Showing posts with label signage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label signage. Show all posts

curb / kerb

pic from marshalls.co.uk
(AmE) What's up with the spelling kerb? This is one of those topics that I *thought* I had blogged about. But no!

BrE has kerb for the edging alongside a road or path and curb for the 'restraint' verb (as in curb your enthusiasm). AmE uses curb for both.

In general, there are more homophones for which BrE differentiates spellings and AmE doesn't than the other way (a)round. This is not particularly surprising, since spelling differences are generally in the direction of AmE being easier to learn than BrE (that was Noah Webster's first priority in promoting new spellings).

But the point I try to highlight when I talk about spelling differences is: most American spellings were not invented in the US. There have always been spelling variations. And that's well illustrated by this case.

Spelling the 'edge' noun

Kerb is the newer spelling—albeit, still hundreds of years old. The first c- spellings for the noun are from the 1400s, following the spelling of the French word from which it ultimately derives: courbe, for 'curved'. Before paving was so common, there were lots of other uses of curb, including some that referred to different kinds of curved edges around things. Occasionally (from the 1700s), these were spelt with a k, but the c was much more common. It's only in the 1800s that the k spelling becomes firmly associated with 'an edging of stone (etc.) along a raised path'. In the age of industriali{s/z}ation, such edgings would have become more commonplace.

The OED's entry for kerb gives the etymology as 'variant of CURB, n., used in special senses'.  This looks an awful lot like what happened with tyre. Tire had become the usual spelling for wheel-related meanings (though tyre had been around too), but when the pneumatic variety became available, BrE started using a less-common spelling for the word, in order to differentiate the old kind of thing from the new kind of thing.

Since the spelling changed after AmE and BrE had parted ways (and before the advent of fast communication between the two), there was no particular reason for Americans to experience the new spelling much or to use it. There was a perfectly good spelling already.

Verbs and nouns and nouns and verbs

A covered curb chain on a horse
The 'restrain' verb is always curb in both countries, and that came from a noun curb. Both were originally about restraining horses with a chain or strap that goes under its jaw. Metaphorically, that extends to other things you'd like to 'rein in'. So you can curb your appetite or ingest something that will act as a curb on your appetite, but you'd never spell those as kerb (unless spelling isn't your strength).


But another verb meaning for curb has come up in AmE, which takes advantage of the homography of  the 'restrain' verb and the 'stone edging' noun.  I first recall being aware of these signs in the late 1970s,  when New York City's first (orig. AmE) pooper-scooper laws were in the news.


snapped in NYC in 2013

But Curb Your Dog signs go back to the 1930s. Back before anyone had to pick up their dogs' poo(p), owners were encouraged (or required) in NYC to make dogs "do their business" at the edge of the (AmE) sidewalk (or maybe in the gutter) so that the mess would be out of pedestrians' (and plants') way. (There's a nice little explainer here.) In this case, you are taking your dog to the curb/kerb, but also curbing their tendency to relieve themselves in inconvenient places.

Bonus vocabulary

Not something I knew till Simon Koppel pointed it out to me, but there are technical terms for those places in the (BrE) pavement/(AmE) sidewalk where the curb/kerb is lower to make it easier to cross the road/street, especially for those using wheels to do so.  In AmE these are curb cuts and in BrE dropped kerbs. 

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(at) home

One of the things I've found most useful during lockdown is to have routines that distinguish the days. The routines have become most distinct on weekends: Saturday is Cleaning Day and No-Laptop Day; Sunday is Blogging Day. After the last topical blog post, I planned to do another topical one this Sunday, regarding a UK government slogan. But then on my no-laptop Saturday, THEY CHANGED THE SLOGAN. They timed it just to make me look untopical. Grrr.

Anyhow, here's the graphic that we've been seeing on our televisions for the past seven weeks:


And too-many-to-mention people have got(ten) in touch with me to ask whether (or complain that)  stay home is a rather American phrasing for Her Majesty's government. Indeed, it is. Both AmE and BrE can say stay at home, but AmE is very comfortable with the at-less version, while BrE isn't.


These GloWBE data are from about 7-8 years ago. Here's what it's looked like in the News on the Web corpus for 2020 so far.


So, despite the prominence stay home slogan in the UK (and its news), it remains more usual to have the at in BrE, in edited news text. AmE really doesn't mind, though the phrase stay at home brings to my mind its use as a hyphenated modifier, as in stay-at-home parent. Such adjectival use, if properly hyphenated, would not appear in the above figures.

Presumably, the slogan is Stay home because it parallels the cadence of Save lives. (Fritinancy has pointed out that stay home/save lives is a World Health Organization slogan, so that's probably how it got to the UK. The govenment could have translated it, but didn't.) The parallelism becomes clearer when the NHS line is left out or where the parallel Stay–Save lines are graphically linked, as in:


But even Her Majesty's Government is not consistent in using the at-less version:


Enough of the sloganeering, what about the grammar?

Home can be a noun, as it is in sentences like:
  • You have a beautiful home
  • My home is wherever I lay my laptop.
You can tell it's a noun (for sure) in those places because it's part of a noun phrase, introduced by determiners (a, my), with optional adjectives (beautiful) or possibly other modifiers (e.g. ...that I'd like to visit).

