Showing posts with label food/cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food/cooking. Show all posts


Hello from the Fifth Conference of the International Society for the Linguistics of English, or #ISLE5, as all the cool kids are tweeting it.  We have an afternoon for touristic activities, but since we're in London, I'm feeling a combination of (orig AmE) 'been there, done that' and 'I could do that any time'. What's not available any time is a bit of quiet to blog. So, yay for everyone else going to Samuel Johnson's House (been there, got the postcards) and for my lovely hotel lounge and wifi. Today's post was started possibly years ago (I've lost track), when Lauren Ackerman asked me about British chilli versus American chili.

I went to my usual first stop: the Oxford English Dictionary. And I am sad to say that the entry for this item has not been fully updated since the first edition in 1889—which is to say, look at those spellings!  (Not blaming them, just sad for my post that they haven't got(ten) to this one yet!)

Yes, chilli is still the BrE spelling for piquant peppers--but giving chilly as the alternative spelling and not the standard AmE chili reads very odd in the 21st century. Chili is acknowledged there as a historical spelling, and is present in the quotation evidence in the entry.  And it's consistently been the more common spelling in the US:

(click to enlarge)

At the conference, I've been at two sessions where someone's called into question the OED tagline, visible at the top of the dictionary screenshot: 'The definitive record of the English language". That's marketing talk, not lexicographical talk, and it's unfortunate. There can be no definitive record of the English language, because there is no definitive English language. It's always varying and changing and you can never know if you've found the first instance of a word or the last one, etc. So here's a little plea (in the form of advice) to the Oxford University Press: If you put most before definitive it would be an accurate tagline. And it would have a marketing-department-friendly superlative in it! Win-win!

As a side-note, there's this little bit of puzzling prescriptivism in the run-on to the entry (i.e. the additional defined items at the end), which seems to have been added later—or at least I'm assuming so, given the AmE spelling (it's hard to tell, though, the link to the previous edition includes none of the run-ons).

I've been trying to figure out what that 'erron.' is referring to. I believe what it's saying is that the "real" meaning of chili pepper is 'pepper tree' and it's an error to use it to refer to chil(l)is, but why does it only have the US spelling? It's not clear to me when this chili pepper was added to the entry, as the link to the 2nd edition does not include all the compounds that are in the run-on entries. But it must be old, as it's not marked as a post-2nd-edition addition.  But it's interesting to see how recent it is to say "chil(l)i pepper":

Anyhow, back to the word itself: it comes ultimately from Nahuatl, with an /l/ sound in the middle. We pronounce it with a 'short i' sound (like in chill). You can see, then why BrE likes the double-L spelling: without a double consonant, it looks like it should have a a different vowel: we say wifi differently than we'd say wiffi; fury versus furry, etc.

So why does AmE have a single L? My educated guess would be because Americans have had more consistent contact with Spanish. When the Spanish went to spell it, they used a single L, because double consonants don't do the same thing in Spanish spelling that they do in English. If you pronounce chilli in Spanish, there's no L sound. (What sound is there depends on your dialect of Spanish, but I learned in my US Spanish classes to pronounce the LL like a 'y' sound.) It stayed Spanish-ish in American, while getting a more English-ish spelling in Britain.

Now, I think that back in the mists of time when Lauren requested a post on chil(l)i, she meant the stew, rather than the fruit. I am not going to wade into the debates about what "real" chil(l)i (con carne) should have. But I will say this: every American I've seen to order the dish in the UK has had a moment of "Whaaaa?" when it was served with rice. Not something we're used to. But nice when you get used to it.

There is another spelling issue here, though. The pepper almost always ends with an i, but the stew sometimes ends with an e. But not much anymore, according to my corpus searches:

And on that note, I'll post this before my battery dies!

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dull and blunt

This item ran as a Twitter Difference of the Day back in September, and I've been meaning since then to explore it a bit more. My thanks to Colin Fine, who pointed out a Canadian tale of 'the customer isn't always right' story, in which the writer consistently used dull where (British) Colin would have used blunt. Since gradable adjectives are my favo(u)rite kind of word ever, I've been thinking about it on and off since.

'The most important tool' by Simeon Berg,
shared under a Creative Commons licen{s/c}e
I hadn't noticed that British folk talk about blunt knives and not dull knives because Americans can talk about blunt knives too. Hearing blunt knife hadn't bothered me (and I hadn't noticed the lack of dull knives), because I hadn't (BrE) twigged that it means something different in the UK than it means to my American mind. It's one of those differences that can easily hide.

In AmE, blunt is generally used to refer to things that aren't pointy (though they might have been). So, if I poke you with a stick, you would be better off if it were a blunt stick, rather than a sharp, pointy one. Using that meaning, an AmE blunt knife would be one without a sharp tip.

That 'not-pointy-sharp' meaning works in BrE too. In BrE, I could poke you with the sharp end of a pencil or its blunt end. (Stay away from me. I'm clearly in a poking mood.)

But BrE also allows for blunt to be the opposite of sharp when referring to an edge, not just an end. So, blunt knife in that case means that the knife is not good for cutting (whether it's good for poking people with is another matter).

AmE uses dull for the edge, and thus has lexicali{s/z}ed (i.e. put into words) the contrast between the 'edge' and 'end' ways that something can be not-sharp. The chart below shows the nouns that are statistically 'more American' (left, green) and 'more British' (right, green) in the GloWBE corpus. (These are not the nouns that are used most with dull, but the ones that are not used in the other country much. See the 'ratio' column for the strength of the noun's 'Americanness' or 'Britishness' in this context.)  (Dull Tool is scoring so high because 12 of the 18 hits are the title of a Fiona Apple song, which goes 'you're more likely to get hurt by a dull tool than a sharp one'.) The 'more BrE' uses of dull have to do with its 'boring' or 'not bright' senses, which exist in AmE too, but perhaps aren't used as much.

In both Englishes, sharp is the opposite of both dull and blunt in their literal 'cutting' senses. So if we talk about a sharp knife in either English (or a blunt knife in BrE), then it's ambiguous as to whether we're talking about the edge or the tip, but context often lets us know. If you're talking about cutting vegetables, the edge is more relevant; if you're talking about poking people, you're probably describing the tip. Where the context is not enough, you'll have to use more words to make it clear—e.g. The tip of that knife is really sharp. AmE doesn't have that ambiguity in the 'not-sharp' end of its vocabulary: the choice of dull or blunt disambiguates it.

