Sunday, November 06, 2011

Untranslatables month: the summary

Still buried deep beneath teaching. For your amusement, here are the 'untranslatables of the day' posted on Twitter last month, as promised in my last post. Where there's only a link, it's an expression that I've already written about in some detail. Please click through to see (or take part in) further discussion of those expressions.
  1. BrE punter

  2. AmE pork : "Government funds, appointments, or benefits dispensed or legislated by politicians to gain favor with their constituents" (American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edn)
  3. BrE kettling :  Police practice of surrounding protesters and holding them in a restricted area. Starting to be borrowed into AmE.
  4. AmE trailer trash : Because the social significance of trailers in US is very different from that of static caravans in UK.  (Mentioned in this old post.)
  5. AmE snit : American Heritage 4 says: "state of agitation or irritation', but that's way too imprecise. It's a tiny fit of temper.  (Discussed a bit back here.)
  6. BrE secondment : temporary transfer to work in another part of a company/organi{z/s}ation, e.g. for a special project.  Pronounced with the stress on the second syllable.
  7.  BrE to skive off, skiving.
  8. AmE to jones, jonesing : To suffer withdrawal symptoms and crave. Originally used in relation to heroin. Increasingly heard in BrE. The verb 'to Jones' is from AmE drug slang noun Jones, a drug habit. Then later, a craving: I have a Jones for Reese's peanut butter cups. > I'm jonesing for some Reese's peanut butter cups.
  9. BrE git : Collins English Dictionary says "contemptible person, often a fool". Closest equivalent probably bastard. Git is originally related to bastardy: it comes from beget.
  10. AmE rain check : A promise for something postponed (the check = BrE cheque). For example, I'll have to take a rain check on lunch = 'Although you invited me to lunch, I can't make it today, but I'll take you up on your offer at another time'. Rain check was claimed by Matthew Engel to 'abound' in BrE in his complaints about Americanisms, but it's also the case that it's widely misunderstood in the UK.
  11. BrE jobsworth : "a person who uses their job description in a deliberately uncooperative way, or who seemingly delights in acting in an obstructive or unhelpful manner" (Wikipedia)
  12. AmE potluck : a shared meal (bring a dish to pass), but culturally a different kind of ritual in US and UK.  I discussed it back here.
  13. BrE Oi! : Kind of like hey, you! but with a sense that the addressee is doing something that impinges upon you.  Not to be confused w/ Yiddish oy (vey), heard in AmE.
  14. BrE naff : Means approximately 'uncool' but with particular overtones of 'dorky', 'cheesy' and probably others. Contrary to widespread folk etymology, there's no evidence that naff comes from Not Available For F--ing. Origin is unknown.
  15. AmE nickel-and-dimed : 'Put under strain by lots of little expenses'.  E.g. I thought the house was a bargain, but all the little repairs are nickel-and-diming me to death.
  16. BrE  jammy.
  17. AmE hazing : OED has "A species of brutal horseplay practised on freshmen at some American Colleges".
  18. BrE to come over all queer : to suddenly feel "off"--physically or emotionally. Queer meaning 'feeling odd' (ill or upset) is much more common in BrE than in AmE.  Also: come over all funny, come over all peculiar.
  19. AmE to nix (something) : Generally, to do something decisively negative to something. Specifically: cancel/refute/forbid/refuse/deny (OED).  It's not unheard of in UK, but it's a borrowed AmEism. This is true of many of the AmE 'untranslatables'. They fill a gap.
  20. BrE oo er missus : Humorously marks (maybe unintended) sexual innuendo. See here for some history.
  21. AmE (from) soup to nuts : absolutely inclusive; from absolute start to absolute end or including every related thing.
  22. BrE taking the piss / taking the mickey : Explained at Wikipedia.
  23. AmE inside baseball : requiring rarefied insider knowledge. William Safire discussed it here.
  24. BrE moreish 
  25. BrE ropey or ropy : Of a thing, inferior, unreliable. Of a person, feeling vaguely unwell.
  26. AmE mugwump : Covered recently on World Wide Words.
  27. BrE lurgi or lurgy
  28. AmE 101 (one-oh-one) : the basics of subject. E.g. saying 'please' is Etiquette 101. From the traditional US university course numbering system. The Virtual Linguist wrote about this one.
  29. BrE faff.  See Oxford Dictionaries on this one.
  30. AmE squeaker : Competition or election won by tiny margin.
  31. BrE gutted.

Goodbye Untranslatables month!

84 comments:

Jackie said...

