racial

Soon after the Brexit vote, I started writing a blog post about the different usage of the term racial in AmE and BrE. This followed an incident that the UK press had label(l)ed 'racial abuse' against a North American in Manchester. I thought it odd that being abusive to an American counted as 'racial abuse'. I then abandoned the post when I discovered that I'd had it wrong: the abuse was related to the colo(u)r of the person's skin. (There was a "go back to Africa" that I hadn't heard the first time I'd seen the recording.) I still had a feeling that I sometimes heard racial and racist being used differently in BrE than in AmE, but that wasn't an example of it.

But one thing I did find was that one hears the word abuse in such contexts a lot more in the UK. In the green you can see which adjective+abuse combinations are particularly American (left column) and particularly British (right). (Pink means the opposite—much more typical of the other country.)

Click picture to enlarge.
Much of the 'abuse' in the right column (after anti-semitic, racist, homophobic) can be understood to be verbal in nature. (Worth noting: the word abuse is no more common in BrE than in AmE--it's just has more of these green phrases associated with it.) Part of the reason for more occurrences of abuse phrases in BrE is that UK has more policing of verbal actions than the US does—historically in more restrictive libel laws and more recently in greater use of hate-speech laws and anti-social behavio(u)r orders. (In the US, such laws are more apt to be challenged on constitutional grounds due to the First Amendment right of free speech.) So, verbal abuse is going to make it into the news more.

But back to racial and related words: What pushed me to think about the matter again was this tweet from a fellow American linguist in Britain.

This is not the academic analysis that Lauren was looking for, but just more reflection on the differences in how race (in the 'type of people' sense) and words derived from it (racial, racist) are used and interpreted.

There's little that's more culture-dependent than our notions of how many and which races there are among humans and who can belong to which one. And what counts as a race differs a lot depending on why one's asking. The US Census's list of races you can choose from is a strange mix of colo(u)rs, ethnicities, nationalities at different levels of specificity. If all your grandparents came from Tokyo, your race is a nationality, but if they were ethnic Germans, your race is a colo(u)r.

From https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/2010questionnaire.pdf
Hispanic/Latino/Spanish origin in this case is not counted as a race, but as an ethnic or linguistic group, and people are expected to have a race as well as status as Hispanic/Latinx/Spanish "origin".

But when it comes to talking about racism in America, it's not uncommon for people to talk about racism against Hispanic/Latinx people (on the basis of their membership of that group, not another "racial" group). You can see, for example anti-Latino racism in the US column of line 16 here:



click to enlarge

Look at the dark blue boxes in the GB column, and you see the kind of thing Lauren was alluding to in her tweet: line 3: anti-Muslim racism and line 6, anti-Jewish racism (and later on in the list, smaller numbers of anti-Semitic racism and anti-Islamic racism) are found in much greater numbers in UK than in US. (The US anti-Arab examples were mostly from one source, so I'm not going to make much of Arab being a 'national/ethnic' alternative to the 'religious' British phrasings.) The Irish column is interesting too--where Irish and Welsh are treated as "races" in the British "racism" context--but perhaps not other British contexts. (Though I just checked and there are 74 hits for "the Irish race" in the Ireland data.) (The "immigrant" numbers there are interesting, but that's the word I talk about in The Prodigal Tongue, so I won't repeat myself here.)

Both US and UK have plenty of hits for "the Jewish race" (a phrase used much historically, so not surprising), but none for "the Muslim race" or "the Islamic race". So, in that case it looks like you can be subjected to racism without being a race. Here's a great example of it in a recent (well, recent when I re-started this post) tweet:


https://twitter.com/novaramedia/status/1029403495882022913

Now, religion is not part of the legal definition of race in terms of most UK discrimination law (but religion may well be another category of discrimination in other laws). The Citizens Advice Bureau advises that you may have a case of racial discrimination if you belong to or are perceived to belong to a category under this definition of race:

What is ‘race’?  Race means being part of a group of people who are identified by their race, colour, nationality, citizenship, or ethnic or national origins.
Muslims make up less than 5% of the British population, but are the largest non-Christian religion. Islam mainly came to the UK through immigration from South Asia; about 6% of the population identifies as of South Asian descent (the largest 'racial' minority in Britain). Many British South Asians will have other religious backgrounds, but there about three times as many Muslims as Hindus in the UK, and about 6 times as many Muslims as Sikhs. So, while not all British Muslims are South Asian and not all British South Asians are Muslim, there may be a strong association between being Muslim and being part of a particular ethnic group. Maybe that's why the connection between Islamophobia and racial abuse seems so easy to make in the UK. And perhaps this follows on from the sectarian divisions within and between Britain and Ireland, where discrimination was (and is) not on the basis of skin colour but on the basis of tribalism defined by religion and ethnicity—and where, as we've seen, people do talk about belonging and discrimination in racial terms. 

