2016 US-to-UK Word of the Year: gerrymander

In a year like this year, it's no surprise that most of the Word-of-the-Year nominations related to politics, either directly or indirectly (like the 2016 UK-to-US WotY). Several of my correspondents have been noticing Americanisms in British political talk and Britishisms in American political talk. Partly, I put this down to the internationality of journalism. American reporters are in London, trying to make sense of British politics for American readers/listeners, and British reporters are in Washington doing the reverse. And there is cachet going both ways: using a bit of the other country's jargon makes you sound more cosmopolitan--at least that's why I think backbencher made it to the US last year.

This year, the US-to-UK Word of the Year was not just a stylish synonym of an existing BrE word, but a word with no native BrE equivalent. The word is (ta-da!):

gerrymander


To give a 19th century definition of the US-origin term (cited in the OED) a gerrymander is:
a method of arranging election districts so that the political party making the arrangement will be enabled to elect a greater number of representatives than they could on a fair system, and more than they should have in proportion to their numerical strength (National Encyclopedia, 1868)

The name is a blend (or 'portmanteau') of the name Gerry and salamander--as another OED quotation explains:

In 1812, while [Elbridge] Gerry was governor [of Massachusetts], the Democratic Legislature, in order to secure an increased representation of their party in the State Senate, districted the State in such a way that the shapes of the towns, forming such a district in Essex [County], brought out a territory of singular outline. This was indicated on a map which Russell, the editor of the Centinel, hung in his office. Stuart, the painter, observing it, added a head, wings, and claws, and exclaimed, ‘That will do for a salamander!’ ‘Gerrymander!’ said Russell, and the word became a proverb. (Henry Cabot Lodge, 1881)

Though gerrymander started as a noun, today the -ing form is often seen as a noun describing the process. In fact, the first instance of the verb in the OED is an -ing form used as a noun:
1812   Salem Gaz. 22 Dec. 2/4   So much..for War and Gerrymandering.

In the UK, the setting of constituency boundaries is done by a non-partisan commission, so it is supposed to be immune to gerrymandering. But the proposals for 2018 (submitted to the public for review this year) mean that the Labour party is expected to lose a number of seats and the Conservatives gain some. The word came to mind when I looked at the changes to the Brighton and Hove boundaries. It looked to me like it was designed to make it more difficult for Labour and the Green Party to keep their seats in the city. Hove (which goes back and forth between Labour and Conservative) had been  split up so that it swooped over into the part of Brighton that is a Green mainstay. (Just my gut reaction at the time, not trying to make any real claims about the Commission's intention.)

Labour MP Stephen Kinnock called the proposals "a bare-faced gerrymander", resulting in lots of responses also using the term:

The word gerrymander has popped up into British English with some regularity since the late 19th century--whenever boundaries are being re-set. The UK "gerrymanders" are considerably less amphibian-like than, say, the districts of North Carolina. It struck me this year that the word was easily used in headlines, newspaper articles, and blog posts with no explanation--it has become a word that British people are just expected to know.

Given its now-native-but-non-native status in BrE, the dictionary treatments of it are interesting (to me, at least). The OED online still marks it as "U.S.", but Oxford Dictionaries (the same publisher's more 'general dictionary' website) doesn't. Cambridge has gerrymander as a U.S. word only, but has gerrymandering in British. Macmillan has gerrymandering without marking it as U.S., but anti-etymologically has gerrymander as a word deriving from it. Then again, in BrE that might be what happened--the -ing form coming in from America and only later back-formed into gerrymander.


The Google Books ngram chart above gives data only from books, only to 2008. The News on the Web corpus (2010-yesterday) shows that the Google books chart is misleading in terms of how much people actually run into these words in each country:


The .049 per million in British news is steady across time in that corpus, and many if not most of the UK usages of the term are talking about US events. But since many this year are specifically talking about the Boundary Commission Review, with many news and opinion pieces boldly using the word, I'm comfortable making gerrymander the US-to-UK word of the year for 2016. I can't say "Welcome to the UK" to it, but I can say "Nice to see you in Britain".
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2016 UK-to-US Word of the Year: gutted

The day after the US election, it became clear to me that the UK-to-US Word of the Year would have to be the adjective

gutted


The verb to gut is, of course, common to both varieties of English, but in this case I'm talking about an adjectival use of gutted to refer to a feeling of disappointment or sadness that makes one feel utterly emptied. Green's Dictionary of Slang indicates it's been around at least as far back as the 1970s, originally in prison slang.  I blogged about gutted as a Britishism in 2009. Then I shared a story of an American inappropriately understanding its use  in the literal sense 'having had the guts removed', so it hasn't been a common expression in AmE for very long. The events of 8 November certainly put it in American social media feeds. Here are a couple of examples:


Ben Yagoda also noticed it at Not One-Off Britshisms.

The 'devastated' meaning of gutted has been growing in AmE for the last couple of years. A Twitter search today gave me US examples referring to that devastating feeling when the local Chic-Fil-A closes before you (AmE) get off work, when you miss an Ultimate Fighting match, or when you have to give up vlogging. Ok, so some of those would definitely not leave me gutted, but to each their own.

