Sunday, April 27, 2008

rack

From the "Is this too personal to blog about?" file:

Better Half caught a bit of the sitcom Scrubs the other day (hard not to--between E4 and E4+1, it's broadcast for at least 6 hours each day), in which someone referred to a female character's rack. BH was not yet familiar with this AmE slang term, which the Online Etymological Dictionary explains as 'Meaning "set of antlers" is first attested 1945, Amer.Eng.; hence slang sense of "a woman's breasts" (especially if large), c.1980s.' Unfortunately, BH has taken the opportunity to make a new rhyme to sing to Grover:
Baby has a snack
from her mummy's rack.
At least the juxtaposition of BrE mummy and AmE rack is amusing...

Speaking of amusing, George Saunders provides a service for British travel(l)ers in his American Psyche column in The Guardian yesterday: "Many of you will travel to the US this summer, where a pound will now buy you a luxury condo in Beverly Hills. Here's a lexicon, so no one will suspect you're British and marry you just because he/she finds the British adorable." Click here to read his lexicon.

22 comments:

mollymooly said...

I think the conceptual gap from "antlers" to "breasts" is too broad to be cleared in one leap. I heard a Noo Yawk character in an 80s movie make the charming compliment "you got a nice rack o' lamb goin' on there" which seems a plausible intermediate form.

Marc Naimark said...

E4 and E4+1? Whats that?

lynneguist said...

Television channels...I'd hoped it would be clear from context.

Jonathan Bogart said...

The "rack of lamb" theory strikes me (as an AmE speaker who grew up in the 80s) as being an after-the-fact reanalysis, possibly for humorous effect; the way hunters talk about racks -- as in the bigger the better, and therefore the more impressive the kill -- is enough of an analogy with the way "rack" is (chauvinistically) used when talking about women for the connection to seem perfectly plausible to me.

Though it does seem to me that over the past twenty years, "rack" for breasts has lost some, though not all, of its degrading connotations.

lynneguist said...

Since few Americans eat lamb much (but many hunt or know people who do), the association of breasts with lamb is less likely than it might be in the UK. So, I agree with Jonathan that it's an after-the-fact thing--word play, rather than etymology. I associate antler rack with coat racks, and Jonathan's analysis of the relation between antlers and breasts strikes me as correct.

lynneguist said...

Incidentally, am watching too much TV (with the sound off and subtitles on) while rack-feeding, and nice rack was used by Joey of Phoebe on the episode of Friends that happened to be in front of me. So, twice on the television within a few days--I'm surprised that BH hadn't run across it before. (Or maybe he had, but it hadn't stuck.)

c in nyc said...

In the Guardian article you linked to, George Saunders recommends BrE travel(l)ers use aten for the past tense of eat when visiting Beverly Hills. I've never heard this term (I speak AmE) and it particularly doesn't sound Californian. It strikes me as possibly Southern US, maybe Appalachian. Or am I missing something? Is he making fun of the AmE pronunciation of eaten?

Thank you for such a thought-provoking blog, btw!

Bingley said...

After the previous entry, I was expecting more about toast racks!

lynneguist said...

C, I took Saunders' "aten" thing to be a parody of AmE/BrE verb form differences (see back here, not an attempt to represent reality.

jhm said...

Perhaps it would be prudent to avoid giving Better Half suggestions, but has he heard of Sir Mix-a-Lot or his single "Baby got rack?"

lizeff said...

weird, but i had always thought of using the term 'rack' instead of breasts was somehow derived from the game of pool where you 'rack' the balls, but then again, i grew up in a part of the US where most people don't hunt deer, but plenty of people do play pool. also since pool tables do tend to show up in bars and pubs, it seemed like a plausible scenario where such a term would arise...

bill said...

JHM,
Not sure if you were joking or not...but the Sir-Mix-a-Lot song is actually "Baby got Back." And that is on the clear other side of the body from the rack...;)

lynneguist said...

The idea of a parody version referring to breastfeeding is great--with a literal baby. There is a parody version of the lyrics on the web, but there the 'baby' isn't an infant. Too bad. Perhaps this can serve as inspiration for a creative reader?

Roger Green said...

Why is the word rack slang for breasts?
In: English Language

Because, for different reasons, both sexes hang their hopes on them.
http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Why_is_the_word_rack_slang_for_breasts

Neil Dolinger said...

Not sure whether you want to get into this, but is there BrE equivalent to "rack"? Some rhyming couplet, such as "sweaters & vests"? "birds & nests"? "easts & wests"?

The Guardian piece is mostly amusing, except the 'torture' entry. Another example of non-Americans extending our government's views to those of the American public as a whole. I think most of us have the same definition of torture as the rest of the world.

lynneguist said...

George Saunders is an American--he lives in Syracuse, NY. I've seen similar humo(u)r from other Americans as well. (I particularly like the bumper sticker that goes: "Be nice to America, or we'll bring democracy to your country".

As for rhyming slang for breasts, the one I've heard most is 'Bristols'. Bristol City --> Titty. (If you google 'rhyming-slang and breasts' you'll find others, but I never really trust internet sources on slang. It's too easy to make up your own rhyming slang and post it on the web to try to be clever.) I didn't put UK equivalents to rack because I can't think of a BrE slang term for breasts that refers to them collectively, as rack does. So, the ones I can think of are not really equivalent. I've mentioned BrE baps in a previous post.

JohnB said...

I had to cheat and googled some slang terms for breasts. Now I know I am getting old, I don't have (BrE) slang for breasts on the tip of my tongue :(

The term I do remember using (apart from 'bristols') is 'knockers'.

Jonathan Bogart said...

"Knockers," as far as I can tell, is a transatlantic term.

kat said...

Reminds me of my film school days...

Whenever we were watching the dailies in class and someone had a nicely done rack-focus* in one of their shots, there would always be the inevitable "nice rack" jokes.

*When you shift the focus from something at one distance from the camera to something at a another distance from the camera within the same shot.

alethiasmiles said...

I only take offense to the "like" comment because I am from California, and it must be built into our dialect.

I've tried to stop but then it's like, you know...

lynneguist said...

Oh dear, if this keeps up, I'll have a hard time convincing the British that Americans can laugh at themselves.

Albert Welch said...

Massachusetts-

I found torture to be the only funny definition on Saunders list.

It was the only one that was clearly satire.

I'm sure this is on both sides of the pond, but chest is another collective term.