Muslims are only 1.1% of the US population. Civil rights movements to do with 'race' in the US have concerned much bigger populations: over 12% of the population are Black/African-American and 17% Hispanic/Latinx (more than half of whom ticked 'white' on their census forms). It's not that religion and race are unconnected in the US. The Ku Klux Klan famously has it in for Jews and (historically, at least) Catholics as well as African-Americans. But perhaps since racism in the US has such deep roots and affects so much of the population, it's harder for that word to be extended to other kinds of discrimination.

There may also be something to the idea that religious discrimination is more of its own category in the US, where religion is much more widely and variably practi{c/s}ed. The country was founded on the principle of religious freedom, but not on any principle of racial equality. That said, it's kind of surprising we don't have a widely used single word for religious discrimination, like religionism or faithism. But we don't seem to.

The moral of the story is: races are different in different cultures because (a) those cultures have different histories involving different peoples, and (b) the categori{s/z}ation of people is made up to serve (the power-holders in) those cultures. If you're interested in these kinds of things, I talk about some of them in chapter 7 of The Prodigal Tongue, but also I've written a few blog posts here about race and ethnicity.

Read more

chil(l)i

Hello from the Fifth Conference of the International Society for the Linguistics of English, or #ISLE5, as all the cool kids are tweeting it.  We have an afternoon for touristic activities, but since we're in London, I'm feeling a combination of (orig AmE) 'been there, done that' and 'I could do that any time'. What's not available any time is a bit of quiet to blog. So, yay for everyone else going to Samuel Johnson's House (been there, got the postcards) and for my lovely hotel lounge and wifi. Today's post was started possibly years ago (I've lost track), when Lauren Ackerman asked me about British chilli versus American chili.

I went to my usual first stop: the Oxford English Dictionary. And I am sad to say that the entry for this item has not been fully updated since the first edition in 1889—which is to say, look at those spellings!  (Not blaming them, just sad for my post that they haven't got(ten) to this one yet!)


Yes, chilli is still the BrE spelling for piquant peppers--but giving chilly as the alternative spelling and not the standard AmE chili reads very odd in the 21st century. Chili is acknowledged there as a historical spelling, and is present in the quotation evidence in the entry.  And it's consistently been the more common spelling in the US:

(click to enlarge)

At the conference, I've been at two sessions where someone's called into question the OED tagline, visible at the top of the dictionary screenshot: 'The definitive record of the English language". That's marketing talk, not lexicographical talk, and it's unfortunate. There can be no definitive record of the English language, because there is no definitive English language. It's always varying and changing and you can never know if you've found the first instance of a word or the last one, etc. So here's a little plea (in the form of advice) to the Oxford University Press: If you put most before definitive it would be an accurate tagline. And it would have a marketing-department-friendly superlative in it! Win-win!

As a side-note, there's this little bit of puzzling prescriptivism in the run-on to the entry (i.e. the additional defined items at the end), which seems to have been added later—or at least I'm assuming so, given the AmE spelling (it's hard to tell, though, the link to the previous edition includes none of the run-ons).

I've been trying to figure out what that 'erron.' is referring to. I believe what it's saying is that the "real" meaning of chili pepper is 'pepper tree' and it's an error to use it to refer to chil(l)is, but why does it only have the US spelling? It's not clear to me when this chili pepper was added to the entry, as the link to the 2nd edition does not include all the compounds that are in the run-on entries. But it must be old, as it's not marked as a post-2nd-edition addition.  But it's interesting to see how recent it is to say "chil(l)i pepper":


Anyhow, back to the word itself: it comes ultimately from Nahuatl, with an /l/ sound in the middle. We pronounce it with a 'short i' sound (like in chill). You can see, then why BrE likes the double-L spelling: without a double consonant, it looks like it should have a a different vowel: we say wifi differently than we'd say wiffi; fury versus furry, etc.

