Wednesday, July 27, 2011

anti-Americanismism, part 2

As promised, here's my reaction to the second half of the BBC's list of 'Your most noted Americanisms'. Since part 1, many others have weighed in on that BBC piece, including Stan Carey, Not From Round Here, and on the BBC website (huzzah!!) Grant Barrett. The commenters at the BBC site, you may discern, are not completely taken with Grant's message.

So, back to the list.  And can I ask again:  if you'd like to discuss further any of the items that I've discussed in other blog posts (linked here), please comment at the original post. This is more helpful for people who come this way looking for answers, and it keeps the repetition down. Thanks!

26. As an expat living in New Orleans, it is a very long list but "burglarize" is currently the word that I most dislike. Simon, New Orleans
In the last instal(l)ment, I pointed out that bristling against -ize in AmE was a bit rich coming from a culture in which one can be (BrE) pressuri{s/z}ed to do something (where AmE would pressure them). Another such example is the BrE preference for acclimati{s/z}e in contexts where AmE is likely to use acclimate. In the comments of that blog post, the discussion turned to burgle/burglari{s/z}e, and I responded:
[D]on't be tempted to think that Americans have added syllables to burgle, as both words are derived (burgle by back-formation and burglarize by adding a suffix) from burglar. The two forms seem to have come about simultaneously in the 1870s. Oxford notes that burgle was at first a humorous and colloquial form.

Both burgle and burglarize are heard in the US, though burglarize is more common.

27. "Oftentimes" just makes me shiver with annoyance. Fortunately I've not noticed it over here yet. John, London
You haven't noticed in England because the people who used to say it died out. Or emigrated, perhaps.  This is one of those things that's an archaism in BrE (OED has it going back to the 14th century), but not so much in AmE. Still, you're almost 140 times more likely to hear often in AmE than oftentimes (according to the Corpus of Contemporary American English--henceforth COCA).

28. Eaterie. To use a prevalent phrase, oh my gaad! Alastair, Maidstone (now in Athens, Ohio)
I'm not sure whether Alastair is reacting to the word (also eatery) or the alternative spelling with -ieEatery is informal originally AmE, emphasis on the 'originally'. P.G. Wodehouse used it in Inimitable Jeeves (1923) and the OED has other examples of the UK press using it decades ago.

But the -ie spelling? That's looking more and more BrE to me. Trying to find the source of Alastair's ire, I looked for things called eaterie around Athens, OH--but I could only find things called eatery.  Looking at Wordnik's page for it, I noticed that many of the quotations were from UK-based writers/publications. So, I compared COCA and the British National Corpus. Eatery outnumbers eaterie 464:2 in the US corpus. Compare this to the UK corpus, where there are 7 cases of eaterie versus 4 of eatery.  Conclusion? Eaterie is the preferred (oddly Frenchified) British spelling and almost unknown in AmE. 

29. I'm a Brit living in New York. The one that always gets me is the American need to use the word bi-weekly when fortnightly would suffice just fine. Ami Grewal, New York
Fortnightly would not suffice in the US, since most Americans wouldn't know what you mean. It is generally not found in AmE, so to complain about Americans not using this British word is kind of like complaining about the British saying football when they could be saying soccer.  The adverb fortnightly has only been used in British English since the 19th century--so it's exactly the kind of thing that Americans shouldn't have been expected to preserve.  The noun fortnight is much older. But America hasn't bothered with it. It's a contraction of fourteen nights (or the Old English version of that), but two weeks is more transparent.

30. I hate "alternate" for "alternative". I don't like this as they are two distinct words, both have distinct meanings and it's useful to have both. Using alternate for alternative deprives us of a word. Catherine, London
This is something that people complain about on both sides of the Atlantic, and something my British students do all the time (and that their American (BrE use) tutor corrects).  Here's Grammar Girl's post on it, speaking to an American audience. While the OED marks it as 'chiefly North American', their first quotation containing the form is from a British legal text in 1776. Catherine should note, however, that alternative is in no danger of slipping from the language. The noun meanings of alternate and alternative continue to be separate, and the adjective alternative outnumbers adjectival alternate by about 7:1 in AmE (according to COCA).

31. "Hike" a price. Does that mean people who do that are hikers? No, hikers are ramblers! M Holloway, Accrington
Rambler here is a very BrE word--one that Americans in the UK tend to find amusing, since we only use the verb to ramble with the older meaning (from OED, bold added):

With reference to physical pursuits: to wander or travel in a free, unrestrained manner, without a definite aim or direction.
But the later BrE meaning is somewhat opposite to this, involving:
Now also (chiefly Brit.): to walk for pleasure through the countryside, freq. in company and on a specified route
But back to hike.  Most senses of hike are originally AmE; the word itself is of obscure origin--but probably from a colloquial and dialectal BrE word.


32. Going forward? If I do I shall collide with my keyboard. Ric Allen, Matlock

The OED's first citations of 'go forward' to mean 'make progress' come from Sir Thomas More, the Coverdale Bible and an elliptic use (now forward with your tale) from Shakespeare.  Probably overused in business jargon now, and everybody hates that.


