common or garden, garden-variety, bog-standard, regular

It's Tuesday night! I'm supposed to be blogging! It's already 10! What will be quick to write about?!

Let's go with the item in a recent email exchange with the famous (if you read the comments section here) David Crosbie. But before I do that: thanks to David and to all the other commenters here who add so much to this blog. I'm (orig. AmE) taking a back seat on comment-replying these days, and I'm really grateful to all of you who fill in so much great information from so many different perspectives here.

So, anyway, we were having a conversation about certain comments on the site and I said "I think it's just (AmE) garden-variety spam", which he pointed out would be common or garden spam in BrE, which the OED lists as "a jocular substitute for 'common' or 'ordinary'". The same description works for garden-variety. They're descriptions that would be used for a variety of plant or animal that is the 'ordinary' kind that you would find in your garden, extended to a more general use. Both have had this kind of figurative use since about the beginning of the 20th century.

David also reminded me of an arguably more coarse (but more frequent) BrE synonym, bog-standard. That's come up in passing here because it's always used in my house when Better Half offers people tea: 'Do you want Earl Grey or bog-standard?' (The usual reply: 'bog-standard'.)  Keeping with my aim to blog quickly tonight, I'm going to let the OED tell you about the etymology:

Origin uncertain; perhaps an alteration of box-standard adj. (although this is first attested later), after bog n.4

Differing theories of the origin of bog-standard have been proposed, but none proven. An immediate association with bog n.1 seems unlikely on semantic grounds. The most commonly held view is that the transition from box to bog resulted from a mishearing or misunderstanding of box-standard n.
Others have suggested a derivation < bog-wheel, former Cambridge slang for a bicycle, though ultimately also related to bog n.4: see P. Beale Conc. Dict. Slang (1989) 47/2, 48/1.

The  bog n.4 they're referring to is the BrE slang use of the term for a latrine (which I somehow failed to mention in the toilet post). Bog n.1 is the 'swamp' [orig. AmE] meaning.

I can't think of a similarly slangy AmE equivalent, but what AmE does have is regular to mean 'ordinary'.  The OED (again) lists it as:
6 a. Having the usual, typical, or expected attributes, qualities, parts, etc.; normal, ordinary, standard. Now chiefly U.S.
That meaning has given rise to other AmE meanings:
 d. Chiefly N. Amer. Of food and drink: having the usual or typical constituents, as distinguished from some other defined category of the same foodstuff; unmodified; not distinguished by any peculiarity of quality, preparation, presentation, etc.
 e. orig. U.S. Normal, average, or standard with reference to a predetermined scale or system of categorization; belonging to the category or class considered to be standard.
 The last of these has come into BrE with McDonald's and Starbucks, and one sees it often in non-US-owned coffee shops now. And it's one of those things that some BrE speakers like to complain to me about. In fact, an American David who works at Sussex with me emailed me a few months ago about his run-in with a 'regular' correcter:
[H]ave you ever covered "regular" which, in AmE, can mean something like the bog standard or ordinary, but, in BrE seems to never have that meaning?  I asked for "regular flavour" crisps at the Bridge Cafe, some years ago, and a perky, apparently British woman informed me that "regular" is a frequency. She was probably one of your linguistics colleagues.  :-)

So, I managed a blog post in less than an hour by quoting liberally from dictionaries and emails. Score!

Before I go, some dates and places where I'll be speaking about linguistic stuff for general audiences:

And if you're interested in what goes on in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Sussex (woo hoo!!), check out our new events blog. (You can also follow us on Twitter @SussexLinguist.)


  1. I wondered why you hadn't said where these Reading Skeptics were meeting ...

    Ah. I see.

  2. In fact, an American David who works at Sussex with me emailed me a few months ago about his run-in with a 'regular' correcter:
    [H]ave you ever covered "regular" which, in AmE, can mean something like the bog standard or ordinary, but, in BrE seems to never have that meaning? I asked for "regular flavour" crisps at the Bridge Cafe, some years ago, and a perky, apparently British woman informed me that "regular" is a frequency. She was probably one of your linguistics colleagues. :-)

    If we can trust OED citations, "regular" meant "normal" before it meant "frequent" (both meanings date from the seventeenth century).

  3. I consider 'frequent' a mis-use of regular too. Regular means something like "repeated at like intervals". So a 'bus service every second Thursday would be regular but by no means frequent whereas it would be possible to have a far more frequent service but at irregular intervals.
    I suppose the UK synonym for regular used to denote size would be 'standard', not sure when it comes to variety, I think the answer is less regular in that case

  4. Eloise Pasteur23 April, 2014 10:35

    I'm inclined to agree with gnome_alice about frequent and regularity - although of course frequency is simply a measure of how often something repeats, so Halley's Comet that comes every 76 years could be said to have a frequency of 1/76 years quite legitimately.

    I've heard of regular as a size fitting. "Would you like that in the regular or long?" in the UK but not for flavours or similar.

  5. The speaker didn't say that regular means 'frequent', but that regular is 'about frequency'. I think one can interpret that as being generally about timing, rather than about often-ness. A bus that comes once a day is regular, but infrequent, but we could say its frequency is once a day.

    (It's also the case that that was Dave remembering the interaction several years later. She might've phrased it differently.)

  6. "Vanilla" also seems to be used by AmE as a slightly more slangy version of "regular". I (BrE) would probably use "normal" more than "ordinary" or "common".

    And I have never quite worked out exactly what my native-French-speaker colleagues mean when they say (in English) "normally". It certainly isn't the same thing that I normally mean. It doesn't seem to be confined to one individual so it is, presumably, related to how the French use "normalment". But that is definitely off-topic for this blog!

