The fourth 'Untranslatables' month summary

This was the fourth year that I declared October Untranslatables Month on my Twitter feed. (Here's 2011 , 2012, and 2013.) Instead of offering a 'Difference of the Day', I offered an 'Untranslatable of the Day' every weekday.  Last year, I swore that I wasn't going to do it again. In part I doubted that I could find another month's worth, but also in part, I was tired out from people arguing with me online about elements of the project. You can probably guess their complaints from the defensive bullet points that appear below. 

About my Untranslatables:
  • I'm only talking about the relationship between British and American English here (as is my theme). These expressions may well have equivalents in other languages or dialects.  
  • By Untranslatable I mean that there is no lexicali{z/s}ed equivalent in the other dialect. And by lexicali{z/s}ed I mean that the expression is a word or an idiom--something that language users learn through hearing others say it, rather than something that has been made up anew.
    One can translate things by making up new sentences or phrases that describe the same thing, sure. But it's special when a language has lexicali{z/s}ed an  expression for something--it tells us something about the culture that invented and uses that expression.
  • Many of these have started to be borrowed between the dialects--and that's natural. If it's a useful expression and the other dialect doesn't have it, it's a prime candidate for international migration.
  • If you have not heard of the word before (even though I've said it comes from your country), this is not cause for complaint. It is cause for celebration that you have this opportunity to enrich your vocabulary! 
That all said, I wasn't given much of a hard time this year. And I certainly was not subject to abusive rants, as happened for a while last year. (Phew.)

My rules for choosing the untranslatables are:
  • They can't repeat items from the previous Untranslatables Months.
  • It should be the expression that's missing from the other country, rather than the thing. So, for instance Page 3 Girl was suggested, but there is no American newspaper that puts topless young women on page three every day (thank goodness). There's no word for it in the US only because there's nothing for it to refer to in the US, so it doesn't belong in this particular list.
  • I try to alternate American and British expressions (but that doesn't always work out).

With the words below, I've given the content of the Untranslatable of the Day tweet, expanded and re-formatted from the necessary abbreviations of 140 characters. If I've discussed the expressions before on this blog, I provide links to those posts. I also include here the links I provided with the tweets and I try to give credit to those who suggested them as untranslatables. Here we go.

  • BrE snug: a small, comfy room in a pub. Occasionally  extended to other comfy personal (orig. ScotE) hidey-holes. Here's a Wikipedia description. [I learned this during the year while reading an article that I now can't find. I had to look the word up, and then spent the rest of the year waiting for untranslatables month to come round again.]
  • AmE to jaywalk: to cross the street/road against the light or where there's no crossing. Thanks to @SimonKoppel for the suggestion. As I noted in a later tweet, this word is known by many in the UK, but generally only used to refer to people doing it in the US. Some British twitterers objected that this couldn't count because the thing doesn't exist in the UK. They were under the impression that one cannot jaywalk in the UK because it's not illegal to cross in the middle of the (orig. AmE) block here.  But notice that there's nothing about legality in the definition I've given. I grew up in a place where (I was told, I've never actually checked) jaywalking wasn't illegal. But we still called it jaywalking. (Remember: laws--including many traffic laws--vary by state in the US.)
  • BrE Billy No-Mates: a friendless person. Here's a history of the phrase. (Can't find who suggested it, but thanks!) Several people sent variations on this like Johnny No-mates, Norma No-Mates and Norman No-Mates, but Billy seems to be the original (and the one I hear most--the others may be a bit more spread around the anglophone world).
  • AmE backwash: saliva/mouth contents that go back into a bottle that's been swigged from. (Urban Dictionary's take on it.) Several Brits told me they knew this from childhood, but it's still not (in my experience) widespread in the UK. Of course, the word-form is used in both dialects for other kinds of washing-back in rivers and plumbing.
  • BrE garden(ing) leave: Explained in this old post.  Thanks again to @SimonKoppel.
  • BrE to plump for: to choose suddenly after much dithering. Thanks for the suggestion to @rwmg.
  • AmE will call: [of tickets] to be collected at the box office. Wikipedia says COBO ('care of box office') is the BrE equivalent, but it's not in general use. In a US theat{er/re} you might have to go to the will-call desk/counter/box office to get the tickets. COBO isn't used like that. Yet another one suggested by @SimonKoppel. I might have to put him in charge of Untranslatables month next October.
  • BrE to decant: to transfer people temporarily to another location. See sense 1.1 in Oxford Dictionaries Online. Thanks to Diane Benjamin for this suggestion.
  • AmE to stop on a dime: to come to a halt quickly and neatly in exactly the right spot. Many complained that this has a BrE equivalent in stop on a sixpence. Fair enough. Though I will note that turn on a sixpence seems to be more common than stop on...
  • BrE three-line whip: Party instruction to Members of Parliament that they must vote with the party on some matter. (Here's more explanation from a Stack Exchange.) There is a question here whether it should count: is there an equivalent three-level structure of whips in the US? Well, there could be, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. Thanks to @JanetNorCal for the suggestion.
  • AmE loaded for bear: well prepared (and probably eager) for a forthcoming confrontation. Thanks to @sethadelman for the suggestion.
  • BrE gazunder: [for a buyer] to reduce an agreed-upon price for a house/property just prior to signing contract.  Here's Word Spy on it.  
  • BrE gazump. To obtain a property by offering more for it than an already-accepted offer. Here's Oxford Dictionaries Online on it.
  • AmE layaway (= AusE lay-by). Instal(l)ment purchasing, where the item's not received until it's paid off. There was some discussion about whether this should count because it's unclear that the equivalent exists in the UK. British hire-purchase is the equivalent of AmE rent-to-own or rental-purchase, in which case you take the thing home and make payments on it. I allowed it because I think one could argue that certain Christmas schemes in the UK (like this one) are kind of like layaway. Thanks to @smylers2 for the suggestion.
  • BrE U and non-U: (Non)-upper class, with particular reference to words that "should" or "shouldn't" be used. Here's the Wikipedia article on it. And here are places where the distinction has been mentioned on this blog.
  • AmE charley horse. A cramp in the leg. Here is Merriam-Webster's definition. Thanks to @meringutan for the suggestion. There were some suggestions for British-dialectal equivalents of this. Hard to tell if they're really equivalent. You can discuss amongst yourselves in the comments.
  • BrE WAGs: wives and/or girlfriends of (BrE) footballers as a type of celebrity. Discussed on this blog here. Thanks to @meringutan.
  • AmE snow day: a day when schools and businesses are closed due to snow. (Longman definition). Sometimes heard in UK now, but no local lexical equivalent. Thanks for the suggestion, @laurelspeth.
  • BrE chav. This is a word for a stereotyped type of person. Here's Wikipedia's take on it. Suggested by @kearsycormier (thanks!). This one I was most uneasy about including, because I think it is the case of it being more the referent (in this case people rather than things) rather than the word that the US lacks. It's all about the UK social class system, which operates in different ways, with different emblems, than the US class system.  Many years ago I wrote about an attempt to import chav to the US. It hasn't worked.
  • AmE family-style: adjective or adverb describing the serving of food at restaurant in dishes that are to be passed (a)round and taken from, like at home. (Oxford's definition)
  • BrE scrumping: stealing apples from an orchard. Thanks to @beardynoise for the suggestion.
  • AmE palimony: (humorous) alimony-style payments made after the break-up of a non-marital relationship. 
  • BrE dodgy: with its many shades of meaning, it's hard to think of an exact equivalent: Here's Oxford Dictionaries Online on it. Once one learns this word, it soon becomes a necessary part of one's vocabulary, so it's not surprising that there are US sightings of it. Thanks to  @tonythorne007 for the suggestion.


