Showing posts with label games. Show all posts
Showing posts with label games. Show all posts


I'm embarrassed by how much television I've been watching lately. On further reflection, perhaps that's not true--maybe I'm just embarrassed by how much television I've found myself admitting to watching. But it does raise lots of bloggable issues, so here I go again with the admitting.

Better Half came home tonight to find me watching The Big Bang Theory with a sleeping baby on my lap. (My excuse: I was stuck--I couldn't very well disturb the baby, who hates to nap and so must be tricked into doing it on my lap. So, nothing to do but power up the remote control.) In this episode, the boys are preparing for the "Physics Bowl". When they started practi{c/s}ing for the Bowl with physics quiz questions, BH said, "Oh, that's what they're doing! I couldn't figure out why physicists would get so excited about bowling!"

The AmE bowl in Physics Bowl is the same as the more general College Bowl--a contest between (usually) students in which they answer (usually) academic questions. The UK equivalent to the College Bowl is University Challenge, a television program(me) in which students from different universities (or colleges within the Oxbridge/London universities) compete on television. (Perhaps some Americans will have seen this in the book/film Starter for Ten--if it was released over there...) University Challenge was based on the College Bowl, but it has overtaken its ancestor in terms of popularity. The College Bowl was televised in the US from the 1950s until 1970, but University Challenge is a television institution that's still very popular today. My own bowl experience was to be in the History Bowl when I was in the 8th grade. In that case, it was a county-wide competition for which I had to learn much more than I ever wanted to know about the Erie Canal. (I stayed home on the day of the final, insisting that I was [AmE-preferred] sick/[BrE-preferred] ill, but I think my mother was right in insisting that it was just butterflies. Oh, the regret.)

I'm fairly certain that the name of these kinds of contests (which hasn't made it into the OED or American Heritage) is derived from the use of bowl to refer to certain post-season football (=BrE American football) games, such as the Rose Bowl, which are played between (AmE) college (= BrE university) teams. (Plus the Super Bowl, which is played between professional teams.) They are so-called because of the bowl shape of the stadiums (or stadia, if you prefer--the spellchecker doesn't) in which they were first played.

The kind of bowl(ing) that Better Half was imagining is generally called bowling in AmE, but ten-pin bowling in BrE. (In AmE bowling can also refer to variants like candlepin bowling. You can look these things up if you'd like to know the difference! The social class implications of bowling in America are noted in the comments of a recent post.) This distinguishes it from the game more traditionally played in England, (lawn) bowls, which is closely related to the continental games boules/pétanque and bocce (which is the more familiar game in America, thanks to Italian immigrants). Another kind of bowling found in the UK (more than the US), particularly in the Southwest, is skittles, the game from which modern indoor bowling is derived. This provides me with an excuse to post one of my photos of the Children's Parade in the Brighton Festival. This year the theme was favo(u)rite games, and one school chose skittles. (It's not the best photo I took, but I've suddenly had qualms about posting a photo of other people's children.) In the US, I imagine most people would associate skittles with a (AmE) candy/(BrE) sweet.

(...which compels an anecdote. I was at a party in Waco, Texas once and met a man who told me he was in Research and Development at M&M/Mars, one of the bigger employers in town. I asked what he'd developed. His wife proudly put her arm in his and beamed, "He invented Skittles!" As you can see, one meets Very Important People in Waco. And I should join Anecdoters Anonymous.)

The verb to bowl is used to describe what one does with the projectile in all of these games, but is also used to describe how the ball is delivered (or not) to the bat in cricket--and hence the person who does that delivering is the bowler. The closest thing in popular American sports is the pitcher, who pitches a baseball.

Going further afield, another bowl that differs is found in the (AmE) bathroom/(BrE informal) loo. While AmE speakers clean the toilet bowl, BrE speakers stick their brushes into the toilet's pan. I'm not absolutely sure that BrE speakers don't also use bowl in this sense (do you?), but it jars whenever I hear people speak about the toilet pan, as it makes me imagine something very shallow.

Those are the bowl differences I've noticed myself, although the OED also gives a special Scottish English sense: a marble. Their only example is from 1826, so you Scots will have to tell us whether it's current!
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chinese whispers and telephone

Cathy wrote the other day to ask:
I've been watching "The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard" on Masterpiece Theatre in the US. [...] I noticed an interesting phrase Mrs. Pritchard used, "Chinese whispers." I thought at first she meant what Americans mean when we say children are playing telephone or whisper down the lane. Then I thought, in the context it was used in, that it wouldn't be appropriate to suggest the person was playing a child's game. Mrs. Pritchard's right hand man (I can't remember his title) has passed on a bit of gossip that was passed on through several people. Any thoughts?
Coincidentally, the night before, Better Half and I had been watching the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in which Larry David (surprise, surprise) makes a faux pas in playing telephone at a party, and BH asked, 'That's Chinese whispers, right?' Chinese whispers and the telephone game are indeed names for the same game in BrE and AmE, respectively. (And this came up once before in the comments for a previous post.)

