2016 UK-to-US Word of the Year: gutted

The day after the US election, it became clear to me that the UK-to-US Word of the Year would have to be the adjective


The verb to gut is, of course, common to both varieties of English, but in this case I'm talking about an adjectival use of gutted to refer to a feeling of disappointment or sadness that makes one feel utterly emptied. Green's Dictionary of Slang indicates it's been around at least as far back as the 1970s, originally in prison slang.  I blogged about gutted as a Britishism in 2009. Then I shared a story of an American inappropriately understanding its use  in the literal sense 'having had the guts removed', so it hasn't been a common expression in AmE for very long. The events of 8 November certainly put it in American social media feeds. Here are a couple of examples:

Ben Yagoda also noticed it at Not One-Off Britshisms.

The 'devastated' meaning of gutted has been growing in AmE for the last couple of years. A Twitter search today gave me US examples referring to that devastating feeling when the local Chic-Fil-A closes before you (AmE) get off work, when you miss an Ultimate Fighting match, or when you have to give up vlogging. Ok, so some of those would definitely not leave me gutted, but to each their own.

The adjective seemed to come into its own in the US in response to election happenings, when people who had been cruising on optimism for months suddenly felt truly down and hopeless. The New York Times seemed to find it useful:

The etymologist John Kelly, an American in Ireland, noted: 

And I agree. It is visceral. Though it is used a lot in talking about inconsequential things like football (yes, flying my anti-spectator-sport(s) flag again), it's just the right word when events come along and take the wind out of you.

John also mentioned trying out super gutted, but that just doesn't sound right in BrE. Here are some intensifiers that go with gutted, though note that this corpus result includes all senses of gutted. (Hence the large number of American completely gutteds are talking about buildings and the like.) Note that very gutted is also not common.

From GloWBE

I cannot resist ending on this little tweet, depending on the ambiguity of gutted:

Welcome to AmE, gutted!

(Stay tuned for the US-to-UK WotY. I hope to post it on 21 December.)


  1. It's funny how some words make the transition but some don't. When I went back to the States after my first decade in Britain, I was surprised to hear gobsmacked and spot-on used regularly. I never heard gutted. Now that I'm back in the UK, I can't imagine myself using the words chuffed or gutted - they just feel alien to me - but I do use knackered and I would be lost without manky. What does it say about me that I also readily use wanker and twat?

    1. "What does it say about me that I also readily use wanker and twat?"
      I fear that what it says about you is that you haven't grasped how offensive those two words are.
      Unless, of course, you also readily use 'cunt' and 'jerkoff'.

    2. "Twat" only refers to a female pudenda if it is pronounced to rhyme with "hot". If it is pronounced to rhyme with "hat", as it usually is in Britain or the Commonwealth, then it means a person who is being wilfully foolish. It can also me used as a verb, meaning to hit.

    3. Not so.

      Consider the rhyme in this ribald couplet famously misunderstood by Robert Browning:

      They talk't of his having a Cardinalls Hat,
      They'd send him as soon an Old Nuns Twat.

      Among the OED quotes, only Norman Mailer uses the spelling twot. The spelling twait was used in the seventeenth century, and twot or twott in the nineteenth. They look suspiciously like semi-polite substitutions to me — like feck and bogger. The OED and a few other dictionaries — including John Wells's Longman Pronunciation Dictionary — give both pronunciations for British RP. (Though I, for one, have never heard the LOT pronunciation.)

      [American pronunciation, of course, uses a different vowel. To many British ears this makes the word (almost) rhyme with START— OK, for rhotic speakers baht.]

      Browning in his innocence deduced that a twat was another item of ecclesiastical headgear.

      Then, owls and bats, cowls and twats,
      Monks and nuns, in a cloister's moods,
      Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry !

      The Wikipedia article on Pippa Passesincludes the claim that

      "Twat" both then and now is vulgar slang for a woman's external genitals. It has become a relatively mild epithet in parts of the UK, but vulgar elsewhere.

      This reads more like opinion than research finding.

      The article also points out that one of those really familiar quotes is from the same poem:

      The year’s at the spring,
      And day’s at the morn;
      Morning’s at seven;
      The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
      The lark’s on the wing;
      The snail’s on the thorn;
      God’s in His heaven—
      All’s right with the world!

      There's an interesting section on how writers have quoted and misquoted it.

  2. Interesting. As an American who lives in an area with lots of hunting and fishing, I would have just assumed this adjectival form has always been around. It feels natural to me. When I use it, I figuratively mean that I feel as if my insides have been ripped out, usually in reference to an especially crushing sports loss.

