Untranslatables VI: the summary

As previously announced, this was the 6th October during which I tweeted an 'British–American untranslatable' (that is, item lexicalized in one national dialect and not the other) on each weekday. If you'd like to complain that any of these does not qualify as 'untranslatable', please first read my provisos about what's meant by untranslatable in this context.

This year's was a bit British-heavy, though in looking back on previous years, I noticed that some had more American ones, so perhaps it all works out in the end. 

BrE rough sleeper  'homeless person who's sleeps outside, as opposed to in a shelter or other temporary accommodation'.  Suggested by John Kelly (@mashedradish)

BrE gongoozler originally, 'an idler who watches canal activities', now more broadly, 'a person who stares for long periods'.  Suggested by Andy M. (on Facebook)
source

AmE to t-bone '(for a motor vehicle) to crash into another vehicle perpedicularly'.  Suggested by Rhonda (on blog). (This one has started to have currency in UK--but the steak cut that it's named after is not traditional in UK butchery.)

BrE busman’s holiday 'leisure time spent doing something very much like what you do at work'. There are some variants used (a little) in the US, but the ultimate source is this phrase. See World Wide Words. Suggested by

AmE to kick the tires 'to determine the worth or "health" of something by testing it'. Suggested by @SimonKoppel. This has spread beyond the US, with some people (Australians, in my correspondence) interpreting it specifically as something done by people with no intention to buy. I liked the OED entry that says it's orig. U.S. Not with that spelling, it's not!


BrE (to give someone a) backie (also backy)  '(to give someone a) ride on the BrE parcel shelf of a bicycle'. Suggested by @formosaphile. Responses to this tweet brought up a lot of variants: Australian dink, dinky, New Zealand dub, and a number from the UK, which Moose Allain has put together into a slide show. But none from the US, as far as I've heard.

AmE third base (etc.) as measures of sexual accomplishment. Covered previously here.  Suggested by @Mburked

BrE love rat tabloid term for a male adulterer. Here's Collins Dictionary on it. (Sorry, someone suggested this, but I failed to note who!)

AmE candy striper a usually female, usually teen-aged hospital volunteer. Suggested by @CityMelzer A bit more on the term from Wikipedia.

BrE to blot one's copybook  'to do damage to one's own good reputation'. Here's the discussion of it at World Wide Words.

BrE Johnny Foreigner '[pejorative] personification of non-Britishness', often used satirically. Here's the Collins entry for it.

AmE big box store 'box-shaped single-company retail building at the edge of town'. Possible BrE translations discussed at Wikipedia.  Ta

BrE for in, for example, 7:00 for 7:30, which means 'come after 7, but by 7:30, when things will get started'. Or, as Andrew Caines defined it: "You'll be rude if you arrive up to and including 7:00, or any time after 7.29". 

AmE condo(minium) 'building consisting of residential units that are individually owned' or 'an individually-owned unit within such a building'. In AmE condo generally contrasts with apartment (building)--the former is rented, the latter owned. In UK, they're called (blocks of) flats regardless of owned/rented status. In some parts of the US, there are also co-ops. The difference between condos and coops is explained here. I'd tried to conceptualise this in terms of the difference between flat ownership with a leasehold versus a share of the freehold in England, but that's not right (see comments). Suggested by @RebelePublisher 

BrE I’ll be mother 'I'll serve the tea [or other food/drink that needs serving-out]'  Suggested by Rhonda on the blog.

BrE graunch used as a verb or noun onomatopoetically for a grinding/crunching sound, as when gears in a car grind. (OED lists this as [UK] dialectal & New Zealand.) Suggested by April23rd on blog.

AmE (esp. Californian) lookie-loo (and spelling variants) 'nosy person who goes to (AmE) real-estate open houses with no intention of buying'. It's also used (esp. in other parts of the country) as a synonym for (orig. AmE) rubber-necker. Suggested by Michèle, seconded by @cynderness.

BrE paddle 'go into water (especially the sea) without swimming, particularly walking in up to the knees or so'. In AmE, I'd just say wade, which isn't specifically about getting your feet wet for fun. Suggested by @simonkoppel.

AmE Monday morning quarterback 'person who criticizes others using hindsight the others couldn't have had'

BrE ready reckoner 'quick-reference table that gives solutions to simple calculations'. AmE has things like cheat sheet, quick reference, but those could be, say, lists of definitions, rather than a table of calculations.

BrE glamour model euphemistic expression for 'woman who poses topless' (particularly for certain UK newspapers and BrE "lads' magazines").

Will I find enough for a seventh year in 2017? I've already started the list, so maybe.  Feel free to keep suggesting them! Thanks to everyone who's helped this time.

