Knickerbocker in English starts out in the US, where it was used to refer to descendants of the early Dutch colonists in Manhattan, formerly New Amsterdam. Knickerbocker (in various spellings) was a common name among those settlers, but the one that inspired the New Yorker nickname was the fictional Diedrich Knickerbocker, the supposed author of Washington Irving's satirical A History of New York (1809). It seems to get going as a term for such New Yorkers in the mid-19th century.  Irving and some writer contemporaries later became known as the Knickerbocker Group.

But the more famous group of people named after the knickerbocker nickname is the basketball team, the New York Knickerbockers, which these days tends to go by the shortened name, The Knicks.

Baggy trousers

See Fashion History Timeline
for more

In the 1860s, it comes to be used for a style of (orig. AmE in this sense) poofy knee-breeches, which resembled the style worn by the Dutchmen in (Englishman) George Cruikshank's illustrations of Irving's book in the 1850s.

This fashion sense of knickerbockers moved over to the UK too. In the US, it is often shortened to knickers (it's a clipping), but not BrE because...

Women's undies*

After knickers came into BrE, it started to refer to women's underpants. The AmE panties can be given as an equivalent, except that many AmE speakers (including me) find the word panties a bit (AmE) icky, and so we just say underwear. Technically, underwear can refer to more than just those small bottom pieces, but if I say "I need to do laundry. I'm out of underwear", it's specifically those bottoms that I'm talking about. (Bre) knickers is not so icky in its natural environs.

Though knickers is a very clear example of a Britishism now, it's interesting to note its AmE roots, since it is a clipping of knickerbockers. I presume this is because women's undies used to look like knickerbocker breeches. Such undergarments were also called bloomers (in both Englishes), as were the outerwear women's knickerbockers that gained popularity as women started bicycling. (Unrelatedly, bloomer also  happens to be the name of a type of bread loaf in BrE.) In BrE, the word knickers changed with the changes in underwear styles, but the word bloomers didn't.

I've written about knickers a couple of times before: in contrast to men's (BrE) pants and in expressions like red shoes, no knickers.

*Undies appears to be originally BrE (early 20th c), but has long been well-established in AmE too.

Ice cream

This whole post got started because an English friend gave the word knickerbocker as an example of a word with three Ks (in discussion of this tweet) with the aside "as in knickerbocker glory", leading me to think that he only really knew the word in that context.

A (BrE) knickerbocker glory is an ice cream sundae served in a tall glass. The first citation for it in the OED is in a Graham Greene novel in 1936—though the term was clearly well-known at that point since he didn't have to explain it. It only takes off in British books in the 1970s, though, when my friend and our friends were growing up, eating ice cream. 

This is quite a while after Americans invented the word sundae, which was originally Sunday, as in the day of the week when it was (purportedly) served. About this, the OED says:

Evidence suggests that the use of Sunday to designate an ice-cream dish of this kind originates with Chester C. Platt (1869–1934), proprietor of Platt and Colt's Pharmacy in Ithaca, New York, who is said to have served it to Unitarian pastor John M. Scott at his premises after the Sunday church service on 3 April 1892. A letter from a patent attorney dated 24 March 1894 shows that Platt sought advice on trademark protection for the use of ‘Sunday’ for ice-cream novelties a few days earlier.
The motivation for the subsequent respelling of the word [...] is uncertain: it may reflect an attempt by other retailers to avoid a perceived breach of trademark; it may be a reaction to the religious associations of Sunday as a day of abstinence; or it may simply have been intended to be eye-catching.

The knickerbocker glory is a prototypical ice cream sundae, but the word sundae has not caught on so much in BrE as in AmE:

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rambling, hiking and walking on footpaths and trails

We went for a walk with the neighbo(u)rs, and we saw this sign.

The sign reads "Permissive Footpath avoiding Golf Course", and all the adults in our group (2 English, 1 Spanish, 1 American) found the sign amusing. Jokes about what kinds of permissive activities we might find on the path (or that we might find the path doing) resulted, as well as a conversation about what the sign meant and whether it could have been phrased better.

You can tell from this that we're not seasoned country walkers, we're just lockdown people finding new ways to get some exercise. The term permissive footpath is a term of art in the British land-use bureaucracy, and such signs can be found on many paths. It differs from a public footpath in that the land is privately owned. The landowner is permitting people to walk on their path. This explanation of the term offers other expressions like permitted footpath and concessionary footpath, but these seem to be much less common, and we would not have been able to joke as much about them. (For those puzzled by our amusement: permissive usually means 'characteri{s/z}ed by great freedom of behavio(u)r', which can include 'sexually liberated'.)

So, permissive footpath is not something you'd see in AmE, but that's because there's a lot different about leisurely country walks in the two countries. And this is why this post has taken a couple of weeks to write...

walking verbs

Let's start by mentioning (it has come up on the blog before) that to hike is usually considered an Americanism, in the sense that it's widespread and "standard" in American English, but it's only ever been a dialect word in the UK. The OED cites an 1825 dictionary of west-of-England dialects as one of its earliest sources for it.

