Showing posts with label babies and children. Show all posts
Showing posts with label babies and children. Show all posts

2014 US-to-UK (co-)Word of the Year: awesome

Thanks to all who have nominated US-to-UK and UK-to-US words for the annual Words of the Year (AmE) fest. The decisions were difficult, and so I am going to cheat and have two US-to-UK words. I can do that, because I'm the (orig. AmE) boss. And the first one is:

awesome


And in a coincidence that you probably won't believe (it's true!) my BrE-speaking child has just looked up from her (arguably orig. AmE) video game to say "That was awesome. I cooked an egg!"

Of course, awesome is not a new word in any English. It's been used to mean either 'full of awe' or 'inspiring awe' for centuries. But its use as enthusiastic praise of any little (or big) thing is originally American; the earliest [alleged] example of it in the OED is from 1961 in the now-defunct women's magazine McCall's:
He looked up to see Mrs. Kirby, awesome in a black-and-yellow polka-dotted slicker, bearing down on him.
This use of awesome really came into its own (in the US) in the 1980s. As Robert Lane Greene reminisces:

...change was happening to “awesome”. It was defined in 1980 in the “Official Preppy Handbook”, a bestselling semi-satirical look at well-heeled American youth: “Awesome: terrific, great.” It had a bit of California surfer-dude and Valley Girl, too. By 1982, the Guardian was mocking the West Coast with “It’s so awesome, I mean, fer shurr, toadly, toe-dully!”

Soon the word needed no definition. “Awesome” became the default descriptor for anything good. In 1982, I was seven and I swallowed it whole. It stayed with me for decades. In 2005, I remember meeting a girl when I had just seen “Batman Begins”, the moody psychological picture that reinvigorated a tired franchise. “It’s awesome,” I told her. “Awesome. Just awesome.” She wondered, she later said, what kind of journalist had just one adjective in his vocabulary. Somehow, she married me all the same.
“Awesome” has been with my generation in America so long that it now has a whiff of retro.
And it's been in BrE for a while now too. My colleague Justyna Robinson studies the sociolinguistics of word-meaning variation and change, and awesome is one she's followed in British English. This means that she gets to write things with titles like "Awesome insights into semantic variation". (I am jealous.) In that 2011 book chapter, she reports on a study in which she asked Yorkshire residents of different ages and backgrounds to name something awesome and to tell her why it was awesome. Older respondents said things like "The Grand Canyon. Because it takes your breath away." The under-30s said things like "a salad, because it was really good".
Robinson (2011; see Awesome title link above)



But it's not just teenagers using it. Robert Lane Greene reports that "The Guardian, the paper that mocked “awesome” in 1982, had used it in 6,457 articles by July 2011, with one or two being added each day"(see link above).

So, why make it Co-Word of the Year for 2014? One reason is that it was all over the news when the first findings of the Spoken British National Corpus 2014 came out. Here's a selection in which this particular word made the headline.

In the Guardian:
There are several (press-release-inspired?) with this title (this one from phys.org):

And more:

And more:


The Daily Mail headline alludes to the other reason this is a Word of 2014. The Lego Movie and its theme song 'Everything is Awesome'.



Before 2014, I heard British teenagers saying awesome. I heard my English child saying it only when she had just been visiting her American cousins. But now, it's the (AmE) go-to positive evaluation word for the under-10s too. This is part of the landscape of their language now--not an Americanism that they've ironically decided to adopt, but just how they talk. The makers of The Lego Movie were surely cognizant of the word's "retro" feeling when choosing it for their theme, making a bit of an in-joke for the US parents who used it (and Lego(s)) when they were young. But the irony is lost on young British children. It's just a (orig. AmE in this sense) cool word for them.

Its WOTY status was sealed for me when I overhead this conversation between mother and pre-school son about how he should be playing with his baby sister:

Mother: Reuben, Isabella is much smaller than you. When you play with her, you have to be extra....
[Reuben ignores her]
Mother: When you play with her you have to be extra.....
[Reuben ignores her some more]
Mother: You have to be extra...
Reuben: Awesome!


The other US-to-UK and the UK-to-US WotYs will be revealed in the next few days.

Read more

sleepovers

What do the following expressions have in common?
  • sleepover
  • slumber party
  • pajama party
Yeah, right, they all refer to the same kind of thing. But look more closely--what else do they have in common? OK, I'll tell you. They are all American ways of describing the same thing--all of which are known in BrE, but used to lesser or greater degrees. 

Of course, the last one  is pyjama party in BrE, but don't let the spelling fool you. While/whilst pyjama party is not marked as having American origin in the OED, this Google ngram tells the story: first there was pajama party (blue line), then there was pyjama party:
 

Slumber party is very American, and I can't say I've ever heard a BrE speaker use it, but it's something they know from American films and books.

So, my question to my English friends was: if all these things are AmE, what did you call it when you were a kid? Their answer: they didn't have a noun for it. They'd sleep at their friends house, sure, but they'd just stay the night or stay over at Jen's. All verbs, no nouns. My friends also told me that they thought of the noun-described things as 'very American', 'the stuff of American books'. But don't let the lack of nouns make you think that British sleeping-over was just, you know, sleeping without the rituals of a nounified event. My friends all insist that staying at a friend's had to involve a midnight feast (which might be as early as 9:00). The OED defines this as:

n. a feast or snack at midnight; spec. a night-time feast held by children in their bedroom or dormitory, usually without the knowledge of their parents, teachers, etc.


I'd heard this phrase before in Charlie and Lola, but hadn't reali{s/z}ed what an institution they are. For a hint of how much of an institution, see this Guardian Word of Mouth blog about it. My friends attributed their knowledge of midnight feasts to Enid Blyton, but she certainly didn't invent the idea.

These days, the OED marks sleep-over (as they spell it) as 'chiefly U.S.', but my friends and their children use it liberally (though, it must be said, it so happens that many of Grover's little friends have a North American parent, so my sample is probably biased). Grover (who started big-kid school this week--it's a year earlier in UK than US) is absolutely obsessed with the notion (stress: the notion) of having a sleepover with her friends. Her favo(u)rite game with her friends has been, from an early age, 'going to bed'. Let me tell you, if you're going to have a small child at a late age, get one who likes to play bed-based games like 'going to sleep', 'bear cave', 'moles in holes', and 'driving a car' (just be sure that you're in the 'back seat', where the pillows and headboard are). Just come up with lines like 'my eyes are closed because I'm a blind mole' or 'the wind is in my face', and you're guaranteed late mornings in bed. 