The adjective seemed to come into its own in the US in response to election happenings, when people who had been cruising on optimism for months suddenly felt truly down and hopeless. The New York Times seemed to find it useful:



The etymologist John Kelly, an American in Ireland, noted: 


And I agree. It is visceral. Though it is used a lot in talking about inconsequential things like football (yes, flying my anti-spectator-sport(s) flag again), it's just the right word when events come along and take the wind out of you.

John also mentioned trying out super gutted, but that just doesn't sound right in BrE. Here are some intensifiers that go with gutted, though note that this corpus result includes all senses of gutted. (Hence the large number of American completely gutteds are talking about buildings and the like.) Note that very gutted is also not common.


From GloWBE

I cannot resist ending on this little tweet, depending on the ambiguity of gutted:


Welcome to AmE, gutted!

(Stay tuned for the US-to-UK WotY. I hope to post it on 21 December.)
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try and, try to; GMEU app


Our university's website provides helpful information for students about research and writing. It says things like this:
Another big mistake is to try and write an essay at the last minute.
I look at that and itch to edit it, just like early in my time in England, when my department head sent round a draft document for our comments, and I "helpfully" changed all the try and's to try to's. Imposing your American prescriptions on a learned British linguist is probably not the best idea, and it's one of those little embarrassments that comes back to haunt me in the middle of the sleepless night. I had had no idea that try and is not the no-no in BrE that it is in edited AmE.

I'm reminded of this for two reasons:
  1. Marisa Brook and Sali Tagliamonte have a paper in the August issue of American Speech that looks at try and and try to in British and Canadian English (and I've just learned a lot about the history of these collocations from it)
  2. I've been using this new English usage app and testing it on matters of US/UK disagreement. (Review below.) 

The weirdness  

Try and is weird. I say that as fact, not judg(e)ment. You can't "want and write an essay" or "attempt and write an essay". The try and variation seems to be a holdover from an earlier meaning of try, which meant 'test' or 'examine', still heard in the idiom to try one's patience. Though the  'test' meaning dropped out, the and construction hung on and transferred to the 'attempt' meaning of 'try'.

Though some people insist that try and means something different from try to, those claims don't stand up to systematic investigation. A 1983 study of British novels by Åge Lind (cited in Brook and Tagliamonte) could find no semantic difference, and a statistical study by Gries and Stefanowitsch concluded "where semantic differences have been proposed, they are very tenuous". The verbs be and do seem to resist try and and prefer try to.

There are some cases where try and doesn't mean the same thing as try to, where the second verb is a comment on the success (or lack of success) of the trying:
We try and fail to write our essays. ≠  We try to fail to write our essays.
But in most cases, they're equivalent:
Try and help the stranded dolphin.  = Try to help the stranded dolphin.
Try and make it up to them. = Try to make it up to them.

(If the rightmost example sounds odd, make sure you're pronouncing it naturally with the to reduced to 'tuh'. If the leftmost one just sounds bad to you, you may well be North American.)

Though there are other verbs that can be followed by and+verb, they don't act the same way as try and. For one thing, try and seems to stay in that 'base' form without suffixes. It's harder to find examples in the present or past tense (see tables below). 
? The student tries and writes an essay. 
? The student tried and wrote an essay.
  Compare the much more natural past tense of go and:
The student just went and wrote a whole essay.
So, try and is a bit on-its-own. Be sure to/be sure and is the only other thing that seems to have the same grammatical and semantic patterns.

The Britishness

Here's what Hommerberg and Tottie (2007) found for British Spoken and Written data and for American Spoken and Written.

In the forms that can't have suffixes (infinitive and imperative), BrE speakers say try and a lot more than try to. They write try and less, but in in the infinitive, it's still used about 1/3 of the time.

Brook and Tagliamonte found that BrE speakers under 45 use try and over try to at a rate of about 85%, regardless of education level. But for older Brits, there's a difference, with the more educated mostly using try to

AmE speakers sometimes say try and, but they say try to more. They hardly ever use try and (where it could be replaced by try to) in writing.
Brook and Tagliamonte find much the same difference for British English versus Canadian English.


The "non-standard"ness

Though the try and form goes back before American and British English split up, its greater use in Britain is the innovation here. The try and form only started to dominate in Britain in the late 19th century.

Brook and Tagliamonte note that it's "curious" that BrE prefers try and when it has "two ostensible disadvantages":
  1. it's less syntactically versatile, since it doesn't like suffixation,
  2. it's long been considered the "non-standard" form, repeatedly criticized in even British style guides. 

