2017 US-to-UK Word of the Year: (television) season

It's that time of year again. The time when everyone's too busy doing fun things in real life to read blogs. Yet I persevere in announcing my Words of the Year here at the butt-end of the year because I don't want to be unfair to December. (And, of course, I'm doing too much teaching to even think about it any earlier.)

As ever, the point of the SbaCL Words of the Year is to note the riches (or rags) that American and British English bring to each other. A SbaCL WotY is not a new word, and it may not even be a newly borrowed word, but it's a word from one of my countries that has been particularly relevant to the other of my countries in that year. Sometimes they're in the news, sometimes they've been building up a presence for years and just needed a little acknowledgement.

The finalists (in my mind) for this year's US-to-UK WotY were of each of these types. The loser is mugwump: a now-obscure Americanism briefly lifted out of the shadows when lexical dilettante (that's the nicest phrase I have for him) Foreign Secretary (that's the most preposterous phrase I have for him) Boris Johnson called the head of the Labour Party "a mutton-headed old mugwump". Since that's not the word I've chosen, I'll leave you to go and read (or watch a video) about it elsewhere.

But the winner, which has been building up some steam for years, will hang around longer than Johnson's antique epithet. It is:


...to refer to a group of broadcast program(me)s released under the same title in a particular time period. It's tricky to define without using the word series, but one must, because that is the word (or one sense of it) that season competes with in BrE.

Now, I have written about the difference between AmE season versus BrE series before, so I won't do it all again and I encourage you to click on the link to read a more detailed post. To cut a long difference short, the British way would be to say "I haven't seen the second series of Stranger Things (so no spoilers, please!)", but in AmE that doesn't quite make sense because Stranger Things is the series, and the part of it that is 'second' is a season of that series. To unnecessarily throw in some terms of my trade, in AmE season is a meronym of AmE series (it is in the 'part-of' relation), whereas in BrE, AmE season is used as a synonym for BrE series.

British television-watchers (that is to say, almost everyone on this island) have long been familiar with the American sense of season—after all, lots of American television program(me)s are imported to UK television. But what's tipped it into WotY territory are the streaming services, especially Netflix, which often releases an entire season/series of a (AmE) show at one time, enabling serious binge-watching. And on Netflix, they are called seasons. Even when they're BBC products like Uncle here.  (Can you see the '2 Seasons' there under the title on Netflix?) Meanwhile on BBC iPlayer, it's on 'Series 3'. (It's also a lovely comedy and if you like lovely comedies you might want to give it a chance.)

The reasons for calling it a season are rather irrelevant in the days of streaming--when 12 episodes show up on a single day, rather than unfolding over months. But the nice thing about season is that it avoids the ambiguity that arises from the two possible interpretations of series.
The AmE term is showing up more and more in British newspapers--including the Telegraph (one of the papers that publishes a lot of complaints about Americanisms). This chart shows how 'ordinal-number+season of' (which, on this corpus's tagging system includes last season of and next season of) has been faring in UK news websites (via the NOW corpus).

The charts look similar for other searches like 'season+cardinal number+of". Of course, there are other types of seasons besides television seasons in these data, but the television ones predominate, as can be seen from this sample of the 2017-B section of the corpus (click to biggify it):

Sports seasons come up once in a while, but the instances of season are mostly about television seasons.

I should note here that Netflix is an equal-opportunity word-spreader. Only a couple of years ago, it was being blamed for Americans saying queue.

So there we go. The first SbaCL WotY of 2017! Many thanks to @eahird for nominating it. Stay tuned for the UK>US WotY. As soon as I decide what it is!


  1. British television-watchers (that is to say, almost everyone on this island) have long been familiar with the American sense of season

    Err... Well ... No actually.

    I suppose I must have heard the word used with that sense intended, but never even recognised it — let alone become 'familiar'.

    I've always understood — or misunderstood — the term to mean 'collection of programmes within a seasonal schedule'.

    I think the BBC still uses it in this sense. For example there's currently a season on BBC4 of assorted programmes — taking in two or more series — on the theme of Mexico.

    1. I totally agree with this. We (the British) will have a season of entertainment around a theme, which might include numerous programmes from multiple series that form part of a "season" eg: Japan Season from last year on the BBC had three different series (Handmade in Japan, Japan: Earth's Enchanted Islands and The Art of Japanese Life) which were in turn made of of several different episodes. This makes much more sense to me.

  2. No opinion on whether “season” is a good choice for US-to-UK word of the year, but Stranger Things season 2 was worth watching if you liked season 1. But if it had been season 1, I don’t think it would have taken off like it did.