So why does AmE have a single L? My educated guess would be because Americans have had more consistent contact with Spanish. When the Spanish went to spell it, they used a single L, because double consonants don't do the same thing in Spanish spelling that they do in English. If you pronounce chilli in Spanish, there's no L sound. (What sound is there depends on your dialect of Spanish, but I learned in my US Spanish classes to pronounce the LL like a 'y' sound.) It stayed Spanish-ish in American, while getting a more English-ish spelling in Britain.

Now, I think that back in the mists of time when Lauren requested a post on chil(l)i, she meant the stew, rather than the fruit. I am not going to wade into the debates about what "real" chil(l)i (con carne) should have. But I will say this: every American I've seen to order the dish in the UK has had a moment of "Whaaaa?" when it was served with rice. Not something we're used to. But nice when you get used to it.

There is another spelling issue here, though. The pepper almost always ends with an i, but the stew sometimes ends with an e. But not much anymore, according to my corpus searches:


And on that note, I'll post this before my battery dies!

Read more

disused

It's been months! Contrary to what's perceptible, I am still a blogger! It's just that in the aftermath of the BOOK, I've had a lot of other writing and public-engaging to do. Much of it is collected here. The most recent piece I've published was in The Guardian, and relates to some of my current research with Rachele De Felice (discussed a bit here). In the midst of all this book-promoting and writing for others, I've had to manage working my 7.5 hours/day at the day job.

So let me slip gently back into blogging, with an nice little adjective suggested to me by Paul, a correspondent who's now lived longer in the US than in his birthplace Britain. He writes:
From the Guardian, this caught my eye:

"This grade I-listed house was built in 1704 and refronted by Robert Adam in 1774-80. Inside, it has a number of ravishing interiors which are still intact. It was sold 10 years ago and since then the house has been disused."

'Disused' by H.L.I.T.

Disused? What's wrong with unused ? :) 

Fairly sure this term has been almost completely replaced by "unused" in AmE.  Obviously, the "dis" prefix has "previously used" as an implication that "unused" lacks. But still ... it really grated on my (inner) hears to read "the house has been disused" and though it worth drawing to your marvellous attention.



(Paul is showing his birthplace there with the double-L in marvellous!)

While it grates on Paul, I find the distinction between unused (connotations of 'pristine') and disused (connotations of 'abandoned') rather useful.

And I'd just not noticed it as British, but (orig. BrE) lookee here:


Very British. So, three possibilities:
  1. It never made it to America (i.e. it was invented after AmE & BrE split).
  2. It existed before British settlement in North America, but fell out of use into disuse in the new place. [Thanks to Tobias in the comments for the improved phrasing.]
  3. It existed before British settlement, but maybe it wasn't part of the vocabulary of the people who settled in the US.
We can rule out option 1 right away. The OED has the current sense of disused back in the 1600s, so it existed for the British to bring it to America. And we can probably rule out number 3, since it seems to have been well used in 19th century AmE:

In the mid-20th century, Americans hardly knew the word at all. (It was an autological word in AmE. Disused was disused!)

But look at it getting bluer in the 2000s. Could it be in the process of a second westward migration?


Read more

The book! The book!

I've been quieter than I'd like to be on this blog, but things have been a bit crazy-hectic-mad getting ready for the release of The Prodigal Tongue: The love-hate relationship between American/British and British/American English. Yes, there are different subtitles depending on which country you buy the book from. There had to be, right?

So I invite you, kind readers, to visit the new website for the book, which has lots of good stuff, including a couple of short quizzes (orig. AmE in that sense) to see how much you know about British and American English. (I will warn you: just because you come from a country doesn't mean you know all of its English!) 

https://theprodigaltongue.com/


If you're thinking about buying the book, please consider (orig. AmE) pre-ordering it (see the buy now link at the website). Pre-orders help authors because they show (BrE) bookshops/(AmE) bookstores and media outlets that it's a book people care about—and so it's more likely to be kept in stock and reviewed.

And let me make a special plea to those who follow the blog and like it. The content that I provide here (and daily on Twitter and less daily on Facebook) is provided for free. It's not part of my day job to write Separated by a Common Language. I started it as an act of love (and procrastination) and all expenses relating to it (e.g. the makeover the blog had a while ago) are out of my own pocket. I do not take advertising money, because nobody wants to see ad(vert)s here. If you like this blog or the Twitter Difference of the Day, and you want to show its author your support, please buy the book and/or ask your local or school library to buy it. (And if you like it, maybe give it as a gift too!)

The book is SO MUCH MORE than the blog has been. It is not a printing of old blog posts. I learned so, so much in writing it, and really think you'll enjoy it. The advance reviews have been amazing so far.