Lucky me. I was born in England and moved to the US when I was 25 so I understand all of the words. Here's another untranslatable word for you - mardy. It's only used in certain parts of England.

Roger Owen Green said...

AmE - Thanks for the summary.
I don't always think of hazing, though, as brutal. Some sports teams haze by making the rookie carry equipment or go out for everybody's food (sometimes giving them the wrong address, e.g.)

jhm said...

If you'll pardon a slightly inapposite comment, I as struck at a sign shown in "The Kings Speech" which read "WAY OUT." I understand that today (at least in the US) this would be an EXIT sign, but I wonder how long this version (if it was at all common, so to speak) persisted in the UK, and whether an overlap between the phrases more modern connotations helped send it packing.

Eloise said...

Of course if you move to a different part of Yorkshire, mardy translates easily, into nesh.

But neither translates well across the pond, agreed.

Lisa said...

(Apologies for remaining off-topic)

jhm, "Way Out" is still in use here in the UK. I actually had to struggle to work out what you meant by modern connotations. That is associated with Californian hippy types in my mind. Maybe Shaggy from Scooby Doo.

"Way Out" instead of Exit is even used on signs at St Pancras International Station, which struck me as being a bit unfair to non-English speakers.

Mark Etherton said...

Is "from soup to nuts" purely AmE? I seem to remember it in Wodehouse - which admittedly isn't conclusive.

On the other hand, I suspect that 'soup and fish', for full evening dress (white tie and decorations), is only BrE.

vp said...

@jhm:

"Way Out" is still all over the place in Britain. Do a Google Image search and you see several examples.

I don't think many Britons are aware of the "crazy" or "unconventional" meaning.

biochemist said...

It's good to see your list of untranslatables....

I have always taken 'Oi' as the 'tu' form of the Old French 'Oyez' (= pay attention everyone; used by picturesquely-dressed town criers in English towns) - nowadays the French might say 'ecoute' to a child but 'ecoutez' to a senior person.

Zhoen said...

I suspect nickel and dime is from Woolworth 5& Dime stores. Rain Check from baseball. I learned nix, and Pig Latin variation ixnay, from old movies, so I always assumed it was New York City slang, with Yiddish origins, and meant more like a veto, to put the kibosh on something. (Am/E native.)

First time I heard more-ish it was in Single & Single - Le Carre, (Audible) in a phrase that I heard as ".... Moorish and sunny..." Took me reading the book again to start and sort it out.

Fat Girl Trim said...

I am fascinated by America, and so as a British person, this blog is brilliant. I am off to devour the rest of the posts now!

S. said...

Hi! ;) I am going to write my bachelor paper this year. . . And i am writing about using the technology in english language learning.... now I am trrying to write a survey.... Do you have any ideas what kind of questions could I ask students? I d be grateful for any answer.... :)

David Crosbie said...

vp

I don't think many Britons are aware of the "crazy" or "unconventional" meaning.

I think perhaps the use has gone out of fashion, but it used to be quite widely known. I remember in the 60's reading in the Melody Maker an amused reference to a sign indicating

WAY OUT
CAFE

David Crosbie said...

biochemist

I have always taken 'Oi' as the 'tu' form of the Old French 'Oyez'

That sounds plausible for as long as the default
version was Oi you! But then the skinheads got hold of the word.

David Crosbie said...

If the 'subject' is ridiculous enough, British English will probably choose for beginners as equivalent to 101.

French for beginners means what it says on the tin, but we might say serial killing for beginners or credit default swapping for beginners.

It doesn't help that Room 101 is so well known (from George Orwell's 1984 or from a TV show which has listen the phrase as a title) with entirely different connotations.

Laura S said...

I wish I had known how to pronounce "secondment" before I lived in England. But instead I pronounced it like it looked to my American eyes... like the number "second" and just plain "ment". As polite as she was, one of my English coworkers couldn't help but laugh at me before she corrected my pronunciation. :/

Andy JS said...

I thought "mardy" means "stroppy" although I don't know whether "stroppy" is used in the US.

Mardy was used as slang at my school in central England by some people.

Andrew Smith said...

@Eloise

Do you mean that mardy and nesh are synonyms but used in different parts of Yorkshire? I lived in East Lancashire and West Yorkshire until my early thirties, and I have them with different meanings.

I would use "mardy" to describe someone sulking and in a bad mood, but "nesh" for someone (prototypically a Southerner :-) who is 'soft', particularly someone who can't stand the cold.

Altissima said...

