Here comes the 5th Untranslatable October!

On Twitter, I usually post a 'Difference of the Day' between British and American English every weekday. But for the past four Octobers, I've done something different: the Untranslatable of the Day. Each year I've wondered: can I really keep this up for (another) month? Are there that many concepts that are put into words or idioms in Britain or the U.S., but not the other country? Well, we've come up with more than 80 so far, and this year, I kept a file of UotD suggestions all through the year and can say with confidence that there are enough for a fifth go-round and possibly a sixth! 

The moment I start tweeting about 'untranslatables' I expect to receive tweets and emails complaining about the concept, particularly that 'nothing is untranslatable'. That's true in some senses, of course. What I mean by 'untranslatable' here is not that you can't express the same meaning in the other language/dialect, but that it hasn't been packaged as a lexical item--i.e. a word or an idiom. Comparing which concepts warrant actual expressions in a language can be interesting from a cultural perspective. They tell us things about working conditions, social relations, and other good stuff. Sometimes they make us think "yeah, I need a word for that!" and there the word is to borrow.
So, I repeat again the clarifications about Untranslatable October that I've given before:
  • 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), then I hope that you might celebrate that you've learned a new expression, rather than complain to me that it's not 'really' American or British. Please know that I'm not posting them without some research, and none of us has a complete vocabulary. That said, if you can improve on my definitions, challenge the 'untranslatability' or give other insight into the untranslatables, please let me know!
  • I'm grateful for suggestions of additional untranslatables (though they may not make UotD status until next year), but I won't repeat any expressions that have been used in previous Octobers. The lists for each October are accessible by clicking on the 'untranslatable' label in the right margin, the bottom of this post, or, conveniently, here: untranslatable.
    There are also search boxes at the top and in the right margin of this blog. (The one in the margin works much better.) So please have a quick search before making suggestions, in order to cut down on the time that I spend responding to suggestions. (This is all voluntary on my part, please remember!)
Untranslatables (like Differences of the Day) will appear at 3pm British time (10am US east coast) each weekday on Twitter till the 30th. If you don't use Twitter, you can see them in the Twitter feed to the right here, or wait for the summary at the end of the month. In any case, I hope you enjoy them! 

P.S. (6 October 2015): I forgot to mention another of the 'rules'.  I don't include names for objects, activities or institutions that don't exist in the other country. For instance, there is no American equivalent of the expression Eccles cake, but that's not because Americans hadn't thought to lexicali{z/s}e it, but because they've probably never seen such a thing. This can get a bit tricky to determine when it's not an object we're talking about or when the expression has also taken on figurative meanings--see last year's example three-line whip.


  1. Yes, this 'Marmite' expression has been around for a few years now, possibly originating in an advertising campaign for the eponymous yeast extract. I thought everyone in the UK I had 'got' it, such is the power of the TV commercial, but I heard an acolyte of Jeremy Corbyn the other day, who had clearly missed the point - 'I have heard him compared with Marmite, but he has real meat in him, so I prefer to call him Bovril'.

  2. The comedian Dave Gorman did a bit about Marmite on his show Modern Life is Goodish on Dave a couple of years ago. He thought the term was well understood but then kept on finding people misusing it. He was asked if he was a Marmite person and he took it to mean people either like him or hate him, but the reporter was actually asking if he liked Marmite.

  3. I didn't realise redeye was AmE. I've rarely heard it, but understood it to be the preserve of those alien people who have to make such flights — irrespective of their nationality.

    used in context, as always seems to be the case, its meaning is so obvious that it can be 'borrowed' straight without any translation.

  4. I've known the term 'redeye' from reading American books but I guess the term isn't so well known in Britian as we don't have the equivalent redeye flights. Redeyes in the US are generally taking a late night flight from the west coast and arriving at the east coast in time for the next business day. So you have the choice whether to go with a regular day time flight or to take the redeye.

    In Europe however there are no equivalent inter-Europe flights that go through the night. There are however flights that leave Heathrow late at night (I should know, I live under the flight path) and fly to places such as Hong Kong or Singapore. ALL of these scheduled flights go overnight however so it's not specifically a redeye - it's just the normal scheduled flight. Same for flights leaving the US for Europe, they all go overnight. So redeye only comes in to play when you specifically choose to go overnight from a list of option including daytime flights.

  5. Aha!

    I've belatedly twigged how I come to know the word redeye. For a couple of years I taught Business English and the teaching materials tended to be British-produced but aiming at International Business English.

    The trouble is that I severed contact with Business English back in the 1990's. So un less I've missed something, redeye must be at least twenty years old.