What has thrown Cathy off is the fact that Chinese whispers is much more likely to be used in an extended or metaphorical way than this sense of telephone is. This is probably not too surprising, since telephone has other senses that would make the metaphor less clear. The OED lists Russian scandal as having the same two senses as Chinese whispers (though I've only ever heard the latter):
(a) a game in which a whispered message, after being passed from player to player, is contrasted in its original and final versions; (b) gossip inaccurately transmitted
People disagree about whether Chinese whispers should be avoided due to racist connotations. It makes me a little uncomfy, but then I don't find myself needing to say it very often, so I don't worry about it too much. It also reminds me of an AmE term (at least I've not found a BrE speaker who knows it yet---but I haven't asked that many) for another silly pastime with an ethnically (BrE) dodgy name: the Chinese fire drill. Wikipedia describes it as:
A Chinese fire drill is a prank, or perhaps an expression of high spirits, that was popular in the United States during the 1960s. It is performed when a car is stopped at a red traffic light, at which point all of the car's occupants get out, run around the car, and return to their own (or go to other) seats. Chinese fire drills are sometimes executed when one needs to get something from the trunk of a car. Occasionally, if one of the participants is late to get inside the car, the others might drive off without him/her. People have reported this phenomenon as early as the 1940s, so it is possible that the phrase was current at the time, but simply was not written down that early.

The term is also used as a figure of speech to mean any large, ineffective, and chaotic exercise.
When I was a child (a bit later than the dates in the Wikipedia article), the driver never got involved--because the driver was Mom or Dad. But we'd try our luck and yell "Chinese fire drill!" and judge how much trouble we were going to get into for trying to do it before opening the car doors. It always sounded like a marvelous idea to my young mind, but I don't know that we ever executed a true Chinese fire drill.
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autumnal holidays

So far, Bonfire Night has only come up in the comments on another post on this blog. But thinking about it (for it is tonight) has me thinking about all sorts of differences in my experience of autumn (or, more often in AmE, fall) in the US and UK. Forgive me, but this post will be lighter on linguistic gore than most, and heavier on nostalgia and maybe even a touch of homesickness (not something I think of myself as suffering from!).

Autumn/fall was always my favo(u)rite season in the US, but in the UK, I tend to face it with a certain "Oh god, it's going to get dark early" kind of dread. It doesn't help that the UK goes off British Summer Time a week earlier than the US goes off Daylight Savings Time, but the greater problem is that this time of year there is less light up here at +50° latitude than there was at +43°, where I grew up, or +31° or -26°, the last two places I lived. By the time we get to mid-December, when it's invariably overcast in Brighton, it seems to me like the day never gets all the way to proper daytime light levels. Today there are 37 fewer minutes of light in Brighton than in my hometown, and by winter solstice, that difference will be more than an hour--or two hours if I compare it to my last abode.

But it's not just the dark that does me in, it's the relative lack of distractions from the dark. American autumns/falls, especially in the northeast where I'm from, are chock-full of them. Of course, there are the back-to-school rituals (found in the UK too), and Lynneukah, the joyous festival of Lynne (at the start of October--it's not too early to start planning for next year). But after those, we get into the serious autumn rituals.

Watching the changing colo(u)rs of leaves is a big one--so much so that in New England there's a word for tourists/leisurely drivers who arrive in hordes to look at the trees: leaf-peepers. Here's a nice photo of what they go looking for. Where I come from, foliage observation is tied up with other rituals, like going to apple orchards for fresh cider (which in AmE is a rusty-colo(u)red, pressed apple juice, not a fermented drink), hayrides (AmE: 'a pleasure ride in a hay-wagon', OED), bonfires--and, my favo(u)rite, apple cider doughnuts. Bonfires and hayrides are often part of other autumn/fall rituals, such as Homecoming (for which, see Janna's comment describing Homecoming in the previous post on proms).

Then there's Halloween, which has roots going back to Scotland and Ireland (particularly the Scottish tradition of guising), but whose modern form is a recent import from the US to the UK--and a poorly understood import, I'd say. Boy, do people complain about it here. There's a common perception of trick-or-treating as "as a nuisance or even a menacing form of begging" (Wikipedia). After reading this anti-Halloween diatribe on the BBC website, I was relieved to read one British expat in Canada's take on it in the comments:
I moved to Canada from Britain in the mid 90s, and at first, treated trick-or-treating with a healthy suspicion. However, I soon realized, that in my neck of the woods at least, Halloween is more about fun than menace; it's about the treat rather than the trick. In our neighbourhood, it's mainly young kids who come trick-or-treating with their parents. We also get a few older teens who come by, almost self-deprecatingly, and we always compliment them on their costumes, or berate them gently for their lack of effort, but fill their bags nonetheless. No menaces, no threats. I was back in England last Hallowe'en and was surprised to see and hear the healthy antagonism there was against trick or treaters. Friends and family all had signs in their windows, weren't planning to answer the door, couldn't understand why my seven year-old wanted to dress up and go out after dark with a bag looking for treats. I think in England, what has happened is that the message has been lost in translation, and over the years the idea of treat has [been?] supplanted [by?] that of trick. Maybe you should all come over here and go trick-or-treating with my little ones tonight - then you'd have a better understanding of how it *should* work!
Anne, Vancouver, Canada
In other words, in North America, Halloween tends to be a child-cent(e)red event that brings people in a neighbo(u)rhood together in celebration of their children. A couple of differences I've noticed in trick-or-treating here (besides the fact that there's just a lot less of it) are (a) a lot of people give coins instead of (AmE) candy/(BrE) sweets, and (b) adults seem more 'purist' about costumes. I've heard a couple of people complain that a child was dressed as a fairy or a superhero, implying that that is not a Halloween costume. But by the time that the traditions were being (re)imported from the US, few people in the US saw anything wrong with dressing as whatever you liked. Thinking back on my Halloween costumes, I'd been a fortuneteller, a magnet, and a bride--never anything particularly scary. So, (a) contributes to people seeing the holiday as extortionate and (b) contributes to a more sinister (it's all about evil!) view of it than is typically held in the US.