While it's been coming back to the UK, all of its senses were more common in AmE first, for example the noun use as in go for a hike and the more figurative use in hike up a price. Some of the figurative uses seem more common in BrE corpora now, though. You can see the change in this Google ngram for price hike, where the red line indicates the phrase in AmE books and the blue in BrE. It looks like the kind of pattern you'd see with parents and slang...they start using the word when the kids are already moving on to a new one, then carry on using it at a higher rate than those who made it up.

In BrE, those who hike as a regular pastime are often referred to as ramblers, but it's far more common to talk about walking than rambling. (Rambling and Rambler tend to be used in the names of walking clubs, such as the Essex Area Ramblers, who are responsible for the website that taught me about permissive paths.) Of course, English-speakers everywhere use the verb to walk. But for me (at least) what's different is that I have a town/country divide in my AmE: If I'm walking around town for leisure, I'm going for a walk. If I go out of town to walk (on less even terrain, taking more care with my footwear and supplies), I'm going hiking.  Or maybe it's better characteri{s/z}ed as: if I'm on a paved path/road or the beach, I'm on a walk, and if I'm on less even terrain (fields, woods, mountains, deserts), I'm on a hike.


In its broadest use, any way that's made for walking is a path or a footpath, but the word footpath is much more common in BrE than in AmE. A footpath can be urban or rural, but is usually distinguished from the (BrE) pavement/(AmE) sidewalk by being narrower, unpaved, or not running parallel to the road. For instance, a marked "public footpath" in my mother-in-law's suburb is a paved path between houses that let people take a shortcut to the (BrE) railway station, but the "permissive footpath" above is a (AmE in this use) dirt path through a wooded area.

Click to enlarge

Path and pathway are a normal things to call places where people can walk in either country. The GloWBE corpus has a bit more path in AmE than BrE, but I'm not going to to through and find out how many of them refer to the PATH (Port Authority-Trans Hudson) trains in New York. Pathway is about the same in both.

For places to hike, trail is more common in AmE. This is again difficult to do a corpus chart for, because there are lots of other uses of trail (what a snail leaves, a trail of clues, etc.).  (It originally referred to things that trailed behind, like the train of a dress or coat.) But if we look at which words occur before trail in the two countries, we can see a real tendency for trails to be walking places. Many of these relate to names of famous places to hike, such as the Appalachian Trail

Click to enlarge

In AmE I'd use trail as a common noun to talk generally about hiking paths. I've just asked the English spouse whether he'd use trail to refer to some of the English ones we know, and he says "No, that's American. That's why we don't understand trail mix.  According to the OED, this sense of trail is:

A path or track worn by the passage of persons travelling in a wild or uninhabited region; a beaten track, a rude path. (Chiefly U.S. and Canadian; also New Zealand and Australian.)

The US has a National Trails System, established in 1968, which includes Scenic Trails and Historic Trails, all of which have Trail in their name. (See the link for the list.)  England and Wales now also have something called National Trails, but that was only founded in 2005, and does look like a case of UK government borrowing an American idea with its language. Most of the "long-distance footpaths" included in the National Trails are named Way: the Cotswold Way, the Pennine Way, the South Downs Way. Some are called Path, e.g. Thames Path, Hadrian's Wall Path. None are called trails.

Scotland has Scotland's Great Trails, formerly known as Long Distance Routes. The rebranding seems to have happened sometime in the past 10 years. Unlike England's National Trails, some are actually named trail, and those names seem to pre-date the national rebranding, raising the question of whether this sense of trail is longer-standing in Scotland.

It's not uncommon to find commonalities between Scotland or Ireland and the US—not necessarily because of more recent Scottish/Irish immigration to the US than English immigration. The similarities can be there if the meaning was formerly widespread in English English, but then went out of fashion in England. However, the OED only has examples of this sense of trail since 1807, which makes it more likely that it might have started in the US and been fed back to the UK. Hard to know without much more work than I can put into this!

Related posts

I've written some other posts that cover related concepts to these ones. If you have comments about those terms, please comment at those posts, where it will be much more useful to their readers.

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(out) in the country(side)

In the hope of having a weekend, I wasn't going to write a long blot post this week. This really has taken over my Sundays the last few weeks. But then I started writing another monster post. About 1/3 into it, I reali{s/z}ed I'd need to explain this little thing about country and countryside. So, I've pivoted to writing this shorter thing and am ahead of the game for next week's post too. Yay.


Country is a polysemous word—it has multiple meanings. And those meanings can create real ambiguities. For instance:

Lynne has lived in the country for 20 years.

That sentence is true on the 'national territory' meaning of country, but false on the 'rural area' meaning of country, since I have lived in a particular national territory (the UK) for 20 years, but I've lived in a city (Brighton) for all of those 20 years (well, technically it was a town when I moved here).

Most of the time, such ambiguities don't bother us. If Sid goes for a walk in the country, we assume the 'rural' meaning is in play; we don't feel the need to ask "Which country was it? Was it Norway?". 

