Monday, August 25, 2008

zwieback, rusks--and more on biscuits

We're back in the UK, dealing with a very jet-lagged baby. During our US visit, I had reason to think about another BrE/AmE difference in baby paraphernalia terminology, since Grover's got her first two teeth and is working on her next two: (AmE) zwieback (toast) and (BrE) (teething) rusk.

These refer to essentially the same thing (when it comes to the baby product), although rusk can also be used in BrE to refer to a kind of bready stuff that's added to sausages. Zwieback rhymes with 'lie back' or 'lie Bach' (if Bach has a hard /k/ sound at the end) in my dialect, but American Heritage lists a number of alternative pronunciations. It comes from the German for 'twice baked', as that's what they are: first baked as a loaf, then sliced and baked again. In other words, they're biscotti for babies. (In South Africa, rusks are used just like biscotti--eaten by all ages, dunked into coffee or tea.)

Strangely, we weren't able to buy any of this staple of babyhood in the US, although we searched for it in supermarkets and (AmE) drug stores (=BrE chemist's shop, more or less) in three counties. Sometimes we found the empty space on the shelf where they were supposed to be, sometimes not even that. I searched on the web for signs of a recall or shortage, but found no information, except that, like all finger foods apparently, Gerber zwiebacks now carry stern warnings that they should not be given to children who cannot yet crawl with their stomachs lifted off the ground. They've made them part of their 'Graduates for Toddlers' range, suggested for age 10+ months. But, of course, you need them when the baby is cutting her front teeth, long before toddlerdom. Meanwhile, I just ordered some rusks from my UK on-line grocery and found them label(l)ed 'suitable from 4 months'. (Granted, they do give a recipe for making a sort of porridgy thing from them, so that's probably what's suitable for a 4-month-old.) I have to assume that the warnings on baby foods are the product of the litigious culture...but the warnings are so uniform across the brands/products that I wonder whether they're legally required. (Do any of you know?)

Though we didn't find zwiebacks, we did find some non-zwieback teething biscuits (and ignored age and crawling requirements), which Grover loves (and handles very well, despite being completely uninterested in crawling, since crying for Mum/Mom and Dad to pick her up and carry her wherever she wants to go has worked so well for her thus far). This made me return to thinking about biscuits. As we've discussed before, BrE biscuit is and isn't equivalent to AmE cookie, but in discussions comparing those two words, we tend to only mention the AmE sense of biscuit that refers to a scone-like (in appearance, at least) thing. We should acknowledge areas of overlap with BrE biscuit. Americans do use biscuit in the names for some cookie-like things: teething biscuits and dog biscuits. In both cases, these kind of biscuits are hard--harder than normal (BrE) biscuits/(AmE) cookies. I wonder whether these AmE uses of biscuit remain closer to its etymological meaning 'twice cooked', since teething biscuits (at least) typically are twice-baked (perhaps dog biscuits used to be twice-baked, too?). But note that in both of these cases, biscuit in AmE is used as part of a compound. We don't use biscuit alone to refer to crunchy things like these.

Pressing deadlines mean that I have to reduce my posting even further, I'm afraid. I have told myself that I can only blog once a week now, though it pains me to type that. I promise to work on that backlog of requests from kind readers.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

slutty

While it would be great if (BrE) pupils/(AmE) students in schools could read this blog, I am fairly certain that I've already run afoul of any nanny software worth its code, what with my repeated references to f(a)eces and genitalia. So I might as well report today's SbaCL moment.

We're in the US at the moment.  In a restaurant (BrE) car park/(AmE) parking lot with the Ginger Nut and her family, I had just pointed out that her 15-year-old daughter had a fair amount of her dinner on her (AmE) tank top/(BrE) vest. GN suggested that her daughter ride with us in order to direct us to our next destinations. Better Half teasingly shouted "We don't want that slutty teenager in our car!"

I don't think he'd finished the sentence before I rushed to inform everyone in earshot: "That means 'slovenly' in British English!" (Though the OED tells us that it's now dialectal.) Nowadays, of course, it can also be a not-nice way of describing someone as promiscuous, and that's the only meaning I've ever experienced in the US. The OED has only added that sense in 2004, with examples going back only to 1970--as opposed to c.1400 for the 'slovenly' sense.

