Monday, February 16, 2009

gutted

This mail from American Susanna had me chuckling:

I wanted to tell you my experience with the term gutted. I've always associated it with "eviscerated", especially when applied to a human being. When applied to a document or law or something of that nature, to me it means "emptied of its important features". If referring to things like a burned house, it means destroyed so that nothing remains but the outer shell.

Last year I took to reading the online version of a newspaper in Scotland; I can't remember which one now but I was in the midst of a fascination with the Orkneys so it was probably in that vicinity. In the headline about a break-in and theft at a home, the newspaper said the residents were "gutted". Well! That seemed quite callous to me, to put a word that harsh in the headline. I assumed, you see, that the residents had been killed and eviscerated. So I wrote a note to the editor saying I thought it was pretty bad form.

Imagine my surprise to receive an email from a reader of the newspaper letting me know that the newspaper editor had published my email with a laughing note about the differences in American vs British English! Because, as you know, gutted in British English means some variation of "highly distressed".

I will tread very lightly when emailing non-American newspapers!
A good lesson for all of us!

To give a little more info about BrE gutted--it's a relatively recent, informal (some would say 'slang') term. It was added to the OED in its 1993 edition, with quotations going back only to 1984 (but, of course, it could be much older in speech). Their senses for it are: 'bitterly disappointed; devastated, shattered; utterly fed up'. The last of these doesn't ring true for me--I'd usually interpret it as 'devastated'--that is, a feeling as if you've been emptied out. Of course, it's used for much lesser things as well. Google "I'm gutted" and you'll get lots of sport-related exaggeration.

55 comments:

Maureen said...

That's a hilarious story but I can see how the word would be mis-interpreted!

I'm an American living in England and the first time I heard the word, "gutted", I figured out what it meant by the way it was used but I've never liked the word and I still cringe when I hear it. I refuse to use the expression myself amd my English husband dislikes it too. He says that it sounds very common and I tend to agree.

WithoutIssue said...

This word is used a lot in NZE, especially in sporting matters (by the losing team of course).
I remember it from my school days so it was in use here during the late seventies or early eighties, at least. As for usage, most people are “really gutted, “totally gutted” or “completely gutted”. It seems rare to be just “gutted”.

John Cowan said...

Note that gutting a house can be a good thing: the building I live in was gutted ten years ago, and all the rotten interior beams and flooring completely replaced. The shell, which is brick and dates from 1872, was still sound and was left alone, which saved many $$$$ in the work.

Z. D. Smith said...

'shattered' being a slightly ironic, if apropos for our purposes, choice, as we Americans (and that authority it seems) use it to mean 'utterly destroyed emotionally', whereas I have heard my English friends, when speaking figuratively, use it exclusively to mean 'really tired.' That's another slightly startling experience.

Nancy said...

This use of "gutted" is unfamiliar to me, an American, although I'm very familiar with "gut" as academic slang. For decades, a "gut course" (or simply a gut) has been a notoriously easy one--one a student could coast through, presumably on gut instinct alone.

James said...

Then there's also "knackered". I don't know if it's still in use, but I had to friends from England and Wales in the mid-90s, about 20 years old, who used it all the time to mean "tired".

Why do UKers have so many violent slang terms for being tired?

James said...

That would be "two friends".

Anonymous said...

Knackered is still alive and well! My mum also uses 'bushwhacked' (which, to me, looks quite bizarre written down) but I can't recall whether it's widespread or just regional.

I think violent words are used simply to make the meaning more intense. 'Extremely tired' just doesn't seem to put across the same amount of expression as 'absolutely shattered' or 'completely knackered'.

mollymooly said...

I associate the term exclusively with post-match interviews of footballers. There are lots of terms I only hear from players and commentators on TV. I don't have much interaction with the English working class, so I can't say which might be more widespread and which are exclusively part of the sport's slang.

undyingking said...

"Gutted" is pretty slangy for a newspaper headline; that surprises me a little. They must be very informal in the Orkneys.

Picky said...

