Showing posts sorted by relevance for query "my mother". Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query "my mother". Sort by date Show all posts

a personal note

I have a proper blog post planned, but I felt like writing this first.

I took a break from blogging and tweeting for a bit because my mom died after an extremely short and unexpected illness. It just so happened that I was already on my way to visit her in the US when she fell ill, which was the only thing that could be considered a piece of luck in this whole horrid experience.

I've gone back and forth about whether to say anything about this here because I really don't want to read more sympathy messages--as kind and heartfelt as they might be. Thanks for thinking them, if you're thinking them. That's plenty. I've closed the comments on this post in order to remove the temptation.

But if you like what I do here, please give my mom some credit for it. She was an elementary/primary school teacher who loved words and who supported me in my education and who was proud of what I do with it. (She sometimes turned up on this blog for her observations and opinions on BrE and her foreign son-in-law's use of it.) She was also a fantastic contributor to her community and beyond--as a non-stop volunteer (particularly at our local hospital, where she spent more than 3000 hours of her retirement transporting patients) and a contributor to just causes. 

So, if you would like to hono(u)r my mother for her role in making this blog possible (or if you'd just like to hono(u)r my mother), I ask you to pay it forward by doing something good for other people that you might not have done otherwise. There is a new scholarship fund in my mom's name for students from my old high school who want to pursue education or medical degrees, and I could tell you how to contribute to that if you sent me an email. But since you probably don't know my hometown, that doesn't seem like the most relevant thing for you to do, and there are many, many good people-helping causes out there in the world. So, if you could spend a bit of your time or money on supporting one, then that would be a wonderful tribute. I don't really need (or want, actually) to know what you choose to do with this request. I just want to be able to believe that something good is happening somewhere.

Thanks for reading to the end! Regular (that is to say, irregular) blogging will resume shortly.  In the meantime, here are posts that use the words 'mom' and 'my mother'--i.e. the ones in which I've talked about my mom, plus a few stragglers with those words, but not my mom.
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à la carte

In my last, menu-related post, I cheated and let someone else do all the work. As my penance, I'll do the work on this menu-related one. Moe wrote (a half a year ago) to ask:
I'm from the US and my boyfriend is from Liverpool. Last night at a restaurant (US) he ordered a sandwich a la carte. I asked him if he wasn't hungry enough to get the fries\chips that came with the sandwich. This launched into the discussion of him stating, rightly so, that a la carte means "according to the menu". By his definition, this means just ordering from the menu directly instead of special ordering.

From my understanding and from what I've asked other Americans, a la carte means in resturant terms "by itself". Meaning if you order a steak a la carte, you would not be receiving mashed potatoes or other items along with it.

Is his understanding correct in Britain and if so, what would they ask for in a restaurant if they wanted an item "by itself"?
This is as much a difference in our expectations of how restaurants work as a difference in language, I'd say.

À la carte comes from French, bien sûr, and is used in opposition to table d'hôte--more commonly called (these days) prix fixe. In the prix-fixe situation, the restaurant offers a meal of several courses with few or no choices as to what you get in which course. You get what the chef has decided to put together. In the US, I think I've only ever seen this in the most expensive restaurant I've ever been to, though I suppose it's the same thing as a meal deal at a fast food restaurant. (But I've yet to come across a burger (BrE) pedlar/(AmE) peddler who asks you if you want your Big Mac à la carte. I believe the appropriate idiom is the sandwich or the meal?) In the UK, prix fixe is a more familiar concept--both because more British people will have experience of eating in France, where prix fixe menus are common, and because they're not entirely uncommon in the UK. That is to say, I've had prix fixe in the UK at restaurants where the (AmE) check/(BrE) bill was more in line with the cost of a ticket to the theat{er/re}, rather than the cost of a ticket to Hawaii.

Ordering à la carte, then, is ordering from the (individual courses) menu rather than ordering (AmE) the whole shebang/(BrE) the full monty. So, Moe's boyfriend saw himself as ordering a sandwich as it comes according to the menu (which may be with chips/fries or what have you).

But while we don't in the US think of ourselves as having prix fixe menus, it is the case that restaurants often distinguish between 'dinners' (sometimes called entrees in this case) and simpler courses. For example, a menu might be divided into 'pasta', 'sandwiches', 'pizza' and 'dinners'. Where I come from, a popular dinner is prime rib.1 If you order prime rib, they might ask you if you want the dinner or to have it à la carte. If you have the dinner, then it will come with salad (or sometimes the option of soup) and one or two side dishes. This always flummoxes Better Half when we go to a certain restaurant in my hometown. He orders his portobello mushroom thingamajig and is then somehow offended when asked what kind of dressing he wants on his salad.2 (Even worse, they expect him to eat his salad before his dinner! The injustice of it all!) My mother, on the other hand, is regularly shocked and dismayed when she orders a main course in England and gets only what it says on the menu--a piece of meat. And you should have heard her when she ordered veal parmesan in Ireland and wasn't served a side of spaghetti with it.3 If the menu says 'rib-eye steak' or 'veal parmesan', then you're probably going to have to look at the side-dishes menu if you want any vegetables. The exception to this, of course, is if it's a roast dinner at Sunday lunch. If it's Sunday lunch, you will be served so many vegetables that you could conceivably fulfil(l) your five-a-day requirements until Wednesday.

So, it looks like Americans have sort of reinvented the prix-fixe menu as 'dinner', but don't really think of it as a menu--just as the main course. When they want a simpler and less expensive meal, they order à la carte, which almost means 'off the menu' in this case. The equivalent in the UK would just be to say 'I'd like my steak without the potatoes, please', and I'd be very surprised if that made it any cheaper for you.

And just in case all this reminds you of (AmE) à la mode, let the link take you there.

1 I've never seen prime rib in the UK, though the term itself is not an Americanism. Instead of having rib roasts and prime rib, one tends to see thinner-cut rib-eye steaks on UK menus. Someday, when I have a lot of energy, I will have to do a post on different cuts of meat in the two countries. In the meantime, please consult the maps of cows on Wikipedia.

2 I've never been asked what kind of dressing I want on my salad in the UK. You get what you get, and it usually tastes of mustard. My commenting on this will probably send some people to the comments section to exclaim that American salad dressings (particularly French and Russian) have disingenuous names--since the comments section serves as a magnet for salad dressing-related complaints.

