Showing posts with label prepositions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prepositions. Show all posts

by cash

A(n) historian I know has taken to calling me his favo(u)rite linguist. I have a suspicion I'm the only linguist he knows. Nevertheless, flattery gets you a blog post. And a flattering pseudonym.

So, Generous Historian, when he emailed me about Important University Business, included this:
P.S. A little piece of English-language usage that has struck me a couple of times lately and made me think "Lynne might be interested in that", is that people in shops and cafes now invariably say "are you paying by cash", whereas they would have said "are you paying cash" until recently. The ubiquity of card (and, soon, phone) payments is doubtless to blame, but I was interested by the addition of the pointless "by" because it seems characteristic of US-English (where you "beat on" someone, instead of beating them; "meet with", instead of simply meeting, etc.). Any thoughts?
This historian is English, as you might be able to tell. But he's married to an American so I'm not about to let him off lightly for this (AmE) rookie mistake (=beginner's error).

Note that I didn't say that flattery gets you a flattering blog post.

This is how I chided him:*
You notice more prepositions in AmE because they're new info where you weren't expecting it.  But BrE has an awful lot of prepositions where AmE doesn't--e.g. in expressions of time (on Tuesday), with certain verbs (protest at the decision), etc. I submit, as attachment, data to indicate that this is one not an Americanism. :)

The attachment was this screenshot from the Corpus of Global Web-Based English (GloWBE), showing who says pay by cash:
The darker the blue, the stronger the strength of the expression in the particular nation. Since the Irish sub-corpus is about 1/3 of the size of the US or UK (GB) ones, Ireland uses pay by cash not 3 more times than Britain, but three times more.

So, it looks like BrE is getting by cash from Ireland--where it probably arose on analogy with pay by card. (Or maybe BrE is inventing it separately--that can happen with analogies.) I was particularly taken with this example from the Irish data (from the Garda [police] website):
You can pay by cash, cheque, bank draft, or laser card.
Laser card? They have cards with lasers in Ireland? Let me in!!** 

Incidentally, pay cash, which GH says he would say, is the most strongly American of the alternatives (according to GloWBE). Pay with cash is the most neutral on the US-UK comparison, but has the strongest showing in Canada.

* I once got to see a letter of recommendation that had been written about me, which said "She writes devastating footnotes". This remains the best compliment I have ever received. Nevertheless, I fear my epitaph will be "She wrote chiding emails".

** Apparently laser card means 'debit card' in Ireland, based on the name of the first company to offer them. False alarm. Everyone back to normal, please. Don't mind me; I'm just weeping with disappointment.
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sandwiches, more particularly bacon sandwiches

On Fridays, I sit and work in a cafe with a little group of writing friends, and I've got(ten) into the habit of ordering the same thing for lunch each week (just because it makes calorie-counting easier). Giving me what I've ordered has, alas, not become the habit of the (AmE) waitstaff. So, when my special order was agreed-to but not delivered at a new cafe, I grumpily posted the following on Facebook:

To quote myself, from the previous toast post:
Now, I endeavo(u)r to maintain a descriptive rather than prescriptive attitude toward(s) language on this blog, but I have no hesitation in being prescriptive about toast.
That little Facebook post generated more than 40 comments and 2 additional Facebook posts that afternoon. Then I tweeted about it.  All of this was pretty catastrophic for my productivity that day. But, TOAST!

There are two cross-cultural differences that may have triggered my unsatisfactory lunch. The first is a fairly linguistic problem: the on.  The second is a culinary-cultural problem that is linguistic to the extent that it involves the meaning of sandwich.  And appended to that is the bacon sandwich problem.

Problem 1:  on 
The on problem is that I used an AmE meaning for on in my on toast. This usage would be recogni{s/z}ed by a lot of Brits from television, hearing people order a pastrami on rye or some such. (See my past discursion about semantic drift in the naming of pastrami sandwiches here. Note: I've never seen a sandwich on rye bread anywhere but on American television while in the UK.) But on is not what would be said in BrE, especially for toast, because this idiomatic use of on clashes with BrE use of on toast, as in scrambled egg on toast. There, the egg is put on a slice of toast*, but no sandwich is made. (Americans might call it an open-face(d) sandwich--on toast.)

Some overly pedantic British commenters at my FB/Twitter posts (you know who you are) insisted that I had asked for a bacon sandwich placed on top of a piece of toast.* I call them 'overly pedantic' because while I may not always get what I want when I place this order, no one has ever tried to give me a sandwich atop a piece of toast. It is a possible interpretation, but not one that any waiter would go for. To make it known that I wanted the sandwich bread to be toasted, my English friends tell me I should say with toast, but I fear that I might get a side order of toast in this case. I have since had success asking for (and receiving) my sandwich by saying "could the bread be toasted, please?"

If I had said I wanted a toasted bacon sandwich, I would have got(ten) another thing: cooked bacon put between bread and then heated in a (BrE) sandwich toaster/(AmE) [toasted] sandwich maker (or more recently: panini maker). At one of the cafes we work in, such sandwiches are pre-assembled and put in an opaque, label(l)ed bag, which one can select and then hand to the person at the counter, who toasts it for you. It's ok, but not as good as a bacon sandwich on/made with toast. This is my opinion. Or it may be a fact.

Problem 2: the sandwich problem
I've dealt with the sandwich problem before at the baked goods post. Let me just quote myself again:
As an American, I can make a sandwich using sliced bread, a roll, a bagel, whatever. In the UK, sandwiches are made with sliced bread, and anything else is called by the name of the bread it's in--for example, a ham and cheese baguette. A bacon roll is bacon inside a roll that's been sliced in half (usually with ketchup or brown sauce), and is a popular hangover treatment.
Add to the list of things Americans can make sandwiches with: toast. You might think that's the same thing as sliced bread. You might be wrong. (I love this old Calvin & Hobbes comic that recogni{s/z}es that it isn't.)  I have seen British sandwiches toasted (again: the old toastie post), but I can't recall seeing any made with toast. Lots of open-faced things on toast (eggs, sautéed mushrooms, [AmE] canned/[BrE] tinned spaghetti or beans, about which another post must be written), but not with another piece of bread on top.  Americans make lots of sandwiches with toast, particularly when breakfast foods are involved. I couldn't believe it the first time I saw Better Half make a fried egg sandwich with untoasted bread and ketchup.

