Showing posts with label sport. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sport. Show all posts

bunting

I feel the need to mark the royal wedding (lower case, please! The Guardian Style Guide says so!) on this blog, because I think American readers will expect me to say something. But I have very little to say about it. Having married in the UK, I can tell you that there are not a lot of linguistic differences between weddings. There are some different traditions, but not many different ways of phrasing the similar traditions. I could blog about all the incorrect things that have been written about British English in the American popular press (I haven't seen a single piece--and I've seen dozens--that isn't riddled with silliness), but I'd like to be finished before the couple's silver anniversary. The main problem with the American press is that they've not been reading this blog. Of course.

So, here's a short-but-sweet difference, suggested by Not From Around Here:


In BrE, this is bunting. In AmE, I'd call it a string of pennants. This picture comes from a panicky article in the Telegraph:

Royal wedding party 'crisis' as bunting stocks run low


Now, I suspect that some AmE speakers will know this sense of bunting. The most recent edition of the American Heritage Dictionary includes it as 'Strips of cloth or material usually in the colors of the national flag, used especially as drapery or streamers for festive decoration.' But, judging from comments/questions I've heard in the cacophony of American voices commenting/asking about the wedding, I don't think it's widespread in AmE at this point. Compare the results for a search for bunting on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, and you'll see what I mean.

Growing up in the US, I knew a decorative sense of bunting, but it was limited to this stuff (from Amazon.com):
So, in my AmE, pennants are pennants and bunting is bunting and that's that. But what of these things? (From a Facebook update by Planted Feet.)



In BrE, they're still bunting, but in AmE, they're probably not pennants, since they're not pointy. I don't think I've ever had the problem of naming these things in the US, because they're just not as common, but I'd probably call it a string of little flags or some such thing.

The original meaning of bunting refers to the type of material that flags are made from, and then, by extension, it refers to things that are made out of that material. But the understanding of it particularly as 'strings of (decorative) flags' is ubiquitous in the UK. This sense in particular is not recorded in the OED (2nd edn, 1989), but I think it'll need to be in the next one, as I think it's the sense that most BrE speakers know--regardless of whether they know the more general 'material' sense.

There are, of course, other (unrelated) meanings for bunting. It's a kind of bird, for example. And, apparently, there's a dialectal difference here. In English generally, it applies to birds from 'Emberizinæ, a sub-family of Fringillidæ', and the particular species are generally called by compound names like rice bunting and corn bunting. But in AmE it's also '[a]pplied by extension to any bird of the bunting subfamily, and to similar birds of other families' (OED).

An AmE sense is related to baseball. To bunt is 'to stop the ball with the bat, without swinging the bat'. For more on why you'd want to do that, see Wikipedia.  This comes from an older BrE-dialectal word meaning 'to strike' (OED notes it in Wiltshire and Sussex).

Then there are the baby senses.  OED has "A term of endearment: in ‘baby bunting’, the meaning (if there be any at all) may possibly be as in Jamieson's ‘buntin, short and thick, as a buntin brat, a plump child’". Now, I only know this from a nursery rhyme that I only know from my time in the UK. The AHD doesn't record this one, so I'm going to call it BrE.

But AmE has bunting as 'A snug-fitting, hooded sleeping bag of heavy material for infants.' Like this one by Gap (from a UK site, but I'm assuming the name was imported along with the item):

These days, most things that are called baby buntings on US sites are indistinguishable from snow suits (which is what they'd also be called in BrE), in that they have legs, rather than a 'bag' at the bottom. The simple reason for this is that now all babies have to be strapped into car seats and (AmE) strollers/(BrE) push-chairs, with one of those straps going between the legs.


AHD gives the etymology as 'Perhaps from Scots buntin, plump, short.' So, we've got two baby-related senses (neither of which I caught in the big baby-related post), both supposedly coming from the same source, but mostly not shared between AmE and at least mainstream English-English. Scottish readers--do you use any buntings in this sense?

Bringing this back to the wedding: hanging bunting is a prime way to show involvement in the big day. So, it hangs in shop windows and will be strung around wedding street parties. But I'm not in the best place to show you BuntingFest 2011, as I live in what may be the most apathetic-about-that-wedding part of the country.  While Not From Around Here estimates that one in three shops in her town are decorated for the wedding, in Brighton/Hove/Portslade yesterday (I got around), it looked more like one in ten. And even then, it was often very half-hearted (say, a free-with-purchase flag or poster from a tabloid newspaper). Most of the (BrE) charity shops/(AmE) thrift stores have wedding gowns in their windows, but people I know are buying the cheap ones and wearing them with zombie make-up to go on (BrE) pub crawls. I've heard of no earnest street parties in Brighton and my Twitter feed is full of locals resenting the cost to the taxpayer at a time when the government is drastically cutting funding to just about everything else. (Some people counter that the wedding generates millions in UK spending, but we must remember that this is at the expense of many times that much in lost productivity because of the extra holiday.) The one sincere party I know of happened at my daughter's preschool on Thursday, where girls were dressed as princesses or brides and boys as princes or grooms. And all I can say is: I'm so glad Thursday is Grover's day off. (It's not the monarchism per se that bothered me, but the encouraging girls to dress up as princesses and brides. I would like to encourage her to dress up as an astronaut or a dragon or anything that isn't giving her the message that looking pretty is all that girls are supposed to do.) Though I've had to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen and her successors, I can't imagine that the television will be on anything but Zingzillas tomorrow. (And if you don't know what Zingzillas is, you can count your lucky stars that you don't have the theme song going through your head right now. Make it stop! Please!!!)