110 comments

  1. I'm not sure, but I think it may have been me who suggested "paddle". It's certainly on the Word document I maintain of "untranslatables I've spotted during the year that I may or may not remember to tweet to Lynne in September".

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  2. Very similar to the concept of BrE ‘backie’, children in my neighborhood in Milwaukee Wisconsin used the word ‘buck’. You wanna a buck? or Gimme a buck! When there was only one bicycle available between two friends one would ask for (or offer) a buck which simply meant one kid would sit on the seat while the other pedaled the bike while standing.

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  3. I think I suggested the Ca meaning of Lookieloo.

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    1. You're right, you did. Thanks!

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    2. But I don't equate "lookie-loo" with "rubber-necker" - to me a rubber-necker is all the people who slow down on the freeway to check out the accident - usually on the other side of the road thus affecting traffic without needing to. Just me?

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    3. You're right. Rubber-necker is understood to be road-related while lookie-loo is mainly real estate related, but is also being used for casual observers such as at a crime scene or some other emergency scene.

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  4. I thought "Condo" was equivalent to our "leasehold", where you own your own flat, but not the ground on which it stands (unless a group of leaseholders have come together to buy the freehold, which is what has happened at our block). Meanwhile, silly story from many years ago when my daughter was about 13 or 14 - she was reading a magazine sent to us from the USA by a kind friend, and suddenly said, "Oh, that's what a condo is! I used to think it was the American way of saying 'condom', but it got a bit awkward when I read about two people sharing one...."

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    1. What I was trying to say is that 'coop' is like freehold, and 'condo' can more like leasehold in parts of the US that make a coop/condo distinction. But there is no such thing as 'leasehold' in the US--and it's very hard to understand for anyone from the US--so it's not a perfect comparison & hence untranslatable.

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    2. Fair enough! I suppose that as I am very unlikely ever to need to buy accommodation in the USA, I tend to go with the mental image of leasehold (if that makes sense).

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    3. A condo(minium apartment) is owned outright by the tenant, and the other parts of the real estate (the land itself, the stairs or elevators, the lobby, a pool or tennis court or laundry room, etc.) are "in condominium", that is, owned by the tenants in common. A coop(erative apartment) is one owned by a corporation in which the tenants hold shares.

      I live in a coop and hold 10 of the 100 shares, as do the other tenants. The ground rights are held by a non-profit trust, whose job is to prevent the coop from voting to override the original terms of its establishment, by which the shares can be sold only to the next tenant at the same (nominal) price at which they were bought. This type of coop is called a "limited equity coop". Most Americans don't have separate landlords and ground-landlords, though.

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    4. Thanks, John. I clearly don't have a head for real estate.

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    5. It sounds like the condominium then is similar to the "strata title" in Australia.

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    6. In Scotland the term tenement corresponds to the legal status of a condominium as described by John Cowan. Of course, Scottish tenements don't have elevators, pool rooms, tennis courts, laundry rooms or swimming pools. Just stairs.

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    7. My building doesn't either, but it does have the land it stands on and a hair more. Tenement in NYC means a building constructed for multiple occupancy: the implication is that it is old and not in very good condition. Mine was built in 1873, but was thoroughly rehabilitated in 1996.

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    8. In Canada we use the terms condominiums and strata title but a condominium is not a type of building but rather a form of legal ownership in land and the buildings attached to the land. A legal parcel is divided into "units" which are owned by the unit owners (obviously) and common elements in which all of the unit owners have an undivided interest. When you sell your unit, your interest in the common elements go with it. A condominium may be an apartment type building, row houses, stand alone houses or bare land depending upon the nature of the unit.

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    9. It's very comforting to live in England where everything that's not an actual house is just "a flat".

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    10. In English law a direct equivalent of a condominium tenure or strata title exists it is called commonhold. It was created by the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 and so far is almost totally unused.

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    12. There are still some leaseholds in Hawaii. They used to be common (for historical reasons) but seem to be on the way out.

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  5. In Australia, the backy, two on a bike is more commonly 'double dinking'. I suspect that it is now close to archaic.

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    1. Similarly the NZE 'dub' is an abbreviation of 'double'... as in the kid without the bike saying to the kid with the bike 'can you give me a double/dub?'.

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    2. I come from Essex in the UK and, as kids, we used to call getting a ride on your friend's bike a 'seater', as in "can you give me a seater?". This is because the person who is being given a ride actually sits on the saddle (seat) while the person whose bike it is, stands up cycling. So the bike rider/owner is giving another person a ride or 'a seater'.