Of course, when such disagreements occur, one is bound to hear an English person say 'but we invented the sandwich, so we get to say what it is'. I note/ask here (a) putting things between bread was happening a long time before the 4th Earl of Sandwich had the thing named after him, (b) who is this we who invented [or named] sandwiches? You weren't there. The world of foodstuffs-between-bread has changed between the 18th century and now, and you weren't even around for most of that. It's like when football fans (of either type) say "we won!" No, you didn't. You watched someone else win. You may have enjoyed it, but you didn't do it. But there is no doubt that the English are serious about sandwiches. Here's one of three sandwich-filled fridges in a shop in Brighton station. My American food sensibilities generally keep me from buying any of them.

One of my English FB friends responded to my desire for a bacon sandwich on toast with "No such thing. A sandwich is a sandwich, on toast is on toast." To which some Americans replied "but a club sandwich is always on toast". I'm not sure that's always absolutely true (but Wikipedia seems to agree with them), but it is typical. And it's something that's escaped the attention of some dictionary-writers, including the OED:

Problem 2': the bacon butty problem
The other thing that Americans said was: "a BLT is always best on toast". So here is the crux of our problem. Not only do we have different sandwich cultures. We have very specific different bacon sandwich cultures.

To Americans, the prototypical bacon sandwich is the BLT (or bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich).  It's usually made with mayonnaise and the bread is usually toasted. Like so:

To the English, the prototypical bacon sandwich  is the bacon butty aka bacon sarnieJust bacon and optionally ketchup or brown sauce on (usually) buttered, untoasted bread (supposedly brown sauce is the more northern way to have it, but most people I know down south prefer it that way too, as do I). (The Wikipedia entry for this is pretty [BrE] rubbish. C'mon UK Wikipedians! Priorities!) This (orig. AmE in this sense) guy took this photo to celebrate his Father's Day breakfast:

And this picture looks just like what I get in the cafes, but they give me much less bacon (which is good for the calorie-counting, not so good for the sandwich). I must note here that in both the non-toasting cafes, the thing on the menu was bacon butty.  So my whole trying-to-get-toast thing was probably doomed from the start.


* According to GloWBE, slice of toast is much more common in BrE (63 instances) than in AmE (8), but both can have a piece of toast. The differences are not so clear if one looks at piece/slice of bread.

P.S. [6 June 2014] I forgot about rounds! In BrE, people talk about rounds of toast and rounds of sandwichesI always find this confusing. Here's the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary definition:

8 (British English) a whole slice of bread; sandwiches made from two whole slices of bread
  • Who's for another round of toast?
  •  two rounds of beef sandwiches
So, if it's toast, it's one slice of bread. But if it's a sandwich it's two. If it's cheese on toast, it's one. If it's a cheese toastie, it's two. Got to get that into my head. Except that I just ordered what is described on the menu at this café as "Toast and jam - a round of white or multi-cereal bread..." And I got two slices.  No wonder I get confused. 

And why rounds of sandwiches? Is there any difference in meaning between two beef sandwiches and two rounds of beef sandwiches?  Answers in a comment, please!

Until I get my act together and revamp the blog to have this info in a margin, I'm going to continue to commit acts of shameless self-promotion at the ends of posts.

Upcoming talks:
And I'm halfway through my year of providing mini-essays on British idioms to Focus (UK) magazine, if you're interested.
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The third 'Untranslatables' month summary

This was the third year that I (kind of) declared October Untranslatables Month on my Twitter feed. (Here's 2011 and here's 2012.) Instead of offering a 'Difference of the Day', I offered an 'Untranslatable of the Day'. Except that I started on the 7th of October and occasionally I forgot to do it. (And I don't do 'of the Day' posts on weekends anymore either.) So maybe month is a bit of an exaggeration.

[Now that my union is on strike, I've finally got(ten) (a)round to writing up the summary. If it weren't for the fact that I'm not supposed to be doing work today, my work would be preventing me from blogging still. Next term should be better in terms of not drowning in (BrE) marking/(AmE) grading and quality control exercises all the time, and so there is hope that I will blog again, even if the academic pay dispute is settled.]

Now, before the complaints start, here are the Untranslatables Month facts:
  • 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 one makes 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.
In some cases, I've discussed the expressions before on this blog, so 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.

  • BrE chugger: Disparaging term for person whose job is stopping people on the street to ask for donations to a cause. It's a blend of charity and mugger. Chuggers are usually asking people to sign up for a Direct Debit to their charity (which is much more common in UK than US).

  • AmE to make nice: To try to be friendly/cooperative (with someone)--often because you've been told to do so. [Collins definition]

  • BrE in old money: in pre-decimalized currency and now also 'in non-metric measures' or in any other 'old' kind of measurement.  For example,  'What's 16°C in old money?'. [Down the Lane blog's post]
  • BrE the curate's egg: something bad in parts, good in parts, often euphemistically used: [Wikipedia entry] Suggested by Alan.

  • AmE through when used to link two time-designations and means 'to the end of', e.g. May through July. Suggested by @maceochi. But @AntHeald reminded us that there's a UK dialectal equivalent in while, which was discussed in the comments at this old post on whilst.
  • AmE furlough, which is discussed at Philip Gooden's blog  from a UK perspective. (Gooden translates furlough into BrE as unpaid leave, but that seems too broad. So we'll call it an untranslatable.) Suggested by @timgrant123
  • BrE adjectival sprung: 'having springs'. You can translate it into AmE with a prepositional phrase, but that's not the same as having a word for it. E.g. BrE sprung mattress (AmE innerspring mattress), BrE sprung saddle (i.e. a bike seat with springs). 
  • BrE to fancy: 'to like someone romantically/physically; to have a bit of a crush on'. Snaffled from @btransatlantic's blog post
  • AmE kick the can down the road: 'defer conclusive action by means of a short-term fix'. [Grammarist's post on this] Compare BrE kick into the long grass, which means to put something aside, hoping it'll be forgotten.  Suggested by @patricox
  • BrE (though sure many USers know it) plummy: 'having a "posh" accent'. Speaks volumes about accent and social place in the UK.
  • AmE howdy: suggested by DL, who says there's no BrE equivalent "in terms of exuberance".

  • BrE jolly hockey sticks: adjective used to describe a female of high social class who is enthusiastic in a way that annoys people. For example, this television review describes a coroner's "jolly-hockey-sticks attitude towards death". My definition owes much to Cambridge Dictionaries Online. The OED has an appeal for information about its origins. Suggested by @philviner

  • AmE to eyeball (it): 'to estimate a measurement without a measuring tool'. My 2008 post on it
And slightly cheating, since this one I posted in November:
  • AmE to take the fifth: to not speak because to do so may incriminate you. From the 5th amendment of US constitution. Suggested by @SamAreRandom

Each year I say I won't do an Untranslatable Month again, so maybe this will be the last one.  Or maybe not!