  1. It's worth noting that "gazunder", as well as a portmanteau from the delightful "gazump", also has a previous meaning: a chamber pot which "goes under" the bed. The connection between someone who tries such a tactic, and a pot full of piss, must surely have been deliberate on the part of whoever coined it.

  2. "Scrumping" may be making tiny inroads over here. Last year I discovered a made-in-California hard cider called Santa Cruz Scrumpy; it was my first encounter with "scrump" other than in "scrumptious," and it spurred me to investigate:

  3. Is there an American linguistic phenomen equivalent to "U/Non-U"?

  4. There are certainly sociolinguistic markers in speech that are class-related.

  5. Nancy Friedman

    Scrumpy may well make inroads, but scrumping is another matter.

    I don't think BrE speakers realise that the words are connected. I certainly didn't. We don't know how scrumpy is made. And the noun scrump ('withered or dry apples') that both words derive from has never been part of British Standard English — at least not that the OED has been able to find. In any case, it you steal ripe apples off the tree it's still called scrumping.

  6. Irene, Lynne

    U and Non-U were invented to describe the speech-markers of the Upper Class. Even in Britain, precious few people now want to sound like aristocrats or landed gentry.

  7. Thanks for explaining charley horse to this AusE speaker. It's an expression I heard in TV shows or movies and never understood.

    Another was "simonize" which appeared in a work we studied in English in high school, and which no-one (including the teacher) could explain. The internet has just answered that one for me now.

  8. layaway/lay-by: I understand the concept and I'm sure it used to be done in Britain in the days before must-have-it-NOW credit, but I can't think of a conventional word for it. The nearest would be "putting it by", rather than a noun. Or perhaps it wasn't that common after all (do American shops just have more storage space, perhaps?!)

  9. RE layaway/put it by:
    @Autolycus: Everything in America has more storage space. :)
    Put it by in my experience is just that--putting it to the side, but no payment plan. When I worked in a charity shop here, people would ask us to put thing by, and we sometimes would, with a time limit. But if they tried to pay us a deposit for it, we had no way to cope, and we certainly couldn't have coped with a long series of payments. I'm not sure any shops in the US do layaway anymore, either. Store credit cards replaced it.

    Re U and non-U:
    These are now old-fashioned in UK too. The same kind of thing was going on in the US in early-mid-20th century, but without the name. It was associated with 'old money'. For instance, in Joe Alsop's memoir he writes of the linguistic rules of being a WASP:
    "The rule was that the earliest English name for any thing or any occupation was desirable, and anything later was highly undesirable. So you were buried in a coffin, not a casket, and the coffin was supplied by an undertaker, never a funeral director and not (God preserve us) a mortician. Windows had curtains, not drapes or draperies . . . The unlucky had false teeth, not dentures; and when their lives ended they died instead of ‘passing’ … (And WASPs really did say ‘tomahto’ as opposed to ‘tomayto’, though you seldom hear anybody pronounce it that way now.)"

    (I've got a few more such quotations from other sources from a project I'm working on...but I'll leave it at that! There's clearly an association with Britishness there.)