After Halloween, American attention turns to Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November). While there is the position that this holiday is politically/racially insensitive (since it celebrates the saving of European immigrants' asses/arses by Native Americans, many of whom were subsequently subject to genocide), it has a lot going for it too. Bill Bryson writes about it as 'The Best American Holiday' in I'm a Stranger Here Myself:
Thanksgiving is wonderful for all kinds of reasons. To begin with, it has the commendable effect of staving off Christmas. Whereas in in Britain the Christmas shopping season seems nowadays to kick off around about the August bank holiday, Christmas mania doesn't traditionally begin in America until the last weekend in November.
Indeed, the Christmas decorations have been up (not lit, but still...) in Brighton for several weeks now. There have been Christmas cards, Christmas decorations, and most weirdly Christmas food in the shops since September. You get a little of that in the US, but the onslaught is staved off by the retailers' need to keep part of their shelf space free for Halloween and Thanksgiving (BrE) tat (=junk). The reputed busiest shopping day of the American year (at least in terms of traffic, if not sales) is the day after Thanksgiving, known in the retailing world as Black Friday. Thanksgiving gives us a clear sense of when the (commercial) Christmas season begins--at a time that isn't too far away from when Advent begins.

Bryson continues:
Moreover, Thanksgiving remains a pure holiday, largely unsullied by commercialization. It involves no greeting cards, no trees to trim, no perplexed hunt through drawers and cupboards for decorations. I love the fact that at Thanksgiving all you do is sit at a table and try to get your stomach into the approximate shape of a beach ball and then go and watch a game of football on TV. This is my kind of holiday.

But perhaps the nicest, certainly the noblest, aspect of Thanksgiving is that it gives you a formal, official occasion to give thanks for all those things for which you should be grateful. I think this is a wonderful idea, and I can't believe that it hasn't been picked up by more countries.
(Though we should note that many churches have a Thanksgiving Sunday--but that's not typically an occasion when families travel to be together and do all of the other things that go along with American Thanksgiving.)

So those, plus a few things here and there like Veteran's Day (= UK Remembrance Day), the World Series in baseball and the (American) football season (and its many accout{er/re}ments, like tailgating) are some of the rituals that mark autumn/fall in (particularly north-eastern) America and distract us from the fact that the sun is going bye-bye and it's getting cold. We can still think of the weather as being crisp while we're enjoying ourselves with apple cider doughnuts and jumping in piles of leaves.

What do we have in the UK? One childhood autumn tradition is the playing of conkers. This is a game involving horse chestnuts on strings, where you try to knock each other's chestnuts, or conkers. (For a better explanation, click on the link.) More boys seem to play this than girls, and it can involve a lot of forethought, with dedicated players searching long and hard for the best conkers and then making them harder by, for instance soaking them in vinegar and baking them. This tradition may be dying out, with rumo(u)rs of schools banning the game for health and safety reasons. (I had to make that bold, since Health and Safety is such a BrE phrase/obsession. I suppose the AmE equivalent would be liability.)

Besides the half-hearted observance of Halloween, the main autumn ritual in the UK is Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night. (Remember, remember the fifth of November.) This marks the failure of the Gunpowder Plot, an attempt by a group of Catholics to blow up Parliament in 1605. Depending on where/who you are in the UK, this may be a bigger or smaller event. In nearby Lewes, it's huge--due to Lewes' history as a site of Protestant martyrdom. Here's a photo of a Lewes Bonfire Night from that is bound to be a bit disturbing to Americans, since it looks like a Ku Klux Klan rally. In fact, Bonfire Night is not known for its political, religious or racial sensitivity. I have practi{c/s}ing Catholic friends who have been offended that I've gone and enjoyed the Lewes festivities since they involve the burning of effigies (Guy Fawkes, traditionally, but they'll burn anyone in Lewes) and throwing bangers (little fireworks) at someone dressed as the/a Pope--albeit nowadays a pope in fireproof clothing and safety goggles. (It's never clear to me whether it's supposed to be the current Pope or the one from 1605.) It also involves a parade that I've described before as something like "Mardi Gras with fire". Lewes has a number of bonfire societies, which can be likened to the krewes of New Orleans Mardi Gras, and each parades around town in themed costumes (not that the themes have to have anything to do with the Gunpowder Plot--some perennial favo(u)rites are stereotyped Native American dress, African 'tribespeople' and smugglers). After parading around town a few times, they lead crowds to their bonfire site, where there is a huge bonfire and the burning of their effigy. The effigy is usually filled with fireworks, and the fireworks shows that follow are always incredible. (So are the crowds.)