Before I go, a note to readers nearby. I'm giving my talk 'How Americans saved the English Language' in a couple of places soon:
  • Thurs, 27 Sept, 4:00pm at Sussex University English Colloquium, Jubilee Building G08
  • Tues, 8 Oct, 8:00pm at Brighton Skeptics in the Pub, Caroline of Brunswick Pub. Details here.
Read more

milk teeth and baby teeth

Mark Liberman at Language Log has saved you from the rant that this weekend's post was to be. Oh, thank you, Mark! His post from earlier today does what needed to be done about journalist Matthew Engel's BBC piece "Why do some Americanisms irritate people?" (Yes, people.) The Language Log post starts by pointing out that only one of the first five 'Americanisms' cited by Engel is, in fact, American in origin. The only fault I can find with Liberman's piece is that it is not entitled "Why do BBC language features annoy linguists?"*

So, instead of a turgid rant about the BBC's continued knack for employing non-experts** to spout nonsense about language, I give you:

babies!!    kittens!!!   dental maiming!!!!

Today's topic was suggested by American-in-Scotland @dialect and inspired by her (first?) visit to a UK dentist. And, actually, it's rather a simple one. But just to make it more complicated, let me throw in a technical term I've just learn{ed/t}: deciduous teeth. Americans tend to call them baby teeth, and the more common term for them in BrE is milk teethFor those who like numbers, the Corpus of Contemporary American English has 100 baby tooth/baby teeth and 18 milk tooth/milk teeth.  The British National Corpus (which is much smaller) has 15 milk tooth/teeth and 3 baby teeth (two of which should actually be Babyteeth the name of an album by Therapy?) and no baby tooth. When I was a child in the US, I only knew milk teeth as a term for kittens' first teeth.

A milk/baby tooth isn't forever, of course, and before it goes it is a loose tooth, but in BrE one also hears wobbly tooth a lot. As far as my Grover is concerned, this is the only term for a loose tooth, since she was first exposed to the concept through the Charlie and Lola episode "I do not ever, never want my wobbly tooth to fall out".  Checking the corpora for loose/wobbly/wiggly tooth, we get 25/1/1 in COCA (AmE) and 3/1/0 in BNC (BrE).

The tooth fairy tradition is alive and well in both the UK and the US. Reading about how much money the tooth fairy tends to leave these days has left me depressed and fearful for a completely spoil(ed/t) generation.

And as a final public service before I go: Parents, if your (orig. AmE) teenager's dentist ever suggests removing a baby/milk tooth in order to "encourage" the permanent tooth to come forward, say "NO", or else your child may spend most of her most awkward years awkwardly trying to hide the big gap where a bicuspid should be. She will have no chance of being invited to (orig. AmE) the prom and you will endanger her respect for medical/dental/parental authority for evermore.
 


* Very occasionally, the Beeb does allow experts on (rather than just famous users of) language to grace its broadcasts.  For example, I was once on a program(me) about Scrabble. It was good fun, and I thought it great that they involved a Scrabble-playing linguist in the production.  But the best part? They spelled my name wrong.

** At one level, we're all experts on the language(s) we speak--in the sense that we use the language expertly. (This is for the most part subconscious knowledge--and science is only a very small way toward(s) understanding that knowledge.) There are a lot of accomplished users of language out there, and that's who the BBC likes to ask for opinions (God help us, not facts!) about language. I would like to point out that I am an accomplished user of time and space (taking up more of it every year!). Therefore, I would like to be considered for a central role in the BBC's next program(me) on physics.
Read more

bunting

I feel the need to mark the royal wedding (lower case, please! The Guardian Style Guide says so!) on this blog, because I think American readers will expect me to say something. But I have very little to say about it. Having married in the UK, I can tell you that there are not a lot of linguistic differences between weddings. There are some different traditions, but not many different ways of phrasing the similar traditions. I could blog about all the incorrect things that have been written about British English in the American popular press (I haven't seen a single piece--and I've seen dozens--that isn't riddled with silliness), but I'd like to be finished before the couple's silver anniversary. The main problem with the American press is that they've not been reading this blog. Of course.

So, here's a short-but-sweet difference, suggested by Not From Around Here:


In BrE, this is bunting. In AmE, I'd call it a string of pennants. This picture comes from a panicky article in the Telegraph:

Royal wedding party 'crisis' as bunting stocks run low


Now, I suspect that some AmE speakers will know this sense of bunting. The most recent edition of the American Heritage Dictionary includes it as 'Strips of cloth or material usually in the colors of the national flag, used especially as drapery or streamers for festive decoration.' But, judging from comments/questions I've heard in the cacophony of American voices commenting/asking about the wedding, I don't think it's widespread in AmE at this point. Compare the results for a search for bunting on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, and you'll see what I mean.

Growing up in the US, I knew a decorative sense of bunting, but it was limited to this stuff (from Amazon.com):
So, in my AmE, pennants are pennants and bunting is bunting and that's that. But what of these things? (From a Facebook update by Planted Feet.)



In BrE, they're still bunting, but in AmE, they're probably not pennants, since they're not pointy. I don't think I've ever had the problem of naming these things in the US, because they're just not as common, but I'd probably call it a string of little flags or some such thing.

The original meaning of bunting refers to the type of material that flags are made from, and then, by extension, it refers to things that are made out of that material. But the understanding of it particularly as 'strings of (decorative) flags' is ubiquitous in the UK. This sense in particular is not recorded in the OED (2nd edn, 1989), but I think it'll need to be in the next one, as I think it's the sense that most BrE speakers know--regardless of whether they know the more general 'material' sense.

There are, of course, other (unrelated) meanings for bunting. It's a kind of bird, for example. And, apparently, there's a dialectal difference here. In English generally, it applies to birds from 'Emberizinæ, a sub-family of Fringillidæ', and the particular species are generally called by compound names like rice bunting and corn bunting. But in AmE it's also '[a]pplied by extension to any bird of the bunting subfamily, and to similar birds of other families' (OED).

An AmE sense is related to baseball. To bunt is 'to stop the ball with the bat, without swinging the bat'. For more on why you'd want to do that, see Wikipedia.  This comes from an older BrE-dialectal word meaning 'to strike' (OED notes it in Wiltshire and Sussex).

Then there are the baby senses.  OED has "A term of endearment: in ‘baby bunting’, the meaning (if there be any at all) may possibly be as in Jamieson's ‘buntin, short and thick, as a buntin brat, a plump child’". Now, I only know this from a nursery rhyme that I only know from my time in the UK. The AHD doesn't record this one, so I'm going to call it BrE.

But AmE has bunting as 'A snug-fitting, hooded sleeping bag of heavy material for infants.' Like this one by Gap (from a UK site, but I'm assuming the name was imported along with the item):

These days, most things that are called baby buntings on US sites are indistinguishable from snow suits (which is what they'd also be called in BrE), in that they have legs, rather than a 'bag' at the bottom. The simple reason for this is that now all babies have to be strapped into car seats and (AmE) strollers/(BrE) push-chairs, with one of those straps going between the legs.


AHD gives the etymology as 'Perhaps from Scots buntin, plump, short.' So, we've got two baby-related senses (neither of which I caught in the big baby-related post), both supposedly coming from the same source, but mostly not shared between AmE and at least mainstream English-English. Scottish readers--do you use any buntings in this sense?

