baggage and luggage

results of a Google search for "luggage"

I'm reading Ingrid Paulsen's The emergence of American English as a discursive variety (it's open-access, so you can read it in PDF. But note: it is definitely an academic book). The book is essentially about when American English became "American English". If you subscribe to my newsletter (plug, plug), you'll probably read more about the book at some point in future. Today, I'm just mentioning it because it's inspired me to think more about baggage and luggage. Paulsen searched for this pair of words (among other things!) in 19th-century newspapers in order to find cases of people writing about American versus British English. I wondered if people still perceive a transatlantic difference here. 

These words got a boost in the 1800s thanks to the invention of rail travel and the need for a place to put one's stuff on them. Hence the invention, and the naming, of the (AmE) baggage car or (BrE) luggage van, which is one of the contexts Paulsen discusses. It's also been one of my Twitter Differences of the Day:

I can't remember the last time I checked my bags on a train journey, so I haven't run into people calling anything a baggage car or luggage van lately. I have to believe that they were more common in the US (where one could go greater distances by rail/train), since baggage car shows up whole a lot more in American books than either term shows up in British books:

click to embiggen

But what about the words baggage and luggage themselves? How did they get to be a "difference" and are they still a "difference"? 

Let's start with the history. This appears to be one of those differences that came about because English had two words that drifted in different ways in the two places—with more drifting in the UK. The Oxford English Dictionary hasn't fully updated its entries for these words since the dictionary was first published, but we can assume that they got the past fairly correct. Here are the first senses the OED gives for each word:

baggage The collection of property in packages that one takes along with him on a journey; portable property; luggage. (Now rarely used in Great Britain for ordinary ‘luggage’ carried in the hand or taken with one by public conveyance; but the regular term in U.S.)  [1885]

luggage In early use: What has to be lugged about; inconveniently heavy baggage (obsolete). Also, the baggage of an army. Now, in Great Britain, the ordinary word for: The baggage belonging to a traveller or passenger, esp. by a public conveyance.  [1903]

I'd say that the original senses feel "right" for me as an AmE speaker—that luggage is big/heavy enough to be "lugged", but baggage can be more varied. But I am even more likely to use luggage for empty suitcases. I buy new luggage for a trip. A 1997 draft addition to the OED luggage entry says this 'suitcases' meaning dates to the early 20th century.

It only becomes baggage when I fill it up with stuff and give it to someone else to put onto a train or plane. If I handle it myself, I wouldn't call it baggage. I'd call it 'my bags' or 'my suitcases' or 'my stuff'.

I've just asked my English spouse how he'd differentiate the two words:

Him: Baggage sounds old-fashioned, I probably wouldn't use it.
Me:  But there's [BrE] baggage reclaim [=AmE baggage claim] at the airport.
Him: That's true...A backpack or a box can be baggage, but it can't be luggage. Luggage has to be cases. 

Other than his claim about old-fashionedness, we're pretty much on the same page. And when I look for these things in the GloWbE corpus, they don't show a clear British-versus-American profile: There is more British usage of both terms in that corpus. Maybe this can be attributed to the fact that British people get a lot more (BrE) holiday / (AmE) vacation time than Americans get, so their websites have more discussion of buying/packing/losing luggage or baggage?

In books, it looks like AmE & BrE are getting to be more similar in how they use luggage:

So, it doesn't look like the words themselves are good markers of Americanness/Britishness these days. But expressions containing these words can be. We've already seen baggage car/luggage van and baggage (re)claimThere are others.

In BrE, hand luggage is essentially the same as AmE carry-on (bag).  Or at least it was. I think the import of carry-on might be influencing its meaning. Spouse says he makes a distinction: you put hand luggage under the seat in front of you, carry-ons in the overhead bin. But, his intuition notwithstanding, shop for hand luggage and you'll be shown carry-ons. 

Baggage carousel is marked by the OED (2003) as 'originally and chiefly North American', but it's well used in BrE, as is luggage carousel. 

Luggage locker is BrE for the kinds of lockers that one might find in a train station (or also BrE rail[way] station) or (AmE) bus/(BrE) coach station. I think in AmE, we'd just call them lockers.

