WotY news and Lynneguist news

Nominate transatlantic words of the year!

It's Word of the Year season, and before the end of 2022—possibly before the end of the 11th month of 2022—every extant dictionary (and various professional associations and a few marketing companies etc. etc.) will have announced the words that they think sum up something about 2022. Here (BrE) at SbaCL Towers,* we (that is to say, I) wait until the year is at least almost properly finished before considering what 2022 was like for transatlantic English. 

So, let's do the important business of opening nominations!  As ever, the Separated by a Common Language Words of the Year categories are:

  • UK-to-US import
  • US-to-UK import
Some nomination guidance:
  • Good candidates for SbaCL WotY are expressions that have lived a good life on one side of the Atlantic but for some reason have made a splash on the other side of the Atlantic this year. 
  • Words coined this year are not really in the running. If they moved from one place to another that quickly, then it's hard to say that they're really "Americanisms" or "Britishisms". They're probably just "internetisms". The one situation in which I could see a newly minted word working as a transatlantic WotY would be if the word/expression referenced something very American/British but was nevertheless taken on in the other country.
  • When I say word of the year, I more technically mean lexical item of the year, which is to say, there can be spaces in nominations. Past space-ful WotYs have included gap yearBlack Friday, and go missing

Please nominate WotYs in comments to this blog post, where it'll be easier for me to keep track of them than if they show up on different social platforms. To see more past winners, click here.

I have a few words in mind, so I'll be interested to see if you come up with the same or different ones.

Cambridge Dictionary Word of the Year: homer

Cambridge Dictionary chose homer as their Word of the Year. I thought it was a great choice, and you can hear why here:



Homer was protested in Wordle as an "Americanism" (95% of the dictionary look-ups of it came from outside North America). It is fairly familiar in AmE as an informal term for a baseball home run, but it has many other meanings around the world. That's what happens when you take an otherwise common word and put an -er on it. Cambridge Dictionary notes that it has a special meaning in Scotland:

Scottish English informal
job that a skilled worker, such as a house painter or a hairdresser (= a person who cuts people's hair), does for a private customer in the customer's homeespecially when they do this in addition to their main job and without telling their employer or the tax authorities:
I am a fully qualified joiner looking for homers in the Renfrewshire area.

Both of those meanings derive from the noun home plus the -er for something that happens at "home".

But home can also be a verb meaning 'to go/return home', and if you add the -er suffix onto a verb, it means 'one who [does verb]'. So it gets more meanings that way, some of which are in other dictionaries. For instance, homer can mean 'a homing pigeon'. Apparently, it's often used in British crossword puzzles in this sense. Perhaps the crossworders had an advantage for the infamous HOMER Wordle. 

Tweet from Stephen Collins, 31 May: Wordle: still angry about 'homer'. It's been weeks now. Furious.
The British cartoonist Stephen Collins holds a grudge

 

News! New way to follow Lynneguist!

Since 2009, I've been doing a AmE–BrE Difference of the Day (DotD) on Twitter, and spending a lot of my time on that platform. Because of the time that the DotD required, this blog has got(ten) less frequent.

I've never run out of differences to tweet about, but the time has come to re-think how I use my online time and how I communicate with people who are interested in my work (and, more importantly, my hobbies, of which this blog is one).

This blog will continue to be where I write about UK–US linguistic differences—sometimes in a lot of depth.

But my social media presence has been about a lot more than deep dives into particular words. It's been about sharing links to interesting linguistic and transatlantic cultural information and news. It's been about sharing things I've written elsewhere or news of events I'm doing. And it's been about those Differences of the Day—shorter info about linguistic differences, sometimes linked to new or old blog posts.

So, I'm going down the newsletter route. It feels like going back to my roots, since in (AmE) grad school I ran the departmental linguists newsletter (Colorless Green Newsletter it was called) and then when I moved to South Africa, I decided a newsletter was the best way to share with friends and family the things I was learning by living there—I sent that one out (at some snail-mail expense) every three weeks—and it got to its recipients about three weeks later.

