Tuesday, September 23, 2008

stemware and other wares

My now-retired colleague Max has time to read novels. He not only has time to read them, he has time to note the Americanisms in them and send them to me. I have more than 20 years until retirement. Do you think it's too early to start counting the days?

Here's one of the passages he sent me from Anne Tyler's Back when we were grownups:
Alice Farmer washed stemware so silently and morosely that she might have been hung over, except that she didn't drink.
Max correctly surmised that AmE stemware means 'glasses with stems', and avers that BrE has no term for this collection of things. One would probably say wine glasses in most cases, but, of course, not all wine glasses have stems and not every stemmed glass is a wine glass--some are champagne flutes or brandy (AmE) snifters/(BrE) balloons. (You can debate whether these are 'wine glasses', but in my world, they don't count.)

This word had fallen onto my own 'to be blogged about' list back in July 2007, when Better Half and I did the legal deed and got an embarrassment of stemware. We'd actually asked for gifts to charity, but plenty of folks felt they couldn't not give us stuff, so we received five sets of wine and/or champagne glasses. We'd just got two boxes of champagne flutes for Christmas and a set of stemless red wine glasses as an engagement present. If only there were enough room in our (BrE) flat/(AmE) apartment to have a large enough party to use them all. Or, if only we had a working fireplace, so that we could make dramatic toasts and throw our glasses at the fire. But I'm getting away from my point, which was this: a friend was taking down the gifts and givers for our thank-you note list, and I'd call out "stemware from [insert your name here, if you gave it to us]" and half the room said "Whaaa?" (Incidentally, one set had no card with it. So, if you gave us wine glasses and never got a thank you, then I thank you now! We will use them all eventually, I'm sure, as we do tend to break them even without dramatic toasts.)

Stemware is but one of many -ware terms that Americans are fond of using. Another is silverware, which in AmE can apply to any of what BrE would call cutlery. In my AmE experience, the more common use of cutlery (not that it's a common word) is to refer to cutting instruments--e.g. knives and scissors (what was traditionally made by a cutler). (Both the 'cutting instruments' and 'knives, forks and spoons' meanings are included in American Heritage; strangely, the latter sense has not yet made it into the OED.) The bleaching of the meaning of silverware is evident from the fact that the phrase "plastic silverware" gets more than 39,000 Google hits. If one wants to talk about the silver silverware, you can leave off the -ware. Or, do as my mother does and say "(AmE) set the table with the real silver". Of course, the people selling you the stainless steel stuff would get into trouble if they called it silverware, so another term for this stuff in AmE is flatware.

Hardware, the pre-computer meaning (i.e. metal things), is a useful word in both BrE and AmE, but hardware store is originally AmE. The traditional BrE equivalent would be ironmonger('s shop), though these days one might also hear hardware shop. (Google tells me that hardwareshop is "Australia's premier online hardware and home improvement store".)

Some other -ware words that I thought might be AmE are not AmE according to the OED. But then the OED doesn't mark stemware as AmE, and I've yet to meet a BrE speaker who uses the term. So, whether or not words like tableware and stoneware and so forth are AmE, I get the feeling that AmE speakers are a bit happier using the -ware suffix than BrE speakers are. In fact, when I asked BH which -ware words he thought were particularly American, he said, "All of them." The one other 'originally AmE' one that I've found in the OED is barware. Are there more?

33 comments:

wtanksley said...

An American here -- to me a "flat" means an entire floor of an apartment building.

Tim Leonard said...

Among people who assume "hardware" and "software" refer to computers and programs rather than hammers and linens, "wetware" refers (jocularly) to brains. I've heard "meatware" too, but rarely.

Joe said...

Another computer-related "ware" term is "vaporware", referring to products that were announced or advertised but never actually released.

Zhoen said...

Tableware. Tupperware.

Jeremy said...

Following up on joe's post, -ware is pretty much a productive ending in the software world. Perhaps software was the first, but there's malware, spyware, nagware (software that costs no money to try but periodically bugs you to purchase a full copy) and the related shareware, middleware (in short, software that runs between two other pieces of software), bloatware and a bunch more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/-ware (and of course, warez).

