baby talk: introducing Grover...

Being rather superstitious, I didn't mention the reason why I spent most of the last 6 weeks in (the) hospital, but now that there's a happy outcome, I'm thrilled to say that I'm back...and I've brought someone with me. Better Half and I are pleased to announce the birth of our daughter, who, for the sake of her tiny privacy, will be referred to here as "Grover". That's what we called her in utero, before we knew she was a girl. I've mentioned before that one can often guess the nationality of an English speaker by their given name, and it would seem that Grover is one that marks an American (not that many Americans are named Grover these days; a great pity, I think). Many BrE speakers didn't seem to recogni{s/z}e it as a human name, confusing it with Rover. (And we'd say, "As in Grover Washington, Grover Cleveland...").

Grover had to be born five weeks early because of her mother's scary blood pressure, and consequently she's tiny (2kg --approx. 4 lbs, 6 oz). Happily, due in large part to the wonderful care we were given, she was born healthy and perfectly formed. (Three cheers for the antenatal staff at the Royal Sussex County Hospital!) Already, she's given us plenty of opportunities for dialectal comparison. For example, AmE tends to prefer prenatal (as in prenatal care, etc.) and BrE, antenatal. A popular informal term for premature babies in AmE is preemie (rhymes with see me), whereas in BrE it's prem (rhymes with stem). The hospital staff seemed to have their own language for talking about small babies--on meeting Grover, they'd exclaim that she was "a diddy one" or that she was especially tiddly. Diddy is originally a Liverpudlian colloquialism (meaning 'tiny'), but it now seems well-established in the world of midwifery here in the Southeast. BrE tiddly ('tiny') is similarly colloquial. I'd never heard those two syllables used outside the game name tiddlywinks--but that use is related to a set of different meanings for tiddly: 'an alcoholic drink' (noun) or 'a bit drunk' (adjective).

Due to my hospitali{s/z}ation, shopping for baby was left mostly to Better Half, kind friends and family, and that's probably not a bad thing, since there are lots and lots of AmE/BrE vocabulary differences in the 'baby equipment' semantic field. Here, to demonstrate, is a list of essential supplies for new babies, cobbled from a few different UK/US website baby shopping lists. Many of these we've seen on the links to see where we've seen them before:

Moses basket
cotton swabs
cotton buds
cotton (balls, etc.)
cotton wool
nipples (for baby bottles)
t-shirt [undershirt]

Another new thing/term that I've learnt about is muslin squares, which are billed as a babycare necessity on many UK advice sites. I wondered why I'd never heard of these in the US (though maybe they are sold as such now--my baby-handling AmE vocab may not be up-to-date). The answer is: because they're basically used for the same non-excretory uses that American cloth diapers/nappies are used for--e.g. to put on your shoulder while (AmE) burping/(BrE) winding (that's pronounced with a short 'i', not like winding a clock!) a baby, to clean up baby-related messes, etc. I wondered why cloth diapers/nappies weren't used for the same purpose here--but that became obvious when I saw the traditional British cloth nappy/diaper--the (BrE) terry/(AmE) terrycloth square, which is HUGE, thick, and not as soft as the type we used in the US (see this site for a comparison of the terry type that Better Half wore in the mid-1960s and the 'prefold' type that I wore in the same period). It may be that terry(cloth) nappies/diapers were used in the US in earlier days (many cartoon representations of babies in diapers/nappies look like they're representing a square-cut fabric, rather than the rectangular type that I know from my youth), but I'd never seen a terry type nappy/diaper in use in the US in all of my nappy/diaper experience. These days, of course, there are all sorts of newfangled diapers/nappies that are shaped like underpants and have Velcro fastenings and sometimes psychedelic colo(u)r maybe there's the need for muslin squares everywhere. In France (according to a short piece in last week's Saturday Guardian), they're promoted as 'security blankets'. Very clever...get the kid hooked on a thoroughly generic piece of cloth and you'll never have to worry about what happens if it gets lost or needs laundering--just replace it with a fresh one.

No doubt my posting habits will be erratic as I try to find the routines that can be found in caring for a tiny one (while mourning my Technorati rating). The next post, I promise, will be the Word of the Year please make any last-minute nominations here.


  1. Congratulations! :)

  2. Ah, very wise to play it close to the t-shir... vest. Glad all is well, and all are well.

    Nothing wrong with using her fetal name as her aka. I do tend to see Grover as a Muppet more than a dead president.

    Take care of yourself.

  3. Burp cloth. In the US, they're called burp cloths, and some places sell very pretty ones, which I think is just silly, most people, as you know, just use cheap prefolds for that.

