toward(s) and other ward(s)

The interview I did with the Chicago Manual of Style people has brought me quite a few new readers. (Not to mention a 'Hey! I saw you in this newsletter I subscribe to!" during [BrE] the school run. Next thing you know, it'll be the paparazzi.) One of these new readers is Linda, a Washington, DC editor, who wrote to ask if I'd covered toward and towards. And since I've been rather embarrassed for some time that I haven't covered this, Linda's request has gone to the front of the (AmE) line/(BrE) queue.

The first thing to say about toward and towards is that both are found in both Englishes. What is different is which one is more common and standard in each place. In the US, toward is more common, particularly in published work; in the UK, towards is. This is shown in the ratios of the two variants in each dialect. The Corpus of Contemporary American English has about 6 toward for every 1 towards. But the British National Corpus favo(u)rs towards 23:1.

Towards is one of the things that I resisted for a long time after moving to the UK--because of the associations I had for it in AmE. My first teaching job was teaching remedial (AmE) freshman composition in Illinois, and that was where I first reali{z/s}ed that I was a toward-sayer but that there were a lot of American towards-sayers. And I took it upon myself beat the 's' out of these people. I perceived the 's' as something that marked people as unsophisticated hicks. Most advice you can find on the internet these days will tell you that it's fine to use either. I was a young east-coaster in the midwest. Mea maxima culpa.

So, when I came to the UK and was surrounded by those esses, I just had to grit my teeth, much as I've learn{ed/t} to do with the BrE use of reckon (which says 'HICK' in capital letters to my northeastern US self) and whilst (which says 'PRETENTIOUS' to my US self). Live and let live, speak and let speak, as we're taught in Linguist School. [If you want to talk about those two, please use the comments sections at their linked posts.] These days, if I'm writing for a British publication or if I'm proofreading for a British writer, I do use towards.

The reason I've not done toward and towards in seven years of blogging is that I knew it'd bring up all the other -ward(s) words--and that means work, because they're not as straightforward. Toward(s) is almost always a preposition. Something like backward(s) can be an adverb or an adjective. In my dialect, I'd allow the 's' much more easily for an adverb than for an adjective and I'd allow the 's' more for the figurative use of the adjective than the literal. You may have different instincts about these:
  • Adjective (literal):  a backward(s) motion
  • Adjective (figurative): a backward(s) idea
  • Adverb:  You've got that on backward(s)
I am not going to do an in-depth analysis of all of these. Picking out figurative and non-figurative meaning would be just too labo(u)r-intensive. So, at this point, I'm just going to look at adverbs (since they're more like the preposition toward(s) anyhow). I'm using the Global Web-Based English corpus for this because I suspect that there's a high risk for mislabel(l)ing (or 'mis-tagging', in the corpus linguistics parlance) the parts-of-speech of these particular words. By using GlobWE, I at least know that the same 'tagger' did the tagging, so any mistakes should be comparable. In the table, the percentages are within-dialect. So the AmE numbers add up to 100% in each row and so do the BrE ones.

AdverbsAmE wardAmE wardsBrE wardBrE wards
in-78%22%31% 69%

So we can see here that:
  • Both dialects prefer backwards and (especially strongly) forward.
  • With the exception of forward, BrE prefers -wards, in keeping with its preference for towards.
  • With the exception of backwards and upwards, AmE tends to prefer the 's'-less version, in keeping with its preference for toward
  • AmE's preference for onward over onwards doesn't seem very strong, though.
Showing you the percentages made the numbers clearer, but it hides some interesting things. For instance, Americans use onward(s) (1868 examples, counting both variants) a lot less than the British (5233 examples). Why? A quick glance at the examples shows that many of the UK examples were things like
from 1833 onwards
version 1.5.2 onwards

from primary school onwards
AmE would tend to use on as an adverb in such cases, rather than the -ward(s) form.  So, for example GlobWE has 11 examples of from 2008 onwards and 5 of from 2008 on in BrE. Those numbers are reversed in the AmE portion of the corpus.

The other thing that interests me in those numbers relates to my day job, in which I study antonymy (opposite relations). Why do forward in AmE upwards have different endings from their opposites? I can't come up with any semantic explanation. I'll just have to conclude with something I've been heard to say elsewhere (and may be heard to say again in Ashford and Ealing in September):
If you're looking for logic in vocabulary, then you're looking in the wrong place.