So, please have a look at the site, please consider ordering one (and/or asking a library to do so!), and if you take the quizzes, please share your results on social media!

Thanks for reading! Lynne x  (that x is soooo British)

P.S. SPOILER ALERT: people are talking about the answers to the quizzes in the comments here. So if you're planning to take the quizzes and read the comments, do the quiz part first!





Read more

dull and blunt

This item ran as a Twitter Difference of the Day back in September, and I've been meaning since then to explore it a bit more. My thanks to Colin Fine, who pointed out a Canadian tale of 'the customer isn't always right' story, in which the writer consistently used dull where (British) Colin would have used blunt. Since gradable adjectives are my favo(u)rite kind of word ever, I've been thinking about it on and off since.

'The most important tool' by Simeon Berg,
shared under a Creative Commons licen{s/c}e
I hadn't noticed that British folk talk about blunt knives and not dull knives because Americans can talk about blunt knives too. Hearing blunt knife hadn't bothered me (and I hadn't noticed the lack of dull knives), because I hadn't (BrE) twigged that it means something different in the UK than it means to my American mind. It's one of those differences that can easily hide.

In AmE, blunt is generally used to refer to things that aren't pointy (though they might have been). So, if I poke you with a stick, you would be better off if it were a blunt stick, rather than a sharp, pointy one. Using that meaning, an AmE blunt knife would be one without a sharp tip.

That 'not-pointy-sharp' meaning works in BrE too. In BrE, I could poke you with the sharp end of a pencil or its blunt end. (Stay away from me. I'm clearly in a poking mood.)

But BrE also allows for blunt to be the opposite of sharp when referring to an edge, not just an end. So, blunt knife in that case means that the knife is not good for cutting (whether it's good for poking people with is another matter).

AmE uses dull for the edge, and thus has lexicali{s/z}ed (i.e. put into words) the contrast between the 'edge' and 'end' ways that something can be not-sharp. The chart below shows the nouns that are statistically 'more American' (left, green) and 'more British' (right, green) in the GloWBE corpus. (These are not the nouns that are used most with dull, but the ones that are not used in the other country much. See the 'ratio' column for the strength of the noun's 'Americanness' or 'Britishness' in this context.)  (Dull Tool is scoring so high because 12 of the 18 hits are the title of a Fiona Apple song, which goes 'you're more likely to get hurt by a dull tool than a sharp one'.) The 'more BrE' uses of dull have to do with its 'boring' or 'not bright' senses, which exist in AmE too, but perhaps aren't used as much.



In both Englishes, sharp is the opposite of both dull and blunt in their literal 'cutting' senses. So if we talk about a sharp knife in either English (or a blunt knife in BrE), then it's ambiguous as to whether we're talking about the edge or the tip, but context often lets us know. If you're talking about cutting vegetables, the edge is more relevant; if you're talking about poking people, you're probably describing the tip. Where the context is not enough, you'll have to use more words to make it clear—e.g. The tip of that knife is really sharp. AmE doesn't have that ambiguity in the 'not-sharp' end of its vocabulary: the choice of dull or blunt disambiguates it.



Read more

2017 UK-to-US Word of the Year: shitgibbon

This is the second of my 2017 Word of the Year posts. For the US>UK winner, see yesterday's post.

A Pinterest page credits this
photo to Josef Gelernter



As I said then, there's always a choice--do I go for the (BrE) slow burner that's been wheedling its way into the other country, or do I go for something that was splashy in the news? I went for the slow burner for US-to-UK because it really did seem to resonate in 2017. But I couldn't find as good a reason to promote any of the UK-to-US slowburners (and there are a lot of them--as Ben Yagoda's been tracking) to special status for 2017. So I'm going way back to February when I tweeted this:
Yes, for its (ok, flash-in-the-pan) newsworthiness, I'm declaring the 2017 UK-to-US Word of the Year to be:

shitgibbon

 It made the news because a Pennsylvania senator tweeted:

Leach was apparently inspired to use this term because it had previously been applied to Trump by protesters in Scotland when he visited there in 2016. For example:



Now,  there is some similarity between this winner and yesterday's US>UK runner-up mugwump, in that they are both funny-sounding insults hurled by one politician at another. But mugwump wasn't a winner because people in the UK aren't going (BrE) about/(AmE) around using the word mugwump just because one politician did. Shitgibbon, on the other hand, has stuck. Searching it just now on Twitter, I get it in about a half-dozen American tweets per hour. ([AmE] Your mileage may vary, especially depending on the hour and your timezone.) Mostly, the tweets have noun phrases like orange shitgibbon and refer to the very same person as in Leach's tweet. But the usage does seem to drift a bit, with, for instance, reference to "shitgibbon trolls"—which may be a way of calling the trolls 'Trumpist', or it may just be used generally to insult them.
 