  7. In my blues records, lovers are divided into kid man (for women, of course), some-time, used-to-be and regular. The last three could be adjectival or stand-alone nouns. Regular can perhaps be glossed 'steady but not exclusive'. Short of marriage, it was the best status the singer could hope for. The worst was dog.

    A woman might sing:

    I have got a regular man here : Lord the good kid-man's downtown
    I can't quit my regular : and I won't throw my kid-man down

    If you see me stealing : please don't tell on me
    I'm just stealing from my regular : back to my used-to-be

    Folks I'll tell : that he's not my regular man
    But he loves me better : than my regular can

    I say Sunshine Special : throw your light down on me
    I'm going home to my regular : drunk as I can be

    I have got a regular man here : Lord the good kid-man's downtown
    I can't quit my regular : and I won't throw my kid-man down

    A man might sing:

    It seems cloudy brown : I believe it's going to rain
    Going back to my regular : because she got everything

    Now you tell me mama : do you think that's right
    You with your kid all day : and run to me at night
    Now my regular woman : totes my pocket change
    And my sometime woman : wants to do the same
    And you better not let : my regular catch you here

    I don't mind no men friends : but I am afraid of my grandma's child
    I like me a-plenty of women : but man I like them wild
    All during the week : I work hard and I really save
    But on a Saturday night : I can get all the loving I crave
    Now I can't have the times : like I once have had
    My regular found out I was a Saturday night spender : and it sure did make her mad

    Mmm : Lord Lord Lord Lord Lord
    Now if I can't be your regular mama : I sure ain't going to be your dog

    Oh Lord Lord Lord : crying Lord Lordy Lord
    Said I used to be your regular : now I've got to be your dog

    Now baby but I'll see you : baby in the spring
    Just after the bluebirds : begin to sing
    Now but maybe I won't see you : babe but until in the fall
    And I know : you won't have no real regular man at all
    Now but I believe I'll wait and see you : baby some old rainy day
    Just after the mockingbird : come out to play

    Let me tell you mama : what my black dog done done to me
    He chased me from my regular : now he's after my used-to-be

    Tell me baby : what trouble have done to me
    Come and got my regular : then took my used-to-be

    Won't you tell me pretty mama : I won't have to wait
    Will I be your regular : or did I come too late

    Who's your regular? seems to have been a standard chat-up line:

    Ah : mama who can your regular be
    I ain't got no regular : baby please take me
    Take me : mama I'll tell you what I'll do
    I'll get up every morning : work hard all day for you

    Look here pretty mama : who can your regular be
    Says the reason I'm back and I'm calling babe : you been so good to me

    She stood on the corner : between Twenty-Fifth and Main
    You know a blind man saw her : and a dumb man called her name
    The dumb man asked her : said who is your regular be
    And then the blind man told her : said you sure look good to me

    There seems to be a clear association with, yes, frequency. Compare the use as an adverb:

    You caught me with a woman : I caught you with a man
    Baby if I see you regular : mama see me when you can
    I'm going to Memphis : stop on Fourth and Beale
    If I can't find Roberta : I hope to find Lucille

  8. A couple of thoughts from this longtime New Yorker:

    1) Graham: I wouldn't say that "vanilla" is a slightly more slangy version of regular -- I'd say it's a much more *pejorative* version of regular. I would use "vanilla" as a means of dismissing anything bland, safe, or sterile, e.g., "I love jazz, but Kenny G is way too vanilla for me." (As this example suggests, "vanilla" can also be a euphemism for "white".)

    2) When I first moved to New York City in 1978 I quickly discovered that if you were ordering your morning coffee in a deli before work, calling it "regular", as in "I'll have a regular coffee", meant "I'll have a coffee with milk and sugar added." Since I gave up coffee years ago I'm no longer certain whether asking for a "regular coffee" in a New York deli will still get you one with milk and sugar, but I suspect it will. These terms die hard.

  9. Graham: at least the francophone use of "normally" bears some relationship to the common anglophone understanding of it!

    If you want to be confused try picking your way through a conversation about something contractual with the francophone half of the conversation using the word "eventually" (as a literal translation of 'eventuellement').

    It's very hard to hear "eventually" with its overtones of certainty and try and remember that the speaker actually means to say "possibly".

    Sorry to be horrendously OT

  10. For clarity I was responding to the statement ["regular" meant "normal" before it meant "frequent" ]

    Yes, I too am familiar with 'regular' or 'long' and 'regular' or 'large' in UK although it still feels rather alien.

    'Vanilla' was the mornal term used in the UK IT department where I worked to indicate 'standard' , 'out of the box' as opposed to 'bespoke' or 'modified', since late 1990s at least. I am aware of 'vanilla' for bland/dull but encounter it far less.

    'Bog standard' means 'normal', 'ordinary' to me but, for some, there is an implication of inferiority. There was a great fuss a while ago when a politician spoke of "bog-standard comprehensives" (i.e. nornal state schools).

  11. gnome_alice:
    The first time I heard bog-standard was in that reference to schools - I think it seems especially pejorative because Irish people were once labelled 'bog-trotters' and of course this was not a flattering description!
    I am glad to hear that the derivation may not be linked to peat bogs or to smelly loos (BrE) but a mis-hearing of box-standard

  12. I think 'Score!' perhaps should be marked '(AmE)'.

    In BrE we'd probably say "Result!" in that context and "Goal!" or "Six!" at an actual sporting event.

    I've never heard a Yukaynik shout "Score!".

