Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 UK-to-US Word of the Year: kettling

This year, I'm spreading the SbaCL Words-of Year announcement into two posts -- partly to make up for hardly blogging at all this autumn and partly so that I can go to bed tonight.  So, starting with the BrE-to-AmE import of the year, I give you: 


I'm thinking of it here mostly as a gerund (a verb made into a noun by adding -ing), but, of course, the verb itself has been imported too: to kettle - '(for police) to herd protesters/demonstrators into a restricted, exitless area in order to restrain them'.  Now, this is fairly new to BrE too, and Michael Quinion wrote about it last December. He traces its use in English to happenings around the London G20 summit in 2009 and notes that it seems to be a calque (loan-translation) from German. When students were protesting and then kettled in London at the end of 2010, a number of American readers of internet newspapers contacted me to ask what it meant.  A year later, American newspapers use the word to describe the treatment of Occupy Wall Street protesters.  This Gawker piece uses the similar-though-not-police-related AmE word corral in its headline, then explains the police procedure as kettling in the article.

Kettling makes an ideal SbaCL WotY for two reasons:
  1. It's a word of this year.  Other nominees like gobsmacked  have been slowly making their way into AmE for a number of years. Kettling is very 2011. 
  2. America didn't really need it (we had corral), but took it anyway.  This is the usual complaint about AmE imports to BrE: "Why use this horrible foreign word when we have perfectly good words from OUR side of the ocean that we should have PRIDE in?!  We're being Americanised!! Or, worse, AMERICANIZED!!"  This just goes to show that AmE can both dish it out and take it.

So, congratulations kettling and many thanks to Nancy Friedman for nominating it and other commenters and tweeters for supporting it.

Before turning to the AmE-to-BrE winner tomorrow, let me just mention an AmE-to-BrE also-ran that relates to kettling: occupy.  It was nominated by Roger Owen Green and supported by others, but I don't think it qualifies.  The meaning of occupy in Occupy Wall Street and later Occupy London Stock Exchange (etc.) is a meaning that was already common to the two dialects. What has been imported is not a new word, or a new meaning of a word, but a new slogan or a new template for a proper name. Definitely influential, but not what I'd consider a suitable WotY.

So, come back tomorrow for the AmE-to-BrE winner!


michcommunication said...

I had no idea! Have always used corral myself. But I'm an Aussie and we just steal from eitehr UK or US as suits our needs :).
Looking forward to tomorrow's installment. I'm sure to learn a new word.

Roger Owen Green said...

Yes, I see your point re Occupy, though I think its use this year was a bit more nuanced. Maybe I wasn't reading the right things, but I've never heard the word kettling until this blog.

NCDEX Today said...

yes roger u are right ...

sista_ray said...

The German connection sounds very feasible - the (Polizei-)Kessel tactic is well-known here and British and German police frequently exchange notes especially about how to tackle football hooliganism. There were bi-national patrols during the World Cup in Germany.

I'm not entirely sure that the word comes from the tea-kettle Kessel, there is also Talkessel, literally valley kettle which is about a narrow valley or basin and fits more with the idea of restricting movement.

sista_ray said...

I don't know a gully from a ravine, i.e. am pretty clueless about geographical terms so I don't know the proper word for a narrow valley that is closed off. Apparently basin is not quite right.

And the German newspaper quotes from 1986 are related to the fact that the first big controversial use of kettling happened that year. (English in that wiki link is badly translated.)

Robbie said...

Off the top of my head, the reason why "kettle" is better than "corral" in this context is its connotation of boiling.

Corral people (or cattle) and you're just herding them into an area. Kettle them and you're turning up the heat and putting them under pressure -- and if it's not handled well, things may explode.

quirkycase said...

'Kettling' is also used by birdwatchers to describe flight behaviour where birds (esp. birds of prey) will circle in the air, on thermal updrafts.

Albert Herring said...

My guess is that the German use of "Kessel" in policing is descended from or related to its military usage for the surrounding and isolation of large military forces occasionally rendered in English as "cauldron" in WW2 narratives - - although "pocket" is the normal terms for that sort of situation (e.g. the Bryansk pocket and the Falaise pocket).

Mindo14 said...

I have never heard this word in my life! I guess it has not made it to the St. Louis area!