It can also be an adverb. Now, I have to pause here and say that, as far as I'm concerned, adverb is a garbage grammatical category. It is used to cover all sorts of things that behave in very different grammatical ways—from very (which modifies adjectives), to lazily (which might modify a verb phrase), to undoubtedly (which generally modifies a whole sentence), to well (which does all sorts of weird things and is an adjective too), to not (which modifies sentences or other phrases in much more grammatically restricted ways). Home is not an adverb in any of those ways. It's an adverb in the way that here or away are adverbs—indicating 'where' and often 'to where'.

Both BrE and AmE use home as an adverb. You can see it with various verbs of motion—and how it differs from a more nouny-noun like house, which has to have the trappings of a noun phrase and might need a preposition to connect it to the verb phrase. Compare these, where * is the linguistics signal for 'ungrammatical string of words'.
  • We're going home versus We're going to our house.   (*We're going house)
  • I have to get home by 10  versus I have to get back to my house by 10 (*I have to get house)
But in lots of cases, it's hard to tell if home is a noun or an adverb. In the first few examples, with things like your beautiful home, noun use sometimes rubs people the wrong way. "Why say home when you mean house?" they say. It sounds like advertising-speak, especially as used by (AmE real) estate agents. But I used those examples because home is very definitely a noun there. In other cases like the following, it could be a noun, but it doesn't have to be interpreted as that:
  • Home is where the heart is.  (subject of the sentence)
  • There's no place like home.   (object of preposition like)
Noun phrases can be subjects of sentences and objects of prepositions, and so home can be interpreted as a one-word noun phrase, which is a perfectly fine kind of noun phrase to be if we're treating the noun as non-countable. And it works to treat home as a non-countable noun if we're thinking of it as some kind of abstract state, rather than as just a house. Notice how other abstract nouns like imagination or love are very naturally used all on their own: Imagination opens doors; Love will keep us together.

But it's also the case that the places where we tend to use home as a bare noun are also places where we could use a prepositional phrase, and prepositional phrases can do adverb jobs:
  • At my house is where I like to be.
  • There's no place like under the duvet
Which is all to say that saying which part of speech a word is can be difficult—even in context. (Though I'll put my cards on the table and say I would count home as an abstract noun in the last two examples.) The parts of speech that we traditionally use for English may not be (more BrE) up to the job.
(SIDEBAR: This is not an excuse for not teaching grammar in school. This is evidence that grammar needs to be taught more like physics, where we can look at the evidence, admit we don't have all the answers, and evaluate different possible solutions.)

A n y h o w . . . 
We've got this funny word that can be a noun or an adverb—and it's been like this for as long as English has existed. The adverb originally and still incorporates a 'toward(s)' element: going home is 'going to one's home'. So the adverbial 'at home/in one's home' meaning that we get in stay home is a deviation from the original meaning. But it's a deviation that's been around for centuries. Consider these examples from the OED:
In the 1587 example, the ships are docked at their home. In 1615, true zeal loves to keep (at) home. Most of the examples with the verb to be would pass unnoticed in BrE (and certainly in AmE) these days. But the be home examples in BrE in the OED seem to have a bit of a hint of motion to them, in that they are about the future or the past: will be home and have been home. Movement to/from home is implied because person isn't at home at the time that the sentence was written.

All of the OED adverb examples with stay are American, though, including the one from Emily Dickinson (above) and Judy Blume's, which has the familiar stay home shape:
With stay, home loses its 'toward(s)' sense. It's acting like other spatial adverbs like here and away, and perhaps it's the opposite relation with away that has encouraged home to grammatically imitate away in AmE: stay away/stay home. But the adverb home hasn't fully made that trip in BrE, and so if you want to use home with stay, you need the preposition at to hook the noun home onto the sentence. Since home is also a noun in AmE, AmE can use the at home just as easily. A somewhat similar case is what happens with on and days of the week (click the link to read about it), but I would not want to call these cases "the same thing". AmE has lost some prepositions where BrE hasn't, but BrE is losing some where AmE doesn't. In some UK dialects, for example, people can go pub, as University of Kent linguist Laura Bailey has been exploring.

Back to the slogans. The new slogan is "Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives".

It's presented with green rather than red, to give us a signal that we can "go" a bit more. Maybe. Or something. The comedian Matt Lucas summari{s/z}es Boris Johnson's speech on the matter:


The new slogan is being mocked relentlessly on UK social media within a day of its announcement. Here's what comes up top in my google image search for "stay alert":


The comedian Olaf Falafel has made a Government COVID Slogan Generator (play the video and click on it to stop it on a new slogan):


 

As many have pointed out, it's unclear what we're supposed to stay alert for when we can't see the virus or tell who's carrying it. The UK government seems to love to direct its public with three-part  slogans, as we've seen before with "See it, say it, sorted". One reason that the "stay home" message was heeded was its appeal to protect the National Health Service—and the NHS's absence from the new slogan comes at the same time as many are worrying about backdoor machinations to sell off the NHS to private companies. There is the possibility, though that the "stay home, protect the NHS" message needed to be replaced because it had backfired and endangered people by making them reluctant to use NHS services for non-COVID-related problems.