The noun on which this adjective is based, slut, was originally used of "A woman of dirty, slovenly, or untidy habits or appearance" (OED), but the "woman of a low or loose character" sense came hot on its heels. While I've not heard women called sluts for being unkempt, I have heard the adjective slutty used to convey that meaning within BH's London-born family. And the next time they come to America, I'll warn them against shouting that other people's children are slutty.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

the big list of vegetables

If you're a regular reader, you'll know that I feel shame when I do a post that's mostly just listing "they say this, we say that". There are plenty of sites around that do that kind of straight word-for-word listing. But I get enough requests for vegetable names that I'm just going to try to get it over with right now. Where there are links, that's because I've already written about some of these at greater length elsewhere. I've also already written about veg/veggie and various herbs (and the pronunciation thereof). So please click on those links to discuss those issues in greater detail.

And now, the list (which has no particular order):

BrEAmE
aubergineeggplant
courgettezucchini
rocket (sometimes roquette)arugula
mange toutsnow peas/sugar peas
spring oniongreen onion/scallion
swederutabaga
beetroot (treated as a mass noun)beet (count noun)
sweetcorncorn
chicoryBelgian endive
pepper (sweet pepper if it's not green; one occasionally hears the AusE capsicum)
(bell) pepper


chick-peachickpea/garbanzo bean
haricot beannavy bean
broad beanfava bean
runner beanstring bean
cos lettuceromaine lettuce

In addition, some names for groups of vegetables are different. BrE pulses = AmE legumes (though, technically, legume is a broader category). In AmE I'd refer to cruciferous vegetables, meaning broccoli and cauliflower collectively, but in BrE I hear Brassica, the Latin name of the family (which includes cabbage and Brussels sprouts).

Squash are another matter. One easily finds acorn and butternut squash (and courgettes/zucchini) in both countries, but otherwise the varieties of squash tend to be different. Marrows will be known to fans of Wallace and Grommit, but the term is not much used in the US. It refers to "any of various kinds of squash or gourd which are chiefly the fruits of varieties of Cucurbita pepo, eaten as a vegetable; esp. one of the larger round or cylindrical kinds with green, white, or striped skins and greenish-white or (occas.) yellowish pulpy flesh" (OED June 2008 draft rev.), so courgettes/zucchinis are technically small marrows. In the UK I've never seen what we call summer squash* (aka yellow squash--is this a regional difference? Not sure) or spaghetti squash (which was something of a fad in the US in the 1970s, I think, but I haven't seen it lately). The OED lists pattypan (squash) as 'chiefly N. Amer.', but I've only seen it for sale in the UK and South Africa. Pumpkin is generally only used of the orange-rinded variety (for making jack o'lanterns) in AmE, but in BrE the term applies more generally to gourd-y squashes with orange flesh. (Jack-0-lantern pumpkins have become more available in the UK as Halloween celebrations have become more popular.)

The British talk about more kinds of shelled peas (garden peas, petits-pois [for younger, sweeter peas]) than Americans do. (Click on the link for the mushy variety.)

As can be seen in the examples presented here, BrE tends to be more influenced by French and AmE shows some Italian influence, which is not surprising since Britain has a lot of contact with France and its cuisine, and popular cuisine in the US has been greatly affected by Italian (and other) immigrants. Those who read Menu Italian may not recogni{s/z}e arugula for Italian rucola, but arugula was the dialectal version of the word that immigrated to America. (Just as rutabaga is not the general Swedish word for that kind of turnip, but a dialectal term for it. Click on the link above for more on that.)

I await the first comment that points out a completely obvious one that I've left off the list!