Of course, not everywhere is near Lewes or other big Bonfire Night towns, and so most people will celebrate Bonfire night on a smaller scale (if at all), either by going to municipal fireworks or by buying/lighting one's own in the back (BrE) garden/(AmE) yard. (Our window wells were full of spent fireworks Saturday night. Coming from a place where mere citizens are not allowed to have fireworks, I never cease to be surprised by how willing people are to light them close to buildings/people. My friend the Postman's bonfire party this year ended with broken windows and a trip to the hospital.) While I love the fireworks, to me Bonfire Night is a night out to look at fire more than a holiday, since it doesn't involve the kind of planning and preparation (at least not by me) that Halloween (costume-wise) and Thanksgiving (food/hosting-wise) do. But I'm sure for some people, like the Lewes Bonfire Societies, it feels like much more.

So--what British autumn rituals am I missing here? Help me out--I've got a lot of darkness to get through!
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on/in the playground

(December 2010 updates in red)

Once upon a time, Grant Barrett forwarded to me the following item from issue 343 (29 March 2007) of Popbitch:
Confessions of an 80s pop fan
ishouldhaveknownbetter writes:
"I met Simon Le Bon at a house party. Everyone was playing it really cool so when he came to say goodbye I just exchanged air kisses, but then as he turned away for some reason I blurted out, 'Simon, I just want you to know that when I was younger I had a whole wall covered in posters of you at jaunty angles'. He went quiet. So I continued, 'And once I had a dream that you and Roger Taylor came to call for me on horses and then we all went out and played on the climbing frames.'
He left the party immediately."
Grant thought a girl [*ahem*] of my generation would appreciate the Duran Duran reference (I never actually bought any of their albums, but did bother to have an opinion on which was the [orig. AmE] dreamiest). He also pointed out the non-Americanness of climbing frame, which he ably figured out is equivalent to (orig. AmE) monkey bars and/or (orig. AmE) jungle gym. Monkey bars is used in the UK now too, and in both dialects it can refer specifically to a contraption like the one below, from US company ChildLife, with a ladder-like structure several feet above the ground.

But in both dialects monkey bars is also used more loosely sometimes to refer to any kind of structure built for children to climb on--i.e. a climbing frame/jungle gym.

Most of the other amusements on a playground have the same names in both dialects, although swing set, to refer to the apparatus involving swings and the frame that they're suspended from, seems to be more popular AmE. Better Half says he'd just call the whole apparatus swings [although the OED does not mark swing set as AmE--see comments]. See-saws are see-saws, but teeter-totter is a dialectal AmE word for the same thing. (I grew up with both terms.)

And those round things that one kid pushes (a)round and (a)round while the kids on it get sick--well, as a child in New York State we called these things merry-go-rounds or roundabouts, but the American Heritage tells me that roundabout in this meaning is 'chiefly' BrE. As a child, I preferred roundabout, because I liked to reserve merry-go-round for the kind of powered thing with horses, also known as a carousel. (Let's ignore the traffic-related meaning of roundabout. That deserves its own post.) Oxford dictionaries like to claim that carousel is spelt carrousel in AmE ('frequently' in OED2, but simply presented as the AmE spelling in my [admittedly out-of-date] Concise). I don't recall seeing it spelt that way anywhere but in an Oxford Dictionary--and, now that I've looked, in the American Heritage, which lists it as an alternative spelling, but not the predominant spelling. The OED also says that attributive use (i.e. placed in front of another noun, to modify it) of carousel, as in carousel music, is chiefly AmE. Nevertheless, their most recent (2007) addition to the carousel entry in the OED On-line is BrE carousel fraud (a kind of scam to reclaim [BrE] VAT/[AmE] sales tax)--indicating that BrE speakers use it attributively too.

Going through my mental playground inventory, the only other dialectal difference that I can think of is AmE sandbox versus BrE sand-pit. But I suppose that this is as good a place as any to mention BrE bouncy castle versus (in my day) AmE moonwalk (or today) bounce house, even though they're generally not found on playgrounds everyday. The naming difference reflects the different ways in which these things are decorated and marketed. The bouncy castle is a big inflated thing that is usually shaped like a castle. Moonwalks tend to have space themes. I've found inflatable castle as an AmE term for the castle shaped ones as well. Apparently, there's some controversy about whether these things were invented first in the UK or the US.

Other business:
  • This is it! I've finally got to the end of the answerable queries from March! Now I'm only five months behind!
  • As for tomorrow's appearance on Ant & Dec, it might be a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of affair. We spent at least an hour together taping yesterday (charming young men!), but I have no idea what they'll edit it down to. But here's the evidence that we have breathed the same air:

Ant, Lynne, fellow Scrabbler Kat, and Dec
(thanks to Stewart for the photo!)

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ticks and checkmarks

I'm sure I missed many opportunities when writing about games recently, but I almost immediately reali{s/z}ed I'd omitted (BrE) noughts and crosses/(AmE) tic-tac-toe. Clearly, the BrE name is naming the symbols used in the game: O and X. In AmE, however, those symbols are usually called by the names of the letters they resemble: 'oh' and 'ex'. But the X-like cross has another use in British culture; it marks things that are incorrect, and its opposite, symboli{s/z}ing correctness, is the tick: .