3 I've started to think of BH and my mother as two sides of a coin, which raises the question of what/whom he's the better half of. Maybe it means it's a good thing I'm turning into my mother. Now I'm just confusing myself.
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high tea

My reasons for not posting in more than a week form a list that is even more boring than long. My need to say that, in the egotistical hope that someone cares, is even more pathetic than it is banal.

But one of those reasons is that my parents are visiting, having come to meet their newest granddaughter, Grover. And visits from Americans are always good for a fresh supply of linguistic gaffes and confusions. My dear mom, for example, demonstrated a widespread American misapprehension of a British term when she informed me that she went to high tea at my nephew's school on Valentine's Day. Knowing that she was referring to something more like a tea party with tea or other drinks and some sort of baked good, and being the obnoxious daughter that I am, I replied, "No, you didn't."

The website What's Cooking America works hard to disabuse my fellow Americans of that misunderstanding:
Most people [i.e. Americans] refer to afternoon tea as high tea because they think it sounds regal and lofty, when in all actuality, high tea, or "meat tea" is dinner. High tea, in Britain, at any rate, tends to be on the heavier side. American hotels and tea rooms, on the other hand, continue to misunderstand and offer tidbits of fancy pastries and cakes on delicate china when they offer a "high tea."
What the hotels (and my nephew's school) are offering is actually low tea, more commonly (in my experience) referred to as afternoon tea. A particular subcategory of afternoon tea is the cream tea, which involves tea and scones with clotted cream and (almost always strawberry) jam. (We've booked a cream tea after Grover's naming ceremony on Sunday, which seems a little unfair, as she's not yet on solid foods--or even tea, for that matter.) My mother keeps asking if people 'still' have afternoon tea, and I reply "people will take a tea break, like a coffee break', and she'll say that she means do they have cucumber sandwiches and scones and so forth. (My mother seems to be jealous of any culture that fits an extra meal into the day.) Better Half and I have to explain that eating cucumber sandwiches in the afternoon is not something that the masses ever did much.

Back to high tea: I've never heard a British person use the term. They say things like I have to get home and make the children's tea, by which they mean their evening meal. In my experience, tea, when referring to a meal, is used by my friends mostly to refer to simple meals they make for their children or themselves in the early evening; a dinner party, for example, would not be referred to as tea.

Now, we could get into the different uses of other meal terms like dinner and lunch and
supper in the two countries--except that there's so much variation in meal names within each country that anything I could say from my own experience would be only a small bit of the picture. In the US, the use of meal names varies mostly by region (and, I'd suspect, by age). (See these maps for some info.) In the UK, there is a heavy social class element involved--so that Nancy Mitford, in classifying some turns of phrase as U ('upper class') or non-U, claims that calling the midday meal dinner is non-U, while calling it luncheon is U.

In fact, reader Paula wrote in the summer asking for coverage of an aspect of the meal-name problem:
Here in my area of North Carolina(US) we still use "dinner" to describe the noon meal. When I visited Australia and New Zealand, they also used "dinner", which made me feel right at home. The poor little Northern US children that traveled with us were quite confused since they thought "dinner" was the evening meal, lol.
How about it, how common is the word "dinner" now when "lunch" seems to be used more and more.
...and I've been avoiding the question ever since. So feel free to weigh in on the matter in the comments!

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River X, X River

We start this post with an email from former (non-linguist) colleague Andy:
I discovered my Railroad Tycoon 3 DVDs today. [...]
This is an American game, so it's not surprising that it uses AmE usage. Even on European maps. In particular, it's really odd seeing "Thames River" or "Severn River" or for that matter (on the France map) "Seine River".

BrE usage is always "River x". Same in French, Italian, I can't for the moment think of the usage in German - though I bet it's a compound.

AmE is "x River". Why the change? The only countercase I can think of is the Gospel songs referring to "That Jordan River" which I suspect are actually AmE originally in any case.

In any case all of these uses sound really wrong to my BrE ear. About the only exception I can think of is "East River", but then the river's not actually called "East", is it?

An AmE countercase is of course the classic Standells track, "Dirty Water", which refers to the "River Charles". But then, it's Boston, so I guess that doesn't count as proper AmE.
Let's start at the beginning, or near enough to it.  Before the late 17th century (according to the OED), the normal way to refer to rivers was the River of X.  Here are some of the OED's examples from around that time:
1548 Hall's Vnion: Henry V f. xxxiii, Borne at Monmouth on the Riuer of Wye.
1565 in R. G. Marsden Sel. Pleas Admiralty (Selden Soc.) II. 55 Honnefleur and Rouen and other ports in the revere of Seine. a1616 SHAKESPEARE Antony & Cleopatra (1623) II. ii. 194 She purst vp his heart vpon the Riuer of Sidnis. 1652 M. NEDHAM tr. J. Selden Of Dominion of Sea 218 Those words concerning the River of Rhine. 1710 J. CHAMBERLAYNE Present State Great Brit. II. I. 323 It's watered with the pleasant River of Clyde.
From the late 17th century, the of started to be dropped, so then we get the River X, as in the River Thames, the River Clyde, the River Cam, etc.  But what else was going on in the 17th century?  Oh yeah, the English coloni{s/z}ation of North America.  So this is about the time when we'd expect to see transatlantic differences starting to develop.  If linguistic changes are happening in England, then they'll mostly stay in England, while the English speakers in America are off on their own linguistic path.

One possible scenario then, would be that BrE would come to have River Thames while AmE would still have the of: the River of Mississippi, say.  But the loss of of had already started by the time most of the colonists would have come over, so perhaps it's not surprising that it got lost in the soon-to-be US too.