33. I hate the word "deliverable". Used by management consultants for something that they will "deliver" instead of a report. Joseph Wall, Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire

Another bit of jargon. None of the dictionaries I've checked mark it as an Americanism, and some of the American dictionaries I've checked (AHD, M-W.com) don't have it at all. It's just jargon. People don't like jargon, no matter which country they live in. Especially jargon that's used to demand things of people, like this one is.


34. The most annoying Americanism is "a million and a half" when it is clearly one and a half million! A million and a half is 1,000,000.5 where one and a half million is 1,500,000. Gordon Brown, Coventry
If I go somewhere for an hour and a half, I am going for an hour and a half an hour. If a horse wins by a length and a half, it wins by a length and a half a length. On the same analogy, a million and a half is a million and a half a million, rather than a millon and a half of one. If one, for some odd reason, needs to refer to 1,000,000.5, one could say one-million-point-five. [Attempted jokes at the expense of the former Prime Minister deleted.]


35. "Reach out to" when the correct word is "ask". For example: "I will reach out to Kevin and let you know if that timing is convenient". Reach out? Is Kevin stuck in quicksand? Is he teetering on the edge of a cliff? Can't we just ask him? Nerina, London
Really, someone's said this to you in this context? I agree. Obviously the evil doing of the Bell Telephone company. (American cultural education link.)


36. Surely the most irritating is: "You do the Math." Math? It's MATHS. Michael Zealey, London

Not this one again.  Here is the true, muddled story of maths. Short story: it was only maths after it was math. And no, it's not plural.

37. I hate the fact I now have to order a "regular Americano". What ever happened to a medium sized coffee? Marcus Edwards, Hurst Green
Another one that everyone hates because it's just put there by marketing people to fool you. I have seen regular refer to small, medium and large--and that's just in Brighton (England, that is).  And why order an Americano when you could have a strong (BrE) filter coffee? (Yes, I know they're not quite the same, but in the name of patriotism...)

38. My worst horror is expiration, as in "expiration date". Whatever happened to expiry? Christina Vakomies, London
Expiration in the 'ending of something that was meant to last a certain time' sense goes back to the 1500s. First recorded use of expiry is in 1752. So, shouldn't it be Whatever happened to expiration?


39. My favourite one was where Americans claimed their family were "Scotch-Irish". This of course it totally inaccurate, as even if it were possible, it would be "Scots" not "Scotch", which as I pointed out is a drink. James, Somerset
It is completely possible. Scotch-Irish is an American term to refer to a particular immigrant group. It describes a historical group that (AmE) was/(BrE) were in their time referred to (and referring to themselves) by that name. Wikipedia reproduces a number of sources on the early (18th century) use of that name, so I won't do so again here.


40.I am increasingly hearing the phrase "that'll learn you" - when the English (and more correct) version was always "that'll teach you". What a ridiculous phrase! Tabitha, London
This brings us back to the not-recogni{s/z}ing-linguistic-humo(u)r-in-the-other-dialect problem. If you express a 'that'll teach you' message, you're putting yourself above the person you were talking to. If you want to soften that grab for social/moral superiority, you make it a non-standard way of expressing it, in order to humorously put yourself down a (more BrE) peg/(more AmE) notch. To do this in an emphatic way, people who wouldn't usually do so sometimes spell/pronounce this as that'll larn ya.


41. I really hate the phrase: "Where's it at?" This is not more efficient or informative than "where is it?" It just sounds grotesque and is immensely irritating. Adam, London
See the comments thread at this old post: Where I'm at

42. Period instead of full stop. Stuart Oliver, Sunderland
Another case of Americans using a British cast-off. (Now-AmE) period for this .  punctuation mark dates to the 16th century. The first record of (BrE) full stop is from just a few decades later, in 1600. It looks like both terms were introduced around the same time, and a different one won the battle for supremacy in different places.

43. My pet hate is "winningest", used in the context "Michael Schumacher is the winningest driver of all time". I can feel the rage rising even using it here. Gayle, Nottingham
Oh, I could have sworn I'd written about this one before, but it seems I haven't. I haven't much to say about it, except that it fills a gap and demonstrates a willingness to play with the language.


44. My brother now uses the term "season" for a TV series. Hideous. D Henderson, Edinburgh
But I have done this one. The upshot: AmE uses the term season and series for different television-related meanings, but BrE doesn't make that distinction at the lexical (word) level.

45. Having an "issue" instead of a "problem". John, Leicester 
This has been much-maligned in AmE too, but I think it's thrived because it's less negative and confrontational to talk of having an issue with something rather than a problem with it.


46. I hear more and more people pronouncing the letter Z as "zee". Not happy about it! Ross, London
Fair enough, but why has zed come to us from zeta, but beta hasn't turned up in English as bed? (Because it's come from French and they did it that way. But still!) I have two zee-related suspicions: (1) Some BrE speakers prefer zee in the alphabet song because it rhymes better (tee-U-vee/double-u-eks-why-and-zee/now I know my ABCs/next time won't you play with me). (2) Fear of 'zee' is a major reason that Sesame Street is no longer broadcast in most of the UK. Both of those issues (not problems!) are discussed in this old post.