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toward(s) and other ward(s)

The interview I did with the Chicago Manual of Style people has brought me quite a few new readers. (Not to mention a 'Hey! I saw you in this newsletter I subscribe to!" during [BrE] the school run. Next thing you know, it'll be the paparazzi.) One of these new readers is Linda, a Washington, DC editor, who wrote to ask if I'd covered toward and towards. And since I've been rather embarrassed for some time that I haven't covered this, Linda's request has gone to the front of the (AmE) line/(BrE) queue.

The first thing to say about toward and towards is that both are found in both Englishes. What is different is which one is more common and standard in each place. In the US, toward is more common, particularly in published work; in the UK, towards is. This is shown in the ratios of the two variants in each dialect. The Corpus of Contemporary American English has about 6 toward for every 1 towards. But the British National Corpus favo(u)rs towards 23:1.

Towards is one of the things that I resisted for a long time after moving to the UK--because of the associations I had for it in AmE. My first teaching job was teaching remedial (AmE) freshman composition in Illinois, and that was where I first reali{z/s}ed that I was a toward-sayer but that there were a lot of American towards-sayers. And I took it upon myself beat the 's' out of these people. I perceived the 's' as something that marked people as unsophisticated hicks. Most advice you can find on the internet these days will tell you that it's fine to use either. I was a young east-coaster in the midwest. Mea maxima culpa.

So, when I came to the UK and was surrounded by those esses, I just had to grit my teeth, much as I've learn{ed/t} to do with the BrE use of reckon (which says 'HICK' in capital letters to my northeastern US self) and whilst (which says 'PRETENTIOUS' to my US self). Live and let live, speak and let speak, as we're taught in Linguist School. [If you want to talk about those two, please use the comments sections at their linked posts.] These days, if I'm writing for a British publication or if I'm proofreading for a British writer, I do use towards.

The reason I've not done toward and towards in seven years of blogging is that I knew it'd bring up all the other -ward(s) words--and that means work, because they're not as straightforward. Toward(s) is almost always a preposition. Something like backward(s) can be an adverb or an adjective. In my dialect, I'd allow the 's' much more easily for an adverb than for an adjective and I'd allow the 's' more for the figurative use of the adjective than the literal. You may have different instincts about these:
  • Adjective (literal):  a backward(s) motion
  • Adjective (figurative): a backward(s) idea
  • Adverb:  You've got that on backward(s)
I am not going to do an in-depth analysis of all of these. Picking out figurative and non-figurative meaning would be just too labo(u)r-intensive. So, at this point, I'm just going to look at adverbs (since they're more like the preposition toward(s) anyhow). I'm using the Global Web-Based English corpus for this because I suspect that there's a high risk for mislabel(l)ing (or 'mis-tagging', in the corpus linguistics parlance) the parts-of-speech of these particular words. By using GlobWE, I at least know that the same 'tagger' did the tagging, so any mistakes should be comparable. In the table, the percentages are within-dialect. So the AmE numbers add up to 100% in each row and so do the BrE ones.

AdverbsAmE wardAmE wardsBrE wardBrE wards
in-78%22%31% 69%

So we can see here that:
  • Both dialects prefer backwards and (especially strongly) forward.
  • With the exception of forward, BrE prefers -wards, in keeping with its preference for towards.
  • With the exception of backwards and upwards, AmE tends to prefer the 's'-less version, in keeping with its preference for toward
  • AmE's preference for onward over onwards doesn't seem very strong, though.
Showing you the percentages made the numbers clearer, but it hides some interesting things. For instance, Americans use onward(s) (1868 examples, counting both variants) a lot less than the British (5233 examples). Why? A quick glance at the examples shows that many of the UK examples were things like
from 1833 onwards
version 1.5.2 onwards

from primary school onwards
AmE would tend to use on as an adverb in such cases, rather than the -ward(s) form.  So, for example GlobWE has 11 examples of from 2008 onwards and 5 of from 2008 on in BrE. Those numbers are reversed in the AmE portion of the corpus.

The other thing that interests me in those numbers relates to my day job, in which I study antonymy (opposite relations). Why do forward in AmE upwards have different endings from their opposites? I can't come up with any semantic explanation. I'll just have to conclude with something I've been heard to say elsewhere (and may be heard to say again in Ashford and Ealing in September):
If you're looking for logic in vocabulary, then you're looking in the wrong place.

In other news: My second (and last for the time being) contribution to the Numberphile video series is now available--on differences in how numbers are said and used in AmE and BrE. If you're interested in more on that subject, here's the link to my other 'numbers' posts.

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both the two of us

Jeremy H wrote me the following:
I have noticed two usages which, in England, seem familiar only to journalists. One was in a headline in the Mail today: "This port ain't big enough for the both of us". I have never heard "the both" uttered in BrE. The other is "You and me both".
Starting with the both: I think of the AmE expression as 'this town ain't big enough for the two of us', and indeed two outnumbers both by about 17:4 in the context [adjective] enough for the ___ of [pronoun] in the Corpus of Contemporary AmE (COCA) (and there's exactly one of these things in British National Corpus [BNC], and it has two too).

The this town... line is usually associated with western films (a variation on it was said by a character named Duke in Bandits of the Badlands (1945)). But there are earlier occurrences (the oldest ones with two), and the earliest one I've found is in Anthony Trollope's The Vicar of Bullhampton (1870)--not a western, unless you count Wiltshire as 'the West' (and apparently some people do consider it to be part of the West Country).  There, the eponymous character says: "Heytesbury isn't big enough for the two of us".  There's also a 1903 "Ostrokov is not big enough to hold the two of us, and that consequently, while I am vicar here, you shall never be rabbi." in the American magazine The Living Age (though the quoted text clearly not set in America, and I don't know who the author is).  So, today's stereotype-busting lesson: it's men of the cloth who deserve the reputation for saying such things, not cowboys or sheriffs.

Comparing just the both of [pronoun] (the both of us, the both of you, the both of them, plus some alternative forms of those pronouns) in the BNC and COCA is kind of interesting. That is, it had better be interesting because I just spent too much of my Friday night looking at it.  (In parentheses are the hits when the is excluded. They're less reliable, since they include contexts with possessive pronouns.)

Instances of the both of [pronoun] and (both of [pronoun]) per 10 million words
AmE (COCA)  10.8 (97)   5.6 (141)
BrE (BNC)   12  (21)   1.1(123)

Since the both of occurs more in speech than in writing, it looks as though it's considered to be somewhat informal in both dialects, but more so in BrE.  In BrE spoken, the the version is 57% of the total both of [pronoun] hits, versus AmE's 11%.  The other way to use both with a pronoun would be [pronoun] both.  There, we find 311 per 10m in BNC and 296 per 10m in COCA. This looks pretty similar.  (I did find some strange codings in COCA--though not enough to make the figures very different. But since when is coffee a personal pronoun?)

