what 'polite' means: Culpeper, O'Driscoll & Hardaker (2019)

I've studied the word please off and on for a few years now.* Currently, I'm trying to finish up a study that I started an embarrassing number of years ago. Now that I've returned to it, I have the pleasure of reading all the works that have been published on related topics in the meantime. They couldn't inform my study design, but they must now inform the paper I hope to publish. One of these is a chapter by Jonathan Culpeper, Jim O'Driscoll and Claire Hardaker: "Notions of Politeness in Britain and North America," published in the book in From Speech Acts to Lay Understandings of Politeness, edited by Eva Ogiermann and Pilar Garc├ęs-Conejos Blitvich (Cambridge UP, 2019). 

Their question, what does polite mean in the UK and US, was a research project on my to-do list. When I was a younger scholar, I'd have been (a) royally annoyed with those authors for getting to it first, (b) sad, sad, sad that I didn't get to do a fun piece of research, and (c) consumed with self-loathing for not being quick enough to do the project myself. It is both the blessing and curse of middle age that I now look at anything anyone else has done with gratitude. Good! Now I don't have to do it! 

Let's start with why it's interesting to ask about "notions of politeness" in the two countries. Here's a clue from an earlier post about use of please when ordering at restaurants. I asked:
So, how can it be that Americans think of themselves as polite when they fail to extend this common courtesy word?
I argued that Americans (subconsciously) find the lack of please in these contexts "more polite." In the comments section for that post, some people—mostly British people—could just not accept that a food order without a please could be described as polite. To them, to be polite includes saying please. If you're not using the word please, it's just not polite. 

Now, part of the reason for that disagreement is that I was using the word polite in linguistic-theory-laden ways. The distinction between how the word politeness is used in linguistic discussions and how it's used in everyday life has become such a problem for us linguists that we now talk about polite1 and polite2 to distinguish commonplace understandings of polite (1) from our theoretical uses (2). The failures of communication in my previous blogpost probably stemmed from having three understandings of politeness at play: the linguist's polite2, American polite1, and British polite1. 


Postcard from the How to be British series


 

Culpeper et al. set out to contrast British and American polite1. They point out that academic research on the topic of British/American politeness is "full of stereotypes that have largely gone unexamined." These stereotypes hold that British culture favo(u)rs maintaining social distance by using indirectness and avoidance in interaction, while Americans are more interested in creating interactional intimacy by being informal and open. The authors asked: how do AmE and BrE speakers use the word polite? If differences exist, then do they conform to the stereotypes, or do they tell us something new? To investigate this, the authors used two sets of data.


Part 1: clustering 'polite' words in the OEC

First, they searched the Oxford English Corpus, where they found thousands of instances of polite. In AmE, it occurs 6.8 times and in BrE 8.8 times per million words. They then used corpus-linguistic tools to determine which words polite was most likely to co-occur with in the two countries' data. They then used statistical tools to group these collocates into clusters that reflect how they behave linguistically. (I'll skip over the detail of the statistical methods they use, but it suffices to say: they know what they're doing.) For example in the British data, words like courteous, considerate, and respectful form a courteous cluster, while words like cheery, optimistic, and upbeat are in the cheerful cluster. 

The British and American datasets were similar in that polite co-occurred at similar rates with words that formed cheerful and friendly clusters. This seems to go with the common stereotype of American politeness as outgoing and inclusive, but contradicts the British stereotype of reserved behavio(u)r. 

The most notable difference was that British polite collocated with words in a sensible cluster, including: sensible, straightforward, reasonable, and fair. This cluster didn't figure in the American data. The British data also had a calm cluster (calm, quiet, generous, modest, etc.), which had little overlap with American collocates. British polite, then, seems to be associated with "calm rationality, rather than, say, spontaneous emotion." 

Other clusters seemed more complex. Courteous and charming came up as British clusters, while American had respectful, gracious, and thoughtful clusters. However, many of the words in those clusters were the same. For example, almost all the words in the British courteous cluster were in the American gracious cluster. That is, in American courteous and attentive were more closely associated with 'gracious' words like open-minded and appreciative, while British courteous and attentive didn't intersect with more 'gracious' words. Respectful is a particularly interesting case: it shows up in the courteous cluster for the British data, but has its own respectful cluster in American (with words like compassionate and humane). 
 
