packing peanuts and monkey nuts

How am I avoiding marking/grading? Let me count the ways... Every time I finish a dissertation (which in AmE would be called a thesis, since it's an undergraduate piece; thesis and dissertation are used in reverse ways in BrE and AmE), I reward myself by going on-line. I probably read more on-line in my breaks than I read on paper in the work times (which means that the work times then extend through the night in order to stay on schedule). It's just so much more pleasant to read things that don't involve me having to make a formal judg(e)ment about them, which I'll later have to defend to someone else (second examiner, external examiner) and which I'll later have to live with--and live with the knowledge that someone else has to live with it. Don't get me wrong, I'm reading some really good work, but still I find the process emotionally draining.

But I've taken so many reading breaks that I've pretty much read the Internet now. Well, everything in my bookmarks, at least. So on this little dissertation break, I'll write instead of reading. Some time ago, I ripped the following bit from the Guardian, intending to write about it later. (Welcome to Later.) It's from a piece in the Work section on April Fool's pranks for the office:
Fill a desk with peanuts
According to the interweb, Americans love filling other people's desk drawers with peanuts. Handy for a snack--but read the small print. These are packing peanuts (whatever they are), and therefore not edible. Ridiculous! I'll be going straight for the dry-roasted KPs [a UK brand of peanut--L]. Open those drawers wide. [Vicky Frost, 'Pick a prank for the delayed April Fool', The Guardian, 31 Mar 2007]
Now, usually I will defend the Grauniad, but here I cannot. Vicky Frost, what kind of reporter are you if you have to write "whatever they are" in an article? (OK, an article that is meant to be taken as humorous, but an article nonetheless.) Research, darling, research! (This is starting to feel like marking/grading. Uh-oh.)

I was reminded to find and write about this item (in my staggering tower of things to write about) when BH and I walked by a packing supply shop/store the other day. Its sign advertised that it sells loosefill. Now, this is trade jargon (used in the US too), not BrE particularly, but it gave me cause to ask BH "Is that what you'd call packing peanuts?" and he guessed that it would be the name for them, though not a word that he'd necessarily use. He'd probably just call them annoying polystyrene (=AmE styrofoam) bits, or some such thing. (The photo of a particularly miscellaneous collection of packing peanuts comes from this blog.)

Packing peanuts are so-called in AmE because of their typical shape, like a whole peanut (i.e. with its shell on). Perhaps this name is not so transparent in BrE because the word peanut is generally restricted to the shelled nuts (technically not nuts, but legumes; but since this isn't a botany blog, we'll just call them nuts). The shell-on version are sold as monkey nuts. (Stop that tittering!) Packing monkey nuts just doesn't have the same ring. (Photo 'borrowed' from this blog.)

Incidentally, I haven't run into cornstarch "peanuts" in the UK, though they are a wonderful invention, as they melt in water, making them completely biodegradable. Of course, it's the corn (BrE maize) growers of America, trying to find more things for us to do with corn/maize, that are behind this--so not terribly surprising that you don't find them here. (Just as you're more likely to find cars running on ethanol in the US.) Still, I really like them, as they're relatively guilt-free packaging.

P.S. I had a Canadian count double-whammy yesterday (at a Scrabble tournament--these happen often in Scrabble contexts). A player (whom I've known for a few years now) expressed surprise when I mentioned going to the US to see my family. She said "Oh, you're not Canadian?" And then added "I told A [another player from her town] that you were American, but he was so insistent that you were Canadian..." So, those are numbers 8 and 9 on the Canadian count.


  1. I love that while you are blogging while taking a break from marking/grading, I am blogging while avoiding writing my final LING900 assignment (term paper? Dissertation?).

    There's something about text analysis that requires me to take 10 mins break, every 10 mins...better get back to it.

  2. One of my mail-order clients used to call those white styrofoam peanuts "ghost poop."

  3. m, it's only a dissertation if it's the culminating item in your degree. Otherwise, it's a term paper or essay. Happy procrastination!

  4. In Cambridge (Cambs), a dissertation is the document you submit, a thesis is the argument it embodies. This usage will probably soon be at one with Nineveh and Tyre.

  5. flashgordonnz21 May, 2007 20:44

    I wonder if people pick you as Canadian, because you are "far too nice to be an American"?!