  13. I thought that too, Grhm, but before I posted, I looked in some UK corpora and found instances of it. Since no dictionaries seem yet to cover the interjection use of 'score', I haven't much other evidence to go on.

  14. Btw, I'm not sure if 'score!' is actually from sports or if it comes via drugs (as in 'scoring some drugs'). The drug use is orig. AmE.

  15. I turned to Soldier Talk, A Squaddie's Handbook (I used to teach military English) expecting the usual juicy gloss and explanation. But it offers the rather bland:

    Original as manufactured, with no modifications

    which seems to point to 'box standard'.

    Adjacent in the dictionary are

    Bogging Filthy or very dirty
    Bogging Extremely drunk
    Bogging Royals (The) The Royal Scots
    Bog Rats (The) Irish Guards

    Regiments can retailatewith names (often filthy) for the regiments who are insulting them. Civilians are more vulnerable. I hope and trust these other terms have gone out of use

    Boggy Irishman, specifically from the Bogside are of Londonderry [itself BrE not IrE]
    Bog Wog Irishman [Ouch!]

    But no army slang based on bog = 'toilet'.

  16. Michael Quinion suggests that there is a problem with the "box-standard" etymology, which is that there ain't no such idiom of "box-standard" for it to have derived from. It's a mystery.

  17. @gnome_alice
    For clarity I was responding to the statement ["regular" meant "normal" before it meant "frequent" ]

    I too should have been clearer in my original claim. According to the OED's citations (which you may be able to see here if you're lucky), the word "regular" meant "normal" in English before it meant anything to do with frequency. The first citation for "normal" is from 1617; the first relating to frequency or repetition is from 1639. And the first citation for "frequent" (without any implication of uniformity) is not until the nineteenth century.

  18. vp

    And the first citation for "frequent" (without any implication of uniformity) is not until the nineteenth century.

    Yes, but 'frequently with implication of uniformity' is approximately as old

    3.c. Recurring or taking place repeatedly at (short) uniform intervals; characterized by repetition of this sort.

    1639 J. Mayne Citye Match v. ii. 53 D'you think I'le have your Factor move before me, Like..Some grave Clock wound up to a regular pace?

    This sense has persisted in British English, while the 'ordinary' sense faded away until re-introduced from American English.

  19. @David Crosbie --yes, 1639, as I said in the earlier comment.

  20. I've always assumed "regular" to be derived from the idea of conformity with some rule (so could apply equally to timing or any aspect of physical appearance or design).

    But in American-style coffee shops, it seems to mean "large" (and all the other sizes mean "larger still").

  21. @Dick Hartzell: Yes, in general, coffee, regular" still means "milk and one sugar."

    It's complicated, however, by the fact that regular coffee sometimes means the same thing as coffee, regular, but more often means "not decaf." And sometimes it means "coffee made from water not steam," as when a waiter hoping to increase the tab asks, at the end of a meal, if anyone in the party would like an espresso or a cappuccino. In that context, one might ask instead for a "regular coffee" (to request black coffee that's not espresso) or even a "decaf regular coffee," notwithstanding that under most circumstances this would be an oxymoron.

    In general the regular coffee usage to mean "milk and one sugar" is limited to short-order situations: coffee shops, pushcarts, delis, Greek diners, etc. -- in other words, it's the equivalent of hash-house slang. At Jean-Georges, you wouldn't use it that way any more than you'd hear the waiter yell into the kitchen "burn one!" or "flop two, whiskey down!"

    Until recently, Starbucks made coffee by the espresso method only. I didn't know that at first, and when I didn't want espresso, I'd ask for "regular coffee." Inevitably the response was "You mean Americano?" Since Starbucks had (has?) an irritating propensity to refer to regular things with fancy names like "grande," I thought that must be just Starbucks terminology, but inevitably I'd end up with espresso diluted with hot water, which was not at all what I wanted. Eventually I learned, and stopped going to Starbucks; eventually, they seem to have learned, and now sell something called "Pike's Place," which is regular coffee, although I think you still confuse them if you call it that.

    Similar ambiguity appears at the gas station. Regular gas used to mean "not unleaded," but nowadays regular unleaded means "not premium" (and not midgrade).

  22. Meanwhile, on the original topic: I had always assumed that bog-standard was a pejorative term meaning "meeting the same standards as a bog," which I imagined was not a very high standard, since bogs are not generally thought of as particularly nice places (even under the first definition, which is the only one I know).

    My impression that it was pejorative was probably influenced by the fact that I don't think I had ever heard it used before the public (state) school controversy, where people were obviously reacting to it as if it were. I did find it striking, though, that there didn't seem to be any non-pejorative way to say "garden variety" in BrE.

  23. There's a very different use of regular which isn't at all positive or everyday. The OED describes it as an intensifier, but for me it's a sort of backup to a wording that's already intense or exaggerated.

    So, if somebody is a bit careful with money, I could blow that up into

    He's a Scrooge.

    But that's rather abrupt, so I could deploy various
    signals to the effect 'Yes I know I'm exaggerating'. My tone of voice would show whether I also meant 'But the exaggeration is justified'.

    He's a real Scrooge.
    He's an old Scrooge.
    He's a right old Scrooge.
    He's a regular Scrooge.
    He's a regular old Scrooge.

    Most of the OED examples agree with my sense that regular goes with bad things a regular old Belsen, or with nouns that give a heightened description,

    We had a regular flood
    I made a regular bonfire of them
    and we had us a regular fieast
    They had armloads of rifles, Enfields, on board, a regular arsenal.