    So at least I can add that.

  3. Hmm, so a series is called a program(me) in Britain, more or less, right? But then, in American English, there is a slight distinction in that a series is typically fiction and must have multiple episodes, whereas a program might well be a special, and can sometimes instead describe a single content-chunk (I assume it can also have this sense in BE) which might be called an episode were it of a series. So I think in AE episode and series are correlated. If I am wrong about AE series being approximately equivalent to BE programme, then what would you use for this meaning?

    1. I would only ever use programme to the to a single episode of something, not a whole collection. I don't think we have an equivalent here. I might, at a push, use "series" to describe several of your "seasons" as well as an individual "season"... But I can't think of anything else I'd use.
      I might watch "one episode of X", "a whole series of X" or "all three series of X".

    2. Michael, so if somebody asked you “What's your favourite television programme?”, you would answer not with a title of an entire show (“‘Yes Minister’”), but with a specific episode (“series 2, episode 1 of ‘Yes Minister’, ‘The Compassionate Society’”)?

    3. Yes, I would... But if someone told me they'd watched a whole programme, I would take that to mean an episode, not *all* the episodes

    4. Dijek

      BrE programme can refer to many different broadcast things. The one constraint is the broadcast or succession of broadcasted can be named. If we have to narrow it down to e.g. the nine o'clock bulletin or last Sunday's episode, then we're less likely to call it a programme.

      It's actually very valuable to have a flexible term like this. And there's an ever more flexible term show which is increasingly used for what the Americans call a series, just as readily as to what we call a programme.

    5. In my experience, the word 'series' is rarely used in AmE in reference to what's on TV. We refer to season 1 and season 2 of Stranger Things, to take the example mentioned above, but if I wanted to refer to Stranger Things in its entirety I would most likely call it a 'show.'

      I believe that 'show' as a catch-all term is American in origin. Perhaps it's spreading to the UK. I would refer to Dr Who, for example, as a long running show in AmE, but I don't know if that corresponds to BrE usage.

    6. We could quite easily refer to Dr Who as a show. Well, I could. What does seem to be new and of US origin is the term show leader.

    7. I think you mean ‘show runner’.

    8. That's the one. Proves how new it is on me.

  4. Usefully, both season and series start with the same letter, which means that the Sky television electronic programme guide can use the abbreviation S5Ep2 and you can fill in season or series as you please.

  5. The US distinction is far clearer and will probably be standard usage in the UK within a few years.

    1. Indeed, this UK-based website uses it, although it is so steeped in US TV that's not surprising:


    2. The US distinction is far clearer

      Not to me, Unknown. I find it extremely confusing.

      So a series is called a programme in Britain more or less right?

      You presuppose, Dijek, that there is a thing which is objectively and unambiguously identifiable as a series. For me this is simply not the case.

      It was easier when I was young. Then we spoke of serials and series. Both were dramatic and episodic. The distinction was that a serial had a single overarching narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end. In a series the episodes were more self-contained, even if linked to some extent. Many of the shows I hear nowadays described as series are more like what I still think of as serials.

      The problem is that the two words have developed in radio-speak and TV-speak in a different way from the rest of the language.

      The source words in Latin are a noun from which we take series and an adjective from which we take serial. In other 'registers' (topic-based talking shops, as it were) this distinction holds.

      • We speak of a series of killings and a serial killer.

      • Forty years ago, my wife was interpreting for an international sociology conference and came across a term that was then a hilarious novelty: serial monogamy. Maybe not a everyday term yet, but then it sounded totally outlandish.

      If broadcast-speak copied the rest of English a TV series would be an observed succession of episodes in a dramatic show. This indeed is how we use the term when referring to Series Two rather than Season Two

      But the two nouns serial and series were changed by the broadcasting industries to refer to the episodic nature of the shows rather than the progression. So how to distinguish the two?

      The BrE solution is to ignore the problem. A show that is episodic in character may be called a series. A succession of such episodes may also be called a series — as may a succession of other things in English such as killings and relationships. In broadcasting, a series is often not fictional/dramatic; the constituent parts may be linked by format rather than narrative.

      In AmE you've chosen to dissociate series as a broadcasting term from the meaning it has in the rest of the language. Hence the need for a term to express the succession — namely season.

      I posted above of the Mexican season that's currently on the most highbrow of our channels. Over a couple of months there's been a programme on a British artist who became a Mexican artist, a series of four (I think) programmes telling the history of Mexican art, another series of nature programmes (region-by-region self-contained but parts of a whole0, and a cookery series of episodes to of a story but of a cook progressing on a journey from the US to Mexico. As it happens there hasn't been a series in the dramatic sense.