  4. Congratulations! I'm glad to hear you were laid up for a happy reason.

  5. Congratulations. Ahhh just think of all the language acquisition posts you'll be thinking of soon.

  6. Congratulations! Welcome, Grover.

  7. Well done, there! Welcome, Grover!

    I think we called them (in USA) receiving blankets. Maybe because before someone receives the baby to hold, it's best they have one of these on their shoulder. Anyway, that's what we used our "receiving blankets" for. They are fairly flimsy, often just a thin cotton flannel square- that could be washed often.

    Happy transitions and adjustments there!

  8. Congratulations :)

  9. YaY!!! That's great news. Grover, however, is blue and fuzzy, which I really hope your little miss isn't.

    Don't worry about Technorati. It's f*cked. As is Google Page Rank.

  10. Congratulations and best wishes to all of you: this is lovely news. I too am glad to hear that your hospital visits were for something so nice. I also enjoyed your excellent article on this news plus the relevant language. On smallness, my middle daughter was 1.08kg at birth and is now a thoroughly bouncing 20-year-old so yes, I am with you on the specialist language though I am sure it has evolved a bit since them t'days. I seem to recall that some people at the NNU (or NICU or SCBU or whatever we called it then) used the term "premmie" (rhymes with, ermmm, "hem ee": perhaps a Britishization of the "preemie" you mentioned?? Anyway, well done! :)

  11. Congratulations and best wishes! I have also become a father in the last month, and I'd never heard of muslin squares either... so I'm finding all your baby-related word explanations very interesting!

  12. Congrats!

    Where I'm from (WI, USA) I've heard the term "burp rag" for "muslin square".

  13. Thanks for all of the kind wishes and congratulations!

    And thanks for the term burp cloth/rag! Better Half just read this post and thought that I should have taken the opportunity to mention that I have an American Red Cross certificate in (orig. AmE) babysitting, which he thinks is hilarious, for some reason. Nevertheless, that was some time ago, and the term burp cloth never came up. Burp cloth seems to be a much more general term than muslin square, since it refers to the things by their function, rather than their material.

    (AmE) receiving blankets may be used as burp cloths (though they'd be terribly big for that purpose, I'd think), but they're not the same as muslin squares. While the term receiving blanket is N American, the notion isn't...Grover has receiving blankets, but they're just called (baby) blankets around here.

  14. YAY LYNNE YAY Congratulations. And, yes, Grover is terribly American to my ScE ears.

    Re t-shirt/vest. These are not transatlantic synonyms, as we have t-shirts over here-- in fact I'm wearing one now-- which most definitely are not underwear. The term t-shirt seems to be more widely applied in the US than here, referring to t-shirts as WE know them AND to undervests (which I think is also a recognised term over there, isn't it, to spare confusion with BrE waistcoats?)

    Basically, an AmE t-shirt is either a BrE vest if designed as underwear or t-shirt if designed as outer wear.

  15. Yay! Another cute baby in the world. I am glad to hear it. Good people should reproduce more often...My wife and I had a baby in March. :)

  16. Congratulations!

    Like zhoen said, however, I tend to think of Grover the Muppet rather than Grover Cleveland the President when I hear the name.

  17. Congratulations, Lynne & Better Half!

  18. Congratulations Lynne! Best to you all :-)

  19. Congratulations! What a wonderful reason to be in the hospital. I've got one in utero, and I've taken to calling him Primo. I like Grover too.

  20. Congratulations and best wishes to my favo(u)rite blogger, her BH and their newborn critter ;-)

  21. Dummies are sometimes called "soothers" here - however I'd never seen the word written for the first 33 years of my life I'd never seen the word written, so because of the Irish accent I always thought they were called "sooders".


  22. Congratulations! I have made similar observations: I live in the US and my husband is English, hence I've had to learn the baby-vocabulary twice.

    Notes: I had the impression that the most common AmE word in these parts (Alaska) for pacifier/dummy is "binkie".
    And I was told that the "receiving blanket" receives the output of the baby. Typically, these receiving blankets are not blanket-like at all (in fact, they are flimsy, tiny, and generally useless), which leads to problems when handling a spitter upper, another beautiful AmE word.

  23. I'm releived, Olga, to hear that someone else used their receiving blankets as burp cloths. We, too, didn't find a use for them besides this.

    I wonder if the difference between AmE Preemie (this spelling doesn't look right) rhyming with dreamie and BrE Prem rhyming with hem is based on the different pronunciations of the full word, premature. I'm American and say Pre- rhyming with free, mature. I could imagine the BrE pronunciation being more like prem, rhyming with hem, ature. Is it?

  24. Congratulations on baby Grover. It's a cute nickname. :D

    It's funny how much different the US/British words are for baby things. It's probably the place where I notice it most with my British friends.