None come to mind at the moment, but I'm sure I've seen people spontaneously make up verbware and nounware words referring to various characteristics of a piece of software.

John Cowan said...

I recognize the word silverware, like other Americans, but calling it cutlery is just as natural to me. Flatware is a marketeering term.

lynneguist said...

The computer jargon is not particularly AmE or BrE, methinks.

Electric Dragon said...

Silverware is often used in BrE (particularly in news articles about football/soccer) to mean trophies (a good example of synecdoche).

disgruntled said...

We might (BrE) use 'glassware' but then it would be all glasses, not just stemware. However, to me the 'ware' ending, where not in an IT context, sounds like a professional or marketing use rather than something you might say when talking about your own things.

I always thought 'flatware' applied only to the really cheapo cutlery, i.e. the stuff that looks like it's been stamped out of a sheet and then twisted into shape.

Canadian said...

I use the term "cutlery" and have never heard anyone actually call it "silverware" or "flatware" even though packages or catalogues may use those terms.

Virtual Linguist said...

Josiah Wedgwood was using the term 'ware' in the 18th century: cream-ware, jasper-ware, Queens' ware. And before him there was Delft ware, the original English name for which was galleyware.

lynneguist said...

Indeed, that's why one won't have much luck in finding these label(l)ed as AmE in the OED, because many examples come from Wedgewood. But in modern use, they seem to be stronger in the US.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

My (BrE) mother always calls it "the silver", even if it's stainless steel (as in, "Can you dry up the silver, please?"); I tend to say cutlery these days.

I hadn't appreciated that "set the table" was especially AmE - I lay the table, but thought I was a bit old-fashioned for doing so; I'm sure my daughter sets hers!

Sili said...

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004890.html

Whiteware.

I only just now notice that I've been revealed my full name on that page. Thank you, Pullum. [Makes note to only use this email in future.]

Rick S said...

I'm not sure whether housewares is AmE-only (Merriam Webster Online doesn't include such notes), but I'm curious why it's always plural, in contrast to all the other examples so far. Perhaps because it's a metacategory that includes flatware, dinnerware, cookware, etc.?

mollymooly said...

For me (Irish) "ironmonger" sounds prewar and "hardware shop" just plain wrong; it's got to be a "hardware store". shop/store are the defaults for UK/US, but specific cases can go either way.

biochemist said...

Earthenware (dishes to go in the oven)? Certainly UK, but I don't know about US usage.

I have this mental image of a 13th-century pedlar displaying his wares, and I'm pretty sure that wine glasses are not in the pack!

bill said...

It looks like "Kitcheware" is used in the UK...of course my only real evidence of that is that it is said in the opening theme of "Are You Being Served?" ;)

Matt said...

There are definitions among potters for earthenware, stoneware and what-have-you-ware depending on composition, firing temperatures, glazing temperatures and so forth. The definitions probably vary from place to place.

Cameron said...

I'm just waiting for clothing to be described as wearware. I've already seen "wearing apparel" in the US, which struck me as delightfully tautological.

lynneguist said...

Walked by a charity shop in Brighton today that had "kitchenware" and "tableware" painted on its front window. So, at least I know those ones are currently used in BrE!

Anonymous said...

Growing up (NY) it was "set the table" and lay out the "silverware" whether it was actually the silver stuff or the stainless steel. Now we tend to say "utensils".

Zach said...

In Australia cutlery is most commonly used for knives, forks etc. but utensils is also occasionly used. Silverware sounds very upper class and posh to me but I would understand what was meant.

I have never heard of stemware (and neither has my spell checker). We simply call such things wine glasses, even the ones not used for wine. For example we'd call a champagne flute a type of wine glass.

In fact I don't think we use very many ware words at all. Instead of tablewear we are much more likely to say cutlery and crockery.

Virtual Linguist said...

The 'silver' in silver service refers to cutlery

toni said...

It was interesting to read your entry about the AmE/BrE difference between silverware and cutlery. Being Canadian, we tend to more BrE usage than AmE. This past summer we had a family gathering that included a cousin who now lives in the U.S. with her son, who is born and so far raised there. An amusing dispute arose amongst the younger set about whether they were using cutlery or silverware. I'd never thought about the difference before.

