Showing posts sorted by relevance for query "can i get". Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query "can i get". Sort by date Show all posts

can I get a latte grande?

Out for lunch Saturday with Better Half's Mum and her Better Half, when BHM'sBH declares "I hate it when English people take on American corporate jargon." I expected he was talking about thinking outside the box and investing in excellence. The latter is one of my pet peeves, as well as the current call-to-arms/pens by my university's management. ( I also hate that my university has a management team now instead of an administration.)

But no, BHM'sBH instead went on to talk about how he can tell who works for an American company when they open their mouths at Starbucks and say "Can I get a..." instead of "Can/May I have a...". If you ask to get a coffee, by his reasoning, you're asking to come (a)round to the other side of the counter and fix yourself a coffee. BH agrees with BHM'sBH that in the context of ordering a coffee can I get a means 'can I get myself a'.

Checking out can I get a on Google UK, some of the examples are:

can I get a qualification?
Can I get a regular health check at my GP surgery?
can i get a gmail invite?
Can I get a refund of unused portion of a season ticket...?
Can I get a refund on my parking permit?
Can I get a business grant to start up a new business in the Harrogate district?

Most of these are from FAQs, and are sincerely about ability ('Am I able to get a refund? How do I do it?'), rather than requests for things to be given. That's not surprising, as writing Can I get a decaf latte? on my website is unlikely to result in a hot beverage showing up beside me. (That's what yelling to BH in the kitchen was invented for.) The gmail invite example is the only one that stands out as a UK-located (but not necessarily UK) person requesting something using can i get a.

BrE speakers have no problem with saying I got a coffee on my way to work, meaning 'I took a coffee away from someplace where I ordered it'.

In can I get a, get is the converse of give:
Can I get a coffee (from you)? = Can you give me a coffee?

But it's not that the get/give opposition is American-only: on UK Google, one gets twice as many hits for get presents as for receive presents. Since one typically doesn't go and get one's presents from the giver ( one tends to passively receive them), it's clear here that British folk have the lexical/logical wherewithal to understand can I get a as a request.

I think is the real problem is that one learns early the 'polite' ways to ask for things, and this way is not in the British canon of polite requests. While get can mean a passive action of receiving, it also has other senses that are closer to take--which probably colo(u)rs people's perceptions of get's connotations. So, if you're brought up on saying can I have a, then can I get a might sound a little more greedy/impolite.

But why doesn't it sound less polite to American ears? (Especially if it's a relatively new locution there too?) Three possibilities, which don't rule one another out:

1 - Perhaps it does sound less polite to Americans too. To me can I get a sounds a little more brusque and self-cent(e)red than can I have a. (But maybe I've been influenced by my surroundings.)

2 - Perhaps it is slightly less polite in both dialects, but it's less important to sound "polite" in America. (The word polite is a bit loaded here. I'm using it to mean something like 'indirect/genteel'.) The US is known for its solidarity politeness system and for its individualistic culture. In a solidarity culture, one wants to act as if everyone's on the same social level. The UK is historically a deference culture, in which people's societal roles are more distinguished and great pains are taken not to inflict oneself on others unnecessarily. The UK has been shifting toward solidarity styles since at least the second world war, but is still not as far along that path as the US. The importation of (and unease with) can I get a may be a symptom of that shift.

3 - Or perhaps it's just that anything that sounds American grates on British ears and sounds less polite, just by association with Americans and stereotypes of Americans.

I think it's probably a combination of all of these.
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'can I get' redux

This is for an MA student at our university. Here's her plea:
For my dissertation, I'm looking at the recent increase of young Brits using 'can I get' for requests, rather than 'can I have..', which old-school speakers like me use. I'm assuming that the 'can I get..' form is American, but I'm not sure if Americans see the two forms as having any difference in meaning. To me, and older British speakers, 'can I get a glass of water?' means 'do you mind if I help myself to...' if I'm in someone's house. It therefore seems odd to use it in a cafe or a pub, unless you plan to go behind the counter and help yourself.

A quick look at an American corpus seems to suggest that American usage of 'can I have...' is used more for questioning if you are allowed something. Is this really the case? I'd be really interested to hear what Americans with an interest in linguistics have to say!

Thanks very much.

So, please help her by discussing in the comments. Here's my posting on 'Can I get a latte grande?' from some time ago.
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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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grammar is not the enemy

I'm saddened these days by a lot of things going on in the UK, particularly regarding the current government's treatment of education and healthcare. But, you know, I'm not a Conservative or even a conservative, so it's not surprising I'm not too happy with them. What's moving me to write today is the sadness I feel about aspects of the reaction to what's happening in education.
Spot Lynne's (BrE) barnet in the picture

A bit of background: the Tory  (BrE) government/(AmE) administration has made and continues to make many changes to schools and education in England. (The other countries of the UK can do their own thing—and as far as I can tell, they're being more sensible.) The changes include a lot more testing of spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG) with more specific and more daunting requirements on grammar at earlier ages. To give a comparison, the National Curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2 (ages 4-11) mentions grammar (or grammatical) 35 times in 2015, compared with 6 times in 2010.

SPAG testing is just one aspect of sweeping changes to education in England under Secretaries of State for Education Michael Gove (2010-2014) and Nicky Morgan (2014-present), but it is an aspect that has been the focus of much attention and anger.

Our family took part today in the Let Our Kids Be Kids school strike protesting against the year-2 SATs* tests, because we do believe that the current policies are making a mockery of education by focusing on standardi{s/z}ed testing, particularly at (BrE) infant-school level. There is no evidence basis for any of the changes that are being made to education—in fact, all the education research I've seen says that formal education shouldn't start till age 7, that homework doesn't belong in primary years, that academi{s/z}ation does not necessarily help ailing schools (and that it's likely to kill rural primaries), and so on and so forth.