Now, this took some getting used to when I first started teaching in South Africa, where they use the same system. Why? Because when/where I was a child, a checkmark (AmE for ) on your work meant that you got it wrong. This is actually fairly counterintuitive, because a can mean 'good' in various other contexts. For instance, if I wrote an essay in school and it was just OK, it would get a at the top of the page. If it were (usual BrE = was--but we'll get to the subjunctive some other time) very good, it would receive a + or ++. And a in an advertisement or on a grocery list means 'we've got it' or 'mission accomplished' or similarly positive things.

It seems that many American schools use the British system of for 'correct' and X for 'incorrect', while calling them check(mark)s and exes still. It's not clear to me whether this is a recent innovation or a long-standing variation. (American readers--did you get checked or exed wrong, and when?) But there is some evidence that the system that I knew as a youngster is still around in some places, as these teachers (on the page linked above) note:
Canuck: I am a Canadian teacher, working in Korea at an American school. (Yikes) As a result, I'm confused! I've always used a check mark for correct answers and an x for wrong. However, my students are confused and think this is backwards. [...]

Wig [from western Michigan]: I wonder how much it has to do with how papers were graded when you were in school? It's a good question, but everyone in my school uses a checkmark if it is wrong.
Over on the Guardian's Notes and Queries page, it's noted that the Swedes also use to mean 'incorrect' (adding to the multitude of reasons that I feel a kinship with Swedish culture), and it's supposed that originally came from V for Latin veritas 'truth'.

During the first multiracial elections in South Africa (which I was lucky enough to witness), trainers crossed the country teaching people how to mark a ballot paper. One of the things that they had to contend with was the fact that people with some schooling saw the X as a sign of wrongness, so rather than putting a cross/X next to the person they wanted to vote for, it was some people's urge to put crosses next to all the people they didn't want to vote for. So, it's not just the tick/checkmark that can sometimes mean 'wrong' and sometimes mean 'right'--the cross/X can too.
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the names of the games, part 2: games children play

It was probably Better Half's and my visit to the Strong National Museum of Play that inspired me to think and write about board games a couple posts ago. Then I promised a follow-up on children's games, but come to think of it, a lot of the games I've blogged about so far are games I played as a child (Parcheesi/Ludo, Clue/Cluedo, checkers/draughts, slapjack/snap). So, while not repeating those, here are some more.

It's not surprising that a lot of playground games (like a lot of nursery rhymes--there's fodder for another post) are different (in name and rules) in the two countries, since they also vary a lot from playground to playground within a country. Those kinds of games are passed on by oral tradition, and traditions get muddled and/or developed from time to time, so that we're left with games with just vague family resemblances. One of these was raised by the mysterious Dearieme on the previous games post: (BrE) British bulldog(s). When I looked up the game on some website, I didn't recogni{s/z}e the rules as those of (AmE) Red Rover, but according to the Canadian Dialect Topography site (skip down to item 73), the two terms are used synonymously in Canada. The games are no doubt related, but the description of British Bulldog on Wikipedia sounds little like the game that we called Red Rover on my old playground. There, there was no breaking through a chain of people or getting tagged, as described on various website descriptions of Red Rover. No, it was a game of social exclusion at my school (that and kickball were the only kinds of games we played)--the person who was 'it' would say "Red Rover, Red Rover let X come over" where X would be a colo(u)r (of clothing) or another physical/clothing attribute (e.g. "let t-shirts come over"). The 'it' would do this until some poor soul they didn't like was the only person left on the other side and they then knew where they stood on the social hierarchy. But apparently that's not how the game was meant to be played. Better Half says "That's not a game. That's bullying with a rhyme!" Perhaps it's explained to him some of my less appealing adult behavio(u)rs. ("Explained, but not forgiven," crowed BH.)

Kickball, while we're at it, does not mean (BrE) football/(AmE) soccer, as it can (BrE can do) in BrE, where, according to the OED, it's spelt kick-ball and started out as a Scotticism. In the US, kickball is much the same as baseball, except that an inflated ball (about the size of a soccer/foot-ball) is rolled on the ground and kicked instead of a smaller ball being thrown and hit with a bat. It was a staple in my (AmE) gym class (=PE [physical education]) and on our playground. (Since I went to a poor (AmE) Catholic school/(BrE) convent (school), our playground was a church parking lot. So none of this new-fangled climbing equipment and such that kids get these days. And I had to walk there, waist deep in snow. Past man-eating earthworms. Yeah, you kids don't know how good you've got it. I tell you, in my day...)

Let's get back to board games, though, as that's where I meant to be. The most shocking discovery at the Strong Museum was that Better Half had never seen, played nor even heard of Candy Land, a game that only three-year-olds could love. It's one of those games where one has to advance around the board to a final goal. To make it easy for tiny tots, the spaces on the board are different colo(u)rs, and on each turn one takes a card with a block or two of a colo(u)r or a picture of a landmark on the board (like the (AmE) Candy Cane Forest). That way, the child can tell where they need to get to without having to count their way there. Parents and (orig. AmE) babysitters/child-care workers (BrE child-minders) soon learn to stack the deck so that the child will pick the Lollypop Woods card early and the game will soon be finished. I pretended that I felt sorry for BH that he'd missed out on this game, but really I was seething with jealousy.