  6. @Jay, I'll disagree somewhat -- and I can't resist mentioning that, as an American who's been living in HK with a partner who was making regular round trips to London over the past year, I should know! [laughing]

    I'll start with where we agree: I think the term does indeed imply a choice of flight times. I seem to recall that redeye flights were once cheaper than day flights, because a cross-country US flight -- particularly eastbound, given prevailing winds -- is simply not long enough for more than about 4.5 hours' sleep. So you go into a business meeting in New York on too little, too uncomfortable rest, and try to pretend your're functional until you hope to god you can find a place to nap discreetly. It's not the sort of thing people do voluntarily. (In fact, something tickles my brain that these flights once existed mainly to ferry the planes back to the other side of the country so that they could produce serious revenues the next morning. Could still be the case, at least partly.)

    Lately I've heard the phrase used for trans-Atlantic flights as well, which suffer from the same basic problem -- although from personal experience I'd say it's 5.5 hours instead of 4.5 hours. Still very groggy the next day and desperately trying to function without napping, to force adjustment to 5 hours' time difference.

    Where we disagree is on the characterization of Asia flights from the UK. Actually, there *are* quite a lot of choices in timings. The HKG nonstop schedule seems to be somewhat weighted towards night, but only somewhat. Cathay shows a 12:25 pm LHR-HKG flight, followed by 17.00, 18.20, 20.15, and 22.20. Virgin -- my partner's airline of choice because it's on SkyMiles -- leaves at 10.30 a.m. So, Jay, should you have reason to come to HKG, you can choose to do so without disturbing your neighbors' sleep!

    Now, to @David_Crosbie's point, I think the term dates at least to the 1980s, if not quite a bit earlier. I don't claim that good a memory for when I first heard of things, but I think I was aware of "redeye" by the time I graduated high school in 1986. I wouldn't be surprised if it emerged shortly after the dawn of jet travel in 1959-60, which is when nonstop coast-to-coast flights became much more standard.

  7. Thinking about this overnight, is 'Corbynism' a genuine and valid candidate? Isn't it merely an example of a regular word formation, name + ism, an English language equivalent of the declensions one gets in some other languages, as regular as adding an 's', with the apostrophe correctly positioned of course, to denote possession? Wouldn't 'Thatcherism' and 'Reaganism' have been regular formations on both sides of the Atlantic?

    And thinking about this a bit further, the regular usage is *ism on its own to mean the philosophy of *. But as soon as one adds 'a', to it, it becomes a speech idiosyncrasy of *, as in 'a Bushism'.

  8. Dry, I share your doubts about Corbynism but Corbynistas was less predictable.

    [I say 'Corbynistas was' because I don't expect the word to have a singular since I don't foresee the requirement for a form with singular reference.]

    Thatcher had her Thatcherites and didn't Reagan have Reaganites?

    But the only precedent in British politics I can think think of are the Portillistas.

    I suspect the coining are meant to imply conspiracies. The Portiliistas came to nothing whereas the Corbynites succeeded, but the name doesn't deem to have been dropped.

    In Michael's case, it was probably a factor that he's the son of a Spaniard, but that's hardly true for Jeremy.

  9. Sorry Dru!

    I do know how to spell your name, but my spellchecker had other ideas.

  10. Is the term 'jet lag' AmE too?
    For someone who was almost born in the plane your current discussion is very intriguing :)

  11. For me, blagging is done by talk. And the OED agrees:

    1. trans. To obtain or achieve by persuasive talk or plausible deception; to bluff, to dupe or deceive by bluffing; to scrounge, esp. by clever or deceitful talk. Freq. in to blag one's way into (or out of): to talk one's way into (or out of).

    The OED also agrees that it's

    Brit. slang.

  12. @ David, @Dru -- Given my current location in Seattle, birthplace of modern coffee, I would have guessed that the 'ista' was tacked onto Corbyn because of the newly common 'barista'...

  13. I would have thought that "Corbynista" owed more to groups like the Sandanistas and Zapatistas than it did to "barista".

  14. Even my generation aren't familiar with the Zapatistas. But the Sandinistas were certainly in the news in my lifetime. I would guess that the Sandinistas were the model for the Portillistas (the word, that is, not the people), who in turn are the model (as a name) for Corbynistas.

  15. Laura, Seattle coffee is a development (I personally would say a distortion) of Italian coffee. Barista is an Italian word.

  16. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but the aviation sense of red-eye is recorded in the OED (after eight other senses of red-eye):

    9. U.S. colloq. A flight on which a passenger cannot expect to get much sleep because of the time of departure or arrival, esp. an overnight flight on a west-to-east route. Freq. attrib..