      (I may have got some of the details wrong, but that's definitely how we use the words season and series.)

    3. David Crosbie, I would disagree with your following statement: "In AmE you've chosen to dissociate series as a broadcasting term from the meaning it has in the rest of the language. Hence the need for a term to express the succession — namely season."

      In AmE, Series is used to define the entirety of a show from very first episode to most recent. As in, "what's your favorite series?" "Oh, CSI. You?" This could also be asked "What's your favorite show?" "CSI, but not the season with Laurence Fishburn." We also borrow the word "franchise" into TV..."CSI? Which franchise?" "The Original, of course, CSI Miami is silly, but CSI New York was ok."

      So it breaks down like this: Series -> Season -> Episode. To thoroughly confuse people though, show can be substituted for either Series or Episode depending on context.

    4. Amanda

      In AmE, Series is used to define the entirety of a show from very first episode to most recent.

      OK, but that doesn't chime with what series means in the rest of the language. British usage may be changing, but I for one have never understood series to mean the entire production output. For me it has two related meanings:

      1. the type of show it is — an episodic type

      2. a discrete sequence — apparently what you call a season

      The first off these is specific to broad casting. The second is what series means in contexts other than broadcasting.

      That use of franchise is completely new to me, by the way. I'm not ware of any BrE term. I'd be tempted to use the word incarnation.

    5. I still agree with you David, you are 100% correct. To chime in on the "franchise" front. When there is a what Amanda is calling a "franchise", in BrE we would call it a "Spin off". In fact, on the Wikipedia "List of television spin-offs" CSI is listed as an example so...

      A "franchise" in Britain would be something like the Marvel TV shows, eg Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones all come under the Marvel TV Franchise but no one would say their favourite TV programme was "Marvel" they'd say "Daredevil".

      So CSI would perhaps be the franchise, and CSI: Miami would be a spin off.

      As an aside I can't believe I'm so late to this debate.

  6. Lynne, since you brought up ‘meronym’ (which I hadn't heard of before): I'd've used the term ‘synecdoche’ for what you described — or at least, I'd've tried to, but I have trouble both with spelling it and pronouncing it. Is meronym the same thing? If not, what's the difference? Thanks.

    1. 'Meronym' is the lexical semantic term for the part-of relation between words. It is used in describing how vocabularies are organised, how dictionary definitions are written, things like that. Season is a meronym of AmE series. Series is the holonym of season.

      'Synecdoche' is the name of a figure of speech--using the name of a part (a meronym) to stand for a whole. It can be a source of new word meanings (as when we use head to mean 'person' as in "entry to the zoo is $20 a head", or it can be (BrE) one-off creative stuff.

      So, meronymy is not about using the part name to stand for the whole. It is just the name for the part-name relation.

    2. And I should say, when linguists talk about about synecdoche as a source of new word meanings (polysemy) or word construals (interpretations) in context, we usually call it metonymy. 'Synecdoche' is more a literary term.

    3. (And yes, having two technical terms--metonymy and meronymy--that are related in meaning and that differ in just one adjacent-on-the-keyboard letter IS confusing.)

    4. Thanks. And sorry for misunderstanding your explanation in the first place: I should've read it more slowly — it now makes perfect sense, and I can no longer work out what I misinterpreted it as in the first place (something like, to an AmE speaker, using BrE ‘series’ to refer to a season would be synecdoche, but at this point I'm giving up and trying to forget I ever said anything).

  7. All the information I can find on Doctor Who (the only UK-produced I watch) uses seasons before the 2005 revival and Series starting with that (and starting with Series 1 again). Is this the official nomenclature and, if so, was the term "Season" actually common in the UK in the 60s-80s?

    1. As far as I can remember, Boris, the old incarnation of Dr Who ran in continuous seasonal blocks. The present incarnation is broadcast in two blocks of six weeks plus a Christmas special. The annual production output constitutes a series in the sense of the word shared with the rest of the language, But a year is — by definition — not a season.

    2. Boris, there's an archived BBC web page

      DR WHO

      Because each story went on for (usually) four or six episodes and had a title, it merited the term series. The list of missing episodes (some of which may since have been found) is organised not in seasons but under the headings

      By the time of the Third Doctor the BBC was probably not so cavalier with wiping teletape.