Bringing this back to the wedding: hanging bunting is a prime way to show involvement in the big day. So, it hangs in shop windows and will be strung around wedding street parties. But I'm not in the best place to show you BuntingFest 2011, as I live in what may be the most apathetic-about-that-wedding part of the country.  While Not From Around Here estimates that one in three shops in her town are decorated for the wedding, in Brighton/Hove/Portslade yesterday (I got around), it looked more like one in ten. And even then, it was often very half-hearted (say, a free-with-purchase flag or poster from a tabloid newspaper). Most of the (BrE) charity shops/(AmE) thrift stores have wedding gowns in their windows, but people I know are buying the cheap ones and wearing them with zombie make-up to go on (BrE) pub crawls. I've heard of no earnest street parties in Brighton and my Twitter feed is full of locals resenting the cost to the taxpayer at a time when the government is drastically cutting funding to just about everything else. (Some people counter that the wedding generates millions in UK spending, but we must remember that this is at the expense of many times that much in lost productivity because of the extra holiday.) The one sincere party I know of happened at my daughter's preschool on Thursday, where girls were dressed as princesses or brides and boys as princes or grooms. And all I can say is: I'm so glad Thursday is Grover's day off. (It's not the monarchism per se that bothered me, but the encouraging girls to dress up as princesses and brides. I would like to encourage her to dress up as an astronaut or a dragon or anything that isn't giving her the message that looking pretty is all that girls are supposed to do.) Though I've had to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen and her successors, I can't imagine that the television will be on anything but Zingzillas tomorrow. (And if you don't know what Zingzillas is, you can count your lucky stars that you don't have the theme song going through your head right now. Make it stop! Please!!!)

And that's me doing a short and simple, dash-it-off post. Oh wait, it's 3am. I'm never going to be any good at this, am I?
Read more

childish pronouns

Monica emailed me recently with this query:
Often when I'm reading something from a British person, I'll run into a statement like this: "it made a cute face."  OK, so I'm thinking someone's talking about a cute little puppy or kitten.

WRONG!

Said statement is referring to an infant or child!

This one gets my blood boiling every time, because it seems so dehumanizing.  Is that actually correct English in ANY form, and if it is, in your experience, is there indeed a difference in usage, and, am I the only American to have this reaction?  What about people from the UK?  Do they feel the same way?

Now, I was so confident that I'd already written about this phenomenon that I've spent a very long time searching past posts for it.  But apparently I haven't.

The quick answer is this: referring to a young child as it is far more common in British English than American. But. But but but.  But the practice is dying out.

And Monica, you're not the only American to have this reaction. After Grover was born, an English friend (who's in his early 60s) came to pay his regards.  He knew her sex, but he repeatedly referred to her as it. And each time, I corrected him with a her ('my child is not a thing!') I told this story to other English friends, and they found it a bit surprising that he would use it when he knew the sex of the child (it would have been more excusable to them if he hadn't known), but not very surprising--after all, they figured/reckoned, he's probably not that interested in babies and he's old enough to be old-fashioned. She's nearly three years old now, and I'm still recounting the story, so we can safely conclude that it bothers at least one American.

But it's also starting to bother some British people, as evidenced by this blog entry, where a father recounts doing the it-she correction.  What interested me, though, was one of the commenters who seemed to think it was a (BrE) storm in a teacup/(AmE) tempest in a teapot:
You know, people get SO offended when you refer to a child as "It". Even if it's your own child! I can't tell you how often my boss has yelled at me for saying something as simple as, "Yes, it's fine." Or "No, it didn't go to it's father's this weekend."

Sigh. She...it. Whatever.
 And that commenter appears to be American.  So there's no accounting for tastes.

For a more objective measure, I searched the Corpus of Contemporary American English and the British National Corpus for instances of "{child/baby/infant} has {its/his/her/their}".  The numbers of hits were small enough that I could make sure that in each case the pronoun referred to the aforementioned child or baby. (The search strings containing infant got no hits in either corpus.) Of 22 hits in the American corpus, only one had its.  (Three had the gender-neutral their, and the rest had a gendered pronoun.) In the British corpus (which is a quarter the size of the American one), there were 7 hits, three with its (and zero with their).  So, 18% of the AmE cases used a gender-neutral pronoun, but only one of those (4.5% of the total) was it.  In BrE 43% of the hits were gender-neutral and all of those used it.

You could look at that and say "Well, maybe the American corpus had more instances where the writer/speaker knew the sex of the baby", but I don't think that's true. Instead, some of those gendered pronouns in AmE refer to babies/children whose sex isn't known, or to babies generally.  It's too rude in AmE to call a baby it, frowned-upon to use singular they, so parenting magazines, for instance, just pick he or she. Three of the American four baby has her examples, for instance, were general advice for parents (e.g. Your baby has her own inborn temperament). There were no BNC hits for baby has her or baby has his

Here's a more targetted search. I looked for "give the baby its/his/her/their own" on babycenter.com and babycentre.co.uk.On the UK site, I got only one hit, and that was for its. But, interestingly, on the AmE site I got as many its as their (three each). Now, on the internet, it could be that these people using the American site aren't actually American. But in all the contexts in which the its occurred, the baby wasn't born yet; parents-to-be were discussing what they would do about names or sleeping arrangements once their babies were born. And you know what? None of those examples bothered me. This one even began with an it in the question:

Will you be sleeping with the baby when it's born? - October 2010 .

23 Oct 2010... safety for the baby, but also so id doesnt get dependent on sleeping next to you, i think its a good idea to give the baby its own bed.
If you'd like to read more about what others say about all this, searching for the phrases "refer to a baby as it" brings up a number of discussions.  Searching "refer to the baby as it" is very depressing, as many of the hits are about how (not) to talk to bereaved parents.

And on that note, I think I'll go give Grover a kiss on her sleeping head.
Read more

belly and tummy

I picked up a free copy of the Financial Times's FT Magazine in the airport, and was interested to read this bit in an article about body-part names and communication between doctors and patients.

Technically speaking, the anatomical structure the consultant was looking at was the abdomen, which is schematically divided by doctors into a three-by-three grid. From top right to bottom left the squares are named: right upper quadrant, epigastric, left upper quadrant, right flank, umbilicus, left flank, right iliac fossa, hypogastric, left iliac fossa. The organs are clustered in each square – the liver and the gallbladder reside in RUQ, for example. When a patient has RIF pain, you know to think of appendicitis.

But what doctors in England haven’t quite solved yet is how I should ask you to show me this space. The medical word, “abdomen”, is not used by many people. But “stomach” is factually wrong. (Your stomach – LUQ – is the springy bag in which your food first lands to be churned before it continues on through your intestine; most “stomach ache” is felt nowhere near the real stomach – what most people point to is their umbilicus, underneath which lies the small bowel.) “Belly” is American. “Tummy” is a nursery term, but English doctors use it in parallel with the anatomical terms. You learn to say “poo” for faeces, too. But if questions such as “Have you had your bowels open?” and “Have you passed any stool?” are met with blankness, there is not much alternative.

