The suggestion he sent me last July was BrE use of nous. And I thought to myself: "Is that British? I just think of it as extremely intellectual." The problem, it seems, is that I don't read the sports pages.
The first definition in the OED is the one that I knew:
1. Ancient Greek Philos. Mind, intellect; intelligence; intuitive apprehension.
1884 Encycl. Brit. XVII. 336/1 What Plotinus understands by the nous is the highest sphere accessible to the human mind‥, and, along with that, pure thought itself.But the meaning that Ben was referring to was:
2. colloq. (chiefly Brit.). Common sense, practical intelligence, ‘gumption’.
And he pointed out:
It's surprisingly common in UK sports reporting (search Google News for "have|has|had the nous").Reading the sports pages would require a level of dedication to this blog that I demonstrably don't have. But I am aware that I miss linguistic riches by not paying attention to them (in any country). Searching have/has/had the nous, I got six hits (half British, the others from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand), four of which were from the sports pages. Here are a couple (bold added):
[About a senior police figure who's resigned in the phone-hacking scandal] “I don’t think any of us would question his integrity. It’s his judgement that has been called into question. But he’s had the nous to realise that if he stays the speculation goes on.”and
[About aThe 'common-sense' history of nous is hardly recent. I liked the first OED example for it [though I don't know what Demo-brain'd means here. The only OED entry for Demo is a colloquial name for the US Democratic Party]:
cricket player(BrE) cricketer/(AmE) cricket player--T20 is an abbreviated name for an abbreviated form of the game] In many ways du Toit exemplifies the way T20 has gone – he’s hardly a household name in his own household and has played more T20 matches than first class or List A, but he has the nous to get the job done.
1706 E. Baynard Cold Baths II. 306 A Demo-brain'd Doctor of more Note than Nous.
According to OED, the usual pronunciation of nous in BrE rhymes with mouse, but the AmE pronunciation sounds like noose.
There's another AmE/BrE difference to be found in the OED entry for nous: its definition as 'gumption'. To my AmE mind, gumption (orig. Scots) is an odd synonym for 'common sense'. We can see the reason for this reflected in US/UK dictionary treatments of the word. The American Heritage Dictionary has:
1. Boldness of enterprise; initiative or aggressiveness.Whereas Collins English Dictionary has:
2. Guts; spunk.*
3. Common sense.
As the AHD entry reflects, the 'common sense' sense is not the primary sense in American English. A better AmE synonym for gumption is (orig. AmE) get-up-and-go.1. Brit common sense or resourcefulness2. initiative or courage
What do we have in AmE for 'common sense'? Well there's horse sense ('strong common sense'), which is originally AmE, but now found in BrE. A more specific kind of common sense is (orig. AmE) street smarts 'the ability to live by one's wits in an urban environment' (OED). But when I think of Americans talking about common sense, I think of the construction X has[n't] [got] the sense God gave Y (or: X doesn't have the sense God gave Y). Looking for "the sense God gave" in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, I found:
He's got the sense God gave a fruitfly.
The sense God gave a goose, you might say-except He didn't give it to all the geese
That man ain't got the sense God gave a goat.
you ain't got the sense God gave a mule.
You don't have the sense God gave crawfish.
Anybody who'd choose to live in Texas hasn't got the sense God gave a squirrel
they'd missed the sign and hadn't had the sense God gave a turnip to stop and look at a map
you don't have the sense God gave you.
You city noodles haven't the sense God gave hedgehogs
If I'd had the sense God gave a horny toad I'd have turned and run
As you can probably tell from the examples, this construction (partially filled-in idiom) has a definite 'rural' feel to it--it's colloquial and very (orig. AmE) folksy and stereotypically very Southern.
But if I've missed some good nouns for 'common sense', I'm sure you'll fill us in in the comments!
* I've no doubt that some readers will find this definition humorous, as spunk is BrE slang for 'semen'. But the primary meaning in AmE (also found in BrE, and originating from a Scots/northern England dialect for 'spark') is 'Spirit, mettle; courage, pluck' (OED).