I would have thought AE " yanking the chain" would be a close synonym for "taking the piss". Apart from the need to chose a possessive pronoun (...his chain, ...your chain, etc) are there any other differences in nuance?

Dru said...

On 'mardy' and 'nesh', I agree with Andrew Smith.

In addition to 'haze' there's another word in Roger Owen Green's comment which for me is a real exotic, and that is 'rookie'. I've seen it in articles, but never met anyone who's actually used it. Does it mean a beginner? What's it's derivation? A rook is a black bird like a crow.

'Snit', 'jones' as a verb rather than a name, 'nickel and dimed', 'haze', 'to nix', 'from soup to nuts', 'inside baseball', 'mugwump', '101', and 'squeaker' I've not encountered at all. Apart possibly from 'to nix', I don't think I'd have guessed any of those correctly if I'd read or heard them.

One really interesting thing about the examples and the various comments is to discover that words one takes for granted are absent from some other peoples' normal vocabularies. One notices things that are present, but not those that are absent. If one hasn't got 'secondment', what does one say in stead?

Doug Sundseth said...

A "rookie" (sometimes shortened to just "rook") is primarily a first-year member of a professional sports team. By extension, it has come to mean anyone in his or her first-year of a new career, but this is less common.

The dictionary closest at hand right now claims it was originally military slang (perhaps from "recruit"?; the dictionary doesn't expand), though I've not heard it in a military context in the wild. (FWIW, I grew up in a military family, so it is perhaps more likely that I would have encountered it than the average person.)

Fritinancy said...

Another angle on Doug's comment: "Rookie" is also the name of American fashion wunderkind Tavi Gevinson's new magazine for teen girls: http://rookiemag.com/ Ms. Gevinson is now 15; she began her blog, "Style Rookie," when she was 11.

David Crosbie said...

The OED lists rookie firstly as

1. A new recruit, esp. in an army or police force. Also in extended use: a novice in a particular field or profession.

The quotations are from British and American sources. I'm very familiar with this meaning — but that's probably because I'm in my late sixties. The word doesn't appear in my little dictionary of soldier's slang. It's clearly outdated among the military themselves, but some of us still recognise it.

The sports meaning is reported as American:

2. orig. and chiefly N. Amer. A new member of a sports team, esp. one playing in his or her first major league or championship.

The adjectival meaning is supported by American quotes (including one from Louis Armstrong):

Designating or characteristic of a new recruit or team member.

David Crosbie said...

In case anybody hasn't seen this famous use of nix, click here

Brian said...

To me as an AmE speaker, "rookie" carries a sports or police flavor, but it's often extended to other contexts (such as a "rookie mistake").

The lowest level of organized baseball (which has a structure to complicated to get into here) is officially the rookie leagues. A player may start there and manage to work his way up to the major leagues, where, for a year, he becomes a rookie once again (and may be subject to some odd hazing rituals).

@Dru -- I can't think of a single word equivalent to secondment (that's what makes it an untranslatable, I suppose), but we can certainly talk about someone "being on loan" to another department.

Brian said...

(which has a structure to complicated to get into here)

Apparently it's too complicated even for proper spelling.

Cameron MacDonald Black said...

I've long understood "naff" to be a back formation from "fanny" in its BrE figurative sense (roughly equivalent to "asshole"), although that would require a change from noun to adjective.

I feel "nix" almost certainly is from either German or Yiddish. "Nichts" is the German for "nothing", often pronounced (and, at least in Bavaria, informally spelt) "nix". It's not hard to see how it might manage that drift in meaning.

David Crosbie said...

Cameron

I feel "nix" almost certainly is from either German or Yiddish.

According to the OED, the earliest recorded user of the word in writing felt the same.

1789 G. Parker Life's Painter xv. 143 How they have brought a German word into cant I know not, but nicks means nothing in the cant language.

NotJohn said...

I believe (and Wikipedia agrees with me) that 'naff' is Polari - the cant/slang of thieves and showmen, which goes back to the 17th century, later adopted by the gay subculture in Britain in the early to middle C20. Of course that doesn't necessarily give you the initial etymology, but takes the story back a bit.

Cameron MacDonald Black said...

Notjohn, that makes the back formation story seem more probable: as I understand it, backslang was common in Polari.

mario said...

In Italian you can say say "porchetta" (a traditional dish based on pork; pron: pohr-keh-tah; IPA: por'ket:a) to mean bribery. That is true at least in the Central Italy local variants and dialects of the language. I was just wondering if conveying through this metaphore of pork the idea that money and political favours or votes are exchangeable can be traced to the influenche of Italian on English via the language spoken by immigrants to the USA?