Meanwhile, the two of [pronoun] is about twice as frequent in COCA than in the BNC. I haven't done further analysis of this because I can't seem to weed out the possessive pronouns (none occurred in the both data), but I can look more specifically at particular instantiations of this construction: the two of us and the two of you, and compare it to the equivalent [pronoun] two constructions. (Though, it must be said, this method can't sort out things like I want to give you two puppies. But we'll just have to assume that this kind of "noise" is constant across the dialects. It might not be.)

Instances per 10 million words
dialectthe two
 of us
     we two +
       us two

   the two
    of you  

  you two

           8.9         37.3         81.6
BrE (BNC)     15.1           10.8         12.6    61.8

That COCA has 20% spoken data and BNC only 10% may go some way toward(s) explaining the differences, since you might need to specify the number of referents of a pronoun more often in a speech context. But I don't think that's the whole story--after all, the numbers have the two of you occurring about three times more often in AmE and just under half of the AmE instances are spoken.   So, the two of [pronoun], like the both of [pronoun], seems more common in AmE than BrE, and BrE doesn't seem to be making up for it by using many more [pronoun] two or [pronoun] both.  So, do Americans just specify numbers of pronoun referents more often than BrE speakers/writers do? Or have I left out another means of sticking a number "on" a pronoun? Probably we need a much more thorough analysis with more comparable corpora (the BNC is 20 years old) before we can tell.

Moving on to Jeremy's second item, [pronoun] and [pronoun] both is much more common in AmE (40 per million words) than BrE (0.26 pmw)--although AmE didn't invent it. The OED says:
Both may follow, instead of preceding (as in A. 1), the two words or phrases connected by and; now only in the case of two ns. (two pronouns, or n. and pronoun) subjects of the same plural verb, but formerly (and still dialectally) in all other cases. In this use both may often be replaced by too or also.
They include the example:
1561    T. Hoby tr. B. Castiglione Courtyer (1577) P vij,   It shalbe good for him and me both.
I wrote this whole entry before remembering to look at John Algeo's British or American English? I approached it with contradictory wishes: (1) If he discusses all this, I'll have wasted hours of my Friday night. I hope he hasn't discussed it. (2) My corpus evidence is pretty shaky. I hope he discusses it.  I got wish (1). Algeo does mention, however, that AmE prefers both of these [plural noun] whereas BrE prefers both those [plural noun]Oddly, though, this preference does not extend to both (of) those, where both varieties prefer the of version.

And before I go: 
Today (wait! it's not today anymore! help!) was my third Twitterversary. If you're not on Twitter, you probably have a rich and interesting life. But you're not on Twitter.  And oh how much I've gained from Twitter!  Forget LinkedIn--this is the way to network. While I have to be very careful about not following too many accounts or trying to read everything that's posted (I could easily make it my full-time job), I learn so so much through it every day. I was interviewed for a film about Twitter this week, and I kept coming back to a similar theme: Twitter helps me appreciate how complex the world is--from the macro level of international affairs to the micro level of people's daily triumphs and struggles. So, hurray for Twitter! And hurray for my followers there, who enrich my understanding of national varieties of English every day. If you'd like to meet me there, you can find me here.
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it's down/up to you

Fellow American-academic-in-UK @PurlHussy suggested a Twitter Difference of the Day for me, and I thought: why tweet when I could blog AND tweet? (Um/Erm, because I should be marking/grading essays? Hey, blogging it is!!)

The difference is in how we more informally say 'it is your (or her or his or my) responsibility'. It may seem strange, but BrE and AmE look like they're complete opposites on this one. In BrE, one can say It's down to you to mean 'it's your responsibility to do that', whereas AmE would say it's up to you.

One does see it's up to you in BrE to mean 'it's your responsibility', or more specifically (as in AmE) 'it's your choice'. It's common enough in BrE that the OED marks it as just 'originally' AmE. There are two examples of It's up to you in the British National Corpus (accessed through, both with this 'choice' sense:
I've done it and er I mean it's up to you as to which date you choose. [spoken in a meeting]

"Well, it's up to you of course, Mr Dakin, but this is the third time I've had to stitch her teats and I'm afraid it's going to keep on happening." [from James Herriot's Vets might fly]
 But all the ones that are straight responsibility meanings are it's down to you in the BNC (10 hits):
But if they get arrested it's down to you. [conversation]

Unless you're a tenant, it's down to you to make sure gas appliances receive the regular expert servicing they need. [advert]

Between now and Sunday it's down to you to decide that you definitely want to go ahead [speech]
(Of course there may also be examples of it'll be down to you or whether you do it is down to you or it's down to her or it's down to Nigel, etc. Searching for a single set phrase made it easier to avoid senses of down to that have nothing to do with responsibility.)

Meanwhile, in AmE, the Corpus of Contemporary American English has 398 hits for it's up to you and only one for it's down to you--and in that (fictional) context it might have just meant 'you're the only one left' (hard to tell--the responsibility meaning or the 'only you' meaning would both fit in the context).

So, up and down. Why are two opposite words used to mean the same thing? Because figurative language is slippery stuff, that's why. The OED tells us that up to [someone] is from the game of poker (traced to 1896), and is in general use from 1913. In the poker context it means basically 'it's your turn to make a decision and act on it'. So, it's sort of 'we've got(ten) up to you in the series of people who need to act in this game'. (One could have seen it going the other way, with one going 'down' the list of people whose turn it would be next. But poker is a game of escalation, so it doesn't seem surprising to me that the turn-taking metaphor goes upward.)

The BrE down to [someone] is only traced back to 1970 in the OED.  One can see how this might come about from the 'there's no one else left' reading of down to (as in we're down to one candle). It's down to you says that, for the purpose of its context, the people who could have responsibility for something are reduced to one: you.

From my non-native perspective, it seems to me that up to and down to have different connotations in BrE--up to being choice and down to being serious responsibility.  AmE doesn't make any such distinction and has up to for both.

It's down/up to you to tell us what you think.
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on on

*ruffling around in the email bag*

And here's the start of a letter from American reader Emmet:
Was struck by this example from the Economist as something that could be highly ambiguous to AmE native speakers:

"Correction: we accidentally published an incorrect set of figures for the percentage change on one week ago. This was corrected on January 22nd 2010."
Another example is a headline from the Guardian:  "University applications up a fifth on last year"
Ah, on. As John Algeo writes, "This preposition is one that has many differences in use between British and American English". So, let's try to get through a few of those here. 