Memory is very unreliable, of course, but I seem to recall that "gutted" used this way started out as "emotionally gutted" - describing a state of such devastation that the emotions no longer work - a state of shock; the way you might feel if England were all out for 51. As you can see from some of the comments, many of us British look down our middle-class noses at this use of "gutted" - it is SO working class and soccery.

townmouse said...

@James - knackered is still used; I think it used to have the implication that the tiredness was due to excessive sexual activity but that no longer seems to be the case (I seem to recall there was a bit of a fuss when Princess Anne used it).

Johnny E said...

"Gutted" in a headline? I've always heard it informally, on top of which it's almost always hyperbole, so has presumably lost a lot of force. To me it's the kind of thing someone says after a minor disaster - bad exam mark, losing a football match etc. Seems bizarre for a newspaper to say "House burgled: residents gutted". I'm guessing it's got more of a visceral (apt word there) undertone in Scotland?

Emily said...

I'm a recent transplant from the US to the UK. I on occassion have heard "gutted" used in the States to describe an emotional state, but more as a metaphoric verb. For example, "She gutted me when she broke my heart." I.e., the heartbreaker left him feeling empty inside. But I have not heard it used to describe a general state of distress. I'll tuck that one away to avoid future embarrassment.

jhm said...

Anonymous, this New Englander is very acquainted with 'bushed' as a synonym for 'tired' or 'exhausted,' (even prior to our last President*) but I've never heard 'bushwhacked' used for anything other than an ambuscade, or other instance of being taken unawares. Did one usage come out of the other? I wonder which one was original.

Cameron said...

Got to say, Picky, when this Scotsman heard the England cricket team were all out for 51, the appropriate terms would have been things like "highly amused" and "cheered up no end".

Pretty much agree with everyone re "gutted". Surprised, but not overly so, to hear of it in a headline. By the way, I'm told Orcadians hate hearing the place they come from referred to as "the Orkneys" and insist that it is simply Orkney (or the Orkney islands). Same with Shetland.

Zach said...

Guttered and Knackered are both commonly used words in Australia. Guttered is used for both extreme emotional loss/distress (in which case it is usually used when talking about someone else - rarely about yourself) and also for general tiredness tough it is easy to tell which is meant by the context in which the term is used.

Knackered always means extremely tired and is probably more frequently heard than gutted. Both terms are used so frequently over here that one often forgets that they are slang and that others would have no idea what they mean.

Picky said...

Well, Cameron, I'm surprised - nay, horrified, by such lack of sympathy. I'm gutted, in fact. Totally, absolutely, completely gutted.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

"Knackered" for tired - or the rhyming slang "Cream-crackered". My (BrE)father, in his mid-80s, will insist on saying "Shagged out" no matter how many times we tell him that's not acceptable in mixed company!

I don't really use "gutted" myself - I think I'm the wrong generation - but expect and understand its usage as a synonym for "devastated".

Eva Longley said...

I actually have serious difficulty in believing that American Susanna couldn't intuit, if not exactly what 'gutted' meant, then at least that it was a metaphorical usage from a different variety of English. The fact that she then sent a disapproving email to the editor of a newspaper from a different country taking issue with his English strikes me as hilariously culturally-imperialist! And prissy. And, admittedly, funny, in your retelling. But American Susanna might need to get a grip.

'Knackered', I've always assumed, suggests you're feeling dead with exhaustion, like a horse carcass being dragged off by the knacker.

In my experience, those who won't say 'knackered' because it's 'common' are the kind of lower-middle-class types who worry a lot about being mistaken for the Lower Orders, whose vocabulary is generally more varied and interesting than theirs. To such people I would suggest that they stop knawvshawling (Hiberno-English for whingeing or complaining, derived from the Irish 'cnamh' (bone), and used frequently by Joyce, as well as my unapologetically common family and self).

Picky said...

Dear Eva Longley, thankyou for your words on the prissy non-knackerers, which are absolutely spot on, but most of all for introducing me to the beautiful word knawvshawling. How do you pronounce it (bear in mind I'm S London BrE)?

Eva Longley said...