  10. Here's a UK use of "lay away", although the usage of quotes around it is telling:

    I agree that lay away isn't generally something that people do in the UK; it makes sense that baby equipment is one of the rare times when people sometimes do.

  11. U vs Non-U as originally characterised is completely dead. The upper classes (defined partly by 'old money' but more by 'old family') just maintained their cultural identity up to the mid-twentieth century, but were taking themselves less and less seriously when Alan Ross identified and named their exclusive speech markers. The markers were a visible and amusing feature of the war waged by the aristocracy and the 'county families' to retain their privileges and power.

    But the war was lost. While the toffs were concentrating on the arrivistes who didn't speak their language or understand their culture, they failed to notice that their power and privilege was being taken over by a large body of successful upper-middle professionals who did understand them and were not in awe of their culture.

    Indeed, a great many of upper-class males had been educated along with their supposed 'superiors' in our elite private boarding schools know as 'public schools', and then at the elite universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

    These were the troops that won the cultural wars. So a large percentage of the upper class decamped to join the upper-middle. There is still an upper class, some of it still wealthy and powerful, but it's much smaller and not the goal for social climbers that it was.

    There are still very sharp class differences in Britain, especially in England, but there are several different fault-lines — each with its speech-markers — of which the upper vs middle divide is possibly the least important.

    Anyway, the U & Non-U rules weren't really rules at all. Once the middle class latched on to what was the U word for something, the upper class promptly changed it to a different word.

  12. I must confess I have never heard of U / non-U and when I looked at the list of words on the Wiki article they seemed randomly distributed between the two. Some words I would have thought were posh were in the non-U column, and vice versa. The scrumping issue has also reminded me of a blog I saw recently about the growth of "hard cider" in the US. Us Brits were totally confused. What would "soft" cider be? Apple juice? Cider is, by default, alcoholic over here.

  13. Despite being a BrE speaker, I'm familiar with the nouns jaywalking and jaywalker —though not the verb. I don't associate it exclusively with American.

    Although there no legal action here, there's the sanction of disapproval. I've always understood jaywalking to be crossing the road recklessly. Otherwise it's just 'dodging the traffic'.

  14. I would suggest that AmE "sketchy" is a fairly good equivalent of BrE "dodgy".

  15. lynneguist wrote: I'm not sure any shops in the US do layaway anymore, either. Store credit cards replaced it.

    Walmart currently does layaway here, and has (or very recently had) a series of television commercials to promote its return. I believe another store might have had a similar advertising campaign last year.


  16. David Crosbie: I think jaywalking can certainly be reckless, but it doesn't have to be. I'd still refer to it as jaywalking if I crossed the street in the middle of the block even if there were no cars on the road.


    Lynne, I think it's interesting that you mention BrE "turn on a sixpence" being more common than "stop on...", because when I saw "stop on a dime", my first thought was that I'd more commonly seen "turn on a dime"!

    I'm interested in "to plump for". Does it carry a certain connotation (e.g. oh, you're so indecisive, you always end up having to plump for what you choose), or is it a neutral expression?

  17. What would "soft" cider be? Apple juice? Cider is, by default, alcoholic over here.

    I don't know what apple juice looks like in the UK, but in the US it's apple cider that has had the bejesus filtered out of it to render it (there's no other way to put it) the color of bright yellow urine.

    "Soft" apple cider, on the other hand, has neither been filtered nor fermented. It's just the fresh juice of pressed apples put in a plastic carton and sold like milk -- complete with an expiration date. (Leave it out long enough and it will ferment all by itself -- though in my experience the resulting taste isn't exactly exquisite.)

    The market in hard cider has exploded in the US over the few years, with the major beer brewing companies dealing with the decline in beer consumption by marketing alcoholic cider in bottles and six packs the same way they do beer.

  18. Sorry: The market in hard cider has exploded in the US over the last few years ...

  19. Re cider:
    British cloudy apple juice still isn't the same as US apple cider. American apple cider is brown and has a much fresher taste than apple juice--even UK cloudy apple juice.

    I always buy some when in the States--coming from apple country as I do. It's fantastic. But tragically I'm never there when it's apple cider doughnut season. Sigh.

  20. Laura

    1. It would seem that the concept of jaywalking has only partly survived the crossing of the Atlantic.

    2. The connotations of plump for are (for me) rather positive. It suggests a sense of relief at not worrying any more about the choice. You're comfortable with what you've chosen, so forget about the alternatives.

  21. I always thought that "plump for" was more like "pony up" in AmE. Not so much a relief for having made the decision, but deciding that the item was worth the extra expense. As in, "I'm not sure whether to buy the more expensive, newer model or settle for the older, cheaper one but that new one really has features that might be worth plumping for or ponying up for.

  22. To me "plump for" has an element of randomness or carelessness to it: "I have no idea which one to choose, so I'll go for -- mmm -- THAT one!"

    I would never "plump for" a major life decision such as choosing a spouse, or choosing to have children.

  23. Have to say, 'dodgy' has a more sinister tone to it, eg, "That man over there in the dark glasses and trench coat looks a bit dodgy...'