Belly is American?  That didn't sit right with me, as if a doctor asked me to show her my belly, I'd find it very strange--though I might suspect that the doctor spoke a different dialect from mine. I use tummy (or the anatomically-incorrect stomach).  To me, belly particularly signals a round tummy--hence (orig. AmE) beer bellyBabies have bellies, Buddha statues have bellies, I have a belly--but let's not go there. One also hears people saying, typically while pinching more than an inch, I'm getting a belly.  In all these uses, it's not the same as tummy or non-technical stomach.  It describes a paunch (which, incidentally, used to just mean 'abdomen', without the negative connotations), but with rounder connotations.

The doctor writing in the magazine is not alone in this assumption that belly is American.  In fact, this amateur (and very defensive about it, while not trying very hard*) BrE/AmE word-lister assumes that tummy is exclusively BrE.

But, while I had my doubts about the BrE/AmE tummy/belly divide, I've often heard tummy-button in the UK (though mostly from antipodean yoga/Pilates instructors), and never in the US. So, I decided to check it out.

First, the history. Belly goes all the way back to Old English, where it originally meant a bag, but from at least as early as the 13th century, it's used to mean a human or animal stomach and from at least the 14th century, it's used for the abdomen.  So, it certainly did not originate in AmE.  Tummy (a baby-talk simplification of stomach), in contrast, is only seen in print from the 19th century.


Next, the usage.  I looked up stomach, belly, and tummy in British and American corpora of writing and speech, and calculated the percentage of the total number of instances of any of those words that was represented by any one of those words. Here are my results:

corpusstomachbellytummy
BNC BrE 70%20%10%
COCA AmE      63%33%4%

From this we can tell (a) belly is used quite a bit in BrE as well as AmE, and tummy is more frequent in BrE than AmE.  I don't think this can just be due to differences in formality across the corpora, since if the AmE corpus had more formal writing in it, we'd expect the stomach percentage to be higher.

Now, within belly in either corpus, many instances do not refer literally to human abdomens.  There are lots of instances of idioms like in the belly of the beast or a fire in one's belly.  There are also lots of belly-dancing.  To see whether the AmE bellies might be more specifically fat tummies, I looked at paunch, to see if AmE didn't need it as much--but that's not the case. In both corpora, paunch occurs between 5 and 6 times per million words.

As for the hypothesis that belly is more 'round', I note that I and my UK friends do say I'm getting/I've got a bit of a tummy, but looking in the corpora, there are a couple of instances of get/getting/got a belly in each corpus but tummy only occurs in that context in the AmE corpus.  So, in BrE, belly is used for the 'rounded abdomen' meaning, just as in AmE, and AmE uses tummy in that context too.

What about bellybutton and tummy-button? OED has the former dated to the 19th century, but the latter only in the mid-20th century.  COCA has zero instances of tummy-button, tummybutton, or tummy button.  BNC has just one.  Belly(-)button seems to be the default colloquialism for 'navel' in either dialect. In a strange turn of orthography, the joined-up bellybutton is by far the most common spelling in the BNC, but two-word belly button is very strongly the favo(u)red spelling in COCA.  This is in contrast to another observation that I've made here, that AmE joins up compound words in writing more readily than BrE does.  In that post, I noted that the Shorter Oxford Dictionary recommends pot belly, while the American Heritage Dictionary likes potbelly.

I'm writing this in the Helsinki airport, so am limited to dialect resources that are on-line--and I'm not finding them to be helpful at the moment. While the evidence does show American English using belly much more than modern British English, I still have the feeling that there is some  regional variation at work here, since it's not a word that I would use for a human abdomen outside the 'paunchy' and 'baby' experiences.  But that's my western New York State perspective.  How would you feel if your doctor asked to look at your belly? (Don't forget to tell us where you're from!)

 

*In discouraging corrections to his list, he says 'life is too short to worry'--about accuracy, presumably.  Life is also too short to spend on writing word lists without caring to do it right, I'd say.
Read more

bags, dibs, shotgun

So, you're 10 years old, playing with your best friend.  Simultaneously you both spot a single gorilla mask abandoned on a park bench. Running toward(s) it, you shout the recogni(s/z)ed word for signal(l)ing a claim on desired objects. What is that word?

Chances are that there are dozens and dozens of ways to answer that question. The thing about childhood rituals is that they are passed among children, who tend to operate very locally--with their siblings, their schoolmates, their neighbo(u)rs.  Words are invented, misheard, re-invented, borrowed and those changes don't travel far, but may be passed down to the children who are just a little younger, who later pass it down to the ones who are just a little younger, and so on.


Which is all to say, in the American idiom: Your mileage may vary when it comes to the playground terminology I'm discussing today.

But with that feat of (AmE) ass-covering out of the way, here's how you might have answered the question.  In AmE, you'd probably shout dibs.  In BrE, at least down here in the South, bagsy would do, though it might just be bags.  (To get a feel for possible dialectal boundaries of this, see this thread at Wordwizard.) To put this in the verbal form, you can bags or bagsy something, but, as you can see from the OED examples, the spelling is hard to pin down:
[1946 B. MARSHALL George Brown's Schooldays xxi. 89 ‘What about you doing the gassing instead of me?’ ‘But I bagsed-I I didn't’, Abinger protested. 1950 B. SUTTON-SMITH Our Street i. 25 [They] would all sit..‘bagzing’. I bagz we go to the zoo.] 1979 I. OPIE Jrnl. 28 Mar. in People in Playground (1993) 129 I'm second, I just baggsied it! 1995 New Musical Express 28 Oct. 28 (caption) Mark Sutherland baggsys a window seat. 1998 C. AHERNE et al. Royle Family Scripts: Ser. 1 (1999) Episode 2. 52 Mam. I think I'll do chicken. Antony. Bagsey me breast.
A verbal form of dibs is also widely reported (I dibsed it!), but I'd be much more likely to say I've got dibs on it or I called dibs on that


But when I posted dibs/bagsy as the 'Difference of the Day' on Twitter, some BrE speakers questioned my translation, as they had understood (AmE) shotgun to mean the same as bags(y). But just as happens when words are borrowed from another language, the non-native users of the word have changed the meaning when they've adopted the word.  And they have adopted the word, to some extent.  Here's an example from a Twitter feed I follow:
timeshighered We hereby shotgun the rights to the phrase "I survived Twitocalypse 2010" - this time next year, we'll be millionaires!
In fact, if I had read this tweet without already having had the discussion with BrE speakers about dibs and bagsy, I doubt I would have been able to make sense of it.  What's happened? The BrE speakers have heard Americans say shotgun in a place in a situation in which they would have said bags(y), and didn't reali{z/s}e that there's more meaning to shotgun than just 'I stake a claim on something'.   Shotgun very specifically means: 'I claim the right to sit in the front passenger seat of a vehicle.'

