Tuesday, April 27, 2010

trips and journeys

At one point last month, I tweeted:
watching music channel w/ subtitles. Makes me think I shd do a blog post on Estelle's 'American Boy'. Or is it just too embarrassingly late?
I was encouraged to take on this project by an American boy (if he'll put up with me calling him 'boy') called NativeTexanZach, and promised him that I'd dedicate the resulting post to him.  So, feeling a little guilty that I might be disappointing the youth of America, I went back to find out what it was that I'd promised to blog about -- and all I found was the unimpressive tweet that you see before you now.  I found the lyrics of the song, and, you know, there's just not that much to it.  I mean, there are Americanisms, but why did I think that the song cried out for its own blog post?  Was it just the inversion of the usual American-women-think-English-men-are-sexy stereotype?

(Incidentally, if you are an American woman and take the advice of this eHow piece on 'How to date a British man', I hope that you will live up to another American stereotype and sue the site for its utter uselessness.  They seem to have got their idea of British men entirely from Hugh Grant [AmE-preferred] movies/[BrE-preferred] films.  "Expect to be called duckie"?  Reader, I married him, and the only animal name I've been called is (BrE) miserable cow, which, I have been told, is used with affection.)  

So, rather than taking you tediously line-by-line through the song, let's just home in on one word, found in the first line of the chorus: trip.
Take me on a trip, I'd like to go some day.
Take me to New York, I'd love to see LA.
I really want to come kick it with you.
You'll be my American Boy.
I'm not saying that Estelle is saying anything that wouldn't be natural in either dialect--this is just a convenient way to pay my debt to NativeTexanZach while writing about something I've decided I want to write about.  The difference for trip is that Americans use it more often than the British do, and more often than journey.  BrE, on the other hand, uses journey as much as it uses trip.  To illustrate, the British National Corpus has roughly equal numbers of trip and journey (4432 & 4620/100 million words), whereas the Corpus of Contemporary American English has two-and-a-half times as many trips as journeys (8063 & 3131/100mw).

I was drawn to writing about trip because my use of it was commented upon by an Englishperson who will remain anonymous only because I can't remember who he/she/it was.  That person claimed that BrE retains the original sense of a trip being a particularly short journey.  However, the BNC data doesn't immediately bear this out.  Among the BrE examples are trips to the Arctic, the States and the moon (and many more like that).

The more I look at the data, the more it becomes evident that the difference isn't it trip, it's in journey.  Here are some of the BrE journeys where I would say trip in my native AmE:
PAMELA makes another journey round the stage with her bundle. 
We arrived at the French Riviera town of Frejus after an overnight journey on the Motorail.  
All of which makes the Jorvik Viking Centre not just the journey of a lifetime, but the most exciting journey in a thousand years.
There are also five BNC examples of break your journey, but none in the four-times-larger COCA:

Break your journey at Marton for a short walk to the site where Cook was born in 1728 

In AmE one would make a stopover rather than break a journey.

My impression was that Americans are more comfortable than BrE speakers in using trip to refer to just the journey portion of the travels--for example in Have a good trip!  The only problem with that impression is that, again, the corpus data don't support it.  BNC has 20 cases of Have a [adjective] trip and only 15 of Have a [adjective] journey.   But, once again, the data do support the difference being American non-use of journey.  COCA has 96 cases of Have a [adjective] trip, but only 19 of Have a [adjective] journey.  (COCA is four times the size of BNC, so the trip rates aren't very different from the dialect-comparison perspective.)

Of course, if I weren't a native English speaker, I wouldn't have needed to go through all this Googling and corpus-searching, since by this time my teacher would have given me a nice 'common mistakes in English' handout that tells me:
Journey (n) is used more in British English than American English. It means the 'piece' of travel between 2 or more points. The word journey is very rarely used as a verb.

ESL teachers: 1
Lynneguist: 0

Monday, April 12, 2010

stalls and cubicles

The linguistic difference of the day is inspired, as they often are, by a non-linguistic difference.  Better Half returned to our table at a restaurant to complain about the men's room. (For more on what else men's rooms might be called, see this post on toilets.)  The complaint, formed as a rhetorical question, went something like this:
Why is it that the (BrE) cubicles in American (BrE) public toilets never go all the way to the floor or the ceiling and there's always a huge gap that keeps the door from ever fully being closed, meaning that one can never have true privacy?
As is often the case with cross-cultural rhetorical questions, there is a hyperbole-coated grain of truth here.  But first, the vocabulary.  You'll have noticed that I marked BH's cubicles as BrE.  I learned about this at Scrabble Club, when I had cause to mention a little sub-room in the ladies' room that contains a single toilet.  I emerged from said room and informed someone that "There's no paper in the second (AmE) stall", at which point a competitor loudly exclaimed, "What, you were at the theat{re/er} in there?"  And so I defensively asked "What would you call it then?"  Ta-da! I give you cubicle.

