Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Book week 2019: the prologue

My new year's resolution for 2019 was: Finish the books I start. 

Now, it must be said, I don't read enough books. I do a lot of reading for research, which does not usually involve reading books from cover to cover. (It involves reading journal articles, reading chapters, using the indices of books to find the bits I need.) Since so much of my working life is reading (including multiple books' worth of student writing each term), after work I tend to do other things. But I still want to be reading books, because there are so many good books out there and I have great respect for the writers of books and the books they write.

I find it's very easy to start (reading) books. Rarely do I start reading a book and then lose interest in it. I have every intention and desire to finish most books that I start. But then some other book comes along and I just want to start that one too.

(It must be said here that these days I mostly read non-fiction—and it's relatively easy to leave non-fiction unfinished. If there is a story to a non-fiction book, I generally know how the story ends, so it doesn't have that page-turner vibe that fiction can have.)

At the start of 2019, there were four books that I had started months before, and had been really enjoying, yet instead of finishing them, I started other books. But thanks to my resolution, they are finished. Yay! 

So that was going well. Until I started starting books again. As of last week, I had seven books on the go (not counting a couple that made me say "Life's too short to spend it on this sub-par book"). And thanks to what I'm about to do, I will probably soon have 12 unfinished books heading into the LAST MONTH of 2019. So: made a resolution to reduce the number of unfinished books I have, and I am ending the year with THREE TIMES AS MANY unfinished books. What a failure!

But the reason I'm starting even more books is that people send me books. Publishers send me books. I get a lot of books. They send me the books because I have a blog and they want me to help publici{s/z}e the books. I like getting the books, and I want to help authors of good books. And it helps them if I tell you about the books in a timely way.

So this week, I am going to write about some of the books I've been sent this year and which I may not have read from cover to cover. For each book, I plan to read at least two chapters before telling you about it. So, I'm going to have a feel for the book, which I can tell you about, even if I haven't read the whole book.

Why do this now? Two reasons:
  1. I can assuage my guilt about not writing about these books sooner by pretending that I was waiting to give you a seasonal list of books that would make great gifts for the holiday season!
  2. I have the time.
I have the time because my union is about to go on strike for eight days. During this time, I am not engaging in the activities that the university pays me for. (And indeed, I will not be paid by the university for those days.) So, I'm catching up on things I want/like to do that are not within my job description. And apparently starting books and not finishing them is one of the things I like to do best.

I'm only going to tell you about books I like. I'm channel(l)ing my mother: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." I'm also listening to the adage "There's no such thing as bad publicity." I've decided not to give any publicity to sub-par books. I could be scathing about them (and witty—scathing and witty go hand-in-hand). And that might be a lot of fun. But I'd just rather not shine my light on sub-par books, since that takes space and attention away from the good books. 

Some of the books I'll write about are by people I like. It's not that I know them well, just that I've had enough interactions with them to know we're on the same wavelength—so it's not quite nepotism (just tribalism?). And I'm going to try my best to have five posts for five days, but life happens and I might have to interpret "week" very loosely.

So: stay tuned, and we'll get this book week going.

Oh, and: I'm taking nominations for US-to-UK and UK-to-US Words of the Year. Are there any US-to-UK or UK-to-US borrowings that are particularly 2019-ish? They don't have to have first come to the other country this year, but they should have had particular attention or relevance in the other country this year. Please nominate them in the comments below.
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Review: Linguistics: why it matters by Geoffrey Pullum

It's National Writing Day (for another 48 minutes) and I've reali{s/z}ed that I haven't written anything but emails and tweets today. So a blog post is needed. But a short one. Luckily, I have a very short book to review.

The book is the linguistic installation of Polity Press's 'why it matters' series, and it's by the exceptionally clear Geoff Pullum. Here come the full disclosures: I know Geoff and I got this book for free. But I wouldn't say nice things about the book if I didn't mean them. (I'd just save myself the trouble of writing a blog post about it.)

So, since it's by the exceptionally clear Geoff Pullum, this is an exceptionally clear book. It's just 120-something pages, divided into five themed chapters on why linguistics matters: for what it tells us about what makes us human, about how sentences work, how meaning, thought and language intertwine, how it uncovers social relations, and how it might help machines understand humans. I particularly admire Geoff's ability to write short sentences about complex topics. (That's lesson 1 in making things exceptionally clear—complex topics aren't helped by grammatically complex sentences!) The real value of the book is in the examples that show how linguistics does matter—for expanding human understanding, for uncovering and undoing prejudices, and in applications that can help people.

Here's the bit that I most enthusiastically underlined:
[T]o a large extent the importance of linguistics has turned out to lie not so much in the results it has achieved (those evolve over time and are often overturned or contradicted) but in the change in the general view of what's important enough to study. It lies in our moral evolution of our perception of what we should be looking at and what we should value. 
That leads into a discussion of the shift from thinking of signed languages as gesticulations to their recognition as complex languages that are as languagey as any other human languages. But I think it could have introduced many of the sections. I do believe that linguistics has done a lot of good in the world in the past 50 or so years, and a lot of that is about valuing people and their languages. Though the book is only long enough for a few examples of that, they're great examples.

The ideal audience for this book? I think it would make an excellent present from any students studying (or planning to study) linguistics to their parents. When your parents' friends ask them "What's your kid up to?" and they say "Studying Linguistics", the conversation usually DIES. Give them the gift of knowing how to talk up your fascinating studies! It'd also be great for anyone considering studying linguistics, or who just thinks: "That sounds like an interesting subject, but I don't quite know what it's for." (It's mostly not about translation or language teaching, by the way.)

Geoff blogged about writing the book, which you can read here.
Here's a link to the publisher's site. It's only giving me the UK buying links, but I hope that if you approach it from another country you'll get the appropriate page!
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The book! The book!

I've been quieter than I'd like to be on this blog, but things have been a bit crazy-hectic-mad getting ready for the release of The Prodigal Tongue: The love-hate relationship between American/British and British/American English. Yes, there are different subtitles depending on which country you buy the book from. There had to be, right?

So I invite you, kind readers, to visit the new website for the book, which has lots of good stuff, including a couple of short quizzes (orig. AmE in that sense) to see how much you know about British and American English. (I will warn you: just because you come from a country doesn't mean you know all of its English!)

If you're thinking about buying the book, please consider (orig. AmE) pre-ordering it (see the buy now link at the website). Pre-orders help authors because they show (BrE) bookshops/(AmE) bookstores and media outlets that it's a book people care about—and so it's more likely to be kept in stock and reviewed.