      I could be wrong, but I honestly don't think we ever spoke of Doctor Who seasons. If you've seen the term used, I suggest it was employed anachronistically by someone who was American or influenced by American terminology.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. I guessed it might be Wikipedia. That use of season can't help but be retrospective, and in this case totally anachronistic.

    5. And the other site goes further, inventing a category of numbered storiesStory 001, Storey 002 etc. The appropriate name for this category is series.

      See this BBC web page. (Click)

    6. No, though you could say each story is a Serial. The whole thing is a Series (thus muddying the old distinction between "Series and Serials," but that's by the by). Each year's block of stories would also be called a Series, but for some reason Doctor Who was commonly referred to as having "Seasons" from at least the early 80s. Whether that usage came from the BBC or from fans or journalists I don't know. It might also have been marketing as that was a time of expansion in overseas sales.

      Of course "Season" also has another meaning, being the portfolio of new and returning programmes that make up a TV channel's offering about 3 times a year (roughly in line with school terms, I suppose) So "The New Season on BBC1" is the whole package of new programme they're advertising for the coming few months.

    7. No, though you could say each story is a Serial.

      I'm trying to remember what I would have said at the time. I suspect I could have said that each was a serial. At least I would have recognised the description if somebody else had used the word. I would, I believe, tend to think that a serial existed in isolation. But there was obvious continuity between the Doctor Who stories. Not only did the the Doctor and his companions continue into the next story, but the stories followed one another in narrative sequence. A prototypal/archetypal serial would be more like a book, decided into chapters.
      The way we use the words now reflects the huge change there has been in TV consumption. It was unthinkable back then that we might need a terminology and a taxonomy for archiving and collecting.

      Not long before Doctor Who came out, an episode lasted no longer than its air- time. This mindset persisted, so although the episodes could now be recorded, there was no thought of keeping them on expensive tape unless there was a pressing commercial reason.

      But now the total production output can be studied and marketed — insofar as it has physically survived. Hence the American taxonomy of
      This has become all the more handy in the age of the box set. An age that is utterly alien to me — hence my difficulty with the term season.

      That initial No. Was it a denial that the appropriate category name for those stories was series? Well, as I read the BBC Archive page, The CLASSIC SERIES referred to those units in serial form which told a story. Series in this case would be the plural of series.

    8. Belatedly: Yes, the initial'No' is a denial that an individual story would be called a 'Series'. In "The Classic Series", I'd say 'Series' is singular and refers to the whole span of the series from 1963 to 1989 (you might instead read it as plural, referring to the 26 series of that span, but for my money, I don't think that's what's intended).

      And I agree, DW the 'classic' series didn't fit neatly into the old categories of Series and Serials as they existed at the time. It's more a Series of Serials.

  8. I don't recall ever hearing seasons used for Doctor Who in the sixties, and I was an avid fan. I see from the IMDb that back then, they made 45 episodes a year and the IMDB has retroactively assigned these to seasons, based on the seven week gap each year.

    I'll say up front that I follow a lot of US TV shows, and season in this sense has been part of my vocabulary for a very long time. For instance, I was a fan of Buffy and a season of Buffy was usually 22 episodes (apart from the first season, which was what is called a mid-season replacement). But US television didn't show 22 episodes one after the other. A season would start in Septemeber or October and end in May. They'd pad out the year with repeats of episodes from earlier in the season.

    UK television companies found that their audiences didn't like this and liked to show seasons without breaks. So, Sky TV would start a new season of Buffy in January, 3-4 months after it started in the US, but then show the 22 episodes on consecutive weeks so by May they'd be showing episodes just days after they appeared in the US.

    Before the nineties, US shows would appear on UK television years after they appeared in the US. Star Trek didn't start on the BBC till July 1969, by which time it had been cancelled in the US. Even Star Trek: The Next Generation didn't start on the BBC until 1990, three years after it started in the US. But then Sky TV started up and they started showing programmes closer to their US showings. I suspect that when this happened, and also US and UK fans started talking to each other on the internet that "season" started crossing the Atlantic. Slayer, a guide to Buffy by Keith Topping, a UK writer writing for a UK readship published first in 2000 uses season throughout.

    Nowadays with it being so easy for people to pirate shows on the internet, UK companies are having to show programmes just days after their US showing or even, as happens with Game of Thrones, simultaneously, even if that means showing episodes at two in the morning.

  9. On the radio tonight Sarah Churchwell, an American academic based in Britain, when discussing the British TV phenomenon of the Christmas Specia thought it necessary to explain

    'In America the TV s—— we call them seasons, not series, because they run across the squeers [presumably years ] ...they run from September and they end in the spring.'