This post is very indebted to Ben Zimmer's Strong Language/Slate post linked-to in the first tweet above. But do have a look at it for more on the linguistics of the word. At that point Ben had traced the epithet to UK users on music bootlegging sites in 2000. With a little more digging and a little help from UK journalist David Quantick, Ben was able to confirm the word's existence in 1990, when it was used in the pages of the British music magazine NME. His follow-up article is here.

Shitgibbon joins wanker and bollocks in the ranks of UK>US WotYs that help keep this blog banned in schools. Americans do seem particularly attracted to British "bad" words.
Read more

2017 US-to-UK Word of the Year: (television) season

It's that time of year again. The time when everyone's too busy doing fun things in real life to read blogs. Yet I persevere in announcing my Words of the Year here at the butt-end of the year because I don't want to be unfair to December. (And, of course, I'm doing too much teaching to even think about it any earlier.)

As ever, the point of the SbaCL Words of the Year is to note the riches (or rags) that American and British English bring to each other. A SbaCL WotY is not a new word, and it may not even be a newly borrowed word, but it's a word from one of my countries that has been particularly relevant to the other of my countries in that year. Sometimes they're in the news, sometimes they've been building up a presence for years and just needed a little acknowledgement.

The finalists (in my mind) for this year's US-to-UK WotY were of each of these types. The loser is mugwump: a now-obscure Americanism briefly lifted out of the shadows when lexical dilettante (that's the nicest phrase I have for him) Foreign Secretary (that's the most preposterous phrase I have for him) Boris Johnson called the head of the Labour Party "a mutton-headed old mugwump". Since that's not the word I've chosen, I'll leave you to go and read (or watch a video) about it elsewhere.

But the winner, which has been building up some steam for years, will hang around longer than Johnson's antique epithet. It is:

 season 


...to refer to a group of broadcast program(me)s released under the same title in a particular time period. It's tricky to define without using the word series, but one must, because that is the word (or one sense of it) that season competes with in BrE.

Now, I have written about the difference between AmE season versus BrE series before, so I won't do it all again and I encourage you to click on the link to read a more detailed post. To cut a long difference short, the British way would be to say "I haven't seen the second series of Stranger Things (so no spoilers, please!)", but in AmE that doesn't quite make sense because Stranger Things is the series, and the part of it that is 'second' is a season of that series. To unnecessarily throw in some terms of my trade, in AmE season is a meronym of AmE series (it is in the 'part-of' relation), whereas in BrE, AmE season is used as a synonym for BrE series.

British television-watchers (that is to say, almost everyone on this island) have long been familiar with the American sense of season—after all, lots of American television program(me)s are imported to UK television. But what's tipped it into WotY territory are the streaming services, especially Netflix, which often releases an entire season/series of a (AmE) show at one time, enabling serious binge-watching. And on Netflix, they are called seasons. Even when they're BBC products like Uncle here.  (Can you see the '2 Seasons' there under the title on Netflix?) Meanwhile on BBC iPlayer, it's on 'Series 3'. (It's also a lovely comedy and if you like lovely comedies you might want to give it a chance.)

The reasons for calling it a season are rather irrelevant in the days of streaming--when 12 episodes show up on a single day, rather than unfolding over months. But the nice thing about season is that it avoids the ambiguity that arises from the two possible interpretations of series.
 
The AmE term is showing up more and more in British newspapers--including the Telegraph (one of the papers that publishes a lot of complaints about Americanisms). This chart shows how 'ordinal-number+season of' (which, on this corpus's tagging system includes last season of and next season of) has been faring in UK news websites (via the NOW corpus).

The charts look similar for other searches like 'season+cardinal number+of". Of course, there are other types of seasons besides television seasons in these data, but the television ones predominate, as can be seen from this sample of the 2017-B section of the corpus (click to biggify it):


Sports seasons come up once in a while, but the instances of season are mostly about television seasons.

I should note here that Netflix is an equal-opportunity word-spreader. Only a couple of years ago, it was being blamed for Americans saying queue.