It might seem odd that the loss of of would cause the nouns to swap/(BrE alternative spelling)swop places, resulting in X River, but I can think of some reasons why it isn't too odd:
  • First, consider the possessive use of of, as in a friend of my mother('s). Get rid of the of and we have to move my mother before the friend (and add a case marker, 's): my mother's friend.  So, there is an existing relation between grammatical constructions of the forms X Y and Y of X.   
  • Second, English generally puts grammatically simple modifiers before the nouns they modify.  So, unlike French, for instance, we say red chair, not chair red.  Since river is the 'head noun' in the river-name construction, it would seem most natural to put river after its descriptor.
  • A clear exception to the last generali{s/z}ation is what often happens with names of lakes and mount(ain)s: Lake Superior, Lake Titicaca, Lake Geneva; Mount Everest, Mount Rushmore.  But still, there are plenty of geographical features that put the name first: roads, streets, and lanes; seas and oceans; islands, deserts and so forth.
  • Some of what would become the original 13 colonies were first coloni{s/z}ed by Sweden and the Netherlands.  Swedish puts 'river' (älv) after the name.  Dutch (modern Dutch, at least) seems to not have a word for 'river' (rivier) as part of the name at all: it's just de Rhône, de Maas, etc.  I don't know how much linguistic influence these colonial powers might have had (not much, in the case of the Swedes, though they certainly named some things), but they're at least worth mentioning as a counterbalance to Andy's observation that the Romance languages put the 'river' first.
 The Wikipedia article on AmE/BrE differences lists some exceptions to each dialect's rules:
Exceptions in BrE include the Fleet River, which is rarely called the River Fleet by Londoners outside of official documentation, and also where the river name is an adjective (the Yellow River). Exceptions in the US are the River Rouge and the River Raisin, both in Michigan and named by the French. This convention is mixed, however, in some Commonwealth nations, where both arrangements are often seen.
Incidentally, the River Charles that Andy refers to is much more usually called the Charles River.

Another thing that might be considered an exception in BrE is what happens when the name of the river is used as a modifier for another noun.  One sees quite a few Thames Rivers in things like Thames River Authority, Thames River Police, Thames River Valley, and Thames River Cruises. Now, of course, we have the option here (especially in the last two cases) of parsing this so that Thames River is not a constituent phrase.  That is, is it:
[Thames River] Authority        or        Thames [River Authority] ?
I would suspect that most BrE speakers would vote for the latter, though that's not how I'd parse the American equivalents.

One also sees Thames River in BrE when it's plurali{s/z}ed, as in Thames Rivers Restoration Trust, which works to improve the Thames and its tributaries.  In this case, Rivers Thames would not be appropriate, since the tributaries are generally not named Thames, so in this case Thames is descriptive (like East or Yellow), describing the locations of the rivers, rather than just naming them.  Usually when referring to more than one river by name in BrE, the river+name order is maintained with river marked as plural, as in "The Environment Agency runs the rivers Thames, Nene, Great Ouse, Medway, Welland, Glen and Ancholme" (waterways.com).

BrE speakers generally use the American word order when referring to American rivers. One doesn't hear the River Mississippi much (though Julian Barnes uses it in Flaubert's Parrot), and this seems to extend to the rest of the new world--BrE prefers Amazon River (7 British National Corpus hits) over the River Amazon (2 hits), but really prefers just the Amazon (over 300 hits).   For European and African rivers, it's River X all the way.  So Germany has the river Main in BrE, but the Main river in AmE--and it's the latter that the local tourist board goes for.  Whether that's because the Germans have more affinity for AmE/American tourists or whether it's because that ordering is more natural to German I'm not sure--the German version of the website refers to it only as Der Main.  German speakers?

I've had a quick look for rivers in the US and UK that have the same name, but haven't succeeded in finding any--but we can see what happened when the English River Avon went to Canada and Australia. According to Wikipedia, the New World versions are Avon Rivers.
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    clever and smart

    The Professional Association of Teachers has voted that bright British school children should not be label(l)ed clever, but instead should be deemed successful--because among children it's not cool to be clever.

    In AmE, clever is not as often used to refer to people. You might make a clever chess move or write a clever limerick, but that would prove that you were smart. In the UK these days, smart is more often used to refer to how someone dresses, rather than their intelligence.

    A related BrE term is smart casual, meaning 'dressed informally, yet neatly and stylishly'. When my mother visited me in South Africa in the mid-1990s, a hotel's notice that the dining room had a smart casual dress code nearly sent her into crisis. She kept saying, "What does that mean? Can I wear slacks? What does that mean?"

    The OED has a draft entry (now a full entry) for smart casual, which goes:
    Chiefly Brit. Designating or characteristic of (a style of) dress which is informal yet smart, esp. smart enough to conform to a particular dress code.
    I really doubt that definition would've helped my mother. Interestingly, the first use of smart casual that they've found, from 1945, comes from the New York Times, but the term, as evidenced by my mother's confusion, hasn't enjoyed the currency in the US that it has in the UK and other areas where smart is more likely to refer to dress style. Wikipedia has business casual as an equivalent for smart casual, but it isn't quite the same. You might see smart casual on a wedding or party invitation in the UK, but I can't imagine being invited to a business casual wedding.

    Some clever BrE idioms are:
    • clever dick, clever clogs = someone who is cleverDads have come out on top of a new survey which asked children who they thought was the cleverest person in the world. One in four (27%) children felt that their Dad was the smartest of all, with Mum's [sic] just behind with one in five (19%) of the votes.
      However, the gloss may have been taken off the victory for Mums and Dads, with some of the other results confirming that children say the funniest things. David Beckham was perceived to be a clever clogs by one in six (17%)
      --UKparents.co.uk

    • to box clever = to be shrewd, to use your wits (hence the adjective boxing clever, which may be familiar to US fans of Elvis Costello and/or Placebo) Emma is finally goaded into action and realises that she must box clever to force Nadia out of her life for good. --UK TV Guide
    • [That's/It's] not big or clever = It's unappealing and stupid.Yeah, so I know it's not big or clever to like Oasis, but I always did and I guess I still do. --Paste Magazine

    Trying to think of smart/clever idioms that are found in general American English, but not British, is tougher--as most have made their way over. The OED lists to be/get smart (with someone), meaning 'to be impudent' as US, and it's true that one would usually hear don't be/get clever in the UK, but the American version is understandable. Similarly the [originally AmE] term street smart(s) is generally understood in the UK. There are some US regional uses of smart and clever that go back to other regional BrE uses, but those are foreign enough to me (and one expects rather old-fashioned), that I can't pretend to be an expert on them, so I'll let the American Heritage Dictionary do the talking:
    In the 17th and 18th centuries, in addition to its basic sense of “able to use the brain readily and effectively,” the word clever acquired a constellation of imprecise but generally positive senses in regional British speech: “clean-limbed and handsome,” “neat and convenient to use,” and “of an agreeable disposition.” Some of these British regional senses, brought over when America was colonized, are still found in American regional speech, as in the South, where clever can mean “good-natured, amiable” in old-fashioned speech. The speech of New England extends the meaning “good-natured” to animals in the specific sense of “easily managed, docile.” Perhaps it was the association with animals that gave rise to another meaning, “affable but not especially smart,” applicable to people when used in old-fashioned New England dialects.