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I've done posts on cream and milk and sugar-refining by-products and other kinds of sugar have come up in passing. Now it's flour's turn, thanks to encouragement from my friend Sandra.

I'm just going to do it as a list:

plain flour             all-purpose flour
strong (bread) flour       bread flour
wholemeal whole wheat
[no such thing] cake flour
corn flour cornstarch
corn/maize meal corn flour, corn meal
self-raising flour* self-rising flour*
[no such thing] Wondra (instant flour)
00 flour fine flour

 *Postscript from 2020: @BNW informs me that self-raising and self-rising differ a bit: "It seems like the AE self-rising flour has less baking powder, added salt, and a slightly softer/lower-protein flour.". So substitute with caution.
There's also very strong bread flour, which seems to be extra strong in Canada. I can't find a US equivalent. It has even more gluten/protein than regular bread flour.

Photo: - CC BY-SA 2.0, Link
Because bleaching flour is illegal in UK (see the link across from cake flour above), unbleached flour is mostly an American collocation.

AmE uses pastry flour more than BrE does. Sometimes in BrE that would be 00 flour--but 00 flour can also be more yellowy pasta flour. (I think I may have heard patisserie flour on Great British Bake-Off, but I'm not finding much evidence of it elsewhere.)

If you follow the link at Wondra above, you'll see it's a special kind of flour that's mostly used for making gravies and sauces. One thing to say about British gravies: they are usually considerably less thickened than typical American gravies.

For more on flour and flour (the word), here's a nice international overview

Finally, this isn't a bread post, but I must note a flour-related bread difference. Order breakfast in the UK, and you will (probably) be asked: white or brown? in reference to your toast In the US, you'd be asked white or wheat? (Actually, in both countries you may be given more options. But I"m saving those for a bread post.)

If you ever want a reason to argue that British English is superior, do skip the reasons I've already debunked (maths, herb, etc.) and go with this one. Calling one bread-made-of-wheat wheat in contrast to another bread-made-of-wheat is a bit silly. And chances are: you'll say wheat, they'll hear white and breakfast will be ruined!

Postscript (30 Jan): I've added AmE corn flour (=BrE corn meal or maize meal) to the list. Americans use this to make corn bread and corn muffins (a kind of quick bread). Whenever I make these for my English family, I get to eat the whole batch because they do not appreciate its wonderfulness. The UK increasingly has polenta cakes of various types, offered as gluten-free options. Those are like the consistency of corn bread (a bit less crumbly) but more aggressively sweetened, in my experience, by being drenched in a fruit syrup.

Some notes from the harmless drudge:
As the deadline for my book approaches AND I go back to teaching after a glorious year of writing said book (thanks NEH!!!), you can probably expect that I'll be doing a bit less posting than in 2016. I'll set aside a bit of time per week, but less time than it usually takes me to write a post. So, either they'll be very short posts or a few weeks apart. (Though as I viciously cut [more BrE] bits out of the book, maybe they'll end up as quick posts here.)

I will be on (orig. AmE) radios a bit this spring (UK and NZ plans at the moment). I'll announce these via Twitter and Facebook, as usual, and I'm also noting forthcoming "appearances" on the Events and Media page of the blog. (The radio announcements will go up when broadcast dates are firmer.)
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Grover was off (AmE from) school yesterday (because of a (BrE) dodgy tummy, and we had the following exchange:

G: Is there a fruit called currant?
Me: Yes, there's blackcurrant and redcurrant.
G:  No, but is there any such thing as a currant?
Me: Yes. Black and red.
G:  But is anything called currant?
Me: Yes, black currant and red currant.*

G: But I'm talking about currant.
Me: OK. There are berries called currants. And they come in different types. And one is black and the other is red.
G: Ohhhh. OK.
*I'm not even getting into white currants here, which are from redcurrant bushes. The conversation is confusing enough.

The problem in our conversation became clear to me the fourth time she asked her question. In BrE blackcurrant and redcurrant are compound nouns. Since they're one word, they only have one primary stress (i.e. syllable you emphasi{s/z}e most in speaking). You can hear a compound/non-compound stress difference in She was a greengrocer versus The martian was a green grocer. In our house (among[st] the Englishpeople) it's the first syllable that's stressed in the currant compounds:  BLACKcurrant and REDcurrant. But the pronunciation guides in UK dictionaries tend to give it as blackCURrant'. At any rate, not BLACK CURrant, which is what they'd be as separate words.

So G wasn't necessarily recogni{s/z}ing them as separable words. To her, asking this question was like hearing about (AmE) automobiles and (AmE) bloodmobiles and wanting to know if there are vehicles called mobiles (MO-beelz).

For me, it seemed evident that there must be currants. Of course, I have more life experience than the eight-year-old. And, perhaps relevantly, I came to currants as an American.

Earlier this week, Kathy Flake pointed out an article answering the question "Why does the purple Skittle taste different outside America?" Both of us had wondered (as I'm sure many other transatlantic types have done): why is everything blackcurrant flavo(u)red in the UK, and never grape flavo(u)red? To quote the article:

Most American mouths have never tasted the sweet yet tart tang of the blackcurrant berry. There’s a big reason for that: in the early 20th century, the growing of blackcurrants was banned on a federal level in the U.S. after legislators discovered that the plants, brought over from Europe, had become vectors for a wood-destroying disease known as white pine blister rust.
During the 1960s, the federal ban on the berry was relaxed in favor of state-by-state jurisdiction, and most states now allow it to be grown. But the damage had already been done—the blackcurrant jams, juices, pastries and cakes that are standard throughout Europe are nowhere to be found stateside.
Americans use the Concord grape, developed in the US and used in juices, (AmE) jellies [discussed in the comments in the linked post], grape pies (a local special[i]ty where I'm from), and grape flavo(u)ring. It turns out that these grapes are very susceptible to another plant disease, so it's probably best not to export those either. The main thing the grapes and blackcurrants have in common is that they're purple--necessary if you want people to "taste the rainbow".