Now we have email, so I can do a newsletter on the cheap and you can get it right after I send it.
Sign up here and you will get no-more-than weekly, no-less than monthly updates on what's going on in the Lynneguist world. There won't be Differences of the Day, but there will be lots of linguistic differences to learn about or reflect on, as well as other super-interesting stuff.

Footnote 

*  Here's a link to my Difference of the Day tweet about 'at X Towers', but since I don't know how long Twitter will be around, I'll post a screenshot too:

GloWbE corpus shows plenty of instances of "here/we at  [something] towers" in British English, none in American English are in

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a (head of) lettuce

UPDATE, 20 Oct 2022: The lettuce won! 

The less I say here about the current state of British politics, the better for all of us, but I've had some requests to write about the question:

Can Liz Truss outlast a lettuce?

Truss is, at the very moment I'm writing this, the UK Prime Minister. This might not be true at the moment when you read this. And once she's gone, I assume The Daily Star will stop its livestream of decomposing lettuce in a wig, so I'll post a screenshot of it here, rather than the livestream itself.

Daily Star screenshot: Day Three: can liz truss outlast this lettuce?  Iceburg lettuce with face and wig, surrounded by pic of Liz Truss, snack foods, and clock reading 19:22

Oh wait, Lettruss has an early bedtime! Here's another screenshot. 


I wonder how much she gets up to in a day? (Note to self: must resist watching PM Lettucehead instead of working.)

Lettuce Watch got started after The Economist published this unusually straightforward description of Truss's premiership and dubbing her "The Iceberg Lady."  

Liz Truss is already a historical figure. However long she now lasts in office, she is set to be remembered as the prime minister whose grip on power was the shortest in British political history. Ms Truss entered Downing Street on September 6th. She blew up her own government with a package of unfunded tax cuts and energy-price guarantees on September 23rd. Take away the ten days of mourning after the death of the queen, and she had seven days in control. That is the shelf-life of a lettuce.


Social media got wind of this all, as did US news outlets, and soon Americans wanted to know: who says a lettuce?


(Oh wait, now she's got a disco ball!)



While there's a lot of discussion on names of lettuce types in the comments of my big ol' vegetable post, no one there mentioned the countability problem. That is: for most Americans, lettuce is a non-countable noun. You can have some lettuce, but not a lettuce. If you want to talk about the thing that's been compared to Liz Truss, in AmE you'd need what is sometimes called a partitive noun, like heada head of lettuce

BrE is happier than AmE in calling the thing a lettuce. I'm afraid the numbers on this corpus result are very small because I had to search for "a lettuce" only before punctuation, so that I didn't accidentally get cases of a lettuce leaf or a lettuce sandwich, etc. 



The first US hit is a weird sentence from a suspended-by-Wordpress blog, so I'm not sure it was really written by an AmE speaker. The other is: "You are what you eat, but who wants to be a lettuce?" The British ones include feeding an animal "a lettuce" and putting another ingredient in "the heart of a lettuce". The numbers are small, but they are leaning British and the British examples are more clearly about literal lettuce.

Cabbage tends the same way, but with more examples:



And in case you're wondering, this is not because lettuce or cabbage are mentioned twice as much in UK:




If you can have a lettuce, that is, if it is countable for you, then it is natural for you to talk about two or more lettuces, and we can see here that BrE does that a lot more than AmE does. In AmE, you can talk about two lettuces but it will almost inevitably be interpreted as 'two kinds of lettuce', for example: I am growing two lettuces this year: iceberg and romaine. You could say two lettuces in BrE and mean 'two kinds of lettuce', but you could also use it to mean two 'heads' of one kind of lettuce, as in How many iceberg lettuces do you want me to buy?



Meanwhile, head of seems much more American than British (though Irish English seem to like it for cabbages).