So there we go. The first SbaCL WotY of 2017! Many thanks to @eahird for nominating it. Stay tuned for the UK>US WotY. As soon as I decide what it is!

Read more

Untranslatable October VII summary

Better late than never (I hope) here is the summary of the SEVENTH 'Untranslatable October'—my
annual tweeting of an 'British–American untranslatable' (that is, item lexicalized in one national dialect and not the other) on each weekday. If you'd like to complain that any of the following does not qualify as 'untranslatable', please first read my provisos about what's meant by untranslatable in this context. Yes, it's an imperfect word for the situation. But so is nearly every other word in nearly every situation.

BrE safeguarding legalistic processes for protecting vulnerable people. See Wikipedia for description. (Starting to be seen in US, but nowhere as prevalent/broad.) Suggested by @Gnorrn

AmE podunk (adj.) - There are lots of words for small towns or remote places, but podunk is interesting for its use as an adjective, describing to a place of little importance, as in: Her degree is from some podunk college.  Suggested by @kirkpoore.

The 2016 gurning competition winner
at the Egremont Crab Fa
ir
BrE to gurn - to make (or BrE pull) a grotesque face. (In Scotland the word also means 'complain peevishly'.) Gurning competitions are a long-held tradition, particularly in Cumbria.


AmE shut-in (n.) - a person confined to their own home due to (physical or mental) infirmity.

BrE health and safety - it refers to safety regulations, but the phrase's cultural importance goes far beyond what a phrase like OSHA regulations would do in the US. Sometimes mocked as Elf and Safety, a joke that takes advantage of two Londony dialect features: h-dropping and th-fronting (th->f).


AmE blue-ribbon - as in blue-ribbon panel. Not the same meaning as winning a prize, it's about people who are chosen on the basis of their high reputation for some other activity. See Wikipedia.


BrE fry-up - a breakfast of separate, mostly fried foods, usually including eggs, sausages, bacon, some starch, and, around here, tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans. Now, this is a debatable inclusion, as it could be argued that the fry-up itself doesn't exist in the US. We'd never put some of those things on a breakfast plate. I took the position here that a full English (breakfast) (which is sometimes treated as a synonym of fry-up) would not be a legal untranslatable for my purposes, because it assumes certain types of ingredients and breakfasts with those ingredients are not found in the US (so the US doesn't have the expression because it doesn't have the thing). But since fry-up is more ambiguous about what's on the plate, and Americans do eat fried, separate foods on a plate for breakfast (especially in diners) and we don't have a word for it (other than listing the things on the plate), it counts as something that could be an expression there but isn't. Suggested by @mhanson62 

AmE recuse - to challenge in a legal context on the grounds of conflict of interest. Hence to recuse oneself: to remove oneself from discussion or position so as to avoid conflict of interest. I got complaints about this one because Englishfolk thought "but it's a word we use all the time". But really, it wasn't until recently a word that Brits (except for Scottish legal types) had much exposure to.  I know because I wrote a blog post about it 10 years ago.
Hanging out on the stoop in NYC. Image from here.

BrE parp - an onomatopoetic word for (as opposed to a straight imitation of) the noise of a fart (unlike raspberry, refers only to the fart-noise, not to the imitative lip-noise)

AmE stoop - the front steps of a (porchless) house. Used especially in northeastern US, borrowed from Dutch

BrE lock-in - a time when customers are locked in a pub (by their agreement!) to continue drinking after legal drinking hours. Suggested by @lilyglowember

AmE lock-in - an event in which teens are locked into a church/school/community cent{er/re} for a night of wholesome fun, study, or fundraising. wiseGEEK has more.  (Suggested by many people after the BrE lock-in.)

BrE break one's duck - (of an individual, usually) to score a first point. Explained further by World Wide Words. Suggested by @lawwife2005

AmE padiddle Also: pediddle, or as we said it in my family, perdiddle. It's a game in which you call out the word and possibly kiss or punch (depending on whether it's with your sweetheart or siblings) the person next to you when you see a car with a headlight out. (In my family, it was perdiddle for a headlight, padaddle for a tail light. By extension, it becomes a name for a car with a faulty light (and that's the meaning I'm deeming the Untranslatable). Here's Wikipedia on it.  Suggested by @sethadelman

BrE a good degree - an undergraduate degree that is easily 'usable' for employment or (post)graduate study. Which is to say, a first or 2:1 (pronounced 'two-one') in the English degree classification system. US degrees are not classified, but instead students' transcripts, with grade-point averages, are used as evidence of academic success. There's no cut-off between the 'good' and the 'bad'.

