Let's go with the item in a recent email exchange with the famous (if you read the comments section here) David Crosbie. But before I do that: thanks to David and to all the other commenters here who add so much to this blog. I'm (orig. AmE) taking a back seat on comment-replying these days, and I'm really grateful to all of you who fill in so much great information from so many different perspectives here.
So, anyway, we were having a conversation about certain comments on the site and I said "I think it's just (AmE) garden-variety spam", which he pointed out would be common or garden spam in BrE, which the OED lists as "a jocular substitute for 'common' or 'ordinary'". The same description works for garden-variety. They're descriptions that would be used for a variety of plant or animal that is the 'ordinary' kind that you would find in your garden, extended to a more general use. Both have had this kind of figurative use since about the beginning of the 20th century.
David also reminded me of an arguably more coarse (but more frequent) BrE synonym, bog-standard. That's come up in passing here because it's always used in my house when Better Half offers people tea: 'Do you want Earl Grey or bog-standard?' (The usual reply: 'bog-standard'.) Keeping with my aim to blog quickly tonight, I'm going to let the OED tell you about the etymology:
Origin uncertain; perhaps an alteration of box-standard adj. (although this is first attested later), after bog n.4
Differing theories of the origin of bog-standard have been proposed, but none proven. An immediate association with bog n.1 seems unlikely on semantic grounds. The most commonly held view is that the transition from box to bog resulted from a mishearing or misunderstanding of box-standard n.
Others have suggested a derivation < bog-wheel, former Cambridge slang for a bicycle, though ultimately also related to bog n.4: see P. Beale Conc. Dict. Slang (1989) 47/2, 48/1.
The bog n.4 they're referring to is the BrE slang use of the term for a latrine (which I somehow failed to mention in the toilet post). Bog n.1 is the 'swamp' [orig. AmE] meaning.
I can't think of a similarly slangy AmE equivalent, but what AmE does have is regular to mean 'ordinary'. The OED (again) lists it as:
That meaning has given rise to other AmE meanings:6 a. Having the usual, typical, or expected attributes, qualities, parts, etc.; normal, ordinary, standard. Now chiefly U.S.
d. Chiefly N. Amer. Of food and drink: having the usual or typical constituents, as distinguished from some other defined category of the same foodstuff; unmodified; not distinguished by any peculiarity of quality, preparation, presentation, etc.
The last of these has come into BrE with McDonald's and Starbucks, and one sees it often in non-US-owned coffee shops now. And it's one of those things that some BrE speakers like to complain to me about. In fact, an American David who works at Sussex with me emailed me a few months ago about his run-in with a 'regular' correcter:e. orig. U.S. Normal, average, or standard with reference to a predetermined scale or system of categorization; belonging to the category or class considered to be standard.
[H]ave you ever covered "regular" which, in AmE, can mean something like the bog standard or ordinary, but, in BrE seems to never have that meaning? I asked for "regular flavour" crisps at the Bridge Cafe, some years ago, and a perky, apparently British woman informed me that "regular" is a frequency. She was probably one of your linguistics colleagues. :-)
So, I managed a blog post in less than an hour by quoting liberally from dictionaries and emails. Score!
Before I go, some dates and places where I'll be speaking about linguistic stuff for general audiences:
- Sermon: Love your language as yourself.
- How America Saved the English Language
- 15 May: Reading Skeptics in the Pub (I assume a small donation will be requested)
- 'The most acceptable hypocrisy'? Polite words in the UK and US.
And if you're interested in what goes on in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Sussex (woo hoo!!), check out our new events blog. (You can also follow us on Twitter @SussexLinguist.)