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    3. In some places in the US, two on a bike is called "pumping." It's not necessarily a backie, because the passenger often rides on the handlebars. The term comes from the extra effort needed to propel two people. "Hey, my chain broke. Can you pump me home?"

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  6. The only time I've heard "sleeping rough" was from an American describing another (homeless) American, about three years ago.

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  7. Do British bikes really have a "parcel shelf"? I have never heard the term. The word I know is "carrier".

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    1. I would not call anything on a bike a "parcel shelf". To me a parcel shelf is the thing above the boot (BrE - is that "trunk" AmE?) of a car which hinges up as the boot lid goes up and can be removed if you want to put in more luggage/put the seats down. The thing at the back of a bicycle for attaching panniers/carrying stuff/giving backies is a rack.

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    2. I concur.
      However when I was younger the accepted practice was the other person either stood on the back wheel bolts (impossibly with adult sized feet, but I managed as a child), stood on the stunt pegs (if a BMX) or sat in the saddle whilst the other stood up to peddle. As a child none of us had bikes with panniers or any such.

      All that said, we certainly used the term backie to describe this activity.
      Useless but translatable trivia: if someone said backie to me now I would assume they meant to 'bacci as in tobacco.

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    3. I was using the term that was given to me by the suggester, but it may not be the most common thing. I marked it as 'BrE' because Americans don't use the word 'parcel' like the British do.

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    4. I concur. I've been cycling since a kid and never heard the term 'parcel shelf', which has (to me) only the car-related meaning that wisob gives. A quick google shows very few uses of the phrase in terms of bicycles and most of those are American.

      If you go into a bike shop they will call it a 'rear pannier' (not to be confused with 'panniers' which are detachable bags hanging from the rear pannier down the sides of the rear wheel). Informally, I've always referred to it as a 'rack' or 'bike rack'.

      I can't see why it would ever be called a 'parcel shelf' since (a) it's not a shelf and (b) in BrE 'parcel' refers specifically to something neatly wrapped for delivery by BrE Post/AmE mail. Whereas anything can be carried on a rear pannier as long as you have a couple of BrE bungee cords (AmE same?) to attach it.

      As a child, a ride on someone's bike rack was known as a 'croggie' (probably local to East Midlands) although etymologically this would suggest it might have started as a ride on the crossbar and then been expanded to mean any secondary ride on a bicycle.

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    5. As noted by SteveDay on MooseAllain's Twitter, it was a "saddle" round these parts (Hertfordshire, England) -- some fifty years ago, anyway -- if the passenger sat on the saddle, and a "crossbar" if that's where they sat. Bikes didn't have pegs in those days (they're only on BMX's, aren't they?). Also, the thing over the back wheel has always been a "rack" to me, too.

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    6. As far as I know, it's always been called a rack in AmE too, at least in California and Illinois...

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    7. I could not for the life of me remember the word 'rack' when I was writing this up. :)

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    8. Well, I BELIEVE that a "bike rack" is also the set of metal arches you can park a bike in, locking it to the arches. Isn't it?

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    9. Yes, 'bike rack' is also somewhere to park your bicycle, though the context would normally be enough to distinguish the two. There are two main sorts of bike rack. A steel pipe in a semi-circle or semi-rectangle is called a 'Sheffield loop'; this is much preferred by cyclists as it supports the whole bike and allows you to chain the frame and both wheels to it, preventing partial theft.

      The other form, which looks like a V when viewed from above and only supports the front or back wheel, is widely hated and known as a 'wheelbender'.

      Lynne, do you know any US cyclists who might confirm the American names for these? I can't imagine Sheffield loop travels.

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    10. I'm an experienced born-BrE/27yr-AmE cyclist. I've never heard actual cyclists be more specific than "bike rack". We do have a variety of different styles of rack, including the two you mention above. Possibly actual bike facility planners have specific names for them, but among cyclists I think not.

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  8. I would really have to take objection to "blotting one's copybook" being BE. I learned that phrase at age 9 from Louisa May Alcott, who was an AE writer, and years went by after that before I saw it in any BE source.

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    1. I am only speaking about present-day English. There's a lot in 19th century American writers that Americans have mostly stopped saying!

      The phrase is Shakespearean in origin, but it is definitely much more alive in the UK today than in the US, at at least a rate of 6:1.

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  9. One interesting derivation from the Am 'Kick the tires' is the pejorative Br term 'tyre kicker': someone who knows nothing about cars & isn't serious about buying. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=tyre%20kicker

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  10. I (BrE) know "to T-Bone" as per the picture and don't think of it as being an Americanism. Likewise "to kick the tyres".
    You've increased my vocabulary with "gongoozler" however - is it a very canal-specific word? There was a definite and distinct culture among the people who worked on the canals, now long gone of course.