  3. As a British person, I have never used this word! You hear it on talent shows all the time and I've just come to see it almost in a comedic way, like a cliché (along with think outside the box).

  4. Sometimes adding an intensifier to a word like 'gutted' actually seems to reduce the meaning somehow. Perhaps it's because the dominant thought is then on the intensifier rather than the basic concept? Or perhaps because it stands alone as an absolute concept?
    Intensifiers have robbed 'unique' of its truly absolute sense. Less is more.

    1. Back in the seventies, BBC Radio 3 use to have a Sunday lunchtime programme called "Words", a five-minute slot where someone would talk about words and the use of language.

      I remember one episode called something like "The case of the fornicating rifles." The speaker was talking about his days doing national service, where some of the more tender conscripts complained about the sergeant major's use of the f-word, so he started using the word "fornicating" instead to send them up.

      The speaker then went on to observe that the f-word was not so much an intensifier, more the reverse. If the sergeant said, "Get your fucking rifles," it was merely an exasperated plea, but "Get your rifles!" meant it was an emergency.

  5. Gutted was quite big among my friends as a teenager (90s, Berkshire). It was mainly used for minor disappointments. It was also used as a comment on other people's disappointments, either with sympathy ("Aw, gutted") or schadenfreude ("Ha ha, gutted!") Presumably there was an implied "you/they must be" but it was unsaid.

  6. I have never, or hardly ever, heard gutted used except as a joke expression roughly equivalent to 'basically, Brian, I'm sick as a parrot'. You all know who Brian was, I'm sure.

  7. Story time - I know of a mother who told her (Estuary accented) teenage son to stop saying gutted - specifically "I'm well gutted" - as she felt it a bit non U. He was next heard to say he was "well dismayed".

  8. Among the OED quotes, only Norman Mailer uses the spelling twot.

    Sorry, this is only partly true. I was looking only at the quotes for twat in the anatomical sense. In the 'term of vulgar abuse' sense, the quotes include one prott spelling (1958) and one prot (1979).

    So the evidence points to a single word with (at least) two senses and two pronunciations but no correlation between sense and pronunciation — i.e. either sense may be pronounced either way by a particular speaker.

    The rhymes-with-hot pronunciation puzzled me until I thought of squat and what. So I looked things up and discovered that it's a general property of words with a W-sound followed by what was 'short-A' back in Middle English. There's an especially full account in Donka Minkova's A Historical Phonology of English. Some words developed an AW sound, but more of them changed to a LOT vowel e.g. wand, swan, and words with letter-U such as quality.

    The change came after Chaucer, who happily rhymed wan with can, and — with a different modern vowel sound — warm with harm. Similarly, Shakespeare rhymed ward with guard, and — with a different modern vowel sound again — swan with can. We've seen that in 1660 someone rhymed twat with hat. Around the same time Milton rhymed wand with land. Later still the writer on pronunciation John Walker (publishing stretching 1791-1826) cited variable pronunciations for waft, wan, wasp, quality, (but a pronunciation of water which would (still) rhyme with matter). At about this time Byron rhymed wand with expand and land, as well as war with far.

    With an 'ordinary' word, one might put the rhymes-with-hat variant down to spelling pronunciation. But twat isn't a word you expect to see much in writing even today, and it must have been an even rarer written word in the past.

  9. I've used gutted in the emotional sense my whole life (since the 1970s) so don't agree that this is a Britishism, or a recent addition to American English, as I have never lived anywhere but California.

  10. Pronunciation and rhyme : Zappa's song 'half a dozen provocative squats' from '200 motels' has the lines:

    Half a dozen provocative squats!
    Out of the shower, she squeezes her spots;
    Brushes her teeth;
    Shoots a deodorant spray up her twat . . .

  11. Interesting, the most common uses of "gutted" I've encountered throughout my life as an American is to describe a drastic revision to something, less commonly to describe the literal gut removal/cleaning/preparation of a fish or deer (during hunting season) to prepare it for storage or cooking. Both of those are far more common than to describe an emotion. Typically a person would say "I feel sick to my stomach" rather than "I'm gutted" or "I feel gutted by this".

    Typical usage: "Republicans gutted Obamacare in this latest legislation proposal", or "The proposal was really great before they gutted it".

    I can think of half a dozen times in the past month I've spoke the phrase: "They gutted it", in regards to a drastic revision for projects at work or in reference to legislation....


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