    1964 N.Y. Times 3 June 30/4 During the long California campaign, Mr. Goldwater has many times flown the same night flight to Washington. He calls it the ‘red-eye special’.

  17. 'Jet lag' is normal British English. But it doesn't mean quite the same thing as 'redeye' sounds as though it means. Jet lag is the dislocation of one's body clock caused by flying between seriously different time zones - e.g. Europe and North America, Europe and Australia, but not Europe and South Africa.

  18. @Dru - thanks for explanation! I did some research and according to one of the articles the condition was described for the first time in Los Angeles Times. However, it still can be BrE, can't it?

  19. @David_Crosbie, marvelous! Thanks for checking the OED. Funny that its first citation should be to Barry Goldwater.

  20. Dru, Anonymous

    The OED doesn't add an awful lot, but it's interesting how the quote expresses the idea of 'joyful and carefree' to a mass readership as recently as 1965.

    Extreme tiredness and other physical effects felt by a person after a long flight across different time zones. Also: a feeling of tiredness or disorientation likened to this.

    1965 N.Y. Herald Tribune 23 Feb. 21/3 Jet lag strikes suddenly. The victim disembarks from the..plane feeling gay as a sprite, dashes through customs, checks into home or a hotel,..greets friends and in the course of the next few hours falls into a light coma.

    This and most (all?) of the other quotes are from American sources. Nevertheless, they supply both BrE and AmE pronunciations. (The BrE pronunciation is supposed to have no stress at all on -lag.)

  21. The "red-eye" was used in a well-known 1980s (Thatcher-era, I think 1988) British Airways TV commercial of the Bastard Businessmen type, "Pleasant Trip?". A bunch of corporate back-stabbers try to sabotage a colleague's ability to work effectively by booking him on the red-eye from New York to London, but get their comeuppance when it turns out the BA's new Club World Seat leaves the intended victim perfectly refreshed.

    See with red-eye mentioned at 0:13.

    Here it is discussed along with some of BA's other famous ads over the decades:
    (In the 1988 Bastards ad, the only woman says nothing and just sips coffee, looking decorative; in the 2012 "Don't Fly, stay home for the Olympics" ad, the BA pilot is a woman)(not that she says anything either!).

  22. So the next 'untranslateable' word is 'plonk'! I must say, I cannot imagine this word with an American accent, it seems so quintessentially middle-class British. Presumably derived from 'blanc', it now refers to any colour wine that one might buy at a supermarket, with the intention of drinking that night. It's a sort of deprecating word that one might use to cover some uncertainty about the quality of the wine, given that it was a '6 for 5' offer. Do younger people, with perhaps lower expections or experience of fine wines, use this word?

    Can any Canadians out there remember a TV commercial for a brand of wine that was 'light, white, and quite economical'?

  23. I'd rate "plonk" as very close in connotation to "jug wine" or "box wine" from your description. (Typically blended wines produced and sold in bulk at low prices.)

    Though my experience of them has been that the US versions at least are generally quite palatable table wines, certainly better than the poorer sort of house or table wines in Germany, Italy, or France.

  24. No... As the person who suggested it to me said: in their house it was usually chianti or 'Noo-voh' (her spelling--i.e. Beaujolais). Nothing to do with the packaging. No particular blending.

  25. My impression is that the concept of plonk has changed over my lifetime.

    When I was a boy and not yet a wine drinker, I believe the word suggested an inferior chief substitute for 'proper' wine. Since then more people have become more familiar with and appreciative of wine. Most of us now draw a distinction between the price of a wine and its quality. Wine which is both expensive and good tends to be called fine wine. This is outside the everyday experience of most of us but decent affordable wine is a reasonable expectation.

    I don't think I could now use collocations like terrible plonk, cut-price plonk. I and may others call still talk of cheap plonk, but this is often
    • an unserious apology that one hasn't spent more on the wine one is offering
    • an ironic boast that one hasn't pretentiously lashed out on an over-priced bottle that's not really with it

    Plonk is a comparative term denoting a wine cheaper and less sophisticated than some — usually unstated — ideal. One not uncommon term that makes no such comparison is quaffable.

  26. Back when I suspect the word first appeared in at least the early sixties, I think those that used it thought it had the cachet of being French slang for cheap wine. They probably imagined it was spelt 'plonque'. People didn't drink wine much in those days. It was a bit of a novelty. It showed you were chic.