Left luggage is BrE for the kind of place where you pay someone to keep your bags for you for a while. AmE would call that luggage storage, and you find that expression in BrE too. 

Hold luggage (or hold baggage) is BrE for AmE checked bags on a plane. (But checked baggage is found in both.)

Plenty of other luggage/baggage collocations are the same. We all use luggage racks and baggage handlers, and baggage allowance, among other things.

As for metaphorical baggage—emotional baggage and the like, this usage is common to both countries. The OED added a draft definition for it in 2007:  

figurative. Beliefs, knowledge, experiences, or habits conceived of as something one carries around; (in later use) esp. characteristics of this type which are considered undesirable or inappropriate in a new situation. Frequently with modifying word, as cultural baggageemotional baggageintellectual baggage, etc. 

Their first citation for it comes from 1886 in the (London) Times in the phrase intellectual baggage (followed by a US citation in 1922). Cultural baggage shows up in 1967 in Canada, and emotional baggage in 1997 from a UK author. Their first citation for just plain (metaphorical) baggage is from an American author in 1986 (though the OED notes their source as the UK edition of the book). 

P.S. If this post interested you, you might also like the post on purses and bags

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NYT Spelling Bee: an archive of disallowed BrE words

Twitter has been my main internet stomping ground since 2009, but I've been withdrawing my labo(u)r from it since October, when it became much more volatile for some reason

The New York Times Spelling Bee has been my morning-coffee activity for some of those years, and since November 2020 I've been jokingly tweeting the BrE words that it hasn't accepted. These go in a thread of posts that always start: 

Perfectly Common BrE Words the @NYTimesGames Spelling Bee Has Denied Me: An Occasional Series

Twitter has really degraded this week, which is making me feel a bit sad that perhaps that thread will have to die. (I'm also sad that the thread has frayed along the way—it's very difficult to read it all the way to the beginning because it splits here and there.) So as a clearly procrastinatory measure, I'm putting the list of "perfectly common BrE words" here, with a little more explanation than they tended to get on Twitter.

For those who don't know the Bee: it's an anagram game where one must use the middle letter. The twist—and what makes it a superior anagram game—is that you can use any of the letters as many times as you like. Here's what it looked like on the 5th of April when I hadn't yet got to Genius level.  (My goal every day is 'make it to Genius before breakfast'. It's nice to be called 'Genius' before you've started work.) 

The game, of course, has its own word list, which is suitably American for its New York Times home. Still, some not-usually-AmE words are playable, like FLATMATELORRY and PRAM. But many words that are part of my everyday vocabulary in England are not playable. And non-AmE spellings are generally not playable. 

There's been a lot of attention to AmE words that (orig. AmE) stump non-American players in Wordle. (Here's Cambridge Dictionary's 2022 Word of the Year post, which covers some—and includes a video in which I talk about why HOMER was a great choice for Word of the Year.) Not as much attention has been paid to the Spelling Bee, which you need to subscribe to. I'm sure British players have their own (mental) lists of American words they've had to learn in order to get "Queen Bee" status (finding all the day's words) in the game. If you're one of them, do use the comments to tell us about those weird words.

So, after all that preamble, here are the "Perfectly Common BrE Words the @NYTimesGames Spelling Bee Has Denied Me" words in alphabetical order, with translations or links to other blog posts. But first, a bit more preamble. The disclaimers! 

  • Words in the puzzle must be at least four letters long, so some of these are suffixed forms for which the three-letter base word was unplayable. If there's an -ED form but not an -ING form (etc.), that'll be because the other one's letters weren't in the puzzle. 
  • Some of these would not have been allowable—regardless of their dialectal provenance—on the basis that they are "naughty" words. I include them anyway. 
  • I have checked questionable cases against the GloWbE corpus to ensure that the word really is more common in BrE than AmE.
  • Some are Irish or Australian by origin, but they are still more common in BrE than in AmE.
  • Sometimes my spelling is a bit liberal here. If I could find one British dictionary that allowed me the word with the given spelling, I included it.  
  • Also the phrase "perfectly common" is not meant to be taken too seriously!
  • These words were not playable at the time when I tried to play them. The word list may have changed and some of them may be playable now. 
  • Red ones are ones that have been unsuccessfully played/tweeted about since I first started this blog list. Green ones have been added to the blog since the original post, but were tweeted-about earlier than that—I just missed them in the tangled Twitter threads when I was writing the blog post. 