*Summer squash for me has two meanings. Either the general term that refers to any thin-skinned squash, or the specific one that refers to yellow squash that are picked at the same time as courgettes/zucchini.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

pudding

I've avoided doing a post on how BrE pudding is used to mean (AmE) dessert because it's one of those AmE/BrE differences that is known by most people with any interest in the two countries. (And way back in the beginning, I said that this blog wasn't about those things that are well-covered in lists of AmE/BrE differences. This has led me to drag my feet, or perhaps my knuckles, in responding to requests for this topic from American readers Cathy and Jacqueline.) The pudding/dessert equation has been mentioned in passing here and there on the blog. But there are angles on this issue that deserve further discussion. So what the hell, here are some observations on them.

This comes up naturally, since I'm in the US at the moment, and the first 'new' AmE/BrE difference we taught my linguistically insightful five-year-old niece on this visit was "dessert is called pudding in England". Her immediate question was the same as reader Cathy's:
If any dessert can be called pudding, what is [AmE] pudding called [in BrE]?
But before I get to that, let's start with a fine-tuning of the general American understanding of the meaning of pudding in BrE. Yes, it can be used to refer to the sweet course of a meal, served after the main course. But in addition to referring to a course, it can also refer to a particular kind of dish, as it does in AmE. But there's still a translational problem, in that it doesn't refer to the same type of dish in the two dialects. In BrE, the dish-sense of pudding is:
A baked or steamed sponge or suet dish, usually sweet and served as a dessert, but also savoury suet puddings (e.g. steak and kidney). Also milk puddings, made by baking rice, semolina, or sago in milk. (Bender & Bender, A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition, Oxford UP, 1995)
Here's a photo of a Christmas pudding, from Cumbria Rural Enterprise Agency. It's kind of like a fruit cake, but it's cooked by steaming. I know Anglophiles who buy and eat Christmas puddings in the US, but other such puddings are very rare in the US. My personal favo(u)rite is Sticky Toffee Pudding, and I consider it my duty to sample as wide a variety of STPs as possible in order to try to identify the best. Nominations on a postcard, please! (AmE speakers should usually mentally translate toffee in BrE contexts to caramel.)

In AmE, pudding nowadays refers particularly to creamy, custard-like desserts. Wikipedia treats this better than other dictionaries I've consulted (BrE translations in brackets are mine):
The second and newer type of pudding consists of sugar, milk and a thickening agent such as cornstarch [=BrE corn flour], gelatin, eggs, rice or tapioca to create a sweet, creamy dessert. These puddings are made either by simmering on top of the stove [=BrE on the hob; AmE stove = BrE cooker] in a saucepan or double boiler or by baking in an oven, often in a bain-marie. They are typically served chilled, but a few types, such as zabaglione and rice pudding, may be served warm.
As the Wikipedia bit indicates, the steamed, cake-ish kind of pudding is older than the 'milk pudding' sense, but it's not the oldest. Originally pudding referred to more sausage-like things. Hence black pudding, a blood sausage that is far more common in Britain (especially in the north of England--at breakfast time, for godsakes) than in the US.

On the grammatical angle, note that the BrE dish-sense of pudding is often a count noun (e.g. I made enough sticky toffee puddings to feed an army) because the puddings are items with well-defined boundaries, whereas in AmE it's usually a mass noun (e.g. I made enough pudding [not puddings] for everyone) since it refers to a substance. (Throughout English, we have the ability to make count nouns out of mass nouns and vice versa, so in this case I'm talking about the natural state of these words when referring to the food as it is prepared, rather than the senses "a portion of X" or "a smear of X", etc.)

So, what do BrE speakers call the creamy stuff that Americans call pudding? I think the best answer is that they don't call it anything in particular. There is no such thing as Jell-o pudding (the form in which most Americans encounter this substance) in the UK. The closest thing to that, although it's more 'mousse-like' is probably Angel Delight. A baked custard is a kind of pudding-y thing that is found in both countries (though not very popular in either place now, I think, except in the more exotic Spanish/Mexican incarnation, flan--which Kevin in the comments reminds us is usually called crème caramel in BrE. See the comments for more on what flan means). But in the UK custard usually refers to pouring custard, which Americans might occasionally come across under its French name crème anglaise. (This was discussed before, back here.) Both countries have rice pudding and the less creamy bread pudding.

