Saturday, October 01, 2011

Intralexy

Some readers may be fed up with me for not blogging enough and seeming to spend all my time on Twitter. Those readers will probably not like this post, as it's about what I'm doing on Twitter. But perhaps it might get you interested in joining the party there?

On Twitter, I do a 'Difference of the Day' each day highlighting a small way in which British and American English differ. But since (a) October features Lynneukah, the joyous festival of Lynne, and (b) I'm not going to be able to work in long-form (blogging) much during my Term from Hell, I'm doing something different this month. Each day I will feature an 'untranslatable'--that is, a word or phrase in AmE or BrE that has no true-complete-easy equivalent in the other dialect. The title of this post, intralexy, is my little word for it. Words (that's the -lexy) that exist within (that's the intra-) a particular one of my focal dialects. (These may be very translatable in another dialect or another language...but covering that is not part of my SbaCL shtick. Feel free to point out other equivalents, if you see them.)

Now, I'm sure that people will suggest lots of translations for the things that I present as 'untranslatable'.  So be it.  The expressions I present as 'untranslatable' will be those for which I feel that there is a nuance that cannot be captured by any near-equivalents. That might qualify most of the differences between the dialects. But, again I say: so be it. It's a bit of fun, and if it provides entertainment for people who want to challenge the notion of 'untranslatability', so be it. 

(Hey, you know 'so be it' isn't a bad motto for a Term from Hell. You may hear more of it!)

The first one is going to be BrE punter, which can be translated in lots of ways (click on the link for discussion). Sometimes it means 'bettor', sometimes 'john', sometimes 'person who tries something'. Because all those meanings are joined together in a word that was originally to do with gambling, the other senses carry connotations that aren't found in the AmE version.  In fact, it's one of the words that puzzled me most in my early years in the UK.

So, if you're on Twitter or following my Twitter feed through another means...I hope you enjoy this little diversion! And feel free to suggest more 'intralexis' in the comments!

59 comments:

ros said...

'John' meaning? I only know of it as toilet, but I don't think we use punter to mean toilet in the UK.

lynneguist said...

Sorry, I'd tweeted about this post before I'd put in the link to the 'punter' post. Done now. I hope all will be explained!

ros said...

Indeed. And exposes my naivete, to boot. Though I think I would suggest that 'punter' could be used as a client in pretty much any context, not just prostitution.

Jo said...

I do hear echoes of the AmE term "rube" here, from carny-speak, with the connotation that it's an audience member that's not quite able to see what's really happening. But maybe I'm putting too much of a pejorative sense into "punter"?

Richard Gadsden said...

ros, yes, but when there are websites called "punternet" and "punterlink" (very useful when you're moving house - find out where the red-light district is so you don't move there), I think the specific meaning is well-established

Richard Gadsden said...

Jo, yes, rather too perjorative. No-one calls themself a rube, but plenty of people will identify themselves as punters (in various contexts).

I think the difference is more about "wilful suspension of disbelief" on the part of the punter, where the rube is actually fooled.

lynneguist said...

Marks/rubes is not same as punters. There's not such a strong sense of victimhood in 'punter'. It's someone who 'has a go'.

But this conversation would be much more helpful at the 'punter' post!

lynneguist said...

Hm, I'm replying to a comment about 'marks' that came through on my email, but it's not here! Don't mind me...

Roger Owen Green said...

I don't mind that you tweet; it's just that I am unlikely to go back to a tweet of someone, whereas I have often gone back to your blogposts. (That's true of everyone; if I miss their tweets, they are gone.)

David Crosbie said...

I find my (British) self increasingly using punter to refer to 'Joe Public' or to an unspecified consumer of some specified service.

Toni said...

Punter is such a nuancy word, isn't it? Depending on context I've understood it to mean something like a "mark," in the sense of someone you can easily take advantage of, and enjoy it, because of their cluelessness; or someone you see as ridiculous in their earnestness. Perhaps someone who should know better but is simply naive.

Marc Leavitt said...

Lynne;
The only two uses of "punt" I've come across in AmE are the American football verb to "punt," and what I take to be its direct expansion; to go in a different direction, or have a different attitude, when circumstances require.

Maria said...

Good night, I'm a Spanish student who's doing a project about the differences between British and American English. Your blog it's really interesting! Could you recommend me a good book about the subject? Thank you very much!!

My email is: maria_aleixar@hotmail.com

lynneguist said...

I recommend my blog on the subject. But there's also this: http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2006/09/look-what-im-getting-for-my-birthday.html

It depends on what kind of differences you're looking for.

biochemist said...