You can see this in another tweet:
 I bet Zombies don't call shotgun on road trips.
An AmE speaker immediately knows which valuable commodity the Zombies are not interested in.  In fact, because the claimed thing is understood, it would be redundant (not to mention ambiguous) to say call shotgun on the front seat. Note also that it's not a verb.  To me, to shotgun something would be like to machine-gun something.  One calls shotgun. And once one gets the seat, one rides shotgun, which originally meant (and still can mean) 'To travel as a (usually armed) guard next to the driver of a vehicle; (in extended use) to act as a protector' (OED).

Calling shotgun could be extended and used metaphorically, as in this Canadian tweet:
Can I call shotgun on the yoga cd pls?
...but this usually is done as a sly reference to the childhood car-seat experience.

Or, at least, that's how it is for an AmE speaker of my generation.  We have a special word for that sweet seat, with its status and its anti-emetic properties, because it was a central part of our lives in childhood.  With the exception of a few urban cent{er/re}s, you'd expect any family to have a car--and more than one child to fight over the best seat in that car.  Americans can also get a (AmE) driver's license/(BrE) driving licence by age 16 in most states (as compared to 18 17 at the earliest [see comments] in the UK). So, gangs of teenagers also need ways to establish pecking orders.  But I have to wonder whether shotgun will go the way of the library card catalog(ue), since riding in a car is a completely different experience for children today than it was for children in my day.  No more cramming ten kids into the back of a (AmE) station wagon/(BrE) estate car; everyone's in car seats now, and the law determines which of those are allowed in the front seat.  While I think that's a good thing safety-wise, I'm getting rather nostalgic thinking about, for example, climbing in and out of the back seat of a moving car or cramming myself down in the foot-well when I felt like it.  So maybe the kids in America have lost or are losing the true meaning of shotgun.  *sob* You in the States can let me know whether this is the case.

By the way, I've left the Twitter window with the 'shotgun' search going. In the last hour, 50 people have used the word shotgun, often prefaced by I wish I had a.  I'll sleep less well tonight.
Read more

Sesame Street

While Grover takes/has her nap, a little reflection on her bi-dialectal language acquisition. She's six weeks short of being two, and (orig. AmE) talking up a storm. I'd wondered whether she'd get any Americanisms from me, but (a) I tend to use BrE words when in the UK and (b) I'm just her mother. It's not me she's going to get Americanisms from. It's Elmo.

So, she says (BrE) nappy and cot and loo and peebo (that one is the creche's influence, I think). I've had a little influence on her (and her father) with (AmE) washcloth and bathtub (as opposed to BrE bath). But I took it upon myself to sing the ABC song with (BrE) zed, which led me to entertain myself by making up new endings for the sake of rhyme:
...double-you, ex, why and zed
Now I know my ABCs...

...and it's time to go to bed
...next time you can sing instead
...and a zombie is undead
...you're a Grover born and bred
...can you get that in your head?
In fact, when rocking her to sleep I'd entertain myself by changing the last line each time. But all my zed training was all for (BrE) nought/(AmE) nothing, since this came into our lives:



Now the ABC song bring cries of "Elmo, Elmo!" and Grover sings it beautifully and Americanly. (Her rendition/rendering of it is the ringtone on my (BrE) mobile/(AmE) cellphone.) I was also being very good about saying (BrE) ladybird, not wanting her to be the odd one out for saying ladybug, but then we started singing this song, and the more transparent compound won:



Which is to say that Sesame Street is running our lives. And you know what? I don't really mind all that much. It's much better than Barbie or the Teletubbies or Thomas the Tank Engine, in my book. First, it has a great aesthetic--largely due to the Muppets. Second, it has a great sense of humo(u)r that speaks to child and parent on different levels. I mean, have you seen their Mad Men parody? Or the reggae joy that is Do de Rubber Duck? (And I'm always secretly thrilled/shocked when Hoots the Owl says near-taboo things like "Don't be a stubborn cluck".) Third, the songs are good enough to listen to even when your child is napping, and you just can't say that about the Wiggles. A lot of that is, again, the humo(u)r. I also think that the fact that the (BrE) programme/(AmE) show is made in the mother-city of the musical comedy helps. I also like that it is grounded in a kind of reality (where one has to brush one's teeth and learn to share)--it's not about a dream space like In the Night Garden (which is the drug of choice for toddlers in the UK at the moment, and which I just (BrE) can't get on with aesthetically or interest-wise). And Sesame Street is made by a production company that is all about children. Any profits it makes go toward(s) projects for children around the world.

What makes me reflect on all this is the fact that Sesame Street is celebrating its 40th anniversary (which means that I was 4 when it first started--part of their original demographic), and the BBC website published a piece called "Why did Britain fall out of love with Sesame Street?", which was interesting reading. Grover gets her Street fix in a number of ways. She was introduced to it by an animatronic Elmo doll, a gift from her American Papa. Then we got a CD of Sesame Street songs and now we have probably about five 20-minute sessions with SesameStreet.org each week. (Grover: "Puter. Elmo. Turn it on. Apple puter."*) The shop in our library (yes, our library has a shop, like a museum) sells Elmo and Ernie dolls, but the library holds no Sesame Street books or DVDs, strangely.

One British television executive is quoted in the BBC piece as "The style of the programme is a tad out-dated - there are very few puppet shows around now. Perhaps LazyTown, but that's a very different tempo". Um/Erm, who cares? Does my toddler really need something with a faster tempo? Wouldn't it be nice to encourage a longer attention span in children? And what's wrong with puppets? Children go to bed at night with cuddly toys, not two-dimensional animations.

Unlike in the rest of the UK, Sesame is enjoying a renaissance in Northern Ireland, where a franchise version, Sesame Tree, is produced locally, with funding from several peace and reconciliation organi{s/z}ations.

I do wonder a bit if different preferences for children's literature and television in the two countries reflect different ideas about childhood. The things that I know and love from childhood are (orig. AmE) wacky. The characters are brash and outgoing. Americans in the 1950s had Howdy Doody, but the British had the Flower Pot Men on Watch with Mother. The British program(me)s seem to have a lot more narration than American ones, which seem to have more direct interaction between characters and children. From the Flower Pot Men to Clangers to the Teletubbies, there are many British children's television characters who don't speak in discernible language, whereas American children's television is extremely focused on verbal humo(u)r (click on any of the Sesame Street or Howdy Doody links above). Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to these generali{s/z}ations, but they stand out when I reflect on the children's television that adults talk about.