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    1. Well the person who taught it to me is an academic from Hastings, I think, so not just canally, but certainly not a well-known word.

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    2. The series of Narrow Dog books (http://narrowdog.com/) about narrowboat trips, introduced me to the term gongoozler, and it was very canal specific.

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    3. There's an episode of "Rosemary and Thyme" where a character that is played by Belinda Lang talks about "gongoozlers" (in a canal context); though the usage - as far as I recall - seemed to imply naive canal user rather than someone who just watches.

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    4. As wisob says, "T-bone" and "tyre kicker" are common in the UK. I was a bit confused by the comment that "t-bone" isn't a traditional British cut of meat. It may not have originated here but it was popular until it was banned during the BSE crisis. Even now, beef from cattle more that 30 months old has to be deboned.

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  11. I would argue that 'glamour model' isn't a euphemism and doesn't specifically refer to what are more commonly known as 'page 3 girls'. Glamour modelling is simply the branch of photographic modelling where the subject is the person (usually female, often scantily clad) as distinct from fashion modelling where the focus is on the clothes being worn while the lady/gent is just a good-looking clothes horse.

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    1. I would say that "glamour modelling" is modelling for the genre of photography known as "glamour photography", which is specifically erotic (and was formerly known as "erotic photography"). Most p3 photos, although they usually show bare boobs, fall short of eroticism, imo -- especially since the laughable introduction of political comments attributed to the models ("Jade says, 'Exit from the EU will undoubtedly lead to a period of sustained growth for the UK economy'"*). Playboy, Penthouse, Mayfair etc. exhibit glamour photography.

      *This is a parody, not a citation.

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  12. I grew up hearing "busman's holiday" in the U.S..

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  13. Quite annoyed to see busman's holiday listed as a BrE untranslatable. It's a phrase I've known used for years, so I hurried to read the entry about it at the wonderful World Wide Words website. There I discovered that while its origins are indeed English it's reported to have been in use in the US for well over a century (since 1909). It seems to me if you're going to use criteria this lax, Lynne, you could pick any of tens of thousands of words out of the OED and declare them untranslatable because, not surprisingly, they were used first in the UK and only later in the colonies.

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    1. God, the wrath of Dick Hartzell is upon me.

      Please see the original caveats: yes, some of these have started to be borrowed, or are known to some degree. In this case, the fact that there was a Dorothy Sayers novel with the title probably helped it along in the US. But it was suggested by someone who'd had to explain it to Americans. I only learned it once in the UK and have had to explain it to Americans. It is used in the UK at least 5 time more than in the US.

      You have a good vocabulary. Congratulations!

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    2. I think you'll find the novel was actually called "Busman's Honeymoon"....

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    3. Aha! In my research I came across a 'holiday', so at least two of use remembered it wrong. :)

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    4. Lord Peter Wimsey and his new bride, Harriet Vane, were both amateur detectives, so when they got involved in a murder case just after their wedding, their honeymoon was a busman's holiday. I can't remember the plot and can't bring myself to read it again - they were a nauseating couple, very much of their time.




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    5. @Mrs. Redboots -- Dorothy Sayers and "Busman's Honeymoon" is the first thing I thought of when this came up. I kept thinking that was the title and then wondering if I was wrong, and was finally on the verge of looking it up when I found your comment.

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    6. I also grew up in America and was familiar with the term "busman's holiday" from childhood, but I admit I've very seldom heard it used today.

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  14. I have friends here in the US who are keen paddlers -- meaning that they go on the water in canoes and kayaks and the like, in contrast to rowing in shells with oars. Oddly enough, I don't think they would say that they like to paddle; they would more likely say they like to go paddling. But I may be wrong about that.

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    1. That uses a paddle, so rather different from the 'wading' sense.

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    2. That's what I mean -- the word 'paddle' in the US has this primary meaning for me, rather than anything to do with wading.

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  15. Incidentally, as well as the use of the term "parcel" in law, it is also Br criminal slang for "that which is to be delivered", e.g. drugs, stolen goods etc. This is partly covered in Jonathon Green's Dictionary of Slang as 6. A bulk consignment of drugs, but it is used more widely than that.

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  16. Born (1940), raised, lifelong resident of US. Familiar with "busman's holiday" since I was a child (though "bus driver" should be more typical USage).

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    1. Not to mention 'vacation'! :)

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    2. This occurred to me earlier today: "Busman's holiday" is a thing but "busman" isn't. Someone who drives a bus is a bus driver in the UK. Old buses had bus conductors who sold tickets. But neither would ever be referred to as a 'busman'. Is there any record of that word being used outside of the "'s holiday" phrase?