This is of course, of course, of course not to say that AmE doesn't have the word cubicle (we use it for, among other things, the partitioned areas in open-plan offices), nor that BrE doesn't have the noun stall.  Each dialect just prefers a different one for the little doored privacy areas within (more BrE than AmE) lavatoriesStalls, as noted above, is more often used in BrE to refer to an area of theat{re/er} seating (or the people occupying those seats) in front of the orchestra pit (or a similar place in venues without orchestra pits). 

Back to BH's non-linguistic observation--it is more common in the UK than in the US to find fully enclosed sub-rooms for toilets in public conveniences, rather than the airy screened-area-with-a-door version (though these are also found).  And I do think it's more common in the US to have to turn a blind eye because you can see someone within the stall/cubicle through a crack between the door and its frame.  So, the fully-enclosed sub-room version is superior in terms of privacy.  But in favo(u)r of the flimsier version, at least there's better air circulation and you can always tell which ones are occupied.  There's also the opportunity to ask one's neighbo(u)r for a bit of paper if you find yourself in need.  The stranger-asking-for-paper scenario is one I've never experienced in England--and I'm sure that many of you will find this an advantage while others will think it's a worry.

And with this we say 'good-bye' to our (BrE) holiday/(AmE) vacation in the US, and 'hello again' to less frequent blogging!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

snogging

Eek!  The Wordnik List of the Day yesterday was titled "Hugonyms" and was explained as "Anything hugging related".  The Facebook announcement of this included several people excited about learning the new-to-them BrE (though not marked as such) word snog.  One went so far as to comment:
I'm gonna go snog my kids.........*snog* (love it!)
Eek!  Eek!  Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!  Eeky eekness!

Because it's a BrE slang word, it's not in most of the dictionaries that American-based Wordnik uses.  So, if one clicks on snog in the "Hugonym" list, the only "definition" one gets is from WordNet. But WordNet is not a dictionary--it's a lexical database that is closer to being a thesaurus.  It links words together into "synsets"--i.e. synonym sets.  So the "definition" that we get for snog is essentially a definition for the central word in its synset, kiss
touch with the lips or press the lips (against someone's mouth or other body part) as an expression of love, greeting, etc.
But one would not snog a person in greeting.  Well, I wouldn't, and I'm betting most of you wouldn't either.  (Did I mention eek?!)

Snog happened to be fodder for my Valentine's Day Difference of the Day tweet:
Difference of the day: (orig. & chiefly) AmE 'make out' vs. BrE 'snog'. Happy Valentine's Day!
Commenters on that tweet differed on whether making out required activities other than deep, passionate kissing (which, eek, is the meaning of snog).  But compare Urban Dictionary definitions:
make out the act of swapping spit with your significant other... or perhaps just some hottie you met at a party, but anyway, you just sit there sucking at each other's faces for an extended period of time and if you're lucky there might even be a little romming around of the hands if ya get my drift :p
snog  1. verb; to interface passionately with another being, creating a field of physical obsession and focused arousal +centered+ on the lips, mouth and tongue.
2. verb; to play tonsil hockey
Parents:  please do not snog your children.  Or announce that you will do so on the internet.

Lessons of the day:
  1. a little knowledge is a dangerous thing
  2. WordNet should not be used as a dictionary
 I'm going to go wash my eyeballs now.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

aberrant

Regular reader/commenter John Cowan wrote a few weeks ago to ask:

Would you consider polling your readership for their pronunciation of aberrant?  The OED2 gives only penultimate stress (the OED3 hasn't reached the word yet); m-w.com gives both initial and penultimate stress. My sense is that initial stress is far more common, partly because I've only heard that, and partly because of the frequent misspelling "abberant", which would be regular for initial stress.  But there may be an AmE/BrE factor at work here.
Unlike John, I only really know the penultimate stress version (aBERrant rather than ABerrant).  Just to prove me exceptional (doesn't that sound better than wrong?), my mother has just pronounced it with first-syllable stress.  On other recent occasions, I've heard the ABerrant pronunciation and assumed it to be from someone who's less than familiar with the word.  I know it, and have feelings about it, because  I had to learn for vocabulary quizzes in (AmE) 9th grade.  Last week I went to the funeral of the teacher who made me so judg(e)mental about other people's pronunciations.  Rest in peace, Mrs(.) Biddle!