  24. I think we have discussed 'layaway' under another topic in this blog , some time ago, and I said then that it is used in shops that sell knitting wools in the UK. For example, if the pattern indicates that 10 balls of yarn are required, you think that you will knit the sleeves a bit shorter than specified, so you think you may only need 8 balls .... The shopkeeper will then offer to keep the other two balls from the dye-batch for you to purchase as you reach the final stages of the garment. A good deal of trust is involved in this informal arrangement, as the shop needs to sell the yarn in the current season, so you would need to be sure that you can knit pretty quickly and get back to buy the remaining balls if needed. So, although it is a sort of delayed purchase, you do have the materials as soon as you have paid for them.
    I have done something similar at a plant stall in the county show - paid for plants which are then put aside in a numbered bag for collection at the end of the day.

  25. Stacy Rushton

    Not so much a relief for having made the decision, but deciding that the item was worth the extra expense.

    No I'd never use plump for to mean that. And I'm sure I've never heard it used with that meaning.

    Between us, I think vp and I have largely covered it — a choice which is both careless and care-free.

  26. The OED reveals that the original meaning of plump for was to give both or all your votes to the same candidate.

  27. @Biochemist,

    The difference with "layaway" as you describe it in wool shops and "layaway" as it used to be done in the U.S. (and might still be done) is that in the U.S. a customer was usually expected to make a deposit (some shops advertised that deposit weren't needed for their layaway, making them stand out from the rest) on the thing being laid away. They also had the option paying in instalments or of paying the remainder (less the deposit) at the end of a set time period. If they failed to pay by that time, under some plans (IIRC), the items were forfeit. But most larger stores that did layaway had a department devoted specifically to it, so customers were informed if they were in danger of be considered in default.

    I don't know if current layaway plans work in the same way, though. I doubt it.


  28. Re: cider - non-alcoholic apple cider here is unpasteurized, in addition to unfiltered, which is why it tastes so different. British cloudy apple juice is unfiltered but has been sterilized, so it loses the raw flavor of cider.

    Re: sketchy: There are two different usages of it here, one of which means simply incomplete (as in "at the stage the plans are still sketchy"). However, the slang usage is very similar to "dodgy", at least here in the northeastern US -- it's very common to hear that a neighborhood is sketchy after dark, for instance, or a Craigslist ad seems too sketchy to be true.

  29. I think Charley Horse is just a Dead Leg or Dead Arm, I guess if you could get a charley horse on another muscle it would not have a synonym, but "dead bum" or something would likely be understood.

  30. I have bought very fresh, unpasteurised apple juice from wayside stalls in France - it's lovely, but you have to drink it at once or it ferments. "Scrumpy" is a particular kind of cider, which is more alcoholic than most, and very nice too, on occasion. But I was not aware that it had anything to do with "scrumping" apples - i.e. stealing them.

  31. Oh, and P.S. if someone said "Gazunder" in my hearing, I'd assume it was a china container that went under the bed, rather than anything to do with house buying.

  32. I have always understood palimony to be money paid by a woman to her ex-husband, as opposed to alimony which is the reverse.

  33. @Scott P.

    I've never heard that before. Legally required payments made as part of a divorce are alimony. It's probably more common for it to be paid by a man to his ex-wife, but it could be the other way around:

    Here's a random example ripped from the headlines: Woman Pleads to Stop Alimony Paid to Ex-Husband Accused of Killing New Husband

  34. Mrs Reboots

    The connection between scrumpy and scrumping is indirect. Both derive from scrump which means 'withered or dried apples'. That's what scrumpy is made from and that — in an ideal world — is all that children are supposed to take from orchards.

  35. To me, scrumping only applies to taking fallen apples (which I suppose is even more restrictive than what David Crosbie suggests). Anything else is stealing. Hence scrumping is most definitely not stealing. This is how my innocent BrE young scrupulously law-abiding mind justified the practice at all. Plus of course not to take fallen apples but rather simply leave them to rot would be terribly wasteful.

    Meanwhile, despite loving the stuff, I had never even noticed the similarity between scrumpy and scrumping. Dear me.

  36. I (BrE) always thought that jay-walking meant walking along the road i.e. rather than using the pavement (sidewalk). I don't even have a word for crossing against the light or in a random place. But there is of course still a connotation of recklessness.

  37. Since 'dodgy' has made the list, I wonder if the noun it often modifies is also a candidate: 'geezer'. And, come to that, its antonym: 'diamond'.

  38. Anonymous

    Hence scrumping is most definitely not stealing.

    To a virtuous minority like yourself. Otherwise a comforting fiction.

    Presumably the word was coined to suggest that the activity was confined to apples that were not valued or wanted by the growers.

  39. Further to my mention of "Nobby No-mates", let me add I agree with those who say that there's no special reason to use this name other than the alliterative effect. Of the name "Nobby" Wikipedia says: "It is also a nickname most commonly used in English for those with the surname Clark or Clarke." Strange.

  40. Further to my mention of "Nobby No-mates"
    Looks like that post didn't make it. All I said was that "Nobby No-mates" is the form I am most familiar with.

    It's an unusual name; I wouldn't know it had it not been for Nobby Styles, who was well-known when I was a child.

  41. Jim Ley - I'm not sure what a dead arm or leg is - maybe what AmE calls your arm/leg falling asleep? Charlie horses by definition hurt like hell, so it's probably not the same thing.

    Mrs. Redboots - that sounds exactly like american apple cider. A large reason for the recent popularity of hard cider in the US is that it's a gluten-free alternative to beer.

    In my area, stores that sell things to people who might not have credit cards (people who are young and/or poor, or undocumented immigrants) still do layaway.

    I am very glad the english language has a word for stealing apples from the apple orchard.

