Showing posts with label politics/history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politics/history. Show all posts

Untranslatables month: the summary

Still buried deep beneath teaching. For your amusement, here are the 'untranslatables of the day' posted on Twitter last month, as promised in my last post. Where there's only a link, it's an expression that I've already written about in some detail. Please click through to see (or take part in) further discussion of those expressions.
  1. BrE punter

  2. AmE pork : "Government funds, appointments, or benefits dispensed or legislated by politicians to gain favor with their constituents" (American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edn)
  3. BrE kettling :  Police practice of surrounding protesters and holding them in a restricted area. Starting to be borrowed into AmE.
  4. AmE trailer trash : Because the social significance of trailers in US is very different from that of static caravans in UK.  (Mentioned in this old post.)
  5. AmE snit : American Heritage 4 says: "state of agitation or irritation', but that's way too imprecise. It's a tiny fit of temper.  (Discussed a bit back here.)
  6. BrE secondment : temporary transfer to work in another part of a company/organi{z/s}ation, e.g. for a special project.  Pronounced with the stress on the second syllable.
  7.  BrE to skive off, skiving.
  8. AmE to jones, jonesing : To suffer withdrawal symptoms and crave. Originally used in relation to heroin. Increasingly heard in BrE. The verb 'to Jones' is from AmE drug slang noun Jones, a drug habit. Then later, a craving: I have a Jones for Reese's peanut butter cups. > I'm jonesing for some Reese's peanut butter cups.
  9. BrE git : Collins English Dictionary says "contemptible person, often a fool". Closest equivalent probably bastard. Git is originally related to bastardy: it comes from beget.
  10. AmE rain check : A promise for something postponed (the check = BrE cheque). For example, I'll have to take a rain check on lunch = 'Although you invited me to lunch, I can't make it today, but I'll take you up on your offer at another time'. Rain check was claimed by Matthew Engel to 'abound' in BrE in his complaints about Americanisms, but it's also the case that it's widely misunderstood in the UK.
  11. BrE jobsworth : "a person who uses their job description in a deliberately uncooperative way, or who seemingly delights in acting in an obstructive or unhelpful manner" (Wikipedia)
  12. AmE potluck : a shared meal (bring a dish to pass), but culturally a different kind of ritual in US and UK.  I discussed it back here.
  13. BrE Oi! : Kind of like hey, you! but with a sense that the addressee is doing something that impinges upon you.  Not to be confused w/ Yiddish oy (vey), heard in AmE.
  14. BrE naff : Means approximately 'uncool' but with particular overtones of 'dorky', 'cheesy' and probably others. Contrary to widespread folk etymology, there's no evidence that naff comes from Not Available For F--ing. Origin is unknown.
  15. AmE nickel-and-dimed : 'Put under strain by lots of little expenses'.  E.g. I thought the house was a bargain, but all the little repairs are nickel-and-diming me to death.
  16. BrE  jammy.
  17. AmE hazing : OED has "A species of brutal horseplay practised on freshmen at some American Colleges".
  18. BrE to come over all queer : to suddenly feel "off"--physically or emotionally. Queer meaning 'feeling odd' (ill or upset) is much more common in BrE than in AmE.  Also: come over all funny, come over all peculiar.
  19. AmE to nix (something) : Generally, to do something decisively negative to something. Specifically: cancel/refute/forbid/refuse/deny (OED).  It's not unheard of in UK, but it's a borrowed AmEism. This is true of many of the AmE 'untranslatables'. They fill a gap.
  20. BrE oo er missus : Humorously marks (maybe unintended) sexual innuendo. See here for some history.
  21. AmE (from) soup to nuts : absolutely inclusive; from absolute start to absolute end or including every related thing.
  22. BrE taking the piss / taking the mickey : Explained at Wikipedia.
  23. AmE inside baseball : requiring rarefied insider knowledge. William Safire discussed it here.
  24. BrE moreish 
  25. BrE ropey or ropy : Of a thing, inferior, unreliable. Of a person, feeling vaguely unwell.
  26. AmE mugwump : Covered recently on World Wide Words.
  27. BrE lurgi or lurgy
  28. AmE 101 (one-oh-one) : the basics of subject. E.g. saying 'please' is Etiquette 101. From the traditional US university course numbering system. The Virtual Linguist wrote about this one.
  29. BrE faff.  See Oxford Dictionaries on this one.
  30. AmE squeaker : Competition or election won by tiny margin.
  31. BrE gutted.