  27. Earlier than the sixties, Dru.

    I was delighted by this OED entry — even though I spell my name Crosbie

    colloq. (orig. Austral.).

    Cheap wine of inferior quality. Also, more generally: wine or alcohol of any kind.

    1927 News (Adelaide, Austral.) 8 Dec. 17/3 ‘Give us a definition of "plonk"?’ asked Mr. McMillan... ‘It is a cheap wine produced in Mr. Crosby's district.’ Loud laughter greeted the sally.

  28. Actually the rest of the OED citations are worth quoting. They include an alternative etymological suggestion, and also a progression from outright condemnation to more kindly, humorous deprecation.

    1933 Bulletin (Sydney) 11 Jan. 12 The man who drinks illicit brews or ‘plonk’ the quart does it in quiet spots or at home.
    1938 H. Drake-Brockman Men without Wives (1951) 77 What cow'd be such a dope as t' waste a perishin' thirst like we got, on plonk? It's beer we want.
    1967 Daily Tel. 15 Nov. 21/8 Surely the word ‘plonk’ is onomatopoeic, being the noise made when a cork is withdrawn from the bottle?
    1976 Scotsman 24 Dec. (Weekend Suppl.) 3/6 The author is particularly scathing about Sainsbury's Spanish plonk.
    1992 Sun 16 Sept. 17/4 Pit leader Arthur Scargill's home town is to market its own plonk—with a picture of a miner on the label.

    Interesting that the majority of quotes seem to be from newspapers.

  29. Lynnguist: "No... As the person who suggested it to me said: in their house it was usually chianti or 'Noo-voh' (her spelling--i.e. Beaujolais). Nothing to do with the packaging. No particular blending."

    Sorry to be unclear. I think that in the US, "jug wine" or "box wine", as phrases, serve the same purpose as what you describe "plonk" to serve in the UK, not that they are the same thing. The US version is denoted by its packaging rather than its contents.

    All of the terms refer to inexpensive wines purchased for convenience and economy rather than their particular characters. When I was younger, the stereotypical sort was probably "Gallo Hearty Burgundy", available in large bottles for $2-$3 each. I would use "jug wine" to denote such a wine, with the same sort of veiled slight apology as it sounds like "plonk" would be used in the UK.

    The description of the contents, in retrospect, was obviously a distraction and not on the linguistic point.

  30. I find this discussion interesting, @Doug_Sundseth, because as a 47-y/o American I start with the presumption that box or jug wine is undrinkable. The boxes of...Franzia? Yup, that was the name...were still a novelty when I was in college. My friends and I always referred to it as "fineboxedwine," all one word. Even as students we knew it was rot, but at least it was easier-to-carry rot than the monstrous bottles of E&J Hearty Burgundy that you mentioned (which did have the saving grace of being easily recycled into table lamps, if you were handy with wiring and careful with a drill).

    I've heard that boxed wine has become more drinkable since its inauspicious beginnings, but I haven't felt tempted to test.

    My impression of "plonk" is that it's closer to what I'd call "table wine" -- nothing fancy but perfectly serve-able. Something like this, minus the horrible description.

  31. Christian: that cartoon is perfect!

  32. Almost as good, and more numerous are Ronald Seattle's Winespeak cartoons. These three can be viewed on line

    Ripe but lacks concentration

    Lots of class and much in demand

    Somewhat lacking in finesse

  33. I now see that a lot of Winespeak cartoons are viewable. The trick is to locate a caption-less version in Google Images, the click Visit page to see what it illustrates. Here's one more which is especially plonk-like:

    Lacks subtlety

  34. Curse you, autocorrect! It took me a moment, David Crosbie, for me to recognize the cartoonist and then remember, "Too many songs by Tom Lehrer with not enough drawings by Ronald Searle". And I agree, those are wonderful. And thank you Lynne, glad I could contribute in some way!

  35. Yes, contrary to what my spellchecker thinks, his name is Ronald Searle.

  36. This has been an education. I'd never have guessed that 'faff' and 'faffle' aren't universal. How do other dialects express this? Nor, if I heard the phrase 'leaf-peeping', would I have guessed what it meant without following the link. The leaves change colour and fall off the trees here. But I've never thought one might need or actually use an expression to describe going to look at them doing so.

    The idea of 'columbusing' is interesting. Is it a bit like the feeling one gets when one finds oneself in the dentist reading an article in the National Geographical about one's own country?

    Thank you Lynne. I shall look forward to 3pm tomorrow.