In other news: My second (and last for the time being) contribution to the Numberphile video series is now available--on differences in how numbers are said and used in AmE and BrE. If you're interested in more on that subject, here's the link to my other 'numbers' posts.

Read more

pay raise / pay rise

Ben Yagoda at some point asked if I'd tackled raise and rise. And I haven't. So here we go.

In AmE one asks one's boss for a (pay) raise. In BrE, one asks for a pay rise (or perhaps one seethes with quiet resentment instead).  These differing expressions are both nouns, of course. The verbs are basically the same. The boss would raise your pay. Your pay would rise. 

Why are they different? (a) Because they came about after AmE and BrE separated, in the 19th century, and (b) because there are two possible verbs to make the noun out of (both of which were already nouns in English anyhow). AmE went with making a noun with the form of the transitive verb (someone raises your pay) and BrE went with making a noun with the form of the intransitive verb (the pay rises). Both of these verbs had been nouns in English since the 16th century--it was only their application to pay that came up in the 19th century.

AmE, unlike BrE, also uses raise as a noun in other financial contexts, such as a raise in the minimum wage or a raise in the federal government's debt ceiling (both found in Mark Davies' Corpus of Contemporary American English [COCA]). This does not mean (as at least one BrE speaker has suggested to me) that the noun rise doesn't exist in AmE. In fact, AmE uses rise as a noun 10 times as much as it uses raise as one (according to COCA). But compare this to BrE, in which the noun rise is 53 times more common than the noun raise, at least in the British National Corpus.

AmE uses the noun rise in non-financial contexts (e.g. a rise in crime) and in financial ones--and BrE would use rise in all these contexts too. What's interesting is to consider is how Americans know when to say raise and when to say rise. So, let's look at some of the financial contexts from COCA:
a raise in (65 hits in COCA)a rise in (711 hits in COCA)
minimum wagehome prices
federal government debt ceilingyour credit card debt
and your water bill
pay, salarydollars per capita income
his allowancerents
Medicare paymentsstray costs

The noun phrases in the table are the first six different things (in the COCA results) that one could have a raise or rise in. I've put pay and salary in the same box just because it was too boring to count them separately, but it was hard work getting up to six different noun phrases for a raise in because most of them were about pay, and were things like they haven't had a raise in 10 years.

The thing to notice about the table is that the raise things are all things that a single authority makes a change in. The government sets the minimum wage, the debt ceiling and Medicare payments (which in context seemed to mean co-payments), and a company, boss, or parent (or someone like that) sets pay, salaries and allowances. So we have the sense of an agent in this action: someone raises your pay, allowance, etc.

In the rise column, we have things that are subject to more influences, and therefore are not raised by any one authority, but seem to rise because of market forces pushing them up.  (The second example, credit card debt and water bill, is about the effects of dating a [orig. AmE] bad boy. I don't think we can see the bad boy as an authority that's raising the water bill.) There was a counterexample in the first page of a rise in results that I must note: a rise in the cap on taxed salary, which is surely decided by a single authority.  While the raising of pay is definitely raise in AmE (British pay rise sounds really weird to us), other kinds of authority-led upturns in cost or earnings are less uniformly raise. So, for instance, COCA has 9 cases of raise in the minimum wage and 2 of rise in the minimum wage (all from US news sources).

As noted above, raise as a noun is not absent from BrE. In both AmE and BrE, one could execute a little raise of the eyebrow. And if you're doing that now, feel free to leave a comment.

In other news:
I'm quoted in a royal-baby-watching story on on British-versus-American names for baby paraphernalia. It took me about a half an hour after receiving the reporter's request to figure out why a US news establishment wanted to talk about British baby-stuff terminology. As it was for their wedding, it seems like there's more media interest in Will & Kate's baby in the US than in their own country. Which only makes me gladder I live in the UK where I can be spared some of that! Still, it's always fun to talk with the press. If you want to read more about baby stuff, here's a link to my 'babies and children'-tagged posts.
Read more

burgers and hot dogs

The 4th of July is nearly here, and in America that means fireworks and barbecues. (In England, it means I'll be giving my talk 'How America Saved the English Language' at the Skeptics in the Pub at Tunbridge Wells. Hope I'll meet some readers there. And that no one will throw things at me.)