So when I moved to the UK, I knew about currants in the way I know about lutefisk. It's something other people eat somewhere else, about which I have only secondhand knowledge. 
Did I know that they came in black and red types? Could I imagine what a fresh one looked or tasted like? I can't remember now what I didn't know then. But the knowledge was vague. I certainly didn't know that the black and red types were represented by joined-up compound nouns. I'd have imagined them more like red grapes and white grapes, where they're separate words. And if they're two separate words, then the stress pattern for saying them may well be less compound-like. But not necessarily. We often don't close up compounds, even when they do follow the compound stress pattern--e.g. ICE cream. But when they are closed, how to pronounce them is less ambiguous.

And I've only just this minute learned that the dried fruit currant is not the same as the currants I've met here (see the Merriam-Webster definition below). I may have to revise my answer to Grover.

So that's what's in currant buns. Seriously, I just thought they used some kind of low-quality currant berries in currant buns. So, my answer to G was not particularly helpful. Yes, there are currants, but in BrE, they're rarely the same thing as blackcurrant

After my day mostly home with Grover, this tweet was thrown my way:
...and the congruence of currant-related events led me to write this post. Why is an American organi{s/z}ation asking a British newspaper for spelling advice? Perhaps because they (very reasonably) don't trust Americans to know anything about currants. But because currants have a different place in the culinary lives of Americans and Brits, they also have different linguistic places.

The closed (i.e. no space) compound noun status of blackcurrant tells you a lot about the centrality of that thing as a thing unto itself in British culture. British English famously (if you count 'famous among a few of my linguist friends' as famous) resists closing compounds more than American does. But when compounds are closed in writing, it signals that they have that compound stress pattern. And when they get that stress pattern, it's a signal that the concept represented by the compound is now a familiar unit in the language.

Side note: John McWhorter has recently done a Lexicon Valley podcast with the title 'Word Sex' ("How words [orig. AmE] hook up and make new ones") in which he looks at how that compound stress works and what it means. I very much recommend it, but British listeners will think he gets the stress wrong on half of his examples. At the end does discuss an AmE/BrE difference.  McWhorter's been doing that podcast since early summer, and he's really made something of it. If you've tried LV before and didn't like it, it's worth trying again.

But back to the A.V. Club's problem. Is there a space or not? In BrE, no. Dictionaries (Oxford, Collins, Chambers) close the compound. The Corpus of Global Web-Based English has 166 UK blackcurrant(s) to only 11 black currant(s).

The American data is a different matter: 16 without the space, 21 with. You can see how little Americans write about the fruit. When they do write about it, they haven't got a firm agreement on how to spell it. Red( )currant is much the same. American dictionaries that have the word (Merriam-Webster and American Heritage) have the space:  have a space in black currant. Webster's New World Dictionary (not a Merriam-Webster product) doesn't even bother to define it--but does have it as two words in the definition for creme de cassis.

Because the American dictionaries give it as two words, they don't bother giving a pronunciation guide--they rely on the pronunciation in black and currant to be enough. The Cambridge dictionary gives different American and British pronunciations (listen here), but I've been burnt before by their American pronunciations. The Oxford Learner's dictionary gives both compound pronunciations (stress on first or second syllable) for both countries (listen here). And all three UK pronouncers on Forvo put the stress on the first syllable (listen here), but no Americans have bothered to offer a pronunciation of it.

So, how do Americans pronounce it? It seems they mostly don't.
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2015 US-to-UK Word of the Year: mac and cheese

And now...the US-to-UK Word of the Year!

Nominated by Rosemary, and supported by Simon K and my spouse, I'm sure this is going to be met with a chorus of "Bah, humbug! I've never heard that" (as was said in the nominations discussion). But these things happen. We are not each the cent{er/re} of the universe, so we don't all experience everything. This one will, however, be known to those who go to trendy foodie pubs--because what the trendy foodie pubs are into at the moment is Americana. There are two near my house that serve (AmE in this sense) barbecue, boasting their own smokehouses. Another now speciali{z/s}es in Buffalo wings (serving them, somewhat incongrously, with hush puppies, which are associated with the cuisine of the American South, not northeastern Buffalo, NY--but I'm sure that any Chinese person looking at a US or UK Chinese restaurant menu sees greater horrors than this). All the other pubs are serving pulled pork, in paninis, in burritos, in soups...  Now that I think of it, I can think of more pubs in my area that are serving American food now than those serving bangers and mash.

And as part of this trend, fancy dishes of pasta with cheese are making it onto menus. This dish has a name in the UK, and that name is macaroni cheese, but when it shows up in these new milieus, served as a side dish or with often other 'gourmet' ingredients, it is increasingly given its slangy American name. And this name is the 2015 US-to-UK Word of the Year:

mac and cheese

Or possibly mac'n'cheese or mac n'cheese, depending on the menu or recipe you're reading. (I'll just use & to stand for all these variations.) The BBC food website uses it for "glam mac and cheese"and the Daily Mail uses it in several articles. (I enjoy mentioning these two for their hypocrisy: they regularly publish items bemoaning the 'Americani{s/z}ation' of BrE.) There seem to be two London catering companies dedicated to variations on the dish. The sandwich-shop chain EAT has it, but its competitor Pret-a-Manger sticks to the traditional macaroni cheese. (Warning: the one called Macaroni Cheese Prosciutto has cauliflower in it!)

Now, it must be mentioned here that the traditional AmE for this dish is macaroni and cheese--mac & cheese is a recent-ish and informal variation. Until this recent invasion of gourmet versions, I would have only used mac & cheese to refer to the kind that comes from a box, particularly the Kraft brand: an orange staple of many American childhoods.

The and-ful AmE and and-less BrE names for the dish seem to have developed independently in the 19th century. The lack of and (or with or any other connector) in the BrE is kind of interesting. One sees it also in  cauliflower cheese, i.e. cauliflower with cheese sauce. It seems to follow the Romance-language structure of identifying the type of sauce after the main ingredient (e.g. spaghetti bolognese, a much-used term in BrE--but one that came into the language much later than macaroni cheese). This may be French influence in the kitchen, but note that it differs from similar French food descriptions, in that cheese is not an adjective. French can't have noun+noun without a preposition to link the nouns--there is no macaroni fromage, it's macaroni au fromage.