  AmE slaughterhouse

AGGRO aggression, aggressive behavio[u]r

AITCH  the letter. Less need to spell it as a word in AmE. See this old post.

ANAEMIA / ANAEMIC  AmE anemia/anemic

ANNEXE  minority spelling in BrE; usually, as in AmE, it's annex

APPAL   AmE appall; old post on double Ls

ARDOUR   old post on -or/-our

ARGYBARGY this is a bit of a joke entry because it's usually spelled/spelt ARGY-BARGY (a loud argument), but the Squeeze album has no hyphen. 

ARMOUR    -or/-our

BIBBED  I don't know why this shows up more in BrE data, but it does, just meaning 'wearing a bib'

BINMAN / BINMEN  AmE garbage man (among other terms); old post on bin

BINT  derogatory term for a woman

BITTY having lots of unconnected parts, often leaving one feeling unsatisfied; for example, this blog post is a bit bitty

BLAG covered in this old post

BLUB / BLUBBING to sob (= general English blubbering)

BOAK retch, vomit, throw up a bit in the mouth. That was gross. Sorry.

BOBBLY having bobbles 

BOBBY  I think this one might be playable now. Informal term for police officer. In AmE, found in bobby pins

BODGE / BODGED make or fix something badly

BOFFIN  see this old post

BOLLOCK / BOLLOCKED  reprimand severely

BOLLOX  This one's more common in Irish English than BrE. To screw something up.

BOKE   see BOAK 

BONCE  the head (informal)

BOYO a boy/man (Welsh informal)

BRILL  short for brilliant, meaning 'excellent'; also a kind of European flatfish

BROLLY  umbrella (informal)

BUNG / BUNGING to put (something) (somewhere) quickly/carelessly. People cooking on television are always bunging things in the oven. 

BUTTY  see this old post

CAFF  a café, but typically used of the kind that is analogous to an AmE diner (that is to say a café is not as fancy in BrE as it would be in AmE)

CAWL  a soupy Welsh dish (recipe); also a kind of basket

CEILIDH  a Scottish social dance (event)

CHANNELLED   post on double Ls

CHAV / CHAVVY  see this old post and/or this one

CHICANE  a road arrangement meant to slow drivers down; see this old post

CHILLI  see this old post

CHIMENEA / CHIMINEA the 'e' spelling is considered etymologically "correct" but the 'i' spelling seems to be more common in UK; I think these kinds of outdoor fireplaces are just more trendy in UK than in US?

"cholla" at a UK online supermarket
CHOC chocolate (informal, countable)

CHOLLA  a spelling of challah (the bread) 

CLAG  mud; more common is claggy for 'having a mud-like consistency'

COLOUR    -or/-our

COOTCH  a hiding place, a shed or similar (from Welsh cwtch)

COUNCILLOR  post on double Ls

CRAIC it's really an Irish one (a 'good time'), but it qualifies here because it's used more in BrE than AmE (and understood pretty universally in UK)

CRIM  criminal

CUTTY  short (in some UK dialects)

DADO  as in dado rail, what's often called a chair rail in AmE (here's a picture)

DEFENCE  AmE defense

DEMOB /DEMOBBED  de-mobilize(d); that is, released from the (BrE) armed forces / (AmE) military

DENE  a valley (esp. a narrow, wooded one) or a low sand dune near the sea (regional)

DIALLING  post on double Ls

DIDDY    small (dialectal); see this old post

DOBBED  actually Australian, dob = to inform on someone; see this old post on the BrE equivalent grass (someone) up

DODDLE  it's a doddle  = (orig. AmE) it's a piece of cake (very easy)

DOOLALLY  out of one's mind

EQUALLED   post on double Ls

FAFF / FAFFING  one of the most useful BrE words. See this old post

FARL  a kind of (AmE) quick bread, usually cut into triangles; can be made of various things, but here's a recipe for a common kind, the potato farl