And let me make a special plea to those who follow the blog and like it. The content that I provide here (and daily on Twitter and less daily on Facebook) is provided for free. It's not part of my day job to write Separated by a Common Language. I started it as an act of love (and procrastination) and all expenses relating to it (e.g. the makeover the blog had a while ago) are out of my own pocket. I do not take advertising money, because nobody wants to see ad(vert)s here. If you like this blog or the Twitter Difference of the Day, and you want to show its author your support, please buy the book and/or ask your local or school library to buy it. (And if you like it, maybe give it as a gift too!)

The book is SO MUCH MORE than the blog has been. It is not a printing of old blog posts. I learned so, so much in writing it, and really think you'll enjoy it. The advance reviews have been amazing so far.

So, please have a look at the site, please consider ordering one (and/or asking a library to do so!), and if you take the quizzes, please share your results on social media!

Thanks for reading! Lynne x  (that x is soooo British)

P.S. SPOILER ALERT: people are talking about the answers to the quizzes in the comments here. So if you're planning to take the quizzes and read the comments, do the quiz part first!

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Review: That's the way it crumbles, by M. Engel

Those who follow the blog may remember that in February I was on BBC Radio 4's Word of Mouth, where fellow guest Matthew Engel and I debated the effect of American English on British English. Engel had written many newspaper columns on the topic, but at that point his book, That’s the way it crumbles: the American conquest of English, was yet to appear. What struck me in that radio conversation was how little Engel appeared to have to say about a topic he’d just written a book about. While he had some examples, he mostly seemed to repeat his claim that American English is "taking over" British English while offering little more than the experience-based perceptions of an Englishman in his seventh decade. He does have much more to say in the book, but he hasn't changed my mind about the topic. (You're not surprised, right?) I'm writing this on my way back from giving a conference paper on the research gaps and logical problems in British arguments that "American English is taking over". While I didn't discuss Engel's book there (my focus was on work by linguists—and media representation of that work), I wouldn't have had to change my argument if I had discussed it.

It's easy to suspect that the conquest in the book's subtitle was the work of his publisher's marketing
department, since Engel states in the preface "Let’s get two things straight right now: this crisis is not the Americans' fault; and this book is not anti-American." (Some of his best friends are American…) Instead, the "crisis", as Engel has it, is mostly the fault of the British, and their "current self-imposed verbal enslavement" (p. 3). Chapter by chapter, the book takes a chronological tour of Britain's alleged "long journey towards subservience" (p. 109). I've written about this slavery trope in an earlier blog post. It seems a peculiarly post-imperialist way of understanding global relationships—if you are no longer the master, you must be the slave.

If Engel is not anti-American (and we do have to ask: is he the best judge of that?), we can still conclude he’s somewhat anti-linguist. A few linguists are cited in the book (mostly for popular-audience works), listed in the references list under the 19th-century-feeling heading "Philology, etc.". In recalling the path to the book (more on this below), he complains that his work
reached the ears of the online lexicographical community, some of whom have not quite learned the niceties of civil disagreement and disputed my right to offer an opinion at all. One American said it was none of my business because I was not a 'qualified lexicographer'.
This is one quotation whose source Engel doesn't cite, and which I’ve been unable to find in the "online lexicographical community". (I don't know what they'd think a "qualified lexicographer" is. Lexicographers generally have experience rather than qualifications—see the last book I reviewed.)
As for whether linguists and Americans (or, indeed, American linguists) have been civil in their conversations, well, if you start with fighting words, you get fighting conversations. For Engel, there is a contest between American and British words, and it is "no longer a fair one" (p. 66). Americanisms aren’t just words, they're culprits, invaders, garbage. And if you say that about my words, it feels like you're saying it about me.

The lexicographers were loud not just because of Engel’s opinions, but because the "facts" in his newspaper columns often misjudged what was actually British or American English. He has learn{ed/t} his lesson on that point and so starts the book with a "note on the text" in which he admits that there will be "honest errors" of categori{s/z}ation and that he's willing to receive "politely worded suggestions for amendments" (p. viii). Since I suspect that Engel and I do not share a common view of what "polite wording" is (maybe I'm the "online lexicographical community" to which he refers), I won't burden him with my (few) (orig. AmE) nitpicks about word origin in the book.

The issue for debate here is not whether Engel is entitled to an opinion; rather it's whether people are entitled to go unchallenged when they express opinions that show only partial understanding of the issues at hand. Engel has the opinion that Britons should fight against American English. But this opinion is based on various claims or assumptions 
  • about what English is in the US and UK. For example, though he's not southern in origin, the English he talks about is very much the south-eastern standard—take, for instance, the claim that pants meaning 'trousers' is American and trousers is British—a common oversimplification, but an oversimplification all the same
  • about the nature of the "Britishness" that he wants to protect.
  • about how language changes, and how it is or is not changing in the UK and US. For example, what's the role of regional identity or social class [in bold because it's heavy] in how English changes in Britain?
  • about the relationship between language and culture. 
This last point is important. Engel's real enemy is not American words, but changes to British culture. Thatcherism, Blairism, loss of interest in the countryside, all are blamed on "Americani{s/z}ation". The extent of that can be debated, but Engel wants to situate the problem in words. The words came over, and they brought ideas with them, and as if in some Whorfian horror story, the ideas have eaten British brains. One problem with blaming the words is that in several chapters Engel has to stop after discussing word-culprits and admit "None of these can actually be counted as Americanisms" (p. 110)--they are relatively fresh Britishisms. But they feel American in tone or meaning to Engel, so they go on the slag heap.

Engel’s book provides lots of interesting cultural history, rich with entertaining facts, quotations and stories of the famous and not-so-famous. It’s also very well written, with a sly sense of humo[u]r. But the claim for “loss of the British language” (p. 235) feels, at best, like a case of selective attention leading to a grumpy nostalgia for olden times (or vice versa). At worst, it comes off as disingenuous. Engel  knows very well (as evidenced in the book) that British English has always been undergoing change and that exciting linguistic things are happening in Britain that have nothing to do with America. (He has a bit on Multicultural London English, which is not very American at all.) But he's got himself into an argumentative corner where he has to rely on hyperbole. "It would be totally impossible to write a coherent book in English without words imported from the United States" (p. 11). (Writers! The gauntlet has been thrown!) It also has irony. "I’m not prescriptive", he writes on page 13.