The on that Emmet's observed here is indeed a BrEism meaning 'in comparison to'. The OED definition goes like this:
Indicating comparison with a standard, originally a favourable one; (Finance) compared with, in relation to (a previous financial situation, figure, etc.), esp. in up or down on.
They trace the usage to the 18th century--though the more modern examples involving numbers don't show up till the late 19th century. In AmE in these cases, one would have to do something else, such as Five times one fifth more applications than last year or the percentage change since last week. You might be able to use from here too--but as far as I can tell (on the web--my corpus access isn't working tonight), that's still more common in BrE than AmE.

Emmet's message continued:
There's a second and maybe (?) related usage that I've seen in discussions of the standings/league tables of sport(s) teams, like "Humble Lions slipped two spots to 10th on 27 points", or "After defeating Everton, Manchester United are on 15 points."
This doesn't have the sense of comparison that the last one has, so I wouldn't call them related. In AmE, one could say with here--that is, the teams have that many points for the season.  These relate to another UK institution: league tables. In this case, the league tables are for a literal league--in (BrE) football/(AmE) soccer (where the term league table originated in the early 20th century).  Americans would call these rankings or standings. Nowadays, the British have league tables for lots of things--schools, universities, companies, pension funds...

Some temporal ons are often pointed out to me. AmE speakers can do something Wednesday or on Wednesday but BrE speakers need the on. When speaking of future weekdays, BrE speakers are much more likely to say a week on Wednesday where AmE speakers are much more likely to say a week from Wednesday. (And then there's Wednesday week--which I've already discussed, along with some of the other things in this paragraph.)

A lot of the other on differences are associated with particular other words--verbs or nouns that precede or follow on. I can't do those all here--they'll come up (BrE) as and when/(AmE) if and when.†  But looking through the OED's entry on on, I note a few other things:
  • In sport(s), on to express the relationship between opposing players (e.g. one-on-one) is described as 'chiefly N. Amer.'.
  • The use of on with closed means of transport (e.g. I went there on the train) is originally AmE, but generally accepted as common English now. (This followed the common English on horseback, on foot--it was only the 'closed means of transport' that ever differed.)
  • With [name] on drums/guitar/bass/etc. (no verb of 'playing', no the after the on) is another originally AmE usage that is now used by performers all over. 
  • [This one's amended since David Crosbie's comment:] Another American-invented sense (or pair of senses) is: 'Addicted to or under the influence of (a drug or drugs); regularly using or receiving (medication, treatment, etc.).' (OED) so... He's on drugs. She's on antibiotics.
  • And we talked about on the street versus in the street back here.

P.S.  I had thought that I'd be blogging a lot more now that we're on a five-week teaching break, but we're about to start the third week of it, and I've only managed two because the deadlines don't stop when the students leave. Alas. Must try harder!

But AmE is not as likely as BrE to use its phrase as a stand-alone. In AmE I'm much more comfortable saying if and when they are topical or something like that.
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in the middle of our street/block

When I don't know what I want to blog about, I stick a virtual pin into the email inbox and choose the first do-able request/suggestion that I find. This is supposed to be a fair method, though perhaps not as fair as 'first come, first served'. Truth be told, many of the oldest ones in the inbox are in the 'may not be doable' or 'may not be a real difference' category, so I have come to avoid them a bit. At any rate, my 'fair' method might not seem fair this time, since the suggestion I've clicked on is from the same requester as the last blog post.

So, thank you Ben Zimmer for putting another interesting and pop-culture-related suggestion in my inbox. Ben noted the use of in the middle of our street in the Madness song 'Our House', and asked: "Have you talked about this one? I don't think it's possible in AmE for a house to be in the middle of a street."

Yes, that's an interesting one.  But so is the rest of the song.  It's Saturday night--let's do the whole thing!

I should start by noting that this is the only Madness song that made it to the Top 20 singles chart in the US, whereas in the UK they were HUGE, having 20 singles in the Top 20 in the 1980s (more if you count re-issues). So, for British people of my generation, mention Madness and they're as likely (if not more likely) to wax nostalgic about 'Baggy Trousers' or 'House of Fun' as about 'Our House'. Still 'Our House' has had  a lot of attention in the UK. It won the 'Best Song'  in the Ivor Novello Awards, became part of the advertising campaign for Birdseye frozen foods (video) with frontman Suggs as pea-shiller (not fair--but a good pun, no?), and was the title of a Madness-based West End musical. Unlike some other pop/rock-band-based musicals, like Mamma Mia and We Will Rock You, the Madness musical did not transfer to Broadway or tour the US.

I loved 'Our House' as an American teenager, particularly for its wordplay, but I have to wonder how much I missed in my pre-UK days.  So, for the benefit of my teenage self, here's a stanza-by-stanza playback:

Father wears his Sunday best
Mother's tired she needs a rest
The kids are playing up downstairs
Sister's sighing in her sleep
Brother's got a date to keep
He can't hang around
In my day job, antonyms are my special(i)ty, so I am particularly fond of the juxtapositon of up/down here. However, I don't think that in my youth I understood that this wasn't just a little lyrical nonsense.  To play up is informal BrE for behaving irritatingly or erratically. One's lumbago can play up, the computer might play up, and certainly one's children can play up.  (Late addition: BZ has pointed out the AmE equivalent: act up.)
Our house, in the middle of our street
Our house, in the middle of our ...
The chorus, and the point of BZ's original query. To my young American ears, this sounded intentionally funny.  The house is in the middle of the street! Like where the manholes should be! No, no, no.  This is the BrE equivalent of in AmE in the middle of our block. This is a originally AmE use of block to mean 'the length of a street between cross-streets' or 'one side of a square of land with buildings, bounded by four streets'. This sense is not often found in BrE, though most BrE speakers I know are aware of it. Still, they find it odd when Americans apply it to British places since (a) there are rarely regular blocks in British towns ([BrE] Have/(AmE) take a look at this map of Camden Town, London [home of Madness], for instance) and (b) block has a more prominent residence-related BrE sense: 'a building separated into units', e.g. an office block or a block of flats. This sense of block is not marked as dialectal in the American Heritage Dictionary, but do Americans actually say it much? In AmE, I'd always say office building or apartment building.  (For another difference in UK/US use of street, see back here.)