  6. So, Cambridge's traditional language is the same as American for doctoral degrees (and thesis can mean an argument in either dialect), but...their use of thesis and dissertation is very confusing at this site, since they at times seem to use the terms interchangeably--i.e. referring to both the dissertation and the thesis as something that can be submitted.

    Flash, I'm sure there are many people who would be glad to provide evidence against that hypothesis.

  7. Shows the sort of cloth-eared people that Cambridge hires nowadays. Nineveh and Tyre, I say.

  8. In mathematics in the US, PhD dissertations are essentially always called theses. For instance, Tate's thesis is always called that. No one even remembers what the title was.

  9. I'm sure that there's a lot of local and disciplinary variation on this point, but in referring to Tate's thesis, you're probably as much referring to the argument in it as to the object that was submitted.

    Math(s) dissertations/theses are known for having less exposition than other disciplines'. For instance, I used to be in the acquaintance of someone who did a PhD in math(s) whose thesis was about 40 pages (compared to a typical 200 in linguistics). It was essentially a proof. So, in that case the thing that you submit is the structure of your argument (thesis) and not much else. I'd assume it varies by the type of mathematics involved, the place where one did the doctoral work, etc.

  10. Horribly Curious24 May, 2007 04:53

    So now I'm wondering if the UK has Mr. Peanut, and if they do, I wanna know if he's called Mr. Monkey Nut.

  11. Planter's is not a big brand here now, but it seems to have had more presence in the past. Better Half knows the character, but not his name. That his name is known here is clear from this story.

    I should say (as Margaret at Transblawg has pointed out) that the things can be called peanuts here too. She thinks that monkey nuts on packaging is a recent phenomenon. The term monkey nuts goes back into the 19th century, but it does have an air of colloquialism about it.

  12. I'm not sure about the use of Monkey Nuts on packaging - but I remember calling them Monkey Nuts 45 (or so) years ago. However I think they were probably sold loose then.

  13. Here's an experiment for you:

    Ask people who speak a variety of different Englishes to draw (in outline) a peanut.

    I've had both monkey-nut and shelled-nut shapes from my BrE informants so far, but I've only asked two, so that doesn't count for much.

  14. Just discovered this Blog a few days ago and find it extremely interesting. I'm a Brit (Welsh), living in Illinois with an American wife.

    This post did have me wondering "What on earth did I call Packing Peanuts before I moved here?". Thinking back (very hard), if I called them anything it was Polystyrene Chips, but I don't know if that was a generally accepted term.

    In this instance I think the American term is far superior (I don't always :) )

  15. There is also now packing popcorn, real popcorn popped and dyed purple to discourage people from eating it (you could, but it's stale and has neither salt nor butter, naturally enough). Highly biodegradable, and yet another product of the corn/maize industry.

  16. I've finally spotted biodegradable cornstarch 'peanuts' in the UK. Better Half received a gift hamper from Fortnum and Mason today, and it came packed with the stuff.

  17. When I was in college I had a job in a high-end liquor store, and part of my job was to pack these rarified gift-baskets for shipping. My boss, who was African-American, called this packing material "squirrels".

  18. In Australia, monkey nuts are not peanuts at all. Monkey nuts are pine nuts.

    Until now, I didn't know that monkey nuts refer to peanuts in other countries.

  19. On the thesis vs dissertation discussion, at my uni (and possibly the whole of New Zealand) a thesis is what you write for you PhD, and a dissertation is what you write for PostGrad / Honours studies. Anything in your normal bachelors degree is just called an essay...

    and we call both the shell-on and shell-off varieties peanuts, and I would call the "packing peanuts" polystyrene bits. Although I doubt thats the technical term.

  20. In the UK, the distinction between undergrad and honours (a year after the basic BA) isn't made (anymore?). We had the same in South Africa, but not here. So, what you're calling an honours dissertation, we'd call a final-year dissertation or something like that. Taught MAs have dissertations at the end, research masters have theses.

  21. The present participle, in American English, requires the possessive pronoun. "My" preparing a thesis would be correct; "me" preparing a thesis ordinarily would not, unless the person to which the pronoun refers is the object of some transitive verb. For some of us octogenarians this is a point of grammatical propriety.

  22. When the packing things are made of cornstarch, does that mean they actually are Wotsits?


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