Looking at these clusters of patterns gives us a sense of the connotations of the words—that is to say, the associations those words bring up for us. Words live in webs of cultural assumptions. Pluck one word in one web, and others will reverberate. But it won't be the same words that would have reverberated if you'd plucked the same word in the other web. It's not that compassionate wasn't in the British data, for example—it's that its patterns did not land it in a cluster with respectful.  In American, respectful seems to have "a warmer flavour" with collocates relating to kindness and positive attitudes toward(s) others, while in the British data respectful has "older historic echoes of courtly, refined, well-mannered behaviour." 

Part 2: 'politeness' and sincerity on Twitter

Their second investigation involved analy{s/z}ing use of polite and its synonyms in a particular 36-hour period on Twitter. The data overall seemed to go against the stereotypes that American politeness is "friendly" and British is "formal", but once they looked at the data in more detail, they discovered why: US and UK words differed in (in)sincerity. In the British data, respectful seemed to "be used as a vehicle for irony, sarcasm and humour", while in the American data friendly "appears to have acquired a negative connotation" about 17% of the time, in which "friendly" people were accused of being untrustworthy or otherwise undesirable. This also underscores the idea that American respectful has a "warmer flavour" than British respectful. It's intriguing that each culture seems to be using words stereotypically associated with them (American–friendly; British–respectful) in ironic ways, while taking the less "typical of them" words more seriously.  

Yay for this study! 

I'm grateful to Culpeper, O'Driscoll and Hardaker for this very interesting paper, which demonstrates why it's difficult to have cross-cultural discussions of what's "polite" or "respectful" behavio(u)r. The more we're aware of these trends in how words are interpreted differently in different places, the better we can take care in our discussions of what's polite, acceptable, or rude. 


*If you're interested in the fruits of my please labo(u)rs so far, have a look at:

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veteran and vet (noun)

More than once, I think, veteran or (the noun vet) has been nominated  for US>UK Word of the Year. Dru, who nominated it for 2022, felt that it was appearing more often in UK contexts:

The word I’d propose is ‘veteran’ in the US sense of a former soldier. Some may dispute this as a word for this year as many of us have long been aware of it as an American expression, but since the summer of this year, I’ve increasingly heard it used on the BBC and elsewhere to meaning a former member of the UK armed services.

In the UK hitherto, it has just meant ‘old’, possibly slightly distinguished and used of cars etc.

The US abbreviation ‘vet’ causes confusion here as ‘vet’ means a doctor for animals, short for veterinary surgeon.

I considered making it the WotY, but it didn't feel 2022-ish enough. (You'll see why below.) But I put it on my to-be-blogged-about-sooner-rather-than-later list, and here we are! If you don't want to see all (BrE) my workings, scroll down to the TL;DR version.

From: "7 things to know about being a military veterinarian"


The ex-soldier sense of veteran wasn't made up by Americans. Since the 1500s, veteran has been an English noun referring first to someone with "long experience in military service or warfare" (Oxford English Dictionary sense 1a) or "an ex-member of the armed forces" (sense 1b). Note the difference there: in the 1a meaning, the person is still probably serving, whereas in the 1b meaning they're retired from service. 

That second (1b) meaning, the OED notes, is 
"now chiefly North American," though there are UK examples peppered through their timeline of quotations. 


 










In BrE it is still used for sense 1a, to refer to old-but-still-going things or people. It's sometimes used like that in AmE too, often in relation to theat{er/re}, as in a veteran of stage and screen. The usage that Dru mentioned, veteran car, is particularly BrE. In AmE, you could call such a thing a vintage car (as in BrE too) or an antique car, as shown here in the GloWbE corpus


It's tricky to investigate whether the ex-soldier meaning of veteran is going up in BrE usage because how much we talk about veterans varies a lot according to what's going on in the world. But to have a little look-see, I searched for the phrase "war veteran(s)" in Hansard, the record of the UK Parliament. There is almost no usage of the phrase before 1990, then a lot more in 2000–2009. 


Now, maybe some of these are in sense 1a, the 'been serving for a long time' sense. But a peek at the data shows that most of the 2000s examples relate to compensation for Gulf War veterans, so it does seem to be more the ex-soldier meaning. Note that [more AmE] WWI/WWII veterans are usually called First/Second World War veterans in BrE, and there was the Falklands War after that, so it's not that there were no "war veterans" before the 1990s. 

A different tool, Hansard at Huddersfield, takes us up to 2021, and there we can see that this use of veteran appears to have stabilized, rather than continuing to increase. But in Covid Times, it's likely that there was just less debate about ex-servicepeople in Parliament—so we can't make too much of that stability. It could be increasing in comparison to other ways of talking about ex-servicepeople. 



What about vet?

I've written about vet before—in fact it was my 2008 UK>US Word of the Year. But in that case it was a verb (as in to vet a candidate). Now I want to just look at the noun—or nouns.