The advancing-up-the-board game that one does find in Britain is Snakes and Ladders (picture left from here), which was marketed in the US as Chutes and Ladders by Milton Bradley (picture right from here)--the same evil geniuses who brought us Candy Land. As the names suggest, in the more traditional British version the board has ladders that one can advance up and snakes that one must slide down, to a less advantageous position. But who in real life goes down snakes? The literal-minded Americans changed them to chutes, and the boards there reflect this.

Another game for playing with very young children is the memory game (AmE)Concentration/(BrE) Memory, which proves that the Americans don't have the patent on literal-mindedness. That's the one where you have a set of cards in which each card has a matching mate. A player turns one over and then gets one chance to turn over the mate. If the two cards match, the player keeps them and has another go. If they don't match, the cards are turned back over and the next player has a try.

One of the toys at the museum that BH was able to wax nostalgic about was the Erector Set--except, of course, that he knows it by the name Meccano. (I've just discovered there's a Meccano web ring. There's a web ring for everything these days.) But as a child in England in the 70s he didn't have Slinky or Mr Potato Head or Silly Putty. And he certainly didn't have Lincoln Logs. Disraeli Log just doesn't have the same ring.

Postscript! I forgot to discuss a children's amusement that I'd promised to M.A. Peel. (Apologies, Mrs Peel.) Remember dot-to-dot puzzles? In AmE, one must connect the dots, while in BrE one joins the dots--and thus the puzzles are sometimes called connect-the-dots or join-the-dots, depending on where you are. The verb difference carries over into metaphorical use of the phrases--i.e. 'to find the connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information' (or something like that).
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the names of the games, part 1: board games

Better Half has found himself surrounded by out-laws (not quite in-laws) who like to get together and play games. My out-laws (BH's family) think this is hilarious, because of BH's reputation as a games-hater, which stems from several throwing-over-the-board-in-disgust incidents from when he was a child. When I met him, he was willing to play Connect Four with his godchildren, but only because he could still obliterate them. I count it as great progress that he now actually volunteers to play Yahtzee and Cribbage and will tolerate a few more games. (God, I've been good for him.) But games still remain a source of transatlantic miscommunication in the family since they, as we've seen already, frequently have different names in different places. The ones I'll cover in this series don't require a lot of discussion, hence my putting them all together like this.

Most of you will know that (BrE) draughts is (AmE) checkers. Or checkers is draughts -- I can't figure out whether I think the earlier term should go first or last in that equation, I can see the connotations going either way. You may also know that Americans spell draught as draft, reflecting the fact that the 'gh' is pronounced 'f', but while I have seen the board game sold as Checkers/Draughts in the US, I've never seen the BrE name of the game translated into AmE spelling. (I'm not going to get into the pronunciation of the vowel...suffice it to say that it too is different in different places.) Where do these names come from? It's a tricky question, since the OED, amazingly enough, includes neither draughts nor checkers. (No, what's amazing enough is my poor dictionary search skills in this instance--see the comments.) The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that draughts is related to dragon and goes back to about 1400. Checkers, alluding to the appearance of the board, arose in America in the 18th century. That "OED" (shall I call it OnEtyD?) also notes that "British prefers [the spelling] chequer, but the U.S. form is more authentic." Another case (cf. -ise) of British spelling being influenced by French. So, (AmE) Chinese checkers is known (though not very widely, it seems) in BrE as Chinese chequers. (Chinese draughts seems much less common, and seems mostly to be used by non-native speakers).

BrE Ludo (left, from Wikipedia), from the Latin for 'I play', is the game that Americans call Parcheesi (right, from Robby Findler's software construction course), though as you can see their boards are slightly different. It derives from an Indian game, and the AmE name is based on the Hindi name--which has been spelled in many ways in English, with pachisi sometimes regarded as 'most authenthic'. Parcheesi is the most familiar spelling in the US, as that's how the game was marketed by Selchow & Righter, 'the house that Parcheesi built'.

Once you know about Ludo, it makes more sense that the game that is called Clue in AmE is called Cluedo in BrE. Cluedo came first, as it was invented, A.E. Pratt of Birmingham, in the 1940s (though he had originally called it Murder). Since the pun wouldn't be appreciated in the US, it was marketed there as Clue. The game is the same, except for the names of some of the characters, weapons and rooms. There are a few linguistic differences in the game:

  • Miss Scarlett (UK) v Miss Scarlet (US)
  • Rev Green (UK) v Mr. Green (US)
  • Mrs(.) White has recently been replaced in US by Dr. Orchid
  • According to Wikipedia, the dagger is called the knife in some US editions (it was dagger in mine growing up, so I don't know...)
  • The lead pipe was originally called lead piping in BrE
As far as I know, the names of all the rooms are the same, but it's worth noting that conservatory is often pronounced differently in the two. You can hear the difference here. Boards even within countries seem to vary in whether they consider the conservatory to be a glass-enclosed room full of plants or a music room. The original board just had blank areas label(l)ed by room names, but more recent ones illustrate them. I've seen this one on both Clue and Cluedo boards:

The Hollywood film based on the game, incidentally, was called Clue internationally and used the American character names.

I've got other board games to cover under part 2—children's games. There may be a part 3 on card games, if I can find more to mention. Email me if you have any suggestions.

