diaries and datebooks

Amanda wrote to ask if her Irish English experience crosses over to BrE:
I am from California, but I was recently given the opportunity to spent two months in Ireland. I heard people there use the word diary to describe what I would call a planner or personal calendar. It was so funny to me to hear an adult male say, "I'll write that in my diary." I think of the personal journal of teenaged girl where she writes about her most recent crush when I hear the word "diary."
Indeed, outside North America, diary is the typical way to refer to what I used to call a (AmE) datebook. (To me, planner is what the stationery companies call them, not what real people call them...but maybe people are more like stationery companies in California.) Diary conveniently verbs into diarise (or diarize), as in:
We invite you to diarise the RWL5 conference and submit abstracts for consideration for papers, symposia and posters. (from here)
AmE lacks a similar verb for recording an appointment. We can (as can BrE speakers) pencil something in, which implies that the appointment is not yet fixed, but we don't have a nice verb for making a definite commitment. Maybe Americans are commitmentphobes. Maybe that's why we won't let a president serve more than two terms. (But thank goodness for that!)

can also in BrE (as in AmE) mean the kind of blank book in which one records the events, thoughts and feelings of one's day, as does journal (though the OED says that journal usually refers to something more elaborate than a diary). Not that girls write in diaries anymore. They write blogs and myspace pages. Maybe this is a good thing, since diary-writing makes you sick! (well, maybe.)


  1. I had a problem with that when I moved to the US from New Zealand. I realized it was wrong in AmE to use "diary" to refer to the book I carry around and write appointments in, but I had no clue what the appropriate term was, which is rare. One person offered me "planner", but another wanted to use that only to refer to a wall-planner (like a calendar with no picture)... now I just avoid referring to the item at all. I may try "datebook" now you have given me that idea though.

    People in NZ would say they are going to put something in their diary, but they would not use diaris(z)e outside of a very formal context I don't think.

  2. I would call it a "calendar".

  3. I've been to two British schools in Hong Kong (primary school and secondary school), and in both schools a student planner (to be clear, the book for writing down a list of each day's homework) was called a "diary".

    In my introduction to secondary school (when I was in year 6), I talked to another girl from another primary school (all the primary schools visiting that secondary school were British), and apparently they didn't use the word "diary" in this sense in her school, because one thing she noticed about me was that I "write down what homework I have in my diary". She must've thought that it was a "diary" as in a "journal".

    I later moved to Sydney, and in my high school in Sydney we had "chronicles", but apparently it was just my school, and "diary" is more common. I'm in university now, and I've been given one of those too, and it has "diary" printed on it.

  4. From the link about diaries making one sick:
    “In fact, you’re probably much better off if you don’t write anything at all,”

    Everything good has a price, I guess. Aside from that pith, I'll add that it seems to imply that it doesn't really matter whether one writes in a diary, or makes extended grocery lists.

  5. Then there's that odd beastie, the University Calendar.

  6. AmE lacks a similar verb for recording an appointment.

    "I put you in (on?) my calendar," is what this Californian says.

  7. As a BrE-speaker, a calendar is a glossy thing which hangs by string from a bent nail in the wall with details of Northern Ireland bank-holidays and colour pictures of The Toads of Wales. The spaces on the calendar are way too small to contain even a hint of the detail of my pulsating urban social life. Such calendars may alternatively carry an advertisement for the Lotus Blossom Chinese takeaway in Neasden or for O'Reilly's building-firm for which, it would appear, no job is too large or, for that matter, too small.

    In BrE, diaries can also be journals as well as appointment-books. Gwendolen in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest says: "I never travel without my diary. One
    should always have something sensational to read in the train."

  8. I mean a calendar in the sense described here:-

  9. My (BrE) uni doesn't have a 'University Calendar' of this sort (i.e. a list of regulations). It looks like this is another case of Scotland having its own set of bureaucratic terms. If you search 'university calendar' on .uk sites on Google, the universities south of the border seem to have calendars of events, while the Scottish ones have regulatory documents.

  10. I hear people call it an agenda book, agenda, planner, dayplanner. I've never heard "diary, "calendar" or "datebook". I personally use "agenda".

  11. The English unis are the strangest places.

  12. I just ran across the word diarise a few weeks ago when doing a translation for a website called diarised. I had no idea what that word meant until someone taught me the word.