Vet can be short for (more AmE) veterinarian/(BrE) veterinary surgeon. You take your pet to the vet. It rhymes and everything.  Let's call that vet1. The OED has examples going back to 1862, and marks it as "chiefly British", which, as we're going to see, might not be the best way to describe it. 

In AmE since the 1840s, vet has been used as a shortened form of veteran. Let's call that vet2.

In AmE, where both are used, context is usually enough to tell the difference between vet1 and vet2. You take your dog to the vet1. People study at vet1 school. But a Vietnam vet is probably a vet2 and not a Vietnamese vet1. 

Both vets are well-used in AmE. I used english-corpora.org to take a 100-sentence sample of the noun vet from the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Of the 100, 57 definitely referred to the animal doctor, 23 referred to former soldiers, 3 referred stage or other veterans, and 6 were neither of these nouns (1 verb, some acronyms, a typo, and a Dutch word). That leaves 11 where I couldn't tell in the very brief window of text which vet it was; it referred to a person who'd been introduced earlier in the text. Had I had the full text, I assume there would be close to zero ambiguous cases—but even with a very short window of context, it was usually easy to tell. (For some examples, see below. Click to enlarge.) In any case, note that the majority refer to the animal doctor. I had a quick peek in the Corpus of Historical American English, and the phrase "to the vet" (as in I took my dog...) is there since the 1940s, increasing in use each decade. 

While the singular was usually the animal doctor in AmE, in the plural, vets, it's more likely to refer to former soldiers, since they are more often discussed as a class than veterinarians are. 








So, as is often the case for homonyms, context usually tells us which thing we mean.

Is the use of vet2 increasing in BrE? Well, probably some, but it's harder to find good evidence for it. There are scattered uses of war vets in Hansard since the 1960s, but it's probably too new and informal to be used in parliamentary talk. When I was researching it as a possible Word of the Year, I looked at samples from the News on the Web corpus, and found 5 examples (of 100 vet) in 2011 and seven in 2022 (the highest years were 2019 at 11 and 2020 at 20, but there were only 3 in 2021). My small sample size could have skewed things (but it was as much as I could give time for). A lot of the UK examples I looked at were about American vets, in which case the UK news source could have been quoting an American person or possibly publishing text from a wire service, possibly originally written by an AmE speaker. So, as I say, it's not simple to spot the truly BrE usage. 

TL;DR version

The full form veteran (in the ex-soldier sense) is definitely used in the UK these days. Though it is now perceived as an Americanism, it originally came from Britain, and it probably never entirely went away there. 

Vet as an abbreviation of veteran, originates in AmE, and is still used there. Vet as an abbreviation for veterinarian/veterinary surgeon is originally BrE, but has been well used in AmE for a long time (or at least, throughout my lifetime!). The ambiguity this creates hasn't been a huge problem. No one's mistakenly taking their dog to the VFW.  
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2022 US-to-UK Word of the Year: homer

Yesterday, I declared the UK-to-US SbaCL Word of the Year. You can read about it here

The US-to-UK one may be as controversial as it was the first time (a)round (in May). But here goes: 

2022's US-to-UK Word of the Year is: homer


Why? 
  • Because it is possibly the most talked-about Americanism in British social media this year.
  • Because if I chose the other finalist,* I'd get too many "that's not a word!" complaints.
  • Because it alludes a huge, wordy phenomenon of 2022.
That phenomenon is Wordle, the word game invented by a Welsh engineer in the US, an added transatlantic bonus. 

Homer was the Wordle solution on the 5th of May, setting off a lot of grumpiness on social media. The cartoonist Stephen Collins provides a good illustration of the depth of feeling on the matter on the part of many committed UK Wordlers:


Stephen Collins @stephen_collins · 31 May 2022 Wordle: still angry about ‘homer’. It’s been weeks now. Furious. Stephen Collins @stephen_collins Will I ever play again? Can I forgive? Homer. Fuck no 11:24 pm · 31 May 2022


So, this isn't a Word of the Year because British people have taken on the word to refer to baseball home runs. There is very little need to talk about baseball in Britain. It's US-to-UK Word of the Year because it was an Americanism talking point in Britain, demonstrating how separate our vocabularies can be.

But is it an Americanism? The thing is, British people do say homer for lots of other reasons. In various BrE dialects or jargons, it can be a homing pigeon, a (BrE) match played on the home (BrE) pitch in some sports, or "a job that a skilled worker, such as a house painter or a hairdresser[..], does for a private customer in the customer's home, especially when they do this in addition to their main job and without telling their employer or the tax authorities" (Cambridge Dictionary). It's also the name of an ancient Hebrew measurement. But none of these uses are as common in BrE as homer meaning 'home run' is in AmE, and so the word was definitely perceived as an Americanism by British Wordle players. 