    Smart is a word that has diverged considerably from its original meaning of “stinging, sharp,” as in a smart blow. The standard meaning of “clever, intelligent,” probably picks up on the original semantic element of vigor or quick movement. Smart has taken on other senses as a regionalism. In New England and in the South smart can mean “accomplished, talented.” The phrase right smart can even be used as a noun meaning “a considerable number or amount”: “We have read right smart of that book” (Catherine C. Hopley).
    These days, on both sides of the Atlantic, smart is used more and more for technology that can apply itself in apt ways--hence smart bomb, smart card, etc. That this is used in BrE is a testament (not that we need it) to the force of American English in the world.
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    sure, affirmative

    This is one of those posts where I'm going to let someone else do most of the writing. I got this message from Justin a couple of weeks ago:

    I’m from Malaysia, where BrE dominates in schools but AmE is prominent in pop culture (so too CanE and AusE). I was British educated there, before moving to the UK for boarding school and my undergrad. So I’d like to think of myself as pretty much a BrE speaker.

    My girlfriend is American. A born-and-bred Wisconsinite. I’m currently living with her in Illinois as I pursue my Masters. This is partly the reason we so enjoy your blog, as it has helped clear up a number of differences we’ve come across.

    One difference that gets me every time is the use of the word sure as an affirmative. When I use sure as an agreement, it is usually in response to a suggestion. I feel I am deferring to that suggestion, as if I am saying ‘I’ll go along with what is invariably your point’.

    My girlfriend, however, uses sure as a simple ‘yes’ - whether or not it is in response to suggestion or a more general yes/no question.

    So a typical interaction might go:

    GF: ‘I’m feeling like having Chinese food tonight.’

    *time passes*

    Me: ‘So do you still want to have Chinese food tonight?’

    GF: ‘Sure.’

    To her, she is just saying 'yes' to the question. But, no matter how much I am reminded of her usage of the word, I am still thrown off every time because it seems as if she has turned her own suggestion into mine. It feels as if she’s deferring the responsibility of the suggestion to me. I don’t mean to say that I accuse her of this - she knows how this throws me, and we laugh about it - that's just my gut reaction based on my own usage of the word.

    So my question - and I do apologise for the wall of text - is whether this is a BrE / AmE difference? What scant sources I can find online - due to all the context I need to unload before asking the question - seem to hint this. However, could it be that my own usage of the word is limited through my strange background? Is this a uniquely Midwestern AmE trait (my girlfriend’s family all so seem to use ‘sure’ in this way)? Or is it a case-by-case notion, where one’s personal circumstances lead to one usage or the other?


    I have to thank Justin for typing that all out because it is a scenario that plays out in my house on a weekly basis. Spouse suggests something to do, somewhere to go, something to eat, and I say Sure and he (at this point, one feels, just to be difficult, because we've been through this many times) says "That means no, then." 

    Vibrantmedia.com
    I don't think it's just Midwestern. I've lived in the Midwest, New England, Texas, and upstate New York, and my Sures never caused a discernible problem till I moved to England.

    This a hard thing to look up in a (orig. AmE) run-of-the-mill corpus, because so much about a Sure  depends on how it's said. There are 198 Yea(h), sure in the AmE part of the GloWBE corpus and 91 in the British, but that's an internet corpus, not spoken interaction, and it's far more likely there that the Yeah, sure is a sarcastic expression of doubt than a casual agreement to a suggestion. While I have access to some corpora with spoken language, they're pretty bad for this kind of thing (as I discovered when I tried to use them to study please). The transcripts in those corpora are overloaded with people having conversations about topics, but in real life we spend much less time debating the issues of the day or recounting a childhood memory and more on negotiations about what to eat or veiled accusations that the dishwasher has been loaded wrong.

    There are some discussions of affirmative sure online, often from English learners who have noted it as something Americans do. This Huffington Post blog has a Connecticut mother of (orig. AmE) teenagers (so, probably close to my age) noting that people are now taking her sures as unenthusiastic. But her sures were delivered by text or social media, so the intonations weren't available for the readers to hear--making it a riskier place to use sure. So was it the medium, or do younger Americans use sure less? The trend might be toward(s) more exaggerated responses needed to show enthusiasm--e.g. great, awesome, or the  less (BrE) OTT cool. And we might be pretty far down the road of that trend.

    (I've done a brief search for academic papers on sure, but had no luck finding much on this affirmative usage. If anyone knows of any, please let me know.)

    In our house, as in Justin's relationship, sure miscommunications remain a problem we're aware of, but haven't managed to fix. The spouse thinks I should say something else, while I wonder why he can't just mentally translate it when he hears it from me, as he would for any other Americanism that slips out. If it sounds unenthusiastic, can't an Englishman just interpret it as a case of understatement (which Brits seem so eager to claim for their own)?

    But sure is harder than a problem like sidewalk/pavement or tomayto/tomahto, since it's not a referential word (one that stands for things in the world), but more context- and relationship-dependent. The differences are less obvious and the usage/interpretation is more automatic. We're creatures of our own gut-reactions.
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    partner

    I looked at my collection of e-mails from readers that request coverage of this or that Americanism or Briticism. The collection contains just those that I've not blogged about yet and that I think have at least a little potential to be an interesting post. At my current rate of one post a week, it'll take me a year to get through them--that is, if each e-mail has only one request in it. Maybe a year and a half, then. And they just keep coming in! If you ever thought I'd be out of bloggable ideas by the third year in, you were wrong. (And we're not even counting the topics on my own lists of questions I want answered, gripes I want to air, and little jigs I want to dance on your computer.)

    With such a backlog (the ones that I consider answerable go back a year now), it seems a bit unfair that I'm going to write about the one that arrived today. Blame my mother. Whenever my brother didn't get into trouble when any reasonable person could see he was guilty as sin (He really was on my side of the car seat! And besides, HE'S LOOKING AT ME FUNNY!), my mother would explain "Life isn't fair." I took logic (AmE) in college/(BrE) at university, so I figure/reckon: Life isn't fair, and I'm alive, so I don't need to be fair. Right?