[This post was updated 23 March 2020 with the details of US/UK Clue(do) differences, replacing a no-longer-working link on the topic.]
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slingshot and catapult

It's time to start catching up on the trickle of queries that seems to have created a flood in my inbox. James in western Massachusetts writes:
My source is some eighty years out of date, but I've been reading a British author who used "catapult" for what (today) an American would call a "slingshot." Is this still the case, and does this make the machines of war seem more puny, or the child's toy more fearsome?
Catapult continues to be used in BrE for things like this toy to the right, which is advertised for sale on the English Heritage website. It's also used, as in AmE, for big machines used to shoot boulders over castle walls. Slingshot, originally AmE (goes back to 1849, at least), doesn't refer to the machines of war, just the toy thing and extended senses relating to motion. These days, slingshot is understood and used in the UK as well as catapult, but is often reserved in BrE for the kind of weapon that is otherwise called a sling.  The OED quotes an occurrence in The Economist in 1966, so it seems to be fairly recent British usage.

I also found a spoof "Edwardian" on-line magazine called The Slingshot [no longer available]--does the editor reali{s/z}e that even his title is an anachronism? In-joke or sloppiness? One can only guess.
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jinx and snap

Suzannah e-mailed to ask about the rituals involved when two people say the same thing at the same time. In the US, the schoolyard tradition is to say jinx! (For a discussion of the etymology of the word see World Wide Words.) In general, a jinx is a kind of curse. After simultaneous speech, one tries to be the first to say jinx (or to jinx them, for it can be a verb too), after which the "jinxee" is "cursed" by not being allowed to speak. Wikipedia elaborates the rules as:
"Jinx" is also a term used when two people say the same thing at the same time and the person who says jinx first makes the other person not speak until somebody says his or her name. The only prevention for this state is to yell the word "buttercup" after the jinx. This can be countered by "Jinx no buttercups".
This shows up a limitation of Wikipedia--the rules here are undoubtedly the rules that the author has experienced, but there are plenty of other rules too, since regional variation is rife in children's games and playground activities. (So go now and add your own rules to Wikipedia!) In Suzannah's experience:
When I was in school, if two people said the same thing at the same time you hurried to say "jinx" first - whoever lost wasn't supposed to talk until someone said their name. A bystander could also say it, and both of the people involved would be caught. I learned from a friend who grew up in another area that "pinch poke you owe me a coke" was the answer to this situation, or sometimes just "jinx you owe me a coke". I saw in an old movie (and another friend said she'd seen it in person) where the two people stopped for a second in their conversation and linked pinkies when this happened, then kept going.
(I think we played with something like Suzannah's rule--but usually we just got bored with our friend not being able to talk so we'd unjinx them.) Over at The Law of the Playground there are some more versions. OED doesn't have this sense of jinx but does note that the word is 'orig. U.S.'.

Better Half says that he knows jinx from his days on a South London playground, where they said jinx and fainites. (Though BH remembered the word as "fainlights", making it difficult to look up. Some kind folks at the American Dialect Society set us straight on the spelling.) Fainites (and variations on it--OED lists fains, fains I, fainit...) gives the sayer immunity from jinxing or touching.

Off the playground in BrE, one is more likely to hear snap, which is, as the OED puts it, 'an exclamation used when two similar objects turn up or two similar events take place'. This doesn't have the cursing connotations of jinx and is used off the playground as well. For example, when playing Scrabble, if I announce my score and my opponent has the same score, she might say Snap! or if you reach for something at the same time as someone else, one of you could say it.

This use of snap comes from a card game of the same name, which is similar to the game I played as a child called slapjack--but there are many variations of this game (and other names for it) that are of varying similarity to snap. (Here are two--including one in which one actually slaps jacks.) Essentially, one splits a deck of cards between two people; both lay a card face up on the table and continue doing this, piling the cards on one another, until two cards match (e.g. two jacks). The first one to slap the pile and say (BrE) Snap!/(AmE-dialectal) Slapjack! gets to keep the pile (or in some versions not keep it--depending on whether the aim is to have all the cards or none of them). For young children, one can buy snap cards with pictures.

In my house, slapjack always ended in tears and accusations, and sometimes with being sent to one's room. The name snap sounds much more civili{s/z}ed. But is the game?
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rock, paper, scissors and scissors, paper, stone

Keeping with the game theme I started last time...

Over on the American Dialect Society e-mail list, a conversation has come up about that hand-shape game in which a fist beats a 'V' sign, a flat hand beats a fist, and a 'V' sign beats a flat hand. You, of course, know what I mean (having read the title), but it's called a lot of different things. The original query on the ADS list wondered about American variations on the name. Most Americans call it Rock, Paper, Scissors, but some call it Rock, Scissors, Paper. (We also discovered that it's also called Roshambo or Rochambeau and one Missourian grew up calling it by its Japanese name, Jan Ken Pon. Apparently, in China and Japan it involves cloth, rather than paper.)

The most common BrE name for this game is Paper, Scissors, Stone. An Australian on the web says that (s)he's always known it as Paper, Scissors, Rock.