  25. Congratulations Lynne and Better Half and welcome to the world baby Grover.

  26. Congrats! "Grover" is a great pseudonym. Our now almost 8-year-old youngest son still sometimes goes by a nickname that rhymes with his in utero monicker.

    I am slightly troubled to learn that after 3 children (and 18 years as an ex-pat) I had never heard the term "onesie". Can it be regional? The Swedish equivalent is "sparkdräkt", literally "kick dress". Go figure. Easy to kick off, I guess.

  27. Congrats. In due course, I hope you miss the projectile vomit, literally or figuratively.

  28. Posset. No mention of posset!

  29. Congratulations!

    I grew up calling pacifiers "soothers".

  30. I would like to add to the list of congratulations!

    When our son was a baby, we used cloth diapers (nappies) for burp rags and as a security blanket. As you stated, it was great! Soft and warm, especially out of the dryer, and easily replacable with another just like it. Our son referred to it as a "deece", which we finally figured out was his way of saying "this", which of course was what we always asked him when he was cranky ... do you want this? holding the cloth diaper. He learned much more quickly than we did. That was a real breakthrough day when we made that connection. Oh, after the baby days are over, the cloth diapers make great dust cloths, lint-free cleaning cloths, shop rags, pads for glassware when you pack boxes, etc. Thousands of uses. I highly recommend them, especially for burping and security applications.

  31. Many congratulations, Lynne.
    Re: "tiddly" - a small fish is called a tiddler in the UK, and it is also a fairly archaic word for small child.

  32. Congratulations Lynne...and many more...more congratulations that is...oh what the heck, more babies too if you want!

    And as for the Tiddly chat, when I Was in Scotland a few years ago, there was a Henson productions kids show called The Hoobs (just recently exported to the US) that talked about Tiddlypeeps...(for those who don't know, the Hoobs were aliens that were learning about Humans (Peeps) and children were small people (Tiddlypeeps)
    I just thought it was a fun name they made up, but it looks like it has a little basis in the dialect...

  33. Congratulations on your new baby girl: a wee gairl (Scots) or a Child (Irish)! Have you met the educated English version, a sprog? or perhaps the female is a sprig!
    The pre-birth pseudonym is often an off-beat boy's name, isn't it? So much easier to tell a girl that you used to refer to her as Marmaduke before she was born, than to tell a boy he was known as Esmerelda.

  34. Congratulations, indeed.

    My (Canadian) sister-in-law calls a pacifier "sooie" (rhymes with gooey), so I suppose that's short for soother.

    Does the current BrE teat rhyme with feet or fit?

  35. With feet.

    There are lots of words for pacifiers/dummies, particularly within-family words. I know a number of Americans who call them Nuks, after a brand name. But the fact that pacifier generally accepted as the most region/register-neutral term is supported by the fact that it's what dummy is usually defined as in cross-dialectal word-lists, and further by the assumption that everyone will get the joke in the film title The Pacifier--in which a former Navy SEAL, played by Vin Diesel, takes on child care.

  36. My goodness, I have gotten behind on reading your blog! Congratulations on the new baby!

  37. Yay!

    Congratulations on the arrival. Hello to Grover from Oz.

  38. Can I be the forty-first to congratulate mum and sprog. May sprog get plump quick and mum not so much.

    Some silver-cup language observations:

    * "Q-tip" is apparently more common in the US than the UK as a genericized trademark for "cotton bud".

    * I'm certain "buggy" has eclipsed "pushchair" in Ireland; Wikipedia says it has in the UK, though it's originally proprietary and hence perhaps not used by manufacturers.

  39. Congratulations!

    Re soother/pacifiers, I hear people in Western Canada referring to these as "suckies". I, too, think of a blue Muppet yelling "Hey, you guys!" when I hear Grover.

  40. Hi Altadel,
    It's a shame that Amercians use the terms pacifier/soother instead of dummy. You are missing out on some great expressions.

    "Spit the pacifier" just doesn't have the same ring to it. "He threw a soother spit". Sorry, it just doesn't sound right.


  41. (long-time lurker, first-time poster, American who lived in England for a year and became fascinated by the language and cultural differences)

    In my husband's family (from Oklahoma), pacifiers are called "plugs." When I first heard my MIL say this, when she came to stay with us after our daughter was born, I was APPALLED. But within a week, I was saying it, too.

  42. Never heard of an "undervest" but an undershirt is sometimes called a t-shirt, provided it has a sleeve.

    My kids used a "binky" for a pacifier by my neice used a "nuk" (rhymes with book) for hers. Nuk, I found out later, is a name brand. People iaround here (southern New Jersey) use the term "binky," "nuk," or "pacifier" fairly commonly.