47. To "medal" instead of to win a medal. Sets my teeth on edge with a vengeance. Helen, Martock, Somerset
"Americans have an awful habit of turning nouns into verbs" I'm often told. But in this case, the noun already was a verb. Here are the first two and the most recent OED quotations for to medal in the sense 'to decorate or hono(u)r with a medal':

1822    Byron Let. 4 May (1979) IX. 154   He was medalled.
1860    Thackeray Nil nisi Bonum in Roundabout Papers (1899) 174   Irving went home medalled by the King.  
1985    New Yorker 18 Mar. 125/1   He was eulogized‥and was renowned and medalled for his war record.
But the AmE sense that annoys Helen is different, in that the one who gets the medal is the 'agent', rather than the 'patient' in the sentence. For the sense that Lord Byron used, medal must be in the passive in order for the medal-recipient to be the subject of the sentence (as they are in all of the examples, because one wants to put the most relevant person first). In these cases, the agent of the medal(l)ing is the giver of the medal, and if they're in the sentence at all, they go in a 'by' phrase (the King in the 1860 quote). The sports sense 'to win a medal' makes the athlete the agent--the active getter of a medal, rather than the passive recipient of one, and therefore the verb is in the active voice (She medal(l)ed, rather than She was medal(l)ed). It would be inappropriate to say that a soldier 'medalled', as they did not set out to get a medal, a medal was conferred upon them. (Yes, I'm using singular they. You got a problem with that?) The athlete, on the other hand, was (to use an apparently orig. AusE phrase) in it to win it.

While it may seem confusing to have two senses of the verb with different roles attached to the subject in each case, it's not terrifically uncommon. For example, I hurt. Someone hurt me. I was hurt (by someone).  The ice melted. I melted the ice. The ice was melted by me. And so on and so forth.



48. "I got it for free" is a pet hate. You got it "free" not "for free". You don't get something cheap and say you got it "for cheap" do you? Mark Jones, Plymouth
On this logic, Mark, are we to assume that you say I got it expensive?  Maybe you do. I cannot.

But anyhow, this use of for before an adjective is found in AmE in other contexts as well--notably for real; but the range of contexts in which it's found seems to be narrowing. Some of the early OED examples--from just 1887 and 1900--sound very old-fashioned, if not completely odd: a for-true doctor and goin' to railroad him for fair. So, it looks like for free and for real are fossils of an earlier more general use of for+adjective.

49. "Turn that off already". Oh dear. Darren, Munich
If I were to make a list of BrE peeves, I think the list would have to be topped by The Oh dear of Condescension.

Utterance-final already comes to AmE via Yiddish. It's used to mark exasperation, and it does so very well. William Safire, in this old On Language column, quotes Lillian Feinsilver's book Taste of Yiddish (1970), which suggests now as an alternative. But Turn that off, now is a bit ambiguous and certainly doesn't give me the flavo(u)r of that sentence-final already. I'd be more likely to translate it with some  rather impolite words (e.g. Turn that off for ****'s sake. or Turn that off, you ****ing ****). Isn't it beautiful that we don't have to resort to such language?


50. "I could care less" instead of "I couldn't care less" has to be the worst. Opposite meaning of what they're trying to say. Jonathan, Birmingham
Unless they're trying their hand at irony, of course. But Americans couldn't do that, could they? At any rate: old post on could care less and old guest post on irony.



I know I should probably go back and edit this, but it's late, I'm tired and I've accidentally partially published this twice already today. So, I'll post it already.  Let us know what you think...

77 comments:

Richard Howland-Bolton said...

I (thoroughly English, living in the US) rather like ‘I could care less’. It is surely ellipsis for something like ‘I could care less, but it wouldn't be worth the effort’. Or perhaps it's a weird form of litotes:

Anonymous said...

It's a bit ironic that so many British people berate Americans for their supposed inability to understand sarcasm, and then have a go at "I could care less".

Paul Danon said...

This may be work in progress.

David Crosbie said...

re Scotch-Irish

The OED carries alternatives but cross references them thus

Scottish-Irish = Scots-Irish cf Scotch-Irish

Scots-Irish
2. Of or belonging to the Ulster Scots (Ulster Scot n. 1); descended from the Ulster Scots but living elsewhere, esp. in North America. Also: of mixed Scottish and Irish ancestry.
The more usual term in North America is Scotch-Irish adj. 2.

When the Scotch-Irish originally left Ireland, it would have been even more salient than today that they were the descendants of settlers from Scotland.

(The original Scots came from ireland, but this is book history — without any folk memory.)

Madam_Author said...

I don't have access to the OED (wish I did) but I can do a quick check using etymonline.com.

"38. My worst horror is expiration, as in "expiration date". Whatever happened to expiry? Christina Vakomies, London"

According to etymonline "expiration" in the sense of "termination, close, or end" is attested from the 1560s and "expiry" meaning "close or termination" is attested from 1752.

How is this an Americanism?

lynneguist said...

Just to note--the first five comments here come from a premature publishing of this post, when only the first item had been responded to. Thanks for your eagerness to contribute! Anonymous, you deserve some credit for influencing my response to the last item--give me a name/handle and I'll credit you properly.

Dru said...

Isn't the problem with how one says 1,500,000 caused by grammatical uncertainty and nothing to do with different sorts of English on different sides of the Atlantic? In 'a million miles' is 'million' an adjective that behaves oddly or a noun that behaves oddly?

