And the UK-to-US Adjective of the Year is:
When asked which British words I now can't live without, I usually mention dodgy. What did I say before? It's got such a feeling to it, and has to be translated by different words for different contexts in AmE. Take, for example, these British collocates (i.e. words that go next to it) for dodgy:
dodgy knee, dodgy memory, dodgy ticker: unreliable because falling apart
dodgy internet connection, dodgy CGI: unreliable, not very good--probably because it's done on the cheap
dodgy statistics, dodgy accounting, dodgy refereeing: questionable; unreliable and possibly dishonest
dodgy business practices, dodgy characters, dodgy suburb: disreputable and probably dangerous/criminal
dodgy photos: either poorly taken or picturing dodgy activities
...and so on.So, my question is: Is dodgy used in the same way in AmE as in BrE? One way to check on this is to look in the Corpus of Global Web-Based English (GloWBE). GloWBE collects about 387 million words from each of these dialects, and the basic numbers show that the word is still definitely BrE and only marginally AmE: 491 AmE examples to 3970 BrE ones.
You can ask GloWBE which collocates of dodgy are most typical of AmE and BrE--that is, not just which ones occur most in each, but which ones are statistically over- or under-represented in each. This bit of statistics is a bit dodgy, since the number of AmE dodgys is so small. But let's do it anyhow. We get a table like this, with AmE on the left:
The darker green indicates collocates that are very particular to that dialect. So, in the right column, we can see that BrE has lots and lots of nouns that go with dodgy a lot that are not much found in AmE. In the left column, we see that dodgy energy, dodgy theology, and dodgy scientists are found more in AmE than in BrE. However, that looks fairly suspicious, and sure enough the AmE dodgy energy examples are just repetitions of the same text (a problem for internet corpora is that a lot of internet content is mirrored or quoted on different sites), the AmE dodgy theologies are really two rather than three different examples, etc. The pink/red ones are over-represented in British compared to American.
The white ones are comparable in the two dialects--and bloke is a funny one here. Not only is it a BrE word, it's a BrE word (like bloody) that Americans probably overuse when 'doing' British English. I'd say this tells us that dodgy is generally perceived as British in AmE. And it's the number one collocate for dodgy in AmE. (The numbers here are slightly different from the above since I searched for nouns within one word above and within two words below.)
There are a lot of businessy collocates throughout the AmE list. There are in the BrE list too--after all, we're getting a lot of news stories here and there's been a lot of dodginess in that realm in the past few years. But there aren't many body parts on the American list. At number 58 on the list there are two instances of dodgy stomach, whereas on the BrE list, numbers 11 and 12 are knee and knees. The vaguely-criminal/dishonest meaning of dodgy seems to be coming through stronger in AmE than the 'unreliable/poorly constructed' sense.
This may be underscored by a US example from a novel by a Texan author (found via the Corpus of Contemporary American English), which wouldn't mean in BrE what it seems to be meaning here:
They'd need dodgy breaking-and-entering skills to get the journal (having somehow first discovered its existence), an impressive knack for wordplay, and access to Mission Impossiblestyle office products to obliterate all superfluous words into mind-blowing nonexistence.What seems to be intended by the author is '(slightly?) criminal breaking-and-entering skills'. But say dodgy breaking-and-entering skills in BrE and it sounds like it means 'not-very-good breaking-and-entering skills'. BrE just wouldn't use dodgy to mean 'criminal' before something that is actually criminal.
And so it goes when words are imported. You can call them 'misunderstood' or you can call them 'subject to semantic change'.
Next up in the Words of the Year...nouns!