    But they also give examples with a more positive force

    a regular climax of poetic beauty!
    Perceval is..a regular thoroughgoing Apostolical.
    (positive here, I think)
    There is no putting him out of his Byas. He is a regular Piece of Clock-work. (not sure if it's positive, but I don't intend reading Pamela to find out)
    A cad if you like; but then such a royal cad, a regular eighteen-carat cad without alloy. (so bad he's good?)

    They liken it to one use of proper as in a proper fool, which they see as more straightforwardly negative

    as an intensifier, in depreciative or derogatory contexts: answering fully to the description; thorough, complete; perfect. Now colloq.

    Interestingly, the earliest quote is Chaucer's a verray propre fol .

    As the definition implies, another adjective used to point up a heightened descriptive noun is perfect. Given the same tone of voice I think there may be a scale of growing intensity:

    a regular Scrooge ⇒ a proper Scrooge ⇒ a perfect Scrooge.

  24. I agree with Autolycus. Sometimes in a coffee shop I wish I had the option of ordering a small coffee.

  25. Lynne,
    I had always assumed that the expression about "scoring" drugs was just another figurative use of the word in its sporting sense, like the boorish sexual conquest meaning ("Get your coat, love, you've scored").
    What other derivation might it plausibly have?

  26. @David Crosbie,
    I'm assuming you're saying this use of regular is UK only, I wouldn't say so. I've certainly heard it here in the US, though it sounds a bit dated to me. Also, when used positively, it's usually ironic.

    If I heard "proper", I would surmise it's British for "Regular". "Perfect" would probably confuse me.

    As an aside, in Russia, where "A Christmas Carol" is not well known, I have nevertheless hear Scrooge used in this way, often followed by McDuck.

  27. In this country you can ask at Starbucks for a filter coffee, and that's what you'll get. But I drink that at home every day, so if I go to a coffee shop (preferably not Starbucks) I ask for a black Americano (I like my coffee unadulterated in any way, shape or form). But in Costa the other day the woman behind the counter asked whether I wanted Medium or Large - actually, I wanted a small one, but didn't realise that was an option until the time came to pay for it.... whereupon I was very Not Pleased with her so she only charged me for a small one! What you might call a bog-standard coffee (I learnt this expression long before the school controversy, and didn't see it as pejorative at all).

    Bog is standard slang for the loo in boys' (and some girls') public BrE/AmE prep schools.

    Changing the conversation slightly, while still remaining (I hope) on topic, "horse-and-common" is sometimes used with "sense" understood.

  28. Boris Zakunin

    I didn't say regular (old) Scrooge was exclusively British, because I simply didn't know. Yes, I suspected it might be BrE because the OED quotations didn't appear to be AmE, and because none of the AmE-speaking posters had mentioned it.

    However, in the Oxford Dictionaries Online site you can choose between varieties of English, and the AmE version quotes

    this place is a regular fisherman’s paradise
    The two on the side were regular rookies, they'll cower upon orders and fail to obey when it really counts.
    The place was a regular wake.
    The Blackmon place was a regular old time slave plantation.

    The second and fourth quotes are highly unlikely to be from BrE sources.

    I've no idea how common this use is nowadays in either variety. But I would guess that it's generally familiar to speakers of my generation, if not to younger speakers.

    I would guess that the 'normal' meaning is still strange and markedly AmE to speakers of my generation, and probably younger. We understand it, but (I think) don't use it.

    P.S. My wife Elena did learn about Scrooge and A Christmas Carol at Leningrad (as was) University.

  29. @grhm: the 'scoring drugs' use may be related to the sports use eventually (there are other slang meanings too to do with stealing or getting things on credit that could be involved), but what is relevant in looking at a newer use (the interjection) is the use it is most closely related to, not necessarily the uses those uses came from.

  30. vp

    yes, 1639, as I said in the earlier comment

    Sorry, I missed that. But my point still stands. 'Recurring or taking place repeatedly at (short) uniform intervals; characterized by repetition of this sort' is a precise description of 'frequency'.

    It's strange that while frequent has become associated with often, the same is not always true for frequently, and even less true for frequency.

    It was often attacked refers to volume (number of attacks)
    It was frequently attacked refers to historical distribution

    Frequency is a relative measure of volume to time. Regular attacks are numerous — but only when compared with a time span. Even a term like word frequency is a comparative measure — how often a word is used compared to other words.

  31. The OED relates the drug usages of both the verb score and the noun score to the obtaining of drugs — the use of drugs being an extension.

    Certainly, their earliest quote for the verb is

    1935 A. J. Pollock Underworld Speaks 101/2 Scored, made a purchase of dope.

    And one of their noun quotes makes a distinction between score and fix.

    1976 M. Deakin & J. Willis Johnny go Home ii. 47 The whole day passes..going from fix to score, to ripping off enough money to support the habit.

  32. I think I'd refer to 'a right Scrooge'. Is that exclusively BrEng or is it universal?

    On David Crosbie's examples, 'rookie' is a pretty reliable AmEng marker. Most BrEng speakers are not quite sure enough what it means to use it. I'm also not sure what 'the place was a regular wake' would be meant to convey. If you use 'wake' as a noun here, its only meaning is a funeral 'celebration'. So a place can be used for a wake but can't really be one.

    'Common or garden' is most likely to reference the books you can buy about the sort of wildlife you can see out of your window, e.g. 'common or garden sparrow' - it's actually a House Sparrow - as distinct from some exotic sort that you have to go somewhere else to see.

  33. Dru

    I think I'd refer to 'a right Scrooge'.

    I'd be more likely to say a right old Scrooge — if only to improve the rhythm.

    I may be deluding myself, but I feel that a regular old Scrooge is more dismissive.