But what worries me sometimes in the rhetoric of the anti-testing movement is anti-grammar sentiments—separate from the anti-testing or anti-early-schooling sentiments. I've seen a lot of "down with grammar!" messages, often alongside "learning should be fun!" The implicit—and sometimes made explicit—message is that grammar takes the joy out of language. Fun and joy, as far as I'm concerned, are more about teaching than about subject matter. I want to take a moment to say "up with grammar!"  

To borrow an analogy from a friend, not wanting your child to learn about grammar [by which I mean: describing how sentences and words are structured] is like not wanting your child to learn about molecules and atoms. Yes, you can happily interact with matter without knowing that it is made up of elements, which are made up of atoms, and that those can combine with others to make all sorts of wonderful things. Not being able to explain the chemistry and physics involved will not stop you from making or enjoying a milkshake. But do you really not want to have a clue that there is more to the world than meets the eye? I've found it very useful to know what I learned at school about matter—even though I grew up and had to discover that there might not be any such thing as electrons. All the same, having a basic knowledge of a model of how matter works makes it easier for me to understand the science I hear about in the news. It helps me understand a little bit better when I read about new medical treatments. It also points out to me how little I know, and makes me a bit more curious about the things I don't know. It helped me learn about the scientific method and encouraged me to wonder at the scales of the universe.

Learning about how language works is like that. Learning about it can lead you to appreciate it more and to be less prejudiced about it, and if you go further with it, you might be able do a lot of things with that knowledge. Speech and language therapists can use it. Teachers can use it. Editors can use it. Cognitive psychologists can use it. Computer programmers and software designers can use it. Having a theory of what language is and how it works — what sentence is, what a word is — has lots of applications and can open up all sorts of other areas for investigation.

As Bas Aarts (of University College London's Survey of English Usage) explains in his response to being a scapegoat for anti-grammarism, any grammatical exercise is a test of a particular model of the grammar of the language. At university level, our students compare models. But we don't present more than one at school level, generally—not for language, not for physics, not (generally) for evolution. A problem in grammar teaching/learning sometimes is that several different models are available and no one's pointed that out, and so concepts from one are mixed up with concepts from another and things stop making sense.

What can you do by learning a single model of a grammar in school? Well, you can have conversations about your language, about other languages, about your writing, about whatever you're reading. Students' lack of metalanguage for talking about language and writing is something I've complained about elsewhere.

Does that need to happen in the early years of school? No. And it doesn't need to be tested in pressure-filled rote ways. But if you are not confident in your (or your school staff's) knowledge of grammar and you don't have the resources (including TIME) to get that knowledge and confidence up, then teaching-to-a-test is what ends up happening.

As I've written about before, grammar teaching has never been very strong in the UK. I don't want to repeat everything I wrote at that blog post (relying a lot on Dick Hudson and John Walmsley's research), so I do recommend clicking on that link. This has left us with a situation where everyone involved in the discussion has different half-developed ideas of what grammar means and which models are relevant. And in that situation, it's really easy to see why people are anti-grammar. Grammar in that case seems like hocus-pocus that's used as a means to keep some kids back. That may be the meaning of the SATs test, but it's not the meaning of grammar.

The only grammar/language teaching to trainee teachers at my UK university was for those who were upgrading themselves from classroom assistant to teacher. (And that programme has since been cancel[l]ed.) It was just assumed that people who had studied literature and had university degrees would be able to teach what an adverb is, should the curriculum ask for grammar. And perhaps back in the day when many of our teachers were trained, there was no inkling of an idea that grammar would be taught at primary level. (Foreign language was made compulsory at primary level in 2010. Many current teachers would not have started their careers with that in mind either.)

In the US, the nature of grammar teaching will vary more as there is more state-by-state variation in curricula. (There is now a national 'Common Core' that is like the UK National Curriculum—but it specifies much less than the National Curriciulum does and the statements about grammar are more about "using standard grammar" than analy{s/z}ing sentences [link is PDF].)  I've just checked the website of the Texan university where I last taught in the US (in 1999) and Modern English Grammar is still on the requirements for a Bachelor of Science in Education (English) for middle-school (AmE) grades upward—though now they're allowing people to substitute Introduction to Linguistics for it. (I used to teach both of those—and loved them.) In the US university-level grammar (not linguistics, but grammar) textbooks are big business. In the UK, I've not found a real equivalent to the grammar textbooks we taught with in the US. Again, my older post on grammar teaching covers other aspects of this.

My dream would be for kids to be able to learn about language by using observation, experimentation, discovery, categorization. All that good stuff. Learning how to think, not what to think. The ultimate transferable skill. And while many are working hard to make sure schools have access to the training and confidence to incorporate more linguistic discovery into their work, it seems like an impossible ask at a time when teachers are under an incredible amount of pressure from a government that likes to serve its educational reform with budget cuts.

Another good way to learn about grammar is by learning a language other than your own. Our experience teaching linguistics at university level is the exchange students can out-grammar all our UK-educated home students, because they've had to do metalinguistic thinking—thinking about languages—before. You don't need to learn the language by learning grammar—but being faced with the fact that your language does things differently from others gives insight into what grammar is.

In the meantime, here's a video of the strike rally that we attended today, from the Channel 4 news. The reporter is trying to be clever (I eventually figured out) by naming grammatical constructions he's about to say.  It's fair to say, he didn't study much grammar either. (Best bit: when causal connective turns into casual connective. I'm thinking like could be added to the grammar tests as a casual connective.)