  42. Dead Legs hurt like hell too, it's the result of a punch on the leg or walking into a table edge or something. It's certainly the same in my (West Country Brit) as charley horse is in mw wifes(Soutern Ontari Canadian)

    I can't think of anything other than "my legs gone to sleep" etc for the numbness caused by sitting etc.

    Scrumping is illegal for sure.

  43. To me, walking into a table could not cause a Charley Horse. It's a cramp--the kind that might wake you up in the night and is probably a signal of too little potassium in your diet. Though from my research on the term, it does seem that it's used differently by different people--or possibly in different parts of the US.

  44. I have also seen "Charley Horse" used in contexts in American novels such that I would translate it as being very stiff after undue exercise, or whatever.

  45. In Portadown, Co. Armagh (often known as "Orchard County", Northern Ireland, we called stealing apples "fogging orchards".

    But my work colleague from Belfast had a different word for it. Unfortunately I can't remember what it was.

    And I'm sure I've heard other regional variations too, either in Northern Ireland, Ireland or the mainland UK, but, again, I can't remember what they were - I may well be thinking of scrumping. But in Portadown we certainly never spoke of scrumping.

    Refer to:


    "September was always the month when the gang "fogged" orchards. Cordner's Orchard in Mill Avenue was very handy but the Minister's orchard at Drumcree Rectory was the best. The risk of being chased by the Minister's dog sweetened the adventure. Sundays in summer were spent in Selshion Moss running and jumping off "Hill 60" in our bare feet."

    "The Afternoon Play
    Fogging by ARTHUR DEENY
    Hugh McAnnally and Shamus Byrne were once schoolboy chums in Ulster and used to go fishing and 'fogging' orchards forapples. Now Hugh is a GP and Shamus a terrorist who falls through his door looking for treatment and shelter. Should Hugh help?"

  46. In Portadown, Co. Armagh (often known as "Orchard County", Northern Ireland, we called stealing apples "fogging orchards".

    But my work colleague from Belfast had a different word for it. Unfortunately I can't remember what it was.

    And I'm sure I've heard other regional variations too, either in Northern Ireland, Ireland or the mainland UK, but, again, I can't remember what they were - I may well be thinking of scrumping. But in Portadown we certainly never spoke of scrumping.

    Refer to:


    "September was always the month when the gang "fogged" orchards. Cordner's Orchard in Mill Avenue was very handy but the Minister's orchard at Drumcree Rectory was the best. The risk of being chased by the Minister's dog sweetened the adventure. Sundays in summer were spent in Selshion Moss running and jumping off "Hill 60" in our bare feet."

    "The Afternoon Play
    Fogging by ARTHUR DEENY
    Hugh McAnnally and Shamus Byrne were once schoolboy chums in Ulster and used to go fishing and 'fogging' orchards forapples. Now Hugh is a GP and Shamus a terrorist who falls through his door looking for treatment and shelter. Should Hugh help?"

  47. Would you alow me to ask you question of topic and offline? You seem to be the best person to help regarding "undocumented" English.

    I find your topics and observations extemely interesting.
    Came to your blog after watching you on YouTube: Numbers confuse Americans - Numberphile:
    Seeing behind you books upon books on semantics and how passionate you are about language I have decided you are the person to consult with.
    Could you please reply to me email at emmanuelhalevi [at] gmail?

    Thank you in advance for your attention,

  48. Jim Ley: The term I'm most familiar with for "leg gone to sleep" is "pins and needles".

    Julian Pardoe: Nobby Clark is one of the nicknames that groups of men used to give to a member with a particular surname/last name, e.g. Chalky White, Dusty Miller (because millers were traditionally dusty with flour). The explanation I've read is that a clerk was regarded as a cut above manual workers and so jokingly called a "nob" (a person of status).

  49. Kate

    In a forum concerned with British and American language differences, it's worth pointing out that in most British accents clerk and Clark(e) are pronounced the same.

    The adjective nobby meaning 'posh' is not in common use nowadays. When I came across it in Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment, I thought he'd invented it. But then I remembered the music hall (AmE vaudeville) song

    Where did you get that hat?
    Where did you get that tile?
    Isn't it a nobby one,
    And just the proper style?
    I should like to have one
    Just the same as that!
    Where e'er I go they shout, "Hello!
    Where did you get that hat?"

  50. I wonder, are gazump and gazunder as well-known in Scotland, where the laws are different and an offer on a property is a legally binding agreement?

  51. Scrumping isn't necessarily confined to apples. You can scrump any fruit or vegetables by nicking them directly from the garden/orchard. My husband, as a child, scrumped apples and pears in England and pineapples in Australia.

    "Scrumping" is distinct from "stealing" because it refers to a minor childhood prank. You climb over the wall, pick an apple, run away, and eat it. There's no attempt to take quantities of fruit.

  52. "Pins and Needles" and a "leg gone to sleep" are distinct but are certainly pretty similar and I wouldn't necessarily trust they differed in other peoples minds. One is just numb, the other an active tingly sensation.

    I agree with Roberta that scrumping while stealing is more at the mischevious end of theft, and you can do it to other fruit. (west country Brit me)

  53. Like Laura above, I wonder whether 'gazump' and 'gazunder' really belong on the untranslatables list. It seems to me they fail the Page 3 test -- that is, they refer to actions that can't happen in the US because of the legal apparatus concerning house sales. So it's hardly surprising there's no US word for them.