Goodbye Untranslatables month!
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War of Independence/Revolutionary War and an aside on barbecue

Happy 4th of July, which, apparently, is a good enough name for a holiday, since EditorMark, over on Twitter, informed us today that:
“Independence Day” is more descriptive, but “Fourth of July” is the name given in the 1938 act that extended pay for the federal holiday.
Here at SbaCL Headquarters, we're more about co-dependence than independence, but in hono(u)r of the holiday, my Twittered Difference of the DayTM was:
BrE 'the American War of Independence' vs. AmE 'Revolutionary War'.
In more formal contexts, I should add, you're likely to find American Revolution in AmE. 

But then I read this New York Times article (pointed out by Not From Around Here) in which the English historian author writes of the War of American Independence.  Oh no, I thought, I got it wrong.  Or did I?  Google gave me nearly ten times as many War of American Independences (1.3 million) as American War of Independences (144k).  Searching just .uk sites, the difference is still there: 69k American independences and 16k American wars. But it still didn't ring true for me, or, it turns out, at least one of my Twitter followers, so I re-checked it in the British National Corpus, which gives us (among its 100 million words) 23 American War of Independences and 3 War of American Independences.  Now, the BNC texts are from the 1980s and early 1990s, and of course most web text is later than that.  And the web is not a reliable corpus, since it isn't balanced between different types of texts and it includes a great amount of repetition.  But still, one has to wonder whether the adjective-placement tide has changed.

Incidentally, the (Anglo-American) War of 1812 is sometimes known as the Second War of American Independence.  It's one of those things that every American schoolchild will have to learn about, but  you'll be hard-pressed to find an English person who's heard of it.  Why? Well, the Americans won it, so they have the bragging rights, but more importantly, for the English, it was just an annoying thing that was going on in the colonies during (and as a consequence of) the Napoleonic Wars.  It'll be those conflicts that English schoolchildren will encounter (in year 8, according to the National Curriculum).

As an aside, revolutionary is typically pronounced differently in US and UK. In AmE it has six syllables: REvoLUtioNAry.  In BrE, it may drop the 'a' (revolution'ry) as part of a general pattern of reduction of  vowel+ry at the ends of words--thus it has one main stress (-LU-) and one secondary stress (RE-), unlike the two secondaries in AmE.  Also, in BrE 'u' may be pronounced with an on-glide (see this old post for explanation).  Both of those "BrE" pronunciation features are not found throughout BrE.  I'd consider them to be features of RP ('Received Pronunciation'), but I'm sure others (you, perhaps?) can comment better on geographical distribution.

I hope that wherever you are and whatever you're celebrating, you're having a lovely fourth of July.  I usually try to (orig. AmE) cook out to mark the day, but I discovered yesterday that our* (AmE) grill/(BrE) barbecue** has been murdered by scaffolders.  My beloved Weber! And this is how I came to celebrate American independence by eating a Sunday roast dinner complete with Yorkshire pudding and parsnips at a pub (with lime cordial and soda).  As I said, co-dependent, not independent.

*Oh, who am I kidding? It's mine. Vegetarian Better Half could not care less.
** I mark this as BrE because in AmE a barbecue is generally the event (this sense also found in BrE) or the food (as in I miss good barbecue--it is a mass noun, and particularly used in the South). When I say it refers to 'the food' I emphatically do not mean overcooked burgers and sausages, the scourge of British summer entertaining.  What constitutes barbecue varies regionally in the US--in some places it's specifically pork, in others beef.  And it will involve smoking and special sauces.  And it will be tender and tasty.  Where you are when you order some barbecue will in large part determine where on the sweet-to-spicy continuum the barbecue will fall.
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hustings and stumping