In the end, Engel proposes that Brits try to stop Americanisms with pressure groups, for instance emailing and Twitter-shaming the BBC whenever they hear life vest instead of life jacket. The thing that worries me is that when I analy{s/z}ed a list of complaints to the BBC about Americanisms, only half of them were Americanisms. But if you're going to base your linguistic crusades on nationalism, maybe you don't care about facts. Engel also proposes that "Ridicule can work wonders" (p. 238). Ah, so that's how "civil disagreement" works.

One gets the feeling in the book that Engel is not fully committed to the topic. That he’s got himself in a (BrE) one-way system and is having a hard time getting out. It’s not really the language he wants to complain about, it's modern life—and who doesn’t want to complain about that? In the acknowledg(e)ments, Engel recounts that the publisher had called to tell Engel he wanted his book. Engel replied "What book?". "I had already decided I did not want to write a book about Americanisms", Engel tells us (p 259). But he has written it.

Thank you to Profile Books for providing a review copy of this book. In fact, they sent me two. If you'd like my spare copy, please write a comment on the Americanism you're most grateful for in British English in which you indicate a word/phrase of American origin that has been usefully (to your mind) been borrowed into British English.
I'll put those responses into a hat on 31 July and draw one.  If you win it, you can then tell me if you think this was a fair review! (Anonymous entries may have to be discounted if I can't find a way to contact you.)

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Review: Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper

I'm just back from a FABULOUS time at the Dictionary Society of North America conference. Fabulous not just because it was hosted by the University of the West Indies in Barbados (wheeeeee!), but because dictionary people are just the best people. No offen{c/s}e academic linguists, cognitive scientists, parents of 9-year-olds, Scrabblers, Murphys, and other folk I'm apt to hang out with, but lexicographers (orig. AmE) have the edge.

I have (for a couple of years, part-time) been an actual English-dictionary lexicographer, for the Encarta World English Dictionary. (Among my job titles were "Americanizer", "Compiler", and "Specialist Lexicographer: Languages and linguistics".) I loved it. (I also loved that the publisher, Bloomsbury, sent me some random book with each payche{ck/que}. I got my best soup [orig. AmE] cookbook that way.)

But the job I REALLY wanted, the one that would have kept me out of academia, was a job with Merriam-Webster of Springfield, Massachusetts. Having finished my BA in Linguistics and Philosophy at a just-up-the-road university, I wrote to them in 1987 to ask if they might be hiring. They weren't. And so I had to go get two more degrees and (BrE-ish) move continents three times in order to follow my second-best option after lexicographer: becoming a lexicologist.

Kory Stamper was lucky. She came along a few years later when Merriam was hiring—and she got the job. And now she has written a wonderful, detailed,  funny book about life as a Merriam-Webster lexicographer: Word by Word: the secret life of dictionaries. The kind people at Pantheon sent me a review copy a few months ago, but I wasn't able to read the whole thing during term time/before my own book deadline had passed/before I had written my paper for the Dictionary Society.* So, I read it on the beach in Barbados. Maybe that can be something that makes Kory a tiny bit envious of me as a counter to my incredible envy of her job, since she wasn't at the conference this year. But getting to know her a bit from the book, I kind of suspect that Kory's not the lounging-in-the-hot-sun type.

Because I'm a bit late, you language-loving readers of mine may well have read other reviews of this book. They all said it was fantastic, right? Well, I'm not going to deviate from that line, because I honestly cannot. This is a great book for anyone who is interested in dictionaries and the people that make them. (And since I've already established that they're the best people, why wouldn't you be interested?)

Kory (I'm using her first name because we're Twitter-acquaintances) covers all aspects of being a lexicographer—from the mysterious coffee in orange foil to the threatening emails. But most importantly, and most richly, she covers what it is to define a word. How you capture the difference between a (orig. AmE) sex pot and a (orig. BrE?) sex kitten. How you define the (AmE) pantyhose/(BrE) tights sense of nude without sounding racist. And why it took one lexicographer nine months to revise the Oxford English Dictionary entry for run.

The lexicographer (and also the lexicologist's!) secret weapon is Sprachgefühl: an intuitive feeling for the nuances of language. This is something that comes more naturally to some than to others, but I think it can be grown in a person—to some extent, at least. Kory tells the story of her training in defining and shares the stories of other lexicographers who agree that experience counts in lexicography. She gives so many engaging examples of definitions-gone-wrong and definitions-gone-right that some of that experience will probably (orig. AmE) rub off on you.

I hope it does rub off, because I plan on assigning the chapter on defining (which cent{er/re}s on the example of surfboard) to my first-year students next year. Undoubtedly, there will be a few in need of a bit more Sprachgefühl.

The book gives insight into the history of dictionary publishing generally and American dictionary publishing (which is its own beast) particularly, the role dictionaries play in (American especially) society, and a sense of what it is like to be a working lexicographer (right down to the fear of [AmE] layoffs/[BrE] redundancies). It also makes you feel like you're in the presence of an extremely likeable person. So, I thank Kory for this book, and I encourage you to read it and buy it for the dictionary-lovers in your lives.

It seems to be published in North America only, but of course these days one can order anything anywhere. The ££ prices don't look bad. If you're more (or also) interested in the British lexicography scene, you might want to get your hands on another book, published a few months before Kory's: former OED editor John Simpson's The Word Detective. I've only read a few pages of it so far, but it seems very good too. Since I didn't get a review copy of that one (actual money was spent!), I will probably not (orig. AmE) get around to writing a formal review of it.

* If you're wondering what I talked about at the DSNA conference, it all got started with a blog post I wrote for Oxford Dictionaries a few years ago.  That was the start of me thinking about differences in the "dictionary cultures" of the UK and the US. My DSNA paper was about the differences in content and tone I found in historical advertising for Merriam-Webster and Oxford. When that becomes a published paper (or papers), I'll be sure to let you know. I cover aspects of it in chapter 8 of my book-to-be, which will be published next spring. You can be sure that I'll let you know about that (a. lot.) as the publication date nears. In the meantime, I want to thank the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Grant program(me) for allowing me to travel to dictionary archives in the past year, and to the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funded the book project.
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Is Americanization speeding up?

Today I got to hear myself on BBC Radio 4's Word of Mouth talking with host Michael Rosen and anti-Americanism-ist Matthew Engel.