  54. Laura

    A legally binding agreement exists in civil law. If one party breaks the agreement by accepting a gazumping bid, it isn't a crime that the police will investigate and the Procurator Fiscal prosecute. It's for the aggrieved party to decide whether it's worth the cost of litigation.

    So gazumping does happen in Scotland when the housing market goes crazy — as it did a few years ago.

  55. Can I comment on your language, Lynne, rather than the topic?

    You write, "If I've discussed the expressions before on this blog, so I provide links to those posts."

    It seems to me (non-native speaker of English) an unusual use of "so". I'd expect "If ... then ...". In my native Danish, however, "so" would be the word to use in this context (in Danish: "så").

    I've been told that some people in Minnesota still speak with German accents or use turns of phrase that come from German, even if they don't otherwise speak the language - e.g. "The gas is all" to mean "We're out of gas", or "Are you coming with?" to mean "Are you coming (along)" - this last one could be Danish as well as German. Your use of "If ... so" comes across to me as a "Danism" similar to these "Germanisms", but perhaps I'm reading too much into it.

  56. Anonymous: I'm afraid you're reading too much into an editing error. I've deleted the 'so' now.

  57. @ Nick Rowe:

    From the U and non-U English usage Wikipedia article:

    "...the different vocabularies often can appear quite counter-intuitive: the middle classes prefer "fancy" or fashionable words, even neologisms and often euphemisms, in attempts to make themselves sound more refined, while the upper classes in many cases stick to the same plain and traditional words that the working classes also use, as, conscious of their status, they have no need to make themselves sound more refined."

  58. Will Watts said...
    Since 'dodgy' has made the list, I wonder if the noun it often modifies is also a candidate: 'geezer'. And, come to that, its antonym: 'diamond'.

    This one has me scratching my head. In the US a geezer is an old man; I know it's a more general thing in the UK, similar to guy - a man of any age. Diamond as its antonym? (Can a noun even have an antonym?)

    WAG is common online as an abbreviation for "wild ass guess": "The term palimony became widespread after Liberace's boyfriend sued him, or at least that's my WAG."

  59. 'Geezer' has its own post:

    'Diamond' isn't the opposite of 'geezer'. Rather, 'diamond geezer' is the opposite of 'dodgy geezer'.

  60. I don't know whether this of any interest. Usage here in the South West of England is as follows.

    Cider is a standard alcoholic drink, popular and readily available, made from apples. It is readily available on draft in pubs and in bottles. Supermarkets also sell it in larger plastic bottles. It is usually slightly stronger than beer. There are often several different varieties available. Thatchers, of Sandford near Weston-super-Mare, even produce some single apple varieties. Most marketed cider whether sweet or dry, is clear and a golden colour.

    Scrumpy is a rough variety of cider, often made on farms, which is usually cloudy and quite often with bits floating in it. Compared with clear cider, it often has a slightly sour flavour. It is usually stronger and is more prone to go off.

    Non alcoholic apple juice is widely available and drunk. It is usually called apple juice and never called cider.

  61. Dru, as Dick mentioned earlier, (soft) cider and apple juice are both nonalcoholic, but they don't refer to the same thing at all. Apple juice is what you'd get from Mott's or Minute Maid (or whatever juice-making corporation is most common in the UK!). Apple cider is more commonly found at farmer's markets and orchards, or if sold commercially, to be found in grocery stores more often in the fall than year-round.

    Re. ciders: I don't know if it's just me, but if I want the non-alcoholic kind, I always refer to it as "apple cider" (the only exception being, perhaps, if I had already mentioned it, and then said I was getting a second glass of cider). For alcoholic cider, I just call it cider. I would never say "apple cider" to mean scrumpy or Strongbow. Is that just my own idiosyncrasy, or common among other North Americans too?

  62. Also, I don't think anyone's mentioned the wonders of mulled cider: (nonalcoholic) apple cider heated with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and orange peel. A delicious and comforting winter alternative to mulled wine, and definitely not something you'd want to make with the (hard) cider from your local :P

  63. Laura

    definitely not something you'd want to make with the (hard) cider from your local :P

    I'm not sure if we have "local :P's" here. I'm absolutely sure we don't have 'soft cider'. I see no reason whatsoever not to make mulled cider with the usual (i.e. alcoholic) sort.

    We do actually have non-alcoholic cider here —made by removing the alcohol from ordinary cider. It's quite a pleasant drink for drivers when everybody else is drinking alcohol.

  64. The references to 'soft cider' are rather funny to my ear!

    The opposite of AmE 'hard cider' is 'sweet cider'. But, as Laura notes, we're just more likely to say 'apple cider'.

    When I was a kid (and a great apple cider fan), we knew the term 'hard cider', but never saw any that was purposefully made. Instead when cider 'went hard' it was time to throw it away.

  65. Also, I don't think anyone's mentioned the wonders of mulled cider: (nonalcoholic) apple cider heated with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and orange peel. A delicious and comforting winter alternative to mulled wine, and definitely not something you'd want to make with the (hard) cider from your local

    I agree, mulled apple juice, or "hot apple juice" as it is called in Austria and places like that, is absolutely delicious, but if I had fresh-pressed apple juice, I'd not waste it on mulling - a good-quality cloudy apple juice from the supermarket is more than adequate. And I actually think that alcoholic cider (especially if topped up with Calvados, like some people top up mulled wine with brandy) would be delicious mulled.... mmmm.....