    Regular reader/requester Jackie wrote today to request coverage of the BrE use of partner (since some of the requests I'm ignoring in order to do this one are hers, it's not that unfair, is it?) . She sums up the situation:
    When I lived in London I was forever getting confused by people referring to their heterosexual partners as their partner. In the U.S., when someone refers to his or her "partner," it usually means the other person is the same gender. Or that they are in business together, a source of frequent confusion here. I don't know if it's worth discussing, but do you know how the words acquired the narrower meaning in the U.S. (or the broader reading in the U.K.)?
    I am going to come out of the closet and tell you that I LOVE partner! In the UK, it is the unmarked--which is to say normal, usual-- way to refer to the person you share your life with (but usually aren't married to). It's gender-free, works as well for gay and straight relationships, doesn't infantali{s/z}e either party. It's wonderful. In fact, I love it so much, that it's still how I refer to Better Half, even though the law has intervened and I could call him my husband now. It's just such a grown-up, practical word, and I feel grown-up saying it. (I think I'll be at least 70 before I stop getting a kick out of being an adult.)

    Jackie asks how it came to be this way. How? Hard to tell without a lot of etymological research, which I haven't the wherewithal to do now. But I can tell you this: the OED has examples of partner meaning 'spouse' going back to Milton (17th century). The business sense goes back a to the 15th century. In between, the word was extended to include dancing partners and bridge partners, etc. The OED comments:

    Now increasingly used in legal and contractual contexts to refer to a member of a couple in a long-standing relationship of any kind, so as to give equal recognition to marriage, cohabitation, same-sex relationships, etc.
    But it doesn't say when that 'now' started. Milton notwithstanding, it does have the feeling of a modern use. I've heard older BrE speakers expressing discomfort with the term ("that's what they all call it nowadays, isn't it?"), although I think the real discomfort isn't the word partner but the fact that their children are (chiefly AmE) shacking up instead of getting married.

    Why don't Americans use it so generally? Probably because gay and lesbian folk started using it, and no one wanted to be mistaken for gay/lesbian, so they avoid it--though the official story is that it 'sounds too business-y'. What do Americans use instead? All sorts of things--there just isn't an unproblematic and widely accepted equivalent. They use boyfriend/girlfriend, significant other, lover and write articles like this.

    The fact that it sounds 'business-y' is part of its appeal to me. It doesn't traipse into the emotional or bedroom details of your relationship. It acknowledges that you have to work together with anyone who's such a deep part of your life, that you share goals and assets and responsibilities. And I suspect that is a reason it's found popularity in the UK--it talks about a personal part of your life without getting into the private details. That and the fact that co-habiting relationships (including same-sex relationships) are treated with more seriousness and respect in British law these days, so they require a term that can be used in officialdom as well as by someone wanting to mention the person who picks their dirty socks up off the floor (with only the pleasure of self-satisfied eye-rolling as payment).

    Generally (in BrE), if your refer to someone as your partner, people will assume that you live together. But I can think of at least two committed pairs I know who don't live together but who use the term for each other. That's how I can tell when my friends have become serious about the people they're seeing--they start calling him/her 'my partner'.

    By the way, I'm retiring the Canadian Count. I've had a few lately, but I've lost count and I think it was only amusing me--and less and less so.
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    with regard(s) to

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

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

    'Regard' has three uses in common idioms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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



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

    Jane Setter recently asked me about noodles. Her take on them was that Americans can call spaghetti noodles and the British can't. My take, as ever, is: it's complicated.

    Let's start with the British. In my experience (and, I think, Jane's) noodle in the UK is associated with Asian food. This is indeed what my English (and American, she would tell you) 7-year-old means when she says that her favo(u)rite food is noodles (various types and dishes but especially pad see ew and yaki soba. I've come to reali{z/s}e that on some days I eat nothing that I ate as a child).

    Noodle is used for Asian types of noodles and noodle dishes in the US too. But I would suspect that the default understood ethnicity of noodle will vary by the speaker's age, location and ethnicity in the US.

    Let's start with me, because that's easy (for me). If someone in my family asked me to go to Wegman's and buy some noodles, I would pick up a bag of these:
    And once I got them home they would be used in a dish like this (but less fancy):
    http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/beef-stroganoff-recipe.html
    ...most probably made with a can of Campbell's condensed cream-of-mushroom soup, like our household's other main noodle dish, that perennial Lenten horror, tuna noodle casserole (UK's drier version: tuna pasta bake).

    (You don't get condensed soups in the UK, so you don't get condensed soup recipes.) [see comments for more on this]

    Now, in my childhood, I would not have called those noodles pasta. I'm grown up now and I've come to tolerate much, so maybe I could bear to now. But to me, as a child, pasta was what you had in Italian food, noodles were what you had in the "less ethnic" dishes. But, of course, the other foods were ethnic too, and I suspect that my default understanding of the word noodle may be more common in the parts of the US that had more northern-European settlement. (I come from a rather Dutch part of New York state, and my parents from the more westerly more German part. The word noodle comes from German Nudel. My hometown also has a lot of Italian-Americans, so maybe that helped the pasta/noodle distinction become meaningful in my mind.)

    Now, the OED defines noodle as:
    A long stringlike piece of pasta or similar flour paste cooked in liquid and served either in a soup or as an accompaniment to another dish; (more generally in U.S.) any style of pasta. [...]
    For me, that's not quite right. In my mind, a noodle is prototypically ribbon-like, rather than string-like. Once I started to get my head (a)round Italian pasta being noodles, I could admit that fettuccine and linguini were noodles, but spaghetti was a more borderline case. I'd not use noodle for macaroni or shells (which in the UK are harder to come by and are often called by the Italian name, conchiglioni).  (By the way, there's discussion of the BrE/AmE difference in the pronunciation of pasta back here.)

    My childhood understanding of a pasta/noodle divide seems to be in tune with the National Pasta Association:
    According to the standards published by the National Pasta Association, noodles must contain at least 5.5% egg solids by weight. Noodles can be added to soups and casseroles while pasta can be made a complete meal with addition of a few vegetables. Pasta is much lighter and, under Italian law, can only be made with durum wheat. [diffen.com]
    Still, I am betting that (a) younger Americans (maybe especially in certain areas) are more likely to have 'Asian'  as the default ethnicity of 'noodle', and (b) ethnicity/region might make a difference for older people. Unfortunately, I can't find any dialect maps for noodle meanings—so what do you say/mean? Would any of you mean 'spaghetti' if you said "We're having noodles for dinner"? Please give an approximation of age and where you're from with your answer.