On the second point, Eric Partridge's Usage and Abusage (1947) calls it "incorrect" and "an astonishingly frequent error". However, other British style guides are much more forgiving of it. While the third edition of Fowler's Modern Usage (1996) says that "Arguments continue to rage about the validity of try and", it notes that the original 1926 edition said that "try and is an idiom that should not be discountenanced" when it sounds natural. The Complete Plain Words (1986) lists it in a checklist of phrases to be used with care ("Try to is to be preferred in serious writing"), but it got no mention in  Ernest Gowers' original Plain Words (1948) or the recent revision of the work by Rebecca Gowers (2014). Oliver Kamm's rebelliously "non-pedantic" guide (2015) calls try and "Standard English".  Other British sources I've checked have nothing to say about it. Though it's only recently climbed the social ladder, British writers and "authorities" seem, on the whole, (BrE) not very fussed about it.

American guides do comment on try and. Ambrose Bierce (1909) called it "colloquial slovenliness of speech" and Jan Freeman (2009) calls it "one of the favorite topics of American peevologists". The dictionaries and stylebooks that are less excited about it at least pause to note that it is informal, colloquial, or a "casualism". The American Heritage Dictionary notes:
To be sure, the usage is associated with informal style and strikes an inappropriately conversational note in formal writing. In our 2005 survey, just 55 percent of the Usage Panel accepted the construction in the sentence Why don't you try and see if you can work the problem out for yourselves?
(I can't help but read that to be sure in an Irish accent, which means I've been around Englishpeople too long.)

One hypothesis is that try and came to be preferred in Britain due to horror aequi: the avoidance of repetition. So, instead of Try to get to know, you can drop a to and have Try and get to know. The colloquialism may have been more and more tolerated because the alternative was aesthetically unpleasing.

Try and is an example I'm discussing (in much less detail) in the book I'm writing because it seems to illustrate a tendency for British English to make judg(e)ments "by ear" where American English often likes to go "by the book". (Please feel free to debate this point or give me more examples in the comments!)

Garner's Modern English Usage

And so, on to the app.  The Garner's Modern English Usage (GMEU) app is the full content of the 4th edition of the book of the same name, with some extra app-y features. I've tested it on an Apple iPod, but I think it's available for other platforms too. On iTunes, it lists at US$24.99.

Full disclosure: Bryan Garner gave me a free copy of this app in its testing stage.  I've met Garner in person once, when I'm quite sure he decided I was a hopeless liberal. (The thing about liberals, though, is you can't really be one without lots of hope.) He's a good one to follow on Twitter.

Sad disclosure: I received the offer of the free app not too long after I ordered a hard copy of the 4th edition, which (AmE) set me back £32.99, and, at 1055 pages, takes up a pretty big chunk of valuable by-the-desk bookshelf (AmE) real estate. I bought that book AFTER FORGETTING that just weeks before, hoping to avoid the real-estate incursion, I'd bought the e-book edition for a (orig. AmE) hefty $34.99. So, although I got the app for free, I expect to get my money's worth!!

So far, the app works beautifully, and is so much easier to search than a physical book. Mainly, I've used it for searching for items with AmE/BrE differences. I also used it to argue back to a Reviewer 2 who was trying to (not and!) (orig. AmE) micromanage aspects of my usage that don't seem to have any prescriptions against them (their absence in GMEU was welcome). (Reviewer 2 did like our research, so almost all is forgiven.)

GMEU didn't have everything I looked up (see the post on lewd), but that's probably because those things are not known usage issues. I had just wondered if they might be. But where I looked up things that differed in BrE and AmE, the differences were always clearly stated. Here is a screenshot of try and:


Garner's book is so big because it's got lots of  real examples and useful numbers, as you can see in this example. Nice features of the app, besides easy searchability, include the ability to save entries as 'favorites', tricky quizzes (which tell me I qualify as a "true snoot"), and all the front matter of the book: prefaces, linguistic glossary, pronunciation guide, and Garner's essays about the language.

The search feature gives only hits for essay topics and entry headwords. That is probably all anyone else needs. I'd like to be able to search, for instance, for all instances of British and BrE to find what he covers. But I guess that's what I can use my ebook for...

Over the course of his editions and his work more generally, Garner has included more and more about British English, but at its heart, GMEU is an American piece of work. Other Englishes don't really (BrE) get a look-in (fact, not criticism). I very much recommend the app for American writers, students, and editors, but also for British editors, who are often called upon to work on American writers' work or to make British work more transatlantically neutral.



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the maddest in the room


Headlines were made when Wikileaks, in their recent targeting of Hillary Clinton, released a transcript of a private speech by Bill Clinton. British news outlets (orig AmE) zeroed in on a particular passage from the speech for their headlines:




It looks, especially if you speak BrE, like Clinton was making a claim about the sanity level of Jeremy Corbyn (current leader of the UK Labour Party). This is a bit of headline evil.

Three things conspire here to give Clinton's statement an 'insane' interpretation in the headlines and many of the articles:
  1. AmE uses mad to mean 'angry', but BrE doesn't so much. 
  2. The maddest is before the noun.
  3. Some of British newspapers seem to be withholding the American meaning from their readers.
 So let's take those in turn.