But even though I'm slightly taking the mickey out of that reporter, I do think it's not really fair when people pick on grown-ups' inability to answer the test questions. If schools only taught facts and theories that you'd remember as an adult, schooling would be very short indeed. What's important is not whether decades-later-me can explain what an electron is or what the French and Indian War was about or how to tell a preposition from a subordinating construction (ok, maybe I need that one for my job). What's important is
  • the thinking skills I honed when learning those things
  • the communication skills I developed in tasks related to those things
  • the knowledge that any part of the world can be analy{s/z}ed in interesting ways
  • the echo of those things in my mind, reminding me that things do have names and explanations and I could go look them up if I wanted to

P.S. Lots of other linguists and educationists and other interested people have written a lot of other things about this, but I couldn't take the time to link to them all. Feel free to suggest further reading in the comments!

* The SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) in the US is for (AmE) college/(BrE) university admissions. Lazily quoting Wikipedia, no one really knows what it stands for in England, as it's variously referred to as: "Statutory Assessment Tests, Standard Attainment Tests, Standardised Achievement Tests and Standard Assessment Tests".
The linguistic note here is that in the UK, it's pronounced as a word: Sats. In the US, the SAT is always S-A-T.
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Here comes the 5th Untranslatable October!

On Twitter, I usually post a 'Difference of the Day' between British and American English every weekday. But for the past four Octobers, I've done something different: the Untranslatable of the Day. Each year I've wondered: can I really keep this up for (another) month? Are there that many concepts that are put into words or idioms in Britain or the U.S., but not the other country? Well, we've come up with more than 80 so far, and this year, I kept a file of UotD suggestions all through the year and can say with confidence that there are enough for a fifth go-round and possibly a sixth! 

The moment I start tweeting about 'untranslatables' I expect to receive tweets and emails complaining about the concept, particularly that 'nothing is untranslatable'. That's true in some senses, of course. What I mean by 'untranslatable' here is not that you can't express the same meaning in the other language/dialect, but that it hasn't been packaged as a lexical item--i.e. a word or an idiom. Comparing which concepts warrant actual expressions in a language can be interesting from a cultural perspective. They tell us things about working conditions, social relations, and other good stuff. Sometimes they make us think "yeah, I need a word for that!" and there the word is to borrow.
So, I repeat again the clarifications about Untranslatable October that I've given before:
  • I'm only talking about the relationship between British and American English here (as is my theme). These expressions may well have equivalents in other languages or dialects.  
  • By Untranslatable I mean that there is no lexicali{z/s}ed equivalent in the other dialect. And by lexicali{z/s}ed I mean that the expression is a word or an idiom--something that language users learn through hearing others say it, rather than something that has been made up anew.
    One can translate things by making up new sentences or phrases that describe the same thing, sure. But it's special when a language has lexicali{z/s}ed an  expression for something--it tells us something about the culture that invented and uses that expression.
  • Many of these have started to be borrowed between the dialects--and that's natural. If it's a useful expression and the other dialect doesn't have it, it's a prime candidate for international migration.
  • If you have not heard of the word before (even though I've said it comes from your country), then I hope that you might celebrate that you've learned a new expression, rather than complain to me that it's not 'really' American or British. Please know that I'm not posting them without some research, and none of us has a complete vocabulary. That said, if you can improve on my definitions, challenge the 'untranslatability' or give other insight into the untranslatables, please let me know!
  • I'm grateful for suggestions of additional untranslatables (though they may not make UotD status until next year), but I won't repeat any expressions that have been used in previous Octobers. The lists for each October are accessible by clicking on the 'untranslatable' label in the right margin, the bottom of this post, or, conveniently, here: untranslatable.
    There are also search boxes at the top and in the right margin of this blog. (The one in the margin works much better.) So please have a quick search before making suggestions, in order to cut down on the time that I spend responding to suggestions. (This is all voluntary on my part, please remember!)
Untranslatables (like Differences of the Day) will appear at 3pm British time (10am US east coast) each weekday on Twitter till the 30th. If you don't use Twitter, you can see them in the Twitter feed to the right here, or wait for the summary at the end of the month. In any case, I hope you enjoy them! 

P.S. (6 October 2015): I forgot to mention another of the 'rules'.  I don't include names for objects, activities or institutions that don't exist in the other country. For instance, there is no American equivalent of the expression Eccles cake, but that's not because Americans hadn't thought to lexicali{z/s}e it, but because they've probably never seen such a thing. This can get a bit tricky to determine when it's not an object we're talking about or when the expression has also taken on figurative meanings--see last year's example three-line whip.
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grammar is relationships

This is not a post about American versus British English. I hope you’ll indulge me. It's come out of some Twitter conversations this afternoon.

It started when I read this sentence in James Pennebaker’s book The Secret Life of Pronouns:
Function words require social skills to use properly.

And I wondered how it had got(ten) past a copyeditor. So I did a Twitter poll to see if other people were happy with the sentence. The poll looked like this: 

So, 25% of more than 300 people thought it sounded fine. 75% felt there was something weird about it. Given how I phrased the question, it's possible that the 75% had 100 different reasons for thinking it weird. But considering some of the tweet-replies I had, I know that at least some people had the same reaction that I did. 

The problem with the sentence for me is that there is no reasonable subject for the verb to use. Compare it to this sentence with the same kinds of parts in the same order:  
 The law requires every driver to drive safely.