But even if it weren't in the middle of the street, 'our house' would still be in our street, because in BrE addresses can be in the street or road. John Algeo, in British or American English?, writes:
For specifying the position of something relative to a street, British generally uses in and American on. When the street in question is noted as a shopping location, British uses on or in.
Algeo's corpus has equal numbers of in/on the High Street (i.e. the main shopping street--akin to AmE Main Street, at least, before the Walmartification of American towns). A Google search of British books shows a clear preference for in in this case, however.  (Click here to see the ngram view.)
Our house it has a crowd
There's always something happening
And it's usually quite loud
Our mum she's so house-proud
Nothing ever slows her down
And a mess is not allowed
House-proud is the piece of BrE I remember learning through this song. The meaning is fairly transparent. To be house-proud is to take particular pride in the upkeep and decoration of one's house.  The expression reminds me of Kate Fox's discussion of the English relationship to their homes in her book Watching the English. A related newspaper piece by Fox can be found here--but I really recommend the book. Again.  (Click on the link for mum--I've discussed it on an earlier occasion.)
Father gets up late for work
Mother has to iron his shirt
Then she sends the kids to school
Sees them off with a small kiss
She's the one they're going to miss
In lots of ways

This one has no glaringly specific BrEisms, but does allow us to note British male predilection for comedic cross-dressing, evident in the video above.

The last unrepeated verse has nothing particularly non-AmE about it either, but I include it here for completeness, and because I like how I can hear the words being delivered as I read them.
I remember way back then when everything was true and when
We would have such a very good time such a fine time
Such a happy time
And I remember how we'd play simply waste the day away
Then we'd say nothing would come between us two dreamers

The song ends with the chorussy bit repeated, with variations, including this one: 
Our house, was our castle and our keep
Our house, in the middle of our street
We can't say that castle and keep is non-AmE; if we needed to talk about castles and keeps, those are the words we'd use. But since we don't have medi(a)eval castles, many Americans might not know this sense of keep. Call me a philistine (you probably won't be the first), but I  didn't know it (despite hearing it in the song repeatedly) or other castle-part terms until I moved to England and started visiting castles. Here's a guide to castle parts for those who want to know.

And in case I haven't already thoroughly shown my age, I'll say this: I was so lucky to be a teenager and (AmE) college/(BrE) university student in the 1980s.* At least when I'm going senile and just want to sing songs from my prime, I'll be ok. Oh wait, I just had a Lionel Richie flashback. I'm doomed.

*Whether it was cool to like Madness in the 1980s is another matter, especially for my English generation-mates, such as Better Half. At the time, he tells me, one couldn't like both the ska-inspired London music that included Madness (though Madness were definitely ska-lite) and the New Romantics. But age works wonders on taste, and now we find ourselves nostalgic for music that we were too cool for then. But I am still embarrassed to have done so much dancing to Lionel Richie.
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with regard(s) to

I've been teaching in England for 11 years now, and I've come to the point where I cannot tell whether the weird things that (some of) my students write are generational (after all, I've never taught their generational equivalents in the US) or dialectal.  For the past couple of years my pet peeve has been with regards to and in regards to -- I rarely read a student essay, dissertation, or thesis without at least one of these scratching my eyeballs more than once. Aside from the use of three words where one (e.g. concerning) would do, there's that plural regards, which sounds to me like a confusion (or, if you like technical terms, a phrasal blending) of with/in regard to and as regards.*

In fact, I got so frustrated about it in my last batch of marking that I wrote this note on Facebook:

'Regard' has three uses in common idioms.

In 'with/in regard to', it means 'attention' or 'sight'. You would not pluralize those words in this context, so don't pluralize 'regard'.

In 'as regards'. 'regard' is a verb that means 'concerns'. You'd have the 's' on either verb here as they're agreeing with an unspoken 3rd person subject.

In 'give my regards to', 'regards' means 'greetings', and like 'greetings' in this context, it's used in the plural.

Glad I got that out of my system.
(Now, I must say here that language--particularly English--is not necessarily logical. The above explanations were intended as aids for learning and remembering which versions take the plural, and are not expected to be taken as historical facts, as I didn't research those at the time.)

I spent a long time thinking that the plural regards in this context is just the product of young people not reading as much edited text as previous generations of university students. But when I complained about it to someone or other, they did the one thing that can move me to immediate dialectal research. They claimed it was the effect of American television.

Reali{z/s}ing that I could imagine with regards to much better in an English accent than an American one, I started looking around. But the more I looked, the more confusing it got. It's a mystery wrapped in a shibboleth.

At first, I could not find much British usage commentary on it. But it definitely seems to be something that annoys Americans.  For instance, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English (cited here) says:
In and with regard to, regarding, and as regards are all Standard, synonymous prepositions, slightly longer and more varied than but meaning much the same as about and concerning: I spoke to him regarding [as regards, in regard to, with regard to] his future. With regards to is Nonstandard and frequently functions as a shibboleth, although it can be Standard and idiomatic in complimentary closes to letters: With [my] regards to your family…. In regards to, however, is both Substandard and Vulgar, although it appears unfortunately often in the spoken language of some people who otherwise use Standard. It never appears in Edited English.
On the other hand, neither The Economist Style Guide (UK) nor Fowler's Modern English Usage (Oxford UP) have anything to say about. The Guardian Style Guide (which is more relaxed about linguistic change than some of its competitors--see this debate) says:

with regard to not with regards to (but of course you give your regards to Broadway)
And the OED says that in regards to is 'regional and non-standard' but does not mention with regards to.  So...coverage of these items is patchy, which either means that it's a newish innovation or that it's not annoying everyone else as much as it annoys me. 

On to the British and American numbers. I used Mark Davies' website, as I often do, in order to access the British National Corpus (compiled in the early 1990s) and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (1990s-present). Using these corpora and searching with regard(s) to and in regard(s) to I found the plural 'regards' outnumbering singular in BrE, but not in AmE.

with regard to:with regards to3:78:1
in regard to:in regards to1:24:1

But it turns out that this data is weird. I have no idea why the plurals are coming out so high in the BNC, but other British data don't give the same result. A possible explanation can be dismissed: maybe the 'with regards to' examples were in the appropriately plural greetings sense, as in 'I send these flowers with (my) regards to you and your mother'. But I checked, and all of the examples have the 'concerning' rather than 'greeting' sense.

John Algeo's book British or American English? reports that in the Cambridge International Corpus, the singular regard is favo(u)red 19.4:1, versus the smaller 4.3:1 ratio in AmE. So, the plural looked like it was BrE in my search, but looks AmE in Algeo's.