So, mac & cheese is a very current import into certain eating cultures of the UK and a good WotY on that criterion. It also arguably displaces a native BrE term, which makes it interesting in another way. It seems that the reason for its import is to make it more exciting--an import from another food culture. Much like when, for a while, we started using pashmina instead of shawl. It's a matter of exotic style.

I can imagine another objection to mac & cheese as Word of the Year. There will be someone who will complain that "it's not a word".  To them I say: it is only "not a word" on the most primitive definition of word--a written stretch of language with no spaces. The problem with that definition is that it is entirely circular: Why is it a word? Because it has no spaces. Why does it have no spaces? Because it is a word. Written language exists to make spoken language more permanent, and sometimes it reflects the linguistic facts better than others. As a linguistic unit, mac & cheese counts as a word because it has a part of speech: it is a noun. If we make it plural, we do so once at the end: I'll have three mac and cheeses. And it refers to a single (though complex) thing--which has more than just macaroni and cheese in it; so it's not just a descriptive phrase, it's the name for a particular kind of dish. But, really, if you're going to complain that this Word of the Year is "not a word", I'd like to direct your energies toward(s) Oxford Dictionaries' Word of the Year--which has no part of speech and can't even be pronounced.

Thus ends the SbaCL WotY activities for 2015! For the UK-to-US WotY, see my previous post.
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Untranslatables Month 2015: the summary

One thing that was particularly rewarding about Untranslatable October this year was that fans started discussing my tweeted offerings in the comments of the blog post that introduced the month.  They've made it clear that at least one of the 'untranslatables' is fairly translatable. Here they are, in the order they were posted on Twitter, with some commentary:

1. BrE marmite: something that people either love or hate, as in ‘Big Brother is television marmite’. After a famous yeast extract spread.

2. AmE redeye: a long-distance overnight airline flight, as in 'I flew to NY on the redeye'. Not all UK dictionaries still mark this as 'North American'. (There's a bit more discussion at the earlier post, where commenters question whether this only applies where there is choice of other times for the flight.)

3. BrE blag: to obtain by trickery/guile, as in 'He blagged a 1st-class ticket'. AmE score is similar, but seems less underhanded. Suggested by @laurelspeth.

4. AmE your mileage may vary: = 'you may have a different experience/opinion'. The abbreviated form YMMV is now known more widely on the internet, but I don't hear it offline and have had to explain it in UK. It comes from the way in which American car manufacturers had to qualify their miles-per-gallon claims in advertisements.

5. BrE plonk: inexpensive (but generally drinkable) wine (i.e. not rotgut). For example, 'you order the pizza and I'll bring the plonk'. Suggested by @AuditorsEditor.

6. AmE to bus (a table): to clear dirty dishes (etc.) from a table at a restaurant. For example, 'please bus your own table'. Also busboy, busgirl: person employed to clear tables at a restaurant/cafe. This is different from 'clear the table' because it can't be used of a table at home. Suggested by @tjathurman

7. BrE horses for courses: means something like 'everyone has different skills, so choose right one for job'.

8. AmE columbusing: explained here. This one may have been premature, since it's a pretty new term, but it is used in circles I belong to.

9. BrE to faff: 'to act unproductively, with elements of dithering and procrastinating'. I find dictionary definitions of this wholly inadequate, and the indecisive element makes it for me rather different from fart around. But there's further discussion at the comments here.

10. AmE leaf-peeping: tourism for the purpose of looking at autumn foliage, done by leaf-peepers.  Suggested by @mwnciod.

11. BrE assessment: collective term (but also sometimes a count noun) for any and all work that contributes to the final mark for a course. That is, exams and/or coursework, considered together.

12. AmE to put in face time: I defined it as 'to make an appearance at social/family event for *just* long enough to meet obligation', but others say they use it for business/networking. The face time is the same, but in my experience the verbs are different--I want to get some face time with people I network with, but I have to put in some face time at a grandnephew's christening. Suggested by @Word_chucker.

13. AmE squirrelly: having a kind of nervous dementedness, hence untrustworthy (pronounced 'skwirly'). Suggested by @tonythorne007.

14. BrE throw a wobbly: This is a bit of a cheat, as it's originally Australian--but it is used liberally in the UK. Means something like 'to lose self-control (in anger or panic)'. I suggested freak out as a close AmE relative, but commenter @niblick_iii felt that 'throwing a wobbly has more connotations of being unnecessary or unreasonable than freaking out' (I'd agree). Also suggested by @tonythorne007.

15. AmE weekend warrior: someone who does an activity (especially a strenuous one) only on the weekend (originally used in relation to weekend military training). Suggested by Simon C.
16. BrE sticky wicket: Simon C (suggester) defines it: ‘tricky situation we can get out of if we really concentrate’. Closest AmE is probably in a pickle, but doesn't have that 'we can get out of it' connotation.

17.  AmE -grader: e.g. '5th grader'. For child of certain school year. In the BrE English and Welsh school system of the moment, there's no word that is different from the word for the year: e.g. the year 5s are going on a field trip. But perhaps not-so-different is -former, still heard in sixth-former, but previously heard with a broader range of 'forms'. See this old post for more on how school years work in the two countries. Suggested by @libraryjamie.

18. AmE klatch or klatsch, particularly coffee klat(s)ch: from German kaffeeklatsch: a group that meets informally for coffee and cake in someone's home. There is a long discussion of whether this is equivalent to BrE coffee morning in the comments at the previously mentioned post. The upshot is: it probably was equivalent in certain settings at one point, but these days coffee morning has a strong whiff of 'charity fundraiser' and may apply to larger events outside the home.  Suggested by @SamAreRandom.

19. BrE boffin: essentially egghead with positive connotations. (See this for more discussion.) Suggested by @n0aaa For copious use of it, see the Mitchell and Webb 'Big Talk' sketches.