In that case, the subject of the infinitive to drive is every driver—every driver is to drive safely. So, what you've got is:
  • Main verb: requires
  • Subject of main verb: the law
  • Object of main verb = infinitive clause: every driver to drive safely

But that doesn't work for Pennebaker's sentence. Social skills to use properly is not a complete clause because (a) there's no object of the verb to use (to use what properly?), and (b) social skills is in a position where it could be the subject of to use (as in the driving example), but it's not.  The sentence could be "fixed" in a number of ways that involve making it clearer that function words are the things being used.
  1. Make the infinitive into a passive, so it's clear that function words is the object of use: Function words require social skills to be used properly.
  2. Move use closer to function words so that it's clear how they relate to each other: To use function words properly requires social skills. (Or Using function words properly requires social skills.)
  3. Move function words closer to useIt takes social skills to use function words properly.
Number 1 is a little ambiguous (it sounds a bit like function words are bossing social skills around), so I'd prefer 2 or 3, where it's really clear that function words is the object of use

But there are sentences with require that do work more like Pennebaker's sentence:
Crops require water to grow.

Here, it's not the water that's growing, it's the crops. So it doesn't work like the driving sentence—the object of require is not water to grow. In both sentences, I've put the object of require in blue, so you can see that the sentences have different structures. Another way that you can tell they're different structures is that you can replace to with in order to in one and not the other and can rephrase one with that and no to, but not the other.
The law requires every passenger in order to drive safely.
Crops require water in order to grow.
 The law requires that every driver drive safely. [or drives if you're not a subjunctive user]

Crops require that water grow.

So one of the reasons I wanted to write this post is to make this big point:
Grammar isn't just where words go in a sentence, it's how they relate to each other.
The fact that the crops sentence is the same shape as Pennebaker's sentence doesn't mean that Pennebaker's sentence is grammatical, because it still has the problem that there is no subject for to use. Notice that it can't be rephrased in either of the ways that the other two can:
Function words require social skills in order to use properly
Function words require that social skills use properly
The last possibility is to interpret use as being in middle voice (as opposed to active or passive voice). This is when the verb acts kind of like a passive (where what would have been the active object becomes the subject), but doesn't get the passive be +past participle form. English has some verbs that work this way.
I cut the bread easily. (active voice: subject is the cutter)
The bread is cut easily. (passive voice: subject is what's cut)
The bread cuts easily. (middle voice: subject is what's cut)
Grammar Girl has a podcast and post on middle voice in English if you're interested. English has more of a 'middlish' voice than a 'middle', as we're really limited in how we can use it and it doesn't have a special verb form, as it does in some other languages. As Grammar Girl notes:
[English] middle-voice sentences usually include some adverbial meaning, negation, or a modal verb, or a combination of the three. “The spearheads didn’t cast very well” has both negation (“didn’t”) and an adverb phrase (“very well”). “The screw screwed in more easily than I thought it would” has the adverb phrase “more easily than I thought it would.”
While Pennebaker's sentence does have an adverb, properly, it's not one that I'm super-comfortable using with a middle construction (?The bread cuts properly), but maybe some people would like it better than I do. (Proper is used more as an adjective and adverb of intensity in some colloquial BrEs than in my AmE.)

So, are the 25% who like the sentence reading it as having middle voice? I'm not totally convinced, because I think that the English middle doesn't do well with fancier sentence constructions as with require:
?That bread requires a good knife to cut easily.
?That bread requires a steady hand to cut easily.
Putting an object between requires and to makes it confusing—is it the bread or the knife/hand that is cutting easily? If it's the knife or hand, then the sentence would usually require an it to stand for the bread: The bread requires a good knife to cut it easily. 

So, anyhow, when I put the Pennebaker sentence up, some people wondered if it was like this dialect phenomenon, found in some parts of the US (particularly western Pennsylvania) and some parts of the UK (particularly Scotland):
The car needs washed.
It was natural for them to make that connection because both Pennebaker's sentence and the needs washed sentence would work in other dialects if the final verb were made passive. But note that what needs to be added to the sentences to create a passive is different in the two cases. In needs washed, the washed is in the past participle needed for a passive. But in Pennebaker's sentence the infinitive verb is not in any way in passive form.
The car needs to be washed.
The function words require social skills to be used properly.

So, I asked the 25% who accepted the sentence to write back and tell me where they were from. And it turns out they're from anywhere.... New Jersey, California, New England, southeastern US, eastern and western Canada, up and down the UK, the Caribbean. That makes it look like it's not a dialect feature. 

An interesting thing about the 25%, though, was that a few got in touch to say: "I clicked that the sentence was fine for me, but once I started thinking about it, I was less sure."

After the dialect idea didn't pan out, I joked that the next step was to give personality tests to people who didn't like the sentence. And while it was a joke, I think there is probably something to the idea  that some people read for meaning and don't get the grammatical 'clang' that I got because getting the meaning is good enough. If they can get the meaning without a deep look at the grammar, the grammar is irrelevant. I'd wonder if people who get a 'clang' with this sentence are also more likely to also notice misplaced modifiers and dangling participles. A lot of us who notice these things notice them because we've been trained in looking at language analytically, or we're just very literal readers. Had I heard Pennebaker's sentence, I probably wouldn't have noticed that there was no workable subject for the verb use. I would have just understood it and gone merrily on my way. But in reading, CLANG.

Anyhow, the main reason I wanted to blog this was to make that point that Grammar is how words relate to each other. That two sentences with the same shape can be working in very different ways. And on that note, I'll leave you with an experiment that Carol Chomsky did way back when. She gave children a doll with a blindfold over its eyes and asked them if this sentence was true—and if not, to make the sentence true.
The doll is easy to see. 
Notice how that sentence doesn't work like this sentence:
The doll is eager to see.
In the first, the doll is being seen. We can paraphrase it as The doll is easy for me to see. In the second, the doll is who will do the seeing. We can't paraphrase it as The doll is eager for me to see, because it means The doll is eager for the doll to see. The words easy and eager determine how we interpret the relations of the other words in the sentence. In linguistic terms, they license different relationships in the sentence. (In these sentences it's adjectives doing that relationship-determining, but in most sentences, it's the verbs. In our requires sentences above, we can see that require licenses a range of possible sentence structures—words do that too.)