1. The difference in mad

Mad can mean 'insane' or 'angry' in AmE, but is not as often used to mean 'angry' in BrE.

It's one of those word-uses that America preserved and Britain threw away. Originally mad was used of animals to mean 'rabid'. By the middle ages, it was used of (non-rabid) people, describing behavio(u)rs like those of a rabid animal: aggression (as if one is angry) or loss of the senses and frenzied behavio(u)r (as if one is crazy). Both senses were brought to America, but by the turn of the 19th century, BrE had mostly stopped using the ‘angry’ sense of mad. It was still around, though, for instance in the King James Bible: “And being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities” (Acts 26:11).

Mad 'angry' was thus one of the first Americanisms that British folk started complaining about. If you think it means 'insane', then using it to mean 'angry' could seem a bit simple, like you couldn’t tell the difference between feeling angered and losing your senses altogether. 

Mad isn't "American for angry", though. Angry is how Americans say angry. The words are near-synonyms, but mad tends to be used in less formal settings. That it's not completely equivalent to angry can be seen in their different grammatical behavio(u)rs, which brings us to...

2. The position of maddest
An adjective can go before a noun (attributive use) or on the other side of a verb from the noun it modifies (predicative use), as in:
  • She's a happy baby.  (attributive)
  • The baby is happy.   (predicative)
Not all adjectives go in both places. We can say the baby is glad (about something), but it's weirder to say she's a glad baby. What you can see from the baby examples is that the predicative use makes happy a less intrinsic property of the baby. She's happy now, but she might not have been two minutes ago and might not be two seconds from now. She's a happy baby seems to say something more general about the baby: she has a good disposition.

Now let's try that with mad:
  • He's a mad person.   (attributive)
  • That person is mad.  (predicative)
In BrE, the 'insane' meaning comes to the fore in both cases, since the 'angry' sense isn't in very active use. In AmE, you're very likely to get the 'insane' meaning in the attributive, but the 'angry' sense in the predicative context. (The 'insane' meaning is also possible--but Americans tend to say crazy when they mean that kind of mad.) This goes along with the point I was making about happy in these positions: the more stable trait ('insane') is more likely to go before the noun than the more fleeting emotion ('angry').

In AmE, like BrE, we're used to a range of mad='insane' phrases with attributive mad: a mad man,  mad scientist, the Mad Hatter and so forth.  MAD Magazine has a "crazy" kind of humo(u)r, (AmE) mad libs is a game of crazy word combinations,  and (AmE) mad money is money that you're free to spend in a crazy way [well, it is now--see first comment for further back!].

Typically, it's easy to disambiguate mad because the 'angry' meaning is directed at something. You are mad at someone or about something. (If you're American and felt that That person is mad meant 'insane', it's because there was no "something" to be mad at in the context I gave you.) We could call it a "two-place adjective": it has a "subject" (the one who is mad) and (loosely speaking) an "object" (the thing that's causing the anger). The 'insane' meaning generally isn't directed--you're insane or you're not insane, but you're not insane at something. That's connected to the attributive/predicative difference as well: you can fit the 'about/at' information into the predicate position (I'm mad at the newspapers), but it's harder to do in the attributive position: The mad-at-the-newspapers linguist is writing this blog.

You can see a similar thing going on with other "two-place adjectives". He's a proud parent is interpreted as 'He is proud of his child(ren)' because parent sneaks in the information about the thing that's causing pride. But in He's a proud person, we get a different interpretation (either 'arrogant' or 'stoic'), because it doesn't tell us what he's proud of

3. Clinton didn't mean 'insane', but the headlines were meant to make you think he did
So, what's going on with Clinton's the maddest person in the room? It looks like it means 'craziest', but...in the full context of Clinton's speech, it clearly doesn't. Here's the relevant passage:
If you look all over the world – the British Labour Party disposed of its most [inaudible] leader, David Miliband, because they were mad at him for being part of Tony Blair’s government in the Iraq War.
And they moved to the left and put his brother in as leader because the British labour movement wanted it.
When David Cameron thumped him in the election, they reached the interesting conclusion that they lost because they hadn’t moved far left enough.
And so they went out and practically got a guy off the street to be the leader of the British Labour Party, who I saw in the press today said that he was really a British citizen and had real British [inaudible].
But what that is reflective of – the same thing happened in the Greek election – when people feel they’ve been shafted and they don’t expect anything to happen anyway, they just want the maddest person in the room to represent them.

Clinton has set up mad as being 'mad at the powers that be', and he's repeating it in maddest to signal that angry people are looking for an angry leader.

The Guardian and Huffington Post UK both used the clickbait phrase "maddest in the room" in their headlines, but at least had the decency to point out in their articles that mad can mean 'angry' in American English (and probably meant so here). The Telegraph and the Independent (which, I'm sorry to say, gets more and more clickbaity by the minute now that it's no longer a print newspaper) used the headline but did nothing to challenge the impression that Clinton had called Corbyn "the insanest".