  37. Sorry, something went wrong with the last post and it's become anonymous. It's mine.

  38. Dru, I am with you (also British)! Actually, I used to think that 'faffing' was a Northern English expression but I have heard it elsewhere too. So, 'rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic' corresponds to faffing about: alternatively, you might decide that doing so is too much faff, given that the deck seems to be sloping more and more .... I would never say 'farting about' which sounds rather offensive and censorious.

    We don't need to make a special trip to see the 'fall colours' in Britain because autumn is such a long season; having said that, there are some vistas in great gardens or woodlands that are planned to give interesting autumn colours. The PM programme on Radio 4 makes an annual trip to describe the leaf colours at Stowe when they are at their peak - amazing really, considering this all is done verbally.

    On the other hand, we do find 'snowdrop walks' or 'daffodil teas' advertised in country districts in the spring. Is there an equivalent in the U.S.?

  39. Not being from my dialect, I'll have to accept Lynn's judgement that "farting around" is different from/to "faffing about". But "fiddle-farting around" is what came immediately to mind for me.

    I'll leave to others whether "farting around" and "fiddle-farting around" are different enough in connotation to make a difference in the comparison with "faffing about". Quick research on "fiddle-farting" was interesting, but the results were complex enough that there's not enough space in this margin for a report.

    (With apologies to Fermat.)

  40. OED definitions:

    faff, v.
    dial. and colloq.

    . To fuss, to dither. Often with about.

    1874 S. Baring-Gould Yorks. Oddities I. 179 T' clock~maker..fizzled an' faff'd aboot her, but nivver did her a farthing's worth o' good.

    . into. To fool about or around; to waste time.

    1900 Eng. Dial. Dict. II. 302/2 Go bon tha! thoo's allus farten aboot, thoo's warse ner a hen wi' egg.

  41. Leaf-peeping is AmE? I have never heard the name before, after half my life in the Midwest and the rest in California. Must be very east coast. I've certainly heard of going to see the fall colors and done it, but it's not an industry here in Illinois that I've seen.

    Doug: I've heard of fiddling around as well as farting around, but never the combination.

  42. Traditionally, British students weren't assessed; they were examined. At the end of the course — which might mean at the end of a school year — they would undergo an achievement test or series of tests. These were usually written, but could be practical or oral. because the was the only form of achievement-testing, one term was sufficient and that term was exam(ination).

    In relatively recent times, exam marks — what you Americans call grades — came to be modified by marks awarded at intermediate stages. In schools this was called coursework, in universities continuous assessment. When my wife was still in university teaching, there was talk of exam and continuous assessment. It makes sense to reduce that phrase to the single word assessment.

    I would guess that schoolteachers may now be using a single word in place of exam and coursework .

  43. There is an early book reference to plonk in Nevil Shute's _A Town Like Alice_ (1950)

  44. Neville Shute, like the people quoted in the OED examples before him (in 1927, 1933, 1938) was Australian.

    I find it unsurprising that plonk came to us from Australia. When I was young, Australian wine aka Kangaroo juice was cheap and unsubtle and served on draft in a Yates's Wine Lodge. In those days — and maybe still — a Yates's was like a blown-up pastiche of a cowboy-film saloon, complete with long, long bar-counter and double swing doors. On Fridays there was a palm court trio in the balcony. Twenty or so years later, the late great radio broadcaster Ray Gosling did a piece which ended
    The other day I had a drink in Yates's in Nottingham. When I came out I wasn't sure what decade I was in.

    In the late seventies I bought an early (perhaps the very first) annual Hugh Johnson's Pocket Guide to Wine. Two surprises:

    1. a longish section on the wines of New York (and adjacent states) with their distinctive 'foxy' taste

    2. a short section on Australian wines. On seeing the limited length, an Australian friend exclaimed 'What a stupid book!'. But then he saw the comment: that Australia had begun to produce really good wines but was keeping them a secret from the outside world 'What a sensible book!' he remarked.

    I can't find that guide, but I do have the 1981 edition to hand. Still a section on 'foxy' NY wines and still an observation that very few Australian wines were being exported.

    1. Actually, Nevil Shue as English, but he emigrated to Australia in the 1950s, a few years before he died.

  45. How different is AmE put in face time from BrE put in an appearance?

  46. @ Kirk Poor:

    I don't recall any time that "fiddle-farting around" was not a part of my idiolect, but I don't have any idea what a map of the term's usage might look like. Beyond the fact that such recollections are notoriously unreliable, I grew up in a military family and had lived in southern and central California, Idaho, Colorado, Minnesota, Virginia, and W. Germany by the time I was 9.