The word countryside serves to make it clear that we're talking about the 'rural' kind of country. It exists in both AmE and BrE, but it is used several times more in BrE than in AmE and the uses are a bit different.
the British countryside
according to Fur Feather and Fin

A straight comparison of countryside in the two Englishes is not very helpful because of the existence in the UK of the Countryside Alliance, a lobbying group that gets in the news a lot for its promotion and defen{c/s}e of "countryside activities", which include the very controversial practice of fox-hunting. Statistics for the word countryside on its own will be biased by that name.

So instead, here's a look at "[verb]ing in the countryside", which gives a clear picture that countryside is common in BrE in contexts in which it's not in AmE. (Click on images if you'd like them bigger.)

I grew up in a small town in a rural county of New York state. When we talked about where our classmates lived, we'd never have said in the countryside, we'd say out in the country. The out there is doing the same kind of work the -side in countryside can do:

When I looked at AmE uses of countryside, a lot seemed to be about tourism to other places— visiting the Italian countryside and such. It's in those kinds of contexts where AmE use of countryside starts to equal BrE use:

In a recent post about birds, I mentioned that the country(side) occupies very different place in British and American lives and self-mythologies. Countryside in both Englishes (I think, but I could be wrong)— has the feel of a more idealized kind of place—with green hills and farmhouses, whereas out in the country for me is more neutral in terms of what the scenery is—we just used it to mean 'not within the village boundaries' (in my area of NYS, could be woods, could be farm, could an out-of-town [AmE] trailer park). The US has more types of non-urban landscape than the UK, much more wilderness, and a relatively recent history of even more (and more dangerous) wilderness. It's inevitable, really, that talking about the country(side) will bring up different connotations depending on where you're from. I haven't included an illustration for AmE 'out in the country' because the image search mostly brought up pics of small towns and highways. Looking for rural scenery, there's just too much variation to pick something 'typical' of American experience.

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more birds and birdy things

As promised last time, here's more about birds. See the previous post for more about garden birds and some other bird-related things and for information about Cecil Brown's categories of BrE-AmE bird-name relationships. The last instal(l)ment was called garden birds, though there are some birds there that might be found prevalently elsewhere (I stuck parakeets in with garden birds, just to be able to say something about parakeets in gardens) and there might be some here that are found in your (BrE) garden or (AmE) backyard.

If you have already read the garden birds post, you might want to have another look at it as I have made late additions to it (marked as such) to cover "gardeny" birds that I'd missed in the first (AmE) go-round. And if I come across more that belong in the categories here, I'll add them.

(Immediately after I first posted this, Jim Martin pointed out more. I've not marked these as 'late additions' because they've come before most people have had a chance to read the post, but I have credited Jim.)

As before, all images are from Wikipedia and are of adult male birds, unless otherwise noted.

birds of prey

buzzard and hawk

In the US, buzzard is another name for the turkey vulture (so-called because it looks a bit turkey-ish). In BrE it is for birds of the genus Buteo.
(BrE) buzzard

Turkey vulture/(AmE) buzzard

Americans call members of the Buteo family hawks, and so sometimes have to distinguish members of the Accipitrinae sub-family true hawks, though your average American (like me) probably wouldn't be able to tell you the difference between them.

sea birds

skua / jaeger

AmE uses jaeger (from the German for 'hunter) for the smaller species of skua and BrE doesn't.  (Via Jim Martin)

Pomerine jaeger/skua


Another one from Jim. I'm going to let Wikipedia do the work for this one:
Guillemot is the common name for several species of seabird in the Alcidae or auk family (part of the order Charadriiformes). In British use, the term comprises two genera: Uria and Cepphus. In North America the Uria species are called "murres" and only the Cepphus species are called "guillemots".

Guillemot comes from the French name Guillaume (as we saw last time, naming birds after men is not uncommon).  Murre came from the UK, originally. It might be imitative, and might be related to Welsh morra or Cornish murr.


Jim Martin points out that mew gull (onomatopoetic for their call) is more used in AmE for the species called common gull in BrE, though these particular gulls are not all that common in UK. Wikipedia points out that there are broader and narrower meanings of mew gull, but I'll let them tell you about it.

Gulls in the UK are serious birds. The herring gulls common on much of the coastline are the size of ducks or geese. They are not shy about stealing food right out of your hands, which (given their size and stealth) can be very disconcerting. My worst herring gull memory (i.e. best herring gull story) was when we were at a park with our then-toddler and saw a herring gull with a pigeon halfway down its throat. Spouse chased it with an umbrella till it dropped the pigeon—the pigeon was too big for it to fly off with.