Wikileaks has been aiming to sow a particular kind of (clearly partisan) chaos. With headlines like these, the newspapers are only helping them to do it rather than taking a responsible position.


And the guy off the street
While we're here... Clinton's guy off the street probably also sounds worse in BrE than in AmE. In AmE the man on the street is the averagely informed person. If you call the person on the street away from the street, they would be a 'man off the street'. That doesn't work quite the same in BrE, where that person is the man in the street. Here's Noam Chomsky using man off the street to mean 'averagely informed Russian':
I don’t know much about Russian public opinion, but I imagine if you picked a man off the street, he would be surprised to hear a reference to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
A couple of UK readers have suggested to me that they'd interpret guy off the street as meaning 'homeless man', which clearly (to this AmE reader) wasn't what Clinton intended. The news sites didn't help readers to interpret this one either.


And a few notes before I go
I'd been doing well at blogging on a weekly basis, but the US election results threw me off my routine--and not just because it's left me waking in the middle of the night questioning what kind of world I've brought a child into. I'd been asked by the BBC to go up to Media City to be on The Verb with Ian McMillan that week. The brief had been to talk about words of 2016--but not politics because everyone would be sick of politics after the election. I prepared some materials and was on my way up north the day after the election, when the producer called to say "given what's happened, we can't not talk about politics now". So, instead of writing a blog post, I ended up preparing twice for The Verb. If you're interested in hearing it, it's available for listening here for 17 more days.

John Kelly wrote a piece on Slate about how we were talking about the election in the days after it, and he quotes me reflecting on what it was like talking to people at the BBC about it that day.

I've been thinking about what to choose for my US>UK and UK>US Words of the Year. There's a definite frontrunner for UK>US, and there was a frontrunner for US>UK: till I discovered that dog-whistle (nominated by a couple of you) was first (as far as the OED knows) used in Canada, and then made it big in Australia before going to the US. Now, I've little doubt that the UK media/politicians picked it up from the US, so it might still qualify as US>UK WotY. But if you have better nominations, I'd love to hear them. The criteria are that it should be a word from the US that made it big in the UK this year. That usually means that it made a splash in the media somehow. It should be a long-standing word in the US, not one that was invented this year--so that it's really an Americanism that has shown up in the UK, rather that just "a new English word". Please feel free to post suggestions in the comments.
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choirs and preaching to them

I'm feeling a bit of pressure to put nice pictures at the start of my blog posts because the new homepage layout features whichever picture is first. Corpus tables make boring pictures, so I am using this as an excuse to share with you a delightful animation, Choir Tour:


CHOIR TOUR from Atom Art on Vimeo.

So, with that out of the way, @gwynf has asked me about preach to the choir versus preach to the converted, which was a nice coincidence because I'd recently looked it up myself. Either phrase means 'pointlessly make an argument to those who already agree with your point of view'. I felt like I've always said converted and that I'd learned choir in the UK. I think the first of those feelings is accurate (I do believe converted is what my mom said and it is what I say), the second probably isn't, since choir is clearly the preferred American phrasing:
From GloWBE corpus

Preach to the congregation is also found in BrE, but in much, much smaller numbers. (In this corpus: three!) A related BrE expression is sing from the same hymn sheet i.e. 'share an opinion or position'. Both AmE and BrE also have sing the same song/tune. (Thanks for pointing that out @UnexpectedBag.)

Maybe (and I know I'm going to make enemies here) I like converted better because I mostly really don't care for choral music. (Sometimes it's less the music that's the problem than the choir.) I don't want to preach to the choir because if I pay them too much attention they might guilt me into going to their charity concert at Christmastime and sitting miserably through it, thinking "I could die later today and I will have wasted my last hours here." I know I shouldn't admit to not liking choirs. They're like mobs. They could (orig. AmE) beat me up.

Anyhow, the word choir is worth discussing too. In BrE there are choirs all over the place. Many of my friends (who will soon be beating me up) are in them. And many, many of them are non-religious. Community choirs they're called, and they do everything from classical to indie music to gospel (for the music, not necessarily for the gospel). BBC (BrE) programmes Last Choir Standing, The Choir, and The Naked Choir give an inkling of the popularity of choral singing as a secular activity.

In the US, choir is more associated with church-affiliated groups and maybe some classical ones. My school didn't have a choir, it had a chorus. Other terms like chorale and glee club give a sense that the group is singing works that are not necessarily choral in origin. (At least, that's the sense they give me--but there's nothing to stop a chorus from singing non-choral works either. My school chorus memories are of a bunch of kids belting out cheesy Christmas songs at the tops of our lungs with no attention to cooperation or harmony.) Various websites out there argue about the differences between these various terms. The fact that they have to argue probably means that the terms aren't being used in any consistent way. I would take chorale and glee club to be much more old-fashioned terms.

A look at statistically-strongly-American (pay attention to the green ones) versus statistically-strongly-British words before choir in the Corpus of Global Web-Based English shows that choir gets more of a (orig. AmE) workout in BrE:


But then there's (AmE) show choir, a type of non-religious school singing-and-dancing group that was brought to the world's attention by the television (AmE) show Glee. I've written about that before--so please see/discuss at that old post.