This is just a picture. Click HERE for the program(me)!
Biggest regret: that I completely blanked on the fact that sidewalk is originally a British word. Had to go home and read about it in my own book manuscript. I also regret that they cut a bit I said about British music artists singing in their own accents. (So please read this instead. I think the producer/editor might have thought that the reference to grime music would be too much for the Radio 4 [orig. AmE] listenership.)

But listening now to Engel repeatedly saying that American English influence on British is constantly increasing, I wish I'd pointed out this:

The 20th Century is often called "The American Century". The 21st Century is looking a lot less American. To be sure, it's not looking like the British century either. That came the century before.

American culture (and words) could easily spread in the 20th century because it was hard to produce and distribute recorded entertainment, but the US had the capacity and the economy and the marketing savvy to do so [And I mustn't forget the Marshall Plan, which my colleague just mentioned to me.] America was inventing and manufacturing all sorts of things and putting names on them and selling them everywhere. Two world wars and the cold war had Americans stationed all over the world using their slang in the presence of young recruits from other countries. The 21st century is looking rather different.

The 20th century brought us talking pictures and television. Radio, the most affordable form of broadcast, remained a more local proposition--though the recorded music could be imported. (Though the word radio, well that's an Americanism.) The 21st century is the time of the internet and of personali{s/z}ed entertainment. The popular songs are less universally popular, because people have more access to more different kinds of music on download. Instead of two or three or four choices on television, there are hundreds. And if you don't like what you're seeing you can go on YouTube or SoundCloud (or other things I'm too old and [orig. AmE] uncool to know about) and find all sorts of people doing all sorts of things. People go on the internet and meet each other and talk to each other, meaning that there's more opportunity than ever for there to be exchange of words between people, rather than just reception of words from the media. The slangs that young people use are sometimes local to their school or area and sometimes particular to an international online gaming community or music fandom. The notion of community, for many people, has internationali{s/z}ed. Language is moving in different ways now than it ever had the chance to move in the 20th century.

In the meantime, all indications are that the US is becoming politically more isolationist and more of an international pariah. Are its words going to flow so freely abroad? Will there be a taste for them?

The American century has happened. I don't know whose century this will be (please, please not Putin's), if indeed it will be any nation's century. (Better a nation's century than a virus's century, though.) American words will continue to spread to other parts of the world, but I can't see the evidence of Engel's strong claim that the imbalance between US and UK word-travel is increasing faster than ever.

At the start of the 21st century, British words seem to be entering America in greater numbers than they were a few decades ago. Much of this has to do with journalism and how international that's become. The online versions of the Daily Mail and the Guardian are extremely popular in the US. There are more US fans of Doctor Who now than in its Tom Baker days. Harry Potter is the single most important thing that's happened to children's publishing in the English-speaking world in my lifetime, and though the editions sold in the US are translated into American to some extent, it's actually only a small extent. Americans are reading and hearing more British English than they have in a long time.

The scale(s) is/are still tipped in American vocabulary's favo(u)r. But as far as I can see, there's not a lot of reason to believe that the degree of the imbalance is rapidly increasing. Yes, the number of American words in British English constantly increases, but there's more westward traffic now, more UK coining of managementspeak, and new local youth cultures making their own words in Britain. The tide hasn't turned, but there is (mixed metaphor alert) (orig. AmE) pushback.

And if English continues to be popular as a global lingua franca (due to its momentum, rather than the foreign and cultural policies of the UK and US), then more words may be coming from other places altogether.
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yankee in GDoS

I was reading the print version of Ernest (No. 4, I think, which I received a while ago as a gift for speaking at Brighton's Catalyst Club) and one of the short bits at the front was about a Yankee dodge. This was what British surgeon Robert Liston called the use of ether as an an(a)esthetic. Yankee because the method was developed in the US.

First use of ether in dental surgery,
from the Wellcome Collection
Within the US, yankee can mean more specifically "New Englander" or at least "northerner". Was this a yankee dodge in both the regional and national senses of the word? The first published-about use of inhaled-ether-as-an(a)esthetic was in Boston, Massachusetts in 1846 by William T. G. Morton (pictured right), and that's what got the attention of Liston. Morton was a Yankee for sure, in all senses of the word. But he spent the rest of his life defending his reputation as the "inventor" of an(a)esthesia because Crawford Long, a surgeon from Madison County, Georgia, had been using ether for some time. He just hadn't published about it. Long is less yankee than Morton from an American perspective, but from a British perspective, it's all yankee enough.

Anyhow...this got me thinking about the email in my inbox announcing the online publication of Green's Dictionary of Slang, which includes all the material from Jonathan Green's 2010 book of the same title plus further additions. Green also does fantastic slang timelines, which show the richness of the slang for topics like sex, drunkenness, and death over the ages. Green's work is especially thorough on underworld slangs, and while he's based in London, his attention does envelop other countries as well. So, I wondered: what comes up for yankee there?

This is just the (first) noun entry for yankee. The sub-entries vary in place of origin: (unmarked) British, US, and Australian. There may be some British association of yankee with cheating or taking a shortcut (cf. Yankee dodge), but in Australia, the stereotype used is miserliness, which in the US is more specifically a stereotype of New Englanders (found later Green's verb entry for to yankee 'to cheat'. 

SE here means 'standard English'. So, the first compound uses a slang sense to make a slang compound, and the later ones use the standard-English meaning of yankee 'American' to make further slang compounds.

Above is what you can see if you don't subscribe. If you subscribe (or better yet, get your library to subscribe), you get timelines and quotations as well that make the whole experience a lot richer.

Pretty! Not to mention: Informative!

I won't reproduce all the Yankee/yank entries here, but there are more for the exploring at the site.

In the interest of balance (and entertainment), here is some of the adjective entry for English. (A nickname like Brit would have been more balanced with yankee, but there were no particularly US senses there. Actually, limey would have been a good one to look at, but a reputation for vitamin-C deficiency isn't as amusing as a reputation for spanking).

This all might seem like a paid-for ad(vert) for Green's dictionary. It's not. It's a sincere appreciation of a thing of beauty and a celebration that modern technology makes such things more available and adaptable. It's also a little reminder that this kind of work deserves support. Labo(u)rs of lexicographical love shouldn't be taken for granted.
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write a poem, win a book!

A few days ago I was heard to tweet:
You can thus tell how sensible I find Oliver Kamm on the matter, since I seem to have accidentally bought two copies of his Accidence will happen: the non-pedantic guide to English. (No publishers' freebies here. Just a poorly organi{s/z}ed bookcase and an eagerness to support my local independent (BrE) bookshop/(AmE) bookstore.)