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    3. It looks like it was mostly used about the operators of pre-motorized omnibuses. OED has citations from 1837 to 2003.

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    4. I am an American vaguely familiar with the term "busman's holiday" and never even realized it was supposed to refer to bus drivers. I think I thought it a busman meant a busboy. I am not sure how either busboys or bus drivers would be connected with the idea of working on your vacation.

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    5. It's not so much about working, but, back in the day, a tour on a coach/tour bus was a very popular way of taking a holiday, especially the "Magical Mystery Tours" put on by some of the bus companies. They demised when bypasses became common and coaches could no longer stop at pubs or tea-shops in the town centre. Anyway, some bus drivers/conductors were alleged to have enjoyed such holidays.....

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    6. James Karbala - now, 'busboy' is another untranslatable. We don't have these in the UK: in grand restaurants or tea rooms the waiting staff clear plates away from the table, and in less grand places one puts used crockery, still on the tray, on to a trolley or conveyor belt. As I understand it, the busboy is a sort of intermediary between dining room and kitchen; what is the origin of the name?

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    7. Actually, I had a friend who, in about 1977, told me he had started working as a "busboy" at the Hard Rock Cafe in Piccadilly (London). I had to ask him what on earth that meant, but it shows it has at least been in use in the UK for some time -- though perhaps only at American restaurants.

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    8. Mrs Redboots

      "They demised"

      Are you taking the mickey out of our American friends?

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    9. Because I've never heard demise used as an intransitive verb in that way before (to mean "die, come to an end", I presume?), and it's a very American trait to press nouns into verbal service like that, something I -- and perhaps others(?) -- find grating. (There's probably a post on this blog about this -- Lynne?).

      There is a transitive sense of the verb, related to the noun, which is a legal term referring to the passing on of a title or bequest, from whence, I believe, its (euphemistic?) use (literal and metaphorical) for "death"; I've often heard of the demise of this or that person or thing, but never one that demised. Maybe I should get out more, though. If it is in fact a novelty, I'm sure it will soon catch on. Especially in America.

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    10. There's not a post on the blog about it, but there's a long section in the book I'm writing about why you're wrong about that. You'll just have to wait! ;)

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    11. Lynn

      Maybe you could leverage sales of your book with a short pre-publication teaser post on the subject (see what I did there?).

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    12. That comment was the teaser.

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    13. Aaargh! Just heard Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Ian Duncan-Smith say, on BBC Radio2's Jeremy Vine Show, that something (to do with Brexit) needs to be caveated (caveatted?)!

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    14. Why the groan? It isn't even a new usage. The OED has

      †1. trans.

      a. To enter a caveat or caution against.

      1667 Naphtali 196, I would caveat this.

      The means that it was obsolete — but not any more.

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  17. I think the technical term for big box stores in the UK would be "retail warehouse" (confusingly, the name doesn't refer to actual warehouses but stores that are in buildings designed like warehouses). They're the sort of thing you typically find in retail parks.

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  18. Speaking of the British pejorative use of 'Johnny Foreigner', with Armistice Day nearly upon us, made me think of the foreign Johnnies who were British (and Commonwealth) men on Turkish soil in World War 1. There is a moving memorial at Gallipoli in Turkey that has a difference sense of 'Johnnies', which I rather prefer, especially in these days of heightened xenophobia in the UK...

    Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
    Atatürk, 1934

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  19. Thanks for explaining about condos, I didn't know that. It seems a strange distinction to make: presumably you can't tell by looking whether a flat is owned or rented? What about mixed ownership in the same building - do you have identical looking apartments and condos next door to each other?

    And I didn't know Americans don't paddle. What do they call paddling pools? Wading pools? Even if it's a few inches deep with space for one or two toddlers?

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    1. I don't really understand why that's a strange distinction to make. You can't tell from looking at something whether it's a freehold or a leasehold, but there are still different words for them. They don't get mixed up in different buildings, as far as I know. The building will be owned by a landlord or will be owned by a condo association. Landlords don't tend to sell off just bits of their buildings. (Of course, within a condo, maybe some people might sublet their condo to someone else, but I expect condo associations will have a lot of restrictions on that.)

      'Wading pool' or 'kiddie pool' are the most common ways of referring to the pools, but 'paddling pool' is occasionally heard too. Depending on the type, it might be called an 'inflatable pool'.