So, I tried another old Separated by a Common LanguageTM trick, and searched websites of American and British higher education establishments by searching the phrases on Google specifying .edu or sites only. Here, the picture is somewhere in between the CIC and BNC/COCA stories; both Americans and British prefer the singular, but the British are more likely than Americans to use with regards to rather than with regard to. But at the same time, the British more strongly (than the Americans) prefer the singular for the in phrase:

with regard to:with regards to10:117:1
in regard to:in regards to4:12:1

The other thing to note here is that the in phrase is not as common in BrE as in AmE. According to Algeo (and the CIC), of the four combinations of in, with, singular and plural, with regard to accounts for 82% of the data in BrE, but only 68% in AmE. My .edu/ numbers come out almost exactly the same.

The only explanation for the BNC aberration that I can think of is that most of the examples of these regard(s) to phrases in the BNC are from spoken data.  I can't know how many of the CIC instances were spoken--about 17% of the corpus overall was spoken--but much of that is the BNC spoken material.

My last search was on the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA), also from Mark Davies' site. This allows one to see results by decade, from the 1810s to the 2000s. I have no equivalent for BrE. But I think I have the answer to my original question: the plurals explode in the 2000s.  This jibes with my subjective experience. Thus, I'm concluding it's more a generational thing than a dialectal one.

All this, and I haven't really given you an AmE/BrE difference: both prefer the singular, and the plural seems to be picking up speed. But that's kind of the point. My initial urge was to point fingers at the British, and the British person I talked to wanted to blame it on the Americans. But it's happening everywhere, and you only really know that if you look in the right places.

* Yes, the professional linguists' line is to be descriptive, not prescriptive. But I'm not just a linguist. I am a university instructor, and one cannot be one of those [at least not on the Arts side of campus] without being a writing instructor some of the time.  I want my students to come out of our degree program(me) writing as if they are well-read, well-spoken and reasonable.  And so, I try.
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where I'm at

The title of this post makes reference to a pet peeve that several (English) readers have wanted me to know about. I'm not going to defend it; I'm just going to use it as I think it means more than 'where I am'.  (Discuss.)

I've not blogged yet this month, and I'm just here to say that I probably won't.  I am so absolutely swamped by things that aren't as fun as blogging but which Must Be Done, and I'm dashing off here and there and everywhere for conferences and meetings.  Expect to see me again, a bit, in June--after the marking lets up a bit and the conferences are out of the way.

In the meantime, I am still tweeting.  I can manage 140 characters on BrE/AmE differences on most days as a distraction from the horror of my early-summer deadlines.
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protesting prepositions

For the second time in my life, I was on strike today.  I mean, really on strike as in having my pay docked for it, not like the one-woman strike I held in order to protest the rat infestation in my office at a former place of employ.  That one worked.  The rats relented.  This time, we're seeing some effect of staff and student protests and our counterproposals to the management's plan for over one hundred (BrE) redundancies/(AmE) layoffs, and I hope that will continue and that the strike draws attention to wider problems that, in my estimation, start with the government's classification of higher education as part of Business, Innovation and Skills (formerly Trade and Industry) rather that part of a department of education.  (There was such a department, but this (BrE) government / (AmE) administration turned it into a department for 'children, schools and families' and reclassified universities as part of the business world.) 

Happily, the only pay that I get for noticing AmE/BrE differences is my Google ad income, so I am free to notice them on a strike day.  That £4.50 per month will (N Amer & Irish colloquial, in this position) sure see me through the grim times.  <subliminal>Click! Click! Click! This child needs shoes!</subliminal>

And what did I notice today?  Well, this phrase in the BBC coverage of the strike, for one thing:
Hundreds of staff from the University of Sussex staged a strike in protest at job cuts, as students occupied a lecture theatre for an eighth day.
In protest at?   My first thought: 'Are the (AmE) copy-editors/(BrE) subeditors at the BBC on strike too?'  My second thought: 'What can a quick corpus search tell me about this preposition choice?'  A lot, as it turns out.

I used (as I usually do these days) Mark Davies' wonderful interface for the British National Corpus (BNC) and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and searched for in protest with six prepositions:  at, against, of, over, to, and about.  The last two only occurred at tiny rates in both corpora, so I haven't included them in the table below.  These are the results, expressed as percentages within each dialect:

   BrE        AmE
       at     703
       against     2434

So, there you have it.  In British English, one generally strikes in protest at something but in American, there is no clear preference for a particular preposition (unless I'm not thinking of it?).  Personally, I'd edit my own writing toward(s) in protest againstAs we were just discussing the other day, American English does seem to be more of-ridden than BrE.

But another interesting aspect of this story is that the American figures represent a lot less (or fewer, if you insist) data, in spite of the fact that COCA is four times bigger than BNC.  Taking this into account, BrE uses in protest+PREPOSITION more than seven times more often than AmE does.  So I thought:  'that must mean that AmE doesn't like to use protest as an abstract noun as much as BrE does, and so we tend to use the verb.'  But searching the verb protest shows that AmE doesn't use that more than BrE does either (though the difference is not as stark as for the prepositional phrases I searched--in the BrE corpus it occurs 2427 times per million words, and in AmE it's 1968 per million).  In all uses of the noun BrE uses it more (but only 1.38 times more, not the 7x more of the in protest phrases). 

So, do the British have more to protest?  Or do Americans prefer other ways of talking about protesting?  I think I know the answer as far as higher education is concerned...
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off (of) and out (of)

Andy S wrote to say:
I'm interested in the Americanism off of which sounds very odd to British ears. I'd be interested to know more about it.
Indeed, Americans would often get off of a [much more common in AmE--in BrE it can have a more restricted meaning] couch, whereas British folk would get off the [available in AmE, but I suspect that the frequency varies regionally] sofa.  That's not to say that off of is the only way we put it in AmE, as evidenced by  Paul Simon's admonition to Gus to hop off the bus.  And Americans didn't make it up.  In the OED, one can find the following examples:

a1616 SHAKESPEARE Henry VI, Pt. 2 (1623) II. i. 98 A fall off of a Tree.
A. MARVELL Corr. in Wks. (1875) II. 224 The Lords and we cannot yet get off of the difficultyes risen betwixt us.


Nevertheless, it came to be regarded as 'non-standard' in Britain. In AmE (according to Random House Webster's College Dictionary, 1991 [via Fowler's Modern English Usage, 3rd edn]), off of is 'widespread in speech, including that of the educated . . . but is rare in edited writing'.
But, in a weird twist, AmE speakers are more likely to say go out the window/door than BrE speakers, who more typically go out of the window.  According to a corpus study by Maria Estling published in English Today (1999; 15:3.22-7; via John Algeo's British or American English), when going through windows or doors, BrE uses out of twice as often as out and AmE uses out more than six times as much as out of in this context.  But BrE differs a lot in spoken (72% out) versus written (80% out of).  Algeo investigated this further and found that both BrE and AmE prefer out more strongly with door, but Americans 'more strikingly so'.  BrE users are twice as likely to say out with door but AmE speakers are nine times more likely to say out the door.