David Crosbie said...

Mario

Many cultures represent pigs as greedy animals. I Britain (elsewhere i don't know) we speak of snouts in the trough when people grab public money and assets for themselves. This may include taking bribes, but is more likely to involve exploiting bureaucratic procedures. It may not even be against the law, but it's seen as morally wrong.

As I understand it, pork barrel politics in America involves grabbing public money not to make themselves rich (well, not immediately) but to spend it on local projects in order to gain (or keep) votes.

According to the OED, the earlier meaning of pork barrel is a source of easy money. We don't recognise it in Britain — speaking instead of a cash cow or the goose that lays the golden egg.

Joe1959 said...

Andrew Smith's description of the use of "Nesh" and "Mardy" agrees with my recollection from my time at university in Sheffield (1977-1980). I have never encountered these words elsewhere in the UK (execept when spoken by Yorkshire "ex-pats").

mario said...

@ David

Thank you for your interpretation of the pork metaphor in AmE. This expression - you say - is centered on what is perceived to be the greedy nature of the animal. In Italian the pork barrel policy (I did not know that idiom... thank you again) is called "voto di scambio" (roughly "trading for votes"), when politicians promise specific benefits (either personal or communal) in exchange for votes. In a sense you may say that those politicians are bribing their voters :) and the practice is as dangerous as citizens bribing politicians, because then private greed comes to play a role in a process that should serve general interests instead.

In this part of Italy, the porchetta/pork metaphore for "bribing someone" is based on the fact that in rural areas local folks would "buy" their "notabili" (the town low level authorities) through gifts, usually food. And there is another food-centered metaphore about politics, in which greedy politicians are described as "eating everything up" ("si sono mangiati tutto"). So politicians want to eat what is yours (that is they want to exploit you), and you know that you are bound to cater (to stay with the metaphor) to their needs if you want your needs to be met by them.

I like Whorf and the idea that your language helps you shape your understanding and description of the world. What is implied in this two metaphors is then the image of a hierarchical, authoritarian society disregarding individual rights and dignity; which is part of Italy's past, and sometimes (too often, honestly) of the present of this country.

David Crosbie said...

Joe1959

In Nottingham, a little to the South of Yorkshire, as a boy in the years around 1950, I frequently heard mardy but never nesh.

Rightly or wrongly, I've always thought of mardy as a childish word — used in childhood or to recall childhood.

Lucy said...

I use mardy and nesh (grumpy/sulking and prone to cold/weak respectively) and I grew up in Staffordshire. I think my Mum brought it into my vocab and she's from north Staffordshire, near the peaks.

Kelv said...

I can't help but smile whenever I hear about the tennis player Mardy Fish!

Stephanie Holt said...

'Rookie' for a first-year player or recruit to a sport team has gained a more technical (somewhat expanded) meaning in Australian English through the Australian Football League, which allows teams to maintain a 'rookie list' of players - many recruited through a specific 'rookie draft' - who train with the team but cannot be selected for games. Players can be elevated from the rookie list to cover midseason retirements or longterm injuries, but can stay on the rookie list for several years.

Robbie said...

I've heard of "pork barrel" politics, and even of politicians "pulling policies out of the pork barrel", but I've never heard of the policies themselves being called "pork".

The phrase "pork barrel" goes back a very long way. I'd be interested to know how old -- or, I suspect, young -- the word "pork" alone is in this context.

Robbie said...

Altissima: I would have thought AE " yanking the chain" would be a close synonym for "taking the piss".

Not really. If you're yanking someone's chain, you're deliberately trying to provoke an angry reaction from them. The image is of teasing a chained-up dog (or other animal) by rattling and jerking on the chain.

Taking the piss out of someone is mocking or making fun. The subject doesn't have to be there at all, much less react. For instance, a comedian might take the piss out of the Prime Minister.

David Crosbie said...

Robbie

The OED gives a questionable use of pork in this sense from 1862 followed by a definite use from 1879.

[1862 in D. W. Mitchell Ten Yrs. in U.S. xv. 271 To put myself in a position in which every wretch entitled to a vote would feel himself privileged to hold me under special obligations, would be giving rather too much pork for a shilling.]
1879 Congress. Rec. 28 Feb. 2131/1 St. Louis is going to have some of the ‘pork’ indirectly; but it will not do any good.