20. AmE kibitz: (from Yiddish) 'to give unwanted advice (especially to players of a card game)

21. BrE santa’s grotto: a place where kids visit someone dressed as Santa (usually receiving a small gift). Of course, Americans have Santas in shopping malls, and such, but there you 'go see Santa', there's not a universal name for the nook where Santa sits. As a Twitter commenter noted, Americans (of a certain age) are more likely to associate grotto with Hugh Hefner.

22. BrE gubbins: Its individual senses may be translatable, but taken as a whole, it has so many that no one word will do. Here's Merriam-Webster's Unabridged entry for it:

And that is it! The fifth Untranslatable month finished. I'm collecting as if there will be a sixth, but we'll see...
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Jane Setter recently asked me about noodles. Her take on them was that Americans can call spaghetti noodles and the British can't. My take, as ever, is: it's complicated.

Let's start with the British. In my experience (and, I think, Jane's) noodle in the UK is associated with Asian food. This is indeed what my English (and American, she would tell you) 7-year-old means when she says that her favo(u)rite food is noodles (various types and dishes but especially pad see ew and yaki soba. I've come to reali{z/s}e that on some days I eat nothing that I ate as a child).

Noodle is used for Asian types of noodles and noodle dishes in the US too. But I would suspect that the default understood ethnicity of noodle will vary by the speaker's age, location and ethnicity in the US.

Let's start with me, because that's easy (for me). If someone in my family asked me to go to Wegman's and buy some noodles, I would pick up a bag of these:
And once I got them home they would be used in a dish like this (but less fancy):
...most probably made with a can of Campbell's condensed cream-of-mushroom soup, like our household's other main noodle dish, that perennial Lenten horror, tuna noodle casserole (UK's drier version: tuna pasta bake).

(You don't get condensed soups in the UK, so you don't get condensed soup recipes.) [see comments for more on this]

Now, in my childhood, I would not have called those noodles pasta. I'm grown up now and I've come to tolerate much, so maybe I could bear to now. But to me, as a child, pasta was what you had in Italian food, noodles were what you had in the "less ethnic" dishes. But, of course, the other foods were ethnic too, and I suspect that my default understanding of the word noodle may be more common in the parts of the US that had more northern-European settlement. (I come from a rather Dutch part of New York state, and my parents from the more westerly more German part. The word noodle comes from German Nudel. My hometown also has a lot of Italian-Americans, so maybe that helped the pasta/noodle distinction become meaningful in my mind.)

Now, the OED defines noodle as:
A long stringlike piece of pasta or similar flour paste cooked in liquid and served either in a soup or as an accompaniment to another dish; (more generally in U.S.) any style of pasta. [...]
For me, that's not quite right. In my mind, a noodle is prototypically ribbon-like, rather than string-like. Once I started to get my head (a)round Italian pasta being noodles, I could admit that fettuccine and linguini were noodles, but spaghetti was a more borderline case. I'd not use noodle for macaroni or shells (which in the UK are harder to come by and are often called by the Italian name, conchiglioni).  (By the way, there's discussion of the BrE/AmE difference in the pronunciation of pasta back here.)

My childhood understanding of a pasta/noodle divide seems to be in tune with the National Pasta Association:
According to the standards published by the National Pasta Association, noodles must contain at least 5.5% egg solids by weight. Noodles can be added to soups and casseroles while pasta can be made a complete meal with addition of a few vegetables. Pasta is much lighter and, under Italian law, can only be made with durum wheat. []
Still, I am betting that (a) younger Americans (maybe especially in certain areas) are more likely to have 'Asian'  as the default ethnicity of 'noodle', and (b) ethnicity/region might make a difference for older people. Unfortunately, I can't find any dialect maps for noodle meanings—so what do you say/mean? Would any of you mean 'spaghetti' if you said "We're having noodles for dinner"? Please give an approximation of age and where you're from with your answer.

And then there is spaghetti noodle (the lead character in a series of Hyperbole-and-a-Half cartoons—which has macaroni noodle too). For me, this is a way of getting around the problem of spaghetti having become a mass noun when it was borrowed into English. Actually, I wrote about this in my textbook, so I might as well quote myself at length (with a little extra explanation in red). This is part of an explanation of Anna Wierzbicka's argument that the 'countable' or 'uncountable' grammatical status of a word is not arbitrary:

[...] cultures may differ in how they interact with, and thus conceptualize, the denotata [i.e. things that words refer to].  For example, although people rarely bother to count it, in Italian spaghetti is a plural count noun (1 spaghetto, 2 spaghetti).  In English spaghetti is treated as a mass noun. This is not just because English speakers do not know that spaghetti is a plural; we could very easily add our own plural marking to it to make it a count noun (two spaghettis), but we don’t. It also is not because spaghetti is too small to be counted in English, since noodle, which denotes practically the same thing as spaghetti, is a count noun. Wierzbicka (in a lecture given in the early 1990s) has pointed out that English speakers have a very different relationship to spaghetti than Italians do. First, Italians are more connected to how spaghetti is made — historically it was made at home, where the individual strands would have to be handled. On the other hand, spaghetti generally entered English speakers’ consciousness as something that gets poured out of a box into boiling water — with no need to handle individual pieces.  Second, pasta is eaten differently in Italy and English-speaking countries. Spaghetti in English often refers to a whole dish, which is presented as a mass of pasta beneath an opaque tomato sauce.  In Italy, pasta is traditionally a first course or side dish, where it may be eaten with just a bit of oil and garlic.  In this case, the strands are more perceptible as individuals. Furthermore, some English speakers cut their spaghetti, destroying the integrity of the individual strings, whereas Italians instead wrap the strings around a fork or slurp them up without cutting them.
The way I understand spaghetti noodle is that it's an AmE way of making spaghetti countable. I'd say a piece of spaghetti or three strands of spaghetti. BrE seems to prefer counting spaghetti in strings.  In those cases, we're the counting with a noun that indicates a 'unit of', but spaghetti noodle (and macaroni noodle, if you're so inclined) does the job too, with noodle being a unit of spaghetti. Looking it up in Google Books, there are only spaghetti noodle(s) after the 1960s, and most of the hits are false—having a punctuation mark between spaghetti and noodle(s). This is the earliest instance I found, from 1964, where the emphasis is on the forming of the pasta:
After 1980, there are more examples in recipes. In the Corpus of Contemporary American English (from the 2000s), there are only 8 instances, 5 of them singular as in "Sure enough, a long spaghetti noodle had entangled itself in my reddish-brown hair." 