And that's me doing a short and simple, dash-it-off post. Oh wait, it's 3am. I'm never going to be any good at this, am I?
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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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Separated by a Common Twitter: competition results!

Thanks to Twitter-followers who re-tweeted to me their nominations for 'most impenetrable to cross-ponder' tweet.  We have a winner, Transblawg (Margaret Marks) who sent two--one that I declare the winner, and one that I declare a runner-up.  First, the winner (I'm deleting the identities of the original tweeters, since they didn't ask to be here...):

KP v.lucky to wring that lbw decision out of Enamul Haque: that was missing off-stump by a mile! Bangladesh 163-5 and in trouble

Of course,  anything with personal initials/names is going to be hard for anyone to read, but with a little BrE knowledge, one can figure out at least what the roles of KP and Enamul Haque are.  The tweet, for anyone who needs translation, is about cricket, the only sport that Better Half follows, but still one whose scoring system has to be explained to me every single time he tries to engage me in a conversation about the game.  KP is Kevin Pietersen, who was (BrE) bowling (equivalent to pitching in baseball--except that it's done differently) and Haque must be an umpire.  'That lbw decision' refers to a leg-before-wicket call made by the umpire.  In this case, spelling out the initials doesn't help much, does it?  You have to know that the aim of the bowler in cricket is to knock the bails (little pieces of wood) from a wicket (three little poles, called stumps, with the bails on top--image from Wikipedia). The batsman (baseball equivalent = batter) tries to hit the ball, preventing it from getting to the wicket.  But the leg-before-wicket law means that the umpire can decide that the batsman is out because the ball would have hit the wicket, had the batsman's leg (or the pads on it) not been in the way.  The three stumps are called the off stump (which is on the off-side, nearest the bat) the middle stump and the leg stump (on the on-side, the leg side).  So, to translate: Kevin Pietersen is very lucky that EH decided that the ball Pietersen had bowled would have hit the stumps, since, in the tweeter's opinion, it was nowhere near the outermost stump.  The rest is the score, to be read as 'Bangladesh is 163 for 5', which means that they've scored 163 runs and lost 5 wickets (yes, I had to look that up).  In other words, you're only told the number of runs for the team that is batting.  The team that gets more runs wins, so you know from this information how many runs the other team needs to get when it's their turn to bat.  But don't expect me to tell you more than that.  Instead, I'll point you to a site where an American tries to explain cricket to Americans.

I'll ask the winner to send her address and her choice of biscuits/cookies to me directly.  Here's the runner-up that she sent:
blooming knackering. I've got a sales conference in a couple of weeks too. I liked garden leave!! boo hoo
And maybe this should have been the winner, since it's not in the jargon of a sport, but in general BrE--but since it means sending the biscuits/cookies to the same place, perhaps I'll just declare it a (BrE-prominent) draw/(AmE-prominent) tie. A glossary for the tweet:
blooming = is a bowdleri{z/s}ed version of the vulgar BrE modifier bloody--akin in this context to saying (AmE) darned.

knackering = exhausting, tiring (slang). 

garden leave (also gardening leave) is, to quote the OED: "Brit. (euphem.) suspension from work on full pay for the duration of a notice period, typically to prevent an employee from having any further influence on the organization or from acting to benefit a competitor before leaving."
Janibach sent the only American tweet among the entries, which was related to American football--and not as impenetrable for the average British reader as the cricket tweet:
Who do you want the Cleveland Browns to take in the draft. Where are they in line? #NFL
The NFL (National Football League) occasionally comes to the UK to play exhibition games, and some games, including the Superbowl, sometimes make it onto wee-hours television.  That doesn't mean that the average Briton knows much about the sport--but still, this one is fairly decipherable (It was the wrong time of year to get tweets about less transparent things like first downs and Hail Mary passes).  Cleveland Browns are pretty clearly a sports team (since they follow the code of city name + plural common noun found in many team names across the English-speaking world).  The AmE spelling of draft for draught has been populari{z/s}ed for several senses of the word even in BrE, and particularly when referring to American military conscription.  While reference to drafts in the context of selecting players for a team may not be usual in BrE, it's part of a general sense that BrE does have: "The withdrawing, detachment, or selection of certain persons, animals, or things from a larger body for some special duty or purpose; the party so drawn off or selected" (OED).  And while BrE speakers would usually say in or on the queue rather than in line, they can certainly understand it.