You can't say 'a fifteen miles'. Nor is there an ordinary counting context where you can say 'a fifteen'. Likewise, you can't say 'a fifteen and a half miles'. You can only say 'fifteen and a half miles'. So it looks to my non-linguistically trained eyes as though 'fifteen' is an adjective.

You can, though, use 'a million' and 'a half' on their own, in which case they are more like nouns. 'Hundred', 'thousand' and the rarer 'lakh' appear to behave in a similar way.

I prefer 'one and a half million' and I can see that 'a million and a half' logically should mean 1,000,000.5 but I'd not hear it that way. It isn't causing confusion.

Much more hazardous is the need to check whether people understand the same thing by words like 'billion' and 'half five'.

Anyway, the one that really sets my teeth on edge is 'one half of one per cent', as in 'interest rates have risen by one half of one per cent'. It may be a bit unclear what is the correct way of saying this. I think it should be 'half a per-cent', and to avoid confusion will accept 'by half a percentage point' - but never 'one half of one per cent'. It's a nonsense. Nobody would say anything other than 'three and a half per cent'.

It would be easy for me, as an English person, to assume this outrage is a nasty transatlantic immigrant which I can condemn with effortless old world superiority. But I don't think it is. The only place I've heard it - far too often - is on the BBC. I assume that's the source of this horror and it ought to know better.

Stan said...

Sterling work again. There appears to be a strong correlation between linguistic peeving and being unwilling to do a little research. I suppose people prefer to hold on to their pet hates and poke them now and then like a sore tooth, rather than risk having them dissolve into relative meaninglessness.

On a side note, the phrase "double-u-eks-why-and-zee" gave me a moment's pause; being Irish, I'm used to sounding and hearing the h in wh-.

David Crosbie said...

Madam Author

I don't have access to the OED (wish I did)

That's what I thought until somebody told me about access through local libraries. If you're very lucky (as I am) you have an online membership number for use with your local library — which can also be used to log on to OED Online.

David Crosbie said...

The OED entry for burglarise starts with a quote from 1871 describing the word as 'a Yankeeism'. However, it's presented as forming a set with two words that we Brits now take entirely for granted: donated and collided.

(Actually, looking elsewhere in the OED indicates that the 1871 writer must have been wrong about collide, although donate does seem to be a nineteenth century coning.)

Ketsuban said...

The dislike of "Scotch-Irish" might be the fact that "Scotch" and "Erse" as terms for the Scottish and Irish have both ridden the dysphemism treadmill - they're considered offensive in the UK, and younger generations won't even have heard them as a result.

Ø said...

@Dru: If in the middle of airing your pet peeve you find yourself writing It may be a bit unclear what is the correct way of saying this. I think it should be [...] then you may be very sure that you have lost the battle.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Yes - Scots-Irish is surely the preferable term Scotch, as I understand it, refers to whisky or sticky tape, but never, ever to people (one is Scottish or Scots, or even a Scot).

An Americano is so not the same thing as a filter coffee - pet peeve of my son-in-law; an Americano is a diluted expresso and tastes quite different. I like both!

David Crosbie said...

Mrs Redboots

Does anybody really use the term Scots-Irish? Surely we'd do better to use Scotch-Irish for those who went to America and Ulster Scots for those who stayed behind.

vp said...

Of those people saying "I could care less", what percentage are thinking

"Well, I ought logically to say 'I couldn't care less, but I think I'll be IRONIC and say the opposite, heh heh..."

My guess: 0.001%


The remaining 99.999% are merely repeating an opaque idiom whose origin was doubtless phonological erosion of the unstressed "'nt" syllable of "I couldn't care less".

vp said...

@David Crosbie:

I don't have access to the OED (my local library is too stingy). Does it really have an entry for "burglarise" rather than "burglarize"? That would be a reversal of its practi{c|s}e in all the other "-i{z|s}e" words.

David Crosbie said...

vp

I always understood that it was an OUP thing. Other publishers prefer -ise on the whole, and so do I.

Of the six quotes in the entry, one is spelled burglarise:

1883 Talmage in Chr. Globe 13 Sept. 829/2
The man who had a contempt for a petty theft will burglarise the wheat-bin of a nation.

vp said...

@David Crosbie:

Yes, but doesn't the OED only give the "-ize" forms in its headwords?

In which case it's inaccurate to say that the OED has an entry for "burglarise": it doesn't.

Robbie said...

"48. "I got it for free" is a pet hate. You got it "free" not "for free". You don't get something cheap and say you got it "for cheap" do you?"

I've been known to say "I didn't get this for free, but I got it for cheap." All right, it's a lightly humorous phrasing, but it's certainly understandable.

Anyway, English is hardly bound by perfect logic.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you didn't point out that "that'll learn you" is alive and well in certain British dialects, though I agree that it in contemporary American use it has the element of playfulness/intentional grammatical incorrectness to soften the sentiment.

As for the sarcasm of "I could care less", it's certainly there even if some uses are a result of unthinking repetition. I was a bit shocked to hear Americans accused of being abject failures at irony and sarcasm, as I find it very common in humor and general social interactions. (It is, perhaps, something that has more cultural variation in the US, but it's certainly a near-default mode of communication for many Americans.)