    Even more emphatic: He's a right royal Scrooge — although perhaps right royal sounds better with abstract nouns.

    So right joins the list of expression which mean (in our speech) sort-of the opposite of 'normal'.

    • A right (royal) / regular / proper (old) pantomime is a situation, as is a perfect pantomime.

    • A (common or) garden (variety) pantomime actually is a pantomime, as is a bog standard pantomime.

    Is your right related to the reet in She's reet petite?

    [I had to overrule my spellchecker three times to write that. It insisted on rest.]

  34. Dru

    I'm also not sure what 'the place was a regular wake' would be meant to convey.

    I'm most disappointed with Oxford Dictionaries Online. Selecting UK and World English and selecting All I got the same four examples for that sense. So The place was a regular wake is in all probability from a non-AmE text.

    To me and I'd guess to most BrE speakers it suggests 'The scene was like the scene of a wake'. Away from Ireland and Irish communities that usually implies a lot of people grieving together — rather than drinking cheerfully together and celebrating the life of the deceased.

    So I've little doubt the quote means

    'The people were unhappy [about something unstated here] and looked for all the world as if they were mourning some dear departed.'

  35. Many of the British correspondents are old enough to remember Flanders and Swann - or at least the recordings of their revues such as 'At the Drop of a Hat'. In their very famous song about Mud, glorious mud, they sing the line:
    A regular army/ of hippopotami ...

    Here 'regular' could be replaced by other intensifiers such as 'veritable' to reflect the large number of beasts, but the line would not scan;
    And of course the 'regular army' is a term used for the standing, peacetime army, contrasted with conscripts in wartime or the (BrE)Territorial Army (now to be known as the Army Reserves, similar to US militia). In the late 1940s and early 50s everyone understood the double entendre here.

  36. biochemist

    In the late 1940s and early 50s everyone understood the double entendre here.

    Oh dear! I first heard the sons in the 50s and missed the wordplay. Perhaps I was too young.

  37. Thinking it over, in the early 50's when I was still at primary school (American elementary school, I think), I probably didn't understand exactly who the TA (Territorial Army) were. I did know that some of the Army were called regulars — those who weren't National Servicemen (conscripts doing their two years of National Service).

    When I was a bit older, I came to think of the TA as hobbyists, albeit serious hobbyists, who were unlikely ever to get called up to serve in a war. The US National Guard seemed to be closer to the actual Army — a development which eventually happened here.

  38. Curiously, we don't refer to RAF or Navy as 'regular' even though there are also reserve forces connected with them. It is always the Regular Army however(Jane Austen's Mr Wickham was a militia officer in P&P, but wasn't he commissioned into the regulars after eloping with Lydia?).
    Way off topic, but let's not diss the TA/Army Reserve! Many have served in Afghanistan - one died in this week's helicopter crash - and their role is intended to increase as the regular army contracts in the UK.

  39. If you are going to get all political on our asses, I have to say that whether regular or reserve, the British army has no legitimate business in Afghanistan.

  40. Nobody wants to get political, but what a splendidly American phrase "to get political on our asses" is - it simply doesn't translate into British English at all, although I know perfectly well what you mean!

  41. I think it was QI (again) that claimed Meccano was to thank for giving us not only "Bog Standard" (from Box: Standard) but also "Dog's B*llocks" (from Box: Deluxe).
    Yes, seems like a bit of a stretch to me too.

  42. biochemist

    The original alternative to regulars in a regular army was irregulars in an irregular army. We don't seem to use the words nowadays; sometimes it's armed groups, sometimes militants, sometimes guerrillas.

    I presume the terms regulars and regular army became popular to distinguish the standing army that could be sent to overseas as opposed to the militia which existed to defend the country in the event of invasion. The militia were not under the same military laws. Indeed, the Americans idealised them as civilian, nay citizen defenders of liberty. Hence the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

    They were lots of both sorts of soldiers in Britain, so the term for 'not militia' was handy and much used.

    In the twentieth century, it all changed. In place of the militia, the Territorial Force was set up under a different legal framework, although some units used the old term Militia in their titles. The term became misleading during the First World War when the TF was allowed to be sent overseas, at first to colonies and eventually to the fighting in France.

    The War also saw the start of conscription, so regulars came to mean 'not territorial and not conscript'. It was some years after the War that the TF was renamed the Territorial Army. (There have been other volunteer reserve organisation, but they were eventually absorbed by the TA and its successor Army Reserve.}

    I've read that there was at one time an Air Force reserve instituted on territorial lines, but there was at least one other body of reserves for the Air Force and two or more bodies of reserves for the Navy. Even when combined, these were much smaller bodies than the TA, so there wasn't the call for the term regular to mean 'not reservist'.

    I'm pretty sure, though, that regulars was used to mean 'not National Servicemen (conscripts)'.

    The Territorial Army wasn't really an army, it was a supplement to the Army. The various terms used by Navy and Air Force reserve bodies never implied that they were navies or air forces.

    By contrast the Merchant Navy suggested a separate quasi-navy.

  43. Still Too Shy to Be Anyone Other Than Anonymous in New Jersey

    @David Crosbie

    You wrote: The US National Guard seemed to be closer to the actual Army — a development which eventually happened here.

    Not from my (admittedly dated) perspective.

    I had a boyfriend once who was in the National Guard – after he completed his (Navy) Reservist duties – and it seemed to me that his work with them was very hobbyist-ish. Of course, we weren't in a war at the time, so...

    Still, my friends in the Reserves (all branches of U.S. military) seemed far more like their counterparts in the regular military branches than my boyfriend did.