The earliest recorded use of pork barrel in this sense was between the two dates

1873 Defiance (Ohio) Democrat 13 Sept. 1/8 Recollecting their many previous visits to the public pork-barrel,‥this hue-and-cry over the salary grab‥puzzles quite as much as it alarms them.

The pork is not the policy, but the inducement used in the policy — which is in line with the definition that Lynn quotes.

Mago said...

Re #10, rain check; I’m intrigued to see that it’s widely misunderstood in the UK. I hope to learn more about this in some future post. I’m trying to imagine what it could be misunderstood to mean.

biochemist said...

Mago - in the UK a health check or a security check would describe a test to ensure that all is well (as in 'check up' or 'check it out').

The piece of paper that represents money is a cheque, and a similar item exchanged for services would be a ticket, token, voucher, or chitty in British English. And in any case, one isn't exchanging the 'rain check' for rain - it is more complex than that - and it's described well in the original post.

Anonymous said...

I would have assumed that "take a rain check" meant "check the weather forecast to see if it was likely to rain".
The literal sense of the US usage (money back for a cancelled event) would, I think, just be called a refund in the UK.

Kate (Derby, UK)

David Crosbie said...

biochemist, Kate

I think you'd be closer if somebody said to you I'll take a rain check in the context of some proposed arrangement. Before I learned the full meaning, I realised that the speaker meant something like No. This isn't complete understanding — but nor is it complete misunderstanding.

Idioms like this are treacherous. Because you had understand them the conversation seems undamaged and you think you completely understand one another. Better to have an idiom that makes you say What does that mean?

David Crosbie said...

Because you had understand them

I apologise for the effect of my wilful spellchecker. It should read

Because you half understand them

PW said...

@ Kate--A rain check is not a refund. It's a promise to get something in the future that isn't available now. If it's a product, I won't pay for it until I actually have the product in hand, but will get it at the advertised price. If it's an event, it will be rescheduled in the future.

Rob C said...

Jobsworth comes from the phrase "It's more than my job's worth" usually quoted when asking someone to 'bend' the rules in their favour.

David Crosbie said...

Rob C

Jobsworth comes from the phrase "It's more than my job's worth"

Yes, but how did those two syllables become detached from the sentence and turned into a descriptive noun?

Most people believe it was the work of the (largely comic) singer-songwriter Jeremy Taylor. Even if he wasn't the very first to use the noun, he certainly was the one who made it popular with this song.

What made it universally known was a theme on the popular TV programme That's Life. Frequently there would be a little feature on some petty tyranny introduced by a performance of the song by someone who called himself Doc Cox.

There's no recording of Doc singing the song on YouTube -- presumably any video posted has been removed at the insistence of the BBC.

John Johnson said...

Robbie, I've always heard pork as referring to the actual thing the politician brings back to his or her district. As known as "bringing home the bacon".

For example a politician who gets funding for a non-essential research station could be said to be bringing home the pork for his district.

I never heard the term Jonesing until after the advent of the Jones Soda company, but that's probably more a result of my cultural upbringing than anything else.

Jessi said...

I have to say I've never heard the expression (from)soup to nuts before and I'm American.

Jessica said...

Like Jessi, above me, I've never heard '(from) soup to nuts' before. Or inside baseball, haha. I'm also not familiar with the pork/pork barrel/politics, though it's prickling my brain like I may have heard it before and just didn't register it. And lastly, I would tend to say that so-and-so squeaked by in a competition/election, not that the competition/election was a squeaker. FWIW, I'm 25 and from California. There were plenty (maybe a third) of the British terms I was unfamiliar with, but I find it infinitely more interesting that I found so many of the AmE ones new!

biochemist said...

I have read 'from soup to nuts' in comments by Mrs Redboots on this forum. She hasn't responded so I will - I take it as rather a grand UK term referring to dinners of many courses. In a country house, or in an ancient college where one repairs to a separate room, desserts and nuts are served and the conversation continues... So I visualised the scene in a rather rarefied British context. Personally, I would only have nuts as finale to Christmas Dinner (which I serve in the early afternoon).

lynneguist said...

Don't take Mrs Redboots' use of it as indicating it's BrE. (If it were, it would probably be 'soup to cheese. :)

That younger people don't know of it is not that surprising...one's vocabulary (including a vocab of idioms) grows throughout life, and this one may be seen as a bit old-fashioned anyhow. But it's definitely out there and definitely American.

Julian said...

With regards to #20:

I've found that in the last few years, the reply "That's what she said!" (emphasis on the "she") has come to be used to point out another person's use of unintentional innuendo. Not sure if it matches up completely with "oo er missus", though.