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    2. 'Leasehold' and 'freehold' are technical terms that are rarely heard outside of discussions with estate agents.
      (And it's even rarer to hear the term 'commonhold', which is the UK equivalent of condo ownership in the US.)
      These words describe ways of owning things, not the things that are owned.
      Britons don't live in 'leaseholds' and 'freeholds', but Americans live in 'apartments' and 'condos'.
      This is what seems strange: that the common name of a physical thing would depend on the legal niceties of how it is owned rather than on any aspect of its intrinsic nature.
      I've been racking my brain cell, and I can't think of any other examples of that.
      A council flat is still a flat.
      A hire car is still a car.
      A private road is still a road.
      A rented room is still a room.
      A hot desk is still a desk.
      A public library is still a library.
      A tenanted farm is still a farm.
      ...But apparently a commonhold apartment isn't an apartment, it's a condo.
      Odd.

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    3. so I just googled 'hot desk', interesting, never heard that term before, not sure if its regional or just me (30's Cdn west)

      The difference is in the responsibility isn't it? If you rent something then your landlord is responsible for major repairs (like a new roof) if you are an owner then you are responsible for such costly repairs. To a point you CAN sometimes see the difference in two such buildings, based on how well the residents take care of the properties.

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    4. I just posted below, but I am jumping in here, as well. Apparently I care a lot about American housing terminology. (I am an American, raised in California but lived a lot of other places.)

      From my perspective, the difference is indeed in the responsibility, and in the form of governance that such responsibility requires. Not all condos are apartments (many are townhouses that share common walls and roofs), just like not all apartments are condos. I'm likely to refer to "my condo" when I talk about things that would require a distinction between renting and owning: repairs, improvements, condo board meetings, upkeep on the lawn or hallway, etc. I'm likely to talk about "my apartment" when I refer to its physical traits: it is a two-bedroom apartment on the third floor. This is not flattering to me, but I have also used the term "condo" for status, when I wanted to make it clear that I can afford to buy property in a rather pricey neighborhood.

      My co-worker would say he "rents an apartment in a condo building", because he rents from an individual owner.

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    5. To repeat what all the other americans are saying, in general the distinction between "apartment" and "condo" isn't strange/confusing/unweildly--they're only called condos when the fact that they're owned and not rented is salient. (In parts of the country where apartments are normally down-market rental housing only, it might always be salient.) The details about ownership structure are only relevant in places where you might find both co-ops and condominiums, but co-ops are a lot rarer/possibly non-existent in most of the country.

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    6. I think you may have hit the nail on the head with this. Where I live apartments are always rented. Houses may or may not be, but only houses and condo can be owned, apartments never. You would never buy an apartment, only rent one. That goes for my whole state and I think probably for all the neighboring ones in the northern Great Plains Prairie states and Rocky Mountain states.

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    7. That strikes me as very strange, but then, of course, you have far more space than we do. In our major cities (both here and in Europe) living in apartments, flats, or maisonettes is the norm, although we do have our streets and streets of terraced houses, too.... And owning one's own home is an aspiration, increasingly unattainable as house prices have got silly.

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    8. The problem is the word own.

      A house can be owned outright. For a household which is part of a building the living space can be owned by the occupants(s) but some other principle has to cover the ownership all other aspects of the building.

      Three solutions have been discussed:

      1. Owner ship is divided between two parties:

      a. The occupant(s) of a sub-unit enjoy a narrow form of ownership or lease confined to that living space.

      b. Another person or body enjoys a form of ownership of the whole which covers everything to the exclusion of the household living spaces.

      2. The building is owned out right by the occupants, each household owning a share. The term co-operative is used in America, and may be used as a description in Britain.

      3. The occupant(s) of a household may enjoy one sort of ownership over their living space, and a different shared ownership of the building outside their individual spaces. In America, a building with this pattern of ownership is called a condominium. In Scotland it's called a tenement.

      In Britain, if a household's living space is part of a larger building, we call it a flat or apartment (or some special word for a particular size or other peculiarity) — irrespective of the nature of the ownership.

      In America (at least where Dark Star in the Morning lives) the nature of ownership constrains what term can be used for a household's living space.

      My living space illustrates the mismatch of terminology. By British criteria it's a flat/apartment. By American criteria it's a condo.

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  20. @ MJ Simpson 'It's very comforting to live in England where everything that's not an actual house is just "a flat".'

    I think we have discussed English 'maisonette' and indeed 'apartment' here. And House agents plus those like me who live in a non-'flat' (on multiple floors) may well be pedantic and call it a 'duplex apartment'.

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  21. Although I've heard the term 'maisonette' I couldn't say what one is without looking it up. 'Apartment' is surely just the American word for 'flat'. And I've never heard 'duplex' used on this side of the Atlantic. A two-story flat is still a flat in my book, on account of not being a house.