As with almost any game, there is a world association and world championships. I note that it's called the World RPS Society--using the American order. They say:
One of the mandates of the World RPS Society is name harmonization, so we would encourage all players to use the term Rock Paper Scissors or its short form RPS. We feel that this is the best way of helping the sport to grow in the future.
North American linguistic imperialism at work? Here's the (apparently fictional--see comments) story from their website:
The Paper Scissors Stone Club was founded in London, England in 1842 immediately following the issuance of the1842 law declaring “any decision reached by the use of the process known as Paper Scissors Stone between two gentleman acting in good faith shall constitute a binding contract. Agreements reached in this manner are subject to all relevant contract and tort law.” The law was seen as a slap in the face to the growing number of enthusiasts who played it strictly as a recreational activity, since for many constables it was taken to mean that the game could not be played simply for sport. The club was founded and officially registered to provide an environment free from the long arm of the law where enthusiasts could come together and play for honour.
[...] In 1918, the name was changed to World RPS Club in to reflect the growing International representation. At roughly the same time the Club moved its headquarters from London to its present location at Trinity Plaza in Toronto, Canada. Despite the allied victory, the official reason for the move was “England is far too dangerous a place to make a suitable home country for a game of conflict resolution.” Canada was seen as an excellent choice since it was seen as a “safe, hospitable and utterly inoffensive nation, a part of the commonwealth, yet not inhabited by the descendants of criminals.”
In 1925 when the club briefly reached over 10,000 members, the name was changed again to The World RPS Society. The Steering Committee felt that since the membership had reached a new order of magnitude the term club was seen to be “inappropriate, misleading, and mocking.”
These are people who feel strongly about words, as well as about their game!

According to the website (very nice photos!), Norway is in the midst of its national championship, and there it's called Stein, Saks, Papir ('stone, scissors, paper'). Apparently, they've not been bullied into calling it Stein, Papir, Saks.
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die and dice

While I read every newspaper that comes into my house from cover to cover (with the exception of the sport(s) section, which I hie to the recycling while wrinkling my nose), I'm not particularly careful about reading them when they are actually news. So I was just reading the 'Comment' section of the Guardian from 26 August 2006 when I came across this line by Johnjoe McFadden (Irish born, but raised in "the UK" according to his bio):
In Luke Rhinehart's novel The Dice Man, the eponymous hero makes all his decisions by rolling a dice.
I can hear any one of my schoolteachers responding to that sentence with "You mean a die. Dice is the plural of die."

Not necessarily, dear teachers.

Die is certainly the preferred singular in AmE, but in BrE one is likely to see dice as both the singular and the plural, even in edited texts like newspapers. A90Six comments on the forum at
Many people in the UK would not even be aware that die is the singular of dice. Some even believe that when die is written in games instructions it is a typo with a missing c....
The only time die is really heard is in the expression, "The die is cast," meaning - something has been done or a decision has been made that will now have to run its course and fate will decide the outcome.
Better Half disagrees, and says that in his English mind it should be a die and not a dice in the newspaper, but some of my linguistic colleagues have in the past chided me for using die. More evidence that BH spends too much time with Americans? What do you say?

The history is a bit convoluted--but both forms have been used in the singular since the 14th century.
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A quick dispatch from the British Matchplay Scrabble Championships in Staffordshire. (Don't ask me how I'm faring.)

In the pub last night, it was said of someone "Oh, she's a really jammy player." I've heard jammy used in this way before, but this time I just had to swallow my pride and ask Just what does jammy mean, anyway? Turns out it means 'lucky', or as the OED puts it: 'very lucky or profitable'. General consensus was that the word is used a lot more in the Scrabble world than in everyday life (but of course we have a lot of reason to talk about luck in the Scrabble world), and that it might be a little old-fashioned.

It puts a new spin for me on the biscuit name Jammie Dodgers, which I had not heretofore reali{s/z}ed could be a pun. The alternative spelling of jammy could be for trademarking reasons. One also sees the spelling jammy dodger for ones that are not made by Burton's Foods. There is a far-fetched etymology here (search down the page for 'name' to get to it). The writer claims the name goes back to the 1500s [from French jamais de guerre]. But (a) the name works as a literal name--it has jam and dodger is a dialectal word (now used in Australian military, apparently) for sandwich--and this is what we'd call in the US a sandwich cookie, and (b) Burton's Foods has only been making them since 1960. While the biscuit could go back a lot further than that, the story has the hallmarks of folk etymology. Does anyone out there know more about the history of jammie/jammy dodgers? (I've written to Burton's and will update if there's any news.)

See the etymology link if you want to see a photo of a Jammie Dodger--and reviews of Jammie Dodgers. The computer I'm at won't allow me to upload one.
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dens and forts

When my brothers and I were small we made lots of forts, usually with the (US-preferred) couch/(UK-preferred) sofa cushions. In the winter, we made snowforts in the snowbanks in the backyard (AmE; BrE = back garden). Our cushion-forts were especially important to me during the annual televising of The Wizard of Oz. I always watched with my head peeping out of the fort so that I could duck back in quickly whenever the flying monkeys came on screen.

Meanwhile on this fair island the children were making dens. These days, child development experts are afraid that dens/forts may be going the way of tiddlywinks now that children's time is taken up with organi{s/z}ed or electronic activities. The Guardian's Family section has recently run a few articles about den-making, including some how-to tips. Bring back the den/fort!

A related BrE term is Wendy house, which Americans would usually call a playhouse. A Wendy house (after Wendy in Peter Pan) is typically not made by the child but made or bought by the parent, and is usually situated in the garden/yard.
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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)