    That because is perhaps misleading. I think she meant:

    'The reason we don't have Christmas Specials is because the seasons run from September to the spring.'

    So, she sees season as a translation of one of the sense of TV series. I think the key to understanding this BrE use is that we still conceive a series as abstract. We have no difficulty getting our heads around a series of series. The problem came when you started conceiving a series as
    • a data entry that you look up — with sub-category and sub-sub category headings
    • a product that you collect and consume, one chunk after another
    • finally, a physical box set — divisible into disks and files

  10. For American franchises with spinoffs and reboots, I think of each spinoff or reboot as a series and the periodically contracted blocks of episodes as seasons. So Star Trek Next Generation and Star Trek DS9 are distinct series comprised of many seasons each. The hierarchy is franchise/series/season.

  11. Aha!

    Yes, spinoff does exist in my BrE speech. I couldn't think of a word for it.

    Reboot may have reached some BrE speakers, but not me. Not in any TV-related sense, that is. The same goes for franchise.

    As for season, I've been mulling over Sarah Churchwell's explanation (see above). The US broadcasting schedule period corresponds to a sports season — outside North America the football season (AmE soccer). In Britain it used to make sense that we had winter games (principally footbal)l and summer games (principally cricket). Nowadays it sounds quaint or ironic to refer to cricket as the summer game such is the overwhelming obsession with football.

  12. FWIW, I (30yo Brit) used to have a lot of trouble as a British ESL teacher trying to understand which of these meanings my international students intended when they used the language they'd picked up on streaming sites. I was especially bamboozled when they used 'series' for the whole thing - a very common exchange being "I like watching series" - "What kind of series?" - "You know, series".

    For me, 'series' simply meant a group of episodes of any genre produced with some coherence (e.g. written/filmed together), so it seemed simultaneously too vague in terms of content and too specific in terms of structure to be the sort of thing that someone would normally 'like watching'. When asked what I would say, I found myself referring to the genre ("I like watching dramas/comedies/documentaries") - I would use 'programme' for a specific nameable thing ("What's your favourite (TV) programme?" was/is absolutely fine), but to say "I like watching (TV) programmes" seemed almost as empty as "I like reading words".

    This was up to a year or two ago - I (and most of my BrE friends) now use 'series' in the way my students always had, and feel a bit silly for correcting them all those times!

    My natural inclination now would be episode<series<series, though I've found myself (grudgingly) starting to use 'season' and 'show' occasionally too. So though I have the ambiguity you mention, this is very new for me, since up until a year or two ago I would have used episode<series<programme/drama/comedy etc. 'Programme' has almost entirely fallen out of my vocabulary here, since I find it very odd to call something a 'programme' if it has never been broadcast on live TV, as is the case with much Netflix output.

    In summary, 'series':
    - originally only meronym
    - recently (last couple of years) become homonym too, leading to ambiguity
    - 'season' coming in as meronym to avoid ambiguity

    It would be interesting to know if this is a general trend or just me - have other Brits had similar experiences with this new holonymic (see me with the lingo!) use of 'series'?

  13. Hugh

    Some interesting differences. Firstly, I'm more than twice your age. Secondly, I'd describe myself (before retirement) as a British EFL teacher. So it's perhaps not surprising that — unlike you — I don't feel the pull to adopt what I still see as the AmE sense of TV series. And I'm most unlikely to use the word season in the AmE way — grudgingly or otherwise.

    This illustrates one way — an important way, I suspect — in which words migrate between dialects. When there is a firmly established BrE equivalent, there is resistance from a number of British speakers. In time, younger speakers (you, for example) become reconciled, while older speakers (me, for example) remain immune.

    In this case, there's the additional factor of lifestyle differences between your generation and mine. Older people are less likely to consume box-set TV; some do, but non-consumers like me are not exceptional. For me season is a term for which there is no waiting semantic niche.

    I was actually a little ahead of you when I was young. I did take on board the sense of series as a type of radio/TV programme (in addition to its 'sequence' meaning). Back then the term serial was widely used, so a need was felt for a word denoting something similar but more open-ended. Even so, I didn't feel it denoted the accumulation of episodes as it does now in AmE usage.

    Another generational difference. The older you are in Britain, the more likely you are to be a Radio Four listener. I quoted above the American Sarah Churchwell explaining season to a R4 audience. A few days later I heard Nikki Bedi doing the same on Loose Ends also on Radio Four. Being relatively young and immersed in popular culture, she instinctively used season in its AmE sense — but then translated it for the R4 demographic.