Understanding that a blindfolded doll is easy to see is something that most kids don't master till they're into their school years. When asked to make the doll easy to see, the younger kids take off the doll's blindfold. This shows us that kids take a while to fully take account of the grammar, not just the words, in sentences.

Hope you didn't mind my little grammatical foray...
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making suggestions

I'm at the conference of the International Pragmatics Association in Manchester (UK) this week, and I was interested to see that there's a poster in the poster session (which is already posted, though the session's not till tomorrow) on directive speech acts in AmE and BrE. 'Directive speech act' means an utterance that is intended to get someone to do something. Being an impatient sort, I've looked up the author of the paper, Ilka Flöck of Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, and found an earlier paper by her on another aspect of the issue. The PDF is here, if you'd like to read it yourself.

The British (and English people, more specifically) are often stereotyped as being very indirect in their style--that is, implying their meanings rather than saying exactly what they mean. (The stereotypical British use of irony is a classic example of this--saying the opposite of what one means in order to implicate one's true meaning.) Americans, on the other hand, are often stereotyped as being very direct--brash or bossy, even.

So, what happens when people from these cultures make suggestions? For her study, Flöck defines suggestions as follows:
A speech act is understood as a suggestion when the following conditions apply:
- The speaker (S) wants the hearer (H) to consider the action proposed.
- S and H know that H is not obliged to carry out the action proposed by S.
- S believes that the suggestion is in the interest of H.
- S may or may not include herself in the proposed action  (Flöck 2011: 69)
Flöck looked for suggestions in two corpora of spoken English: the Santa Barbara Corpus of Spoken American English and the British component of the International Corpus of English. Skipping to the end, she found that:
Apart from modest preferences for one or the other head act or modification strategy, no major differences between the two varieties could be observed. Unlike other speech acts, suggestions might therefore not have a strong potential for intercultural misunderstanding.  (Flöck 2011: 79; emphasis added)
That is, on the whole, the British and Americans do not differ in whether they prefer direct or indirect strategies for suggestions. What Flöck did find were some differences in how the indirect strategies are phrased, with the British modifying their requests more (using 'upgraders' and 'downtoners') and Americans relying more on the 'head' of the suggestion--the unadorned sentence and its verb phrase in particular.

Now, I do not want to claim that I am not bossy. I'm a first-born. I'm a teacher. Of course I'm bossy. But at the same time, I do not perceive myself as being anywhere near as bossy as a certain Englishman thinks I am. And I suspect that this might be because of some of the different preferences for phrasing Flöck noticed.  One difference was in the modal verbs used in suggestions. British speakers used more modals of obligation (should, shall), while Americans tended toward(s) can, but Americans also used more Why don't you...?  (Note: the fact that you say either is not counterevidence to this! Both cultures use all these strategies--but at different rates in the corpora.)

The British-preferred modals of obligation are considered by Flöck to be more direct.  That is, they're communicating the directive meaning: 'I think you should do this'. Can on the other hand, is (arguably--depending on how you like your modal verb analysis) ambiguous between a weak obligatory meaning and a capability meaning: i.e. 'you are able to do this and therefore you have the option to do it'. My question is: might should-preferers perceive can as too ambiguous for use in this context, or find its option-giving meaning to be insincere? Or am I basing too much of my hypothesi{z/s}ing on the fact that my husband thinks I'm bossy?

I can also see that Why don't you... might be perceived as bossy. It has no modal at all. It sounds like it's implying that the other person should have already thought of doing the suggested thing.

And I think (but these kinds of self-reportings are notoriously [BrE] dodgy) that I use can (e.g. Can you do it this way? You can try this.*) a bit and that I use Why don't you a lot more than BH would. And when he either automatically does the suggested thing or takes issue with me being bossy, I sometimes say: Wait a minute! It was just a question/suggestion! 

The British indirectness tends to come from the use of modifiers, such as with understaters like a bit, to begin with, for the moment and downgraders like just, perhaps, at least, maybe, probably. With these markers missing, no wonder British people (for it's probably more than just BH) find me bossy.

Because I'm away from my books and because it's hard to google research on US/UK interactions,** I haven't anything more hard-evidency to offer you about mutual stereotypes of bossiness or about suggestion styles. My suspicion is that Americans are more likely to expect negotiation to follow suggestions, whereas the British are more likely to expect compliance (possibly with a bit of griping about it afterwards--this fits with the British complaint culture: see this or this, for example). 

Flöck's paper here at IPrA compares her corpus results to what people do in the classic pragmatics research tool: the Discourse Completion Task (essentially, a written role-play).  And I'll just say, it looks like the DCT doesn't do very well.  Go Corpus Linguistics!

Before I leave, to the long-suffering Better Half: Happy Anniversary!

* Could is not in Flöck's modal comparison chart. I'm assuming that when she says can, she means can and not can/could, but I might be wrong about that. For me, could is much more natural in suggestions than can, and it's a bit more indirect).
** Because one gets everything on American-Chinese interactions that happen to cite something from the British Journal of Psychology and so on and so forth.

Flöck, Ilka (2011) "Suggestions in British and American English. A corpus-linguistic study." Paper presented at the 33rd annual meeting of the German Linguistic Society 2011 [Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft, DGfS], Göttingen, February 2011. 