(Incidentally, Better Half and I were grocery-shopping here the other day, and we happened down the Jell-o [US trade name, used generically to mean 'flavo(u)red gelatin', i.e. BrE jelly] aisle. BH was flabbergasted by the range of little boxes to be found there, which included two brands (Jell-o and Royal) and both gelatin/jelly and (AmE) pudding mixes. The Kraft Foods website lists 20 flavo(u)rs of regular Jell-o, 12 of sugar-free Jell-o, 17 of instant regular Jell-o pudding, 9 of instant diet Jell-o pudding, and 9 of the regular and diet cook-and-serve pudding mixes. So that's 67 products before we even start counting the ones that Royal makes. I've lived abroad long enough that instead of celebrating such a range of products, I am exhausted by the thought of it and look forward to getting back to a more sensible shopping experience. But only after I've loaded up my suitcase with A1 sauce, low-calorie microwave popcorn and New York State maple syrup.)

Returning to the course-sense of pudding, the term dessert is heard in BrE. The first sense below from the OED has been around in BrE since the 17th century at least, while the second, more general sense is noted as more American, but increasingly found in BrE:

1. a. A course of fruit, sweetmeats, etc. served after a dinner or supper; ‘the last course at an entertainment’ (J.).
b. ‘In the United States often used to include pies, puddings, and other sweet dishes’ (Cent. Dict.). Now also in British usage.
Other BrE terms for this course are the more colloquial afters and sweet, which is often found in lists of 'non-U' terms. Pudding is the least socially marked of these terms.

I believe that the pudding/dessert course is the one that diverges most, food-wise, in the two countries. That is to say, there are lots and lots of British puddings that aren't found in the US and American desserts that aren't found in the UK. And, of course, some of these are sources of amusement--particularly the name of the British dish spotted dick.

Finally (and not entirely unrelatedly), pudding is sometimes clipped to pud (rhymes with wood), which disturbs me when I see it in writing since I first learned pud as a slang term for a woman's genitals that rhymes with bud and is derived from pudendum. But BrE also has a genital-slang pud, which means 'penis'. This one rhymes with wood, since it is derived from pudding. (The OED notes that this is chiefly used in the masturbatory phrase pull the/one's pud.)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

rhymes

I'll be off-line for a few days, so here's something to discuss amongst yourselves.

Fatherhood has made Better Half go all musical--he's constantly making up songs to sing to little Grover. I've been keeping track of some of the rhymes that he makes that wouldn't rhyme at all if I were to say them:
garden - Baden-Baden
banana - James Garner
snorty - naughty
All three of the so-called rhymes are scuppered by our different rhoticity (BH being non-rhotic and me rhotic), but we also have different vowels in banana and naughty. (We both approximate the German Baden-Baden in roughly the same way.) His banana has low, back vowels in both the last two syllables; mine has an [ae] (imagine that as a single symbol) in the middle. Thus, the middle syllable differs in much the same way as our pronunciations of bath differ--so check out bath on the Sound Comparisons website, if you'd like to hear that difference. The first vowel in naughty is much rounder in BH's dialect than in mine--see daughter on the Sound Comparisons site. In both cases on that site, my pronunciation is more like Ohio than 'Standard American' (the Standard American guy has a really annoying uptalk thing going on) and his is close enough to RP.

Incidentally, all this seems related to the reason [or one of the reasons] that Grover isn't named Frances, though we both like that name (that, and the fact that we like the name we gave her that much better). Our pronunciations of the 'a' make Frances sound like two different names, and we were afraid that would cause a personality disorder in our child. (Unfortunately, there are no 'a'+/ns/ words on Sound Comparisons, so again, you'll have to extrapolate from the difference in bath.) Somehow the fact that we've given her a name (yes, her real-life name, as well as her pseudonym) with a post-vocalic /r/ didn't seem like as much of a problem. I have no idea whether she's figured out yet that what Daddy says and what (BrE) Mummy says are both the same word, and her name. They say that a baby can recogni{s/z}e her/his name at four months old, but Grover doesn't particularly take notice when I call her name, so perhaps we've already done what Larkin said we'd do.

So, over to you, what rhymes have come between you and a speaker of another dialect?