----------
Before I (AmE) go hide (BrE/some AmE go and hide) from the angry singing mobs, I'll just note that I'm on BBC Radio 3's The Verb this Friday (11 Nov) at 22.00 (UK time). It's available online for a month afterward. I think we'll be talking about words for the generations, so to speak.

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Untranslatables VI: the summary

As previously announced, this was the 6th October during which I tweeted an 'British–American untranslatable' (that is, item lexicalized in one national dialect and not the other) on each weekday. If you'd like to complain that any of these does not qualify as 'untranslatable', please first read my provisos about what's meant by untranslatable in this context.

This year's was a bit British-heavy, though in looking back on previous years, I noticed that some had more American ones, so perhaps it all works out in the end. 

BrE rough sleeper  'homeless person who's sleeps outside, as opposed to in a shelter or other temporary accommodation'.  Suggested by John Kelly (@mashedradish)

BrE gongoozler originally, 'an idler who watches canal activities', now more broadly, 'a person who stares for long periods'.  Suggested by Andy M. (on Facebook)
source

AmE to t-bone '(for a motor vehicle) to crash into another vehicle perpedicularly'.  Suggested by Rhonda (on blog). (This one has started to have currency in UK--but the steak cut that it's named after is not traditional in UK butchery.)

BrE busman’s holiday 'leisure time spent doing something very much like what you do at work'. There are some variants used (a little) in the US, but the ultimate source is this phrase. See World Wide Words. Suggested by

AmE to kick the tires 'to determine the worth or "health" of something by testing it'. Suggested by @SimonKoppel. This has spread beyond the US, with some people (Australians, in my correspondence) interpreting it specifically as something done by people with no intention to buy. I liked the OED entry that says it's orig. U.S. Not with that spelling, it's not!


BrE (to give someone a) backie (also backy)  '(to give someone a) ride on the BrE parcel shelf of a bicycle'. Suggested by @formosaphile. Responses to this tweet brought up a lot of variants: Australian dink, dinky, New Zealand dub, and a number from the UK, which Moose Allain has put together into a slide show. But none from the US, as far as I've heard.

AmE third base (etc.) as measures of sexual accomplishment. Covered previously here.  Suggested by @Mburked

BrE love rat tabloid term for a male adulterer. Here's Collins Dictionary on it. (Sorry, someone suggested this, but I failed to note who!)

AmE candy striper a usually female, usually teen-aged hospital volunteer. Suggested by @CityMelzer A bit more on the term from Wikipedia.

BrE to blot one's copybook  'to do damage to one's own good reputation'. Here's the discussion of it at World Wide Words.

BrE Johnny Foreigner '[pejorative] personification of non-Britishness', often used satirically. Here's the Collins entry for it.

AmE big box store 'box-shaped single-company retail building at the edge of town'. Possible BrE translations discussed at Wikipedia.  Ta

BrE for in, for example, 7:00 for 7:30, which means 'come after 7, but by 7:30, when things will get started'. Or, as Andrew Caines defined it: "You'll be rude if you arrive up to and including 7:00, or any time after 7.29". 

AmE condo(minium) 'building consisting of residential units that are individually owned' or 'an individually-owned unit within such a building'. In AmE condo generally contrasts with apartment (building)--the former is rented, the latter owned. In UK, they're called (blocks of) flats regardless of owned/rented status. In some parts of the US, there are also co-ops. The difference between condos and coops is explained here. I'd tried to conceptualise this in terms of the difference between flat ownership with a leasehold versus a share of the freehold in England, but that's not right (see comments). Suggested by @RebelePublisher 

BrE I’ll be mother 'I'll serve the tea [or other food/drink that needs serving-out]'  Suggested by Rhonda on the blog.

BrE graunch used as a verb or noun onomatopoetically for a grinding/crunching sound, as when gears in a car grind. (OED lists this as [UK] dialectal & New Zealand.) Suggested by April23rd on blog.

AmE (esp. Californian) lookie-loo (and spelling variants) 'nosy person who goes to (AmE) real-estate open houses with no intention of buying'. It's also used (esp. in other parts of the country) as a synonym for (orig. AmE) rubber-necker. Suggested by Michèle, seconded by @cynderness.

BrE paddle 'go into water (especially the sea) without swimming, particularly walking in up to the knees or so'. In AmE, I'd just say wade, which isn't specifically about getting your feet wet for fun. Suggested by @simonkoppel.

AmE Monday morning quarterback 'person who criticizes others using hindsight the others couldn't have had'

BrE ready reckoner 'quick-reference table that gives solutions to simple calculations'. AmE has things like cheat sheet, quick reference, but those could be, say, lists of definitions, rather than a table of calculations.

BrE glamour model euphemistic expression for 'woman who poses topless' (particularly for certain UK newspapers and BrE "lads' magazines").