Members of the genus Gavia are called loons in AmE and divers in BrE. The OED notes that loon is probably derived from loom, a Shetland dialect name for the bird, which probably came from Old Norse. Loon as a name for a type of person (orig. a worthless person, rogue) existed separately from the bird-name, though it's possible that the existence of the person-insult affected the transition from loom to loon. Loony has a different etymology still: shortened from lunatic. All of this was kind of surprising to me—I'm sure many people have folk etymologies that conflate bird loon and person loon and adjective loony. And now of course, loonie is also slang for a Canadian $1 coin, because it has the bird-loon on it and Canadians generally have more linguistically in common with the US than with the UK. (Sorry, Canadians, but it's true.) 

NAmE loon / BrE diver


(From Jim Martin). The common merganser is in BrE the goosander. Goosander has an obscure etymology. The first part is goose and the second part is probably from the Old Norse plural for 'duck'. (Merganser is the Latin name.)

Domesticated birds

cock, rooster, cockerel

Male chickens are traditionally called cock in BrE and rooster (which probably came from an English dialect) in AmE. In The Prodigal Tongue I write about the fact that cockerel is used more and more in BrE where cock used to be the right word. A cockerel was a young cock, but nowadays people feel less comfortable saying cock, so they fancy it up with an -erel. So if you want to know more about that, and more about taboo-avoidance in BrE and AmE more generally, I have a book to recommend!

Country(side) birds


If I'd been smarter/cleverer, I'd have label(l)ed the last post "passerine (perching) birds" and not "garden birds", as that would've made for a clearer division between one bird-type and all others. But I didn't, and so I'm putting larks here, because they're more likely to be found on farms or mountains than in gardens. Anyhow, there is only one lark in North America, and Americans call it the horned lark, but the same species in Europe is called the shore lark. That particular species doesn't seem to extend to the UK, where there are other larks with their own not-needed-in-the-US names.

AmE horned lark
elsewhere shore lark

observing birds

the hobby

Bird-watching is a term that seems more popular among people who don't do it as a hobby than people who do. The (more specialist—and often dismissive) BrE term for a bird-watcher who "collects" sightings of birds is twitcher (see comments for more info). Its use has spread beyond Britain, but is still heard a lot more in BrE, and it's more informal than "official". The OED's first example of it is from 1974, but they note a claim that it was coined in the 1950s and relates to the person twitching with excitement. The noun twitch thus came to be an expedition or gathering of bird-watchers. The intransitive verb twitch subsequently came to be used for serious bird-watching and a transitive version for spotting a rare bird. Here's an example of each (in that order) from the OED:
  • 1977   New Society 17 Nov. 341/2   Those now in their thirties have been twitching for maybe 20 years.
  • 2009   Birdwatch Winter 6/3   We can hope that in 20 years, birders won't feel compelled to charter flights to ‘twitch’ the lone, singing Canada Warbler.

Another term in the OED quotations is tick-hunter, which would mean you're searching for birds to 'tick' off your list, using the BrE sense of 'tick' (AmE 'checkmark'). These days, that sounds more like you're looking for small blood-sucking arachnids in the hope of preventing Lyme disease. There were no instances of it in the corpus I searched (see below).

In AmE, the specialist term has been birder, with bird becoming a related intransitive verb. OED's first citation for this is 1945. The word has spread beyond the US now.

In the GloWBE corpus, the clear winner for international word-of-choice is birder (the white here indicates it's not now especially AmE or BrE), and there are AmE/BrE differences in preferred hyphenation of bird(-)watcher, not necessarily in the order I might have predicted.

Green = more particular to that country. Pink = less


People who research birds often mark wild ones with a little thing{ie/y}* around a bird's leg. The thing{ie/y} is called a band in AmE and a ring in BrE. The verb goes the same way. In AmE the birds are banded and in BrE the are ringed. If you do that to a bird, you are a (AmE) bird-bander or (BrE) bird-ringer. For more, see Wikipedia.

* Sidenote: The OED tells me that thingy is 'originally and chiefly Scottish'. Thing(ie)s may have changed since that entry was updated in 2008—as the word seems widespread now. There is a spelling difference, though, in that Americans are more likely to style it as thingie.


And, denizens of the internet, I want to end with an important semantic question: When is a bird a birbThe Audubon Society has been looking into it.
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garden birds

This was going to be a post where I tried to cover the many different bird names between US and UK that I've covered on Twitter, but I now reali{s/z}e that I don't have enough blogging hours in a day to do that, so consider this Part One in a series of bird-related posts. This one focus(s)es on (BrE) garden birds—i.e. songbirds and the like. The kind of thing that might nest in a tree, near you. (Note that yardbird is not AmE for garden bird!) Photos are from Wikipedia, unless otherwise stated, and are generally of adult male birds.

The naming of birds in North America

North America and Europe differ in their native bird species a fair amount, and so there are different birds to name. But when English-speakers first encountered birds in America, they often used familiar words for the unfamiliar species.

A great source on AmE/BrE bird-name differences is British Names for American Birds by Cecil H. Brown in Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, vol. 2 (June 1992). If you want to read it, but find a paywall, then do contact your public (or school/university) library, which might have access through JStor , you should be able to register to read it without paying. (See vp's comments below for info.)