Much more heartening than government messages is the outpouring of NHS-love in the front windows of the UK, where many are putting up pro-NHS messages and messages for other (BrE) key/(AmE) essential workers, with rainbows to cheer us all up. Here's a Google Image search result for "rainbow windows". On the windows, the more common slogan is stay safe.

 

Here's how we did our front window. No slogans, just rainbow:
Stay safe.

 (And if you want to read me railing against the phrase stay safe in American discourse, click here.)
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top-ups and refills

Christmas is a time for dealing with family, and when you have a transAtlantic family, many dialectal conversations arise.  But this time, it wasn't my family.  Grover's little best friend is a little girl who lives in our (very AmE-sounding) neighbo(u)rhood/(more BrE-sounding) area with her American parents, and they came to our Christmas eve do with the mother's (French) mother and her Brooklynite beau.  Many Briticisms were commented upon during the course of the party, but the one that stuck with me was top-up,  to which I've become so inured that I wouldn't have immediately thought of it as a Briticism.

The context was mulled-wine serving--about which we must first have an aside.  You don't get it as much at Christmastime in the US--probably because we have our standard Christmas drink, egg nog, instead.  But when I moved to the Midwest, home of many Scandinavian-descended peoples, I did come to know it well.  And, whenever we served it (back in the days when I was living with a Scandinavian-descended person), we served it in hot drink vessels--coffee mugs or the like.  In restaurants, it might be in the kind of glass mug in which you'd be served a caffe latte.  But whenever it is served in the UK (in my now-extensive experience of southern English Christmas parties), it is served in wine glasses.  Is this a universal difference between the US and the UK, I wonder?

But back to our party: Better Half asked whether anyone would like a top-up (of mulled wine) and the Brooklynite commented (something like): "Now there's a linguistic difference.  We'd say refill."  

And I thought, "Oh yeah, we would, wouldn't we?"  Americans refill drinks, the British top them up.  In the UK, the common American experience of (orig. and chiefly AmE) bottomless coffee (i.e. free refills) is not common at all, but in the US, the (AmE, often jocular) waitron will flit from table to table, coffee pot in hand, asking "Can I get you a refill?" or "Can I warm that up for you"?  If this were to happen in the UK, it would be most natural to ask if the customer would like a top-up. 

But the other common use of top-up these days is what you do to a pay-as-you-go (BrE) mobile/(AmE) cell phone.  (The picture is a common site in the windows of (BrE) corner shops and (BrE) petrol/(AmE) gas stations in the UK.) Which led me to wonder: what do Americans say for that?  Pay-as-you-go phones are much more common in the UK than in the US, but from what I can gather from the interwebs, refill is used in this context too.  Here's a 2004 news release about an American "prepay" phone service:
As always, Verizon Wireless prepay service allows customers to refill their minutes over the phone, at a Verizon Wireless Communications Store, online, as well as at RadioShack, Circuit City and other authorized agents.
You could also in the UK use top(-)up for a number of other things that are refreshed by the addition of more of something.  For instance, you could get a top-up loan (well, maybe not in the current economic climate), a top-up dose of an(a)esthetic and you can top up your tank with petrol/gas.  The phrasal verb top up is only cited from 1937 in the OED, and the noun top-up only from 1967, explaining why it's not as common in AmE.  American readers, what would you use in these contexts?
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on the highway/motorway

Regular reader JHM sent me a link to this article from a Washington Monthly blog, in which an American complains about British (and European, more generally) road signs:
And as long as I'm venting a bit here, what is it with Europeans and compass points? Their road signs tend to be gloriously well designed and easy to decipher, but they never include the words north, south, east, or west. So when you get to a crossroad, all the sign tells you is that one direction takes you to, say, Chard, and the other direction takes you to Axminster. Unless you've memorized the map, or happen to be a local who doesn't really need the sign in the first place, you don't know which direction to go. (If you're lucky, one of the cities on the sign is the one you want to go to, which makes things easy. Usually it's not.) But although I might not know every town and village in the area, I always know from a quick look at a map which general direction I want to go. So why not add the words north and south here? Some sort of EU-wide directive to banish directional notation, or what?
JHM writes to ask:
Does the linked article ring true to you? If it is true that road signs tend not to indicate compass direction, I find this very odd indeed (even though (in New England at least) six or seven times out of ten the posted compass direction has a very low correlation to an actual compass point).
JHM often writes to ask if things that he's read about Britain ring true for me, and I think I always say "yes, it's ringing". I suppose that illustrates the extent to which we get so accustomed to things being one way that we never imagine them being another way. In this case, I have to say "yes, it rings true, but..."

When I lived in South Africa (and had a car), I don't remember ever seeing a sign on a (BrE) motorway/(AmE) highway* with a direction on it. This got me lost in the (AmE) boondocks when I needed to get from a rural hotel in the Northern Province to Swaziland. None of the signs said which way was north or east, and none indicated how to get to the major towns in the province (or to the border). Instead, at each (chiefly AmE) intersection there were signs pointing toward(s) the next town on the road. One thus needed to know every single town along one's route in order to make sense of the signs. I imagine GPS is very useful there these days.