Will I find enough for a seventh year in 2017? I've already started the list, so maybe.  Feel free to keep suggesting them! Thanks to everyone who's helped this time.
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dandelion clock

Grover and I like to play a bit of (BrE) cod-Pictionary, using the cards from a UK edition of Cranium. She's 8 now, and I've been pretty impressed by her ability to communicate in pictures. So recently we were playing and she drew these two things (here kindly re-drawn for your benefit, as I misplaced the original).




Have you got(ten) it? I recogni{s/z}ed the first thing as a dandelion with its seeds blowing away and the second thing as a clock face. So I just kept saying "Dandelion time?", to Grover's increasing frustration, until the timer ran out. 

The answer was dandelion clock, leading me to ask: "What's that supposed to mean?" 

Turns out that's a British name for the head of a dandelion once it's gone to seed. It's also the name of a game played with such dandelions. To quote Wiktionary:
A children's amusement in which the number of puffs needed to blow the filamentous achenes from a dandelion is supposed to tell the time.
 (Bet you weren't planning to read the phrase filamentous achenes today.)

Grover and her dad and the makers of Cranium all knew the expression, but this was the first I'd met it (though I now see it's also the name of a wallpaper that I see often). But though I knew exactly the thing that dandelion clock refers to, I had no expression for it.

Since we're in Untranslatable October, this was exciting, but then I asked my US friends whether they had a word for dandelion clock and some did--either dandelion puff or dandelion puffball. As many American friends had no word for the thing. I'd probably say white dandelion head or dandelion that's gone to seed or something like that. There didn't seem to be a regional pattern to having a name for it or not--some who had a name grew up in the same town as me and still live nearby.

The words don't seem to be all that common--probably the kind of thing that stays on the playground. There are 4 BrE dandelion clock(s) on the Corpus of Global Web-Based English. The only dandelion puff was in the British section, but written by a North American in a comments section of a blog. (Why you can't always trust nationalities on GloWBE.) In the Corpus of Contemporary American English, there are 9 dandelion puff(s) and 2 dandelion puff(-)ball. There are also two dandelion clock(s) in COCA--one by a British author (AS Byatt) and one with someone using it as if it means the individual seeds, rather than the head.

So I got to learn three new words (for I do consider compounds to be words even if they've got a space within them) from two countries for one thing. Not bad for a day's pictionary.

------
Forgot to mention last time: I'm on the Talk the Talk podcast, chatting with the hosts about the language of the 2nd US presidential debate (after Dan Everett talking about Universal Grammar). The Quartz piece I did on Trump's the continues to get a lot of attention, including from Vox.
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yankee in GDoS

I was reading the print version of Ernest (No. 4, I think, which I received a while ago as a gift for speaking at Brighton's Catalyst Club) and one of the short bits at the front was about a Yankee dodge. This was what British surgeon Robert Liston called the use of ether as an an(a)esthetic. Yankee because the method was developed in the US.

First use of ether in dental surgery,
from the Wellcome Collection
Within the US, yankee can mean more specifically "New Englander" or at least "northerner". Was this a yankee dodge in both the regional and national senses of the word? The first published-about use of inhaled-ether-as-an(a)esthetic was in Boston, Massachusetts in 1846 by William T. G. Morton (pictured right), and that's what got the attention of Liston. Morton was a Yankee for sure, in all senses of the word. But he spent the rest of his life defending his reputation as the "inventor" of an(a)esthesia because Crawford Long, a surgeon from Madison County, Georgia, had been using ether for some time. He just hadn't published about it. Long is less yankee than Morton from an American perspective, but from a British perspective, it's all yankee enough.

Anyhow...this got me thinking about the email in my inbox announcing the online publication of Green's Dictionary of Slang, which includes all the material from Jonathan Green's 2010 book of the same title plus further additions. Green also does fantastic slang timelines, which show the richness of the slang for topics like sex, drunkenness, and death over the ages. Green's work is especially thorough on underworld slangs, and while he's based in London, his attention does envelop other countries as well. So, I wondered: what comes up for yankee there?

This is just the (first) noun entry for yankee. The sub-entries vary in place of origin: (unmarked) British, US, and Australian. There may be some British association of yankee with cheating or taking a shortcut (cf. Yankee dodge), but in Australia, the stereotype used is miserliness, which in the US is more specifically a stereotype of New Englanders (found later Green's verb entry for to yankee 'to cheat'. 




SE here means 'standard English'. So, the first compound uses a slang sense to make a slang compound, and the later ones use the standard-English meaning of yankee 'American' to make further slang compounds.

Above is what you can see if you don't subscribe. If you subscribe (or better yet, get your library to subscribe), you get timelines and quotations as well that make the whole experience a lot richer.



Pretty! Not to mention: Informative!

I won't reproduce all the Yankee/yank entries here, but there are more for the exploring at the site.


In the interest of balance (and entertainment), here is some of the adjective entry for English. (A nickname like Brit would have been more balanced with yankee, but there were no particularly US senses there. Actually, limey would have been a good one to look at, but a reputation for vitamin-C deficiency isn't as amusing as a reputation for spanking).