AmE chicken scratch - cramped, illegible handwriting. Some discussion as to whether BrE spider scrawl is the same. To me they bring up different images of the type of writing, but maybe they are close enough to count as translatable. Several correspondents pointed out that there are chicken-related expressions for bad handwriting in many languages.

BrE well that’s me told then - a passive-aggressive response given when the responder finds their interlocutor patroni{s/z}ing. On Twitter we discussed whether AmE That'll teach me! is the same, but there was some agreement that, as @xtnjohnson put it, "that’ll teach me implies some genuine self-reproach — this [BrE} phrase deftly shifts focus to the other party". But thinking further on it now, I think the usage is translatable as:  I stand corrected.

AmE bully pulpit - a position of political power from which one can 'inspire or moralize' World Wide Words covered it here.

BrE fall between two stools - to either not be or not take one of two good alternatives

AmE to go stag - (for a man) to go to an event without a date. Suggested by @SimonKoppel

BrE the family home - a legalistic term that's become common in journalism. The Shelter charity offers a definition and discussion here.  Suggested by @cococoyote.   pointed out that primary residence might serve as a US legal equivalent, but that doesn't have the traction or connotations that family home has beyond the courtroom.

Of course, on the first of November, I started having ideas for next year's list--but I am pretty sure I'll reduce to a week then. It is definitely more work than my usual Differences of the Day.

Today is the last day of the Term from Hell. I should be posting more regularly in the new year. (Thank you to a few people who expressed concern for my well-being because of the lack of posts!) Next up will be the Word of the Year posts, for US-to-UK and UK-to-US words that have made a splash in 2017. Nominations still welcome!


Read more

optional commas

I was tweet-talking with Lane Greene this morning about whether Americans' love for/Britons' indifference to optional commas can be quantified. And so I did a little experiment. And so I'm going to tell you about it.

For this I'm comparing the British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English. (They're not 100% comparable, but they'll do.) In the BNC, there's on average 1 comma for every 20 words written. In COCA, it's 1:15. So, there are a lot more commas in the American corpus. (I tried this on the GloWBE corpus too, and got about 10% more commas in AmE than BrE–but it's harder to know in GloWBE that the writers are from the country that they're categori{s/z}ed in.)

That doesn't tell us that Americans like optional commas more, though. That could mean that Americans like the grammatical constructions that require commas more than Brits do. Or it could mean that Americans write longer lists than Brits do. To really know, we need to look in contexts where the comma might occur and see if it's there. I did this for one context last year and found that my American friends were about twice as likely to use a comma (versus not using one) in the phrase "Happy Birthday(,) Lynne", and my British friends patterned in the opposite way.


So here are a few more contexts.

After a short, sentence-initial adverbial: If you want to modify a sentence with 'when, where, why or how', you can use a prepositional phrase or an adverb. Usually, these wouldn't have commas around them, but, at the start of the sentence, they often do, to mark the particular prosodic (intonational) pattern that goes with such phrases and to help the reader know that the subject of the sentence has not turned up yet.

To look at this, I decided to try sentences that start with phrases like "In 1973..." So I searched the corpora for:
. In 19* (,) the
That is to say, a (BrE) full stop/(AmE) period followed by in followed by anything starting with 19 (which ended up just being year-names), then a comma or no comma, then the word the. The the ensures that I'm not getting longer phrases at the start. So every hit is something like "In 1973(,) the band released their best album" and not things like "In 190 years of customer service at their Oxford Street branch (,) they'd never before killed a customer". That way, I've got a uniform set of short sentence-initial adverbials. (The longer ones are more apt to have commas in BrE; it's just the short adverbials I'm testing.)

And this is what you get:


comma            none         ratio
UK      495 1095    1:2
US       3445 1449   2:1

In other words, (more than) twice as many commas as not in AmE, and the opposite in BrE—just as we found in the birthday vocatives. (The US corpus is much larger than the UK one, so it works best to compare the ratios between countries.)

On to the next context:
You can visit the Oxford Comma on Twitter
Pic by @rcasinelli

The serial/Oxford comma: I was once one of those people who thought that having a firm stand on the Oxford comma was a good thing. I now think it's pretty silly. We don't need tribalism in punctuation any more than we need tribalism in the rest of life. But oh well. There's a lot of it if you hang out in the part of Twitter that I hang out in.