I was prompted to think about this even more after I posted a status update to Facebook yesterday, in which I proclaimed (too hastily) that there should be a law that all children's picture books should rhyme. I take that back, but I will say that any children's book with text is not a very good one if there isn't some joy to be found in the use of language. An American friend in Japan responded that:
A British friend of mine in Japan HATES Dr. Seuss, and says his kids didn't like it either. Sounds like a blog topic to me....
So here we are. First thing to note about Dr. Seuss is that the British tend to pronounce it as Doctor [sju:s] or sometimes even Doctor [zju:s] (we've looked at the reason behind that before), whereas for Americans, it's Doctor [su:s]. But after that point has been made, there are certainly lots of people in the UK who like Dr Seuss, but, like my friend in Japan, I've heard British people say he's overrated (and have never heard an American fault the stories--though not everyone loves his drawing style). And I do wonder whether that is because Americans are looking for brash humo(u)r and language play in their children's stories, while the British are looking for calm and comfort.

I expect that this is the type of topic that's going to touch nostalgic nerves, so fire away! I'm in the (AmE) home stretch before a big deadline, so please excuse me if I go a bit quiet for the next couple of weeks. I hope I've given you plenty to talk among(st) yourselves about.


*An aside: It's a little scary how many brand logos Grover already knows before the age of two. We're not (BrE) label-Mabels, and she doesn't watch commercial television, but having flown on Delta four months ago, she still points at triangle-chevron-type things and says "Airplane!" We were in a cafe the other week and she was pointing out the window saying what sounded to me like "Books, books!" Then I reali{s/z}ed it wasn't books but Boots--she knows the logo and the name of the (BrE) chemist's/(AmE) drug store chain where we buy her nappies/diapers. Today she went to the door with glee, exclaiming "Ocado man!" (Indeed, it was.) And pointed at their logo with interest, saying "Ball". Of course, she's learn{ed/t} the Sesame Street brand too, not to mention Maisy, Charlie and Lola, and Miffy, which are brands of a type too. The most embarrassing thing is when she sees the Coca-Cola logo and says "Mummy". I really thought I'd hidden that dirty habit.
Read more

seaside diversions

While it's still seasonal, I should mention a couple of differences that have come up in Grover's first summer of proper playing on the beach.

First there are these things:
[photo and instructions for building it from about.com]

In my AmE dialect, this is called a pinwheel, but in BrE it's called a windmill (because it looks like a 'real' windmill). It may also be called a windmill by Americans as well. Pinwheel in AmE is also extended to other things that resemble including the pinwheel quilt pattern and pinwheel cookies (which resemble the motion more than the thing).

And then there are these things:

[from Open Clip Art Library]

In BrE, this is a bucket and spade. Now, whenever my in-laws discuss these, they put them in that order (bucket and spade), and so I was going to say that this phrase is an irreversible binomial (something we've discussed before) but via Google, I actually find more spade and buckets [see the first comment for vindication of my intuition/experience]. The AmE equivalent (in my dialect, at least) is shovel and pail, which I would put in that order, but for which there are many times more examples of the other order, pail and shovel, online. So, don't listen to me about word orders--apparently I don't know.
Read more

to create (intransitive)

Grant Barrett, of here and there, wrote about 17 months ago to ask about the BrE intransitive use of create:

I've just come across an intransitive use of create that's Brit-specific. The Oxford Dictionary of English (not to be confused with the Oxford English Dictionary) defines it thus:

[no obj.] Brit. informal make a fuss; complain: "little kids create because they hate being ignored."

Sounds odd to my American ear.
Grant had read it in the Times, in this context (which discusses another term we've discussed before, wife beater):

"...Then suddenly - I'm not a snob - but we started getting all these loudmouthed yobs in. Younger drinkers, 19 to 30-year-olds, and builders and labourers.

"They weren't fighting - we'd never have let things get to that stage - but they were creating, and it was bad enough to make the other customers start leaving early."

When he wrote to me, I'd not experienced this sense of the word yet. But a month later, I had a child, and a few months after that, she started in childcare and we went through a little period where Grover was a bit too attached to her key worker. Whenever the carer went out of sight, Grover would start creating, they told me. Since then, I have heard it used about other children's tantrum-ish or whin(g)y behavio(u)r.

She graduated (AmE--BrE doesn't use graduate for sub-university transitions) from the Baby Room today and moves to the Toddler Room on Monday. My little Grover, all grown up! I shed a tear today, but I expect she'll be the one creating on Monday.
Read more

telling the difference between American and British mothers

Children of North American mothers are over-represented at Grover's (BrE) creche/(AmE) daycare. My theory on this is that the foreigners on campus are more likely to require their child care services, since they're less likely to have relatives living locally to help out and because it's likely that their co-parents will also be academics (since, as newcomers to the country, more of our social life--in the absence of family, school friends, etc--is probably to be found at work). The alternative is to believe it's because we're more pushy than British parents in making sure that our children get to the top of the waiting list. I'm discounting that hypothesis due to evidence that my native-British counterparts are well-practiced in pushiness.

I've mentioned before that I can be fairly inattentive to accents. But I have a sure-fire way of telling which parents are British and which ones North American, which I'll share with you just in case you ever need to sort people by nationality at a playground. First, wait the 5 seconds or so it'll take before the parent is impressed by (or at least wants to give positive feedback about) something the child has done. Say, quacking like a duck or successfully getting from standing position to sitting position without crying or drawing blood. (These work in the 12-to-14-month-old set, at least.) Then listen:
  • The British parent will say Well done!
  • The American parent will say Good job!
I find myself saying both now, because I've become hyperaware that Good job sounds American. We're saying it a lot these days, as Grover took her first steps on Sunday. She seems to have well and truly caught up with the children her age who gestated properly. Hurrah!
Read more

the dreaded lurgi

I have the lurgi. Better Half has the lurgi. Grover is recovering from the lurgi.

Lurgi, the lurgi or the dreaded lurgi (also sometimes spelt lurgy) rhymes with Fergie and is a lovely informal BrE word with comedic (and possibly dialectal) origins that can now refer to an annoying (but not serious) illness that hangs around and makes one feel miserable. World Wide Words does a lovely job of recounting its history. Wiktionary has more on its meanings. In addition to meaning 'flu-like symptoms' it has a playground use that is somewhat equivalent to AmE cooties, which you can learn more about here or in the following video:


But that's all from me now, 'cause I've got the lurgi.
Read more

stabilizers / training wheels

It's been a killer week work-wise, so here's a very short post.

Flatlander wrote to ask:
I was watching “Supernanny” the other day (it’s voyeurism, I know) and she made reference to removing the “stabilizers” from a child’s bicycle, meaning the “training wheels”. Is this a common BrE term or just a one-off?
It's not a one-off--one often hears stabilizers (and often reads stabilisers) for these things in BrE. Looking it up on the web, I've also found it on American sites, but particularly where training wheels would not be an appropriate term--for example wheels for balance-impaired adult cyclists for whom training wheels would be a misnomer.