Now, this choice isn't exactly original on my part. Cambridge Dictionary made homer their Word of the Year back in November. It's also been noted as one of the most Googled words of the year. But that's another reason why it feels right as the US-to-UK Word of the Year. It not only spiked high in their look-up statistics on the day, it continued to be looked up in their online dictionary for months after—perhaps because BrE speakers just can't stop talking/tweeting about it. Homer was again showing up in tweets about losing one's Wordle streak on 27 December, when the answer was the tricky HAVOC. (And I imagine it was showing up in the less searchable social media as well.)  It'll be interesting to see if it's still being put to these purposes next year, or if it'll have been forgotten. The chances that it'll be forgiven seem thin.

I do encourage you to have a look at Cambridge's Word of the Year site for more on this word, British–American linguistic relations and how Wordle's been affecting dictionary usage. 




*My other "finalist" was them's the breaks, as spoken by Boris Johnson in his resignation speech outside 10 Downing Street. I was sure in July that that would be my "Word" of the Year, but, two Prime Ministers later, this well and truly feels like ancient news now.
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UK-to-US Word of the Year 2022: fit

Having let the year run its course, I'm now am ready to declare the Separated by a Common Language Words of the Year for 2022. As ever, there are two categories: US-to-UK and UK-to-US.  To be a SbaCL WoTY, the word just needs to have been noticeable in some way that year in the other country. 

For past WotYs, see here. And now...

The 2022 UK-to-US Word of the Year is: fit

Now, of course the word fit is general English when we use it in contexts like The shoes fit or I'm going to get fit this year. But those fits are not my UK-to-US Word of the Year. The fit I'm talking about is the informal British usage that means 'attractive, sexy'. A close (orig.) AmE synonym is hot

Ben Yagoda, on his Not One-Off Britishisms blog, first noticed this sense of fit in an American context back in 2013, but it seems to have taken hold in the US in the past couple of years. I assume this is due to the international popularity of the British television (BrE) programme/(AmE) show Love Island

Here's a clear example of this sense of fit from another UK reality series, Made in Chelsea.*


I like that video just because it's clearly fit meaning 'hot' rather than 'healthy and/or muscular', but if you'd like to hear it said on Love Island, then you can hear it here at 1:38 (though the YouTube automatic subtitling mishears it as fair).

 

This use of the word is new enough to the US that it's included in glossaries for American Love Island fans, like this one and this one. The Oxford English Dictionary added it in 2001:

  British slang. Sexually attractive, good-looking.

1985   Observer 28 Apr. 45/1   ‘Better 'en that bird you blagged last night.’ ‘F—— off! She was fit.’
1993   V. Headley Excess iv. 21   ‘So wait; dat fit brown girl who live by de church ah nuh your t'ing?!’ he asked eyebrows raised.
1999   FHM June (Best of Bar Room Jokes & True Stories Suppl.) 21/1   My first night there, I got arseholed, hit the jackpot and retired with my fit flatmate to her room.
2000   Gloucester Citizen (Nexis) 14 Feb. 11   I would choose Gillian Anderson from the X-Files, because she's dead fit.

Green's Dictionary of Slang has one 19th-century example, but notes that "(later 20C+ use is chiefly UK black)." 

I can't give statistics on how often this fit is use in the US because (a) the word has many other common meanings, making it very difficult to search for in corpora, and (b) this particular meaning is not likely to make it into print all that often. (Slang is like that.) Ben Yagoda considers fit "still an outlier" in AmE. But Ben's probably not in the right demographic for hearing it. 

An anonymous blog reader nominated it, and it struck me as apt for 2022—the popularity of "Love Island UK" (as it's called in the US) was hard to miss on my visit to the US this summer. I got to hear my brother (whose [AmE] college-student daughter loves the show) imitating the contestants, throwing in words like fit. I can easily find young US people using and discussing 'sexy' fit on social media (though I won't share their examples here because those young people didn't ask for the attention). And it made it onto Saturday Night Live, in a sketch about Love Island. You can hear proper fit at 1:11:




So Happy New Year to you! I wrote this post after watching the fireworks (on tv) at midnight. Now I'm (BrE humorous) off to Bedfordshire, so I'll leave the other WotY for tomorrow. Stay tuned for the US-to-UK WotY! 