A quick definition for those outside the punctuation-culture wars: the serial, or Oxford, comma is a comma before the conjunction (usually and or or) in a list of three or more. So:
Oxford:  I like blogs, dictionaries, and world peace.
Non-Oxford:  I like blogs, dictionaries and world peace.

Serial comma is the older (1922), orig.-AmE name for the thing. The term Oxford comma (after the Oxford University Press) is newer (1951) and now the more popular term in the US. Why? Because, as Mary Norris, in her Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, puts it: Oxford “gives it a bit of class, a little snob appeal”. And that's what the punctuation-culture wars are about.  FiveThirtyEight found that Americans who prefer the Oxford comma tend to pat themselves on the back about their grammar knowledge. John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun (quoted at last link) concludes that “Feigned passion about the Oxford comma, when not performed for comic effect, is mere posturing.”


Anyhow, Americans do have a reputation among editors for liking that comma more than Brits do.  
Is the reputation well founded?

I looked in the aforementioned corpora for
butter , [noun] (,) and [noun]       
men , women (,) and children
Why butter? Because if I tried to search for "noun, noun(,) and noun", the computer couldn't cope. I needed to stick a particular noun in there to bring the amount of data down. The second phrase gives me more data to work with, but since it's a set phrase, I didn't want to use just it in case it garbled the results. (In the end, there are apparently fewer discussions of ingredients in the BNC than COCA, so the butter examples didn't do much for the numbers. But I have to leave it at that because I need to get back to work.)

 And I found:


Oxford comma      none          ratio    
UK      4+1124+124     1:10
US       109+310129+434    1:1.3

So, it is true that Americans use the Oxford comma more than Brits do. But it's not true that Americans use the Oxford comma more than not.

And if you grew up in the US at the same time as I did, thinking about lists containing butter might make you think of this Sesame Street gem, now stuck in my head for the rest of the day:


Read more

sightedness

It's the last morning of my (BrE) holiday/(AmE) vacation—off to the airport in less than two hours. But Will W just pre-wrote for me most of a blog post, so I'm going to take advantage and get another post up before I land back in work reality.

Here's what Will wrote:

Struggling to see the screen, holding my iPad at arm's length, I looked up 'long sighted' on Wikipedia, and it unexpectedly delivered me to 'far-sightedness'.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Far-sightedness

Further consults with Dr Google, ignoring variations in spelling or hyphenation, suggested a national tendency to interpret the phrases metaphorically or literally.
And then he put his findings into a table, with ?? in some boxes. I've taken the ??s out and filled in the terms and meanings he didn't know (and made a few other editing changes for my own happiness). I've also added the OED's date of first citation for each of them, so you can see how they relate to one another


British English American English
long-sighted • hyperopic (holds reading matter far away) [1737: not its first meaning] ——
far-sighted anticipates future events correctly [1641] • anticipates future events correctly
• hyperopic [1878]
short-sighted • lacking foresight [1622]
• myopic (has to hold reading matter close) [1641]
lacking foresight
near-sighted —— myopic [1686]
As it happens, it's the 2nd anniversary
of me getting these glasses


Some things to note about these:
  • The more 'figurative' sense of looking into the future precedes the physiological sense in all cases where both exist.
  • All of these terms were invented in Britain. If you do hear long-sighted in AmE it will probably be figurative. But it just doesn't turn up much.
  • The 'hyperopic' sense of far-sighted might have originated in US, but OED does not provide much info about it, as the entry has not been fully updated since 1895. Their only citation for it is from the Encyclopædia Britannica, which at that point was published in Edinburgh. In 1895, the OED's coverage of Americanisms was not what it is today.
  • Will had listed the terms in the table without hyphens. I had to put the hyphens in, because I'm that kind of person. Oxford Dictionaries like the hyphens, Merriam-Webster writes them as one word, no hyphen, e.g. nearsighted.
  • Hyperopia seems to be the more common opposite for myopia today, but in the UK (less so in the US) you also find hypermetropia. The two words have been in competition since the mid-1800s.
If you have any of these conditions, you may need glasses. If you're American, you'll sometimes call them eyeglasses, and if you're British, you may sometimes call them specs (or less often/more old-fashionedly) spectacles. What you call the people from whom and places where you get glasses is a matter for a separate blog post—but at this point I really need to get dressed to go to the airport!


Will also asked about AmE seeing eye dog. In the UK, these are known as guide dogs for the blind. Guide dog is understandable in AmE as well.

Read more

The book!

Follow by email

View by topic

Twitter

Abbr.

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