This isn't because the US or Ireland made up head of—it dates way back in English-English:

But head of has clearly been more AmE than BrE since the mid-nineteenth century:

 

You may be able to think of other examples of AmE & BrE differing in whether they treat a noun as count or non-count. Click through here to read blog posts about some of them

In case you're wondering about the other items in the screenshots:
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Competition (UK): Win a copy of Ellen Jovin's Rebel with a Clause

For years, Ellen Jovin has carted a table, chair and reference books—first around New York City and later all across the United States—to volunteer herself as “The Grammar Table.” In doing so, she gives passers-by the opportunity to ask grammar questions, to vent about grammar (or other people’s grammar), and to learn more about English and other languages. She’s now written a book based on her Grammar Table adventures: Rebel with a Clause. I got to read it pre-publication, and this was my review:

Those who learn grammatical rules are doomed to repeat them. And, boy, do they repeat them—tirelessly, senselessly, bringing us to the point where much of the English-speaking world thinks grammar is boring or difficult or scary. Ellen Jovin is on a mission to rescue us from that joyless fate. Her generosity and curiosity about language is second only to her generosity and curiosity with the people who approach her for grammatical advice. We could all stand to be a bit more Ellen Jovin.

 

The publishers have kindly sent me an extra copy of the book to share with my readers—though I must say, it’s me who’s paying for the postage, so I’m going to concentrate my sharing efforts on my UK readers. The American readers at least have the excitement of knowing that they may run into Ellen’s Grammar Table in their public square or strip mall when she sets up her stall there.  (Rest-of-World readers: Sorry!)

 

To make giving away a book more interesting, I’m going to give it to someone who comments on this blog post with a question for Ellen, and (here’s the exciting part!) you are going to get the Grammar Table experience, because Ellen is going to respond to the questions that show up before the contest deadline.* 

 

So, to enter the competition:

  • Comment on the blog with a question for Ellen by [AmE format] October 2, 2022.
  • Sign your message with a name that will identify you (it need not be your full name) and let us know that you’re in the UK.  (You can comment without being in the UK, but you can’t have the copy of the book.) 
  • Click the ‘Notify Me’ box, so that you’ll see the response to your question AND learn whether you’ve won. If you don't see such a box, there are other ways to be notified...see the comments. 

 

After the [non-AmE format] 2 October deadline, I will put the names of the eligible commenters into a real or virtual hat and draw a winner, then announce that winner in a blog comment, with details on how to email me to claim the prize. I will send the book out to them soon after. 



(BrE) Ready, steady, ask some questions!

*Normal commenting etiquette applies. I reserve the right to delete any comments that I find rude or abusive. Any commenter will only be entered into the contest ONCE. 


AND THE WINNER IS....GRHM!!! 
I'm closing down the comments now to give Ellen a break. 

Thank you so much to Ellen for her generosity in answering the questions, and to everyone who asked a question! 


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fit for purpose / fit to purpose

 So I tweeted this recently...


(click on it to get the whole picture from Twitter)

Here's another view of how much more fit for purpose is used in BrE, and how relatively recent it is:

(click to enlarge)

But then Stephen P wrote to point out this tweet by an American with fit to purpose:



In searching for that tweet on Twitter, I discovered other Americans writing fit to purpose. Their numbers are dwarfed by the number of BrE speakers saying fit for purpose, but it's an interesting development! 






The moral of this story: prepositions change easily. That's because prepositions don't have much meaning in themselves. 

This one doesn't seem to have shown up yet on Ben Yagoda's Not One-Off Britishisms, but then again, is it a Britishism in the US? Did Americans pick up fit for purpose and change the preposition, or did they pick up the rarer to and make it their own? There's the second moral of this story: calling something a "Britishism" or an "Americanism" is a complicated business. (And if you want to know how complicated, I have a book to sell you...)

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crescent

 Reader Sam Fox wrote in with the question:

I am an American, a Midwesterner all my life, though I have traveled quite a bit..  