*Update: I'm told that the Made in Chelsea video does not play in the US. Here's a quick transcript of the relevant bit:

Scene: Two male cast members on a sofa, commenting on this video shot of a female cast member:

M1: God, she's fit. 

M2: She is so hot.

M1:  So fit.

 

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Newsletter archive

My plan is to add links to my newsletter as I go along here, so that there's a way for non-subscribers to access old ones.  

If you'd like to subscribe to the newsletter, follow this link. You'll get no more than one newsletter per week, no less than one per month. The newsletters (as you can see if you click through on these) have something about British–American linguistic relations (often linking to blog posts here), a bit about what I've been up to in my Lynneguist life (as well as things in the works), and links to things I've found interesting. 

Here are links to the existing newsletters in reverse chronological order:

19 Mar 2023: Mothering Sunday

27 Feb 2023: Vet's call the whole thing off  Missing link from the post

29 Jan 2023: The one where Lynne shoulda been marking

15 Jan 2023: What if I say 'please'?    Erratum

8 Jan 2023: So long 2022, and thanks for all the WotYs

18 Dec 2022: Go west! Or maybe don't

11 Dec 2022: A cracker of a newsletter  PS: quiz answers for 4 Dec 

4 Dec 2022:  WotYs R Us

27 Nov 2022: You say 'football', I say 'separated by a common language'

20 Nov 2022:  My first newsletter: is it a HOMER?

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go west/south

Jim recently (ish) wrote to ask me about this line he read in Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz:


At the time, I hadn’t completed a deal with the BBC and the whole thing could have gone west.



Jim wondered about that gone west, which seemed to be equivalent to AmE gone south

Twenty-some years in the UK, and I hadn't knowingly encountered that meaning of go west. But it's definitely out there.


Cambridge Dictionary
 gives the sense that Horowitz probably intended, and marks it as "UK informal".

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fixtures and brackets

It's FIFA World Cup Time, a fact that is hard to avoid in this part of the world. I am not the kind of person who’s interested in watching it, regardless of who’s playing or where it’s being held. But I'm nothing if not opportunistic, so I'll use this as an excuse to write about some linguistic differences related to sport(s) more generally. 

It’s old news that the British mostly call it football and Americans mostly call it soccer. It’s even older news that the name soccer is actually British. To quote myself (from The Prodigal Tongue):

Britain, Americans call your football soccer because you taught them to. Just like rugger is a nickname for rugby football, soccer came from the full name of the game, association football. The word comes from England. You should be proud of it. 


But that’s not the difference I want to feature this time. I want to talk about fixtures. If your eyesight’s good (the words are very faint, for some reason), you can see the term repeatedly used on the local team’s website (I've added the purple boxes to highlight them):




BrE fixture in this sense means ‘who’s "fixed" to play whom when’. In the plural, it's the whole list of who's playing whom when. It's a necessary word at any kind of tournament in the UK. I initially learned it through tournament Scrabble (at my first UK tournament 22 years ago), and I recall it (probably orig. AmE) throwing me for a loop then.


You won’t see the word fixtures on most American sports sites or advertising. Instead, you’ll see schedule, as seen here for my "local" (BrE) American football /(AmE) football team back in the US:



In The Prodigal Tongue, I cover the strange history of the pronunciation of schedule. (If you haven't read it, tell Santa. Or your nearest bookseller.) In that discussion, I note that the word schedule is used much more in AmE than BrE, because BrE uses other words for the things Americans call schedules in various contexts. Words like: timetable, programme, and fixtures.


A related term is AmE bracket, which derives from the use of this kind of diagram for showing who's playing whom in an elimination tournament. (For more on differences in the punctuation term bracket, see here.) Randall Munroe, at his comic xkcd,  has done some fantastic brackets, like this one, which I will share because we've had enough sports talk now, haven't we?


click image to enlarge


In BrE one might instead talk about the draw, i.e. who's been "drawn" (as if from a hat) to play against whom. Bracket is a bit different from draw because it's not just who's playing whom in the initial random arrangement, but also eventually who's playing whom all the way up the various rounds of competition. 


And speaking of draw, England were drawn against USA this week, and it ended in a 0–0 draw, which could also be called a tie. Tie is generally more common in AmE, but it's used in BrE too.

Here's 'ended in a tie/draw' in the News on the Web corpus:






If you’re interested in more football/soccer-related content, here are a couple of posts:


And in case you missed it, I now have a (hopefully usually) weekly newsletter in which I will be sharing news of new blog posts (like this one) and other US/UK and linguistic content.
Sign up here if you haven't already!
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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 
  • US-to-UK 

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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Abbr.

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