    [For American readers, Radio Four is the BBC spoken word channel. It does include music, but generally coupled with a spoken introduction or a conversation with the performer(s). The largest share of listeners is over 65, and more than two thirds are over 45. Loose Ends is a sort of chat show, but without the predominance of A-list actors promoting their latest movie. Nikki Bedi is a presenter of arts programmes — in this case the junior presenter.]

  14. I've no desire to be anonymous but Google has separated me from my identity. This is David Crosbie writing...

    Something in the credits stuck me on TV last night. I was watching a thingy which was the fourth thingy of the sixth thingy of a thingy called Spiral.

    The original French title is Engenages bu the literal translation 'gears' would give no indication as to what sort of thingy it is. Not that Spiral is more informative.

    The Radio Times should help. In the ld days, it held the monopoly for publishing forthcoming BBC schedules and the BBC had the monopoly for broadcasting. Nowadays it's one of several magazines listing all the schedules for the available radio and TV channels, so competes by the amount and quality if its descriptive features.

    The first description this year (by journalist Alison Graham) describes Spiral as this excellent French crime/legal drama . In the next issue she calls it an absorbing French crime series that should know better.

    In the listings, the drama/series isn't labelled as either — presumably on the assumption that readers are by now familiar with it. But they do use the term series in the sense that's foreign to AmE. The first issue lists
    New series 1/2
    10.00 2/12

    Alison Graham also uses series in this BrE way. The continuation of that first quote is ... returns for a sixth series. Her next paragraph begins There are liberal amounts of gore the first two instalments.... In the next issue she writes of this week's double bill/.

    I'd forgotten about that term instalment. A suitable word for the broken narrative that we used to call a serial.

    That's the British terminology, but what of the original French? That's where I was stuck last night.

    It calls itself a série clearly the equivalent of AmE series. What's currently showing is called a saison.

  15. Well, I've got my identity back, but I see the end of my post is missing...

    The French for a constituent chunk of a saison is an épisode.

    AmE rules OK!

  16. I've been thinking about this, and while I would understand "There's a new season of QI", it's not something I would say (BrE speaker, elderly, Southern). I'd watch the latest episode of the current series, which the BBC has put on during the winter season. The BBC often runs long trails of the new programmes they are going to be showing in the forthcoming season - usually three months, but the Christmas season is shorter, coming between the autumn and the winter ones. They also use the word "Schedule", I've noticed.

  17. I would argue that the US usage of "Series" to roughly equal "Programme" isn't a deviation from the traditional usage as David Crosbie is implying.

    I don't know how it works in the UK, and it might be the same, but in the US, (As explained in Pulp Fiction) In order to get a show made, you make ONE episode. If your show is picked up it is called "Making it to series" meaning that they are purchasing multiples, just like series of killings example. So sometimes you will hear about a show being bought "Direct to series" meaning that they get to skip the pilot step and go directly to multiples.

    So that trickled into the vernacular and became synonymous with "show/program" And then, since the US has the "TV Season", in the fall you get a "New season of a series."

    Serial also comes into play when talking about "Serialized TV" vs. "Episodic" Meaning shows that have an over-arcing plot like Broadchurch or Lost vs. shows that generally have a plot that are developed and solved within a single episode, like just about any generic sitcom.

    1. Bill, when talking about anything other than radio and television shows a series is a sequence.

      Yes, the term 'deviated' a long time ago to mean a type of radio show that was put as a sequence of broadcasts. In America especially, this sense has shifted to mean the actual 'multiple' as you put it. This is becoming established in Britain, but to me as an older speaker series still mean 'sequence' or 'type of show that is broadcast in a sequence'.

      One of those two meanings — the 'sequence' meaning — corresponds precisely to what you call a season. That's why I'm so resistant to the AmE use — we already have a perfectly good word: series.

      In order to get a show made, you make ONE episode.

      We don't call that an episode; we call it a pilot.

      Serial also comes into play when talking about "Serialized TV" vs. "Episodic"

      That's how we used to speak when I was a boy. But I think the word serial has by pretty well disappeared from TV-speak here.

    2. I'm late to the discussion - but wasn't there a term 'continuing drama' for something like Broadchurch, which would wrap up after six episodes, contrasting with a series like Dr Who, where each episode was more or less self-contained - even if relationships develop.

    3. "Pilot" is used in (and originated in?) American English.

    4. Biochemist - In the U.S. that used to be called a miniseries.

  18. We also used to speak of mini-series, James, but I never heard it applied to British TV shows. And — rightly or wrongly — I used to expect each instalment to be two hours long.