    The only non-house/non-flat option I can think of is a bedsit. Is there an American equivalent of bedsit?

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    1. If the definition I found for "bedsit" is correct, the closest US term would be "rooming house", but I don't know whether they really exist to any significant degree any more. (I might just not travel in the correct circles to see them, though.)

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    2. From my understanding (as a middle-aged American), a "bedsit" is the equivalent of an American "SRO" or "Single Room Occupancy Hotel". It's a large building with many tenants. The tenant has a small room, possibly with a private bath but more often a shared bath, and shared kitchen facilities. A "rooming house" would be a private house with at most 4 tenants. The tenants usually share a bath and the owner has a private bath. Nowadays, the owner advertises for roommates on Craigslist, and just says, "I have roommates", because the term "rooming house" is so stigmatized. Most of the people I've known who rent rooms in their house are older, recently divorced women who got the house in the divorce and who can't afford the upkeep or mortgage without some extra income from renters.
      There's also the "studio apartment", or "studio". It's a single room, plus a bathroom and a kitchen area, and it's usually in an apartment building. Then, there is the "mother in law unit", which is a small, separate apartment in a single-family house, usually but not necessarily in the basement. Sometimes it's a studio, and sometimes it's a one-bedroom.

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    3. Bedsit is short for 'bed-sitting room': essentially a one-room flat. It will have a bed, a table and chair, armchair if there's room and often a small kitchen area with sink, fridge and cooker. Sometimes its own bathroom, sometimes shared. It's rented by the month in exactly the same way as a flat, but is much cheaper so obviously preferable for younger people.

      The classic Britcom 'Rising Damp' is set in a house of bedsits.

      'Rooming house' sounds like the US equivalent of 'lodgings' or 'digs', in which one simply rents a bedroom in a house and lives alongside the current owner(s). When my brother was a student in the 1980s he lived in digs: it was a family house, he had the back bedroom, shared the bathroom with the family, even sat down to meals with them. He was hence a 'lodger' rather than a tenant. I think that's pretty much died out now - none of the students where I work would put up with that. They all want wi-fi and en suite bathrooms!

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    4. Oh, cool! It sounds like "bedsit" and "studio" are exactly the same.

      Rooming houses are still pretty common in large US cities where rent is expensive. I've heard people in their 70's and 80's calling the inhabitants "lodgers", but everyone younger calls them "renters" or "roommates".

      An SRO is usually the cheapest form of housing. I have only met one person who lived in an SRO - he was just out of prison and didn't have a job. Is there a British equivalent?

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    5. To me, 'bedsit' is a much more depressing term than 'studio'. If you read it in the news, it's often associated with putting homeless people into temporary accommodation. Looking at non-size adjectives that go before 'bedsit' in BrE, you get things like 'gloomy', 'grotty', 'squalid' and 'dingy'. For AmE 'studio apartment' you get 'charming' and 'neat'. (In GloWBE corpus)

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    6. ...and there are quite a few examples of both 'studio apartment' and 'studio flat' in the British data.

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    7. I'm with Lynn on this one, having recently sold a studio apartment in Manhattan (in a co-op building, to mix comment threads horribly ;-)). Studios are simply the smallest end of apartment; in fact, the L-shaped studio my partner and I just sold would also qualify as "junior 1-bed" because you could put up a wall to make a separate bedroom (the apartment below did exactly that). Bedsit sounds much closer to Doug Sundseth's SRO equivalent, which are invariably described as depressing.

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    8. Back in the 1980s and 1990s I lived in some very nice bedsits in Nottingham and Bath so I can assure you it's not mandatory for a bedsit to be awful.

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    9. I think the word has moved on, though. I can't imagine my students saying they lived in a bedsit, even if the definition fits.

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    10. In BrE a studio flat is a self-contained small unit, like a bedsit but with a kitchen area and a shower (or possibly bath) room and - importantly - its own front door. A bedsit is, as it implies, a room with a bed and somewhere to sit, in a house with common shared areas and a shared front door. It may also have a kitchen area; almost never its own toilet or bathroom. Often the landlord will live in the property. A key difference is that a studio flat can be purchased, while a bed-sit cannot. The pejorative connotations of bed-sit mentioned by Lynne come because there is a massive shortage of social housing and affordable housing in the UK, and families evicted from their home (for non-payment of rent, commonly) are usually forced to live in a bedsit in shared accommodation with limited privacy, which is clearly not desirable for the families.

      Just recently opened for medium-to-long-term rent in London is a custom-built block of bedsits, with a coffee shop and gym, aimed at young professionals who have no need for anything larger. Quite like a hall (BrE?) at university (BrE). Time will tell how much demand there is.