    And then there is spaghetti noodle (the lead character in a series of Hyperbole-and-a-Half cartoons—which has macaroni noodle too). For me, this is a way of getting around the problem of spaghetti having become a mass noun when it was borrowed into English. Actually, I wrote about this in my textbook, so I might as well quote myself at length (with a little extra explanation in red). This is part of an explanation of Anna Wierzbicka's argument that the 'countable' or 'uncountable' grammatical status of a word is not arbitrary:

    [...] cultures may differ in how they interact with, and thus conceptualize, the denotata [i.e. things that words refer to].  For example, although people rarely bother to count it, in Italian spaghetti is a plural count noun (1 spaghetto, 2 spaghetti).  In English spaghetti is treated as a mass noun. This is not just because English speakers do not know that spaghetti is a plural; we could very easily add our own plural marking to it to make it a count noun (two spaghettis), but we don’t. It also is not because spaghetti is too small to be counted in English, since noodle, which denotes practically the same thing as spaghetti, is a count noun. Wierzbicka (in a lecture given in the early 1990s) has pointed out that English speakers have a very different relationship to spaghetti than Italians do. First, Italians are more connected to how spaghetti is made — historically it was made at home, where the individual strands would have to be handled. On the other hand, spaghetti generally entered English speakers’ consciousness as something that gets poured out of a box into boiling water — with no need to handle individual pieces.  Second, pasta is eaten differently in Italy and English-speaking countries. Spaghetti in English often refers to a whole dish, which is presented as a mass of pasta beneath an opaque tomato sauce.  In Italy, pasta is traditionally a first course or side dish, where it may be eaten with just a bit of oil and garlic.  In this case, the strands are more perceptible as individuals. Furthermore, some English speakers cut their spaghetti, destroying the integrity of the individual strings, whereas Italians instead wrap the strings around a fork or slurp them up without cutting them.
    The way I understand spaghetti noodle is that it's an AmE way of making spaghetti countable. I'd say a piece of spaghetti or three strands of spaghetti. BrE seems to prefer counting spaghetti in strings.  In those cases, we're the counting with a noun that indicates a 'unit of', but spaghetti noodle (and macaroni noodle, if you're so inclined) does the job too, with noodle being a unit of spaghetti. Looking it up in Google Books, there are only spaghetti noodle(s) after the 1960s, and most of the hits are false—having a punctuation mark between spaghetti and noodle(s). This is the earliest instance I found, from 1964, where the emphasis is on the forming of the pasta:

    https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=UE_3pZs3_UUC&pg=PA293&dq=%22spaghetti+noodles%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CB8Q6AEwADgUahUKEwji24_LjKLHAhXDXBoKHZzDDVw#v=onepage&q=%22spaghetti%20noodles%22&f=false
    After 1980, there are more examples in recipes. In the Corpus of Contemporary American English (from the 2000s), there are only 8 instances, 5 of them singular as in "Sure enough, a long spaghetti noodle had entangled itself in my reddish-brown hair." 


    --------------------------
    I'm adding this bit (between the lines) the day after the original post, because I forgot to say these things:

    "German"-style noodle dishes are much less common in the UK than they are in the US (which is to say: I've never seen one!), but I also get the feeling that pasta felt 'foreign' more recently in the UK than in the US. Here are some thoughts related to that. 

    1. My English sister-in-law (in about 2003?) made a pasta dinner of some sort for her future (English) mother-in-law, who was in her early 70s. The woman had never had pasta before in her life (and was rather unimpressed). I cannot imagine meeting her American counterpart (i.e. 70s, non-immigrant, suburban) who had never eaten pasta. I tell this story to other English people and they say 'unusual, but certainly not unimaginable'. On a slightly related note, the perceived 'foreignness' of garlic bread seems to sustain Peter Kay's career.
    2. As discussed in the comments, many British people of middle age think of their childhood spaghetti as coming out of a (BrE) tin (and then often served on toast—I try not to judge. I try very hard.). But the other way that people ate spaghetti in the UK in the 70s (and continue to) was spag bol—i.e. spaghetti bolognese—i.e. spaghetti with meat sauce. (In my experience, you can barely see the spaghetti.) Americans in the 70s were probably not a lot less rigid in their spaghetti habits, but our thing was spaghetti with meatballs. But at least we didn't make an ugly name for it. (Oops. Judgy again.) 
    3. Americans, of course, had mass Italian immigration in the 19th century, and there are Italian restaurants there that were started in the 1800s that are still running now. The oldest Italian restaurant in the UK (the internet tells me) was founded in 1922 in Aberdeen—and it might be the first—this market-research history of Italian restaurants has nothing earlier. It might be interesting to know if the Scottish experience of pasta is different from the (southern-)English one, since there's been a good deal of Italian immigration to Scotland.
    4. Even before mass Italian immigration, pasta was not unknown in the US. Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of macaroni (which was treated then as a cover-term for pasta) and had macaroni-making equipment imported from Naples. The dandies of England may have too—the word macaroni was used to make fun of them (thus the macaroni line in Yankee Doodle).
    Just in case you want to get even by judging me for failing to not-judge spaghetti on toast, know this: my family eats Kraft macaroni (AmE: and) cheese with (Dad's homemade) strawberry jam on top.  And I'm not going to apologi{z/s}e for that. It's great. (I've no idea how this started. Could there be any link to having a German grandma—sweet noodle dishes? Dan Jurafsky's The Language of Food says that macaroni was originally a sweet almond pasta—but I can't imagine that a 14th century Italian dish affected my family's eating habits.)

    Now I'm going to try to leave this post alone and not add any more! 

    --------------------------

    I suppose I should say something about the other noodle. This is older than the food word and unrelated to it, coming from an old word noddle for 'the back of the head'. This has two meanings that have taken root in different ways in the UK and US.

    The first meaning is 'a stupid or silly person'. I don't think I hear that in the US, but I do hear in the UK. (I know a couple of parents who affix noodle to the ends of their children's N-starting names, which seems kind of like calling a William Silly Billy.) 

    The second meaning is 'head', as in use your noodle or got hit in the noodle. Cambridge Dictionary lists this meaning as 'US old-fashioned informal', but it has a history in the UK. The first use in the OED is from Tristram Shandy: "
    What can have got into that precious noodle of thine?"
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    showers

    In April, a reader who we can call 'Newlywed' wrote to me, asking for some advice:

    I have recently married a Brit (me being American) and we are expecting our first child. As is custom in the U.S. we throw Baby Showers. I was not aware that Baby Showers are not common in the U.K. and was baffled by the in-laws' apparent offense [BrE offence--ed.] at being invited. Even though they currently reside in the U.K. and we in the U.S., I had sent invitations to all of the new in-laws regardless. In America if the family were not invited this would be considered extremely rude as it would send the message that they were cut out of a major part of our lives. In my mind, it would be akin to having a large wedding and not inviting the family. I would like to mend this obvious misunderstanding. Can you provide any suggestions as to how I can explain this American phenomenon to my new in-laws? Most importantly, that the Baby Shower’s function is not an intentional display of over-the-top American greed only designed to ring in gifts.