Flöck, Ilka (2011) "‘Don't tell a great man what to do’: Directive speech acts in American and British English conversations." Poster presented at the 12th International Pragmatics Conference, Manchester, July 2011

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a week (from) tomorrow; Wednesday week

I'm writing on the eve of High Lynneukah, the fourth day of Lynneukah this year. I know I've mentioned Lynneukah before here, but I've never properly explained it, and since I did so earlier today on Facebook, I thought I'd offer the same explanation here. After all, Lynneukah is orig. AmE:
  • Lynneukah ('The Joyous Festival of Lynne') is the name of the ritualistic marking of my birthday, over a number of days each (AmE) fall/(BrE&AmE) autumn.
  • It was named/founded in the 80s by an ex of mine who noted that I liked to string my birthday celebrations out for as long as possible.
  • It is the consecutive days in any year that include 3 October and involve some marking of my birthday--e.g. a card in the (BrE) post/(AmE) mail, a colleague buying me a drink, an email from a long-lost somebody who noticed it in their (AmE) datebook/(BrE) diary.
  • 3 October is referred to as High Lynneukah. (Also German Reunification day, but it was High Lynneukah first!)
  • Because the definition relies on consecutive days, you can't necessarily tell when it has started. On receipt of the first card, I declare it 'Lynneukah season' and then wait and see what the next few days bring. I typically know it's Lynneukah by day 3.
  • It's been as short as 5 days and as long as 12.
  • It is a sin to try to artificially prolong Lynneukah.
  • You don't have to know me or do anything for me to celebrate Lynneukah. The theme of the day/season is 'being nice to yourself'--so if anyone uses it as an excuse to sleep late or eat chocolate, that's great.
But if you'd like to use Lynneukah to be nice to someone else, then may I suggest a donation to Médecins Sans Frontières (known in the US as Doctors Without Borders)? I'll be making a birthday donation myself, but know that I often wait for an excuse (someone running a race or selling something or taking a collection) to donate to good causes that aren't my regular charities. So, I'm offering you an excuse to donate a little or a lot to a group that does a lot of good in a lot of very difficult situations.
If you're in the US, you can click here to make a donation.

If you're in the UK, you can click here to make a donation (and GiftAid it, if you qualify).

If you're anywhere else, you can see if there's a MSF fundraising branch in your country, but there's nothing (other than the risk of credit card fees for foreign payments) to stop you using the above donation sites.

That said (and thanks for reading through to here), I was trying to think of a birthday-themed topic to blog about, but we talked about the spanking rituals last year, and I can't think of anything else at the moment (requests for next year are welcome). But birthdays are about time, so here's a time-related topic, spurred on by this email from Gordon:
I just came across this phrase, written by a Brit: a week tomorrow. I've never heard it that way, but I interpreted it to mean "a week from tomorrow". It was used multiple times, so I know it wasn't a typo.

A week tomorrow, on October 1st, a book is going to be published. This is not news. Lots of books will be published a week tomorrow, and indeed a week after that (and, for that matter, tomorrow). [source]
What's the story here?
Indeed, that's a very natural way to say (AmE and BrE) a week from tomorrow in BrE, as in these quotations from the Guardian's website:
...a royal ceremonial funeral, which will be held a week tomorrow at Westminster Abbey.

... with each of the three contenders wanting to chalk up a good result ahead of the key South Carolina Democratic primary a week tomorrow.

Luka Modric broke a leg in a Premier League match against Birmingham City last Saturday, ruling him out of World Cup qualifier against England at Wembley a week tomorrow.
BrE can do the same kind of thing for other days than tomorrow (today, yesterday). Where using the name of a day of the week, one needs on, as in the following examples:
A week on Wednesday one of JMW Turner's finest paintings, Pope's Villa at Twickenham, will be auctioned at Sotheby's.

John McCain is expected to make his VP announcement a week on Friday

Where you read a week tomorrow in AmE sources, it generally refers to the past (all examples from the Boston Globe's site):
I've been married a week tomorrow and I am on cloud 9 with my husband!

It will be a week tomorrow and I am still waiting for the car dealership to get approval from
In these cases, we can read this as 'tomorrow, it will be a week since X happened'. This is no good in BrE, as far as I can tell (web searches and consulting Better Half) logically possible, but perhaps not as likely in BrE--you'd have to probably say I've been married for a week tomorrow. (I could say either in my AmE dialect.)

You can use either of these phrases with other lengths of time, but the longer the time, the less likely you are to find the BrE future-facing version. There are at least hundreds (I haven't gone through and discounted all the irrelevant ones) of cases of a week tomorrow on the Guardian site and only one of a year tomorrow.

Now, we must note that the BrE future-facing a week tomorrow and the past-facing AmE a week tomorrow have different prosody (intonation). If you've read this blog before, you know that (BrE) I'm rubbish at phonology, so I won't try to draw any intonation curves or anything. I'm so rubbish at phonology that I might even be wrong about there being a difference, since when I try to recreate it in my head, they end up sounding like a hundred different things and like each other. But bidialectal or prosodically-gifted folks out there are welcome to weigh in on that.

On a related topic (but certainly not exhausting week differences across the dialects), I'd like to point out day-week combinations in BrE, as in the Elvis Costello song 'Wednesday Week', which starts:

The movies save on conversation
And the TV saves on sight
We met in a head-on collision
So I would say our chances would be slight
You can lead and I will follow
See us dancing cheek to cheek
You'll remember me tomorrow
But you won't give a damn by Wednesday Week
Now, ([orig.] AmE) back in the day, when I was a young thing snubbing (AmE) pop in order to listen to British (BrE) pop, I enjoyed this song very much, not appreciating that I didn't understand it. I thought Wednesday week was just a nonsense date for a song, like the 12th of Never. Now I know that it's a BrE way of saying 'a week from Wednesday'.