Delighted to spread it around, Picky. Pronounced pretty much as it looks - 'nawve-SHAWLing' (both vowel sounds rhyme with 'gnaw', emphasis on the second syllable. Some people pronounce the initial 'k'.)

Come to think of it, I think Joyce spells it 'knauvshauling', and that's the only place I've ever seen it written down. It's pretty localised to my bit of Ireland, and not something you hear much any more.

mollymooly said...

Some people pronounce the initial 'k'.

You have to pronounce the K: that's why it's there! It's an anglicized respelling of the Irish.

Of course Knock, name of a town, and part of many hill-names, is pronounced as in English, even though it represents the Irish cnoc, whose C is not silent.

Altissima said...

Zach describes perfectly the most common usage of "gutted" in Australia. I would be surprised to see it used in a newspaper article, unless they were directly quoting someone, as the register is definitely informal.
The sense of "gutted" to describe a building reduced to outer shell, while not as common, seems an OK register for newspaper use.

Paul said...

A locally famous building in Blackpool (England) burnt down the other day and I heard the manager of the wine bar based there say on the radio that he was gutted. Sometimes we select surprisingly appropriate items of lexis.

Off to bed now, as am knackered.

Ginger Yellow said...

"As you can see from some of the comments, many of us British look down our middle-class noses at this use of "gutted" - it is SO working class and soccery."

As a middle class football fan, I use "gutted" all the time.

Anonymous said...

I grew up (in the UK) understanding "shattered" to mean "emotionally devastated", and was surprised when I first heard people use it to mean "very tired". This would have been around 1970, I think.
Having visited Orkney a few years ago, I can confirm Cameron's statement about their preferred terminology.
Kate (Derby)

Jethed said...

Gutted is an excellent word, very useful for describing a very specific feeling of disappointment and loss.

Appropriate use:
"I'm gutted, I was really looking forward to that salmon and now it's all over the carpet"

Inappropriate use:
"I'm gutted, my gran's just been run over".

Also useful to express sympathy for someone who has experienced such a loss:
"I've dropped my keys in the pond"
"Aw, gutted"

Cameron said...

On the other hand, Ginger, I bet you don't use "soccery" too often. Or for that matter "soccer". To British ears and coming from British lips it sounds horribly snooty and BrE public/AmE private school.

Ginger Yellow said...

Well I did go to (BrE) public school. But no, I don't use "soccer", let alone "soccery". Football, footy, kickball and the beautiful game are acceptable.

Picky said...

Cameron and Ginger are right, of course. In the UK only people who think there are two kinds of football and the real one is "rugger" would really need the word "soccer".

I was hoping the charmingly snooty word "soccery" was my invention. Unfortunately Google disagrees.

James said...

Zach, I'm surprised that you say "knackered" and "gutted" are common in Australia. I've been living there for about four years, and I'm sure I would remember it if someone had ever said "knackered". I live in Canberra.

Zach said...

James, I'm from Western Australia (specifically the south west though I am currently in Perth) and I hear the terms used everyday so maybe its a regional thing.

Also - Jethed, here you 'inappropriate use' of the word gutted would be much more likely to be used than your 'appropriate use'. Gutted is usually used for more major things than spilt food. A death in the family, a house burning down, losing a large amount of money or a pet dying are situations when you hear 'gutted' around here. The only exception to that is, as has been noted, to do with sports teams not performing very well.

Interface said...

James:

You think Canberra is part of Australia?

susanna in alabama said...

This is "American Susanna". I enjoyed reading all of your comments!

I agree that I popped off too quickly to the editor. I worked as a journalist before going to grad school, where I trained as a criminologist. My research has been on homicide and media coverage of crime. I'm probably too quick to respond to things in those arenas, although in my defense I sent the note as an informal email to the editor, not intending for it to be published. And I sent the story to Lynne because I thought she and her readers would enjoy it at my expense. Some of my best stories feature me being an idiot. :D

As for regionalisms, is there as much difference within Britain as between Britain and the US? I grew up in rural Appalachia (eastern Kentucky), and have lived in the NYC metro area and now in the deep South. There are many many differences in sayings, pronunciations and general modes of communication amongst the three.