    Newlywed should be a mother by now, what fun! And as a new mother, I hope she'll appreciate my low-on-time recycling of her note and my response as a quick way to write a long blog entry! In April, I replied:
    We had the baby shower problem here as well. The thing about them is--they are designed to ring in gifts, that is their purpose--and inviting people to something whose purpose is to get gifts is just seen as crass to most (especially older) British folk. By inviting people who obviously could not attend, it really looks like an attempt to get gifts. The British would not see such a party as 'a major part of [your] lives' (they'd see that as a great exaggeration). So, I think the best you can do is to say 'Sorry if that invitation seemed like an attempt to be greedy. It really was an attempt to let you know what's going on in the run-up to the birth. Of course, we don't expect you to send a gift to a shower you are not able to attend, but we really look forward to the time when you'll meet your new grandchild.' Or something like that.

    Usually baby showers are organized by the friends/families of the expectant mother, not the mother herself. If that's the case, you can also just shift the blame--i.e. 'Cousin Fifi wanted to include you in the invitation. Sorry about that.'

    The need to explain yourself/your intentions to them [in addition to apologi{s/z}ing] is in itself kind of an American thing. So, you might want to ask yourself whether you're doing it for them or for you. Your husband might be able to help decide whether his parents would be made to feel even more uncomfortable by prolonged discussion of the topic.

    Wow, I feel like Miss Manners.
    In our case, a wonderful American friend wanted to organi{s/z}e a 'cybershower' for me, and wanted a list of my friends' e-mail addresses from the US and the UK. I was happy to give the US addresses, but hemmed and hawed about the UK ones. She really wanted them--she felt it would be a way to 'bring together' all the people who care about Better Half, then-future-Grover, and me. So, my compromise was to give her friends' addresses, but not in-laws'. And some of the UK friends participated, and some didn't. (All gave baby gifts, though. We've only just had to start buying Grover clothes, since we were catered very well for in the first three sizes.)

    So, there are two linguistic issues to cover here: the lexical item shower and the sociolinguistics/pragmatics of the invitation. But, you know what? I've only got time for the word. So, your assignment (should you choose to accept it): think back on some of the anthropological observations on Americans that have been discussed here (e.g. the compliments post and the social class post), then try to untangle what's going on with Americans inviting people to a little party that they know the invitees cannot attend. (Or, disagree vehemently with my claim that this is American--and not English--behavio(u)r. Your choice.) Let the party begin in the comments section.

    As for (AmE) shower, the term is becoming more familiar here, but baby and bridal showers are still considered to be very American (and often thought to be very crass) activities. To give the OED definition, a shower is: 'An abundance of gifts of a similar kind presented by guests at a party to celebrate esp. a wedding or birth; a party given for this purpose.' In other words a 'shower' of gifts. The parties usually involve games and sentimental traditions. A baby shower I once went to had a great game, in which they'd taken the labels off (of) about 20 jars of baby food and you had to work out (guess, really) which orange thing was the carrots, which the squash, which the sweet potato, which the peaches, etc. (OK, it's a great game if you like silly games.) A bridal shower tradition I've seen involves taking all of the ribbons and bows from the gifts, assembling them on a paper plate and then giving it to the bride to use as her 'bouquet' at the wedding rehearsal. (Wedding rehearsals and their traditions are [AmE colloquial/jocular] a whole nother ball of Americanness.) The OED's citations for this sense of shower go back to 1904, but the term must be a bit older (since the source, a newspaper, didn't see the need to define the term).

    While bridal showers are relatively rare over here, hen nights are bigger in the UK than in the US. (Click on the link if you want to discuss hen nights!)

    Another sense of shower--which I assume is BrE, since I've never seen it before and American Heritage doesn't have it--is given by the OED as:
    A group or crowd (of people). Usu. derog., a pitiful collection or rabble. slang.
    I imagine that if you know that sense of the word shower, the party meaning could be somewhat humorous. And if you know the 'pathetic crowd' sense, but not the party sense, it would not seem like a compliment to be invited to a shower.
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    frowns

    A 2010 blog post from the Prosody Lab at McGill University was pointed in my direction last week, and judging by the reaction when I tweeted it, I'm not the only one who was surprised by the should-be-evident-but-nearly-invisible difference between British and American it reported. The post is by a non-native speaker of English, 'chael' (who I assume is Michael Wagner, the lab director) and it starts (with my added highlighting):
    Three weeks ago me and a good friend were standing in front a piece of art by Jon Pylypchuck at the museum of contemporary art in Montréal. The exhibition is still on until January 4th, and I recommend checking it out.
     So looking at one of the faces, my friend asked the following question, which to me was very confusing:

    “Do you think this is a frown or a moustache?”

    Whatever ‘this’ was, it was clearly below the eyes, and also, the facial expression was sad–so how could it be a frown? My understanding of frown was what I later found in Webster’s online dictionary:
    1 : an expression of displeasure
    2 : a wrinkling of the brow in displeasure or concentration

    When I expressed my puzzlement, I learned that frown, in fact, also means the opposite of smile: a downward facing mouth expressing sadness, and that this is in fact the most common/salient meaning of the word, at least to some.
    The author goes on to express surprise that in 10 years in North America he hadn't learned that. But I'm 21 years outside North America and a near-lifetime owner of a Merriam-Webster dictionary (what he's cited above), so I'm even more surprised that I hadn't discovered that other people think frowns are on the forehead. For me, a frown has always meant a down-turned mouth. Sure, the rest of the face gets involved, but a frown is what a sad mouth does.

    When I tweeted the question "Where is a frown?" British people told me "on the forehead". When I asked the Englishman in my house, he said the same thing. Fourteen years together and only now do I know that he's been frowning much of the time.

    And like one of the blog commenters, the Brits I talked with had an epiphany: so that's why Americans say "turn your frown upside down!" to mean 'cheer up!'.

    The Brits who responded to my question were mostly northwards of 50, and I do suspect that younger, emoji-centric Britons may have a different perspective, knowing that the above emoji is called 'slightly frowning face' and having been exposed to the upside-down rhyme for more of their lives. (I am tempted to wake up the 8-year-old and ask her.)