Algeo goes on to list several more cases in which BrE uses out of and AmE either doesn't, or is less likely to:
  1. Algeo reports that he's found equal numbers of from King's Cross ([BrE] railway station/[AmE] train station) and out of King's Cross, but no cases of out of Grand Central.  I'm not sure if he checked more than just Grand Central though...and whether he knows that Penn Station would be a better test case (because NY Penn Station gets more than four times the traffic of Grand Central, and there are Penn Stations in other cities too).  Checking on the web, I find that trains out of Penn Station gets 901 hits, while trains from Penn Station gets 18,100, backing up Algeo's evidence for a difference.
  2. BrE says out of hours to mean 'outside normal business hours', while AmE would use after hours in most similar contexts.
  3. BrE kicks people out of the team 96% of the time in Algeo's data (versus off the team) AmE always kicks people off the team.
  4. BrE sometimes (28% of the time in A's data--the Cambridge Intertnational Corpus) has things being out of all recognition instead of beyond all recognition.  AmE always uses the latter.
Why would anyone ever use a compound preposition with of if they don't need to?  When I want to give my students an example of a really meaningless word, I use of.  I mean, what does it add to anything?  Well, it adds a preposition, and we need prepositions to glue bits of sentences together and tell us which parts go with which parts.  For instance consider the phrase:
The Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers welcomes the deposit, by the Russian Federation, of its instrument of ratification of Protocol.  [Council of Europe, Committee of Ministers]
 And without the ofs:
The Chairperson the Committee Ministers welcomes the deposit, by the Russian Federation, its instrument ratification Protocol.
The ofs tell us to process the sentence like this:

(I've tried to make the ofs go under the noun phrases they're attaching to.)

So, why do you need the glue of of if you've already got a workable preposition?  Probably (in part) because there's some ambiguity about whether out and off are prepositions.  In many situations, they are adverbial.  You can tell the difference in that prepositions require objects--i.e. noun phrases--to go [usually] after them, but an adverb modifies the verb, rather than gluing a noun to a sentence.  So:

I jumped off  [adverbial; tells something about the direction of your jumping]
I jumped off the table [preposition; indicates a relationship between the me-jumping and the table]
(For the record, the AmE part of my brain is screaming for an of in the second example.)
If we understand the off to be an adverb, then we'd need a preposition in order to glue the table onto the sentence.   But wait one (AmE) gumdanged minute!  There are other adverb/preposition pairs that don't have an of variant.  What's up with that?

Well, I don't know--I've not researched this, so this is middle-of-the-night rambling, but notice that we don't get *in of or *on of.  (* is linguists' way of marking an impossible grammatical construction.)  The of seems to signify a movement away, a 'from' meaning. (Notice we do get into and onto-- a 'toward' meaning matches on or in--so we do make compound prepositions with them too.)  Why do off and out allow of, while other 'away'-meaning preposition/adverbs, like away, down and up, use from instead? Oh, I don't's past 2 in the morning--stop with the questions already!  The most likely answer is 'because that's the way people have started saying it', but I'm tempted to think it's because the others are further to the adverbial side of the preposition-adverb continuum than off and out are and that they therefore need a stronger prepositional support.  But then again I don't know that I actually believe it, so I'm going to shut up already [final positioning of already is AmE, influenced by Yiddish].  Good night!
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well done the

Often these days my blogging consists of answering queries from readers wondering about this or that thing they've heard or read. I'm going to turn that on its head and ask you about something. It's this little type of exclamation:
In each Festival match of 30 overs we scored over 115 runs and on average only lost 4 wickets an innings – well done the batters.* [Derbyshire Cricket Board]

Well done the players, we knew you had it in you and well done Juande Ramos, you sorted the tactics just right to get the best from our lads [comment on SkySports]

Well done the runners [comment on a JustGiving page]

This for us was an excellent result, playing in a section above a our current one and finishing in the top half of the results, nothing wrong with that, well done the band. Well done the other bands yesterday, it was by all accounts a great contest [Amington Band]

* I also found one example of Well done the batsmen. I know cricket purists will be annoyed by the batter in that example--but BH tends to associate the expression with batter rather than batsmen, so that's what I looked up first.

So...this well done the thing. I can't say it. Better Half says he hears it often in cricket commentary, but that it's rather new. I can't find anything discussing it in the usual places I'd look.

It looks like a congratulatory utterance directed at the named group, but if you're congratulating someone, you'd usually do so by addressing them. In the second example we see an example of that: well done Juande Ramos. But if you're addressing a group by common noun rather than by a proper name, you wouldn't normally in English use a definite determiner (the). So, Well done, runners would be fine in any form of English.

The other thing that it could be is a sort of indirect congratulation, where you're not addressing the congratulatee (congratulee? congratuland?) directly, but expressing your congratulatory sentiments about them to someone else. In this case, common core English would usually use a to: Well done to the runners! Or 'Well done!' to the runners.

Most of the cases of this that I've found involve no mid-phrase punctuation. With a comma after done, I'd think it a straightforward case of direct congratulations, and so would note the weird use of the whoevers as a term of address. Without the comma, it's less clear--though note that the comma is not always used when address terms are used--and may be less often used (or used less often) in less-comma-ful British English. One doesn't see things like the runners being used as a term of address elsewhere in the language. Race officials don't welcome racers with *Hello, the runners. So, it's less than clear that the runners is being used as a term of address.

But I can see no motivation for dropping the to in the indirect form either. I can't imagine similar droppings of to in other indirect greetings. Hello to the children, yes. Hello the children, no. So, I'm sticking with my initial assumption that we're supposed to understand the runners as a term of address in Well done the runners. But then again, there is the BrE Up the runners, which is also missing a preposition (with) from my AmE perspective. BH's perception is that that use of up is (his words) (BrE) "toffee-nosed Oxbridge talk" and well done the is in a different class--but others may have different perceptions of the two constructions. I'd love to hear about them.

Because BH knew this from cricket, I had a snoop around other countries--I found only one case on an .au site (searching for batters, batsmen, bowlers, players and runners), none on .ie, .pk, .nz or .za, and the only one I found in a few pages of sorting through Indian sites was by a New Zealander. So, it's looking pretty British to me--though whether it's coming from a particular dialect is not at all clear, since I've found it all over the country.

So, who's got [orig. AmE] the scoop on the origins of this construction? And is there anyone out there whose brain isn't a bit jangled by it?
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The book!

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