Oh, and please convey my apologies to the residents of Orkney :).

Anonymous said...

hmmm
in western canada
i was gutting myself refers to laughing so hard your guts came out...
must be a fishing thing...

Picky said...

No-one seems to be brave enough to answer you, Susanna, so with the courage of ignorance I'll have a bash at it ...

My guess is that there is much less difference between standard written AmE and standard written BrE than there is between the written standard and other local Englishes.

(That is said with an almost total lack of knowledge of American regional differences, I would admit!)

Come on, Lynne, you should know the right answer to this!

lynneguist said...

I don't know that anyone's tried to quantify the difference among BrE dialects versus among AmE dialects, but there's lots of dialectal variation within both countries.

I don't know what more one can say about it, Picky!

RWMG said...

Actually, I think the question was about variation within the UK versus variation between standard UK English and standard US English.

lynneguist said...

It was about is there as much variation within the UK as there is within the US, as I read it (and answered it).

biochemist said...

(BrE) A boyfriend in the 1960s (from NE England) used to use 'shattered' for 'very drunk'.
In 19th-C novels, perhaps Thomas Hardy or Dickens, I read about drunken men being carried home on a shutter by their friends, and put 2 and 2 together, perhaps wrongly!

Incidentally, this kind of shutter is a wooden panel that would be put up at night outside the glass windows of shops, and hence could easily be detached for a drunken apprentice. [The domestic shutter of this period is internal, hinged within the window reveal, and works to keep out the cold - effectively an insulator and a curtain. Not like the storm windows already discussed in another thread, nor the Alpine shutters which are outside the windows.]

Bonnie said...

I was born and raised in Chicago and I have heard gutted used in AmE to describe that disappointment or having-the-wind-knocked-out-of-you-type feeling. I don't think it's unique to BrE. But I think in the US I've only heard it as a whole phrase 'I felt gutted' so maybe we add the 'feel' verb to make the meaning clear.

Strawberryyog said...

I don't know if it's just me being weird, but I've tended to think of "gutted" as a Southernism or a Cockneyism or something. This could just be that its rise coincided with my move from NE England to the SW then London, and certainly does not seem to tie in well with its use in Orkney. But I almost never use this expression and I'm not, otherwise, sure why! It is not, sadly, because of my great refinement. :(

Boak said...

Strawberryyog, you may be right - I'm from London and I use "gutted" all the time, but more in Jethed's style than for great crises.

And "knackered" is probably one of my really over-used words. I've never considered it inappropriate though, whereas I wouldn't say "shagged out" in front of my grandad.

Pecunium said...

Might the origen relate to the feeling one has when punched in the gut?

Or is it just from that hollow feeling one has when something horrid happens?

James said...

I would thoroughly agree with Eva Longley, and mostly support others' comments too with a few exceptions.

Speaking only from laymans intuition, I have to slightly differ from my fellow sand groper Zach (slang for 'West Australian' for those not in the know, a term most of us wildly revile), I would never use gutted to describe tiredness but only to mean eviscerated, either physically or emotionally just as American Susanna interprets it. I can see the logic behind it (in the sense of being emptied, having nothing left inside, worn out) but it just doesn't sound right to me.

Knackered completely acceptable but conversely, only to mean tired. I think shattered has a little more wiggle room, being used mainly to mean emotional devastation but acceptable for meaning completely worn out.

As my personal tastes rebel against it I can't say I find 'gutted' an acceptable slang to be used in newspaper headlines, but given the tabloid-esque standards of most printed media (where I live at least) I certainly wouldn't have given it a second thought if I had read it in the same scenario as Suanna.

I hear all the above frequently enough, but would probably only use gutted in normal parlance for comical effect with a strong sense of irony, with a bit of ocker in my accent for added effect.

Sorry, I am physically incapable of brevity.

Robbie said...

[US born, UK based] "Gutted" isn't part of my usual vocabulary, but I found it spontaneously popping out of my mouth recently. A friend was desperately keen to meet a celebrity at the stage door, but had to leave too soon to catch a train.