FILMIC cinematic, relating to film

FLANNELETTE = AmE flannel  old post on flannels

FOETAL AmE (and BrE medical) fetal

FUELLED  post on double Ls

FULFIL   post on double Ls

GADGIE / GADGE guy, man, boy (regional)

GAMMON  this post covers the meat meaning, but lately it's also used as an insult for Brexiteers and their political similars

GAMMY  (of a body part) not working well; e.g., I have a gammy knee

GANNET a type of sea bird, but also BrE slang for a greedy person

GAOL  now less common spelling for jail

GIBBET  gallows; to hang (a person) [not really in current use]

GIGGED / GIGGING  to perform at a gig

GILET   covered at this clothing post and also at this pronunciation post

GIPPING form of gip, a synonym of BOAK (see above)

GITE French, but used in English for a type of holiday/vacation cottage

GOBBED / GOBBING  form of gob, which as a noun means 'mouth', but as a verb means 'spit'

GOBBIN waste material from a mine

GOBBY mouthy

GOOLY (more often GOOLIE, GOOLEY) a testicle (informal, see GDoS)

getting gunged/slimed
GUNGE  any unpleasant soft or slimy substance; also used as a verb for having such stuff poured over one's head on a children's show (= AmE slime)

GURN / GURNING  see this old post

HAITCH  = AITCH, but pronounced differently See this old post.

HALLO old-fashioned hello 

HENCH strong, fit (like a weightlifter)

HOOPOE a kind of bird (mostly African), which sometimes makes it to England

HOGMANAY it is a proper noun, but I wanted to include it anyway

HOICK / HOIK  to lift/pull abruptly

HOTCHPOTCH  AmE hodgepodge

INNIT invariant tag question: isn't it

JAMMY  lucky; old post 

KIPPING  form of kip, to take a nap

LAMPED  form of lamp, to hit a person very hard

LAYBY  AmE turnout (and other synonyms/regional terms); a place where a car can move out of the flow of traffic (usually has a hyphen lay-by, but I found one dictionary that doesn't require it)

LIDO an outdoor public swimming pool; there's some debate about how to pronounce it 

LILO  a blow-up mattress for floating on in a pool

LINO  short for linoleum

LOLLY  lollipop or (AmE) popsicle (especially in ice lolly)

LOVAGE  a(n) herb that Americans don't see very often  [has been added! Played successfully on 3 May 2023]

LUPIN  AmE lupine, a flower

LURGI / LURGY  see this old post

MEDIAEVAL  the less common spelling of medieval

MILLIARD  (no longer really used) a thousand million, i.e. a billion 

MILORD address term for a nobleman

MINGE  a woman's pubic hair/area (not flattering) 

MINGING  foul, bad smelling, ugly (rhymes with singing!)

MODELLED  post on double Ls

MOGGY  a cat (informal)

MOOB  man boob

MOULT    AmE molt (related to  -or/-our)

MOZZIE  mosquito

MUPPET in its lower-case BrE sense: 'idiot; incompetent person'

NAFF  this has come up in posts about 'untranslatables' and about a study that identified common BrE words Americans don't know

NAPPY AmE diaper

NAVVY  a manual labo(u)rer (old-fashioned)

NEEP  Scottish English for what the English call a swede and what Americans call a rutabaga (old post on the latter two)

NELLY in the BrE phrase not on your nelly (= AmE not on your life)

NOBBLE  to unfairly influence an outcome; steal 

NOBBLY  alternative spelling of knobbly (which is more common in both AmE & BrE)

NONCY  adjective related to nonce (sex offender, p[a]edophile) 

NOWT  nothing (dialectal)

ODOUR    -or/-our

OFFENCE  AmE offense

OFFIE  short for BrE off-licence; AmE liquor store  (discussed a little in this old post

ORACY  the speaking version of literacy; in US education, it's called orality

PACY  having a good or exciting pace (e.g. a pacy whodunnit)

PAEDO  short for pa(e)dophile

PANTO see this post

PAPPED / PAPPING  from pap, to take paparazzi pictures

PARLOUR    -or/-our

PARP  a honking noise

PEDALLED   post on double Ls

PELMET  another one from the study that identified common BrE words Americans don't know