Training wheels doesn't seem to be in the OED, so I'm having a hard time finding out if it was originally AmE. It is used currently in BrE (14,100 hits on UK Google), but I get the feeling that (a) stabilizers is the more usual way to refer to the things on children's bicycles, and (b) training wheels is more likely to be used metaphorically. Training wheels is a more transparent metaphor than stabilizers is, since the word stabilizer is pretty ambiguous--can refer to a food additive, something to keep dye from running, parts of various types of vehicle/craft, etc. For example, a headline from the Times Higher Education Supplement (14 Feb 2003) reads:

Diversity bike wobbles as the training wheels come off

For more on z versus s in BrE spelling, see back here.
For more on bicycles, see this one.
Read more

zwieback, rusks--and more on biscuits

We're back in the UK, dealing with a very jet-lagged baby. During our US visit, I had reason to think about another BrE/AmE difference in baby paraphernalia terminology, since Grover's got her first two teeth and is working on her next two: (AmE) zwieback (toast) and (BrE) (teething) rusk.

These refer to essentially the same thing (when it comes to the baby product), although rusk can also be used in BrE to refer to a kind of bready stuff that's added to sausages. Zwieback rhymes with 'lie back' or 'lie Bach' (if Bach has a hard /k/ sound at the end) in my dialect, but American Heritage lists a number of alternative pronunciations. It comes from the German for 'twice baked', as that's what they are: first baked as a loaf, then sliced and baked again. In other words, they're biscotti for babies. (In South Africa, rusks are used just like biscotti--eaten by all ages, dunked into coffee or tea.)

Strangely, we weren't able to buy any of this staple of babyhood in the US, although we searched for it in supermarkets and (AmE) drug stores (=BrE chemist's shop, more or less) in three counties. Sometimes we found the empty space on the shelf where they were supposed to be, sometimes not even that. I searched on the web for signs of a recall or shortage, but found no information, except that, like all finger foods apparently, Gerber zwiebacks now carry stern warnings that they should not be given to children who cannot yet crawl with their stomachs lifted off the ground. They've made them part of their 'Graduates for Toddlers' range, suggested for age 10+ months. But, of course, you need them when the baby is cutting her front teeth, long before toddlerdom. Meanwhile, I just ordered some rusks from my UK on-line grocery and found them label(l)ed 'suitable from 4 months'. (Granted, they do give a recipe for making a sort of porridgy thing from them, so that's probably what's suitable for a 4-month-old.) I have to assume that the warnings on baby foods are the product of the litigious culture...but the warnings are so uniform across the brands/products that I wonder whether they're legally required. (Do any of you know?)

Though we didn't find zwiebacks, we did find some non-zwieback teething biscuits (and ignored age and crawling requirements), which Grover loves (and handles very well, despite being completely uninterested in crawling, since crying for Mum/Mom and Dad to pick her up and carry her wherever she wants to go has worked so well for her thus far). This made me return to thinking about biscuits. As we've discussed before, BrE biscuit is and isn't equivalent to AmE cookie, but in discussions comparing those two words, we tend to only mention the AmE sense of biscuit that refers to a scone-like (in appearance, at least) thing. We should acknowledge areas of overlap with BrE biscuit. Americans do use biscuit in the names for some cookie-like things: teething biscuits and dog biscuits. In both cases, these kind of biscuits are hard--harder than normal (BrE) biscuits/(AmE) cookies. I wonder whether these AmE uses of biscuit remain closer to its etymological meaning 'twice cooked', since teething biscuits (at least) typically are twice-baked (perhaps dog biscuits used to be twice-baked, too?). But note that in both of these cases, biscuit in AmE is used as part of a compound. We don't use biscuit alone to refer to crunchy things like these.

Pressing deadlines mean that I have to reduce my posting even further, I'm afraid. I have told myself that I can only blog once a week now, though it pains me to type that. I promise to work on that backlog of requests from kind readers.
Read more

peek-a-boo, beebo

The special vocabulary that adults use in talking to babies has the potential to be very family-specific. After all, you're talking to a baby, who can't talk back (yet) and who's getting little other language input outside the family, so why not just make things up? We've got a number of 'inside jokes' that we use with Grover. For example, despite her lady-like appearances, Grover is a very farty baby. We started out saying poot poot when we heard the reports from down south. Then we'd say Are you pootin'? And this has turned into Is that you, Vladimir? So now, Vladimir = farty baby. And then there's the fact that we say knickerschnitz whenever Grover sneezes, which goes back to my brothers convincing (well, almost) my sister-in-law that this is what the English say instead of Gesundheit (which is, in fact, more popular in the US than in the UK).

But at the same time, babytalk is remarkably widespread within a culture--though the ocean often gets in the way of a generic, international babytalk. When talking to babies, we call cats kitties and wounds (orig. AmE) boo-boos. There's (BrE) bicky for (BrE) biscuit and (chiefly AmE) choo-choo for a train. And so on and so forth.

So, when I hear Better Half or his family using new-to-me babytalk, I'm never sure if it's something that's part of their 'family-lect' or more generally part of BrE. Since there may be a natural tendency to view one's in-laws as strange ('they're a family, but they don't do thing the way my family does!'), I tend to assume that their babytalk is 'theirs' until I hear someone else use it. Such was the case with (BrE) windy-pops, which came up in the comments back here. Now, I've found another case.

When I play the game Peek-a-boo with a baby, I hide my face, then show it suddenly and say Peek-a-boo! in a sing-song voice. Sometimes I vary it and say "Here I am!" or "There you are!", which follow the same three-syllable tune. And that's the only way that I've known the game.

But when BH's mother plays it, she says Beebo! I make a mental note to say peek-a-boo twice as much later, to reassert my influence (Jealous? Moi?), and put it down to her own creativity. Then I heard BH's sister say it, and I figured that she learned it from her mother. But then...we had a picnic in hono(u)r of Grover's half-birthday with other parents and babies, and I heard another mother say Peebo! So, yet another occasion on which I learn with disappointment (but, alas, not surprise) that I'm the strange one, not my in-laws.

The Wikipedia entry on peek(-)a(-)boo mentions nothing about alternative
exclamations, but the OED mentions peep-bo and bo-peep. I've also found this line from a London blogger, indicating that the variation in interjections is well known in these parts:
We've been playing beebo, peepo, peekaboo, whatever you want to call it for months.
So, am I right in thinking that most Americans stick to peek-a-boo? Are there other alternatives?

And is Better Half the only person who calls hands pandies or is that general BrE babytalk? (AmE snowclone): Enquiring babies want to know!
I know this derives from the nursery rhyme Handy Pandy, but I'm wondering about pandy on its own.
Read more

bonny

Fig. 1
Bonny baby
Last time I maintained that one gets fewer compliments in the UK than in the US. But if you're wanting more compliments in the UK (or anywhere, probably), I have a simple solution. Have a baby.