    Even after war happened, the Reservists in my acquaintance got "called up" before any National Guards* did.

    But when there is a disaster – usually natural – at home (and were have a fair number of those in coastal New Jersey)? It's all about the National Guard. The "regulars" and the Reservists have been no where in sight.

    Forgiveably (I hope) off-topic: my CAPTCHA was "adriYou Irregular".

    *The Nation Guard, if I understand it correctly, is state- (and territory-) based, so I don't think there's a group called the "US National Guard" (although there is a National Guard of the United States which encompasses all states and territories' national guards); it's New Jersey National Guard, or New York National Guard, etc.

  44. Anonymous in New Jersey

    An interesting use of the word national. How common would it be for the New Jersey National Guard to attend a disaster in New York State?

    My picture of your National Guard(s) stems from unconnected and vague impressions over the years. I suspect it owe more to the Doonesbury cartoon strip than anything. The first time most of us even heard of the National Guard was the Kent State University tragedy.

    We used to have an army-based body of volunteers who turned up at disasters. They were absorbed into the TA, which was for some years known as the Territorial Army Voluntary Reserve. The Wikipedia article has been rewritten quite recently with seemingly genuine detail. It describes a time when the TAVR units were divided into four categories, of which TAVR III was Home Defence.

    We also had a better known civilian body called the Civil Defence Corps, who were more likely to be at disasters. In their shadow, making tea — according to the stereotype, that is, although I've no doubt they were much more important — were the Women's Voluntary Service. They became the WRVS Women's Royal Voluntary Service, a charity increasingly narrowing its scope to services for the elderly. But they took on more and more men, including me in a small way, so we're now the Royal Voluntary Service and nobody's heard of us.

    When emergencies hit Britain, it's the (regular) army that comes to the rescue. They can be mobilised immediately and their training and experience is fresh. They were on hand in the recent floods, and last year they stepped in magnificently when the a private firm failed to recruit enough security personnel for the London Olympics. Whenever there's a threat of a firemen's strike, we speak nostalgically of the Army's green goddesses which are ready to step in. And the Army turned round the chaotic civilian management of animal culling during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001.

  45. @David Crosbie

    Where I live – on one of the borders between New York and New Jersey it would – would be unusual, but probably not as unusual as it would be if I lived in one of the giant states in the rest of the country. It isn't unusual for natural disasters to span both states. Since National Guards are activated (as far as I understand it) by the governors of their respective states, I don't think they are meant to respond to the needs of other states. However, I don't think it's disallowed for one state to offer its guard to aid another. (I'm fairly certain the New Jersey National Guard sent help to Louisiana after the Hurricane Katrina... er... problems.)

    The boyfriend I mentioned earlier was once actually part of the New York National Guard. That made no sense to me, and I even thought that it couldn't possibly be allowed. (He only looked at me as if I were stupid when I said that last bit to him.)

    The U.S. is too large, and our military installations are too inconveniently placed (for some of us), for the regular army to be the ones to respond to many of our disasters.

    But the National Guards have the advantage of (supposedly – see paragraph above) of consisting of people who live in the area they are supposed to be serving. Hence, we've developed the popular (and often true) idea of "calling out the National Guard". They're supposed to be there already, and therefore, more easily mobilised.

    On a side note: our military branches – in all of their forms – is "all voluntary" in the sense that no one is currently conscripted into military service. For some reason, I've noticed a lot of confusion over the term (among Americans, that is). Loads of people apparently think at first that this means there are groups that are directly affiliated with whichever U.S. military branch who are doing unquestionably military work without being paid. (Ugh! I'm sure I could have worded that better.)

  46. Anonymous

    Here in UK the term volunteer forms part of names of regiments and other bodies — a historical hang-over. In contemporary parlance, we prefer the term professional not just for our own armed forces, but also for describing non-conscripted military in other countries.

    (I use the noun military as a conscious Americanism; in BrE it's usually only an adjective.)

    I work for a charity for just a few hours per week. That makes me a volunteer. Our project used to be run by a volunteer manager, so I stumble when describing the current manager. Is she a RVS employee? RVS staff? Usually I say professional manager.

  47. For brands that started off as one products and get extended, the original product is typically called "Original", or sometimes "Classic". I think "Plain" is slightly less downbeat than "Basic" in BrE, probably not in AmE.

  48. While on a military tack, I've come across occasional use (in the UK at least) of "NATO standard" used in a jocular form to refer to everyday items in their commonest form: used, for example, as a response when asked how one takes one's tea (and meaning in this context, milk and two sugars). Also, more almost-literally, to refer to the basic but functional Hi-Tec Silver Shadow training shoes, which were actually issued for army physical education classes at one stage.

    My local oikolect also adopted "canonical" from the definition in the Jargon File at some point, with a meaning which is somewhere encompassing both "normal" and "default".

  49. Going back to the coffee discussion for a moment, and leaving out the upscale coffee shops like Starbucks with their fancy espressos, I think whether regular means with cream and sugar or without them probably depends on what part of the U.S. you live in. Where I'm at, black is the norm, and you have to ask for cream and sugar. I think if you asked for regular coffee in a restaurant, you'd get black caffeinated, since you have to specify decaf, also.

    My ex, who was from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, told me it was the reverse there, if you wanted it black, without the cream and sugar, you had to tell them when you ordered, but I have no idea where the dividing line falls for the with/without default in the way that coffee is served.

  50. Albert Herring

    NATO Standards are very real. They're what allow armed forces of different armies to work together — in the jargon interoperability.