  66. When I was a kid (and a great apple cider fan), we knew the term 'hard cider', but never saw any that was purposefully made. Instead when cider 'went hard' it was time to throw it away.

    I hope that, since you have been resident here, you have remedied that deficiency! Some cider is nicer than others, and I personally prefer beer, but it can be a very pleasant drink, especially on a hot day.

  67. No, before I moved to the UK I had the drunkest night of my life on cider in Swaziland. (The only time I've ever smoked a cigarette.) I now have a serious aversion to that drink. Even the smell of it...

    Sweet cider, on the other hand, absolutely fantastic. Forever.

  68. Yes, one can get well drunk on Scrumpy (that's the really alcoholic kind), especially if you don't realise that it is not actually as mild as Strongbow.... been there, done that....

  69. It sounds really odd to hear that there are people for whom 'cider' can ever describe a soft drink.

    Normal usage here is that 'sweet cider' is ordinary alcoholic cider that tastes sweet, and 'dry cider' is cider that doesn't. Referring back to Thatcher's again, Thatcher's Dry on draft, cool on a hot day is a particularly refreshing option after a long walk.

    The term 'hard' cider is not used. In this part of the world 'hard' of any other drink than water, usually means spirits.

    Hard water is water that comes off chalk or limestone and has a lot of calcium in it. It is good for the bones but doesn't lather well, furs kettles and leaves stains under the taps(faucets?) in baths. Soft water is the opposite. Is that usage universal.

  70. @David Crosbie: "The OED reveals that the original meaning of plump for was to give both or all your votes to the same candidate."

    This sense, slightly amended, is still current in (Rep of) Ireland, where we use the single transferable vote. Say there are 4 seats with 9 candidates standing, of whom 2 are for your favourite party. If you "plump", you rank 1-2 for your party's candidates and then stop, instead of ranking lower preferences 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9. Unlike the original plumping, this does not actually confer any advantage on your party; in Australia it renders your vote invalid.

  71. I was interested in your inclusion of " decant". I've only come across it used this way in Scottish newspapers. For example people being decanted from a housing scheme. I've never herald it used in England.

  72. I don't think there's an equivalent to a "three-line whip" in the US, as the parties don't have that level of control over their members. Members of a party do sometimes vote against the party line even on critical votes, and it doesn't result in being ejected from the party (unless it angers the district's primary voters, who may see things differently than the national party).

  73. Just a couple of things from a (Welsh) Brit -

    "Snug": I would also use this as an adjective, as in "You look very snug" to imply that they look very comfortable. In welsh, we use "Cwtch", which pretty much means the same thing, but can also mean a hug.

    "Billy No-Mates": As a teacher of teenagers, I can tell you that this phrase is going out of fashion quickly. Nowadays, you are more like to hear "I was sitting there like a Jonah" (with the backstory that Jonah was on his own for a long time!) Tey also use "Jaffa", but I have no idea why!

    "Backwash": I definitely remember this from my childhood. It was a reason not to give someone your drink, especially if they´d just been eating something.

    And on the talk of "Scrumpy" and "Scrumping", my Dad grew up in London during the 40s and would often go down to Kent during the summers to go scrumping - he was paid by the farmer to collect the apples from the orchards. I also remember being paid as a student to do the same thing (it was terrible pay and back-breaking work in the hot summer!). So, I´m not sure it just means stealing.

  74. Sadie Rodea - your mention of "scrumping" as not necessarily meaning "stealing" brings to mind and additional comment I should make on apple picking terminology in Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland:

    To us, "fogging" orchards meant stealing apples, but if you were legitimately working at picking apples, you were said to be "pulling apples".

    My dad used to do that every year for extra money, or just to help out some farmers he knew. For example, he would say, "I'm away to pull apples for Jimmy" or my Mum would say, "Your Da's pulling apples."

  75. Sadie Todea

    as in "You look very snug" to imply that they look very comfortable

    And as in snug as a bug in a rug.

    In welsh, we use "Cwtch", which pretty much means the same thing, but can also mean a hug

    In English there's the verb snuggle, which can amount to 'move into a position to be hugged'.

    So, I´m not sure it just means stealing.

    Well, it probably does now, but only because it used to mean what your dad did. And to kids who take the apples it doesn't mean stealing because they don't want it to.

  76. Sadie: I was born in 1951 and have never heard "scrumping" used for picking apples as a job of work, so I think the meaning must have changed quite soon after your father's day. My dictionary says "stealing from orchards or gardens". I also have a 1930s Concise Oxford which doesn't include the word at all, even in the appendix.

  77. 'Snug as a bug in a rug' sounds slightly too cosy - a bit airless and insanitary (but pubs are no-smoking nowadays)- and perhaps some 'snugs' in pubs are just like that still ... when my parents were selling their 18th-century farmhouse, they were insulted that the estate agent described their 'second, small sitting-room' as a 'snug'

  78. And, looking back at the comments about scrumpy - now that we live in Devon, we have contributed to our local farmer's scrumpy cider by giving him our windfalls (scooped up from the ground; these are mostly apples that one would not care to eat or use in the kitchen. There is clearly less control over amount of bruising and variety of wild yeasts than would be the case for hand-picked apples, hence the feeling that scrumpy is a 'rough' cider compared with the Thatcher's cider, made on a larger scale and using apples selected for quality and flavour.