Paris said...

Regarding the possible sarcasm of "Could care less", I don't think a speaker needs to be aware of the sarcasm of a common phrase. I might use "Fat Chance" and unless I actively think about it, I wouldn't know that I am being sarcastic, but the meaning of the phrase being the opposite of what it actually says is well understood.

Likewise when someone is complaining and I respond "Tell me about it!" I actually mean that they don't need to tell me about it, because I already know. This meaning is well known, but it's paradoxical relationship to the actual words spoken is not thought about when said.

I heard someone say they could care less on TV the other day and the only reason I noticed it was because of this BBC list. What the speaker meant was instantly understood.

Of course this is just my unofficial thinking, I am by no means a linguist.

David Crosbie said...

vp

In which case it's inaccurate to say that the OED has an entry for "burglarise": it doesn't.

I could care less.

Marc Leavitt said...

At the risk of saying the obvious, language changes. Many people in England and other parts of the UK use American expressions. Many people in the US use British expressions. Do speakers of one dialect use more of the others'? Does it matter? I think it only matters to peevologists.

Little Black Sambo said...

How footling most of those objections are! Most of them are hardly worth answering. As for, "My worst horror is expiration, as in "expiration date", that person must have led an unusually sheltered life.
"Scotch-Irish": if that is what those people call themselves, then that is up to them, and Scotchmen in Scotland can simply use the expression or not, as it pleases them.

Dru said...

"It may be a bit unclear what is the correct way of saying this. I think it should be [...] then you may be very sure that you have lost the battle."

No. I'm being deferentially polite, but I actually think I'm right.

Going back to one of the other phrases under discussion, I've certainly heard 'learn' used as a transitive verb more as 'teach' is normally used in RP. But I'd regard it as rustic, pertaining to dialect.

John Burgess said...

While it's far from my favorite word, 'deliverable' is a specific and useful piece of jargon in politics and diplomacy. It stands for something tangible that will be offered rather than just platitudes or 'moral support'. It can be funding or food aid, for example.

I certainly heard it as often in Whitehall as I did in Washington, DC.

Ø said...

@Dru: All right, then let's try to find out what you meant. I honestly don't know which of the following you would consider correct, incorrect, more correct, less correct ...

half a per-cent
half of a per-cent
one half of a per-cent
half a percent
half of a percent
one half of a percent
half a per cent
half of a per cent
one half of a per cent

Is your main point that "per cent" must be a prepositional phrase rather than a noun?

My own issue here is one that has come up while listening to the radio (so it has nothing to do with spelling differences: percent versus per cent; I never thought of maybe per-cent). I find that some (but not all) news announcers say things like "one half of a percentage point", seemingly careful to avoid using "percent" (never mind how it is spelled) as a noun. This makes the nitpicker in me sit up and take notice that I have sometimes used it as a noun. It also makes the thoughtful person in me sit up and recognize how it could come about that it gets understood as a noun: expressions like "interest rates rates increased by 3 percent" can sound as if they are formed just like "the water rose by 3 feet".

On the whole my view is that through such a process "percent" has morphed into a noun, and there's no point in fighting it, maybe not even any point in resisting a tendency to use it that way myself.

But your issue/complaint/peeve/point may be something rather different.

Baron d'Ormesan said...

Even by the not very exacting standards of the BBC comment thread, No. 39, Scotch-Irish, is utter nonsense: cf, for example, Nancy Mitford in Noblesse Oblige (1956) 'I have a game I play with all printers; I write Scotch, it appears in the proofs as Scottish. I correct it back to Scotch. About once in three times I get away with it.'

Anonymous said...

The Wikipedia article you link to lists two 19th-century citations for "Scots-Irish," but it didn't become really current until the past thirty years or so. I've written a good deal about the Scotch-Irish, and "Scots-Irish" strikes my ear and eye as pedantic, "politically correct" in the silly sense, and linguistically mistaken. However, this is the peeve of an American of a certain age. Rodger Cunningham

dbanoff said...

My maternal grandfather emigrated from Belfast to the US in the early 20th century. He described his origin as Scotch-Irish. This usage is particularly American and correct in this context, regardless of how Scots call themselves today in the UK.

David Crosbie said...

The earliest use of scotch whisky quoted in the OED is from 1793. The earliest citation of Scotch Irish (with its modern meaning) is from 1690.

Zhoen said...

Hike also does mean to raise. Hike up a skirt, hike up your pants. Nothing whatsoever to do with hikers. But the complainer certainly was rambling. Get picked up hitch- hiking... Ok, maybe not that one.

Thank you for all this, it's been enlighteningizing.

Richard Sabey said...

@Dru I too prefer "one and a half million" to "a million and a half" for 1,500,000, but I am not convinced that the use of "a" has anything to do with the matter. Does "a hundred and a half" mean 150? Nor does the use of "a" have anything to do with which numerals may be nouns and which may be adjectives. Both "fifty" and "a hundred", say, may replace X in "I invited X", "X people", "we were X" (meaning there were X of us).

The analogy with "an hour and a half", "a length and a half" etc. fails because hour and length (in the horse-race sense) are units, which may be qualified by numerals, whereas "a million" is itself a numeral.