Thus concludes this instal(l)ment of my continuing public service of explaining British song lyrics to mistaken Americans like me who (in the 1980s) thought they were cool for (orig. AmE) 'getting' British music.

Happy Lynneukah to all, and to all a good night!
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bags, dibs, shotgun

So, you're 10 years old, playing with your best friend.  Simultaneously you both spot a single gorilla mask abandoned on a park bench. Running toward(s) it, you shout the recogni(s/z)ed word for signal(l)ing a claim on desired objects. What is that word?

Chances are that there are dozens and dozens of ways to answer that question. The thing about childhood rituals is that they are passed among children, who tend to operate very locally--with their siblings, their schoolmates, their neighbo(u)rs.  Words are invented, misheard, re-invented, borrowed and those changes don't travel far, but may be passed down to the children who are just a little younger, who later pass it down to the ones who are just a little younger, and so on.

Which is all to say, in the American idiom: Your mileage may vary when it comes to the playground terminology I'm discussing today.

But with that feat of (AmE) ass-covering out of the way, here's how you might have answered the question.  In AmE, you'd probably shout dibs.  In BrE, at least down here in the South, bagsy would do, though it might just be bags.  (To get a feel for possible dialectal boundaries of this, see this thread at Wordwizard.) To put this in the verbal form, you can bags or bagsy something, but, as you can see from the OED examples, the spelling is hard to pin down:
[1946 B. MARSHALL George Brown's Schooldays xxi. 89 ‘What about you doing the gassing instead of me?’ ‘But I bagsed-I I didn't’, Abinger protested. 1950 B. SUTTON-SMITH Our Street i. 25 [They] would all sit..‘bagzing’. I bagz we go to the zoo.] 1979 I. OPIE Jrnl. 28 Mar. in People in Playground (1993) 129 I'm second, I just baggsied it! 1995 New Musical Express 28 Oct. 28 (caption) Mark Sutherland baggsys a window seat. 1998 C. AHERNE et al. Royle Family Scripts: Ser. 1 (1999) Episode 2. 52 Mam. I think I'll do chicken. Antony. Bagsey me breast.
A verbal form of dibs is also widely reported (I dibsed it!), but I'd be much more likely to say I've got dibs on it or I called dibs on that

But when I posted dibs/bagsy as the 'Difference of the Day' on Twitter, some BrE speakers questioned my translation, as they had understood (AmE) shotgun to mean the same as bags(y). But just as happens when words are borrowed from another language, the non-native users of the word have changed the meaning when they've adopted the word.  And they have adopted the word, to some extent.  Here's an example from a Twitter feed I follow:
timeshighered We hereby shotgun the rights to the phrase "I survived Twitocalypse 2010" - this time next year, we'll be millionaires!
In fact, if I had read this tweet without already having had the discussion with BrE speakers about dibs and bagsy, I doubt I would have been able to make sense of it.  What's happened? The BrE speakers have heard Americans say shotgun in a place in a situation in which they would have said bags(y), and didn't reali{z/s}e that there's more meaning to shotgun than just 'I stake a claim on something'.   Shotgun very specifically means: 'I claim the right to sit in the front passenger seat of a vehicle.'

You can see this in another tweet:
 I bet Zombies don't call shotgun on road trips.
An AmE speaker immediately knows which valuable commodity the Zombies are not interested in.  In fact, because the claimed thing is understood, it would be redundant (not to mention ambiguous) to say call shotgun on the front seat. Note also that it's not a verb.  To me, to shotgun something would be like to machine-gun something.  One calls shotgun. And once one gets the seat, one rides shotgun, which originally meant (and still can mean) 'To travel as a (usually armed) guard next to the driver of a vehicle; (in extended use) to act as a protector' (OED).

Calling shotgun could be extended and used metaphorically, as in this Canadian tweet:
Can I call shotgun on the yoga cd pls?
...but this usually is done as a sly reference to the childhood car-seat experience.

Or, at least, that's how it is for an AmE speaker of my generation.  We have a special word for that sweet seat, with its status and its anti-emetic properties, because it was a central part of our lives in childhood.  With the exception of a few urban cent{er/re}s, you'd expect any family to have a car--and more than one child to fight over the best seat in that car.  Americans can also get a (AmE) driver's license/(BrE) driving licence by age 16 in most states (as compared to 18 17 at the earliest [see comments] in the UK). So, gangs of teenagers also need ways to establish pecking orders.  But I have to wonder whether shotgun will go the way of the library card catalog(ue), since riding in a car is a completely different experience for children today than it was for children in my day.  No more cramming ten kids into the back of a (AmE) station wagon/(BrE) estate car; everyone's in car seats now, and the law determines which of those are allowed in the front seat.  While I think that's a good thing safety-wise, I'm getting rather nostalgic thinking about, for example, climbing in and out of the back seat of a moving car or cramming myself down in the foot-well when I felt like it.  So maybe the kids in America have lost or are losing the true meaning of shotgun.  *sob* You in the States can let me know whether this is the case.

By the way, I've left the Twitter window with the 'shotgun' search going. In the last hour, 50 people have used the word shotgun, often prefaced by I wish I had a.  I'll sleep less well tonight.
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While I've been very good at keeping up with my Differences of the Day on Twitter, the blog posts have got(ten) fewer and f{a/u}rther in between. I'm committing this month (and hopefully from now on) to do one a week, and the way I'm going to make that feel more do-able is to piggyback on the work I've done for the #DotDs. Lately, I've been doing a lot of themed weeks of differences, and those can be built up into a nice little blog post.

