to create (intransitive)

Grant Barrett, of here and there, wrote about 17 months ago to ask about the BrE intransitive use of create:

I've just come across an intransitive use of create that's Brit-specific. The Oxford Dictionary of English (not to be confused with the Oxford English Dictionary) defines it thus:

[no obj.] Brit. informal make a fuss; complain: "little kids create because they hate being ignored."

Sounds odd to my American ear.
Grant had read it in the Times, in this context (which discusses another term we've discussed before, wife beater):

"...Then suddenly - I'm not a snob - but we started getting all these loudmouthed yobs in. Younger drinkers, 19 to 30-year-olds, and builders and labourers.

"They weren't fighting - we'd never have let things get to that stage - but they were creating, and it was bad enough to make the other customers start leaving early."

When he wrote to me, I'd not experienced this sense of the word yet. But a month later, I had a child, and a few months after that, she started in childcare and we went through a little period where Grover was a bit too attached to her key worker. Whenever the carer went out of sight, Grover would start creating, they told me. Since then, I have heard it used about other children's tantrum-ish or whin(g)y behavio(u)r.

She graduated (AmE--BrE doesn't use graduate for sub-university transitions) from the Baby Room today and moves to the Toddler Room on Monday. My little Grover, all grown up! I shed a tear today, but I expect she'll be the one creating on Monday.


  1. Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1956) dates this use of create to around 1910 and particularly by soldiers in WW1. He further states it comes from to create a disturbance or to create a fuss

  2. Wow -- I lived in the UK until 11 years ago and I'd never ever heard this usage. I assumed that it must be some new-fangled creation and was somewhat astonished to see that it goes back to WWI! Perhaps it has become more common recently?

  3. It's a relatively obvious usage, though, isn't it, just a contraction of 'create a fuss/disturbance'? It surprised me that anyone would find it worthy of note, to be honest!

    And I have to admit, I've always found the US throwing about of the term 'graduate' deeply annoying. Call me parochial, but it seems utterly ridiculous to have (as I know the children of US friends have done) small children 'graduating' from pre-school - in the case of one NY little boy I know, wearing a mortarboard and gown, and clutching a rolled certificate in his toddler hand. And then, often, 'graduating' again from junior school, and from high school, before actually graduating from university, if they go.

  4. There seems to be a trend of inflating job titles:

    School pupils become students (and graduate from school)
    Police constables become officers
    Bank clerks become managers or executives
    Typists become secretaries
    Secretaries become personal assistants
    Assistant solicitors become associates
    Matrons become directors of nursing
    General managers become chief executive officers
    I am sure there are other examples.

  5. Anon - you missed out the absolute best one: Starbucks baristas are known as partners. I have no idea if it's even a co-op - it seems unlikely - but even if it is that's all kinds of pretentious.

    As for "creating" - lived in SE England all my 21 years and have never heard it. Has it got a particular region/class association? Sounds related to "starting (on s/o)" - giving someone aggro, as in that staple of saturday night repartee "oi mate, you star'in? d'you wan' some, do ya? c'mon'en!"

  6. Eva: I wanted to do my high school graduation with cap and gown and all that jazz, but "tradition" in my high school called for tuxedos for boys and white dresses for girls. Dreck. So I sat it out.

    I've had some more schooling since then, but for one and another reason no actual degrees, so that was it.

  7. In my BrE youth you could "create a dido" (whatever that is) or "create merry hell", both with the meaning "create a noisy fuss". Of course you could also "play merry hell with .."

  8. My reaction to "create" is identical to Johnny E's. But then my exposure to infants is mercifully slight.

    Also, I would write "whingey" rather than "whingy" to indicate the rhyme with ..ahem.. "stingy". Likewise "mang(e)y".

    And I could very well imagine using "graduate" for the Baby-Toddler transition, albeit jocularly. The OED has (added in 1993, sense 6b):
    To move on to a more advanced or exalted level, to rise in rank or grade; spec. in drug abuse, to progress to a more powerful drug.

  9. And you could "create a scene" (at least, being an Englishman, one couldn't create a scene, of course, but one was aware of the concept).

