All those terms can be found in both BrE and AmE. Whether you spell bed linen and bedclothes as one word or two, with or without a hyphen, varies, but it's not a US/UK issue. Two-word bed linen and one-word bedclothes are the most common forms of their respective lexical items in both dialects. Bedding and bedclothes have other meanings, of course, but comparing the relative numbers of the terms is helpful for considering whether there are differences in their commonality in the US and UK. Here's what the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the British National Corpus (BNC) have to say about how often these words occur per 100 million words of text and speech. (The bed linen and bedclothes numbers include spellings with and without spaces and hyphens.)
|per 100m words||AmE||BrE|
But there is a twist in the tale that that table tells, and it's to be found in the asterisk. In the 'bed sizes' post, I wrote bed linens (plural) and commenter Picky asked about whether this plural was American. I hadn't noticed this before, but yes, it is. COCA has nearly five times as many bed linens as bed linen, whereas BNC has less than a handful of plural ones.
|per 100m words||AmE||BrE|
These terms can include pillow cases as well as the bigger pieces, but I'm already spending too much time and space on this, so I'm deciding right now to promise everything to do with pillows in another post, just to make sure that I go to bed again before my (BrE) holiday/(AmE) vacation ends.* I'm going to focus here on the most transatlantically confusing bed coverings: the duvet and the comforter.
The original 'bed size' post was written because of a question that Purple Claire had asked on Twitter, but before that question, she had asked another: "What's duvet cover in American English? I think they think duvet cover is the whole thing, incl the eiderdown..." Let me tell you my personal experience of duvets, as an American who grew up in a very cold part of America in the 1960s-80s.
When I was little, we had (orig. AmE) bedspreads. These were not filled, but were often (at that time/in my realm of experience) chenille or candlewick. People with more crafty families than mine might have homemade quilts, which have padding, but not fluffy filling.
Then, when I was 10 or so, comforters became popular in my world. We bought them at Sears and mine had a pink gingham pattern on it. It was filled with some sort of polyester filling and could be put into a washing machine. But we wouldn't put it into the machine anymore often than we put our bedspreads in (i.e. not very often) because they were always separated from our skin by a flat sheet. The OED defines this US sense of comforter as 'a quilted coverlet'. The things I would call comforter are quilted to keep the filling from dropping to one end, but they not what I would call quilts, or even coverlets, since I'd not apply those words to anything so thick and squishy. (But it's perfectly possible--though hard to tell from OED quotations--that comforter has been applied to less squishy things in the past...or present even.) The Wikipedia entry for comforter calls it 'a type of blanket', but that is similarly odd to me. Blankets, in my world, don't have filling.
I don't think I came across duvets until I was in my 20s and travel(l)ing away from my home country. I've seen comforter translated as 'American for duvet', but that's not quite right. A duvet is made to be covered by something else--they are like pillows in that way. (Duvets are also traditionally filled with down, but that's not always the case now. I think I had come across the term eiderdown for such a thing while I still lived in the US--but just the term, in the context of reading about something European. I'd not experienced the thing.) When I first slept in hotels that used duvets in the way they are intended, I was put off by not having a top sheet. I didn't fully understand that the cover on the duvet would have been changed for each guest. It took me quite a while to get used to the feeling of sleeping with a duvet and without a top sheet, as one doesn't get the same sense of being 'tucked in'. It's what I like now, though. While I think it's probably easier for one's partner to steal the covers when using a duvet and no top sheet, one doesn't get one's feet tangled up in the tucked-but-tugged sheet when that happens.
So, returning to PurpleClaire's search for duvet covers in the US, one of the places she looked was Target.com, and it does look to me there like what they're calling a duvet cover set does involve a cover for a duvet. (At first I thought--and this may be true elsewhere--that she was finding people who used duvet cover pleonastically--a duvet for covering your bed, rather than a cover for your duvet). What is weird on the Target site, from a UK perspective, is that the 'duvet cover set' includes the duvet. In Europe/the UK, you'd not get the duvet with the set, as (a) you might want to change your colo(u)r scheme before you need a new duvet and (b) you might have more than one duvet for different times of the year.
(Somebody's intending to comment that duvets are called doonas in Australian English. There might not be as much joy in doing so now that I've said it.)
Which brings us to tog. Nowhere in the Target description do we find this word. But check out the (UK) Marks & Spencer categories for duvets:
|Duvets in categories: '4.5 tog & below, 7.5 tog to 10.5 tog, 13.5 tog and above, All seasons'|
To give the Collins Dictionary definition:
a. a unit of thermal resistance used to measure the power of insulation of a fabric, garment, quilt, etc. The tog-value of an article is equal to ten times the temperature difference between its two faces, in degrees Celsius, when the flow of heat across it is equal to one watt per m2
While I knew that we don't see this word in AmE, I was surprised not to find it in the online versions of the American Heritage or Merriam-Webster dictionaries (other, unrelated tog entries were there)--as I would have thought that maybe skiers or someone would have needed it. The OED says that this sense of tog (derived, they seem to suggest, from the 'clothing' sense of tog) is 'modelled on the earlier U.S. term clo'. Merriam-Webster says only that clo is an abbreviation of clothing--I can't find it in other dictionaries, but Wikipedia says that the "standard amount of insulation required to keep a resting person warm in a windless room at 70 °F (21.1 °C) is equal to one clo." At any rate, no one seems to be using it to sell duvets or comforters.
I have a feeling there's something else I meant to mention here and forgot about.** But this is long enough, don't you think? I reserve the right to add whatever I forgot tomorrow morning, after I've spent the night talking to my bed linen(s) again. Pillows must wait for another post--not necessarily the next one. I might wait for insomnia to start leaving me alone, so that the topic will not seem so cruel.
Before I go, some Other Business:
- For the Olympic season, I wrote a little piece for Emphasis Writing's e-bulletin on '10 Differences between US and UK English'. (Many of the topics I discuss there can be found elsewhere, in more detail, on this blog too.)
- I'm speaking at BrightonSEO Conference on 14 September. That's SEO, as in Search Engine Optimization, which I know approximately nothing about, but they seem like a fun bunch to subject to my rants. I'm afraid it's fully booked, but if you have any funny US/UK search engine tales you want to share with me, feel free to email me--I love new material!
- I'm also taking my How Americans Saved the English Language talk to a new audience on 9 October: Brighton Skeptics [sic!] in the Pub. If you're in the area and haven't already heard all those jokes, then do join us at the Caroline of Brunswick, 8pm.
* I failed. This is being posted 10 days after I returned to the UK.
** (Postscript) The things I forgot and many more are discussed in the comments--some good ones there, have/take a look.