Autolycus said...

Jobsworth: I first became aware of the word in one of the Duffy novels by "Dan Kavanagh", dating from the late 1970s/early 1980s. It's the kind of phrase and behaviour one would imagine in the general atmosphere of the 1970s in the UK (and there'd often be a staple character of that sort in the cheaper film and TV comedies of that time). Up until then, anyone behaving that way would normally be referred to as "little Hitler"*, but what they would have said before WW2, I don't know.

*cf for fans of Victoria Wood "You've a look of Eva Braun, did you know?"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q90wUWVpops

Translator Dale said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Autolycus said...

@Julian on no. 20 - i don't think I've ever heard that one. A much older, slightly more upmarket, variant on these terms would be "..as the bishop said to the actress" - or, in the words of the catchphrase used by Beryl Reid's schoolgirl character "Monica" on a 1950s radio comedy show, ".. as the art mistress said to the gardener" (that would no doubt be for jokes about bloomers).

Or of course, there's always the memory of Kenneth Williams saying "Ooooh.......matron!!!!!"

biochemist said...

Soup to nuts - thank you Lynneguist for reminding me not to assume that the term is BrE because I have only heard it from a Brit. Since a fully-formed image came into my head - perhaps an episode of Morse eating dinner in an Oxford college - it all seemed plausible, and evidently this is how idioms jump the Atlantic!
PS Having seen the French eat cheese before dessert, to finish up the red wine, we now serve cheese as an option alongside sweet things.

Neil said...

Not sure if it is too late to sugest another "untranslateable" -- or if you already dealt with this one, but "whinge" is a BrE expression that doesn't quite transltate to AmE. I don't think it is the same as whine.

Aritul said...

Wow, I've never heard the term jonesing outside of African American English. I thought it came from the movie "Love Jones."

David Crosbie said...

Julian, Autolycus

I remember That's what she said from way, way back — almost sixty years ago when my friends and I had only the vaguest grasp of what sexual innuendo might be.

At about the same time, Beryl Reid's schoolgirl character Monica was saying As the art mistress said to the gardener on the radio in Educating Archy — with only a semblance of real innuendo. (No, I don't think bloomers ever featured.)

I had to grow up a bit before I was aware of as the actress said to the bishop. And even then it was a few years before I understood the (usually) clear double entendre.

David Crosbie said...

Autolycus

Up until then, anyone behaving that way would normally be referred to as "little Hitler"*, but what they would have said before WW2, I don't know.

I believe 'little Napoleon' was not unknown.

Cameron MacDonald Black said...

David, didn't the ARP, Mr Hodges I believe, refer to Captain Mainwaring as Napoleon in Dad's Army?

Cameron MacDonald Black said...

David, didn't the ARP warden, Mr Hodges I believe, refer to Captain Mainwaring as Napoleon in Dad's Army?

Terry Collmann said...

Cameron MacDonald Black said: "I've long understood "naff" to be a back formation from "fanny" in its BrE figurative sense (roughly equivalent to "asshole")"

Cameron, "fanny" in BrE is NOT "roughly equivalent to asshole", or even "arsehole". It's a lady's front bottom.

Autolycus said...

@David Crosbie: As I recall, the actress probably asked the bishop for an example of a double entendre.

So he gave her one.

@Terry Collman, Donald Cameron Black: "naff" has two meanings, or. Its primary meaning is of mysterious origins, but appears to come from theatrical slang and gay polari with the meaning of unglamorous, unimaginative, dull, tasteless; though since a lot of polari does include backslang, who knows? There might be an Italian or Romany source as well. There is also the usage of "Naff off" (or "orf" if you're the Princess Royal) and "Naff all", as an adoption of the sound as a useful euphemism, in the days when TV dramas and comedies weren't allowed to include real swearing. Cf. (in my memory) some fraught family drama with Thora Hird as the matriarch losing it with her family: "Bubbles to the lot of yer!"

David Crosbie said...

Autolycus

So he gave her one

I've heard that punchline twice this year from professional comedians.

Not that I'm complaining — it's still funny. No, the point is that I've heard it this year but never before. This alone isn't conclusive proof that it's a recent invention. However, I do believe that when as the actress said to the bishop was commonly used in public, there was no such public use of gave her one.

The two expressions straddled a line of acceptability. Now the line has moved, so we can all laugh at the joke without worrying about who's watching us.

Plum said...