What's more fun than taking a spare book to the (BrE) charity shop? Having strangers attempt to amuse me in an effort to win a free book, that's what.

I've had a competition before where I asked for limericks on the subject of British/American linguistic differences. You can't beat a rhyme. But that was seven years ago, so I think I can dare to almost repeat myself.

For a chance to win a copy of the paperback edition of Kamm's book, please write a humorous poem on the topic of American/British differences/miscommunication.

Rules of the contest

  1. Entries may be submitted as comments on this blogpost. Poems received by other means will not be considered.
  2. Poems should be no longer than 15 lines. (To repeat what I constantly say to my students: that is a limit, not a goal. I'd rather read 5 good lines on their own than 12 lines with 5 good ones within.)
  3. Be funny, but don't be mean. 
  4. No plagiarism. 
  5. The differences don't have to be strictly linguistic, but considering who the judge is, you might be well advised to address communication in some way.
  6. Please sign your work (whatever handle you use on the internet is fine; I just want to avoid confusing seven Anonymouses). 
  7. Please don't give other personal details (address, etc.) with your poem in the comments, but do check the blog in mid-September to see who's won, as I'll have to have you (orig. AmE in this sense) contact me in order to arrange (for) delivery of the book.
  8. Deadline for submission: 12 September 2016.   
I'll start the judging on my way home from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders conference. If it's very hard to choose, I may pick a shortlist and ask readers to vote. In the meantime, readers are welcome to (politely) express preferences in the comments here.

If you already have a copy of the book, but are good at writing poems, do feel free to enter. It can be you who takes the book to the charity shop. :)
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Book week: You could look it up

And so we come to the end of Book Week. There may well be other books that I'd been sent at some point or another, and if I find them, I may stick in a book post here or there. But I'm ending with a book that I cannot wait to read, but that I have to wait to read because of other work-related reading commitments. So, the main thing I'm going to do here is call attention to it and talk about why I want to read it, because it's probably more useful to the author and publisher if you know about it now rather than knowing about it later...

Free book 9: You could look it up by Jack Lynch

The subtitle of the book (or maybe its tagline) is The reference shelf from ancient Babylon to Wikipedia. A history of reference books--swoon!

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When I went to the States in April to do research for my 'Dictionary Cultures' project, I had just received this book, and though I was excited to read it, I had just started Rosemary Ostler's Founding Grammars (which I'd actually paid for). It was much less bulky than Lynch's book, so I stuck with Ostler (a good read if you're interested in the role of grammar books in American history), and left Lynch behind. Then I kept meeting people who said things like "Have you read Lynch's book yet?" and "You know Jack Lynch, right?", and I had to say "regretfully, no" to both. (Though I certainly knew of him. He's also written The Lexicographer's Dilemma. He's a clear and entertaining writer.)  The praise the book was getting from lexicographers I was meeting only made me more eager to read it. 

I'd gone to the US in April because that was the most convenient time for me to go family-wise, but it was not the most convenient time to go project-wise. So when I got back, I had to put dictionaries aside for a while (they're in chapter 9 of the book I'm working on, I haven't got past chapter 5 yet). And so Lynch's book is sitting there, waiting for me to get past the catch-up reading lists I have for intervening chapters.

I have allowed myself the prologue and the table of contents. Look at the chapter listing --it has half-chapters! I am charmed!

The structure is to look at 50 great reference works. Lynch admits this is a love letter, and possibly a eulogy, as printed reference books fall by the wayside. (Just yesterday I was admitting to not using mine.) The tone, at least as far as the prologue goes, is warm and personal. Now I want to read it now even more. 

So, have any of you read it?
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Book week: Collins dictionary & Punctuation

I missed a couple of my promised 'post a day for Book Week' posts because I was running a fantabulous event (if I do say so myself) called Doing Public Linguistics. The event was about linguists doing things like I do here with the blog—engaging non-academics in the work we do as academic linguists. One of the best bits of the day was when Geoff Pullum (speaking about his involvement in Language Log) gave us their motto for how to deal with media stories about language: "We can fact-check your ass". It's what I do, but I'm glad now to have a motto to go along with the doing.

Now back to books!

Free book 7: Collins English Dictionary, 12th edition

The beautiful cover
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One of my hobbies: looking up words that start with nid-
I'm grateful to the Collins people for sending me a copy of the latest edition of their beautiful dictionary. Collins is one of the dictionaries I regularly use for checking BrE facts. It's also now the basis for the  Official Scrabble Words used in the UK and most of the rest of the world, so I know its two- and three-letter words intimately.  (Scrabble is owned by a different company in North America, so it's been hard to standardi{s/z}e our ways of playing.)

It claims to be the most inclusive single-volume dictionary of English (any English? I'm not sure). One of the marketing points for this edition is that it includes more words without making the dictionary bigger. Looking at the pages, you see why. It is crammed with print. It's also, as they go, a fairly encyclop(a)edic dictionary—including a lot of proper names of places and people. (Don't try playing them in Scrabble.)

I think the binding is beautiful, but the truth of the matter is that despite their gift, I still mostly use the online version. Since I'm mostly on the computer when I need to use a dictionary, it just makes sense. I also haven't found that this paper dictionary is particularly easy to find one's letter-place in.

I will be using the print edition when I get a bit further into the research I'm doing on American and British Dictionary Cultures, and I look forward to doing so!

Free book 8: Punctuation..?

User Design sent me this book after asking if I might like to review their new book. I said 'okay', received the book. Three weeks later, they emailed me to see how the review was coming along—and that was part of what inspired me to do Book Week and try to salve my conscience about all these free books. But instead of reviewing theirs immediately, I wrote back with a question: why was I told this was a new book, when it was published in 2012 (as an improved second edition)? A week later, I still don't have an answer to that one. The other mystery is why the title of this book has been punctuated with a combination of marks that's not found in the book itself.

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The book introduces each of the punctuation marks with little cartoons that illustrate  examples of the marks' "correct" use. And when I say 'each of the punctuation marks', I mean above and beyond the usual expectation. They've got guillemets (the «  » you might see surrounding quotations in French texts), the interpunct · and the pilcrow ¶. Still, they don't have my fave, the swung dash:

I'm not 100% sure who the book is for. It claims to be age-non-specific, and suggests it be given as a gift. I suspect it would be best given to designers, as they need to know a bit about punctuation, including things like interpuncts and pilcrows, but they don't need to know a lot. A telling quotation is:
"An almost identical character to the forward slash is the fraction or division slash (/) but with more of an angle, it is used to make fractions" (p. 20)
Who but a typesetter would need to know the difference between a forward slash and a division slash? Where do I find a division slash on my keyboard? And, most importantly, why are these two sentences separated by a comma, rather than a full stop or a semi-colon?