I first heard this use of 'punter' to refer to airline passengers, as seen by (British) cabin crew. It's slightly more polite than 'living freight', which reflects the wish that they would stay in their seats and not bother the staff.

Punters evidently will (BrE) 'have a go' or 'try it on' - and why not?!

Little Black Sambo said...

There are also punters at Oxford and Cambridge and Stratford-on-Avon (and elsewhere) who go up and down on the river - or are they puntsmen?

Alan (Fred) Pipes said...

Local listings magazine The Latest was once called The Punter ( affectionately called the Billy Bunter), jokngily comparing gig goers to clients of prostitutes

David Crosbie said...

Alan(Fred)Pipes

jokingly comparing gig goers to clients of prostitutes

Where is 'local' Alan? To me in Britain, the 'John' meaning is not primary. Along with the others, it derives from the idea of people dealing with bookies.

I recognise the associated sense of take a punt — which would seem to motivate Lynne's who 'has a go' — but I personally don't use it.

Dru said...

Oddly, when I was at school many years ago a 'punt' was used to refer to kicking the ball in rugby (then known as 'rugger'), but it definitely also had the flavour not just of kicking on its own, but of chancing it, taking a bit of a flyer.

Toni said...

I think "chump" fits the definition of "punter" that I usually associate with the word - a somewhat naive paying customer.

David Crosbie said...

Dru

The difference between a punt and other kicks is defined by the OED

orig. Rugby Football (later also Amer. Football, etc.). A kick given to the ball dropped from the hands before it reaches the ground.

rachel said...

@biochemist: Not merelely living freight, but self-loading freight.

BrE usage to me starts with the idea of a punter as someone willing to take a chance (bet) with the odds against them, and then coming to mean, slightly disparagingly, customers who were relatively powerless or naive.
Having grown up in Oxford, you went punting. The person who manoevred the punt pole was not referred to as the "punter".

Albert Herring said...

Punt for the way of kicking a ball is standard usage in rugby (where it is formally distinguished from a drop kick, where the dropped ball bounces off the ground before being kicked) and (association) football (goalkeepers only, naturally), but it does not have the role in either game, and hence the figurative use, that it has in American football - the idea of its being what you do when you've run out of downs/options and ceding the initiative (or just plain giving up, as mentioned in the Jargon File).

lynneguist said...

*sigh* it doesn't seem to matter when I suggest that the discussion of 'punt(er)' should be at the post on 'punter'. But here's the link, again: http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2008/03/johns-punters-and-ponces.html.

I'd really appreciate some new suggestions of 'untranslatables'! There doesn't seem to be a single one here!

Ø said...

Thumbs up for the new look-em-in-the-eye photo.

Anonymous said...

suggestions:
taking the mickey. Doesn't quite equal teasing, to me. Perhaps ribbing is an equivalent, but that seems old-fashioned.
suss out - doesn't quite equal figure out.
boffin. Equals scientist, doesn't quite equal nerd. Maybe I don't quite get it, but it seems to me there's a bit of affection mixed with disparagement in it.
From an AmE speaker in UK for 20 years.

the_sybil said...

I came across the expression "hazing" for the first time today (I'm BrE, living in US for 8 yrs now). Although Britain has the concept, I do not believe it has the word - at least, I never came across it (my circa 1970 Oxford dictionary suggests it may be BrE originally though, from a nautical expression 'to haze' meaning to overwork or bully). I don't think it has an exact translation "initiation ritual", "baptism by fire" or "rite of passage" don't quite do it.

Little Black Sambo said...

How about "spiv". Interesting article about it here: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-spi3.htm
which says it may be connected with and old word "spiff", which (it doesn't say) survives in the adjective "spiffing".

sister-luck said...

What about luvvies?

Dru said...

Here's one. You may have covered it before. I regret I don't do Twitter by the way. It's beyond me.

This is the mysterious US phrase, beloved of people who are trying to sound cool, 'take a rain check'.

I think most English people think it means 'metaphorically look out of the window to see if it is raining'.

Somebody who had lived in the US for some years explained to me that 'check' is actually in the sense that we'd spell 'cheque'. Apparently, the original meaning has something to do with being given a replacement ticket for an event that one has paid to see but has been cancelled because of the weather.

But even after he'd explained it, I still couldn't see what metaphorical idea it was meant to express, why it should be idiomatically useful or what need business-speak should have for it.

Ø said...

Dru, I don't think of "take a rain check" as being particularly associated with business, although I can easily imagine some breezy business people getting in the habit of over-using it. I think of it as a bit of mild old-fashioned all-American slang. This link may help clarify the evolution of the sense.