This probably was an unfair contest in that respect--since BrE speakers are generally subjected to more AmE than AmE speakers are to BrE, a winning tweet would probably have had to use either fairly low-frequency words or very current slang in order to be more impenetrable than the BrE entries.  Ah well.

I'm tempted to go through all the entries (as there were only six), but having spent most of my Saturday night at this already, I think I'll stop and leave the others as inspiration for future blog posts.  Thanks to all who (re-)tweeted!  Catch me in Brighton, and I'll buy you a cuppa (bring your own biscuit).
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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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badminton

Tim showed up in my inbox recently to ask:
As a Briton in the US I am frequently flabbergasted to discover the deep linguistic differences between us.

The most recent case of this arose with the pronunciation of the word "badminton." In the UK, we say the word as it is spelled. However, to my surprise my seemingly uncontroversial pronunciation elicited scoffs and giggles from my American friends. They apparently pronounce the word "bad-mitten," leaving the poor old N out entirely... Have you noticed this?
Indeed. Americans often ignore or minimi{s/z}e the first n in the spelling. There does seem to be some variation within the US, though. Most sources I've found list both the n-ful and the n-less pronunciations for AmE. (Except for the OED, which seems to think that we favo(u)r the [n] and leave out the [t]. I've never heard that pronunciation.)

I grew up without the [n], but now say it. However, when I use the [n] I don't really enunciate the /t/--so it's more like badmin?n--where the ? is a pause in sound-flow. (I'd say it's a glottal stop, but it seems to me that I'm creating the stop at the soft palate--closing off the sound at the entrance to the nasal passage. Is there a name for this, phoneticians?) I'd not be at all surprised to learn that Americans misspell this word (e.g. as badmitten) far more often than the British do, but it's hard to search for misspellings on the web, as one gets a lot of hits for a band named Bad Mitten (an allusion to the AmE pronunciation of the game name, no doubt) and many sites about badminton seem to have included badmitten in their code in order to funnel bad spellers their way. That itself is evidence that people are aware of misspellings of the word, but not enough to say that it's mostly Americans misspelling it.

You can get upset on behalf of the first /n/, if you like, but you might also want to spare thoughts for the sounds from spelling that go missing in BrE too, like the /o/ in some BrE pronunciations of inventory, the /r/ in the Received Pronunciation form of farm or half the letters in Cholmondeley.

Why do many Americans not pronounce the /n/? I have no idea. Sometimes letters that are spelled but not pronounced in words are re-introduced because increased literacy has left us expecting to pronounce them. (See this Wikipedia bit on spelling pronunciation, if you like.) But this doesn't seem to be the case for badminton, which was named after a castle stately home in England and has always had the 'n' in the place name too.

An old discussion on the Linguist List notes that badminton is among a small number of English words that are exceptions to the generali{s/z}ation that 'closed penults in English attract stress'. Translation: that second-to-last syllables that end in a consonant are stressed. That generali{s/z}ation would predict that BADminton would be pronounced badMINton instead. Could it be that AmE has reacted to badminton's exceptionality by dropping the sound that closes the penultimate syllable, i.e. the first /n/? Once that happens (if my reasoning is correct) badminton acts more like a typical English word in its stress pattern. I'm sure my phonologist friends/readers will tell us if I'm completely (orig. AmE) off the wall on that one.
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scrimmage and scrummage

A while ago, I mentioned the (BrE) rugby term scrum and compared it to the AmE (regional) term dogpile. Chris E wrote today to ask a related question--which jumps to the head of the question queue because it's so simple to answer. Chris wrote:
If you are both a rugby and American football football fan, you will notice many obvious similarities between the two. I played rugby at school in England in the 70s and became familiar with the term scrummage, shortened to scrum in most usage nowadays. In the US, I have understood the word scrimmage to mean at least two things - 1. a term generic to many, if not all sports, meaning a practice game (a friendly in BrEng) 2. a specific American football term with which I'm not familiar.
Can you comment on the root or roots of these? I feel confident that they share a common heritage, but I don't know for sure.
It's simple to answer because the OED does all the work for me. (I can't claim to understand American football and am completely clueless about rugby.) In the OED, scrimmage and scrummage are treated as variations on the same word, and the etymology is given as:

[Altered form of SCRIMISH n., the ending being associated with -AGE suffix. Cf. the parallel skirmage, obs. var. of SKIRMISH n.

This is now used primarily as a sporting term. The older i-form is common in all senses, and has become predominant in American Football, whilst the u-form is preferred in Rugby Football.]

So, yes, they share a common origin. But the fun thing (for me, tireless defender of Englishes*) to notice is that we (again!) have a case of British people messing around with the language and Americans staying true to the original form--contrary to the popular stereotypes. Not that messing around with English is a bad thing, of course. After all, we wouldn't have poetry without some messing around.