  10. Sophie Sofasaurus26 April, 2009 16:55

    And I could very well imagine using "graduate" for the Baby-Toddler transition, albeit jocularlyI agree. I think that the rule in British English is that "graduate" is used colloquially for an elevation of some sort, but academically only for University transitions.

  11. My admiration for Anne Bancroft reminds me of the film The Graduate - does AmE use the noun the same way as BrE? And "undergraduate"?

    And what is a "graduate school"?

  12. Never heard "create" used like that, but then I don't have children.

  13. @Picky: Please click on the link from 'BrE doesn't use graduate for sub-university transitions' in the post to get to one of the posts that answers your questions. Let's not go that far off-topic here, please!

  14. Also, one can click on the 'education' tag in the left margin of the blog homepage in order to get to the full list of education-related postings.

  15. The funny thing is, the carer I heard it from is American (though a long-time UK resident). She's picked it up from training/working in childcare here.

  16. Thanks Lynne - and apologies for straying. Have clicked as instructed and, blimey, that is a seriously informative piece.

    You should have been ruder to me, then I could have replied "Oh, don't create so!"

  17. A toddler may also 'create havoc', which is a bit - um - oxymoronic, and may be a variant of 'cause havoc'.
    This intransitive UK use doesn't seem to have a positive aspect, such as 'don't disturb Daddy, he's creating in his study'.

  18. As an AmE speaker, I'd pick up the meaning on the first example, but reading the quote from the Times out of context, I'd associate that "creating" with "procreating"!

  19. I'm from the South of England, and am certainly familiar with 'create' meaning 'throw a tantrum', but only used of children, not adults.

  20. I like the way Freddy Mercury combined both meanings in his lyrics for Friends will be friends: Another red letter day/So the pound has dropped and the children are creating.

  21. It just occurred to me that "create" in the sense of "whining" or "crying" might be the origin of "greeting", or "greetin'" in Scottish, used to describe the whining of a child. It's a possibility given that some Scottish dialects tend to stretch out the diphthong "ea" to something more akin to "ee".

  22. I've only ever heard 'creating' used about small children too. It's not that unusual but quite old fashioned, from the school of 'poorly', which also only ever seems to be used by middle aged people to small children.

    Incidentally I think the British distaste for the use of 'Graduate' in the high school context may be because finishing school is not an achievement in the UK- everyone does it, there isn't a definite pass/fail aspect (poor exam results don't preclude a pupil from having completed their schooling)

  23. Karina, I don't think so. A lot of Scots dialect words are similar to Scandinavian words, and "greet" meaning "cry" is related to the Swedish "grata" (with a circle over the first "a").

    Kate (Derby, UK)

  24. It's been my experience that the usage of 'create' is less about age and more about location, as are many words in Britain. While living in Northumberland or Whitechapel I never heard the usage, yet in Essex I do. But not a lot, it must be said. I do remember the first time I heard it, a friend was referring to naughty children and I knew immediately what she meant. It just made sense to me--the kids were certainly creating something and it wasn't good!

  25. I'm wondering if BrE 'creating' is similar to AmE 'fussing'? In the UK, 'to fuss' is to go to a lot of (unnecessary) effort to get things 'just so'. But I think in the US it can mean 'to make a fuss' or 'to cry'? Might the two words be halves of the same expression 'to create a fuss'?

  26. Ros: "Fussing" is what babies and the like do when they need to be put to bed or the like. (My grandson is sitting on my arm at the moment and fussing up a storm.)

    To use it of an older child or adult is to implicitly call them a baby.

    Picky: Are you sure it was "create didoes" rather than "cut didoes"? A "dido", says the OED, is a prank or trick, or alternatively a row or other disturbance, but "cut didoes" is the usual idiom.

  27. I'm 100% British, I read a huge amount, and I've never heard this usage before.

  28. You're far more likely to hear it than to read it.

  29. I've heard "create" in the sense of "throw a childish tantrum" once or twice from my husband. He grew up in the 1940s in both Poole (Dorset) and Australia, and lived a lot of his life in London and many other places, so I'm never quite sure where he's picked up vocabulary from.


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