    Broadchurch and the like differ from what we long ago used to call a serial in that back then each instalment/episode was generally shorter. I'm not sure why this makes a difference, but nowadays, there's less of a feeling of incompleteness4 Perhaps it's because an hour-long episode fellas more substantial than the old 30/40/35 minute divisions.

  19. On the most recent episode of the Round Britain Quiz on Radio Four, the presenter Tom Sutcliffe uses both the word "season" and the word "series" to mean the same thing: the current set of programmes/episodes/installments.

    He opens Programme 12 by saying: "Believe it or not, another season of Round Britain Quiz is drawing to an end; and in half an hour's time, we'll know the precise final rankings for our 70th anniversary series."


    By the way, this brings up a side point: have you ever covered the difference between the British preposition "round" and the American preposition "around"? A speaker of American English would want to call this the "Around Britain Quiz", and would regard "'round" (note the apostrophe) as a shortened version of the full word "around". Do speakers of British English who say "round" also acknowledge the preposition "around"? And, if so, what difference to they perceive between these two prepositions?

    I think a similar thing is going on with respect to the prepositions "until" and "till". American English speakers often use the short form "'til" (again: note the apostrophe); whereas it seems that British English has the word "till" as a preposition.

  20. Thank you.

    Not to get sidetracked by that, I'd like to get your reaction to the act of using "season" and "series" within the same sentence to mean the same thing (and to the fact that this sentence was heard on Radio Four, which you introduced into the conversation).

    1. OK, let's take a step back...

      A continuous sequence of episodes or instalments of a dramatic production is — by established and familiar use of the term — a series.

      However, the American television industry (or was it radio?) decided not to use the term because it also applied to the production itself.

      The replacement they decided on puzzled me for a while. After all, each (BrE) series is broadcast over a period typically taking in three seasons: autumn, winter and spring.

      Finally, I twigged that the use was taken from sporting seasons. Once upon a time we spoke of a football season and a cricket season. That association with different times of the year has been lost, but we still speak of a season within which championships begin and end.

      There are two sorts of championships:
      • knock-out competitions, culminating in a final
      * league competitions where everyone plays everyone else and the winner is the team with the most points at the end of the season

      Now knock-out competitions often take place in much shorter time-frames. But league competitions are typically associated with sporting seasons.

      American readers may well be unfamiliar with Round Britain Quiz. It's unusual in the quirkiness of the questions. More relevant to our discussion, it's highly unusual in that its format is a league.

      There are 'teams' of two.In the old days they tended to be academic and male, but now they tend to be writers, one female, who also know about popular culture. Breadth of knowledge is desirable — not because the questions are factual, but because they're full of allusions, which the teams must interpret and use to solve a logical puzzle. They get six points if they solve the puzzle unaided. Points are deducted for parts unsolved or the degree of help from the question-master. The scoring is often very subjective, but nobody really minds.

      Each team is supposed to represent a region of the UK. I remember when this was a big deal: each team was in a different regional studio, along with a question-master who first read question to the other team in the other studio. The question was then repeated by the other question-master in the other studio. Sounds crazy? It sounded OK at the time.

      In those days, regions mattered to the BBC. To this day, some people speak of BBC Scotland as a region — much to the fury of many Scots. This is probably also true for Wales and Northern Ireland.

      Each half-hour programme is a contest between two regional 'teams' — nowadays with a single question-master. With modern technology, it doesn't matter whether they're in the same studio, in two different studios, or even in three. The five teams play each other twice, and the winner is decided on a 'matchplay' basis rather than the total points scored in the series. Nobody expects precision. There are no fans to feel (BrE) gutted or over the moon depending on the result.

      So the question-master in this league competition felt comfortable in calling the year's broadcasting output a season as well as a series. But I think it will be some time before we hear the term applied to knockout quiz competitions such as (in UK) Brain of Britain or Counterpoint, or the more numerous TV knockout competitions. I haven't been listening to check, but I think the regular word used for these is year.

    2. So, then, you attribute this usage of "season" in this case to the similarity of the Round Britain Quiz to a sporting competition? Hmm. More likely it's simply a case of the drift of standard broadcasting terminology from American English to British English.

      And this usage long predates television. I listen to what is commonly called "old-time radio" or OTR, American radio programmes produced from the 1930s through the mid-1950s. And I can assure you that utterances such as "the first/last show of the season" were commonplace even 85 years ago.

      The important point here is that this usage of "season" is not any kind of deviation from the normal meaning of the word. Starting from the 1930s and going to about ten years ago, a broadcast season was the period that began in September or October and ran through May.