* Actually, that's a lie. I'm a very tired defender of Englishes. The tiredness has little to do with the defending, though.
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bowls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since Better Half and I both lived with each other's dialects for some time before meeting each other, there aren't too many times when our linguistic differences get us into trouble. But one thing that hasn't stopped confusing me is when he calls the ground outside the floor. For instance, we might be walking along the (BrE) pavement/(AmE) sidewalk and he'll say "Mind the poo on the floor there" or "Look at all the chewing gum on the floor!" (He's just come up with those two examples himself, reminding me of my mother's recurrent surprise at the 'uncleanliness' of England. Of course, my mother lives in a small town in a rural area in the US, so her comparisons to cities in England aren't really fair.)

Anyhow, BH's exclamations about things on the floor almost always knock me for a loop, because to me the floor is something inside a building. Of course, in AmE I can also talk about the forest floor, but I think of that as being a very speciali{s/z}ed usage; it doesn't just mean the ground in the forest, it means all the ferns and mosses and things that one finds on the ground in a forest. Similarly for the ocean floor--to me, it's about an ecosystem, not just a surface.

I've asked various BrE-speaking friends whether they use floor to mean ground, and their replies have been mixed. (But it also should be said that I usually don't think that asking people whether they say X is a very productive or accurate way of finding out if they say X. What we do when speaking is a largely subconscious process, and when we reflect on that process, all sorts of things, not least ideas about how we 'should' speak, get in the way.) Looking in the OED, I find that it lists the sense 'the ground' as obsolete, except in dialects.

Now, as a Saaff Lundun boy descended of a long line of South Londoners, I kind of doubt that BH is hanging on to some old ways that the OED compilers thought of as 'dialectal'. So, my hypothesis is that this usage has been re-introduced to the general language through cricket. (This would contribute to explaining why BH uses it more than most of my girlfriends.) As the OED notes, floor is the ground of a cricket ground--that is to say, the dirt/grass part of the cricket field (too many senses of ground in that last clause). So, the OED also lists
to put a catch on the floor as a colloquial way to say 'to fail to hold a catch' in cricket.

I was reminded of the whole floor issue while watching the quiz celebrating Channel 4's 25th anniversary last night. (For certain reasons, I'm watching way too much television lately.) They showed a clip of a program(me) in which Derren Brown gets 'normal' people to hold up an armo(u)red bank car. And in that, in the out-of-doors, the robber demands that the bank guy get 'down on the floor' (i.e. on the street/road). You can see a clip from that (BrE) programme/(AmE) show here on YouTube, but to hear people saying floor, skip to about 7:24. Here, of course, there's the possibility that the speakers have been affected by seeing lots of dramati{s/z}ed robberies that take place inside banks, and so the thing that one says in that condition is Get down on the floor. But it still sounds really unnatural to me--I can't help but think that I'd say Get down on the ground. Next time I rob an armo(u)red vehicle, I'll have to have someone tape me.

So--can you refer to the surface of a road as the floor?
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special(i)ty, newspaper editing jargon and dogpile

As the title reveals, this post is a (AmE) hodgepodge/(BrE) hotchpotch of unrelated topics, which will serve the purpose of (a) finishing up the queries from April, and (b) writing a quick entry in a really busy week. (It's both Lynneukah [the joyous festival of Lynne] and week 1 of the university term. One of those is more entertaining than the other.)

Terry wrote back in April, pointing out that I'd failed (as I'm sure I often do) to mark a BrE/AmE difference that I'd used in passing: (AmE) specialty versus (BrE) speciality. There's not much more to say about that, except that in BrE specialty is used in the field of medicine, at least according to the Oxford Dictionary of English.

But in the ensuing correspondence, Terry called my attention to quite a bit of newspaper editing jargon that differs between the US and the UK. Terry is a (BrE) sub-editor/(AmE) copy editor, and the differences do not stop at the job title. Here are the ones he listed--and as far as I can tell, the American versions come first in this list:
... there's a surprising amount of difference in terminology between US papers and Brtitish ones: "slot" and "rim" (from where people sit at the horseshoe-shaped copy desk) versus "chief sub" and "down-table sub" for example, indicating American and British newspapers used differently shaped tables; "hed" versus "headline" and "lede" versus "intro" (ie opening sentence - a "lead" (pronounced [in the same way as] "lede") in BrE journalism, would mean the whole main story on a page, not just its intro); "cutline" for "caption", "graf" instead of "par" for paragraph, "refer" for "cross-ref", the line at the foot of a story that cross-refers to another story elsewhere in the paper, "slug" for "catchline", the short name given to a story for tracking purposes; "soft strip" for "strapline", a long subsidiary headline.
Terry's the expert (compared to me, at least!), so I'll leave it at that. I should add that of course headline is an AmE word too--it's what most people would call a headline. His inclusion of hed here should be taken only as jargon use, not as general AmE. Similarly, as a layperson speaking AmE, I'd refer to captions, not cutlines, so again this is about the jargon that copy/sub-editors use, not what newspaper readers use. Are there other copy/sub-editors reading who'd like to add anything else?