Now it would be different if we couldn't say "a hundred people" and "two hundred people" but had to say "a hundred of people" and "two hundreds of people". But we can, so it isn't.

As for "a half of one percent", there's always "a half percent". "Half a percentage point" won't do as a substitute. Percent and percentage points have distinct usages. If a rate goes up from 5% to 6%, it has gone up by one percentage point. That states the amount of the rise. You may also say that it has gone up by 20%. That states the factor by which it has gone up; another way to say the same thing is to say that it has gone up by a fifth.

David Crosbie said...

Richard Sabey

The analogy with "an hour and a half", "a length and a half" etc. fails

Quite clearly it doesn't. You think it should fail, but that's another matter.

nat said...

One of the things that always amazes me about these discussions is that nearly everyone involved - both the Brits and the Americans - view British English as being "older" than American English. Even Grant Barrett in that BBC piece uses the metaphor of "firstborn sibling", when surely a moment's reflection should reveal that the one is just as old as the other...

"Firstborn" can only be meaningful in the sense that British English existed as an entity before American English did. But the age of both languages - the length of time that they have been developing - is obviously exactly the same, which is why absolutely no one should be suprised to find that some of these Americanisms are older than their British equivalents. If these languages are "sibling children", then they are twins.

Armitaj said...

I personally don't use "I could care less", being British, but know what it means and assume, for my own purposes, that it is essentially a contraction of "[As if] I could care less" rather than a contraction of "I could[n't] care less".

"Deliverables" seems a perfectly cromulent word. It has a precise meaning in the film industry, for instance - you don't just make a film, you also have to create a bunch of specific deliverables. They're those contractual items a film production has to deliver to a distribution company: various technical film & sound materials, like a cut negative and mixed soundtrack; legal documents such as Chain of Title and proof of rights to talent and music tracks; and publicity materials such as cast and crew and on-shoot photos, biographies, on-set reports.

Joe1959 said...

re: Scotch -v- Scots

"Scotch" should (nowadays, in Scotland) only be used for that which can be bought, such as whisky, pies and politicians.

The Wikipedia article "Scotch (adjective)". seems authoritative.

I would just like to add that (as a Brit) I am appalled by the small-minded, ignorant peeving of (some of) my fellow countrymen.

Dilsnik said...

@ Joe1959:
None of my professors would agree with you. Wikipedia is not to be considered authoritative, ever. It is always to be taken with a grain of salt, until a real authoritative source can be accessed.

vp said...

If I'd been asked to pick one British publication with standards high enough to preclude Engel's brand of fact-free ranting, it would have been the Financial Times.

Sadly, I would have been wrong.

lynneguist said...

@vp: Your link didn't work for me, so I searched for Engel's name on FT's website, and found what I believe is what you were linking to--only to be told again that the page is unavailable. Is it working for anyone? Did FT decide it was too silly to post?

biochemist said...

Someone with a Scottish accent, referring to the adjective 'Scottish' might appear to be saying something between 'Scorch' and 'Scotch'.

lynneguist said...

Finally got to the Engel article. http://on.ft.com/rk7qU9 (Free registration required.)

Engel writes:
"In the aftermath of my programme I am now being regularly abused as anti-American, or worse. Rubbish (or trash). I lived there, have many friends there; I adore baseball."

Ah, the ol' "some of my best friends are xx" defen{c/s}e. The 'or worse' he's failed to detail is that he's been accused of being a bad journalist for writing things about language without researching them. Wonder why he didn't mention that part more directly. Hm...

vp said...

@Lynne:

Sorry: I forgot that the FT tends to put up a paywall. You can usually get past it by using Google News. Try this search".

Dru said...

ø I'd better try and reply. Although the next topic has started, I'm following Lynne's request with the previous one and keeping my reply on this one

First of all, I'm not very interested in spelling and don't care whether per cent is one word, two words or a hyphenated word.

Second, my real objection is to the phrase 'one half of one ....'. As far as I know, nobody describes 1½% as 'one half of three per cent', or 2½% as 'one half of five per cent.

So on your list.

"half a per-cent" - OK
half of a per-cent - possibly just about OK but not really.
"one half of a per-cent" - No
"half a percent" - OK
"half of a percent" - possibly just about OK but not really.
"one half of a percent" - No
"half a per cent" - OK
"half of a per cent" - possibly just about OK but not really.
"one half of a per cent" - No

"Is your main point that "per cent" must be a prepositional phrase rather than a noun?" - No.

You didn't ask, but, if you had done, "half per cent" with or without a hyphen and one word or two, also OK

Kelv said...

Re. "Scotch-Irish"

As has already been pointed out, many Scots find the use of "Scotch" in this context derogatory at best. I'm afraid the "you may find it offensive but it's what we've used here for years" argument just doesn't wash. We can all think of derogatory terms for other people, look in the dictionary and find many of them were in common currency for generations, but that doesn't make them any more acceptable today.

conuly said...

Except, Kelv, that there's a big difference between random folks calling Scots people "Scotch" and a specific ethnic group identifying themselves as "Scotch-Irish" when they started doing so before Scotch became the wrong word.

Kelv said...