Bill said...

"Take a Rain Check" is basically a way of saying "I can't do this thing at the time you are suggesting, nor can I suggest a new time to do it, however I would still like to do this thing at some undefined future date."

It is a way of softening saying no to someone's plans. It implies that you are definitely still interested in getting together with the person, but just can't at that moment...you are metaphorically giving (or getting) an IOU/coupon/voucher for the dinner you couldn't go to, or the movie you couldn't go see that can be redeemed later.

lynneguist said...

Just so you know, Dru, I did use your suggestion on Twitter. I'll do a summary of all the Twitter 'untranslatables' here on the blog at the end of the month.

Thanks for the suggestions so far, and keep them coming, please!

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

I no longer do Twitter as it was too time-consuming and I couldn't keep up. Are your posts supposed to be being duplicated on Facebook (perhaps via the very useful Selective Tweets app), as this doesn't appear to be happening, so I am missing out!

lynneguist said...

The feed to the Lynneguist site on FB is working at the moment, though sometimes it gets backed up. It's at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lynneguist/245164738844505

Since the FB changes, I no longer see the updates in my timeline, but, then, I don't really want to. There should be a way to set your notifications for the page so that you see it (as the admin for the page, I don't think it looks the same for me--I get different notifications than you would get).

biochemist said...

How about 'nix'? A word used almost exclusively in AmE but not in BrE - denotes denial or prohibition I believe.

David Crosbie said...

biochemist

It's only as a transitive verb that nix is particularly American. The OED lists various other uses and the new Collins lists it firstly (which I think implies highest frequency) as a 'SENTENCE SUBSTITUTE'

biochemist said...

David Crosbie - Gosh!

John Burgess said...

May I suggest the BrE 'stodge' as a category of food?

AmE has the adjective 'stodgy', but not the noun.

PW said...

I used to follow you on Twitter, but completely gave it up. Too much stuff going on there that is not interesting to people who don't interact with you personally. Plus, it's too frustrating to see only half a conversation (even if I often have a decent idea of what the other half must be), and too time consuming to try to find the other half. So I definitely miss the blog, but don't find Twitter an acceptable alternative.

lynneguist said...

Hm, that comment surprises me, since I don't tend to put personal stuff on the Twitter feed at all. That's what I use my personal Facebook for, and that's restricted to people who know me. Sometimes I relate a Difference of the Day to something in my life that's inspired it and occasionally I have linguistically- or extpatriately-relevant stories from my life, but this is as true of the blog.

You shouldn't be seeing half-conversations unless you also follow the other person, but recent changes on Twitter have also made it easier to just click on a 'speech bubble' to see what ran up to it. However, the feed in the margin of the blog does show everything, including so-called @-replies, which is not ideal--but I can't do anything about that, as it's an off-the-shelf widget.

Or were you only looking at my page, rather than 'following' and getting the filtered (no @-responses) stuff on your own timeline? No, that wouldn't be worth reading--but it's not the way that Twitter's meant to be read.

In any case, sorry it didn't suit you.

Alec. said...

How about BrE "jammy", in the sense of enviably or undeservedly lucky?

lynneguist said...

I've now done 'jammy' and 'hazing'. Thanks for the suggestions!

Bill said...

As perhaps a spin on the Untranslateable theme, I was recently in a production of the musical “She Loves Me.”
Through the course of doing the show, I discovered an “old” BBC version of the show that, from what I have read, was a holiday tradition in the UK for quite a long time.
My point in this is that while watching the BBC version on YouTube, there were some lyrics in the show that had to be changed from the original Broadway because they didn’t work in a British version. For example:
Original/US version – “Wouldn’t it be something if we all took off from work? Leaving Mr. Maraczek without a single clerk?”
British version – “Wouldn’t it be something if we all just took the day? We could leave a note that says we won’t be in today!”

Obviously “clerk” not rhyming with “work” in the BrE is not the same as other examples that have come up, but I definitely think that it false under the umbrella of something not translating right between the two languages.

Dru said...

I'm not sure if this one fits 'intralexy'. It's more a question of how North American speakers make a distinction that exists in English English but may never have existed, or may no longer exist elsewhere? I'm only aware of it having recently come across several statements that have struck me as odd because the speaker or writer appears to be habitually using a word without making a distinction that I would instinctively make. It lies in what the words 'compensate' and 'compensation' mean.

In English English, compensation is money paid to you to reimburse a loss, to put something right. Compensate as a verb is used in two virtually identical senses, as both 'to pay compensation' (hence the derivation of the noun) and to bring something back into balance mechanically. An example might be to add weights to a wobbly wheel to make it revolve in a more balanced way.