Finally, Terry made the following request:
If you ever do a(nother) piece on words common in the US that not one in a thousand Britons would understand, can I nominate dogpile? I never heard the word until coming across the search engine of the same name, and it was another five or six years before I learnt what a dogpile was - BrE scrum - and realised why the search engine designers had given it that name, because it piles results from other search engines up together ...
As you can see, I'm relying on Terry to write the bit on dogpile. The thing is...I don't know how many AmE speakers know the word either. I certainly had never heard it before I came across the search engine. Perhaps it's something that all (American) football fans know (I exclude myself from that category), but I've never heard it used in my Buffalo Bills-loving family. The OED added an entry on it earlier this year:

1. A disordered mass or heap of people, formed around an individual on whom others jump. Also fig. Cf. PIG PILE n.

1921 Nebraska State Jrnl. 19 Nov. 3/1 Purdy tucked the pigskin under his elbow and cantered over a dog-pile for a tally. 1948 Los Angeles Times 21 Nov. I. 20/2 The bottom man of a ‘dog pile’ in a fraternity house scuffle is in a hospital with a neck dislocation. 1993 Toronto Star (Nexis) 25 July E1 The AL West is a dog-pile similar to the AL East. Several teams can win. 2003 A. SWOFFORD Jarhead 20 The half-speed fight degenerates into a laughter-filled dog-pile... This is fun, plain mindless fun.
It's not clear to me that scrum is used in the same extended ways as dog-pile. The OED's second sense for scrum is: 'A confused, noisy throng (at a social function or the like)', which could involve a lot of standing people:
1976 Eastern Daily Press (Norwich) 19 Nov. 1/4 Cindy, as the new Miss World likes to be called, was surrounded by the traditional scrum of over 100 press photographers.

Thus I believe (though I'm not a rugby person either) that scrums are more 'vertical' than dog-piles. Here's a picture of a scrum from the MIT women's rugby site:


And here's a picture of a dog-pile (full of baseball players, not football players!) from the Santa Barbara Independent:


Scrums seem to have people on their feet more often than dog-piles do.

According to About Football Glossary, another (presumably less slangy) term for dog-pile is piling on, and it's a punishable offen{c/s}e in the game.

Finally, one has to question the wisdom of naming a search engine Dogpile, since the second (AmE) meaning for dog-pile is given in the OED as: 'A piece of dog excrement.' So, you can go with the metaphor of the search engine piling on results from other search engines, or you can substitute the metaphor that the Internet is full of this stuff.

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bogy, bogey, boogie, booger

I had a house-guest this week, and since I'm a bit behind in things, I was thinking I'd answer a really simple query. So, heading back to the April correspondence, I found Doug of Colorado writing about boogers in my inbox. I thought, 'oh, I'll do bogy and booger, that'll be quick!' But even as I began to write the title for this post, I reali{s/z}ed that this is going to get out-of-hand very quickly.

So, we start with snot. (Which just reminds me of Chiffon margarine ads from my American childhood: When you think it's butter, but it's not, it's Chiffon! That jingle writer did not have a good ear for potential mondegreens. We eight-year-olds thought it was hilarious.) Bits of fairly dry nasal mucus (you know what I mean) are colloquially called bogies (or bogeys) in BrE and boogers in AmE. The first vowel in the AmE version is generally pronounced like the oo in book. This is also the vowel that is found in the usual AmE pronunciation of the originally-AmE word boogie ('to [disco] dance'), though many BrE speakers pronounce it with a long /u/ sound, so that the first syllable is like the sound that a cartoon ghost would make (Boo!). In fact, the OED has only the boo! pronunciation, while the American Heritage has both, with the book-vowel one listed first. The long /u/ is also used for both oos in the usual BrE pronunciation of (orig. AmE) boogie-woogie, while AmE uses the book vowel for both.

It was only when I looked up bog(e)y in the OED that I discovered that one of the golf senses for bogey, 'a score of one stroke above par for a hole' (OED), is (or possibly was) AmE. The first (BrE) definition in the OED, 'The number of strokes a good player may be reckoned to need for the course or for a hole', seems to me to mean 'par'. I don't know a lot about golf (and I count myself lucky for that), but I only knew the AmE meaning. (American golfers, do you know the more 'par-like' meaning?) For the verb bogey ('to complete (a hole) in one stroke over par'), the OED lists this as 'orig. U.S.' It's a bit hard to believe that the verb has come over here, but not the noun. UK golfers, what's your experience?

(Apparently bogey is also Australian slang for a bath, and bogie is a Northern English--particularly Newcastle--dialectal word for 'A kind of cart with low wheels and long shafts'. But now I'm just getting distracted by the OED.)

And then there's the bogeyman. American Heritage lists four alternative spellings for this: bogeyman, boogeyman, boogyman, boogieman. OED has only bogyman (listed under bog(e)y) plus an example with the e: Bogey man. The capital B in some examples reflects bog(e)y's origin as a 'quasi-proper name' (OED) for the Devil. The AmE variations in spelling reflect the fact that it has many pronunciations in the US (probably regional in nature). In the order the AHD presents them, they are:
  1. with the book vowel: bʊg'ē-măn'
  2. with the long /o/, as in the golfing term bogey
  3. with the long /u/, as in boo! or BrE boogie
Myself, I grew up (in western New York state) with the first pronunciation, and would naturally use the last AmE spelling, but somewhere along the line I became conscious of bogeyman as the 'correct' spelling. That didn't affect my pronunciation of it.