But, in truth, these people aren't Scots, or "Scotch-Irish", but Americans with some (often very distant) Scottish ancestors. If the Scottish part of their family tree was as important to their sense of self as I'm sure they'd claim, then one would expect them to know not to use a term which the majority of those in "the Old Country" found offensive.

ButMadNNW said...

@David Crosbie - Thank you for that "Scots/Scotch-Irish" definition! As someone whose family tree includes Scot-Irish (the term I use, as I'm familiar with the "but Scotch is a drink!" objection), Welsh, AND English - among many others(!) - I was brought up with the understanding that my S-I ancestors were Scots who lived in Ireland. Whether I was taught correctly or not, it absolutely is a legitimate term for a historical immigrant group.

@Lynne - I rather love you. It amuses me no end when a Brit complains about some "Americanism" invading the language and it then turns out that the US word is an older, formerly British term (and therefore "more correct").

As others have said, language evolves. To at least some degree, we have to go with the flow and enjoy the flexibility of our shared language. I use a lot of Brit terms because I prefer them; what's the harm in Brits using US terms?

Anonymous said...

@Kelv: American ethnic politics and British regional/national politics are two different things, and IMHO Americans are under no obligation to keep referring to post-Revolutionary developments in the latter, as if it were somehow THE reality and America only a reflection. RC

Anonymous said...

More specifically: The Scots rejected "Scotch" because they associate it with the English and had a word in their own language to replace it. In America we simply don't think about the English--why should we? We got rid of them, and Americans of English ancestry don't call themselves "English-Americans" but (still on occasion) "THE Americans"--and the Scots language survives only as an attenuated substrate in Scotch-Irish (ahem)speech. RC

David Crosbie said...

Kelv

The Scottish nature of their ancestry is not uppermost in their minds, and never was. They know their ancestors came from Ireland. So they're Irish. But they also know that their ancestors weren't 'ordinary' Irish. What sort of Irish were they? They were Scotch-Irish.

We don't tell the Cajuns to call themselves 'Nova Scotians' because the land they left is no longer called 'Arcadia'.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, why did the last case of Cutty Sark I looked at say "Scotch Whisky" on the sides and "Scots Whisky" on the ends? RC

vp said...

@Kelv:

What if the word "English" were very offensive to those now living in the Angeln peninsula of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany?

Would we change the name of our language to "Jutish"? :)

Anonymous said...

If the Scottish part of their family tree was as important to their sense of self as I'm sure they'd claim, then one would expect them to know not to use a term which the majority of those in "the Old Country" found offensive.

Why do those people get to have the opinion about what THESE people call themselves?

They're not connected to modern-day Scotland. They're connected to their ancestors, who had no objection to the term Scotch and used the term on themselves.

Joe1959 said...

@Dilsnik

I understand why your professors want you to use and cite original sources, but this is "separated by a common language", not your finals ;-)

With hindsight however I misspoke; I should have said "gives, in the opinion of an Englishman with an interest in language and history who has been resident in Scotland for 20 odd years, a reasonable summary of the rise and fall of the of the use of the word 'Scotch', as used to describe the people of Scotland, for those of you who don't have the time/motivation to read anything else on the subject", rather than use a loaded word like "authoritative".

Joe1959 said...

why did the last case of Cutty Sark I looked at say "Scotch Whisky" on the sides and "Scots Whisky" on the ends?

The Cutty Sark website explains that a (overcompensating?) Scottish artist, James McBey, designed the original label..

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I should know by now that everything has an answer on the Web, at least every trivial question. RC

DRK said...

Surely the definitive British word on the correct usage of "that'll learn 'em" was spoken in 1908.

" 'I'll learn 'em to steal my house!' he cried. 'I'll learn 'em, I'll learn 'em!'

'Don't say "learn 'em," Toad,' said the Rat, greatly shocked. 'It's not good English.'

'What are you always nagging at Toad for?' inquired the Badger, rather peevishly. 'What's the matter with his English? It's the same what I use myself, and if it's good enough for me, it ought to be good enough for you!'

'I'm very sorry,' said the Rat humbly. 'Only I THINK it ought to be "teach 'em," not "learn 'em."'

'But we don't WANT to teach 'em,' replied the Badger. 'We want to LEARN 'em—learn 'em, learn 'em! And what's more, we're going to DO it, too!' "

If it was good enough for Wind in the Willows, it's good enough for me.

lynneguist said...

Oh, thanks for that, DRK! Wonderful!

Anonymous said...

Medal as a verb? I've never heard this and if I did it would hurt my ears as much as reading it hurts my eyes. Anyone who uses it that way is just plain goofy.
- From western NY, USA

Anonymous said...

Boy, things are getting a tad testy around here!

BTW, on this comment:
"We don't tell the Cajuns to call themselves 'Nova Scotians' because the land they left is no longer called 'Arcadia'."

It actually was known as l'Acadie ... Acadia, NOT Arcadia ... when the ancestors were expelled by "les Goddams" the English, starting in 1755.

Some of my relatives by marriage are Scotch-Irish ... well, that mixed with Chickasaw or Choctaw and a smattering of English ... and that's how they've always referred to themselves.

On hike: I'm a copy editor (sub editor in BrE), and "hike" to me is headlinese ... On a one-column hed with a tight count, "hike" might fit where "increase" or even "raise" won't.