Peregrine said...

Hmm, I've always assumed that "flatware" was crockery.

Timotheos said...

Very interesting discussion regarding the -ware suffix. Kiwis also use the term cutlery for knives, forks and spoons. Silver(ware) refers to silver-plated utensils, which only very wealthy people would own.

Tableware makes sense, and kitchenware must refer to bowls, plates and cups. Also, we have always used the term "setting the table" to refer to putting out cutlery and crockery (utensils and plates / bowls).

I've heard Americans refer to silverware when they actually mean stainless steel meal utensils. In my mind it doesn't make sense, as these implements aren't silver at all!

Andy Holyer said...

As a slight diversion for this, my ex-wife's (very posh) family all share a strange and to me (with a lower-middle-class english accent) rather bothersome pronunciation of the word "Cutlery".

The pronounce it "Cuttle-ree" - as in "Cuttle fish".

They also tend to pronounce "Recipe" like "Receipt" (which I know is an old pre-francified way of saying it), but I'm sure it's an error, andit still irritates me.

Elian said...

Hi Lynnguist, if kitchenware refers to kitchen utensils including bowls, plates and cups, cookware thusly refer to cooking appliances including saucepans, frypans, pots, ovens and blenders) don't they?
Are whiteware (fridge, dishwasher, etc.) and brownware (audio and video systems)more widespread in AmE usage than white goods and brown goods?
In addition, considering that in AmeE "wait tables" means "work as a waitperson/server/(joc.)waitron" and "teach school" is defined as "to work as a teacher", can you in the same way say "tend bar" for working as a bartender/barkeep, "tend front desk" for working as a hotel front desk clerk, and "carry mail" for serving as as a mail carrier?
Also, considering that a salesclerk/store clerk is a shop attendant in BrE, that a front desk clerk/room clerk is a BrE hotel receptionist, and that clerk can be used as a verb in both BrE and AmE with the meaning "work/serve as a clerk", do "clerk in a store" for working as a store clerk and "clerk at a hotel front desk" for working as a front desk clerk sound right to American ears?

lynneguist said...

That's a lot of questions, and I try not to answer questions unrelated to the post in the comments section. But:

Yes to 'cookware'.
No 'whiteware' or 'brownware'.

'Tend bar', but you wouldn't 'tend' a front desk. I'd say 'deliver mail' for a letter carrier, and I wouldn't use 'clerk' as a verb much, though I wouldn't say it's impossible. When I did it, I 'worked the checkout' at a supermarket.

David Crosbie said...

Elian

I'm British and in my late sixties. I don't say shop attendant, and to the best of my recollection I never have. They are — and I believe they always were — shop assistants. We can now also say sales assistants.

We used to speak of cloakroom attendants, and perhaps we still do. We used to speak of petrol pump attendants, but they no loner exist. Nor, I think, do car park attendants. Also deck chair attendants and museum attendants.

Shop assistant, bank clerk (never teller) and park keepers.

New-fangled places like supernarkets simply have workers.

The general rule seems to be that clerks did sums — those that didn't write letters. Attendants looked after places, and possibly collected simple fees. Only petrol pump attendants made the same calcuaations as shop assistants.

David Crosbie said...

ihrsta 3wtanksley

a "flat" means an entire floor of an apartment building

Until very recently, that was true of Scottish tenement buildings. However, the is caused confusion with the meaning of flat elsewhere in Britain.

David Crosbie said...

Mrs Reboots

I hadn't appreciated that "set the table" was especially AmE - I lay the table, but thought I was a bit old-fashioned for doing so; I'm sure my daughter sets hers!

This was the very real difference I learnt of between the varieties — apart from trivial differences like sidewalk/pavement. A gang of Brits and one American were training to teach an eccentric English course in Rome. The American had been teaching in Tunisia and had found it hilarious that the English textbook wrote of performing such a perverse act upon a table.

I didn't realise (or haven't noticed) that set the table has even reached Britain — let alone conquered.