I follow the Twitterings of the candidates for our House of Commons seat and today each had a tweet that went something like this:
Really enjoyed Older People's Council hustings. Some great questions & interesting answers!
I've heard the word husting(s) at  previous British election times, but this time felt the need to look it up.  Wikipedia tells me:
A husting (called a stump in the United States) originally referred to a physical platform from which representatives presented their views or cast votes before a parliamentary or other election body.
We then have metonymic transfer to a name for the activity that traditionally went on on those types of platform.  There's a nice little explanation of the terms on this University of Texas site.  It starts:
[C]andidates for political office and an entourage of supporters, handlers, and journalists are said to go on the stump, or simply stumping.
It seems like a rather unattractive word to refer to a core activity of political campaigning – traveling from place to place making speeches in front of live audiences.
It goes on to distinguish between this sense of stump and another (orig. AmE) sense of the verb to stump: 'to befuddle' before picking up on hustings:
On the stump or on the hustings?
Sometimes when candidates are on the stump, we say that they are on the hustings. Hustings, according to The Word Detective comes from the Old Norse word husthing, meaning "house assembly."
Centuries ago rulers might convene a husthing, usually composed only of members of the immediate royal household as opposed to a larger popular assembly of constituents, in order to gather advice or issue decrees. The English later adapted the word as husting to refer to the senior court of the City of London, and later narrowed the meaning to refer to the physical platform in that court where the Lord Mayor sat.
Over time this last meaning was generalized to refer to any platform from which political candidates might address their audience, and more commonly today it refers to the campaign trail, which we also know as the stump. Notably, husting usually appears in modern English only in the plural form hustings, and then usually in the phrase on the hustings.
The presence of hustings on this American website indicates that the term is not limited to BrE--but it wasn't something I knew from my Democratic Party days.  A quick corpus search (BNC versus COCA) had hustings occurring three times as often in BrE as in AmE (I was surprised it wasn't more).  The last line of the above quotation indicates an area of difference.  On the hustings accounts for more than half of the occurrences of hustings in the AmE corpus, but less than a third of the occurrences in the BrE corpus.  The singular form husting does not occur in either corpus.  Meanwhile, AmE stump speech, i.e. the speech that a candidate makes repeatedly at different locales, occurs 45 times per 100 million words in the AmE corpus and not at all in the British corpus.

A hustings in BrE, at least, refers to an event where more than one candidate is present to debate and discuss issues with potential voters (as in the Older People's Council event that our candidates went to today). This differs from how the stump has developed--stump speeches are generally made without the presence of the other candidates.  The OED, on the topic of this sense of stump:

 14. Originally U.S.    a. In early use, the stump (sense 2) of a large felled tree used as a stand or platform for a speaker.    b. Hence, ‘a place or an occasion of political oratory’ (Cent. Dict.). to go on the stump, to take the stump: to go about the country making political speeches, whether as a candidate or as the advocate of a cause.
  In the U.S. the word ‘does not necessarily convey a derogatory implication’ (Cent. Dict.). In Britain, though now common, it is still felt to be somewhat undignified.
 And I'm just going to end here without further comment!
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Barack Obama

Some months ago (sorry!) I had more than one request for treatment of the pronunciation of Barack Obama's name.  There was this from American Jonathan Bogart:
I've heard more than one BBC newsreader pronounce the first name of the president of the United States the way I (an American) would refer to a military quartering, approximately "BERReck." This flies in the face of the way American journalists pronounce it, the way Kenyans -- who might be said to have first dibs -- pronounce it (which is not quite the same, as the r is an alveolar flap and both syllables are equally stressed), and the way the man himself pronounces it: roughly "BuhROCK." I was wondering what the reason for this might be; is this how the BBC has decided to pronounce the name, did I happen to hear a random couple of errors, or do different newsreaders get to choose the way they pronounce the names of world leaders?

And then I had message from Damien Hall, a sociolinguist at York University, who said:
Just checked in at SBaCL again, and found a comment on the latest post about the (?former) British habit of pronouncing the new President 'BA-r@ck Obama'. [DH is using the @ to stand for the schwa sound--i.e. an unstressed, reduced vowel--ed.] I have resisted the temptation to launch into a response on it, as I predict that the response could be quite lengthy (tempting though it was, as my (American) wife and I have talked about this difference: my observation is that almost all Brits used to pronounce 'Barack' with initial stress but, once he became more familiar, many/most learned that that wasn't where the stress went; and my theory is that it just fits into BrE's usual greater tendency to nativise foreign things including stress-patterns, cf garage etc).

In response to American Anne T. at this post:
I've just come from listening to NPR (National Public Radio) on which a British reporter, didn't catch his name, was interviewing Pakistani people about what they expect from Barack Obama. BARack Obama, he said, repeatedly. With a hard first A and stress on the first syllable, instead of BaRACK with a soft first (and second) A and stress on the second syllable. Why oh why?
Which just goes to prove that this blog is not a democracy, since the poor, mispronounced man has been in office for over a year now, and I've failed to respond to what has to be the most requested topic in my inbox.  Since then, I've had further correspondence with Damien, who points out this joke at the pronunciation's expense:

Early on, when he was but a candidate for the Democratic nomination (whom people over here seemed to unanimously think would lose to Hillary Clinton, though that's only my impression, as I was in America at the time), the misperception that his name was pronounced 'BA-r@ck' gave rise to a memorable moment from Andy Parsons on Mock The Week. I can't find a video of it, but the line was essentially this:

Parsons: 'BA-r@ck'? That's a bad name for a candidate, isn't it? Imagine the scene: "Ladies and gentlemen, 'BA-r@ck' Obama!" "Whaat? Oh, OK - 'Oy! Obama! You're SHIT!'"
This is only funny if you know the BrE use of barrack as a verb that means mean 'to heckle, to shout down' (particularly with reference to politicians--see the examples here).  (And, yes, you can say shit on the BBC--but only (BrE) after the watershed.)  Damien also thinks we pronounce the surname differently, with BrE speakers more likely to reduce the first syllable /o/ to a schwa, and Americans more likely to retain a fuller [o].
My excuse for leaving this topic for so long is that, as you know, pronunciation is not my strong point.  So, I asked John Wells, author of the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, what he made of this.  He reports:
In the current (3rd) edition of LPD I give the BrE pronunciation as ˈbæræk or -ək, the AmE as bəˈrɑːk or bəˈræk. I don't think it's a BBC decision. It's the usual BrE vs AmE treatment of foreign disyllables: cf cliché, café etc.
We've talked about some of these differences in various places before, especially here.  But we've also talked about the feeling that names should be pronounced as the named person pronounces them--or at least as closely as one can with the sounds at one's dialectal disposal.  Since all the sounds here are available to BBC newsreaders, it's hard for me to feel like the usual treatment of foreign disyllables should apply, since names have a lot more allowance for variation from the standard dialectal rules than non-name words do.  So, the difference is explained, but not justified in my book.

Of course, you'll be able to (indeed, I can too) point out lots of examples in which Americans pronounce British names incorrectly.  But they typically do so from a position of ignorance, rather than intention.  Since it'd be hard to miss Americans' pronunciation of their own president's name, it seems less likely that ignorance is to blame here, though it may well be inattention rather than intention.  (And, as someone with a horrible memory for learned pronunciations, I cannot lead the switch-hunt.) 

So, what do you think?  Excusable or not?  To what lengths should one go in order to accommodate the pronunciation of personal names that flout one's dialect's rules?  Do (AmE) newscasters/(BrE) news readers have different responsibilities for this than the rest of us?  Or, by attempting the 'correct' pronunciation, do they leave themselves open to mocking? (I was trying to find the Saturday Night Live clips in which Victoria Jackson tried to authentically pronounce 'Nicaragua', but apparently they are not on the web. Ho-hum.)
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Words of the Year 2008

Any organi{s/z}ation with any tangential relation words seems to make Word of the Year pronouncements these days (or these years, at least). I believe there is a correlation between how early the pronouncements are made and whether the organi{s/z}ation is trying to sell you something. The American Dialect Society wait(s) until January (when they have their annual meeting). And that is as it should be--one needs some perspective on the year in order to evaluate its words. Oxford University Press and Merriam-Webster, on the other hand, are keen to get their press releases out in time to serve as subliminal reminders that dictionaries make great holiday gifts.

I have nothing to sell you, but I'm going to give you the SbaCL words of the year a little early this year--just to make sure that I get them out at all while a horrible deadline, not to mention a trip to the States and winter holidays and birthdays come (chiefly AmE) careening (=careering) toward(s) me. Words of the Year will be my airbag. (That metaphor is the evidence, if you need it, that my brain is not handling the pressure well.)

So, without further ado (wait, is that a drumroll I hear?), the SbaCL British-English- to-American-English Word of the Year is:

vet (verb, transitive)

3. To examine carefully and critically for deficiencies or errors; spec. to investigate the suitability of (a person) for a post that requires loyalty and trustworthiness. (OED)

as in:
It raises the singular question of when and how well the Senator's campaign vetted the woman he named to be his running mate. (commenter on NewsTrust, 2 September 2008)
"Wait, wait!" you say. "How can you count that as BrE to AmE? It was right here in my AmE dictionary all along!" Oh, it was, but wasn't it interesting for those of us who live in the UK to see the big deal that was made of this word in the American blogosphere and press--like this article on Slate and this one by the Word Detective. In fact, it was number 2 on Merriam-Webster's top ten words of the year and has provoked a backlash from people who became tired of and even hate the word. Thus, it qualifies as a WotY in that it 'came into its own' in AmE this year.