Brown discusses four main patterns of application of British names to American birds:
  • A. A British monomial [i.e. single name] or base name [i.e as part of a compound] for British species X is used to label the same species occurring natively in America.
  • B. A British monomial or base name for British species X is used to label species Y occurring natively in America when (1) species X does not occur natively in America, and (2) species X and Y are of the same genus.
  • C. A British monomial or base name for British species X is used to label species Y occurring natively in America when (1) species X does not occur natively in America, (2) the genus to which species X belongs does not occur natively in America, and (3) species X and Y are of the same family.
  • D. A British monomial or base name for British species X is used to label species Y occurring natively in America when (1) species X does not occur natively in America, (2) the genus to which species X belongs does not occur natively in America, (3) the family to which species X belongs does not occur natively in America, and (4) species X and Y are of the same order. (Brown 1992: 33)
In other words, A-named birds have the most similarity between the places, and D birds the least.  We'll notice the differences most between the names for the C and D categories.

Of the 87 British bird names that Brown studied (for all kinds of birds, not just the types in this blog post), 52 were in category A (i.e. same bird, same name + expansions of the name ), 15 in B, 10 in C, 3 in D, and 7 were exceptions to these categories. 

BrE robin
AmE robin
American robins and European robins are both brown with red breasts, but otherwise they look very different. The robin found in UK is Erithacus rubecula (left). The one in US is a type of thrush: Turdus migratorius (really; pictured right). Brown categorised this as type C, but this doesn't seem to take into account that the British robin is no longer considered a thrush, but a type of Old-World flycatcher.

It must be said: the UK robin is much (orig. AmE in this sense) cuter. They can also be quite sociable—probably because they're very keen on asserting territorial rights, so they will come and sit quite near you if you're relatively still. I'm sure when I read The Secret Garden as a child, I imagined the American type, but it's much more realistic to imagine the British type.

Both serve as symbols in their cultures, but of different things. In the UK, robins appear on Christmas cards. This is not because you see them more at Christmas(time). It seems that Victorian postmen were called 'robins' because of their uniforms, and so early Christmas cards had red-breasted birds with letters in their beaks as a kind of adorable visual metaphor. 

In the US, the robin is known as a first sign of spring, but it seems that's a bit of a myth too, since they don't actually migrate all that far during the winter. 

from Bizarro Comics—the joke doesn't work in UK

The bird is named after people—Robin being a variant of Robert. Originally, the British bird-name was redbreast, and one often hears robin redbreast as if it's the bird's first and last name.

In the US, Robin is usually a girl's name now (which might be spel{led/t} in different ways), whereas in the UK, Robin is more usually a boys' name and Robyn the female variant. 

Blackbird (late addition)

Commenter Bardiac notes that that word is used differently in AmE & BrE. Indeed, UK blackbirds are thrushes, often not all that black.  They thus look like AmE robins, fairly drab. New World blackbirds are of the same family as New World orioles, about which see below, and often more spectacular looking. Click on links for pics. 


Blue tit (UK)
The UK has many types of titmouse, which have often been called tit. The name is probably from Scandinavia, where the birds have similar names, and it is thought to be in imitation of the birds' chirp. Earlier and dialectal forms include chit and tomtit—again from the trend of giving birds human-like names. Calling them tits is a bit newer-fangled than calling them titmice. The OED says:

In Britain ‘tit’ has largely superseded the earlier name of titmouse, though the latter is still used for several American species. Most tits were traditionally placed in the genus Parus, but this has recently been split into several other genera.

One of the American species is more commonly called the (black-capped) chickadee, again an onomatopoetic name, after its alarm call. Some people assume that Americans don't call these birds tits because of alleged prudery, but this is almost certainly not the case, since Americans do call other birds titmice — the shortened tit form would not have been so common when colonists were originally naming these things. The chickadee naming could have come about because (a) it was seen as being different enough from European tits to warrant a new name, (b) the name was more evocative, or (c) it seemed silly to call a bird a titmousesimilar to AmE preferring ladybug over (BrE) ladybird for description's sake.  Nevertheless, as I say, there are other species called titmouse in the US like the tuffed titmouse below, so I think it was just that the name chickadee appealed more. Titmouse counts as Brown's category B.

                        Black-capped chickadee
Tufted titmouse (N Am)

Speaking of Christmas cards, American ones are sometimes illustrated with the black-capped chickadee or the cardinal, neither of which are found in the UK/Europe. The cardinal, of course, is red and cheery. I don't know if the chickadee is particularly Christmassy, or if it's just a cute bird that allows American cards to imitate the British robin ones (since the US got the Christmas-card tradition from the UK in the Victorian age). (See comments for further info.)

Google image search


If someone says they have a goldfinch in their garden, it'll be the left one in the US (Spinus tristis) and the right one in the UK (Carduelis carduelis). This is Brown's category C.