I recall from a documentary about its making a while ago that naff off was introduced to TV audiences in sitcom Porridge. It was felt that whilst it would be unreasonable for prisoners to speak perfect English, the mores of the day would not alllow them to swear in a primetime sitcom, so the writers and cast introduced a whole array of euphemisms, of which this is probably the most famous (another was See You Next Tuesday - which was in military use but became common currency as a result of Porridge).

Incidentally, while here, I'd question suggesting git might be synonymous with bastard.

Most of the time git is used as a mild and jokey rebuke between friends while the B word is primarily used in genuine anger, usually with reference to a stranger (though of course it can also be used jokingly).

Even when used about non-friends, git's connotations are more along the line of "wilfully obstructive fool" rather than anything genuinely nasty.

(Disclaimer, that is my position as a UK Midlander; git/get is a Lancashire word which has travelled south and its migration has slightly skewed its power up and down the scale)

Plum said...

I recall from a documentary about its making a while ago that naff off was introduced to TV audiences in sitcom Porridge. It was felt that whilst it would be unreasonable for prisoners to speak perfect English, the mores of the day would not alllow them to swear in a primetime sitcom, so the writers and cast introduced a whole array of euphemisms, of which this is probably the most famous (another was See You Next Tuesday - which was in military use but became common currency as a result of Porridge).

Incidentally, while here, I'd question suggesting git might be synonymous with bastard.

Most of the time git is used as a mild and jokey rebuke between friends while the B word is primarily used in genuine anger, usually with reference to a stranger (though of course it can also be used jokingly).

Even when used about non-friends, git's connotations are more along the line of "wilfully obstructive fool" rather than anything genuinely nasty.

(Disclaimer, that is my position as a UK Midlander; git/get is a Lancashire word which has travelled south and its migration has slightly skewed its power up and down the scale)

lynneguist said...

Fair enough that 'git' and 'bastard' do different jobs in BrE, since BrE has them both and different purposes for them. But I was looking for a reasonable AmE equivalent...and without 'git' to do its jobs in AmE, 'bastard' does some of the same jobs...

Autolycus said...

@David Crosbie: Sorry, I was being just a bit facetious about the actress and the bishop.

@Plum and lynneguist, I think words like "git" and "bastard" tend to vary in force and significance in actual current usage, possibly regionally, maybe even between families and social groups. In Australia "bastard" can be a bantering term of affection between friends, but I'm guessing it would be as offensive to a complete stranger as it, and in my view "git", would be to me. Likewise "sod" and "bugger": but decades ago, I was struck by hearing, on the (then new) local radio in Stoke-on-Trent, a mother referring to her children as "the buggers" (and not even with the kind of rueful acknowledgement of their being annoying at times that you might expect).

If there is a distinction between "git" and "bastard" in my mind, it is that the former implies a degree of contempt, whereas "bastard" implies there are some qualities to be respected. The former might be applied to someone mean/deceitful/cunning; but you might use the latter of, say, a tough boss who was at least honest about it (and the same to everybody). Or is that just my imagination?

mark said...

Soup to nuts is originally Brit. cf PG Wodehouse.

mark said...

Soup to nuts UK English circa 1925 in PG Wodehouse.

djweaverbeaver said...

As a young American (25), I have heard all of the American words and phrases except '(from) soup to nuts'. I learned the word 'mugwump' in my AP U.S. History class back in high school referring to some Republicans who jumped ship and supported the Democratic candidate for the presidency in late 19th century. Our APUSH teacher then proceeded to call us this whenever we would straddle the fence instead of taking a position and standing by it.

Gecko said...

I've heard "git" used in (mostly 'country' dialects of) AmE to mean something similar to "idiot" or "simpleton" or even to mean someone who is "gullible" (am I spelling that right? hmm...)- though maybe that is just a shortening from "id'git" (albeit pronounced quite differently so maybe not).

Johnny Rovell said...

Umm... I am not sure if this has been mentioned before but to nix or nix was used in British English around the turn of the 20th century in gay slang and Polari as a way to negate something or to tell someone to keep quiet on a subject. "Nisht" or "nesht" were also used in this fashion.

Autolycus said...

I'm speculating a bit here, but the appearance of "nix" in polari and earlier underground slang or cant might well support the idea of a route into BrE via Yiddish. I seem to remember from somewhere that a number of terms in criminal slang came from Yiddish quite early in the 19th century (Fagin wouldn't have been a stereotype without some sort of foothold already in the public imagination).

Another thought on git/bastard: again a guess, but "git" sounds like a variant on get/beget, implying a reference to conception/birth in some way - an implication of "misbegotten" (an awkward or unbiddable or embarrassingly slow child)?