    Some receiving blankets I was given were really small and made of flannel, maybe that is what you are talking about. We used it when the baby "spat up." (In my son's case, "spew" would be more appropriate!)

  43. A "onesie" is not a regional word. Visit the Target webpage and search "onesie" you will get 80hits. In fact, I've never heard them referred to as anything else but "onesies," which quite frankly, I find an irritating term (as in way too cutsie). My mother, however, was confused when I used this term, so I'm asusming it's not a term used commonly..or at her generation.

  44. Congratulations!
    My sister recently had a preemie in the States. The nurses in the NICU suggested a Moses basket for her, which was a new word for us, and different from the bassinet that she had already bought. The Moses basket was just a basket with padding in the bottom. Some Moses baskets that we found online had stands that you could set them on, but that was still not a bassinet to us, American English speakers that we are. Hmmm.

  45. There's another AmE/BrE difference: AmE NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) versus BrE SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit).

    I'd say that a Moses basket could be a bassinet, but that not every bassinet is a Moses basket--but you're right, the things themselves tend to be different in the two places. The dictionary definitions of them are very similar, though. (From the OED:)

    bassinet: "An oblong wickerwork basket, with a hood over one end, used as a cradle for babies." (That perfectly describes our Moses basket.)

    Moses basket: "a small portable cot for a baby, esp. one made of wickerwork."

    American Heritage defines bassinet as:
    "An oblong basketlike bed for an infant."

    ...but has no entry for Moses basket.

  46. Except that the whole NNU/SCBU/ICBU/NICU thing seems to be quite fluid here anyway, (or rather it was in 1987!) I am not *sure* it's just a US/UK split - I think it may be more wobbly than that. Hope you are all doing well.

  47. Congratulations!

  48. Oh, i somehow missed this post! But CONGRATS! :)

  49. Congratulations!
    Another word for your list is "popper". A

  50. Already on my list for future blogging...maybe I'll do it now!

  51. Oops, I missed this as well! CONGRATULATIONS to you and hubby on a WONDERFUL event, and we're all so happy to hear everybody is ok!


  52. Many and joyous congratulations.

    Also, I'd call a push-chair a pram (used for both chair and lie-down versions).
    Perry (South Africa)

  53. NZ English (possibly overlaps with other territories) pushchair/stroller = buggy
    vest - singlet
    babygro = stretch'n'gro (one of those terms that was originally a brand-name but has, I think, become resonably generic)

    And one that may or may not be unique to our children: As a sheep-rearing nation, New Zealand promotes (or did when our daughters were small) lambskins (fleece still attached) for infants to sleep on.

    Our daughtters kept their "sleepskins" (our word as far as I know) well into post-infant childhood, and the tattered remnant of one is still on the floor in the spare room, where our now 20-something daughters sleep when they come "home".

  54. Now that I've reached the announcement of the happy event, backwards after reading with some concern (but not much because I was aware of the existence of Grover beforehand) of your hospitali[s|z]ation, may I offer my hearty, if retrospective, congratulations!

  55. We grew up in California calling a pacifier a "plug" and "passy" (rhymes with "sassy").
    We also used (clean) cloth diapers (affectionately called "Dye-pees") as both burp clothes and security blankets. However, most of my American friends find this strange and either gross or clever of my parents.

  56. A couple of questions above went unanswered, hence this comment, so very late that Grover has already celebrated her ninth birthday! (For a parent, nine is a great age for a child. As are all the others, come to think of it.)

    Anne T, in BrE it is indeed generally PREM-ature (same vowels and stress as tem[p'r]ature), although PREE-mature and even pree-maTURE are not unknown. I agree that, as you suspected, that accounts for the prem/preemie difference.

    And Aviatrix, teat rhymes with feat.

    In my youth, a burp rag was whatever the person holding the baby was wearing at the time!

  57. Lynne and BH. It’s far too late for congratulations. Having recently found your blog when looking up something else (I forget what), I have become hooked, and gone back to the beginning, so to speak. I not only love the language stuff, but also how biographical it is, watching your U.K. experiences unfold as tome passes.

    I’ ve been adding my tuppence worth here and there, in keeping with your wish to keep the site searchable. So, as nobody else seems t have mentioned it, dummy is short for “dummy tit”. When I was growing up in Scotland (I’m now mid 60s), the full phrase was used. Also, we had a zip-up one piece garment with a hood, more for outdoor use than a babygro would be, referred to as a siren suit. The term goes back to WWII, when they were used to keep babies warm in bomb shelters: the sirens gave warning of bombing raids.


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