A bit about cardinals and jays

The (northern) cardinal lives in the eastern half (and a bit) of the US. A recent Twitter discussion I
Cardinal (NAm)
saw questioned whether Catholic cardinals were so-called because they wear red like the bird. Worth noting that this is backwards. Americans often don't reali{s/z}e that their wildlife isn't everyone's wildlife (as another Twitter discussion about raccoons reminded me last week). The birds were so-named (originally cardinal-bird) because they're red like a cardinal's robe, not the other way (a)round.

Blue jay (NAm)
I always think of cardinals and blue jays together, as they are always a welcome flash of crested colo(u)r in our northeastern US (AmE) backyard/(BrE) garden.

I didn't know what the bird was when I snapped the picture below in Brighton, but it turns out it is also a jay, a Eurasian jay, which has some blue in it. So perhaps when Europeans hear Americans talk about blue jays, some imagine this. Jay belongs to Brown's category C.

Eurasian jay

Here is Brown's category D. New-World orioles [right] belong to the blackbird family. As Wikipedia says: "Unrelated to Old World orioles of the family Oriolidae, they are strikingly similar in size, diet, behavior, and strongly contrasting plumage, a good example of convergent evolution." There are a lot of different kinds and they're all pretty, so click through to Wikipedia to see more pics.
Baltimore oriole (NW)

Black-naped oriole (OW)

Starling (late addition)

I'm slipping this one in even though the name doesn't mean different things in the two places, just because I want to note that starlings were imported to the US from Europe, reputedly as part of an effort to ensure that all birds mentioned by Shakespeare lived in the US. While starlings do very pretty things on our local sea front in Brighton, in the US they turned out to be a big pest that ousted native species. This is a great fact for Americans to be armed with when asked to answer for the problem of grey squirrels in Britain.

 Sparrow (late addition)

I had just assumed that sparrow meant the same in both countries because the sparrows I know in the two places look pretty much the same. But as I was preparing to write the next instal(l)ment of this bird series, I noticed that Brown marks sparrow as category D—applying the British name to a different family of birds. It turns out that I think they're the same because, like the starling, the European house sparrow (Passer domesticus, family Passeridae) is a successful transplant to the Americas. But before that happened, English-speakers in North America had applied the name to birds from another widespread family, Passerellidae
These are what birdwatchers call LBJs 'little brown jobs' or sometimes LBBs 'little brown birds', because they're all over the place and hard to distinguish. (I can't find where LBJ originated, though the job in it is probably closest to a the sense 'A thing of a type specified or evident from the context', which the OED marks as 'orig. U.S.'.)  So it's not entirely surprising I hadn't noticed the differences. There are a lot of different species with different looks, but

European house sparrow

American tree sparrow



Ok, parakeets are generally not thought of as garden birds, but I'll include them here because there are plenty in English gardens. They're especially numerous around south London (and so they're sometimes called Kingston parakeets), but they've been spreading out—even into Scotland, it seems. I love watching them in my mother-in-law's garden.

But there is a meaning difference for parakeet. AmE uses that name for the little birds that are kept as pets, what BrE (and some US pet bird enthusiasts) call budgerigars or budgies, for short. The ones in London are rose-ringed parakeets, or ring-necked parakeets. These would also be called parakeet in AmE, because that's what they are, but Americans have less need to talk about them, as they are not living in public parks. See the comments for info about areas of the US where feral parakeets are found.

AmE parakeet; BrE budgie
Feral parakeet in London

Bird-related vocab

Bird table is used in BrE to describe some kinds of bird feeder where seed lies on a flat surface. One doesn't find this term so much in AmE—they're just listed as 'bird feeders' in online shopping hubs.

Google image search for "bird table"

The dawn chorus

Recently one of my Twitter Differences of the Day involved the BrEism the dawn chorus, meaning 'early morning birdsong'. Someone asked me why I thought the British invented a special term for this and AmE apprarently didn't, and I flippantly replied "Sentimentality". But there is probably more to it than that.

It is pretty hit-{and/or}-miss which concepts get lexicali{s/z}ed in a language/dialect, but in this case, I think Britain has two things going for it. First, its relative geographical homogeneity: no deserts, temperate climate throughout, no one more than 70 miles from the coast, and no one higher than about 1500m above sea level. (It's even more homogeneous if we only consider England, where most of the media discussed below comes from.) Some birds will be more common in some places than other places, but the particular sound of birds singing at dawn is not going to be a very local phenomenon. Second, there's a lot of nature programming on television and radio. These two facts together make for a lot of garden programming and other kinds of national attention to nature-in-your-immediate area. And so if they talk about something like the dawn chorus, it'll be (a) immediately familiar to anyone paying much attention and (b) spread very easily around the country. In the US, I'd expect there's a lot more variation in what the morning sounds like. We are not 'a nation of gardeners'—which is not to say that Americans don't garden, but there's less of a national identity built around it. And the US is in general less sentimental about local nature—probably because nature is often less cuddly and Beatrix-Potterish in the US. To my mind, there is nothing cuter than the North American chipmunk, but Americans have to hold nature at more of a distance, because some of it is deadly in its own right (rattlesnakes, crocodiles, grizzly bears), some of it is unpleasant (skunks), and much of it can carry rabies. And it's so populous. If we in my part of New York State were to stop and say "Look! A squirrel!" every time we saw one like my in-laws (and now my child) do here in the southeast of England, we'd never get out of our own (AmE) driveways.