The old standbys of American barbecues are hot dogs and hamburgers. I've written a bit about hot dogs before, when I was wondering whether a UK company had misunderstood the term red hot. But the (orig. AmE) term hot dog itself is used rather differently in the US and UK, as my sad tale will reveal. A Californian-in-the-UK friend and I took our kids to an event in a local arts complex. There was the option to bring a picnic lunch, but we'd seen it advertised that they were also serving hot dogs. Get lost, picnic lunches! We're having hot dogs! We ordered some with 'Back to the Old Skool' (their words/spelling) toppings: ketchup and yellow (a.k.a. American) mustard. What we received was this thing-in-a-roll.

I believe (but I may be wrong) it was a Cumberland sausage. The roll was chewy and baguette-like. It also took forever to arrive, so we were already grumpy, and then we were disappointed, for this is no hot dog, from an American point of view.

We can see hints of why we were disappointed if we compare British and American dictionary definitions of hot dog.

The American Heritage Dictionary says:
1. A frankfurter, especially one served hot in a long soft roll. Also called red-hot.
The Oxford English Dictionary says:
 1. orig. U.S. A hot sausage served in a long soft roll
See what's going on there? For Americans, a hot dog is a particular type of sausage. It's typically served in a long, soft roll, but that's how it's served, not what it is. What it is is a type of sausage. For the British, hot dog is a way of serving a sausage. It is essentially (in the American use of this word), a type of sandwich, not a type of sausage.

The same kind of thing happens with (orig. AmE) burgers. The British focus on the bread: a burger is a cooked thing served in a round bun (but they'd be more likely to call it a roll--see the old baked goods post). So, order a chicken burger at Nando's or Gourmet Burger Kitchen, and you'll get what Americans would call a chicken breast sandwich. For Americans, a burger is a (chiefly AmE) patty made of (AmE) ground/(BrE) minced meat, so we can be heard to express surprise when the chicken burgers we order in the UK are chicken breasts. (Not necessarily disappointed, but surprised. One doesn't hear chicken burger that much in the US, but turkey burger is fairly common--and always ground/minced.)

[My colleague Lynne C's first comment here says what I should have. BrE uses beefburger for the patty. To my American ear, that always sounds redundant. And kind of unconvincing. If you have to tell me it's beef, should I trust the burger? In the wake of the horse meat scandal, maybe not!]

In fact the 'burger' is so much associated with the meat that (orig. AmE) hamburger can also be used in AmE to refer to ground/minced beef even before it's cooked. Hence Hamburger Helper, and its 'Add hamburger' in the top right corner of the package. Here hamburger is a mass noun, not a countable patty.

In my part of the US (at least) hamburger is often shortened to hamburg (in either the 'ground meat' or 'ground-meat sandwich' meanings), as evidenced by the photo below, taken a couple of years ago in Sodus Point, NY. (Salt potatoes, for the unfortunate uninitiated, are an upstate New York treat.)

I will be missing all this on the 4th of July, but the kind people at Tunbridge Wells Skeptics have promised cake. Independence Day is a birthday of sorts, I suppose.

In other news:
Postscript (5 July 2013): Before the talk in Tunbridge Wells, I met a friend for dinner in The Wells Kitchen (where the talk would later happen), and thought it rather apt to find 'cajun chicken burger' on the menu: 
We had decided to have burgers as a nod to the 4th of July, and my friend was torn about having the chicken one, since she knew it was not American to call it a 'chicken burger'. (It was indeed a breast fil(l)et--I'd put away the phone/camera for the meal, which I only half regret.) But since it was 'Cajun' we agreed it was 'American enough'. All of these had cheese on them, by the way, but none are called 'cheeseburgers'. There's a US/UK cheeseburger difference to mention here, though: in the UK, the cheese is often not melted on a burger. In fact, at one place I go, they serve the burger on one half of the bun/roll, and the other half has all the extras stacked on it, including cold cheddar. In the US, not every place would put the cheese on the burger while it was cooking, but at least it will have been put right on after cooking, so that it melts a bit.

I had the 'steak burger', although I'm supposed to be reducing my beef intake for environmental reasons, and I wish to report: it was one of the best seasoned burgers I can remember having. Thanks, Wells Kitchen!

Postscript (30 July 2013): It seems I can't leave this post alone. I thought of it again when wandering through Poundland (one of the UK equivalents of a US 'dollar store') and spotting this evidence of UK use of hot dog for the sausage without the bun:
Americans are often surprised by the hot dogs in jars or (orig. AmE) cans/(BrE) tins in the UK, but here they are. Even more fun is to see this brand's "American" range. Now, in AmE I might call these 'little hot dogs', but I'm more likely to call them cocktail franks or cocktail wieners.
Read more

Follow by email

View by topic



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