    Typical usage might be, "Stop fiddle-farting around and wash the dishes!" I mean, of course, if used to a person far, far less conscientious than I was.

    At least as I would prefer to remember it.

    Especially when berating my son about chores.


  47. Re alternatives to 'face time' (someone on Twitter has also offered 'show your face'): 'put in face time' is richer in connotation, I'd say. (This is the general reason that things are 'untranslatables' here. Yes, you could come up with another phrase, but no it wouldn't feel quite the same.) Face time definitely involves being social, whereas 'show your face' or 'making an appearance' could be said of, say, sitting in the pews at church so that you're seen there. Putting in face time involves being face-to-face and socialising. I presume it's not an accident that this is the name of Apple's video-chatting app.

    Re 'foxy wines', coming from the wine area of NY state, I had to find out what 'foxy' in this context meant. Interesting:

  48. Leaf-peepers: I believe this is a term of New England origin, typically a derogatory name for tourists who travel there to see the fall colors. But I've also seen it used in a more affectionate way, sometimes by the people doing the peeping.

    Fall colors in the northeastern US are, at their best, more spectacular than anything I ever saw in the UK. The reasons have to do with the types of trees and the climate -- you want cool, crisp, sunny days, not the gray, damp overcast typical of England at that time of year.

    There's a little more explanation here.

  49. Lynne

    Face time definitely involves being social

    If it was explicable by the context I could say I'll go and show willing — which couldn't mean 'sit in the pews at church'.

    Come to think of it, I couldn't say put in an appearance or show my face for visibly occupying a pew. But I could use either for half an hour at a party spent smiling but not having any proper conversation.

  50. Well, maybe there's a difference between BrE 'show one's face' or 'make an appearance' and mine. I can show my face at a meeting at work. I can't put in face time there. If I 'make an appearance' at the meeting, that might connote that I said something (and had an audience for it). But 'put in face time' to me really heavily connotes making small talk.

  51. In the 1981 edition of his Pocket Wine Book, Hugh Johnson wrote:

    New York State and its neighbours Ohio and Ontario make their own style of wine from grapes of native American ancestry, rather than the European vines of California. American grapes have a flavour known as "foxy"; a taste acquired by many easterners. Fashion is slowly moving in favour of hybrids between these and European grapes with less, or no, foxiness.

    Of Australian wines he wrote

    It's only 20 years since modern wine technology revolutionized Australia's 150-year old wine industry ... Already the results are as impressive as California'. The Australians know it: little is left for export.

    The entry for concord reads

    The archetypal American grape, dark red, strongly foxy, making good grape jelly but dreadful wine. By far the most widely planted in New York (23,000 acres).

    I'm quite fond and my wife is very fond of Welch's Concord Grape Juice. I don't know whether it's the same 'foxy' taste as in 1981.

  52. I said I couldn't use

    show my face

    for 'go to church merely to be seen'.

    It now occurs to me that I could say

    not show my face

    for 'stay away from church so as not to be seen'.


    not put in an appearance

    wouldn't mean this.

  53. It's interesting, for me "face time" (47, northern US dialects) has a rather different connotation: all about the office, not about social life. I've spent most of my adult life in New York, working as a lawyer and than as an editor. "Face time" to me means time spent visibly in front of one's boss/bosses, to reinforce one's value to the company. This CNN piece illustrates the point.

    As used it's often deprecatory: "She's probably more qualified, but he got the promotion because he put in more face time." It implies that the time spent usually isn't very productive by any measure other than in the higher-ups' confidence.

    I can't picture using "face time" for any social event.

  54. My first thought was that "Blow a gasket" would be similar to "Throw a wobbly". Upon reflection, I don't think the "panic" sense would be natural, though. Also, I've always gotten* a sense of ridicule from the reporter when "throw a wobbly" is used that isn't really present in "blow a gasket".

    I've seen in (I think) a BrE context the use of "tossed his dummy" to mean much the same thing (also without the "panic" sense), though with perhaps even more contempt from the reporter.

    * AmE, obviously. 8-)

  55. It's more likely to be 'tossed/thrown his dummy/toys out of the pram'. I've never heard the expression used without the specific reference to 'out of the pram'. It's the pram bit which is the core of the expression.

  56. The context in which I read it definitely didn't have "out of his pram". It showed up on a message list devoted to a game competition and it referenced a competitor who was ... less than fully pleased with a result. That specific usage might have been a quirk of that list, as I don't recall seeing it elsewhere, but since I've not seen any version of the phrase elsewhere, it would be difficult for me to judge.