While I don't drive in the UK, on occasions I'm a passenger for a longish car journey (Americans would usually say trip, but that tends to be reserved for shorter journeys in BrE). Initially, I was only travel(l)ing for southeastern Scrabble league matches, and thus only experienced the A-roads (trunk roads), which are so-called because they are designated by A + a number, e.g. the A27. (There are also B-roads, which are more local.) A-roads are roughly comparable to state routes, like New York State Route 31, which goes through my hometown.** But unlike the US roads, the British roads are not called by different names depending on the direction you're driving in. So, if I give you directions out of my town, I'll talk about 31 East or 31 West . A friend of our family lives on a different route, just outside the village, and her address is "[house number] Route 88 South, Newark, NY", meaning she lives on the stretch of Route 88 that lies south of Newark. (Before you think "hey, I've been to Lynneguist's hometown, note that it's not the Newark that has the big airport you've been to. That one, despite its pretensions, is not in the state of New York. My hometown doesn't have a travel agency, let alone an airport. It has apple orchards. And cows.)

In Britain, people don't talk about "the A27 West" (though Google the phrase, and you'll think me a liar; but really, no one says it! At least not with the same name-like intonation that one says "Route 31 West"). When you join the A27, the sign will tell you about upcoming towns, not whether you're going east or west. If you're on that road driving east from Portsmouth, you have to get past Chichester before you start seeing signs for Brighton, if I remember correctly. So, if you want to get from Portsmouth to Brighton, you'd better know that Chichester is on the way. You need to constantly make decisions about which town to head toward on roads like the A27, since for the most part, they are not limited-access roads with on-ramps and off-ramps. They have roundabouts (often called traffic circles in the US, but rarely seen there--though I believe New Hampshire has quite a few). Lots of them. The signs on the roundabout exits will indicate the number of the routes and some number of upcoming towns/landmarks, as in the picture below.

So far, so much like my South African experience. But then I graduated from southeastern Scrabble events to national ones, and got to be a passenger on the M-roads, the national motorways--which are more comparable to American Interstate highways. M-roads are dual-carriageways with limited access--ramps rather than roundabouts--and they tend to be used for longer journeys. When one approaches an M-road, one may see compass point names on it--except that they're not really describing the direction of the route, they're describing the destination. That is, instead of saying, for instance "M3 North", they say "The NORTH", along with whatever cities you might get to along the way. (So, in the sign here, it's not saying that Nottingham is in 'The North' so much as it's saying that this road goes to The North, and it goes to Nottingham too.) What's interesting in this picture are the (N) and (S) in parentheses/brackets after M42. You see this in places where you need to take different routes to different entrances to a motorway. Once you're on the M42 going south, there will be no signs along the way that say M42(S), whereas in the US, signs telling you what route you're on and what direction you're going in are planted regularly along the right side of the road. The reason why (M6) in this photo is in parentheses/brackets after M42(S) is to indicate that this roundabout is not taking you to the M6 but to the M42 which takes you to the M6 , which will get you to 'The S. WEST'.

Incidentally, in England people talk about the East (meaning the east of England, not 'the Orient') a lot less than the other directions. There are two reasons for this, I think. (1) There's a lot more West than East here--in that the island juts out, particularly in the Southwest. (2) London is treated (rightly or wrongly, depending on where you live) as the hub of the universe (sorry, Boston), and it's fairly eastward. So, striking out from London, there's very little to the East. Well, there's Essex (Americans: that's where Jamie Oliver is from. English folk: make it a new joke if you're going to make it). So, while you hear/see the North, the South and the West, and the Northeast/west and Southeast/west, you rarely hear about the East.

Back to the American side... as JHM notes, the directions on particular routes may bear little resemblance to the compass direction when you're on the road. Routes are not perfectly straight lines, and non-Interstate routes can involve a number of different roads that add up to a route in the right direction. For instance, if you look at the map for US Route 20, you'll see that, in spite of its status as an east-west coast-to-coast route, there's a bit in Idaho that runs north-south. Still, we'd instruct people in Idaho to take Route 20 West if they want to get to Oregon, because 20 West is, in essence, its name.

Rather than designating the different types of route by letter, American route types are distinguished by the shapes of the shields on their signs (images/links courtesy of Wikipedia):

Interstate Highways
U.S. Routes
State Routes
And within states there may be other kinds of route. There are systems to the numbering of the routes in both the US and Great Britain, but I won't go into those here, since they're not very language-y. So, if you're interested, see here for the US Routes and Interstate system and here for Great Britain.


Side notes:
* Highway is probably the most dialect-neutral term in the US, and can apply to various types of routes--the key is that there's no stopping and starting on a highway. On the west coast, one tends to hear freeway. For limited-access roads in/around cities, I'd say expressway. Major toll roads, run by individual states, have their own names. In New York, it's the Thruway. Several other states have turnpikes, which is sometimes shortened to pike, as in the Mass Pike--that is, the Massachusetts Turnpike.

** Two things to know about AmE regionalisms when it comes to routes:
  1. Some Americans say route like root, others say it like rout. I grew up with the former, but the latter sometimes creeps into my speech because of other places I've lived. These dialect survey maps indicate that the 'rout' pronunciation is more common in the South and Midwest. In a forum on Canadian English, someone named Kirk says:

    About "route," I use both pronunciations of the word depending on context. For instance, I've never heard anyone say "rowt 66"...it's always "root 66" for "route 66." So, if I see an official route as in a state route I definitely pronounce it "root." When I was younger I had a paper route and I almost always pronounced it "rowt" in that context. In other, general usages of the word, I use "root" and "rowt" pretty interchangeably.
    My pattern and Kirk's pattern are the same. I grew up saying 'paper root', but now tend to say 'paper rout'.