    Of course, standards are vital for things, the kit, weapons, vehicles etc that are likely to be shared. But my last few contracts were based on Nato standards in language proficiency. These were rather well specified some time ago, but the task remained to translate the specifications into exams and syllabuses for each level of proficiency.

    The connotation of 'lowest common denominator' is not what NATO means by standard. It seems most likely that the use you describe is based on bog-standard.

  51. Last week I wrote:

    I would guess that the 'normal' meaning is still strange and markedly AmE to speakers of my generation, and probably younger. We understand it, but (I think) don't use it.

    It's slowly dawned on me that I was wrong. The truth, I believe, is that BrE speakers like me thought we understood what AmE speakers meant, but didn't actually understand it at all. I had read what Lynne wrote, but hadn't fully taken it in.

    When I heard regular, I would translate it mentally as 'usual'. Most of the time, this amount to much the same thing.

    My usual coffee is 'normal for me'. I can use the phrase with or without the sense of consumption at regular intervals.
    Stabuck's (or Costa's or whatever) usual coffee is 'the coffee that they normally serve'.

    However, there's no such thing as a normal coffee outside some supporting context. This is particularly true in Britain where the sort of coffee most often found in private places — homes, workplaces etc — is radically different from the sort of coffee most often found in places that sell the drink. In private, it's made with instant coffee in a mug with cold milk and sugar offered as supplements. In public it's made with ground coffee in an espresso machine, then served in a moderately large cup (but smaller than a mug) — or in a plastic beaker-like thingy — with a lot (to my taste an excess) of warm milk already added.

    This state of affairs is relatively recent. When I was a boy,a coffee as served in a public place was much the same as home/workplace coffee except that it was served in a cup with milk already added — unless, of course, you asked for black coffee.

    When I was a very small boy, I occasionally found myself in houses where a coffee might be made with appalling substance called Camp Coffee — a liquid made, I think, from chicory and a little coffee.

    When I was a teenager, a new sort of coffee appeared. Places called coffee bars catered for those of us who looked to young to dink in pubs or who couldn't afford to. They were centred on imported Italian espresso machines, but neither the coffee nor the ambience owed anything to Italy. That's the one time in my life where the idea of a normal coffee could mean something: it meant 'coffee as it had existed before', not the coffee-flavoured milk-and-water froth that had appeared out of nowhere.

    (There was an even worse drink to be had in a Bradford Pakistani cafe I knew: the same frothy milk-and-water flavoured with a tea bag.)

    But some of you American speakers have written of regular coffee here in a way that doesn't seem to be 'usual' but rather 'conforming to a norm'. That's very hard for me to get my head around.

    And yet this mis-match doesn't seem to interfere with understanding. If you ask for a regular or ordinary or normal or even bog-standard coffee in your narrow sub-culture, your peers will know what you mean. If you use some such term in a more public arena, it won't be at all awkward for you and your interlocutor to sort out what exactly you mean.

  52. @ David

    Starbucks and its competitors have really muddied the waters with their fancy la-dee-da coffees, haven't they?

    I think to sort this out, we need to sort out how we make coffee a little, because that seems to be possibly interfering with the explanations.

    Remember back in the old, pre-Starbucks days, a few decades ago, when you went into a restaurant, or cafe, or diner, or whatever you want to call it, and ordered coffee along with your meal? Just plain, ordinary, no frills coffee -- not all the fancy stuff that Starbucks and the other coffee specialty places sell? This is the coffee I'd think of as garden-variety, or bog-standard if you will. When we make coffee at home or in the office, or order it in a restaurant like this we don't get instant, any more than you'd expect them to bring you instant tea. (shudder) Instead we get coffee that in my youth was usually put through either a percolator, or a drip coffee maker, and that nowadays is more likely put through an electric coffee pot which has replaced the drip coffee pot. All of these work on the same principle, you take ground coffee and drain hot water through it.

    There are people who bother to get a French press, or who buy cappuccino machines for their home, and Keurig's and Mr. Coffee brands are now putting out these single cup things that make fancy coffees which is the new thing to buy for the upscale home, and handy if you have money (they aren't especially cheap) and the need to make only a single cup fairly often. But most of us are still relying on just the basic electric coffeemaker that drips hot water through coffee grounds.

    Context does matter -- if I was standing in the middle of a Starbucks and you asked me which was the regular coffee, I'd probably say the thing they call "Americano" but other than that, what I described above is what I'd mean if you asked me what regular coffee was, however I think I'd be much more likely to call it everyday coffee.

  53. Dark Star in the Morning

    All of these work on the same principle, you take ground coffee and drain hot water through it.

    Well, not exactly. A percolator boiled water so as to do that once, thus making very weak coffee. It then boiled the coffee to make stronger coffee, then boiled the stronger coffee .... and so on. It made coffee of a decent strength, but killed the fresh flavour.

    The various filter methods produced fresher coffee, but you had to use lots of grounds and you needed some elaborate arrangement to keep the first drips hot while waiting for it to finish.

    The beauty of the espresso principle is that it uses steam. You get more flavour and more strength from the coffee, and it's really fresh. I wouldn't use anything other than an expresso-type pot at home. It's not as effective as a big machine, but we compensate by buying (and grinding) coffee that's more to our taste than most cafes serve.

    In Italy, there really is a normal coffee. It's determined by the amount of ground coffee that the machine takes, and the capacity of a standard (small) bar cup. That's what you get if you ask for a caffè. If you want it a bit stronger (with less water) you ask for ristretto. If you want it waker, you ask for lungo. You can have an additional splash of foam (macchiato), additional frothy milk in a medium cup (cappuccino) or a big amount of additional milk in a bigger cup (caffè latte). There's even a special offer for Americans (americano).