I'm adding this bit (between the lines) the day after the original post, because I forgot to say these things:

"German"-style noodle dishes are much less common in the UK than they are in the US (which is to say: I've never seen one!), but I also get the feeling that pasta felt 'foreign' more recently in the UK than in the US. Here are some thoughts related to that. 

  1. My English sister-in-law (in about 2003?) made a pasta dinner of some sort for her future (English) mother-in-law, who was in her early 70s. The woman had never had pasta before in her life (and was rather unimpressed). I cannot imagine meeting her American counterpart (i.e. 70s, non-immigrant, suburban) who had never eaten pasta. I tell this story to other English people and they say 'unusual, but certainly not unimaginable'. On a slightly related note, the perceived 'foreignness' of garlic bread seems to sustain Peter Kay's career.
  2. As discussed in the comments, many British people of middle age think of their childhood spaghetti as coming out of a (BrE) tin (and then often served on toast—I try not to judge. I try very hard.). But the other way that people ate spaghetti in the UK in the 70s (and continue to) was spag bol—i.e. spaghetti bolognese—i.e. spaghetti with meat sauce. (In my experience, you can barely see the spaghetti.) Americans in the 70s were probably not a lot less rigid in their spaghetti habits, but our thing was spaghetti with meatballs. But at least we didn't make an ugly name for it. (Oops. Judgy again.) 
  3. Americans, of course, had mass Italian immigration in the 19th century, and there are Italian restaurants there that were started in the 1800s that are still running now. The oldest Italian restaurant in the UK (the internet tells me) was founded in 1922 in Aberdeen—and it might be the first—this market-research history of Italian restaurants has nothing earlier. It might be interesting to know if the Scottish experience of pasta is different from the (southern-)English one, since there's been a good deal of Italian immigration to Scotland.
  4. Even before mass Italian immigration, pasta was not unknown in the US. Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of macaroni (which was treated then as a cover-term for pasta) and had macaroni-making equipment imported from Naples. The dandies of England may have too—the word macaroni was used to make fun of them (thus the macaroni line in Yankee Doodle).
Just in case you want to get even by judging me for failing to not-judge spaghetti on toast, know this: my family eats Kraft macaroni (AmE: and) cheese with (Dad's homemade) strawberry jam on top.  And I'm not going to apologi{z/s}e for that. It's great. (I've no idea how this started. Could there be any link to having a German grandma—sweet noodle dishes? Dan Jurafsky's The Language of Food says that macaroni was originally a sweet almond pasta—but I can't imagine that a 14th century Italian dish affected my family's eating habits.)

Now I'm going to try to leave this post alone and not add any more! 


I suppose I should say something about the other noodle. This is older than the food word and unrelated to it, coming from an old word noddle for 'the back of the head'. This has two meanings that have taken root in different ways in the UK and US.

The first meaning is 'a stupid or silly person'. I don't think I hear that in the US, but I do hear in the UK. (I know a couple of parents who affix noodle to the ends of their children's N-starting names, which seems kind of like calling a William Silly Billy.) 

The second meaning is 'head', as in use your noodle or got hit in the noodle. Cambridge Dictionary lists this meaning as 'US old-fashioned informal', but it has a history in the UK. The first use in the OED is from Tristram Shandy: "
What can have got into that precious noodle of thine?"
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Have been very taken up with marking/grading/marking/grading/marking/grading/marking/grading/marking/grading...yes, it seems interminable to me too. Not finished yet, so just dipping my toe back into Tuesday night blogging with a short one.

Liz B in the UK emailed to ask me how to interpret English cucumber in an American recipe. And I replied with something like (but I've edited it now):
an English cucumber is just the kind you'd buy normally in a British supermarket as 'a cucumber'. They differ from the ones usually sold in the US, which are shorter, thicker- and smoother-skinned, and have bigger seeds.

So, here's what's called a cucumber in the UK and an English cucumber or seedless cucumber or even burpless cucumber in the US:


And here's what's called a cucumber in the US, which I've never seen in Britain so I don't know that it's called anything in the UK:

Before anyone asks, neither of these are BrE courgettes/AmE zucchini, which were discussed back at the Big List of Vegetables.  And if you want to know about pickled cucumbers [if you want to read my RANT about pickled cucumbers], click on those lovely, often misleading words. Oh, and the clipping cuke is an Americanism. We must be very fond of them to give them a nickname.
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2014 US-to-UK Co-Word of the Year: 'bake-off'

As we've already established, this was an indecisive year for me, and I've already announced two Words of the Year, both adjectives:  US-to-UK awesome and UK-to-US dodgy. Of course, many words go back and forth between the two countries each year, and these have been building up usage in their non-native lands for years, but they felt 'of 2014' for various reasons discussed in their posts.

Another word with American origins was bigger than ever in the UK in 2014, and a UK-to-US noun had a very good case made for it for timeliness. So to the adjectives we add the Nouns of the Year. First off, the US to UK:


As in the BBC's:

Before you say "but that's two words", I refer you to the hyphen above.  On every linguistic test, it is one word, a noun. But the British establishment has a higher tolerance than Americans do for what we in the word business call 'open compounds' (as alluded to in this old post).

As Nancy Friedman wrote, when she nominated the word:

The term has been common in the US since at least 1949, when Pillsbury introduced its national Bake-Off contest; it was later adopted [...] as programmer lingo to mean a contest between competing technologies.
She also noted that Collins dictionaries short-listed it as one of their Words of the Year.  Here's what it looks like in the OED (note the hyphen!):

The cook-off to which the entry refers is an earlier Americanism (dating to 1936), and that entry refers to play-off as another American inspiration for nouns ending in off. Play-off derived from the phrasal verb play off (as in They played off for the championship), but bake-off and cook-off look like they were formed as nouns first, on ([BrE] an) analogy with the noun play-off.