On a recent visit to London I was surprised to hear the word “crescent” in the tube stop Mornington Crescent pronounced with a z rather than s.  I think I heard other examples of unexected intervocalic voicing.  Is this something you have noticed?

I have noticed it, particularly since I've had the word crescent is in my address. But I was surprised to find that UK dictionaries don't seem to agree about it at all.


In the /s/ camp:

  • The Oxford English Dictionary (a historical dictionary) [first picture]

  • Google [picture 2] 
  • Cambridge 

  • And all of the American dictionaries (Merriam-Webster, Webster's New World, Dictionary.com, American Heritage)


In the /z/ camp:    
  • Lexico (which comes from the people at Oxford Dictionaries) 
  • Macmillan (picture 3)



And presenting both, always with /z/ as the second option::
  • Collins, in both their English dictionary and in the COBUILD (learner's) dictionary. (picture 4)
  • Longman



Since the OED has only the /s/ and since /s/ > /z/ between vowels is the more likely phonological process, we can assume that the /z/ is somewhat new compared to the /s/, and so it's particularly interesting that two of the British sources only have the /z/. If anyone in the US says it with a /z/, I don't know about them. So we can say that this /z/ is a BrE pronunciation, but not the BrE pronunciation. (When it comes to pronunciation, there's probably next to nothing that one can count as the BrE.)

So how prevalent is the /z/ in the UK?  And who says it?

I listened to more than 50 examples on YouGlish, discounting a few along the way because they were the same person again or the person seemed not to have a UK accent. Of the 47 I counted, 23 had /z/, 23 had /s/, and one, by Alan Bennett, I just couldn't tell. So the dictionaries that have both seem to have good reason for it. 

At first, I was getting mostly /s/ and I thought that it was because there were a lot of 'posh' voices giving lectures about the Fertile Crescent. But as I went on, it became clear how varied the speakers who say /s/ or /z/ are. Both were said by young and old. Both were said by fancily educated people. There were a couple of Scottish voices that said /s/, but other than that it felt like both /s/ and /z/ were hearable around much of England. Among the /z/-sayers were Professor Brian Cox (from near Manchester, in his 50s) and Jeremy Paxman (in his 70s, born in Leeds but raised in Hampshire and sounding very much like his Cambridge education). I wonder if there are any dialectologists out there who could give us a bit more insight about whether this /z/ is particularly associated with one place or another? It doesn't seem to be a variation that was captured in the Cambridge Dialect App

Going beyond crescent, there are other spelled-s-pronounced-/z/ cases that contrast between AmE and some BrE speakers. The Accent Eraser*  site lists these ones, a couple of which I've written about before (see links).
  • Eraser
  • Blouse
  • Diagnose
  • Greasy**
  • Opposite
  • Resource
  • Vase
  • Mimosa
  • Crescent
  • Joseph (click on the link to see a lot more personal names with this difference)
These are lexical pronunciations—that is, speakers just learn to pronounce the word that way on a word-by-word basis, rather than a rule-based pronunciation, where the pronunciation is 'conditioned' by its pronunciation environment and it happens to all words that contain that environment. We can tell this isn't a phonologically conditioned variant because fleecy, which has an /s/ sound between the same vowels as in greasy, is never "fleezy". There's nothing these words have in common that makes them all go toward the same pronunciation—some are between vowels (a place where it's easy for consonants to take on voicing), but others are word-final. Some may have been pushed toward /z/-ness due to their similarity with other /z/-pronounced words: greasy–easy, resource–resort, and the like. 

My intuition about them is that they're very irregular across people. I just played a 'guess the word' game with my south-London-born spouse (50s), and he used /z/ for all of these except greasy and opposite, for which he used /s/. Who knows why?

I haven't got the time now to see how regular dictionaries are about their representations of these, but it strikes me that this would make a nice little undergraduate student project!

*Eek! "Accent erasing" is not something a linguist likes to endorse—you can be an accent replacer, but not an accent eraser.