  79. 1146I can see "chav" working in the US, but for a slightly different type of person--probably the skinny white guy that wears the backward baseball cap and the pants sagging down around his knees who fronts real big but, when challenged, shows his true colors and slinks off rather than facing up.

    BTW, maybe that use of "front" could make the list.

  80. I think scrumping is to stealing apples as fibbing is to lying.
    In NE England I heard children talking about "oggy-raiding".

  81. Looking at the Wikipedia entry for "chav", the word that came to my mind was "gangsta". Originally this had a racial element which seems to be absent from "chav", but as young white people frequently adopt fashions from black culture, you now see teens and young adults of any race wearing those styles.

  82. I have the impression that dodgy is a hypernym of sketchy, referring to a broader range of phenomena. Both words can be used to mean "vaguely sinister" or "suspicious", as in: sketchy neighborhood, sketchy mailman, sketchy apartment. However, dodgy is also used for things that do not initially invite suspicion, but which later turn out to have been somehow deceptive or inferior, e.g. dodgy mattress, dodgy instructions, dodgy Christmas lights. You couldn't substitute sketchy in these contexts without giving the wrong impression. Sketchy always implies an off-putting quality that is overt and readily apparent, whereas dodgy can refer either to a suspicious quality perceived in advance or to a deception apparent in retrospect.

  83. Nick

    Sketchy always implies an off-putting quality that is overt and readily apparent

    I've never heard sketchy used in this way — no doubt because I'm of the wrong generation and, possibly, nationality. What is the group of speakers that uses the word this way?

    In my speech and, I think, that BrE speakers of my age, sketchy applies to descriptions, narratives, specifications etc and means 'lacking detail'. This isn't necessarily a criticism; it might be the best we can do for want of information.

  84. Nick

    Aha! Oxford Dictionaries Online recognises that sense of sketchy:

    North American informal Dishonest or disreputable

    One of their extra quotes has sketchy and dodgy in the same sentence:

    Ossington Avenue was a crumbling street of dodgy garages and boarded-up business, sketchy strip clubs and bullet-ridden karaoke joints.

    Their definition of dodgy states:

    British informal Dishonest or unreliable

    I would say that dodgy no less than your AmEsketch is a word of instant judgement — not a quality that we learn about later. Perhaps the difference is that the way you use sketchy the judgement has already been made by public opinion.

  85. Re 'chav' (just because it's a bugbear of mine):
    Here in the north east of England we used 'charver' for generations before 'chav' became the national slang of choice for slagging off poor people. Our regional version doesn't usually convey the same level of venom and class-contempt that 'chav' tends to - probably because this is a working class region. It referred to someone who was flashily, if tackily, dressed, probably loud and disruptive, maybe a bit of a wide-boy (=untranslatable?). It's one of many NE English slang words with a Romany origin and my understanding is at one time it just meant something like 'high-spirited young man'.

  86. These days, the (non-alcoholic) apple cider you can buy in an American grocery store has almost always been pasteurized. If you want to get the unpasteurized kind, you'd probably have to go to a farmer's market or a sketchy middle-of-nowhere convenience store.

    Also, I recently saw an article on the history or jaywalking and thought I'd share:

    For some reason, it doesn't seem to accept it when I try to write it as a link.

  87. I find md it interesting that snug is listed as a distinctly British word because I always thought it was distinct to the American south as in, "as snug as a bug in a rug" I have always heard the word used in the capacity described although never by my Yankee friends up north.

  88. You're mixing up the adjective 'snug', which is general English and the noun 'snug', which means a kind of room.
    The room meaning is certainly related to the 'co{s/z}y' meaning of the adjective, but American English does not have that room meaning, and therefore that British use of 'snug' is not translatable into a word in American English.

  89. I know backwash as spitback in BrEng

  90. I think it's fair to include three-line whip, because it doesn't just get used in the literal sense you define above but also figuratively to mean requiring attendance at some event. For instance “I'm on a three-line whip to turn up at the work barbecue/our niece's birthday party/the church fête”, indicating that somebody has made it very clear you must be there whether you want to or not.

  91. Some observations:

    "gazump" was introduced into BrE in the 70s, when the high inflation consequent on the oil-price shock meant that house prices were rising so fast that in the few weeks between agreeing a sale price and actual completion the value of the house had increased considerably. The vendor might then be tempted by a higher offer. There was much discussion at the time about the meaning and origin of this new word: it was assumed to be yiddish. "Gazunder" was a fairly obvious opposite, for a time of falling prices.

    "Decant" is often used when moving people from one vehicle to another, for instance when a bus breaks down; also in schools, when children need to be moved from one room to another arising out of some emergency. There is an implication that those being moved are in some way being shepherded by someone in authority.

    "Nobby" is also the nickname for Norbert.

    "Snug" can be used in woodworking: the two pieces of a mortice and tenon joint, for instance, should fit snugly.

    (Snugly is not, of course, to be confused with "snuggly": very different.)

  92. Is "Billy No-Mates" at all connected to "Larry Loner"? (Maybe Billy and Larry should be friends...)

  93. Hows about Gongoozler as a suggestion?

  94. I thought billy no-mates comes from Australia where it was originally Scot no-mates as in 'he's got' no-mates and this tranlated as Billy in English as Billy is a more English name?

  95. The first time I encountered 'jaywalking' (in an American novel) it related to walking diagonally across an intersection, which was against the traffic rules -- at least in that particular case. This meaning has remained with me, and I always have to remind myself that there are other forms of jaywalking too.


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