PENG  slang for 'excellent' 

PIEMAN / PIEMEN this one is usually two words (pie man), but I was able to find a dictionary that allowed it as a single word, so I added it to the list

PIPPED / PIPPING  pip = to defeat by a small amount; often heard in to be pipped at the post 

PITTA another spelling for pita, more in line with the BrE pronunciation of the word

PLAICE another one from the study that identified common BrE words Americans don't know

PLUMMY  see this post

PODGY  chubby

POMMY another Australian one, but English people know it because it's an insult directed at them, often in the phrase pommy bastard

PONCE / PONCY  see this post

POOED / POOING  see this post for the poo versus poop story

POOTLE to travel along at a leisurely speed

POPPADOM / POPPADUM anything to do with Indian food is going to be found more in UK than US

PORRIDGY  like porridge, which in AmE is oatmeal

PUFFA full form: puffa jacket; a kind of quilted jacket; it is a trademark, but used broadly; I did find it in one dictionary with a lower-case p

PUNNET  see this old post

RAILCARD  you buy one and it gives you discounts on train tickets

RANCOUR    -or/-our

RUMOUR     -or/-our

TANNOY  AmE loudspeaker, public address system  (originally a trademark, but now used generically)

TELLY  (orig.) AmE tv

THALI  another Indian menu word 

THICKO  stupid person

TIDDY  small (dialectal) 

TIFFIN  usually referring to chocolate tiffin (recipe)

TINNING  AmE canning

TITCH  a small person 

TOFF  an upper-class person (not a compliment)

TOMBOLA  see this post

TOTTED / TOTTING  see this post 

TOTTY  an objectifying term for (usually) a woman

TRUG  a kind of basket; these days, often a handled rubber container  

TWIGGED  form of twig 'to catch on, understand'

UNEQUALLED   post on double Ls

VIVA  an oral exam (short for viva voce)

WANK / WANKING  my original Word of the Year (2006!)

WEEING  AmE peeing

WELLIE  / WELLY  a (BrE) wellington boot / (AmE) rubber boot

WHINGE  AmE whine (complain)


WOAD a plant used to make blue dye

WOLD a clear, upland area (mostly in place names now)

WOOLLEN   post on double Ls

YOBBO / YOBBY  hooligan / hooliganish

YODELLED   post on double Ls

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My obsession with the word please keeps leading me to new discoveries. This time: a spelling difference!

One particular use of please is to be dismissive of something someone else has said or done, as in: 

     Please! You don't really imagine we want to read about please again, do you?

But when people say that please, they often elongate the pronunciation, including putting a bit of vocal 'space' between the P and the L, creating a two-syllable please. And because people pronounce it with two syllables, they sometimes spell it with something syllable-indicating between the P and the L.

So I went looking for such spellings in the Corpus of Global Web-based English. Since I didn't know the exact spellings I was looking for, I put in various key letters/punctuation and asterisks after them, like pu*lea* and p-le*: the asterisks are wildcards that stand for any number of characters. So, pu*lea* gave me relevant results like puhlease and puuuleazz and irrelevant ones like purpleleaf. Sorting through the results (thanks to Becky Hunt for doing the table for me), we've got:






puh-leaze, puhleese, puhleez




puleeze, pulease, puleasssse




puulease, puuulleeeeezzz




pu-lease, pu-leeze




p-lease, p-leeease




purlease, purleese, purleeze



The US column has a lot more of these spellings. That's to be expected—that 'dismissal' usage is more common in AmE and so the re-spelling of it will be too. But what's super-interesting is the contrast between the preferred AmE use of puh or pu to represent the first syllable versus the BrE-only use of pur.  

Echoes of a previous post! The one where I had discovered that when Americans say "uh" on British television, it gets close-captioned as "er" because an r after a vowel in English-English spelling does not signal the /r/ sound, but rather a kind of vowel quality. 

Purlease in BrE spelling does not indicate a different pronunciation from puhlease: it represents one way that a non-rhotic (non-/r/-pronouncing) speaker can represent the schwa sound that's been inserted in the elongated word. 

Not what I thought I'd discover when I started looking for please spellings, so a fun little extra for me! (And now you too!)

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