Not only will you get compliments (well, your baby will, but you're the one who will be expected to reply), they'll probably involve adjectives other than nice and good. And sometimes, they'll even involve BrE-specific adjectives, as happened tonight. Grover and I were watching cars in front of our house this evening, when a sixty-ish man (unknown to us) walked by and said, "Bonny baby!"

He sounded like a local southeastern man (from what one could tell from two words), but bonny is a word that conjures up Scotland. Here's what the OED says:

1. Pleasing to the sight, comely, beautiful, expressing homely beauty. Now in common use only in Scotland and north or midland counties of England; occasionally employed, with local or lyrical effect, by English writers, but not a word of ordinary English prose.

So, not only do babies elicit compliments, they elicit lyricism! (Or at least particularly gorgeous babies like Grover do.)


Read more

posset

In the comments on the last baby-orient(at)ed post, an anonymous person said:
Posset. No mention of posset!
Well, that was because I hadn't yet come across the term. But now that baby Grover is posseting, I'm hearing it all the time. First, as a verb (transitive or intransitive) by Lazybrain and the (BrE) health visitor, and today as a noun by Better Half, who came home from shopping and observed:
That's a nice bit of posset on your top!
So, have the AmE speakers out there figured out what (BrE) posset means? It means 'to regurgitate small amounts of milk', i.e. (mostly AmE) spit up (which can be used as a noun or verb--depending on where you put the stress). The original meaning of posset was:
A drink made from hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or other liquor, flavoured with sugar, herbs, spices, etc., and often drunk for medicinal purposes (OED-draft revision March 2007).
The connection with baby regurgitation is, of course, the curdled milk. Grover's been through four outfits and three sets of sheets today because of the possetting. Meanwhile, I'm just accruing layers of posset on the outfit I put on this morning. We can see who has the status in this household...
Read more

2007's Words of the Year

Better late than never, I hope (I have a fairly good excuse...), here are my picks for SbaCL Words of the Year. Thanks to all of you who have nominated words...

US-to-UK Word of the Year

In the category of Best AmE to BrE Import, I was fairly convinced by dearieme's nomination of subprime (though I took some convincing; see comments back here for the discussion). But I've decided against it in the end because (a) I'd like to see if it lasts in BrE beyond the current mortgage crisis, (b) the American Dialect Society chose it as their Word of the Year, so it's already had a lot of attention (and I like to support the [orig. AmE] underdog), and (c) I was reminded of another AmE word that made British headlines this year, which has demonstrated staying power in BrE.

So....the AmE-to-BrE SbaCL Word of the Year is:

cookie


Why, you ask? Well, British television has been wracked by controversy this year because of several incidents in which contest results had been fixed, and none of these was stranger than the Blue Peter controversy. On that children's program(me), there was a viewer vote on what to name the new Blue Peter kitten. The viewers voted for Cookie, but the production team named the cat Socks instead. This is how the Blue Peter website explains the situation to the kids:
Back in January last year we introduced you to a new kitten and asked you to suggest names that would suit him. You gave us lots of great ideas and then voted for your favourite name on the website.
Your first choice was Cookie and your second choice was Socks. Part of the production team working on the programme at the time decided that it would be better to choose Socks, as they felt this suited the kitten better. This was wrong because we had said that it was your vote that would decide.
They then tried to make up for their misstep by introducing another kitten and naming it Cookie. No one seems to know why Cookie was deemed unsuitable. One theory is that it's because the name could encourage child obesity. I can't help but wonder if it wasn't because the name was felt to be too non-traditional (i.e. American!).

But the success of Cookie in a poll of children indicates that the word is now entrenched in BrE. What it doesn't show is that the meaning of cookie has shifted between AmE and BrE. In AmE, cookie refers to what BrE speakers would refer to as biscuits, but also to a range of baked goods that were not typically available in Britain until recently--what we can call an 'American-style cookie'--that is, one that is soft and (arguably) best eaten hot. Since in the UK these are almost always bought (at places like Ben's Cookies or Millie's Cookies), rather than home-baked, they also tend to be of a certain (largish) size. In BrE, biscuit retains its old meaning and applies to things like shortbread, rich tea biscuits, custard creams and other brittle things that can be dunked into one's tea, but cookie denotes only the bigger, softer American import. (In fact, twice this year I heard Englishpeople in shops debating the definition of cookie, and had noted this for further discussion on the blog...and here it is. For previous discussion of this and other baked good terminology, click here.)

Postscript (Jan 2015): Since writing this I've given a talk about how often American words don't mean the same in the UK. Here's the slide on cookie:



UK-to-US Word of the Year:


The front-runner in the reader nominations for best BrE-to-AmE import was pint, to refer to a unit of beer. The nominators report that the pint measurement is not literal in this case (and anyhow, the British pint is 118 millilit{er/re}s bigger than the American). I've not experienced non-literal use of pint in the US...but then again I wasn't drinking on my last trip to the US. As fine as the support for that nomination was, I'm going to be entirely selfish (what, again?!) and give the award to a word that was personally very relevant this year. So, the BrE-to-AmE SbaCL Word of the Year is:

(baby) bump


That is, the abdominal protuberance evident in pregnancy, illustrated (unflatteringly) here:

I distinctly remember first hearing this term from Kate Winslet (not in person!) when she was pregnant with her daughter in 2000, the year I moved here. At that point, I assumed it was a Winsletism, but soon learned it was general, informal BrE. (While the OED has only added it in its 2007 draft, its first citation for it is from 1986. The first American citation is from 1999.) Shortly thereafter the American celebrity gossip media started using it too, to my chagrin, as I thought it was a nasty term--too (orig./chiefly AmE) cutesy, in a crude way. And I'm not the only one. Google-search hate baby bump, and one finds lots of American discussions of the term, including:
Can we have a moratorium on the phrase "baby bump"? Ugh... I hate it so much. (commenter on Jezebel)

And yes, by the way, I, too, absolutely hate that stupid term "baby bump". It is EXTREMELY annoying. It sounds like something that a 12-yr old might say because their uncomfortable with the word "pregnant". Any adult who uses the term is a jackass. (commenter on Huffington Post)

The term 'baby bump' sounds so juvenile and pedestrian. How did this term come in to existence, and why do presumably semi-intelligent people use it? (commenter on StyleDash.com)
No one in these discussions seems to reali{s/z}e that its origins are British, and one wonders whether they'd have more affection for the term if they could associate it with "the Queen's English" (not that Her Majesty would ever say baby bump). I should say, in the UK, one is more likely just to hear bump, while in the US it seems more often to be prefaced by baby.
As I said, I used to hate this use of bump, but goodness, if you've got one, it's a useful term. So, in hono(u)r of ex-bump Grover, it is the BrE-to-AmE WotY.
Read more

The book!

Follow by email

View by topic

Twitter

Abbr.

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