It's definitely a pretty little book, but from this blog's point-of-view, it commits a major sin: it claims to give "the correct uses" of these marks, but never acknowledges that these are only the correct uses in certain places and in certain styles. You could say that the hints are very strong that this is about British punctuation, since it talks about full stops (not periods) and exclamation marks (not exclamation points). But I'd say that's not enough. Readers may be able to identify that the American names aren't there, but they won't (unless they're well versed in these things) necessarily know that what's been claimed as "correct" is only correct so far as some stylesheets in Britain are concerned. (General ignorance that there is a transatlantic difference was what allowed Eats, Shoots and Leaves to be a US best-seller.) Without qualification, the book tells us that you don't put a full stop after Mr or Dr or within an acronym like USA. The one place I noticed such a much-needed qualification was in the discussion of quotation marks, where there is an "In the UK," qualification. That's something, at least, but we're not told what happens elsewhere. (You might say: "that's ok because it's a book for British people". But then I'd ask: then why did we need to know the difference between French and German practice in the guillemet section?) At the back of the book, we are told that initial reference for the text content was the Oxford English Mini Dictionary, 5th edition. Oddly, the book neither uses nor mentions the Oxford comma.

So, if you know a British designer who needs a handy reference for the difference between en-dashes and em-dashes, this might be a cute little gift. But for people who need more practical information beyond what you learned in primary school (e.g. which lists of prenominal adjectives get commas and which don't? how many spaces after a full stop? should you ever capitali{s/z}e the first word after a colon?) and global outlook (e.g. how do Americans use quotation marks?), you probably need to look for something else.
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Book week: One language, two grammars?

Book Week continues...

Free book 6: One language, two grammars? differences between British and American English

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A lot of the interesting work about British and American English these days is not coming from Britain or America, but from the home countries of other Germanic languages. This collection, edited by Günter Rohdenburg and Julia Schlüter is a case in point; German, Swiss, and Swedish universities are better represented in the table of contents than the US or UK. The 19 chapters cover a range of topics--many of which I've not got(ten) (a)round to posting about here, with a few exceptions (like this one). 

I won't try to go through all of the chapters here--you can read the table of contents at the publisher's (Cambridge University Press) site. The book tests the sociolinguistic aphorism that "accent divides, syntax unites" by taking a much closer look at the patterns of language use and grammatical change in these two major varieties of English and questioning whether there are more differences than first meet the eye. In summing up the findings, the editors note that generalizations about grammatical differences "remain confined to system-internal, intrinsic tendencies" (p. 5). The four generalizations they make are:
  • AmE has "greater tolerance and inclination" (p. 5) toward(s) the structures of colloquial speech, with California setting trends, while the east coast is more conservative. BrE is comparatively more formal (in writing--most of the work here is on written corpora. That they find these differences in writing is interesting because in general there's a pull toward similarity in writing, difference in spoken forms). 
  • AmE exhibits a pull towards(s) regularization of patterns in both morphology (e.g. how past tenses or plurals are made) but also in syntax--for example, using more comparatives (which can be applied to any adjective) where -er ones might be possible (in Britta Mondorf's chapter).
  • AmE tends more toward(s) explicitness. While the same things are grammatical in both varieties, AmE users often choose forms that put a lighter cognitive load on the hearer/reader or they add clarifying information, where BrE users tend to leave more implicit. (I have to say, I found the evidence for this a bit too mixed to be totally convinced by, but I often feel it true when reading British writing--things like leaving off that in relative clauses and lower use of commas seem to make the reading harder going, requiring more sentence restarts. But I can't know whether that's just me. A colleague and I once discussed doing an eye-tracking study on this, but then our eye-tracking contact moved away. Anyone want to eye-track with us?)
  • AmE "shows a more marked tendency to dispense with function words that are semantically redundant and grammatically omissible". This is kind of funny considering how many complaints I listen to about Americans having of in things like off of the sofa or how big of a catastrophe, not to mention the greater British tendency to leave off that in relative clauses (e.g. The sofa (that) I sat on). But the evidence here comes from lesser use of reflexive pronouns (e.g. acclimate/acclimati{s/z}e (oneself) to) and not using prepositions after certain verbs (e.g. protest), both of which are discussed in chapters by Rohdenburg.  
Another general theme of the book is discerning the evidence for colonial lag, the idea that language changes slower and older forms remain preserved in colonial-type offshoots of a language. There's not much evidence for that lag here--but it's also not the case that AmE is always the innovator.

This is a book for academics, really. If you're an editor wanting more insight on which prepositions to put with which verbs, you want Algeo's book in the same series.

This is another book that I've had for an embarrassingly long time (published 2009) before reviewing it. The main reason for this lag: my god, this book is heavy. They sent me the hardcover, and it is shockingly heavy for 461 pages. I tend to do book-review reading on plane or train journeys, and when there's a heavy book to do, I often photocopy a chapter at a time to take on the journeys, so I don't break my back. I couldn't stand to do that for this book because it saves its bibliography for the very end, rather than at each separately-authored chapter, and I hate reading chapters without bibliographies. The other little complaint that I have to Cambridge University Press (publisher of many fine books!) is the re-starting of section numbering in each chapter. Yes, this is really (BrE) anorak-ish/(orig. AmE) nerdy and minor, but if a book has lots of section 5s when I'm looking for section 5 of chapter 12, it would be so much easier if it were marked as section 12.5.

But never mind the physical flaws, it's a really interesting book!


A post-script: I've just discovered that I've double-reviewed one of this week's books! Re-inventing my own wheels. No wonder my to-do list doesn't get any shorter...
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Book week: English - meaning and culture

(For more about Book Week, see the first post of the week.)

Free book 5:  English: meaning and culture

I do believe that this was the first book I ever received as a blogger. Yes, it is 10 years old. Yes, I am only just writing about it. Yes, I am contrite.

What's kept me from writing about it is that I haven't read it cover to cover. This is very common with me and academic books. I get a sense of the argument, a sense of the contents and then I know where to go when I need more specifics on that kind of content. When I read books for review in academic journals, I do read cover-to-cover (except for reference books, for which I set up a sampling scheme). What's got(ten) Book Week going is that I've relieved myself of the duties of print book reviews. I am freeing myself to say things about books that I'm reasonably familiar with.