I have a tangentially related (because there's an oo involved) anecdote from this week. Our house-guest was an American linguist who lives in Japan. Predictably, there were BrE/AmE conversations, particularly about water. But the best part (for me, at least) was when she noted that the café called Moorish Brighton wasn't particularly 'Moorish'. I'd claimed before we went there that it was Moroccan, but we found that it had all sorts of Mediterranean foods. It was only when she pronounced the café's name that I reali{s/z}ed it was a pun. I'd been pronouncing the oo with a /u/-ish vowel (which is typical in BrE or AmE) and just not getting the joke. She pronounced it with an /o/-like vowel (which the OED lists as a BrE alternative, oh well). Eureka! Moorish Brighton is (BrE) moreish!
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lefties and righties

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

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

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

From the "Up the Albion" Facebook page
The comments on the last post mostly cent{er/re} around uses of up as a verb...which led me to recall one of my first encounters with a BrE sense up. (This one a preposition.)

It was on the back of a bus, and it said: UP THE ALBION!

Now, the Albion is Brighton and Hove Albion, also known as the Seagulls, the local (BrE) football club / (AmE) soccer team, so I was puzzled as to why the local bus company would want to say something rude about the local team. You see, in AmE I would have to say up with the Albion (reminding me of a slogan from my childhood, Up with People). Without the with, I could only presume that I should interpret it as I interpret Up yours, which is a rude thing to say wherever you are.

Better Half says that Up the Albion! is a kind of cheer that one used to hear on the terraces, but these days one is more likely to hear You are going home in a fucking ambulance! (he sang that, but I can't figure out how to give you a sense of the rhythm) or some of the chants available on this website. (I'm sending you to the Albion page, but there are lots more on that site for other clubs too. For an intro to football chants, see also this BBC site.) Terraces in this sense means steps or tiers where people stand to watch the (BrE) match/(AmE) game. They're kind of like (AmE) bleachers, except that they're for standing, rather than sitting. Terraces are becoming a thing of the past (whereas increasingly abusive football chants are not), because of safety concerns, following a number of horrible incidents in the 1980s (including and especially the Hillsborough disaster). New stadiums have seating throughout.

Of course, there are other ways in which up is used differently in AmE and BrE, but they'll have to wait until I haven't got so much marking/grading to do.
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strikes and prying in the Grauniad

We buy the Guardian every Saturday because Better Half just cannot live without the Guide. It's a lot of paper to buy just to get the television listings, but this doesn't deter BH. It's a nightmare for me, though. Once a newspaper crosses my threshold, the only section that I can bear not to read is the sport(s) section. On a good week, it takes me a full seven days to get through the whole paper. I haven't had a good week in ages.

So, excuse me if I treat the following as news, 'cause it is to me. The British pound is worth more than two US dollars now, which gives all news outlets an excuse to write about British shopping tourism in the US. The Guardian joined this particular fray (21 April) by playing the game that BH and I play at the airport: guess the nationality. They stood outside Macy's in New York City and guessed at which shoppers were British. They had a hard time distinguishing the Brits from the Scandinavians, but they're pretty easy to tell from Americans:
New Yorkers claim they can detect British exchange rate shopaholics a mile off, through a combination of the rabid Buy Now look in their eyes, the British male's sideburns - American men usually shave them off - and over-reliance on Diesel clothing, and the women's slight scruffiness compared with their highly-groomed American sisters.
I think the scruffiness comparison only works in urban America. There are a lot of other clues, though. Middle-aged women in sweatshirts with embroidery or appliqué: probably American. Older men whose hair hangs below the tops of their ears and their collars: probably British. And so on and so forth.

But back to the article. The first couple they approach is/are indeed British. The second is/are Danish. Then we come to the third:
The third attempt gets another strike.
I thought I understood that sentence until I read the next one, which, in my estimation, contradicted its predecessor.
Avril and Stuart MacFarlane from Edinburgh are very much over here for the shopping.
Finally, I reali{s/z}ed that a baseball metaphor was getting in the way. If an attempt at something is described as a strike, an AmE speaker would naturally assume that it was a failed attempt, since in baseball a strike is (rather illogically) a failed attempt to hit a ball. The strike in the Guardian article is, of course, more related to the sense used in to strike gold or to strike oil--i.e. to succeed in finding something. Interestingly, the use of the noun strike to mean 'an act of discovery' is originally AmE too. But still it didn't sit right in my brain, as the baseball sense is rife in AmE, both on and off the playing field. A common saying is three strikes and you're out, meaning (as in baseball) that a person should only be given three chances before they're not given any more. This metaphor carried over into American legislatures, where three strikes laws have been passed in various states. Such laws guarantee that the penalties for a third criminal offense are extremely steep -- characteristically, life imprisonment for a third felony. This has contributed to America's prison overpopulation problem.

