UK) candy cane, then he supposed that he might use cane for a walking-stick-as-accessory, for instance, as carried by a male Victorian opera-goer. So, in my AmE dialect, canes are for people who can't/shouldn't walk unassisted and walking sticks are for the able-bodied, whereas in BH's BrE dialect, the stick is for the disabled, and the cane is just for decoration. That said, all the photos on this post are taken from this British company's site, and they do use cane, but only for the type that has four feet--they call it a quad cane.

But sticks/canes are not the only differently-named ambulatory aid. If you're even less steady on your feet, you'll need a walker if you're an AmE speaker, and a Zimmer frame if you speak BrE. The latter is a proprietary name from a London company. The former is not marked as AmE in the OED, but I've only ever heard Zimmer frame used here (and I have heard it a lot, as Better Half's roommate when I met him--his grandmother--used one). Back on Mobility People's site, however, one particular model is called a walker--possibly because it is not made by Zimmer and it would be somewhat nonsensical to talk of a CASA Zimmer frame. Kind of like talking about a Canon Xerox machine--you might say it, but the people selling the Canons had better not.

22 comments:

zhoen said...

I work with Zimmer reps for orthopedic implants all the time. (AmE). I've only ever heard Zimmer frame for a walker on Brit TV, never here. With so many new varieties of assistive devices, I'm expecting a slew of new terms any moment.

Martinus said...

I think of a cane as a subset of "walking stick", the flexible kind used a a prop (in both senses of the word) by Chaplin for example. My NSOED defines the word botanically: "The hollow jointed woody stem of certain reeds and grasses, as bamboo and sugar cane; the solid stem of slender palms, as the rattan, Malacca, etc." then gives as the third definition: "A length of cane used as an instrument of punishment, as a walking-stick, as a support for a plant, etc.; any slender walking-stick."

So a cane can be a walking stick, but a walking stick need not be a cane.

flatlander said...

The first thing that comes to my (AmE) mind with the terming 'walking stick' is a certain insect. (I once saw one the size of a chihuahua ambling down the sidewalk like something out of a Far Side cartoon.) It might also refer to an impromptu hiking device. The thing used by either a disabled person or a Gary Cooper wannabe is a 'cane'.

Cameron said...

I (ScE) almost never hear "zimmer frame," but rather the shortened form "zimmer" a lot. To call a walking stick a cane is definitively, to my ears, AmE, although it is a usage we are not unfamiliar with over here due to TV and films.

steph said...

It was within the last week that the penny dropped that the band The Zimmers was named for their walkers.

Derry said...

That's because these are walkers.

From a random googled page.

lynneguist said...

Derry--they'd be walkers in AmE too--but to make it clear, I'd probably say baby walker.

Two other things that I forgot to mention in the post: (1) both dialects might talk about a cane (a thin, hollow reed) as a device for beating people's bottoms--that one doesn't have a handle, and (2) if you need a generic term in BrE, you can say walking frame--but really, people say Zimmer.

jhm said...

I sem to recall some British movies wherein what an American would call 'crutches' where termed 'sticks.' Does BrE use a 'crutch,' so to speak?

lynneguist said...

Crutch is used in the UK, but I was surprised when I moved here to find that they are usually the kind with an arm cuff, rather than the kind that goes in your armpit. When I was a kid in the US, the arm-cuff kind was for the permanently disabled, whereas the armpit kind was used if you broke your leg or sprained your ankle. (Has the arm-cuff kind caught on in the US for temporary disabilities?)

Jonathan Bogart said...

As far as I'm aware (southwest US), the armpit crutches are still standard for temporary walking assistance in the US, although I've noticed that it's more common for people to use only one crutch than it was when I was of the adventurous age more likely to break a bone.

Andrew said...

Australian usages: for stick/cane, pretty much as BrE. That is, walking-stick for those who need a bit of help walking, "cane" for something fancy. The white version used by a blind person is perhaps a halfway exception - I hear both "stick" and "cane".

The frame is mostly referred to as the full generic term "walking frame". Only occasionally, perhaps in places where they're used extensively, might one hear "Zimmer frame" or just "frame".

Anonymous said...

I (BrE) would tend to use 'walking frame' rather than 'Zimmer frame', and certainly without exception if the user's disability is not age-related. A 'Zimmer frame' is 100% an elderly accoutrement to me!
I agree with your BH's assessment of 'cane' being basically stick-as-accessory rather than stick-as-mobility-aid.
On sticks-for-hiking/rambling/trekking: it's a stick if it's dead plain, perhaps a branch of appropriate length I've picked up as I go; it might be a staff if it's shoulder height or more; it's a thumbstick (great things)if it's forked at the top so I can rest my thumb in it; it's a (walking) pole if it's one of those lightweight metal extendable things I use two of in 'serious' walking to haul myself up a hill or save my knees going down one.

Peter said...

In Br.E “crutches” also include under armpit versions as well as arm-crutches. As a grammar school boy from 1948 to 1953, I can assure you that some canes did have curved handles: they were hooked inside masters’ academic gowns and applied to boys’ bottoms for almost any infringement such as as not knowing how to the conjugate a Latin verb or being late back from a gym lesson, even if it was the gym master’s fault!

Marc Naimark said...

How anyone managed not to comment on the REAL issue of this post is beyond me... Just what are the British supposed to say instead of "burp"?

lynneguist said...

I hear belch, although the OED says it's 'now vulgar'--and the British do use burp nowadays. When referring to babies, Better Half and the In-Laws all say windy-pops (noun), which drives me a little more bonkers than I already am. Urban Dictionary (not that I trust it one little bit) says that windypops = flatulence, but the ILs use it particularly for baby burps.

JohnB said...

(BrE) I tend to use burp or belch if I am being formal :) Although the wife recently came across eruction, which we particularly liked.

While I would associate windypops more with the other end of a baby, I have heard it used for baby burps before.

Strawberryyog said...

It's odd how one constructs one's own etymologies, or at least explanations, for things. Until reading this post I would have unhesitatingly bet you a fiver that "Zimmer frame" was an Americanism. to tell you why exactly would require a small fortune spent on hypnosis, I dare say, but this was definitely down on my list as a US import - how wrong can you be? well well well - you live and learn! Thanks again for the always-excellent content.

Vicky said...

In Japanese, one way to refer to this thing is from with a loanword from English, namely "sutekki". When it's said aloud, it's clearly from "stick", but (as an American) I wondered why it had this meaning. Now I see!

Anonymous said...

Sticks are aids to walking, canes are for show or as they were still in use when I was at school for hitting people with. The only exception I can think of is the Swagger Stick as used in the Army.

Peregrine said...

My mental cane is a flexible one, much like Martinus', particularly because of "caning" at school (stick based corporal punishment)

enitharmon said...

I was going to mention trekking poles, the high (ish, (qv))-tech but I see Anon has beaten me to it. I find them more useful these days for extracting things from under the (BrE)sofa/(AmE)couch. My cat has a habit of stealing my (BrE)knickers/(AmE)tights and stowing them there.

lynneguist said...

Off topic, it would be BrE knickers/AmE underwear (or underpants or panties, but I would say 'underwear' there even though it's a more general term) or BrE tights/AmE pantyhose (or tights, if they're opaque)