English: meaning and culture is by the mind-bogglingly productive Anna Wierzbicka, and like most of her books it uses elements of her particular approach to language, Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM). I'm going to suggest right now that you let your eyes glaze over a bit at the NSM explications (unless you're a super linguist nerd). That to me is not the fun part.

The fun part is watching how Wierzbicka's (I'm just going to type W from now on, please excuse), mind works in shaping an argument--particularly in the wide range of linguistic and cultural evidence she brings to bear on the argument.

Essentially, she takes an opposite position to that of this blog. While I'm here saying "look at how different American and British language/culture are", W is saying "those differences are piddling; the important difference is between how Anglos [her term for English speakers of the "inner circle"] think and how other cultures think. She is, of course, more correct than I am. I'm looking at what's easy to look at--the more similar things are, the more easy it is to specify their differences. She's looking at a much bigger picture, and she (as a Polish immigrant to Australia) has a great outsider-insider vantage point. The book starts with a chapter that's really stayed with me: "Anglo cultural scripts seen through middle-eastern eyes". In it W examines the experience of Abraham Rihbany, a Syrian theologian who immigrated to the US, and discovered how becoming enculturated there affected his ways of perceiving his home culture. Though Rihbany was writing about these things in 1920, the observations are fundamental enough that they ring true today--about the valuing of accuracy in English speech. Accuracy trumps other possible values like positivity or effusiveness, which Rihbany found to be more important in his homeland.

The 'meaning and culture' of this book mostly has to do with how Anglo epistemology--what we count as knowledge and truth and how we use those things--pervades the language and vice versa. The rationalism of Anglo culture, essentially. The desire for accuracy. The need to say I think  or I suppose when we're not 100% sure of something, the belief that the world can be divided (by us) into right and wrong or correct and incorrect, the need to be "reasonable". She shows how many of these concepts don't map exactly to the "equivalents" that are offered in bilingual dictionaries.  These concepts are the kinds of thing that we take so much for granted in our culture that it takes a lot of pointing out--a lot of evidence--for us to get it through our English-thinking heads that this is not a natural way to be. This is a cultural way to be.

A more recent book of W's is called Imprisoned in English: The Hazards of English As a Default Language, which gives the hint that she sees English lingua-francaism as a potential problem. This is the theme of the conclusion of English, and W looks at some case studies of problems for international English. For example, harking back to chapter 5, about the concept of "fairness", W questions whether fair-use copyright laws can be interpreted in the same way in different cultures. Non-"Anglo", i.e.  "outer circle" Englishes--things like Singaporean English or Nigerian English-- are a different matter. Their differences from Anglo English indicate to W that the language had to meet their home cultures part-way. But where English is used as a lingua franca, it's supposed by many to be "neutral", and W is having none of that.

There's just too much in this book to do it full justice here--so order it from your library and see what you think.

The book (like most of W's books) is published by Oxford University Press. Unfortunately, their website is not working well tonight, so I have not been able to link directly to a "buy" page. But I'm sure you're resourceful enough to find it...

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Book week: Women talk more than men & Origins of the specious

Instal(l)ment 2 of me showing off the books people have sent me for (BrE informal) nuffink.  (For the introduction to Book Week, click here.)

Free book 3: 
Women talk more than men...and other myths about language explained

First today it's Cambridge University Press's Women talk more than men...and other myths about language explained (2016) by Abby Kaplan, whom they list as "assistant professor (lecturer) in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Utah". I checked her website to see which was her real title, and it's the same there too, and other people have it at Utah as well (but not all assistant profs do). Is this Utah's way of marking a teaching-only positions? Or are individuals there trying to translate their titles into British? (Why?) {E/i}nquiring minds want to know.

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Ok, that was a tangent about titles, but before I go on to say nice things about this book, I'm going to (BrE) have a go at its title, particularly the "myths about language explained". I don't need the myth just explained, I need it investigated or debunked. And the book actually does all those things, so I do wish the title said so.

Getting past my obsession with titles, this is a very nice textbook. It might also be a good read for people interested in language generally, but the textbook tone and structure might make it less of a beach book than some. Each chapter introduces the 'myth', looks at details and facts, and most provide one or more case studies. There are lots of tables and graphs and an appendix on statistics. The aim is that "the book will encourage you to think of linguistics as an empirical science, one that requires systematic and technical study" (p. 3). Since it doesn't really give the tools to engage in that kind of study oneself, it would best suit a "linguistics for non-majors" elective or a pre-major introductory module.  It might also work well in the UK for something like the English Language A-level (or maybe Psychology? I don't know enough about their curriculum to say). Though, I must say, it will probably work better in the US than in the UK. The stuff on English dialect is about US dialects, including (the grammaticality of) African-American Vernacular English and attitudes toward(s) a variety of US southern accents. (There is a case study related to British Sign Language, though.) It's all good stuff, but not necessarily stuff that UK students have a feel for (says the voice of experience). But though the English in it is mostly American, many other languages are explored in the case studies.

The book covers myths like "a dialect is a collection of mistakes" and "adults can't learn a new language" and "texting makes you illiterate". One it doesn't cover (that other myths books--like this one--do) is anything much about the history of the language and particularly the myths about the relationships between British and American Englishes (and other national Englishes). Which brings us to the next (orig. AmE) freebie...

Free book 4:
Origins of the specious: myths and misconceptions of the English language

This one is more suited to the beach--not written for students, but for people who like to read a bit about language. It's Patricia T. O'Conner (author of the grammar guide Woe is I) and (in smaller print) Stewart Kellerman, who also run the Grammarphobia blog. The authors' note tells us that two people wrote the book, but in one person's (Patricia's) voice. The book was published and sent to me in 2009, and I read the whole thing then, but I'm not going to read the whole thing once more in order to refresh my memory. But I did enjoy it.

Because it's about the English language, rather than Language (some linguists like me use the big L for Language as a phenomenon), the myths covered are more social and historical than the more psychological ones (about chimpanzees and language learning) that Kaplan covers. So, we've got grammar prescriptions, etymology, dirty words, neologisms and so forth. That is to say, the book is rich in things that readers of this blog will enjoy--or that they might already know from reading language blogs. But surely, you'll enjoy reading it again, in a book with a fantastic title?