  2. Southern Californians (and perhaps others) prefix route numbers with the, but Northeasterners like me don't. So, I'd say Take (Route) 5 but an Angeleno would say Take the 5.
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adverbial dead

For my birthday in October, Better Half promised me a weekend away before the birth of Grover. But since I (a) spent the first half of my third trimester in (the) hospital and (b) was cheated out of the second half entirely, that didn't happen. So this week he took Grover and me for a plush few days in the New Forest. And there, in the village of Hythe, I photographed this sign:

This was convenient, as I'd been meaning to take a photo of such a sign in Brighton, but since I'm not a tourist in Brighton, I rarely have my camera with me. So, it was great to see one while I had my camera at the ready on our mini holiday/vacation.

Needless to say (since I've posted a photo of it), this is not a sign you'd see in America. There, such a sign would probably have an unmodified slow or go slow.

In this context, dead is an adverb modifying slow. It makes me chuckle involuntarily for two reasons: (a) dead slow is not as idiomatic in AmE as in BrE and therefore the literal meaning occurs to me when I read it, and (b) in BrE adverbial dead is frequently a colloquialism, and therefore it seems a bit funny to see on a sign.

Since I get the literal meaning of dead slow when I read it, it strikes me as an oxymoron. If something's dead, it seems to me, it wouldn't move at all, so it couldn't be slow. But that "logic" is misplaced, since AmE, like BrE, uses dead as an adverb with other adjectives that indicate a glimmer (or more) of life--for example dead certain and dead tired. So, we could use dead with slow, but we tend not to.

If one hears a lot of colloquial BrE, one knows that dead can go with just about any adjective in certain informal registers. For example:
Dom looks dead sexy in eyeliner and black nail varnish (=AmE nail polish) [comment on blog.pinknews.co.uk]

... I also watched "Sky High", which was dead good. [...] It's odd really, some of it is DEAD POSH, like the lobby and the millions of people tidying plates away at breakfast, and some of it ISN'T, like the mucky marks on the walls and the water dripping on your head in reception. [...] We then had a LOVELY bit of tapas (ooh, it was DEAD nice, roast potatoes and hot garlicy [sic] tomato sauce, ACE!) ... [a (orig. AmE) mother-lode of deadness in a description of a Singapore holiday from MJ Hibbett--I haven't bothered to mark all the other Briticisms in that]
The OED, however, classes dead slow as a non-colloquial usage (going with dead calm and dead tired) rather than this all-purpose colloquial intensifier. At any rate, it all sounds dead British.
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posted, post and mail

On to April's queries--with the goal of getting through them before the term starts.

On a visit to Colorado, Chris was puzzled:
Lining the roads were expanses of trees, and every so often I'd see a sign nailed to a tree that said "Posted."

Nothing else.
We have signs like this in my native New York state, too, and many, if not most, other states--though whether they can get away with just saying Posted might vary. The longer form of the sign would say Posted: No Trespassing, and we could refer to the area of land with these signs at its borders as posted land. In other words, the sign is saying that the land is privately owned (or at least not open to the public) and that you are not allowed to be on the land without the owner's permission, and that because signs have been 'posted' you have been warned of this fact. These kinds of signs, in my experience, are particularly used in wooded areas of countryside. This is the landowner's way of keeping away hunters, anglers, dog-walkers, (AmE) hikers/(BrE) ramblers, (orig. N. Amer. E) snowmobilers, others' livestock, etc. This also gives rise to the transitive verb: to post land--that is, to declare it off-limits by posting signs at specific intervals, as specified by state law. When I was a child, I was told that landowners were allowed to shoot trespassers if they'd posted their land. This, of course, was not true (though it could well have been true a longer time ago). These days, the penalties are fines or short jail stints and/or loss of hunting/fishing licen{c/s}es, depending on the state and whether the trespasser has hunted or has previous convictions. Click for miscellaneous examples from Kansas, Florida and North Dakota.

The trend in (at least northern) Europe is toward public access to private land. The UK recently implemented the Countryside and Right of Way Act (2000), informally known as the right to roam, which allows anyone the right to (BrE) ramble/(AmE) hike on uncultivated land (but not to ride horses, camp, etc.). (Hunting privileges are another matter, about which I have no clue.) For other European countries, see this Wikipedia article.

The Posted signs are pretty opaque in their meaning in the first place, but probably even more foreign to BrE speakers, since the related adjectival meaning of posted is used less in the UK:
2. Set up or fixed in a prominent place; displayed so as to provide information; advertised, made public. Now chiefly N. Amer. [OED: Mar 2007 draft revision]
As in:
1975 N.Y. Times 29 Oct. 28/1 There was ample time to peruse the posted menu of the day's cuisine minceur.
In BrE, one might be more likely to interpret posted menu as a menu that had been sent through the (BrE-preferred) post /(AmE-preferred) mail. (Mailed menu sounds a little odd to me in AmE--I'd probably say menu that had been sent in the mail.) When I worked in South Africa, in the days before widespread e-mail availability, I lived for the post/mail, even though it largely consisted of recitations by my mother of who-ate-what when they went out to dinner last. All of my letters were sent to my work address, so every afternoon, I could be heard to be wondering whether the mail was here yet. One of my colleagues could always be counted on to offer himself as "the male". That trained me into saying post fairly quickly.