But (I hear you muttering) the Great British Bake Off had its fifth television (AmE) season/(BrE) series in 2014, so why make it a Word of the Year now? I'll quote Wikipedia on its ratings:

The series started with its highest ratings for its opening episode after its move to BBC One, with over 7 million tuning in according to overnight figures.[40] This is adjusted to 8.5 million for its 7-day final viewing figure, making this its second most-watched episode after previous year's final.[41] In the fourth episode, 8.1 million watched the original broadcast,[42] but the "sabotage" controversy gained the show a further 2 million viewers on the BBC iPlayer catch-up service, giving the show the biggest ever audience with 10.248 million viewers for the episode.[43][44] The final of the show gained an overnight viewing figure of 12.29 million, then the highest viewing figure for a non-sporting event of the year on UK TV.[45] Series 5 had a consolidated average of 10,039,400 viewers.
The controversy mentioned above was also known as "bingate" (mixing the BrE bin with the orig. AmE -gate suffix) involved a contestant getting fed up with his Baked Alaska and throwing it away, then showing the judges the (BrE) rubbish bin when asked to display his work. It was alleged that another contestant had moved his ice cream from the freezer to make room for her own.

It was all over the papers. I liked this review of the phenomenon from Stuart Heritage in the Guardian:
Pity the historians of the future. They’re the ones who will have to put the hysteria surrounding last week’s episode of The Great British Bake Off into some kind of context. And that’ll be much harder than it sounds, because the main trajectory of the news this summer has basically been: horror, horror, misery, horror, misery, man putting a pudding in a bin, misery.

“Why did everyone lose their minds about a man putting a pudding in a bin?” they’ll wonder. “Why, with everything else going on in the world, did that make the Sun’s front page? Why did the Guardian devote 11 separate news stories to it? It was just a man putting a pudding in a bin”. Finally, exasperated at their ridiculous ancestors and exhausted from trying to figure out what the hell a “bincident” is, they’ll give up, cut their losses and simply torch the archives. It’ll be the Library of Alexandria all over again.
The irony of the Americanism in a "Great British" institution is not something that's regularly pointed out, but it's becoming a great British tradition too: note the Americanism in BBC's The Great British Sewing Bee.

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The fourth 'Untranslatables' month summary

This was the fourth year that I declared October Untranslatables Month on my Twitter feed. (Here's 2011 , 2012, and 2013.) Instead of offering a 'Difference of the Day', I offered an 'Untranslatable of the Day' every weekday.  Last year, I swore that I wasn't going to do it again. In part I doubted that I could find another month's worth, but also in part, I was tired out from people arguing with me online about elements of the project. You can probably guess their complaints from the defensive bullet points that appear below. 

About my Untranslatables:
  • I'm only talking about the relationship between British and American English here (as is my theme). These expressions may well have equivalents in other languages or dialects.  
  • By Untranslatable I mean that there is no lexicali{z/s}ed equivalent in the other dialect. And by lexicali{z/s}ed I mean that the expression is a word or an idiom--something that language users learn through hearing others say it, rather than something that has been made up anew.
    One can translate things by making up new sentences or phrases that describe the same thing, sure. But it's special when a language has lexicali{z/s}ed an  expression for something--it tells us something about the culture that invented and uses that expression.
  • Many of these have started to be borrowed between the dialects--and that's natural. If it's a useful expression and the other dialect doesn't have it, it's a prime candidate for international migration.
  • If you have not heard of the word before (even though I've said it comes from your country), this is not cause for complaint. It is cause for celebration that you have this opportunity to enrich your vocabulary! 
That all said, I wasn't given much of a hard time this year. And I certainly was not subject to abusive rants, as happened for a while last year. (Phew.)

My rules for choosing the untranslatables are:
  • They can't repeat items from the previous Untranslatables Months.
  • It should be the expression that's missing from the other country, rather than the thing. So, for instance Page 3 Girl was suggested, but there is no American newspaper that puts topless young women on page three every day (thank goodness). There's no word for it in the US only because there's nothing for it to refer to in the US, so it doesn't belong in this particular list.
  • I try to alternate American and British expressions (but that doesn't always work out).

With the words below, I've given the content of the Untranslatable of the Day tweet, expanded and re-formatted from the necessary abbreviations of 140 characters. If I've discussed the expressions before on this blog, I provide links to those posts. I also include here the links I provided with the tweets and I try to give credit to those who suggested them as untranslatables. Here we go.