"Gutted" was the only word that could express such utter disappointment -- at least within the informality of the setting where I was mentioning it. "He was dreadfully disappointed" might have sufficed over tea with the duchess, but not at 11:30 pm among mates.

John Cowan said...

Lynneguist:

There are surely greater differences between U.K. varieties than between U.S. ones, though the variance is shrinking as U.K. traditional dialects disappear in favor of the standard dialect with a regional accent, or mixtures of that with traditional dialect. This is true all over Europe.

In North America, we pretty much have only the standard dialect with American and Canadian regional usages, the kind you document so well here. AAVE, the related Gullah, Newf, Hoi Toider, and Acadian English are surely separate dialects, but all except AAVE are spoken only by tiny minorities, and nobody over the age of about six speaks pure AAVE without admixture from the standard.

Anonymous said...

I'm watching Season 5 of Masterchef (on BitTorrent) and had to Google the phrase, "I'm absolutely gutted," because most of the contestants say this when they're eliminated. Or, when they're being interviewed about the possibilities of advancement on the show they say, "I'll be absolutely gutted if I don't make it to the next round." They all sound like drama queens to me. The phrase has been so overly used on the show that it's lost it's impact, and now I just laugh when I hear it.

At this time, your blog is the #1 search result for 'I'm absolutely gutted phrase', congrats! And thanks for posting, it was enjoyable reading and answered all of my questions.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

I just see "gutted" as UK English for our American word, "bummed" or the phrase "worn out." Someone can also "wear you out" over something. As in, "This customer is wearing us out because we're out of the coffee that's on special."

As for our American view that "gutted" is a bit hyperboloic, just look at our American use of the word "awesome." "How was lunch?" "It was awesome. What time's the game start?"

No one is REALLY an emotional basket case (gutted) because he got to the ticket window and the show was sold out or because he got stuck in traffic. The hyperbole is so absurd that it actually downplays (plays down to put it properly) the emotion.

blahblahblahblahblah said...

Great post.

I just see "gutted" as UK English for our American word, "bummed" or the phrase "worn out." Someone can also "wear you out" over something. As in, "This customer is wearing us out because we're out of the coffee that's on special."

As for our American view that "gutted" is a bit hyperboloic, just look at our American use of the word "awesome." "How was lunch?" "It was awesome. What time's the game start?"

No one is REALLY an emotional basket case (gutted) because he got to the ticket window and the show was sold out or because he got stuck in traffic. The hyperbole is so absurd that it actually downplays (plays down to put it properly) the emotion.

Jon Sumner said...

I remember the word "gutted" (as in "upset/disappointed") entering my vocabulary in my first year as a secondary school student (in 1993). And I gather from your article that that was the year it entered the OED. So I guess it making its way through the teenage population of the U.K. in the early 90s! I subsequently learnt two wonderful antonyms of "gutted: "stoked" and "wrapped". I've a feeling those two may be from the States or Australia.

Grace said...

It's funny that Anonymous mentions the Masterchef bit since that's where I first heard the phrase as well. Only, I guess I was over-compensating for the non-rhotic accent because I thought they were saying they were 'guttered' (as in feeling really low). Whoops!

Iain Mac Eochagáin said...

I remember my father renovating (or as you'd say in America, 'remodeling') his old house in quite a big way and imaging out loud what the house would say to the one next door: "I was gutted!" Terrible pun, I know! For some reason he said the pun in an English accent, perhaps because he thinks it a foreign phrase.

Michael said...

Just to complicate things further, the silent "r" prevalent in British/Australian English seems to be resulting in "guttered" being used occasionally when "gutted" would historically be intended. An "eggcorn" phenomenon, I suspect, with any of a number of intuited meanings, depending on the author. Whilst the "sunk to the lowest point" meaning is an obvious one, I've heard certain "car enthusiasts" refer to the action of accidentally grinding one's shiny metal wheel rims against the kerb as "guttering" them, so I would expect there is a certain connotation of disappointment associated with that action.