This all might seem like a paid-for ad(vert) for Green's dictionary. It's not. It's a sincere appreciation of a thing of beauty and a celebration that modern technology makes such things more available and adaptable. It's also a little reminder that this kind of work deserves support. Labo(u)rs of lexicographical love shouldn't be taken for granted.
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lewd

The news around Donald Trump's rapey caught-on-tape comments has seen the word lewd bandied around quite a bit, and I've seen a fair amount of complaint about its use to describe what Trump said. It didn't really occur to me that this might be a transatlantic problem when Alan Rew kindly pointed this tweet in my direction:
Photo via CNN.
Sorry, I needed a picture.



...because I'm sympathetic to the idea that lewd is not bad enough a word for something that actually suggests and promotes sexually assaulting women. It seemed not-right-to-me in either dialect. But then Garrett Wollman pointed out:

And that pushed me to think: Is there actually a difference? Do American newspapers and broadcasters use the word because it is a legally correct word in the US for something like this?

Hoping for some insight, I checked the kinds of authorities American news organi{s/z}ations might use: the AP Style Guide and Garner's Modern Usage. Neither says a thing about lewd, so I don't know that newswriters are getting any particular instruction to use that word.

Is it used more in American law? These things are hard to compare country-to-country because so much of American law is at the state level. Searching the US Legal Code at the House of Representatives site, I found 19 federal laws using the word lewd, including the phrase lewd acts, which is at times contrasted with the more serious sexual acts, which seem to be more precisely defined. In other cases, lewd is used to refer to pornography (or a subset thereof). Choosing a state to search, I used California. Currently there are 50 laws on the books with the word lewd in them.

Looking at UK law was harder (maybe there are easier ways to do it than I know). Legislation.gov.uk is searchable, but it includes all laws back to the 13th century, including out-of-date material, and I don't see a way to limit the search to only current laws (though it does let you search particular dates). So I got 50 hits for lewd, but the results are crowded with legislation that's been replaced by other legislation that may or may not include many of the same words.

But it does seem to be the case that lewd is used more in Scottish law than other UK places. For example, in the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 [pdf link], lewd occurs once, but only in a listing of Sexual Offences in Scotland, this one being "Lewd, indecent or libidinous behaviour or practices". The England and Wales listing has no lewd crime. (Lewdly also occurs in the document, but then it's just noting that the current law is removing that word from a 19th-century law "as it extends to Northern Ireland".)

As for how lewd is used in non-legislative text, the Corpus of Global Web-Based English shows that Americans are more likely than Britons to talk about the lewdness in terms of things that are done (lewd behavior, lewd conduct) and Britons tend more (but not as much more) to associate lewd with things that are said (lewd comments).  (The darker the green, the stronger the statistical difference.)

I would assume that this is related to the prevalence of lewd acts (the phrase, not the deeds) in American legislation.  But I'd welcome any insight from those in the legal know.

And speaking of the Donald, I've written a piece for Quartz on Trump's use of the in contexts like the African-Americans. You can say one thing for Trump. He's keeping the linguists busy.

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comma, vocative: a birthday experiment

Last week, Allan Metcalf wrote about commas disappearing from around vocatives. A vocative is a direct address to a person, such as the reader in the following examples:
Reader, let me tell you something about commas.
Let me tell you something about commas, reader.
If you think, reader, that I'm not going to tell you about commas, think again.
I used commas here to separate reader from the rest of the sentence, because reader isn't a grammatical part of the sentence. It floats on a different plane from the subject and predicate.

Metcalf was noticing that many people were not using commas, and I got a good dose of noticing that today when I received birthday messages on social media. What I wondered was: do British people use the comma less?

I have good reason for asking the question with that particular bias. Americans use a lot more commas than Brits do. Like that first comma in the blog post (Last week, ). Americans are much more likely to put a comma after an adverbial phrase at the start of the sentence. In the Corpus of Global Web-based English, the American texts have about 10% more commas than the British ones.

So here's my little experiment.

Research question: Is there a national difference in vocative comma usage?

Hypothesis: American birthday greetings have more vocative commas than British ones.

Data and Method: I went through the birthday greetings I received today on Facebook, Twitter, and email and looked for ones that were:
  • from an American or a Briton (I discounted any that were by people who were originally from another country)
  • with a vocative: Happy birthday(,) Lynne was the most common form. 
I then counted how many did and did not have commas from each country.

Results: My hypothesis is supported. Though the comma is at risk in both places, it seems stronger in the US, where 61% of the vocatives had commas, versus 27% in the UK.
  


comma none
UK 8 22
US 14 9


Caveats: I have not accounted for age, level of education, or profession here. I'd guess that my British friends on Facebook are younger on average, just because I'm friends with more former students from the UK and they were students more recently than any US students I've had. That said, there weren't all that many former students using vocatives.



You know the birthday celebrations are getting rowdy when someone starts counting the commas.



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Abbr.

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