Of course, the organi{s/z}ation that delivers the (BrE) post in the UK is the Royal Mail, demonstrating that mail isn't an AmE word, but that the senses and usage of the word varies across the two places. In BrE, it's more likely to be the mail when it is in transit in large bunches, and more likely to be the post when it is on its way from the post office to your door. Hence this entry in the OED (2004 draft revision):
2. a. A bag or packet of letters or dispatches for conveyance by post (more fully [Obs.] mail of letters). In later use chiefly: the postal matter (or a quantity of letters, packages, etc.) conveyed in this manner; all that is conveyed by post on one occasion. With definite article or without article. Also (chiefly in N. Amer.) in pl., and (chiefly S. Asian) with indefinite article.
The plural use mentioned here for AmE, the mails isn't used all that much, and sounds fairly outdated to me. (Something that the Pony Express might deal in, but not the modern-day USPS.) But the 'In later use chiefly' bit in the above definition is more true of BrE than AmE, since the following use is equally dominant in AmE:
c. orig. U.S. The letters, packages, etc., delivered to or intended for one address or individual.
The OED goes on to note that mail in AmE and AusE is also used to refer to the 'system of delivery and conveyance of letters, etc., by post', and notes:
The term mail (as distinguished from post) is currently dominant in North America and Australia, both for the system itself and the material carried. New Zealand retains post for the postal system, but mail otherwise. Britain favours post in both contexts. However, this pattern is not necessarily maintained in historically fixed collocations, such as Royal Mail, Post Office, Canada Post, Australia Post, parcel post, junk mail, etc. In the United Kingdom the word was formerly limited in ordinary use to the dispatch of letters abroad, as the Indian mail, etc., or as short for mail-train.
And thus AmE speakers tend to talk about mailmen--or the less gendered letter carriers--while BrE speakers tend to talk about postmen--but I note that the Royal Mail jobs website uses postperson where space is at a premium, and postman/postwoman elsewhere. Postal worker is used more generically to include people who work in the post office or sorting office, as well as deliverers, and of course some high-profile cases of postal workers (orig. BrE, I think) going mental and shooting people resulted in the AmE colloquialism to go postal.

Of course, postman is also known and used in AmE, as evidenced by The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Postman. This sounds a little old-fashioned to me in AmE, and I think Costner used postman in his title because it sounds a little more exotic than mailman. J. Robert Lennon's book title Mailman, on the other hand, carries with it a more quotidian feel. (Is it perverse to use such an exotic word to mean 'everyday'?)

I suppose we can't leave this subject without touching on e(lectronic)-mail. Much of the history of e(-)mail is situated in US Department of Defense (= BrE Defence) projects, which is probably why we call it e(-)mail, rather than e-post. This, of course, led to the AmE coinage of snail mail, but in BrE, of course, one can distinguish between the two types of communication by referring to e(-)mail versus post.

And with that, I'll post this blog post!
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moving

In our e-conversation about upping sticks, Nancy F mentioned finding a book called How to Move House and Stay Sane, noting the Britishness of the phrase move house. Americans simply move (and the British can too). So:
AmE or BrE: We're moving this weekend. [intransitive]
BrE: We're moving house this weekend. [transitive]
Now, don't tell me that your dialect's version makes more sense than the other, because they're equally problematic from a literalist, logical point of view. The intransitive version seems like it could apply to exercising one's muscles. The transitive version seems like it involves relocating a building. But, of course, both involve the relocation of the contents of a dwelling and an address-change for the individuals associated with that dwelling. Language isn't about literal, logical description; it's about communication--and these both work, if you know the conventions of the dialect in which they're said.

I was reminded of this when talking to my friend the Recyclist the other day. She's recently come to the UK for an extended stay, and was confused by a television commercial she saw in which moving home was mentioned (and the same day I saw a billboard in London with the headline Moving home?). As an AmE speaker, Recyclist interpreted this as 'moving back in with one's parents'. It took Recyclist a few beats to figure out why people who were 'moving home' would need a mortgage (or whatever it was that the ad(vert) was about). In BrE moving home means the same as moving house, but is perhaps used in advertising to make things sound a bit hom(el)ier.

As long as we're talking about moving, Americans often comment on the (AmE: real) estate agents' signs in the UK that indicate properties in search of tenants. In the US, such signs say FOR RENT. In the UK, they say TO LET. And Americans almost invariably have the reaction: 'I want to put an i in that sign'. Occasionally some (probably young) joker does just that.


(Photo from here.)
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round and around

They're doing some fixing-up on campus, and this week I was faced with the following in my path:



(In case you can't read the writing on your screen, the left(-)hand sign says "Please go around" and the right(-)hand one says "Please go round".) I liked this bit of linguistic indecision.