I've seen a number of contexts recently from which it appears that in North American usage, 'compensation' is interchangeable with what we would mean by 'wages', i.e. pay for doing a job. So presumably, one can also use the verb 'compensate' simply to mean 'pay'.

So my question is this. Since in English usage, 'compensation' and 'wages' have a quite different meaning, what word does one use in North America to express what we mean by 'compensation'?

Likewise, in the USA, if an employer can pay compensation at $ xxx per month, if I buy a car or a television, do I pay compensation, rather than the price, in return?

David Crosbie said...

Dru

I have heard and read compensation used in British media, but for something more complicated than 'wages'. The word is generally used to denote what CEO's and other highly-paid employees receive — some in cash, but a lot more in benefits and share options.

Anonymous said...

How about "naff". Or "wet" when it describes a person.

lynneguist said...

Naff has already made the grade.

jpeeps said...

Here's an angle on the prevously discussed "envisage/envision" split. Ask a Brit what the difference is they'll say there isn't one - just that the former is Br Eng and the latter Am Eng. However, it would appear from the interweb refs that from a North American perspective "envisage" is not seen as a Br Eng usage, but as a different word with a subtly different meaning - eg:

"envisage refers to an image that is delineated, whereas envision can refer to an appearance that is indefinite or immaterial; envisage is 'contemplate or view in a certain way' and envision means 'picture to oneself; visualize'" (http://thesaurus.com).

That's not a meaning of "envision" I would be familiar with as a Br Eng speaker, and yet it it not quite a match for "visualise".

Dru said...

I don't think I'd use 'envision' but if I were to, or if I heard it, I think I'd assume it was a transitive verb meaning something like 'to inspire people with a vision', the sort of thing that people who use management speak try to do to the rest of us.

'Envisage' usually means something similar to 'conjecture'. As I experience it, it is usually followed by 'that' or an omitted 'that' and a subsidiary clause describing what the person envisages. I don't relate it to 'an image that is delineated', whatever that means.

So it looks as though envisage does have different meanings on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and that envision also does, if it exists in English usage at all.

Bill said...

@Dru,
We do tend to use Compensation interchangably with wages, but it doesn't eliminate us using it to mean the same as in BrE. We would tend to use the surrounding context for that.
Getting Compensated for one's losses, is clearly a different situation from Getting Compensated for one's work.
We would generally not use Compensation for purchasing or selling an item. Compensation would be used in return for a service more than for a good. An employer may pay compensation to the person who sold the item, but the purchaser would not compensate the seller unless perhaps there was some damage to the item.

We also don't generally use the word "wages"...we know what it means, and I am sure it is used from time to time, but I would say 9 times out of 10 we would say either "Salary" or "Pay" as opposed to "Wages"

David Crosbie said...

Bill

When I was a boy a wage was what blue collar workers collected in coin of the realm every week. A salary was white collar workers received as a credit in their bank account every month. A fee was the one-off payment made to a self-employed professional (or an entertainer) in cash or cheque upon completion of a service.

The sort of complex payment a high-earner now receives as compensation would then be a combination of salary, retainer, bonuses and allowances.

Ø said...

I don't say "wages" very often, but I never say "a good".

Anonymous said...

Too late for your month of untranslatables, but it didn't occur to me until recently - is there a US equivalent of 'tat' - the tawdry or unnecessary ornaments or clothing?

Ø said...

This discussion of the etymology of "wage" suggests that in French there is (was?) an even greater variety of terms for pay according to type of work or social class.

Andy JS said...

I'm not sure but I think punter is mainly a southern England word. I'm from the middle of England and I can't remember hearing anyone use it around here and I don't think it's very common in the north of England either or in Scotland and Wales. I might be wrong of course. I think it could originally be a cockney word.

David Crosbie said...

Andy

Only a minority of words are tied to a locality. Anything that's used in writing or in a spoken mass medium is potentially universal. Punter is an extremely familiar word to me and I've never lived in the South of England, except for a few years as a student four decades ago — when it didn't have quite the same sense.

Clydesdale Jefferson said...

What about "channel(l)ing" in AmE and maybe by now Br E? I still haven't translated it in my own mind. First read it about @lynneguist. It seems to mean a combination of BrE "plugging", imitating or emulating, or have I got it wrong?Ed@BoswellAffleck

lynneguist said...

That's a metaphorical use from the sense of 'channel(l)ing a spirit'. Will check if it's really dialect-specific.