      About a decade ago, the network HBO began breaking this norm; and other stations eventually followed suit. Now it is accepted that there is no universal start and end date to the broadcast season, and that each show (that is to say: each series) establishes its own broadcast season. There have even been occasions of two seasons taking place in one calendar year, such as seasons 1 and 2 of Angie Tribeca on TBS, both of which occurred entirely within 2016.

      If this usage of "season" is now being heard in Britain, then it's nothing to do with analogies to football or anything like that. It's simply a matter of U.S.-to-U.K. terminological drift.

    3. Yes, a couple of senses of season happen to coincide with the American broadcasting industry sense. But the use of season to denote a body of episodes produced in a season is still foreign to British English.

      No doubt you're right that the AmE term is drifting to BrE. But unlike most American terms, it's drifting very slowly. I think the obstacle is that series is well entrenched for that meaning in BBC — if not general British — usage.

      When the BrE sense and the AmE sense are compatible — as with that comment on Round Britain Quiz — people like me don't notice. But when Lynn introduced the AmE sense as a replacement for BrE series it sounded to my mind's ear as utterly, utterly foreign.

      Yes, the AmE use seems to be increasingly current among the minority who work in the media, but on Radio Four I still hear people using the term but then immediately explaining it.

      Starting from the 1930s and going to about ten years ago, a broadcast season was the period that began in September or October and ran through May.

      Yes, coinciding with the football season.

      My point was that season didn't sound strange to me when applied to a league. It would still sound very strange if applied to a knock-out championship.

      I would hazard that most of us BrE speakers (older speakers anyway) recognise season when referring to the schedule period of a series (in the traditional sense), but not when referring to the product.

  21. OK, so I'm coming very late indeed to this.

    I don't know how common this is at all, but I've certainly noticed that I - and quite a few other BrE speakers - tend to, quite happily, use series for British programmes and season for US shows without any problem at all.

    And also, as you may have noticed, programme/show as well.

    If I'm either writing or talking then I will say "Have you seen Season 7 of Game of Thrones?" or "I can't wait for Season 2 of Westworld." and "Both of them are great shows".

    But I will equally say "Have you seen Thandie Newton in the latest series of Line of Duty?”

    Or, “Red Dwarf was a really great programme, I loved the third series, but the seventh series was really good as well”

    I think it really struck home when I realised that I had come out with this sentence:-

    “It’s been so interesting watching Thandie Newton in the latest series of Line of Duty and comparing it to her performance in the first season of Westworld.”

    By the way, I’m not alone in doing this - Wikipedia also does it.

    If you have a look here:-


    It clearly says “No. of seasons 7”

    And here:-


    It clearly says “No. of series 4”

    The same also applies to other US/British shows/programmes as well

  22. From the 1950's to the early 1970's, the new Season of American Tv shows started in September. There were occasionally a replacement show to replace a real bomb of a series tat might launch later but it did not happen all that often. Networks usually aired all the episodes of weaker TV shows because they paid for them. Shows generally produced 35 episodes - so if you took out the summer and the christmas holiday, new episodes pretty aired all year round from SEPT to MAY 31 ... a season pretty much meant a year. From the 1970's to the mid 1990's - shows generally dropped down to 23 eps - or no more than 25 , HBO broke the trend with shows with as few as 13 eps. British TV from our perspective had no set minimum - so "season" probably made no sense if only 5 episodes were going to be produced and the next batch might not get produced until 11 months later ...

  23. Now I watch Netflix in the UK, I realise that "Season" is the equivalent word for British "series", but not quite -

    because in the UK, we can use the word "Series" to mean a set of TV programmes in general (e.g. "Doctor Who is a TV series")

    as well as using it specifically and countably (e.g. "did you see that TV series, "The Syndicate"? They're going to make a second series")

    Also, a typical UK TV drama series would consist of six episodes. Whereas a season of a US show would typically be 13 episodes.

    Accordingly, they fulfill different functions, as an American set of episodes generally will fill a "season" (spring, summer, autumn, winter), whereas a UK series can start at any time and run for six weeks then stop. So it doesn'5 fit a season.

    1. Yes, that was the point of the original post, linked above.

    2. I think Anonymous actually misunderstands the history a bit, as a traditional U.S. season had 22 episodes, or even 39 if you go back far enough, and lasted far longer than a weather season. (The previous Anonymous already noted most of this.)
      Anonymous has created an interesting folk etymology - I wonder if this is a widespread misconception or unique to him/her.


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