As far as I can tell, this was released in the US only, and the title of the first chapter might offer a clue as to why: "Stiff Upper Lips: Why can't the British be more like us?"  At the moment Powell's (US) has both the hard and soft covers.

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Book week: Word Drops; But can I start...

A nice thing about having a popular blog is that people send you free stuff. In my case, stuff means 'books'. Some have been sent with no warning (and gratefully received), some come with a query "would you like to receive this and maybe write about it?" and I say "yes, I'd be happy to receive it". (Notice the careful lack of promises on my part.)  I now have a stack of such books that I've been intending to say something about here--some of which I've not had time to read yet, some of which I may never read cover-to-cover.

I had been thinking: I'll just do a really big book post about all of them and get that off my plate. But that's a big job, and so it got put off. My new solution is: I'm going to write about one or two books each day for a week. And I'm not going to say too much about them, because I have a book to write myself. If you know these books, please do add your thoughts on them in the comments!

Where possible, I'll link to US and UK places to buy them (see the captions under the cover photos). Click through and you might figure out that I have opinions about where (not) to buy books. If you are lucky enough to live near an actual independent (more BrE) bookshop/(AmE) bookstore, the bestest thing to do is to order your books there, so that there will continue to be an actual independent bookshop near you.

On with the show! Let's start with the two that are closest (more BrE) to/(more AmE) at hand (because I am preternaturally* lazy).

Free book 1: Word Drops

Paul Anthony Jones tweets (and Facebooks and blogs) as @HaggardHawks ("so-called, I should point out, as haggard was originally a falconer's term describing a wild hawk", p. viii--I'm not sure that explanation explained it completely for me). And if you follow him, you'll know he loves odd facts about words--and odd words. His book, Word drops: a sprinkling of linguistic curiosities, consists of some of his collection. 
UK edition (hard cover): Buy here
The much prettier US edition (trade paper): Buy here

This is a perfect book to leave around the house in a place where you might have a few minutes now and then. Some might suggest a certain small room, but we're all too genteel for that, I'm sure. Put it in the kitchen to read while waiting for the kettle to boil. Or by the phone for reading while you're on hold.

What I really like about it (besides all the fun facts) is the stream-of-consciousness organi{s/z}ation, illustrated in this poorly photographed random page where the definition of ombralgia leads to the etymology of nostalgia, which leads to a word for intense longing for something missing from Portuguese, which leads to the Portuguese etymology of dodo, which leads to a Hawaiian bird, which leads to a fact about Hawaiian phonetics.

Pub quiz masters need this book. And people who want to learn things while waiting for the next available customer service representative. It's a lot of fun--and so are his social media outlets.

Free book 2: But can I start a sentence with "but"?

Hardcover; Order from US
This one was sent to me in thanks for doing an interview for the Chicago Manual of Style's Q&A online newsletter. The subtitle sums it up: "advice from the Chicago Style Q&A".  For those who don't know, The Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS) is one of the most important style guides in American publishing. It's where I turned when writing my PhD (AmE) dissertation/(BrE) thesis and needed to know whether to alphabeti{s/z}e Ferdinand de Saussure under D or S. (The answer is D, but van names don't go under V. It's a cruel and complicated world.)

The book is a set of questions and answers from editors and authors to the Chicago Manual staff, organi{s/z}ed vaguely by theme. Since the questions relate to whatever some person needed on some particular editing job (e.g. "How does one cite a food label?"), it is not going to serve as anyone's go-to style guide itself. But it may be a nice book for the small room of an editor in your life. Make that an American editor in your life--since, for instance, the punctuation recommendations are particularly American.

The answers are written with good sense and good humo(u)r and references to the appropriate section of CMoS. For instance, I've learned that it's only acceptable to combine the punctuation marks ?! in formal writing "only in the event that the author was being physically assaulted while writing" (p. 106).

Well, that first instal(l)ment took longer than expected. Tomorrow, probably one book.

* Checked this word before using it, and I loved the quotation by Douglas Allchin at the preternatural Wikipedia page: "suspended between the mundane and the miraculous". Yes, that's exactly where my laziness is.
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Henny Penny, Chicken Little, Chicken Licken

While writing the other day, I wondered whether it would be widely understood if I used Chicken Little as a metaphor for a certain kind of language peever. It felt right, but I also knew the name Henny Penny (of the main character in the story--see comments for variations), both from my American childhood and from my child's English childhood. Then I got an email informing me that my Survey Monkey subscription had been auto-renewed for the next month. Which is to say, I had failed to notice the note in my (BrE) diary/(AmE) planner on Tuesday that said "UNSUBSCRIBE FROM SURVEY MONKEY". At that point, I decided to get my money's worth from this unintended subscription, and so I devised something called the Famous Chicken Survey. Because I'd read another name, Chicken Licken, on Wikipedia, I threw that into the survey.

(Now I know, with a bit more research that Hen-Len is another name, found for instance in a UK-published version from 1849.  For that and more, see this site, which catalog[ue]s Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 20C folktales.)

156 people from the US (n=80) and UK (n=76) had answered by tonight (and small numbers from other places, not to be analy{s/z}ed here), and 146 of those answered the key question:

So there we have it, Chicken Licken (orange) is BrE, Chicken Little (blue) is AmE.  While there's some Chicken Little in the UK answers, that's only 9 people on that blue bar. They might have been affected by the Disney films by that name (1943 and 2005).

I thought that perhaps Henny Penny was old-fashioned, but it's found across the age groups. That one may just depend on which book you had in your house (or your preschool). I don't have a historical corpus for BrE at home (and I doubt I have a big enough one for this job), but the Corpus of Historical American English has 2 Henny Pennys between 1880 and 1909, and 26 Chicken Littles, so that's clearly not a very new name.

It would not be surprising to find that Chicken Little is a corruption of Chicken Licken, since all of the story's other names rhyme: Cocky-Locky, Goosey-Loosey, etc.  It also would not surprise me if the Little corruption and the alternative Henny Penny arose from a Victorian desire to avoid the association with licking. At least, that's what I'd want to avoid, since Chicken Licken sounds like a (BrE) dodgy (orig. AmE) fast-food joint to me. But that might be because it is a fast-food (orig. AmE) chain in South Africa, where I used to live. Not to mention that the Victorians wouldn't have heard of it.

The Wikipedia page for the South African Chicken Licken funnily enough refers to the Henny Penny Corporation (USA), which supplies equipment to chicken-frying businesses. I can see why these companies wouldn't want little in their names, but they're clearly not worried about associating their businesses with muddle-headed paranoia.

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