I was interested to read the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel's take on the matter:
Traditionally aberrant has been pronounced with stress on the second syllable. In recent years, however, a pronunciation with stress on the first syllable has become equally common and may eventually supplant the older pronunciation. This change is owing perhaps to the influence of the words aberration and aberrated, which are stressed on the first syllable. The Usage Panel was divided almost evenly on the subject: 45 percent preferred the older pronunciation and 50 percent preferred the newer one. The remaining 5 percent of the Panelists said they use both pronunciations. 
 So, that's America.  What about the UK?  The Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation offers the older pronunciation only--but the fact that the word has made it into the guide probably indicates some insecurity about how it should be pronounced.  John Wells's Longman Pronunciation Dictionary lists both (older first) with no comment.  He's graciously responded to my email on the topic, saying:

Our stress rules for Latin and Greek words give stress on the -err- because of the geminated consonant (i.e. double in Latin and in spelling). Compare "venerate" with single r. So penultimate stress is what we expect, and the only form given in the OED.  However I have heard initial stress occasionally. I have no statistics on how widespread this might be.

So, what do you say (if you say it)?  Please remember to say where you're from when you answer!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

hustings and stumping

I follow the Twitterings of the candidates for our House of Commons seat and today each had a tweet that went something like this:
Really enjoyed Older People's Council hustings. Some great questions & interesting answers!
I've heard the word husting(s) at  previous British election times, but this time felt the need to look it up.  Wikipedia tells me:
A husting (called a stump in the United States) originally referred to a physical platform from which representatives presented their views or cast votes before a parliamentary or other election body.
We then have metonymic transfer to a name for the activity that traditionally went on on those types of platform.  There's a nice little explanation of the terms on this University of Texas site.  It starts:
[C]andidates for political office and an entourage of supporters, handlers, and journalists are said to go on the stump, or simply stumping.
It seems like a rather unattractive word to refer to a core activity of political campaigning – traveling from place to place making speeches in front of live audiences.
It goes on to distinguish between this sense of stump and another (orig. AmE) sense of the verb to stump: 'to befuddle' before picking up on hustings:
On the stump or on the hustings?
Sometimes when candidates are on the stump, we say that they are on the hustings. Hustings, according to The Word Detective comes from the Old Norse word husthing, meaning "house assembly."
Centuries ago rulers might convene a husthing, usually composed only of members of the immediate royal household as opposed to a larger popular assembly of constituents, in order to gather advice or issue decrees. The English later adapted the word as husting to refer to the senior court of the City of London, and later narrowed the meaning to refer to the physical platform in that court where the Lord Mayor sat.
Over time this last meaning was generalized to refer to any platform from which political candidates might address their audience, and more commonly today it refers to the campaign trail, which we also know as the stump. Notably, husting usually appears in modern English only in the plural form hustings, and then usually in the phrase on the hustings.
The presence of hustings on this American website indicates that the term is not limited to BrE--but it wasn't something I knew from my Democratic Party days.  A quick corpus search (BNC versus COCA) had hustings occurring three times as often in BrE as in AmE (I was surprised it wasn't more).  The last line of the above quotation indicates an area of difference.  On the hustings accounts for more than half of the occurrences of hustings in the AmE corpus, but less than a third of the occurrences in the BrE corpus.  The singular form husting does not occur in either corpus.  Meanwhile, AmE stump speech, i.e. the speech that a candidate makes repeatedly at different locales, occurs 45 times per 100 million words in the AmE corpus and not at all in the British corpus.

A hustings in BrE, at least, refers to an event where more than one candidate is present to debate and discuss issues with potential voters (as in the Older People's Council event that our candidates went to today). This differs from how the stump has developed--stump speeches are generally made without the presence of the other candidates.  The OED, on the topic of this sense of stump:

 14. Originally U.S.    a. In early use, the stump (sense 2) of a large felled tree used as a stand or platform for a speaker.    b. Hence, ‘a place or an occasion of political oratory’ (Cent. Dict.). to go on the stump, to take the stump: to go about the country making political speeches, whether as a candidate or as the advocate of a cause.
  In the U.S. the word ‘does not necessarily convey a derogatory implication’ (Cent. Dict.). In Britain, though now common, it is still felt to be somewhat undignified.
 And I'm just going to end here without further comment!