  • BrE snug: a small, comfy room in a pub. Occasionally  extended to other comfy personal (orig. ScotE) hidey-holes. Here's a Wikipedia description. [I learned this during the year while reading an article that I now can't find. I had to look the word up, and then spent the rest of the year waiting for untranslatables month to come round again.]
  • AmE to jaywalk: to cross the street/road against the light or where there's no crossing. Thanks to @SimonKoppel for the suggestion. As I noted in a later tweet, this word is known by many in the UK, but generally only used to refer to people doing it in the US. Some British twitterers objected that this couldn't count because the thing doesn't exist in the UK. They were under the impression that one cannot jaywalk in the UK because it's not illegal to cross in the middle of the (orig. AmE) block here.  But notice that there's nothing about legality in the definition I've given. I grew up in a place where (I was told, I've never actually checked) jaywalking wasn't illegal. But we still called it jaywalking. (Remember: laws--including many traffic laws--vary by state in the US.)
  • BrE Billy No-Mates: a friendless person. Here's a history of the phrase. (Can't find who suggested it, but thanks!) Several people sent variations on this like Johnny No-mates, Norma No-Mates and Norman No-Mates, but Billy seems to be the original (and the one I hear most--the others may be a bit more spread around the anglophone world).
  • AmE backwash: saliva/mouth contents that go back into a bottle that's been swigged from. (Urban Dictionary's take on it.) Several Brits told me they knew this from childhood, but it's still not (in my experience) widespread in the UK. Of course, the word-form is used in both dialects for other kinds of washing-back in rivers and plumbing.
  • BrE garden(ing) leave: Explained in this old post.  Thanks again to @SimonKoppel.
  • BrE to plump for: to choose suddenly after much dithering. Thanks for the suggestion to @rwmg.
  • AmE will call: [of tickets] to be collected at the box office. Wikipedia says COBO ('care of box office') is the BrE equivalent, but it's not in general use. In a US theat{er/re} you might have to go to the will-call desk/counter/box office to get the tickets. COBO isn't used like that. Yet another one suggested by @SimonKoppel. I might have to put him in charge of Untranslatables month next October.
  • BrE to decant: to transfer people temporarily to another location. See sense 1.1 in Oxford Dictionaries Online. Thanks to Diane Benjamin for this suggestion.
  • AmE to stop on a dime: to come to a halt quickly and neatly in exactly the right spot. Many complained that this has a BrE equivalent in stop on a sixpence. Fair enough. Though I will note that turn on a sixpence seems to be more common than stop on...
  • BrE three-line whip: Party instruction to Members of Parliament that they must vote with the party on some matter. (Here's more explanation from a Stack Exchange.) There is a question here whether it should count: is there an equivalent three-level structure of whips in the US? Well, there could be, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. Thanks to @JanetNorCal for the suggestion.
  • AmE loaded for bear: well prepared (and probably eager) for a forthcoming confrontation. Thanks to @sethadelman for the suggestion.
  • BrE gazunder: [for a buyer] to reduce an agreed-upon price for a house/property just prior to signing contract.  Here's Word Spy on it.  
  • BrE gazump. To obtain a property by offering more for it than an already-accepted offer. Here's Oxford Dictionaries Online on it.
  • AmE layaway (= AusE lay-by). Instal(l)ment purchasing, where the item's not received until it's paid off. There was some discussion about whether this should count because it's unclear that the equivalent exists in the UK. British hire-purchase is the equivalent of AmE rent-to-own or rental-purchase, in which case you take the thing home and make payments on it. I allowed it because I think one could argue that certain Christmas schemes in the UK (like this one) are kind of like layaway. Thanks to @smylers2 for the suggestion.
  • BrE U and non-U: (Non)-upper class, with particular reference to words that "should" or "shouldn't" be used. Here's the Wikipedia article on it. And here are places where the distinction has been mentioned on this blog.
  • AmE charley horse. A cramp in the leg. Here is Merriam-Webster's definition. Thanks to @meringutan for the suggestion. There were some suggestions for British-dialectal equivalents of this. Hard to tell if they're really equivalent. You can discuss amongst yourselves in the comments.
  • BrE WAGs: wives and/or girlfriends of (BrE) footballers as a type of celebrity. Discussed on this blog here. Thanks to @meringutan.
  • AmE snow day: a day when schools and businesses are closed due to snow. (Longman definition). Sometimes heard in UK now, but no local lexical equivalent. Thanks for the suggestion, @laurelspeth.
  • BrE chav. This is a word for a stereotyped type of person. Here's Wikipedia's take on it. Suggested by @kearsycormier (thanks!). This one I was most uneasy about including, because I think it is the case of it being more the referent (in this case people rather than things) rather than the word that the US lacks. It's all about the UK social class system, which operates in different ways, with different emblems, than the US class system.  Many years ago I wrote about an attempt to import chav to the US. It hasn't worked.
  • AmE family-style: adjective or adverb describing the serving of food at restaurant in dishes that are to be passed (a)round and taken from, like at home. (Oxford's definition)
  • BrE scrumping: stealing apples from an orchard. Thanks to @beardynoise for the suggestion.
  • AmE palimony: (humorous) alimony-style payments made after the break-up of a non-marital relationship. 
  • BrE dodgy: with its many shades of meaning, it's hard to think of an exact equivalent: Here's Oxford Dictionaries Online on it. Once one learns this word, it soon becomes a necessary part of one's vocabulary, so it's not surprising that there are US sightings of it. Thanks to  @tonythorne007 for the suggestion.
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Typically, as we've discussed before, two-syllable words from French are stressed on their first syllable in BrE and on the second in AmE -- BALlet versus balLET, BAton versus baTON, etc. (Please see and comment on the linked post if that's the issue you're interested in.)

photo from:

This led me to wonder about shallot because it looks like a French borrowing (so many food words are), but the stress pattern is makes it look like it isn't:  BrE shalLOT versus AmE SHALlot or shalLOT. (You can hear them both in an American accent here.)  American dictionaries tend to list the second-syllable stress version first--apparently considering that as most "correct". But I've always said SHALlot and can't recall hearing an American say shalLOT. For example, here's video of an American editor at a cooking magazine saying it the way I say it. (American and British vowel qualities in the word differ in predictable ways: we are firmly divided by the 'lot' vowel--or vowels, taking into account the variety found. Here I'm just going to focus on the stress pattern.)

So why doesn't it follow the two-syllable French-borrowing pattern? Probably because it's not a two-syllable French word. The French eschalotte has lost its first vowel in its journey into contemporary English.

Eschalotte was borrowed into English with the e at the beginning (at least in writing), though it lost the one at the end. The OED has citations for eschalot(t) in English from 1707 into the 19th century. But was that first e ever pronounced? One of the OED's citations is from Johnson's dictionary:

1755   Johnson Dict. Eng. Lang.,   Eschalot. Pronounced shallot.
The citations for shal(l)ot go earlier than those for the more French-looking version--back to 1664, making it look even more like that first e has been ignored from the (AmE) get-go.

Nevertheless, English seems to have some kind of sense-memory that we shouldn't treat it like ballet or beret or other French two-syllable words, because it isn't one. Nevertheless I see it and my reptilian high-school brain wants me to say 'shalLO' because that -ot reminds me of things like escargot and Margot.

The OED gets a bit judg(e)mental about the spelling:
The spelling shallot, though inferior to shalot because it suggests a wrong pronunciation, is now the more common.
Now, if they want me to come down hard on the 'lot' (as I know they do), I don't really understand that comment. Perhaps they mean that people might say SHALL-ot because they see shall in it. Well, that is what Americans do, but I can't imagine that we'd pronounce it like the dictionaries (and the British) tell us to if it had only one 'l'. I see shalot and I want to say it like chalet with an o.

If you're an American who says shalLOT, let us know--and please tell us where you got it from (i.e. what part of the country you learn{ed/t} the word in, or whether you've been influenced by BrE).

Meanwhile, I'm taking comfort in the fact that eschalotte shares history with (mostly AmE) scallion, since when I want a shallot I usually have to take a few moments to remember that scallion isn't the word for it.

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