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  22. "7 for 7:30" is such a useful phrase. I keep hoping it will catch on in the US.

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    1. Until reading this I didn't actually know what it meant. It's a relatively common joke in British comedy to have posh people give a party, put that on the invitations, and invitees not know when to actually turn up. It's normally only used for events that are very formal - or pretentious.

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  23. The British equivalent of Anonymous's 'mother-in-law unit' is 'granny flat'.
    I think in BrE 'roommate' would mean someone you were sharing a bedroom with (for economy, not as lovers).

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  24. Roommate, which has come up a few times, is a word that Americans use more widely than Brits. A roommate in (my) BrE means that you sleep in the same room, usually in separate beds. I had one in halls at Uni.

    If you sleep in separate rooms, then you're flatmates or housemates.

    In AmE, as far as I can tell, they're all roommates.

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    Replies
    1. A roommate in (my) BrE means that you sleep in the same room, usually in separate beds.

      Surely you're either roommates or bedmates.

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    2. I'd agree with Richard. Many of my friends live in NYC, quite a few as performers. Most have "roommates" but in two-(or more-) bedroom apartments. The US calque of "flatment" would be "apartmentmate," I guess, but that's far too unwieldy to become popular so roommate does double duty.

      I remember using "housemate" when I was in college, but only because we were sharing a very literal single-family house, one kitchen for nine of us. If a house is divided into apartments, as is common on the East Coast and in SF, people who share one of the units are still "rooommates."

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  25. As someone who used to live in Edinburgh, I feel I should acknowledge the existence of the "double upper" a la Stockbridge, where the ground floor of a building is a flat, and the upper two floors are a two-storey flat - hence double upper.

    Quite different from unpartnered bedmates, who might double-up together.

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  26. AmE big box store 'box-shaped single-company retail building at the edge of town'

    I'd assumed, although your definition implies otherwise, that this expression arises from the fact that people buy big-box items (e.g. TVs and washing machines) at them, or items in bulk, rather than from the form of the building.

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    1. The stores are typically in the form of open, rectangular solids with high (25'/8m+) ceilings and open plans. There might be an etymological influence from some of the stores selling in bulk, but there are many chains that don't sell those sorts of items at all that show up in big-box centers: Michaels (art and craft supplies), Barnes & Noble (books), CompUSA (when it was still alive, computers and software), and many others.

      I would consider warehouse stores like Sam's Club and Costco to be examples of big-box retailers but not particularly representative of the breed.

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    2. I tend to think of Walmart as the quintessential box store and while it sells some stuff in bulk (toilet paper for instance) and some stuff in large boxes (like the aforementioned TVs), it sells a lot of small stuff, such as a single teapot or separate bottles of nail polish or the latest video game. All Walmarts (and Targets and Best Buys and Shopkos and all the rest -- the list goes on and on and on....) look like big boxes. They just get bigger and bigger and filled with more stuff. Our Walmart is on its third version, having outgrown itself twice, Sam's Club and Target are both in new, larger versions as well. And all are in buildings that could architecturally have come from a child's set of blocks.

      Calling a place a box-store is usually a bit of a put-down, it's rather uncomplimentary.

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  27. Back in old money days, you used a ready reckoner mainly to figure prices. It was full of multiplication tables. If you needed to know how much 13 items at 11s 5d would cost, you’d go to the 11/5 page and go down to the line starting 13, where you’d find the answer: £7 8s 5d (I think).
    I don’t know if there was ever such a thing in the US (where yards feet and inches are still in wide use) for builders and other construction trades; I believe I’ve seen calculators that do this.
    [Update: Google does it. (11 ft 5 in)*13

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    Replies
    1. I haven't seen such a thing in the US, but then lengths are less commonly added together than money.

      I've had occasion to do it when building bookcases: 6' tall bookcase built of 1x6 board (which is 3/4" thick*), 9" separation between shelves to accommodate mass-market fiction, plus a bit to keep the bottom shelf off the floor. And don't make a fence-post error.
      But that was done the hard way ... and checked at least twice before cutting.

      * Nominal 1" thickness includes the saw kerf. To buy dimensional lumber where the nominal thickness equals the actual thickness, you would buy "4/4" board (for 1" thickness) for instance.

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  28. David

    Re: caveated (on phone, not nested)

    "It isn't even a new usage"

    Heh! Heh! Actually, I imagine old Latin scholars went puce when caveat was first used as a noun -- it is, after all, a verbal form ("let him/her beware", I believe). It seems antipathy to (what seem to be) novelties is just a natural consequence of aging. Innit?

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