Friday, March 27, 2009

redundant

David C wrote this week to ask:

I know the English use 'redundant' where we USns would say 'laid off' but the question came up whether they would use 'redundant' where we would say 'obsolete' in reference to, say, a 5-year old computer.

Let's back up a bit and discuss what David's taken for granted. In AmE a company can lay off its employees but in BrE a company (or a university!) makes its employees redundant. What's a little confusing is that you can be laid off in the UK too, but it means something different. According to this site (among others) a lay-off is expected to be temporary, as opposed to a redundancy in which you really, really lose your job. But this is not the understanding in AmE, where being laid off is the equivalent of BrE redundancy.

In answer to David's question, objects can also be made redundant in BrE--if they've been made worthless, particularly because they've been superseded by something else. Both Better Half and I feel like this is not quite the same thing as obsolete, but we're a bit hard-pressed to explain exactly why. Do others have this intuition?

Friday, March 20, 2009

collegiality

A British colleague and I were drowning our professional sorrows in a bit of bourbon whisk(e)y at a campus pub yesterday, when an American from another department stopped by our table to discuss the bad news that's affected us. Professor American expressed his dismay at our news and how it had been delivered to us and the campus--that he felt a lack of collegiality in the way that we were treated.

As soon as he went back to his table, my British colleague said "I love that word collegiality. It's really an American thing, isn't it?"

Well, maybe.

If it's not a word that you use much, then Wikipedia is helpful in this case:

Colleagues are those explicitly united in a common purpose and respecting each other's abilities to work toward that purpose. A colleague is an associate in a profession or in a civil or ecclesiastical office.

Thus, the word collegiality can connote respect for another's commitment to the common purpose and ability to work toward it.
Wikipedia also notes that in sociological terms, collegiality is the opposite of bureaucracy.

The word comes from French, and certainly can be found in BrE texts. But in academic life, it certainly is true that it's a word one hears much more on the left side of the pond.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

telling the difference between American and British mothers

Children of North American mothers are over-represented at Grover's (BrE) creche/(AmE) daycare. My theory on this is that the foreigners on campus are more likely to require their child care services, since they're less likely to have relatives living locally to help out and because it's likely that their co-parents will also be academics (since, as newcomers to the country, more of our social life--in the absence of family, school friends, etc--is probably to be found at work). The alternative is to believe it's because we're more pushy than British parents in making sure that our children get to the top of the waiting list. I'm discounting that hypothesis due to evidence that my native-British counterparts are well-practiced in pushiness.

I've mentioned before that I can be fairly inattentive to accents. But I have a sure-fire way of telling which parents are British and which ones North American, which I'll share with you just in case you ever need to sort people by nationality at a playground. First, wait the 5 seconds or so it'll take before the parent is impressed by (or at least wants to give positive feedback about) something the child has done. Say, quacking like a duck or successfully getting from standing position to sitting position without crying or drawing blood. (These work in the 12-to-14-month-old set, at least.) Then listen:
  • The British parent will say Well done!
  • The American parent will say Good job!
I find myself saying both now, because I've become hyperaware that Good job sounds American. We're saying it a lot these days, as Grover took her first steps on Sunday. She seems to have well and truly caught up with the children her age who gestated properly. Hurrah!