    Starbucks and the like have adopted most of these terms, but not the norm. They have to call it a single espresso. I never go into Starbucks myself, but the places I do use are probably much the same. They make coffees of these Italian types, and extend the range with variants using bigger cups, extra measures of espresso, and milk types of different fat content.

    Many Italians are prejudiced against milk in coffee. It's almost sacrilege to drink cappuccino after 11a.m. I absorbed some of this when I worked in Italy. I never drank caffè latte — save for one early morning a week at Venice Station while changing trains. So that was my regular caffè latte.

  54. David: You've got it! You just don't realize you've got it.

    In Italy, if you ordered "caffè," what you got was just a regular espresso -- i.e., made the normal way. If you wanted something that differed in some respect from a regular espresso, you explained the difference. So, for example, perhaps you like a little bit of foam on top of your coffee. So you would describe this departure from normal practice to the coffee seller by asking for "caffè macchiato" -- meaning that you wanted your coffee stained with milk. That's how he would know not to make it the regular way, but to do something different this time. In essence, "regular" means "in accordance with regular practice."

    So in Italy, a regular coffee is an espresso. In a New York diner, a regular coffee is Vassiliaros from an urn, with milk and sugar.

    You're right that this requires context to understand what regular practice is. But that's equally true of any equivalent term like "normal" or "standard."

    This sense of "regular" is, I think, an extension from "recurring at evenly-spaced intervals" to "recurring at frequent intervals" to "all the time" to "whenever we do it."

  55. Ted

    So in Italy, a regular coffee is an espresso. In a New York diner, a regular coffee is Vassiliaros from an urn, with milk and sugar.

    Only if you speak American. Translating into British English un espresso is a normal or standard coffee etc.

    But here in Britain there is no normal. A standard coffee in our house is different from many different standards in other households. Cafes and restaurants offer huge range of coffees, catering for a huge range of tastes, so there's no normal there.

    As I said earlier, probably the most common form of coffee is made with instant coffee in a mug with added cold milk, but you won't find that in a large swathe of restaurants, cafes and households. You'd probably find it in most places of work — but by no means all.

    In Britain regular coffee is an alien term for an non-existent artefact.

  56. I have to disagree with you David about there not being a 'normal' coffee in UK. If you order a coffee in many places (in the southeast at least), they will put milk in it without even asking. (Just like they do for tea. Ugh.) It's got better recently, now that people are drinking coffee more and in more different ways, but I often forget to specify 'black coffee' when ordering for BH and am always taken aback when I get a white coffee.

  57. Lynne

    What's normal is to add milk. The coffee it's added to is less predictable.

    Even if we could agree on a concrete object of a typical British coffee, there'd still be an important linguistic difference. We just don't talk about a normal coffee in places where they don't know our tastes. OK, we might use the expression to distinguish an unexceptional coffee from something unaccustomed and strange.

    For the other hot drink — tea — we also have no set phrase for the typical specimen. Asked how we like it, we say Oh, just as it comes (out of the pot). The default is to add cold milk, but we usually ask a stranger Milk and sugar? Alternatively, the drinker gets in first when the tea is offered Oo, yes, thanks. Milk and two two sugars, please.' (Note the please.)

    Ye's, there brickie's tea but that's one typical variety.

  58. Not saying that people call it 'normal', mind you, just that there are defaults--and therefore it affects what 'coffee' refers to (or even 'means') in a 'would you like a coffee? yes, please' circumstance.

    When refreshments are served at Scrabble club or after the Sunday assembly, they put milk in all the cups, then add the instant coffee+water or tea-from-a-pot.

    But of course we've dealt with the milk issue previously.

    Wait'll you see the next post. That's going to have a comments avalanche.

  59. Lynne

    there are defaults--and therefore it affects what 'coffee' refers to (or even 'means')

    I suppose that suggests that the BrE translation of regular coffee is coffee.

    An expression like normal coffee is highly marked. We use it to mean 'not strange'. So there's no obvious translation for AmE regular coffee. My old translation — usual coffee — works much of the time.

  60. Wait'll you see the next post. That's going to have a comments avalanche.

    Ooh -- Lynne! You are such a tease!

  61. Who invented the patronizing term "entry-level"?

  62. Little Black Sambo

    Judging by the quotations in the OED, it was invented in the middle of the last century by people who devised and administered salary scales and job hierarchies.

    In what way is it patron{s/z}ing?

  63. My own theory about "bog-standard" is that it's a mis-hearing of "bulk-standard" i.e. something which you can obtain large quantites of in its standard form such as paint

  64. David Crosbie: "The beauty of the espresso principle is that it uses steam"

    That little two-compartment pot that sits on top of the stove makes coffee by passing "boiling water pressurized by steam through ground coffee" (Wikipedia, under moka pot; my emphasis); a picture makes it clear the coffee grounds are not compacted. All other espresso machines force (press) sub-boiling-point water through compacted coffee grounds. That's what happens in every espresso-based coffee shop I've ever been in, in England, America and Italy, and in my kitchen, where my home machine gets regular and frequent use.

  65. BrE. Since the rise of Starbucks and their clones, the only way to get an unadorned coffee is to ask for an Americano. I used to ask for a black Americano, but was invariably asked if I wanted milk with it. Understandable, perhaps, if I wanted milk on the side to add myself. However, gentle prodding showed that a fair percentage of the staff were genuinely unaware that black meant without milk.

  66. In the comments section I spotted some mentions of "vanilla". I can't give a timing for the change, but nowadays it's usually "plain vanilla", surely?


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