Now turning to another topic, which is only related by the Guardian connection, Strawman wrote to point out a correction in Monday's Guardian. (And he actually asked about it on Monday. I can only assume that Straw leads a life of leisure if he can actually read a newspaper on the day it comes out. I believe he also won a prize last year for playing more tournament Scrabble games than anyone else in the country that year. Some people know how to live...) The correction said:
American (or Canadian) usage slipped into a report, Robbers superglue man to bike (page 26, May 4), about a South African crime victim: "Paramedics used chemicals and petroleum jelly to ... pry the man's skin from the bike." Pry: to make an impertinent or uninvited inquiry (Collins). British English calls for "prise".
...and Strawman wrote to ask whether Americans indeed use pry to mean prise. All the time! (And also to mean 'to be nosy', as it is used in BrE.) But the Guardian is not absolutely correct in its implication that pry=prise is just a North Americanism; the OED lists it as 'dial. and U.S.'--i.e. it is used in some British dialect(s) too, particularly, it seems, in Suffolk and Essex. Incidentally, the OED lists the alternative spelling prize before prise, but in AmE, as in the Guardian, prise seems to be preferred nowadays.

The Guardian is sometimes (as it was in Strawman's e-mail) nicknamed the Grauniad, because of its past reputation for typos. I liked the fact that the entry for Grauniad in Urban Dictionary includes an unintentional misspelling. (Or at least I am pretending to like that fact because I think it's ironic. I'm not sure like is the right word here.) The definition also has misinformation in it. Par for the course in UD.
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Zamboni


This entry is mostly an excuse to post a picture of the pretty (and, in person, pretty imposing) Christmas tree at Rockefeller Centre, which Better Half and I visited a week ago. This was the first time I'd been to New York City during the (AmE-preferred) holiday/(BrE-preferred) festive season, and I was excited to watch the ice skaters in the rink below the tree. But when we got there, all I got was an opportunity to teach Better Half an AmE (or, as the OED puts it, "Chiefly N. Amer.") word: Zamboni. This is a proprietary name for a machine (in vehicular form) used to resurface ice in ice rinks, introduced in 1962 (patented in 1965) by Frank J. Zamboni & Co. of Paramount, California. BH had never seen one before, however he was not content to watch it do its job for more than 10 minutes before declaring that we weren't going to see any ice skaters. Instead, we merried ourselves with the fantastic light show at Saks Fifth Avenue.

A few days later, in a (AmE) book store/(BrE) bookshop, I spotted a children's book called Z is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet, illustrating that in AmE hockey refers to a sport played on ice. In BrE, one must say ice hockey to refer to that sport, and hockey refers to what Americans would call field hockey.

Merry Christmas from Better Half and me!
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cricket out of context

Better Half is a bit obsessed with the Ashes, which, because it's taking place in Australia, involves listening to the radio at very unsocial hours. One of these days I will do a post on cricket metaphors in BrE (as I have started to do for baseball in AmE--though there is a lot more to do in that field, so to speak). I incidentally heard the following on the radio very early this morning by Geoffrey Boycott ("a horrible , nasty man," says BH, "but very entertaining"):
If you're going to be a hooker, you should be a controlled hooker, not a compulsive hooker...

I said, "there should probably be court-ordered therapy on the NHS for compulsive hookers." BH agreed.
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kit

A correspondent on the American Dialect Society e-list expressed surprise at the following Briticism spoken by an American character in the American television show/programme Law & Order: Criminal Intent:
He liked to dress in women's clothes - panties, bra - the whole kit.
In BrE, kit is used both more frequently and in more ways than in AmE. Used alone, AmE kit is likely to refer to a set of parts that one can put together to make something--as in She built her car from a kit. It's also used in various combinations. For example, a shaving kit or Dopp kit is a travel bag for men's toiletries. (Dopp is a trade name, but Dopp kit has been generici{s/z}ed.) Kit is also heard in the AmE phrase the (whole) kit and caboodle--that is, the entire collection of things related to a certain task or context:
Dell's modular approach is an attractive proposition for those who wish to avoid lugging around the whole kit and caboodle every time they hit the road. --Newsfactor Network
For some etymological information on this phrase, see The Maven's Word of the Day.

In BrE, kit is used to refer to any collection of related things, particularly equipment or clothing. For instance, in the second (if I remember correctly) episode of the new BBC program(me) Torchwood, newcomer Gwen experiences a lot of whizzy gadgets in a vehicle and says (sarcastically) to her colleagues (again, if I'm remembering correctly), Got enough kit?

The Law & Order quotation above shows the clothing/equipment sense, which is most often used in relation to what one would carry/wear for a sport. Thus tennis kit (typically used without a or the) would consist of the clothes, the shoes and (often) the racket.

The 'clothing' sense of kit is often heard these days in get one's kit off, as in:
Sometimes in life it's nice when people are complimentary about you without trying to get your kit off. --Don Pablo Escobar on bangingtunes.com
Other ADS-list correspondents noted having heard BrE-like kits on another television show/programme and in the cycling world--so it seems to be infiltrating AmE.