Adverbial and prepositional round is far more common in BrE than in AmE. (And just typing it gets the Dead or Alive song going through my head. Which Dead or Alive song, you ask? You mean they had more than one? I thought they just released the same one over and over and over and over again.) According to John Algeo's British or American English?, round is 40 times more common in BrE than AmE (in the Cambridge International Corpus). Though it might just be differences in lexicographical practice, Algeo also notes that (US) Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (2003) lists 2 senses for prepositional round but 7 for around, whereas the (UK) New Oxford Dictionary of English lists 5 for around and 8 for round.

I searched for round the on the Guardian website and asked myself whether the examples I found would be round or around in my native dialect. Here are the results from the first two pages that didn't involve other Briticisms (otherwise I'd be typing explanations all day and night), repetition, compounding (e.g. a round-the-world ticket), or other disqualifiers:
  1. Party round the world in 2007
  2. Reading round the Christmas tree.
  3. He's an expert guide, fluent in Italian, takes you round the museum
  4. Pubs are to be allowed to stay open round the clock under plans for a radical overhaul of licensing laws
  5. 'Listen: tinkering round the edges will change nothing'
  6. On the way round the labyrinth, there are slits in the walls,
  7. He has recently completed the last section of a walk round the M25 [a motorway/highway]
I'm fairly confident (though I must confess that I use a BrE-flavo(u)red round fairly often these days, and so may have lost my intuitions), that a typical AmE speaker would say around in all of these cases. The last seems to me the most natural with round, but perhaps some of you with more intact AmE intuitions will be better judges.

Using Fowler's as a guide, The Grammar Logs of the Capital Community College Foundation (Hartford, Connecticut) answers a query about round and around with:
In almost all situations, the words are interchangeable and you'll have to rely on your ear to come up with the word that sounds better. [I]n British English, there are several idiomatic expressions in which "round" is obligatory, but where "around" would work just fine in the U.S.A.: "winter comes round," "show me round," "he came round to see me." In the U.S., "around" is obligatory when you're using it to convey approximation: "He arrived around 4 p.m.," "Around two-thirds of the faculty will retire next year."
There are other idioms that must have one or the other in them--for instance to get around, meaning to go to/be in a lot of places (as in the Beach Boys song), needs around. But in the meaning 'to evade' (as in We got (a)round the security guard), BrE prefers round and AmE prefers around. Feel free to add your own examples in the comments!

An interesting example in the Guardian results was The speech heard 'round the world. Here the apostrophe seems to indicate the writer's feeling that round has been contracted from around--and probably the writer's feeling that round is a bit more informal. That was the only apostrophe'd one in the 20 I looked at. But is it round really a contraction of around? Maybe not. Around is a fairly recent addition to the language. The OED lists around as 'rare before 1600', and notes that it doesn't occur in the works of Shakespeare. Round goes back further, and Shakespeare used it in places where I would have said around (but he didn't ask me, did he?):
1602 SHAKES. Ham. III. ii. 165 Full thirtie times hath Phoebus Cart gon round Neptunes salt Wash.
So where did the a- come from? It could be on analogy with other a- prepositions like across and among. At any rate, the OED marks its fourth sense for around as an Americanism now, but perhaps not in the past or the future:
4. In U.S.: = ROUND. Perhaps orig. U.K. (cf. quot. 1816). Now coming back into British use under U.S. influence.

1816
JANE AUSTEN Emma I. x. 187 Emma..was beginning to think how she might draw back a little more, when they both looked around, and she was obliged to join them.
All this seems to indicate that apostrophes are unnecessary for 'round (at least in BrE), and that the perceived need to put them there may be analogous to 'til, which was till before it was until.
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minding

After the recent discussion of signs you wouldn't see in America, Amy in San Francisco e-mailed to say:
I recently obtained a few stick-on signs when last in the UK that I prize (for our hazard-ridden basement): "Mind the step" and "Mind your head." It occasioned some talk around here---the very same UK company (Seton.co.uk) through their US branch only sells "Watch your step" and "Watch Your Head" signs. My [British] husband said he always found it somewhat nonsensical to tell someone to watch their own head. I like the signs because they remind me pleasurably of being in UK pubs full of uneven floors and low ancient beams.
Of course, the most famous British warning signs/announcements are in the London Underground (= AmE subway--but note that BrE subway usually means 'pedestrian underpass' (orig. AmE)) and other (BrE) railway stations (=AmE train stations): MIND THE GAP, or sometimes more explicitly: MIND THE GAP BETWEEN THE TRAIN AND THE PLATFORM EDGE. Click here to hear one version of that announcement, by voice artiste Emma Clarke. One hears different versions of the announcement on different lines. (Incidentally, one hears artiste much more in BrE than in AmE.) You can read more about minding the gap on Annie Mole's guide to Underground Etiquette, from which the photo at the right comes. See also her fantastic London Underground blog.

Amy's husband's observation, that you can't watch your own head, struck me as fairly sensible, but, of course, American English happily allows us to watch with senses other than sight. For instance if you're told to watch your mouth (i.e. don't be impudent), you don't run for a mirror. This sense of watch, meaning 'take care to pay attention to' is also present in BrE, but it is more common in such contexts in AmE. A BrE equivalent of watch your mouth is mind your language. (This was also the title of a British sitcom in the 1970s, which was, by most accounts, fairly horrid. Better Half has just read this and accused me of wild understatement. He says it was "excrement in visual form". Which brings us back to overstatement.)