    As for a "diary". To me a diary is a personal journal for recording thoughts and events. In Oregon we use "dayplanner", "planner", "agenda" or "calendar". I'd never heard "diary" or "datebook" used for this.

  13. I think we've discovered a pattern here. I'm here with a fellow US northeasterner, who says datebook. It must be an east coast/west coast difference...

  14. But in Washington DC, northern Virginia, and throughout the southeastern US, I always hear planner or agenda. I've seen datebook in print, but never heard it in spoken conversation.

    I've also heard planners referred to simply as calendars.

  15. I'll have to remember these differences for when I travel. :)

    Seriously, thanks for this blog, It's very entertaining and enlightening.

  16. OK, so datebook seems to be specifically northeastern.

  17. I just noticed this book of "Canadianisms" in our local bookstore and thought you might be interested.

    I have to say, I didn't recognise/use all of them, although a number of others I was stunned to discover are not used by the world at large!


    I've been lurking for a while & wanted to let you know I enjoy the blog.

    Also - slightly more on topic - we use diary and day-planner interchangeably.

  18. As a lifelong Midwesterner, I would first say either "planner" and then maybe "datebook."

  19. I'm another Californian who uses "planner" but also, and I can't explain why, "Filofax."

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. To this 20-something U.S. midwesterner, "datebook" and "Filofax" (brand of day planner) both sound old-fashioned. Planner, day planner, calendar, agenda, as well as brands such as Day Runner are all comprehensible. Calendar seems to be the simplest (dates/times only), with planners having address and note sections, and agendas kind of in between. Many people use a "PDA" or "Palm" instead of only a planner.

  22. I think my AmE use of the word 'schedule' as a verb might encompass the sense of 'diarise.' In fact, I definitely call my datebook a 'schedule' sometimes. I'm pretty sure this isn't very good BrE usage.

  23. I am writing from Brazil where I teach English as a foreign language. I found this discussion most enlightening as many of my students tend to use 'agenda', since this is the Portuguese equivalent. I wonder however if anyone is familiar or happen to actually use the term 'appointment book' for a planner, or is this term generally preferred by stationery businesses?
    Thank you!

  24. Appointment book would certainly be understood, but you're correct that it sounds like something one would find in a stationery catalog(ue), rather than in colloquial speech.

  25. As a Brit, I'd had no idea that 'diary' isn't used in that sense in the US, so this was interesting to read.

    I'm curious about the mentions of 'agenda' being used in this sense in the US. The way I would interpret agenda is as a (generally formal, printed out) schedule of events, usually for a meeting or conference. Common phrases would include 'put it on the agenda' or 'here's the agenda for the day'. Is this meaning of agenda used in the US, too, please?

    (I'm hoping someone answers this, as I know it's a very old post!)

  26. (Having to rewrite as Blogger appears to have lost my comment... sigh.)

    As a Brit, I've been interested by the suggestions people have given for what we would call 'diaries'. To my mind, a 'calendar' is something you hang on the wall (one page per month, with pretty pictures and not much room to write on, if any at all) while the closest I can think of to 'planner' is a 'wall planner' which is one very big sheet put on the wall with a small box to write in for every day of the year.

    'Agenda' is the one that interested me the most, though, because to my mind an agenda is a schedule of topics/activities (usually fairly formalised and in print) for a meeting or conference. Alternatively it could be used in the context of someone "having an agenda" (acting in a way that benefits their particular wishes/cause/ideology/etc) or the (I suppose related) "political agenda". Does the US have all of these uses too?

  27. Yes, that sense of 'agenda' is used in the US.

  28. (Just to note: if you thought your comment was lost because it didn't appear immediately, that's because comments to old posts are moderated in order to reduce spam. I've left both here.)

  29. I'm clearly VERY late to the party here (working my way through the archives slowly since discovering your blog)!

    But for what it's worth, I went to school in south-east England, and a planner is what we were given by the school to write our homework in and make notes etc.

  30. Might this be a case that has been affected by the transition from paper-based calendars/diaries/etc. to software equivalents (Microsoft Office, Google Calendar, Yahoo Calendar and others)?

    Have you noticed any significant increase in the use of "Calendar" in "Diary"-centric locales since this post was first published?

    In AmE, "calendar" is seeing increasing use as a verb, not just as an object.


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