I decided on #EggWeek because I was newly part of Egg Club. The first rule of Egg Club is that a generous member of our neighbo(u)rhood goes to a farm outside town and buys eggs from 'very happy chickens'. The second rule of Egg Club is that those of us with standing orders show up at her house with money and something to put the eggs in (we'll get to that, below).

Here are #EggWeek  differences I noted, and some information added-on by the tweople who responded to the tweets.

AmE has a vocabulary for fried-egg cooking that BrE doesn't, which starts from the assumption that if you want your eggs well-done, then you should flip them over. In UK, flipping is less common. In a (BrE) caff or (orig. AmE) greasy spoon and in some homes, a well-done egg is achieved by spooning the cooking fat over the egg. In my American life, I've never seen anyone fry an egg in enough fat to be able to spoon it. At any rate, the AmE vocabulary includes:
  • sunny-side up = not flipped
  • over easy = flipped over for just long enough that the egg white is cooked on both sides. Yolk should still be runny.
  • over medium = flipped over and cooked for a 'medium' amount of time/yolk-runniness
  • over hard = flipped over and cooked until the yolk is solid
BrE egg yolks can be described as dippy if they are nice and runny. A dippy egg is a soft-boiled egg into which you can dip your toast to get some nice yolk on it. 

That leads us to a difference that is more cultural than linguistic: in UK, soft-boiled eggs (often just called boiled eggs in this context) are just about always presented in an egg cup. I know some Americans own egg cups and use them, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Some UK folks proposed to me that this is because Americans don't eat soft-boiled eggs, but that's just not true. I once had a 70-something-day streak of having two boiled eggs and two slices of toast every evening for dinner. (This was back in my poor earning-rand-but-paying-back-student-loans-in-dollars days. You might think I'd have got(ten) sick of boiled eggs, but it's still one of my favo(u)rite meals. Only now I can afford some asparagus to go with it.)

But when I posted photos side-by-side  of British-style boiled-egg presentation and American-style, several British Twitterfolk protested that the American eggs were poached (righthand photo). No, they were boiled eggs that had been peeled and put on toast—which is exactly the way I eat them. (I am making myself hungry now. I guess I know what's for lunch.) The picture on the left is BrE egg and soldiers, the soldiers being the lengthwise-sliced toast strips.

Of course, this posting resulted in lots of people trying to tell me that the British way of eating boiled eggs is superior. You can have it, it's not for me. (My mother-in-law has given us several egg cups, perhaps because she couldn't find any at our house. I mostly store small kitchen bits in them.) Putting the egg on toast lets you give it a single and wide-spreading sprinkling of salt and (if you like) pepper. Peeling them is much easier if the eggs are fresh, which is what makes Egg Club so worth my while. The store-bought eggs I get in the UK are generally not as easy to peel. When I was a kid, a soft-boiled egg was a regular first foray in to the world of the eating after a stomach bug. My mom would peel it, and put it into a bowl, so you could smash it and dip your toast in it. But on toast is the grown-up way to go.  (And much easier than poaching, especially if you want to make a few of them.)

Egg cartons  are often called egg boxes in BrE:

The sandwich filling made of hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise is called egg mayonnaise in BrE, which Americans perceive as a pleonasm: all mayonnaise is made of eggs, so of course it's egg mayonnaise! But if you're perceiving it that way, you're probably imagining the stress pattern of the phrase as the same as you'd say herb mayonnaise for mayonnaise with herbs in it. The trick is to hear it like it's 'egg in the mayonnaise style'. The pronunciation of the mayonnaise is English, not French, but it follows a French food syntax (as we've seen before).  This concoction is called egg salad in AmE, though a lot of Americans would put in other ingredients as well to flavo(u)r the (orig. AmE) combo. This pattern holds for other mixes of bits of food with mayo: tuna mayonnaise/salad, chicken mayonnaise/salad.

There was one more #DotD in #EggWeek: whether scrambled egg is a count noun or a mass noun. In AmE, you can have a scrambled egg, but you wouldn't have scrambled egg. When you've got a bunch of it and you can't tell how many eggs are there, AmE goes for scrambled eggs. So, BrE scrambled egg on toast = AmE scrambled eggs on toast. I've covered this one before, so if you want to have a conversation about count and mass nouns, please see this old post.

One week of blogging down, many to go!

PS: I meant to point out another difference between US and UK (and European generally, I think) eggs: American eggs need to be refrigerated, British ones don't. Here's an article about why.

Egg cartons/boxes
colo(u)r-coded by size
PPS: What counts as a 'large' egg or a 'medium' egg differs too. Possibly not in the direction that you'd think. Have a look at Wikipedia

When I go to the shop to buy eggs in England, my choices seem to have more to do with how the chickens were raised than with the size of the eggs, whereas in US supermarkets, there seems to be more variety available in egg size, more clearly label(l)ed—e.g. in different colo(u)red cartons. You can see the difference in this photo of eggs on the shelf (not the fridge) in a UK chain versus this at our supermarket in NY state.

PPPS: It is very hard to get a white-shelled chicken egg in the UK. I go through a crisis about this every Easter when I'm trying to dye eggs (like the good American parent that I am, or try to be). I end up just leaving them in the dye extra-long and have dark colo(u)rs instead of pastel ones. In the US, white-shelled was the norm when I was growing up, but brown ones have become more and more common, on the mistaken belief that they are somehow more 'natural'. It's the species of chicken involved that determines the shell colo(u)r.
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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)