The Slate article tells us that:
Through the early decades of the 20th century, vet was primarily a Britishism. It became fairly popular in the United Kingdom during the 1930s [...] Over the next couple of decades, it gained traction across the Atlantic. Time magazine appears to have used the word vetting for the first time in 1945 but only in the context of a quote from "The Anatomy of Courage," a newly published study on the psychological effects of war by the Briton Lord Moran: "A young subaltern with 'dark eyes under long lashes, a pink and white complexion' was sent to Moran for 'vetting.' " The word first appears out of quotes in that magazine in 1959 (in an article on picking a new symphony director for the Los Angeles Philharmonic), pops up once in the 1960s, and then several times in the 1980s.
But the word continues to be put in (AmE) quotation marks/(BrE) inverted commas of the "scare quote" variety (for instance here and here), indicating that the verb is still considered a bit "foreign". (I'm not claiming here that the writers knew that vet is BrE, just that they don't feel that the word is at-home in their dialect.)

So, congratulations vet! And president-elect Obama!

Onwards and overwards to the SbaCL American-English-to-British-English Word of the Year. It's:

That was rather anticlimatic, wasn't it? Let me try to spruce it up.

Ta-da! It's meh!

Maybe I should stop trying so hard. Meh is an interjection expressing indifference. While there was some debate among readers as to whether it qualifies as AmE-to-BrE, since it's most at home in a cyberspace that doesn't respect dialectal isoglosses, there's a widespread perception that it was populari{s/z}ed by that very American institution, The Simpsons. It's not the kind of word that British grandmothers are going about using (or American grandmothers, for that matter), but it made a splash recently when the Collins dictionary people announced that it would be included in their next edition, and their PR people ensured that the newspapers took up the story. I've since noticed my students using it, particularly on Facebook--one suspects that all the press attention has spread meh's popularity--or at least has made me more sensitive to it.

So, hurrah for meh and meh to hurrah!

Thanks to all who took the time to nominate a word. (Unlike last year, I've actually selected a nominated word. I'm softening up to you people.) Happy Word of the Year, and happy holidays!
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lefties and righties

Joe e-mailed to ask:
I understand that in Great Britain the terms lefty and righty refer to people's political leanings and not their handedness as in the U.S. Is this true, and if so how do the British refer to a left-handed or right-handed person, especially in the context of sports (which is where the issue most often arises here)?
That's mostly true, Joe. Better Half, an avid cricket fan, reports that left-handed batsmen (NB: batter, as in baseball, is AmE, though it's gaining frequency in the UK to refer to cricket players--much to many fans' horror) are referred to as left-handed batsmen. One can also in BrE and AmE call such a person a left-hander. (There are much more derogatory/slang terms--see below.) Most AmE speakers wouldn't think of the diminutive lefty as derogative; in fact, they may consider it to be affectionate. While lefty/righty as handedness labels are found in BrE as well as AmE, they are not used so freely in that way.

Originally from AmE in reference to baseball, we get the slang term southpaw, which has been populari{s/z}ed world-wide through boxing. (Northpaw for right-handers is markedly less common.) It's sometimes considered to be a bit derogatory, particularly since it refers to a human by the name of an animal body part. But as derogatory epithets go, it's got nothing on some of those listed for BrE here. (I'm sure there must be a similar list for AmE, but I'm not finding it--might any of you lefties know?)

As BrE political terms, lefty (also leftie) and the less-common righty (or rightie) are not particularly derogatory either--though, like any epithet, they could be used with belittling intent. Better Half asked me how an American would refer to a socialist, if not by lefty. An awful lot of Americans would probably answer pinko, which is rarely used without derogatory intent and is frequently used in phrases like pinko-commie bastard. The fact of the matter is, while it would be unsurprising and not insulting in the UK to refer to some (certainly not all!) members of the current party in power (Labour) as 'good old socialists', there are few localities in America (Vermont comes to mind) where one could publicly use the word good to modify socialist and not start a fight. Most AmE nicknames for political positions are derogatory or extreme. The most neutral terms are probably left-winger and right-winger, but of course these days almost everyone likes to claim to be 'moderate' or 'middle-of-the-road', etc. Twenty years ago, liberal became a word that was considered a label of shame or an accusation for even the "non-conservative" candidates in the US. (That was back in my student-politico days. The Young Republicans --one of whom recently went to prison in the Abramoff scandal [so there!]-- used to do the L-for-Loser sign on their foreheads while chanting "Liberal" at my colleagues and me.) Conservative has not suffered the same fate in the States. Nor should it--it's a useful word, which makes the 'loss' of liberal as a usable political description all the more sad.
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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)