** Forgot to mention: you do hear greasy with a /z/ in AmE. I think of it as southern, someone on Twitter said they think of it as midlands, but a friend from my northeastern hometown says it, so it's kind of irregular too.

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come on!

I got this by email from a reader named Robbie:

A while ago I watched several episodes of the US children's show "Bubble Guppies" and found myself getting more and more annoyed with them. As in many preschool shows, the characters speak directly to the audience and encourage them to get involved with the story. Every time the scene changed (going from the park to school, from the classroom to the playground, etc.) one of the characters would turn to the viewer and say "come on!"

The more I thought about this, the more rude it sounded, and the more it seemed that you might be the person to ask!

Presumably all this repetition of "come on" doesn't sound impolite to American ears, since children's shows tend to teach politeness. To me it sounds peremptory and bossy, but does this apply to British listeners generally, or is it just me? I'm guessing an equivalent British show would be more likely to say "let's go" to the viewer, but perhaps also "come along" from one character to another.

And now I'm thinking of Dora the Explorer, who gets them both in (plus Spanish) with her song: "Come on, vamanos, everybody, let's go".


Interesting question. Phrasal verbs like this are tricky, because they are usually very polysemous (i.e. have many meanings). Phrasal verbs used in imperative form (as a command/request) are going to be even trickier because we don't just have the verb meaning, we have lots of pragmatics/politeness issues swirling around. So I expected this to be a very tricky thing to answer. 

Still from the video for this song. Click if you dare!


But then I looked in some dictionaries, and it is easy to see how different British and American lexicographers' estimations of the phrase are. The Collins dictionary website shows the contrast well. (The American English bit of the Collins website is from the Webster's New World Dictionary, written in the US.)

come on!

in British English

a. 
 hurry up!
b. 
 cheer up! pull yourself together!
c. 
make an effort!
d. 
don't exaggeratestick to the facts!

come on!in American English

Informal
used to signify
a.  
invitation, often to a different place
b.  
encouragement, urgency, etc.
come on! you can do it
c.  
come on! you can't be serious

American sense (c) is the same as British sense (d)—the 'objection' sense. That's always going to seem a bit impatient or rude. British senses (a) 'hurry', (b) 'cheer up' and (c) 'make an effort' might all be folded into American sense (b) 'used to signify encouragement, urgency, etc.'. Whether those uses are taken as rude or helpful is very likely to depend on the intonation they're said with. 

But American sense (a) doesn't really occur in the British treatment of the expression. Does BrE use  come along! instead?

Well, yes, but Collins English Dictionary doesn't know about that. Their definitions for come along are the same as their (a) and (c) definitions of come on! 

The Collins COBUILD dictionary entry (intended for English learners) does capture the 'invitation' sense, though they don't present it in the imperative form:

1. PHRASAL VERB
You tell someone to come along to encourage them in a friendly way to do something, especially to attend something.
There's a big press launch today and you're most welcome to come along. [VERB PARTICLE]

I do perceive difference between AmE 'invitation' use of come on!  and BrE 'invitation' use of come along!, though. I can imagine American adults saying come on! in a friendly inviting way to each other. Come on! Join us! 

But I have a harder time imagining British adults using it that way—to me it sounds very adult-to-child-directed. I imagine children lining/queuing up behind the teacher who tells them to Come along!

The fact that Come along! is less versatile than Come on! is clear from how much less you find it on the web in the GloWbE corpus:


I would love to show you how c'mon fits into all this and I'd love to look at Come on! Let's go!, but the corpus software can't seem to cope with the apostrophes. The Google books ngram viewer shows c'mon is more common in AmE, but that can't give us a sense of which senses of come on it's used for.




The comments section is open.  Come on and let us know what you think! It might help if, as well as letting us know which country you're from, you give us a sense of your age, since younger UK readers might have a different perception of it, especially if they were Dora the Explorer fans...
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Abbr.

AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)