  57. I agree with Dru. The British context definitely implies "out of the pram" even if it isn't specified. (When did anyone last see a pram other than in use by Royals?). I think "blow a gasket" suggests a more angry tantrum than "throw a wobbly".

  58. Also, I think "throw his toys out of the pram" implies a sort of sulky, petulant "well, if you won't, I can't be bothered either."

  59. Toys are thrown out of the pram, but the dummy is spat - no pram required.

  60. An older British naming of school years was ORDINAL + -er: first-former, second-former etc. This is preserved in the universal use or sixth-former — even though students remain in the sixth-form for two years (under certain circumstances three).

    It never corresponded to American grade/grader because it was coined in the traditional 'public schools' (private boardings schools of some antiquity). I went to a school that tried to ape the terminology of public schools, so we started in the second form (and thus as second-formers) and spent our fourth and fifth years in the lower fifth and upper fifth forms.

    Even in schools with a more rational terminology first signified the first year of secondary school — not the first yea of schooling. Current terminology with year one, year two and year ones etc for students is recent — far too recent for me. I get just as confused by British year fives as by American fifth graders.

  61. "Coffee klatch". Now that's a phrase which not only have I never heard, but I wouldn't even have been able to guess at. It's such an odd word that it's a surprise that my spellchecker doesn't even challenge it. It's even more mystifying than 'rain check'. I've commented before on these threads how some Br-Eng speakers think saying 'rain check' will make them sound cool, but have guessed wrong what it means and so use it with a completely different meaning from its US original.

    Is it time tied or can it happen in the afternoon or evening? We have 'coffee morning', but that obviously means something that happens in the morning - and is usually even in these non-sexist times, gendered.

    'Tea' of course can mean all sorts of things, ranging from a drink in a mug to a substantial meal. One has to be fully ingested into the culture to be able to guess from the context, what.

  62. I think of it as a morning thing, but I'm not sure if they have to be. It was the kind of thing that women did back when women didn't work so much and there were no Starbucks.

    I should note, it can also be 'coffee klatsch' with an 's'.

    If you google 'coffee klatch' or 'coffee klatsch' and 'Mad Men', there are quite a few results--as the television show's era was probably the heyday of coffee klatches.

  63. Apparently 'coffee klatsch' is also a discussion forum on the CNN Eatocracy site:

  64. Surely coffee morning is an acceptable translation?

  65. Maybe, though I wasn't really thinking of that as lexicalized. Also, I think of it as being a charity event. Are there coffee mornings that aren't Macmillan coffee mornings?

  66. I've checked my recollection with my wife's and we agree. Coffee morning is a lexical item — and apparently a direct translation of coffee klatch — which we encountered in the past in British diplomatic circles. Diplomatic in that they tended to be held by Ambassadors' wives and the like; the guests were not necessarily diplomatic — indeed usually not.

    I'd guess that other non-US nationalities also used the term for this culturally US institution.

  67. I think we might have to call it a culturally German institution. One of the joys of using the word on Saturday was how excited it made a German friend to hear it in English.

  68. The German spelling, "Kaffeeklatsch", is also fairly common in AmE, though usually without the German capitalization:

  69. Any mention of a visit to a mall Santa (by whatever name) immediately conjures A Christmas Story. Ralphie's visit is surely the platonic ideal representation of the experience.


  70. On today's untranslatable, some years ago, I worked in an office in a tall building adjoining the local bus station. About 3.30pm on a dingy early December afternoon, I heard an announcement over the departure announcement speakers in the bus station,
    "Would Father Christmas please go to the Enquiry Desk".

  71. I (BrE, 40s) agree that "coffee morning" is lexicalised. I remember the church I grew up in had coffee mornings. I can't now remember if these were always with the purpose of raising money for something or whether they could be just a social event.

  72. We had coffee mornings in our US church too--but they were in a church. A coffee klatch was less officially organised, with a very small number of people, in someone's home. It's what housewives did while the babies were napping.

    So, I'm not seeing BrE 'coffee morning' as really being the same as a 'klatch'.

    I tried to import another US church tradition here: the ice cream social. No one knew what to make of it.

  73. Is an ice cream social a lot of people gathering together to socialise while eating ice cream, as an alternative to tea and cake? Or is it something more esoteric?

  74. Basically, yes. Usually organised by an organisation--typically a church--and fairly big. Often outdoors in summer. A community-building event.