Final fun fact

When I was researching The Prodigal Tongue, I was really struck by how much influence publishing laws (and their circumvention) have had on life. Here's an example. Audubon's Birds of America (1827–1838) had no text in its first edition just pictures, because if there were text (and they distributed it in the UK), they'd be required to provide free copies to public libraries in England. The text was printed in a separate book, so that the relatively inexpensive all-print books could be provided separately from the expensive-to-print pictures.

P.S. Apologies for some formatting problems here. Blogger has changed its interface and (a) a lot of things that used to be easy are now harder, (b) the html-editing page is considerably harder to read, (c) captions seem to easily come unfixed from their images. I might fix some things later, but I've already spent FAR TOO LONG on this post today!
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solder (and a bit about calm)

I've had requests from Andy J and (long ago) Doug Sundseth to cover this one. Here's an excerpt from Andy's recent email on the topic:

I watch a lot of Youtube videos which feature people who self-describe as makers (part DIYers and part semi-professional craftsmen and women). I have noticed that also without exception those based in the USA and Canada pronounce the word solder as sodder, whereas we BrE speakers would invariably sound the L in both the noun and the verb solder.
The North American variation seems at odds with the similar phonic construction in soldier or for example folder which, to my ear based on film and TV utterances, seem to be pronounced in a largely similar way to BrE, ie the L is sounded.

Before I go into the history of the word, I want to do a little bit of "here's how a linguist thinks".  Andy's got(ten) us started along the right lines here, in that (a) he talks about variation, rather than deviation, and (b) he looks for broader patterns. It's important to look for the broader patterns because we know that:
  • Where spelling clashes with pronunciation (that is, where spelling is not phonetic), the spelling often gives clues for finding an earlier pronunciation.
  • Linguistic sound changes are very often regular. That is to say, they apply across all words that would be susceptible to that change. 
(A bit on how linguists write: putting a letter between / / means I'm using the International Phonetic Alphabet —or a simplified version of it in this case— and talking about sounds. Where I'm talking about spelling, I'm using italics.)

We can illustrate those two points with the /r/ after vowels. In my inland northern American accent, I would pronounce the -er in solder with an /r/. In my spouse's London accent, he would pronounce it as an unstressed vowel /ə/ —no /r/.  That difference carries on to every word that ends in -er (and every other r that follows a vowel, actually). If we look at that spelling and those pronunciations, we are well justified in thinking that earlier English pronounced the /r/ there, and the English of southern England later stopped pronouncing it. Otherwise, why would all those r's be there in the spelling? And indeed, that's the case.

Pic from (AmE) Jewelry Making Daily
But in this case, as Andy notes, there is no evidence of a regular sound change. Most Americans don't pronounce an /l/ in solder, but if there had been a sound change that got rid of /l/ after a vowel or before a /d/, then Americans should pronounce folder as "fodder" and soldier as "sodyer", and Americans just don't do that.

In the absence of evidence for a regular sound change, we have two possibilities:
  1. the /l/ is not an original part of the pronunciation, but people started pronouncing an /l/ because they saw it there in the spelling. This happens often enough that we have a name for this kind of sound change: spelling pronunciation.
  2. the /l/ is an original part of the pronunciation, but for some idiosyncratic reason, someone started pronouncing it without the /l/ and that caught on. That can happen too.
So our question is: which of those is it?  (And does it have to be just one of those?) Here's where we have to look at the evidence from the past.

The OED gives the following historical spellings of the word (the numbers indicate the centuries in which you see those spellings):
α. ME soudur, ME soudure, soudour, sowdur, sowdowre; ME soudre, ME–15 souder, ME–16 (18 dialect) sowder (ME sowdere, 15 soweder); 18 dialect sowther. β. ME sawdur, sawdyr, 15 sawyer; ME sawd(e)re, 15 sawder (16 sawter), 15–16 saudre, 16 sauder. γ. 15–17 soder (16 soader, sodar), 16– sodder; 15 sother, 16 soather. δ. ME souldour, 15–16 soulder (15 sowl-). ε. 16 soldure, 16– solder
I've highlighted the five paths that the spelling seems to follow (indicated by the Greek letters). Why five paths? Because language is a moveable, social thing. The word shows up in English in the period when English was getting a lot of vocabulary from France (after the Norman Invasion and all that). But words don't have to just show up once. And once they do show up, they don't stay the same.And when they change, they can change in different ways in different places.

The Old French word that solder comes from is represented in the OED etymology as:
< Old French soud-, saud-, soldure (compare Italian saldatura ), < souder , etc.,
Three of the paths are  L-less (and these are the paths for which the OED has more examples—so the L-less spellings were more widespread. That's because it came into English without an /l/ sound because it mostly didn't have one in French. The Italian comparison word that has an L tells us that there's a fair chance that the French came from a Latin word with an /l/, which the French subsequently lost. And that's indeed what we find: the Latin etymon is solidare 'to make solid'. Both French and Italian dropped the Latin word's second syllable, but French did it by losing a consonant and Italian by losing a vowel.