Mindy said...

I though git was just his kid, but Bastard is a very nasty word for someone who was born out of wedlock "fatherless" (of course it always mad me mad because no one is truely fatherless" But because being born out of wedlock was such a bad thing in the past bastard became a really mean nasty word to call someone. But in my neck of the woods if you say That Bastard you ten to mean he is a Jerk.

airolg said...

To my delight, I've just discovered this blog, via the Chicago Manual of Style website. I can see how I'll be spending my spare time in future.

To put the following comments in context, I'm in my 80's and grew up in Philadelphia PA.

"From soup to nuts" sounds like a perfectly ordinary idiom to me, not uncommon at all. In my vocabulary it doesn't particularly refer to a meal - it just means "from beginning to end" or "entire": "That talk covered the subject from soup to nuts."

"Mugwump" began as a political term. Although Wikipedia and various dictionaries say it's from an American Indian term, I've always heard it derived from the saying "He has his mug on one side of the fence and his wump on t'other."

"Fanny" in BrE seems to mean different things in BrE and AmE. In my childhood it was a common euphemism for "backside," but I haven't heard it used for years except in the term "fanny pack," a purse that's smaller than a backpack and worn lower down.

"Whinge" has been picked up in the U.S. as a fancy way to say "whine." If there's a difference, I'd love to know what that is.

airolg said...

To my delight, I've just discovered this blog, via the Chicago Manual of Style website. I can see how I'll be spending my spare time in future.

To put the following comments in context, I'm in my 80's and grew up in Philadelphia PA.

"From soup to nuts" sounds like a perfectly ordinary idiom to me, not uncommon at all. In my vocabulary it doesn't particularly refer to a meal - it just means "from beginning to end" or "entire": "That talk covered the subject from soup to nuts."

"Mugwump" began as a political term. Although Wikipedia and various dictionaries say it's from an American Indian term, I've always heard it derived from the saying "He has his mug on one side of the fence and his wump on t'other."

"Fanny" in BrE seems to mean different things in BrE and AmE. In my childhood it was a common euphemism for "backside," but I haven't heard it used for years except in the term "fanny pack," a purse that's smaller than a backpack and worn lower down.

"Whinge" has been picked up in the U.S. as a fancy way to say "whine." If there's a difference, I'd love to know what that is.

David Crosbie said...

I associate git with Alf Garnet in the sitcom Till Death Us Do Part. He would end remarks to his Liverpool son-in-law You Scouse git! It didn't really matter if you knew what the word meant — the meaning was carried entirely by the tone of voice. (Non-Brits may not be aware that scouse is frequently used to mean 'Liverpudlian'. It can be used in insults but isn't of itself insulting.)

Incidentally, the actor playing the son-in-law was the father of Cherie Blair.

Remembering this prompts me to wonder whether speakers of my generation ever use git without an epithet — if only you big git.

Git seems to be (for me) a sort of place-holder. It accepts pejorative adjectives or a pejorative tone of voice without (for me) being specifically pejorative.

Taboo words can be used in the same way — but without carrying stress. To take an almost acceptable example, one would say
↗SAD ↘GIT but ↘SAD bugger.

Lying git is, I think, the use I hear most often.

Younger speakers may use you git! or He's a git, but I haven't really noticed it.

David Crosbie said...

Lying git is, I think, the use I hear most often.

I was forgetting stupid git. This is, I think, quite common, and may well be the missing link between the two parts of that Collins English Dictionary definition

Collins English Dictionary says "contemptible person, often a fool"

Personally, I don't think of git as 'fool', but I dare say many speakers do. And I dare say that it comes from frequent hearing of 'stupid git'.

Harry Campbell said...

5. AmE snit: what about (BrE?) "hissy fit"?

8. AmE to jones, jonesing: what's wrong with just "(to have a) craving (for...)"?

17. AmE hazing: this is not a British institution so we would hardly have a British word for it, but "hazing" is pretty well known in the UK and if it happened in British universities I'm that's what we'd call it. I gather they do such things in the Army where it's known as "beasting".

21. AmE (from) soup to nuts: or "ab ovo usque ad mala" as the Romans said. What about a "blow-by-blow account" or commentary or whatever?

Anonymous said...

AmE pork : "Government funds, appointments, or benefits dispensed or legislated by politicians to gain favor with their constituents" (American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edn)

...especially regarding funds for unnecessary public works projects. See "bridge to nowhere".