  75. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  76. If the -klatsch part of the word is equivalent to 'group', then the Kaffeeklatsch may be similar to the semi-casual coffee mornings that my mother attended as an RAF officer's wife, fifty years ago, so things may have moved on since then ... They were hosted at home by the wives in turn, and they were a way of building solidarity and friendship among women (almost invariably housewives) who otherwise could have been totally isolated, living near to an airfield in the middle of nowhere. They could also be hotbeds of gossip and spite, so it was advisable not to miss one in case you became the topic of the week!

    The modern equivalent might be the groups of young 'yummy mummies' who meet in Costa or other coffee shops, after dropping a child or two at school. Many of these places have wider spaces near some tables, to accommodate toddlers in pushchairs/strollers.

    'Coffee mornings' or even the Daffodil Teas that I mentioned earlier in this thread are usually held in the church/village Hall on Saturdays, and are linked with a jumble sale, bric-a-brac stalls, raffles and so on, and there is a strong element of fund-raising for a church or other charity, as well as some outreach into the community of passersby. More recently, rural churches, for example in Devon, are offering tea, coffee and conversation inside the church on the Sundays when the priest's rota cannot stretch to a service there - solidarity and friendship are fostered.

  77. Yes, it's like the RAF thing. So, is there a BrE term for that?

  78. Well, I think they were just called 'coffee mornings' and they were definitely arranged in advance, because of the hosting rota at people's homes, unlike the modern coffee shop groups. The population at each would have a lot in common, and would fluctuate as families move in and out of the area. I think David Crosbie mentioned something similar for 'diplomatic wives'. The 'klatsch' aspect arises from the core group.

    Charity coffee mornings are of course open to as many from the public as possible.

  79. Yes, my recollection of growing up in the UK (Yorkshire) in the 70s and 80s is that my Mum frequently held or attended 'coffee mornings' - they weren't large formal events, just a gathering of female (adult) friends for late morning coffee and biscuits. Feels strangely quaint now, and I wonder if my memory is deceiving me, but this seems to map very closely to what has been described as a coffee klatch.

  80. I know October has ended, but is the phrase "the great and the good" used in the US? And if so, has it acquired the slightly sardonic, inverted commas, flavour it sometimes has here?

  81. In my experience coffee mornings are still going strong in the UK and are not necessarily linked to churches; people have them, often in their own home, to raise money for their favourite charity or for a club or society that needs extra funds.

  82. Yes, it's the money-making aspect that makes it different from 'coffee klatch' in the usage that I've heard.

  83. British Embassy coffee mornings were free of any money-making, at least not to our recollection.

    Life in expat communities in our day differed in many ways from life in the UK. One way was the existence of a sizeable body of non-working wives. This was, of course, a throw-back. In the fifties and before, Britain had been home to large numbers of middle-class housewives. However, back then coffee wasn't the hot drink off choice for a daytime social gathering.

    Besides, there were alternative meeting places which were very affordable and didn't involve work for a hostess. Twice a week my mother would go to the shops in the centre of Nottingham, not necessarily to buy things, then she'd meet up with the same group of women with the same agenda in one of the giant tea-rooms that existed in those days.

  84. I think, with a bit of a toe in both camps, coffee mornings, as a phrase and an event, served double purpose in BrE. They could be used as a fund-raiser or similar. I suspect that's the later usage although I can't find clear evidence either way. I think the equivalent to the Kaffeeklatsch, the formal or otherwise social gathering - be that expats at the embassy, service wives, young mothers long before yummy mummies, etc. is older but it's certainly a parallel usage.

    And it's worth remembering, although the phrase might not go back that far, the function has. Lloyds of London, the rather famous and large insurance company, is called that because it was founded in Lloyd's Coffee House, founded ~1688. Lloyd's was a popular place for people interested in shipping to take their coffee, so the owner made it his business to ensure accurate news was delivered there quickly... and they started to discuss risk and loss at sea. A multi-billion pound business was born at a coffee morning but not over fund-raising!

  85. Kaffeeklatsch is a term I know only from science fiction fandom, where they are small group discussions with authors (or other celebrities, like editors or artists).

    They're formally organised events, where you sign-up for a particular author and then turn up at the scheduled time, sit around a table with your chosen author and talk - usually about their books.

  86. The young mums at my church have coffee mornings, just like the RAF thing described upthread, meeting in each other's houses on a rota, with babies and toddlers. No fundraising involved.

  87. BrE, mid 60s. I have also heard the term “weekend hippie” for professionals (usually in the so-called creative professions) who use marijuana at the weekend, but not during the working week.

    As a lifelong professional scientist, I’m afraid that, for me, the term boffin DOES have negative connotations. Sterling chap, that boffin, but of course, not quite one of us (us being military officers, managers, other corporate types). OK, rant over.


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