Now, mind has many obsolete, obscure and dialectal (especially Scottish and Caribbean) senses that I won't go into here, but for me one of its most salient meanings is 'be obedient to'. That sense is listed in the OED as "Now regional (chiefly N. Amer. and Irish English)". So, one must mind one's parents and mind the teacher. Since Americans often hear imperative mind in this sense, hearing mind the gap or mind your head can sound to us like we're meant to obey the gap or head, rather than to (orig. AmE) watch out for it.

The prominence of the 'obey' sense of mind in AmE also makes BrE child-minder (kind of like [orig. AmE] babysitter, but more usually used to refer to refer to semi-formal day care arrangements) sound ambiguous, as it could mean 'one who obeys a child' as well as 'one who takes care of a child'. Of course, if we want our words to be 'sensible', then babysitter deserves to be mocked, since one needn't sit when one (AmE) babysits. (Note that the sitting here is sitting with the baby, not on the baby.) But, then again, life would be a lot less interesting if languages were 'sensible' all the time.

Both dialects use mind to mean something like 'to be bothered about' in contexts like Do you mind if I smoke? But, as we've seen before, BrE and AmE use never mind in different kinds of contexts and for different kinds of purposes.

[Finally found the problem with comments on this post and have corrected it. For those with an RSS feed, I apologi{s/z}e if this meant that you got this post a half dozen times while I tried and tried again!]
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signs you wouldn't see in America

Hej från Sverige!

That is to say, Hello from Sweden!

English in Sweden is interesting because (besides being impeccable) it more often sounds American than British (at least in terms of vocabulary). My former Swedish tutor attributed this to the fact that Swedes get a lot of their English from television, and most of that English is American. In fact, flipping channels on my hotel room television (which gets Swedish, Danish and German channels), my choices now include a Will Smith vehicle, Lost and MTV's Jackass, subtitled in Swedish (or Danish, depending on the channel--I'm on that end of Sweden).

While Swedish English is usually very natural, I was initially puzzled by the following instruction, embossed in the control panel of the elevator/(BrE) lift in my hotel:

INSERT ROOM KEY TO DRIVE CAR

In AmE, the 'box' part that you enter in an elevator/lift is called a car, and according to the British information on lift/elevator safety equipment that I can find on the net, they're called cars in BrE too. However, when I tried to use car as an example of polysemy (multiplicity of meaning) in a semantics class in the UK, my students told me they'd never call a part of a lift a car, so perhaps it's not a well-known term in BrE. Anyhow, while/whilst it's correct to call that thing a car in (at least American) English, it is not idiomatic AmE to drive the car of an elevator. I think that such an instruction in AmE would read "Insert room key to operate elevator" (or, more probably, "To operate elevator, insert room key").

But talking about this Swedish sign is just a weak introduction for talking about "Signs You Wouldn't See in America". Of course, there are many signs in the UK that one wouldn't see in America. The speed limit signs look different, the (AmE) YIELD signs say (BrE) GIVE WAY and, of course, there are no signs in America for Ansty Cowfold. But I know people like reading about taboo words (if the number of comments on the toilet post are any indication!), so here are a few more for you.

This picture, advertising an event on my (BrE) uni's campus, would of course not be seen in America, where people would have made sure to abbreviate association as Assn or Assoc. (Go back here for discussion of ass/arse.)

Another one, which I haven't managed to capture in pixels (One used to say on film... What does one say now?), is at the local Bon Marché (BrE) shop/(AmE) store. This company, which sells inexpensive, larger-sized women's clothing (and which, as far as I know, is unrelated to similarly-named companies in the US), has recently taken to re-branding itself as BM, and offering the BM Collection. (Americans, stop your giggling right now!) As my brother Bill will tell you, you don't want to be a BM. When he has to initial things, he uses his 'proper' initials WM, because of the tee-hee-hee factor of BM. BM, you see, stands for bowel movement. In other words, it's a way to avoid saying shit.
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push-vehicles

An old American friend, Lord Affectation (I've got other less flattering names for him too), has moved to Kent and informed me that "The British call bicycles push irons!" I said, "Your English friends are pushing your leg." Most English people call them bicycles, just like the rest of the English-speaking world. But as the photo (taken near a bike rack on campus) shows, he's partly right. Some people do call them push bikes, including The Gardener (Better Half's Sister's Better Half--BH just called him a young fogey). It's a little old-fashioned, but it succeeds in distinguishing them from motorbikes. AmE sometimes uses pedal bike for this purpose, but bicycle would be more usual. Or just a sign saying No M/C.

The OED has push bicycle and push cycle as well as push bike, which they label as 'informal.' Myself, I've only heard push bike, but push bicycle is around on the web, as well as push tricycle and push unicycle. The OED does not have push iron, but the web holds a small number of examples, some of them in lists of Wigan dialect words. Wigan, it should be noted, is nowhere near Kent.

Of course, BrE has another push-vehicle, the push-chair, known in AmE as a stroller. Related is the pram, short for perambulator, known in AmE as a baby carriage.
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Abbr.

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