I'll stop here because an IBook failing-battery horror caused me to lose (another version of) this entry once already. I need new kit!
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running the bases

I promised a 'part two' on local fauna expressions, which I've written, but don't want to post until I've checked a source in the office. So, I hope to post that tomorrow, and in the meantime I will provide a public service to the British television-watching public.

Better Half and I tonight watched (on DVD) the last three episodes (ever! Aiiiigggghhh!) of Arrested Development. Luckily for BH, he had the remote control and a native speaker of American English sitting next to him--and he knows how to use them. This time he used them to ask: "What is second base?" Of course, this is a baseball term, and also a metaphor for sexual activities, but there's some dispute/lack of clarity about which bases stand for which activities. The (probably most) standard progression is:

first base
kissing
second base
touching above the waist
third base
touching below the waist
home run
sexual intercourse


Back in my more innocent days, before all the facts of life had presented themselves to me, my friends and I believed that first base was holding hands and second base was kissing and third base was kissing with tongues--and I have no idea what we thought a home run was. For others, second is touching outside the clothes, and third is getting inside the clothes. I'm sure there are all sorts of other permutations these days. Wikipedia has an article that includes many other baseball metaphors about sex, some of which probably have little currency outside the Wikipedia article.

Now, go forth and enjoy the final (and truncated) (BrE) series/(AmE) season of Arrested Development! (Though it seems to have been bounced off the air by snooker this week, thus postponing its tragic end.)
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count/mass nouns: potato, egg, tax, sport, Lego

Some nouns that AmE treats as count nouns are mass nouns in BrE. One school of thinking on noun countability is that whether or not a noun is countable is somewhat arbitrary. The other school holds that such differences reveal underlying cultural differences. (See Anna Wierzbicka (1986) "Oats and Wheat" in The Semantics of Grammar.) So, can we find cultural differences between the US and Britain to account for these examples? Well, we can have fun trying.

Let's start with food.

I ate some...


AmEBrE
mashed potatoes mashed potato
scrambled eggs scrambled egg

These kinds of prepared food are substances more than individuable things. You can't see the boundaries of the individual eggs or potatoes once they are scrambled or mashed. The BrE forms reflect this--they're singular just as other 'substance' food names like porridge (= US oatmeal, Scots English porage) and dip are. The AmE forms, however, reflect the state of the food before mashing/scrambling. Does this mean that Americans think more about the origins of their food? I can't think of much other evidence for that.

It's also not a perfect pattern. I've never heard anyone in Britain order refried bean with their Mexican food. But then again, (BrE) tins/(AmE) cans of refried beans tend to be imported from the US, with the AmE name for them on the label. But one also buys tins/cans of chopped tomatoes, not chopped tomato, which seems to indicate that scrambled egg and mashed potato aren't really part of a deep pattern. (There are 8 hits for "tin of chopped tomato" on UK Google, but over 500 for "tin of chopped tomatoes".)

BrE is also less likely to plurali{z/s}e sport and tax than AmE is.
Here we explain the main points that you may need to consider first if you cannot pay your tax. (TaxAid website (UK)).

You may qualify for an Offer in Compromise if you are unable to pay your taxes in full (Internal Revenue Service (US) FAQ sheet)
In April of every year, Americans do their taxes --even if they only pay Federal Income Tax. Nevertheless, it may be conceptuali{s/z}ed as plural because many people have to pay income tax at both the state and federal level. Still, one pays only one tax on one's property in most areas, but people still speak of their property taxes in the US.
If you pay your property taxes by eCheck, for your security you will be asked to enter a receipt number as your PIN. (Iowa State County Treasurers Assoc.)
Of course, in both countries, tax is money, and money is a mass noun, like BrE tax. But finding logic in any of this strikes me as futile. (You're welcome to contradict me!) In the UK, one pays council tax (predictably singular), but before that one paid rates--uncharacteristically plural. And in New York, we pay sales tax, but not sales taxes, even though the sales tax is composed of two taxes: the state sales tax and the county or city sales tax. (UK equivalent is VAT, for value-added tax. Because it's the same in every part of the country, it is usually presented as part of the retail price of any item in a shop. For more expensive items, like computers, the VAT is often listed separately. People have asked me why it can't be so straightforward in the US--and the answer is that the tax in the next town may be different from the tax in this one.)

For sport:
Girls are you interested in sport? (item on 'Making the News' website for schools)
versus AmE:
Get a girl interested in sports, the experts say, and chances are you’ll get a girl who exudes confidence, is physically healthy and is a success story waiting to happen. (Trinity College (DC))
The BrE singular uses of sport seem to treat the various types of sport as belonging to a more coherent category than AmE plural uses do. I note (from my internet wanderings) that Canadians seem to use sport in a more British way.

One more that I forgot until I found this blog entry on the topic: Americans play with Legos and step on a Lego, while the British play with Lego and step on a piece of Lego or a Lego brick.

Shall we say that this is all just a matter of habit, or can you see some reasons why the two cultures would conceptuali{s/z}e these concepts differently? Are Americans just plural-happy?
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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)