Froggie said...

About Home counties centered linguistic fanaticism, with a twist http://proper-english-foundatio.yolasite.com/
You probably already know the website but I couldn't resist.

Ø said...

Take a deep breath, Anonymous. Not until you've begun to get used to the verb "medal" will we tell you about the verb "podium".

The Old Wolf said...

Actually, I have heard "I got it for cheap" more frequently than I would like to think possible. Language is nothing if not fluid. By metonymy with "on purpose", more and more people in my area say they did something "on accident." Whether grammatical or not, it's a regionalism that won't seem to go away.

John Cowan said...

Thousand and million started out as an ordinary noun, and we used to say twenty millions of men and ten thousands of pounds. By the middle of the 19th century, one could say "a thousand men" or "a thousand of men", but "a million men" was considered non-English still. A century and a half (not meaning 100.5 years) later, thousand and million are number words with an unusual ancestry.

Anonymous said...

"Ø said...

Take a deep breath, Anonymous. Not until you've begun to get used to the verb "medal" will we tell you about the verb "podium"."

I've seen "medal" used as a verb ... in sports references ... especially as in "he medaled in three events."

"To DVR" something has entered the language, but "to podium"????? Oh, dear lord!

elcalifornio said...

Be careful ordering any "regular" coffee in parts of the US. Such an order will include two cream(s) and two sugar(s). Best to order "black" coffee. Coming from the Western US, I was shocked during my first visit to New York City when a regular coffee arrived diluted by milk and sugar. Regular seems to be a word used to denote the custom or standard rather than an actuality (hence the safety in a black coffee).

biochemist said...

On points 31 and 45:
While I now understand 'rate hike' as newspaperese for a price increase, in my native BrE I might hitch up my skirt to go hiking.
Yes, having an 'issue' instead of a 'problem' may be irritating, but when I arrived in N America in 1979 to hear people saying 'I have a problem with that', it took a while before I translated it back to 'I don't understand that' or 'I can't cope with this'.

Anonymous said...

Another wonderful installment. This whole brouhaha has provided a great deal of mirth.

I grew up knowing exactly what the term "Scotch-Irish" meant in American (and before that Irish) history. But, upon further consideration, it would be most impolitic to share me dear Da's thoughts on the matter.

Sincerely,
A Shanty SACC (Spotted American-Celt Catholic)

Fata Morgana said...

I rather like 'already', but I take unusual pleasure in yiddish phrasing.

I'm reminded of the punchline to a joke in a Tom Stoppard play (a British playwrite, no less!): "Tarsus-shmarsus, I'm Paul already."

Anonymous said...

We "french" use "liverable" for deliverable. "liverable" in project management is anything you can fr/"livrer" or En/"deliver" . BTW In French it's definitely correct.

Mindy said...

If we turned this around to Americans hating Briticisms, purely based on this article, I would have to say that my 1. pet peeve is British saying pet hate..... That was just plain annoying! But seriously, in regards to Zee instead of Zed, and bi-weekly instead of fortnightly and period instead of full-stop, are just ignorance to the fact that they do not know that Americans do not know these terms. It does not bother me when they use them because I know that in their "language" they are accurate.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

One of the perils of re-reading this blog is the temptation to comment again!

I must admit, I prefer "to medal" than "to podium", but would not use either myself.

There are two American turns of phrase I find a bit clunky, although I'm quite prepared to accept that this is modern American usage. The first is the insertion of "of" where I don't find it necessary, for example: "I'm not that good of a skater". And the second is the use of "would have" where I would use "had": "If I would have practised more..." (I'd say "Had I practised more", or perhaps "If I had practised more".

Mindy said...

mrs. Redboots,

I never really thought about the of in there. Or would have (would've). It is just what sounds natural to me. I guess we do not really need thoes words. But It does sound strange to my ears without them.

Ed said...

Period for the little dot at the end of a written sentence is likely to provoke tittering in the classroom outside North America because it also refers to menstruation. Perhaps this euphemism is why full stop is preferred.

When South Africa switched over from the imperial system to metric in the 1960s the notation changed as well (the only example in the world I believe, which strikes me as delightfully pedantic). The dot as a decimal separator was dropped in favour of the comma and the comma separating groups of digits in large numbers was replaced with a space.

Therefore two and a half written as a decimal changed from 2.5 to 2,5. Twenty-two thousand changed from 22,000 to 22 000.

I think this is the scientifically preferred notation, especially the space as it is unambiguous given the fact some countries use a dot and some a comma to write large numbers.


Mindy said...

As an American, I had never heard the . (period) called a full stop growing up, I only heard it called this a few years back actually, so I went the first 30 years of my life, not knowing that it could possible be called anything other than a period.

Ross Copeland said...

I have to respond to this one,
" 50. "I could care less" instead of "I couldn't care less" has to be the worst. Opposite meaning of what they're trying to say. Jonathan, Birmingham

Unless they're trying their hand at irony, of course. But Americans couldn't do that, could they? At any rate: old post on could care less and old guest post on irony."

the first time I heard this said I too thought it wrong, until I considered the intonation: The AmE is indeed not a bad attempt at irony, with the intonation as a rhetorical question.