So what about the two L-ful paths? There are (again) two possibilities (plus the possibility that it is both of these to different degrees/in different places):
  1. Maybe some of the people who brought the word to England did pronounce an /l/ in it, and so the spelling reflected that. Note the soldure spelling that existed in Old French.
  2. Maybe some scribes started inserting an L because they knew the word came from Latin and they wanted to hono(u)r its Latin roots. 
If the answer is (1), then it is possible that the minority pronunciation was what came to be standard in the spelling, and eventually that pronunciation became standard across England.  Maybe the word travel(l)ed to the US between those two standardi{s/z}ation events.

But (2) is more likely, judging from the clear history of sentimentality for Latin affecting English spelling. Here's an article by Arika Okrent on weirdly spelt words, and indeed she includes solder in the same category as debt and receipt, as victims of re-Latini{s/z}ing in the 15th and 16th centuries. The L got added into the spelling, and then later, people started pronouncing it as a spelling pronunciation.

We've seen a similar story for herb: the spelling got Latini{s/z}ed, and the English (eventually) went for a spelling pronunciation, but Americans carried on with the old pronunciation.

When did the spelling-pronunciation shift happen? After America had had its English from England (mostly).  The OED notes that Smart's 1840 pronouncing dictionary (from England) included only the /l/-less pronunciation, but it looks like this was very much a 'live' problem in the 18th and 19th centuries (when Englsih had been burbling along in America for over 100 years). The 1824 edition of Walker's Critical Pronouncing Dictionary said this:

Click to embiggen
If you can't read that: the key point is that Johnson's dictionary of 1755 preferred spelling it without the L, but the L spelling was already well established. It acknowledges differences in opinion about the pronunciation among orthoepists [pronunciation prescribers] and that the L-less pronunciation was used by workmen, but "workmen ought to take their pronunciation from scholars and not scholars from workmen".  (Ah, social class in England...)

Solder does seem to be exactly the kind of thing whose spelling would revert to older form in AmE, so it's a little surpising we don't spell it sodder.  Noah Webster did try to change it. At solder in his 1828 dictionary there is a cross-reference to soder, which reads:

click to embiggen

It's no wonder soder didn't catch on, since it looks like it should have the same first syllable as soda. If only Webster had doubled the d.

While I've been known (to myself) to misspell it as sodder, that spelling hasn't had much traction in AmE, and neither has Webster's, as can be seen in numbers from the Corpus of Historical American English. (The Soders in the 2000s here are all someone's name.)

Interestingly, for those who find such things interesting, the addition of L to an L-less French borrowing is also why we have an L in salmon (French saumon, Latin salmo(n)), but there's been no big movements toward(s) pronouncing that L in English. This just goes to show that spelling pronunciation changes are not regular changes.

And I expect someone will have calm on their mind now. That one's pronounced with no /l/ in England but some Americans do have an /l/ in it. The vowels differ in these cases, but then most of our vowels differ, don't they? I believe my own calm varies from pronunciation to pronunciation (and probably did so even before I moved to the UK). Calm differs from solder in that it came into English from French with its L. However, it looks like not everyone was pronouncing it, since there are some caume/cawme spellings in the 1500s and 1600s.

This seems to be a case of the /l/ being lost because it's in a phonetically complicated place—between two other sonorous elements. An /l/ after a vowel/at the end of a syllable is pronounced differently than one at the front, and that back-of-the-syllable "dark /l/" often does strange things, especially in combination with other consonants. You can see (or hear) in Irish and Scottish English the evidence that /l/+consonant combinations often feel a bit unnatural. Those Englishes often sort out /l/+consonant by inserting a vowel between the consonants, which "un-darkens" the /l/.  Filmfi-lum, Colm Co-lum (you can hear that at 1:50 in this Derry Girls clip, and any excuse to watch Derry Girls should not be snubbed). English English (and French before it, it seems) has sorted this out by just not pronouncing the /l/. Whether some Americans have added it back in as a spelling pronunciaiton, or whether the /l/ came over as the original pronunciation and stayed, I'm not sure.

I've been careful to say "England" and not "BrE" in this post, since we're talking about pronunciations and they can vary more than spellings.  I've only gone with the pronunciations in the OED, so your mileage may vary. It would be interesting in particular to hear about Scottish and Irish pronunciations in the comments, since they do interesting things with /l/+consonant combinations. But also please let me know if you know of variations within England or elsewhere.

P.S.  Yes, the vowels are different too. Vowels change very easily, so that wasn't as interesting to me here. A consonant change is more of a mystery! BrE solder rhymes with folder and AmE rhymes with fodder. YouGlish is a great resource for hearing words pronounced. You can set it for AmE or BrE, and then use the 'forward' button to skip to the next pronunciation.
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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)