    I'm fairly surprised that Merriam-Webster does not have the downward-turning mouth definition of frown—the newer meaning. Neither do most of the dictionaries I consulted—only online-only types seem to have it. While the mouth sense is newer, many northwards-of-50 Americans like me just take that meaning for granted. I mean, I'm pretty sure learned it from my mother.

    On the Murphy side of my family, we are genetically predisposed to sticking our tongues out in concentration, though I suppose there's some brow-furrowing too. We just call it a furrowed brow rather than a frown. When we're annoyed we might glower.  All of these should be available in British English too—I'm just mentioning them to point out that not having this meaning of frown does not prevent us from talking about the facial expression.

    A continuing AmE/BrE divide on this matter is supported by the nominal collocates of frown—fancy linguist-speak for which nouns go near (±3 words in this case) frown in the Corpus of Global Web-Based English.


    The green-highlighted words are the "most American" (left) and "most British" (right) collocates of frown. There's all sorts of stuff there, but most relevant to us, the American column has lips and smile (also eyes, it must be said) and the British column has concentration and forehead. (Though it must also be said, the actual numbers of these collocates are tiny.)

    I recommend having a look at the McGill blog post. They've done a little digging to try to find the earliest instances of frown as a mouth-move, which seem to be from the mid-20th century.

    Meanwhile, I can't seem to find an emoji that gives the essence of the BrE frown. Is it persevering face? 😣 Is it pensive face? 😔 There doesn't seem to be a 'concentration' face. Quick! Someone! Alert the Unicode Consortium!

    Postscript, 13 Sept 2016:
    I have to add a link to Josef Fruehwald's tweet—click on the links to see American Sign Language and British Sign Language translations of English frown. Quite a stark difference!


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    zebra

    Can you tell that my maternity leave has finished? Little, tiny posts nearly a week apart--how sad! But the real sadness is that I now know the point of maternity leave, and that point is CAKE. You go to get-togethers with other new mothers and everyone orders cake. You meet for coffee with friends and colleagues who want to meet the baby, but, what the hell, why not order some cake too? People come to visit, they bring you cake. The baby has a 'birthday' every month, so let's bake a cake. Yes, I have seen the cake. I have eaten of the cake. And now I must desert the cake.

    So, here's your little cakeless observation of the week, brought on by Grover's newest toy--the one in the cent{re/er} of this photo (from Bright Starts). It took some work, but I finally convinced Better Half that this is a blue zebra. (Grover agreed with me from the start.) But I'm starting to wish that I'd called it a stripey donkey, because I am mocked (not by Grover, who is too bidialectal to notice and would be too polite to mention it even if she weren't) every time I say zebra in the way that I learned to say it, with the first syllable pronounced like zee (the American name for the letter that's called zed in BrE). In British English, the first syllable is pronounced as it would be in the French zèbre, i.e. zeb.

    This is one of those pronunciation differences that is not the result of a general pronunciation rule that differs between AmE and BrE--instead, it's just a lexical oddity, like vitamin (first i as in bit in BrE, but like in bite in AmE) or tomato (you know the song). BrE is probably influenced by a tendency toward(s) shorter vowels and greater awareness of French, while AmE isn't. In spite of the fact that the only non-dual-citizen in the household (ha! who's the minority now?) will only accept the zeb pronunciation, the OED lists the zee pronunciation first. (People from other regions of the UK will have to let us know if they use the zee-bra pronunciation there. Zeb seems to be standard in the Southeast.)

    On my listening to it (as you can see from my description of the sound in the last paragraph), it sounds like the BrE version puts the syllable break here zeb•ra, rather than here ze•bra, but as far as I know, that's against English syllabification rules, which favo(u)r complex onsets (i.e. a consonant cluster at the beginning of a syllable) of increasing sonority (i.e. the explosive /b/ before the more vowel-like /r/) over plosives in the coda (i.e. putting the /b/ at the end of the previous syllable). So, I'm assuming that I'm wrong about that syllabification (i.e., that it's just my perception of the less-familiar-to-me pronunciation and not the reality of it) and that both versions put the syllable break before the /b/--but I'd be happy for real-life phoneticians (rather than a dabbling lexicologist) to weigh in on the matter.

    I pronounce it (to the extent that my American articulatory organs allow) in the British way when I say (BrE) zebra crossing (a pedestrian [AmE] crosswalk marked by stripes on the road--as seen on the cover of the Beatles' Abbey Road). But when talking to my baby about toy animals, I revert to my mother tongue--now my mothering tongue.


    P.S. Apologies for all the (annoying, I know) parenthetical comments, which make my sentences (oh, won't someone stop me?) so difficult to parse.

    P.P.S. Two mentions in Language Log this week. Wow, I'm somebody now! Thanks Ben and Arnold!
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    blinders and other metaphors personified

    Last time, I mentioned a (BrE) fancy dress/(AmE) costume party at which everyone was to come as a metaphor they'd been accused of being. I learned that among my friends are three dark horses, one social butterfly, a piranha with manners and an 40-year-old trapped in the body of an 8-year-old (that would be our dear Better Half). About 40 people came, five of them American, at least as many from other parts of the world, and the remainder British. The party-goers made a game of trying to guess what what everyone else was, but a few of the British ones stumped the Americans, and vice versa. (Incidentally, stump is originally AmE, but now used in BrE.)

    The number one stumper was my dear friend to the right here. She was head-to-toe in glittering things and battery-powered lights. The BrE speakers had a hard time guessing, but when they were told, they said "Ah!" The AmE speakers, on the other hand, said "Huh?" She was (if you haven't guessed from the title) a blinder--that is, "Something ‘dazzlingly’ good or difficult" (OED), or in this case a "looker" (orig. AmE). Unsure that people would believe that she'd been called a blinder, she carried with her the sweetest love letter from long, long ago. (It would be impolite of me to tell you how long ago.) The universal reaction to the love letter was "My god, why didn't you marry him?" (Not that we have anything against Blinder's better half--but he didn't come to the party to defend his own hono(u)r, so we got all moony over [the idea of] Love Letter Boy.) Incidentally, Blinder won one of the evening's prizes--the Elbow Grease prize for the most effort devoted to the reali{s/z}ation of the metaphor. We got literal about our metaphorical prizes--the Elbow Grease was Body Shop Body Butter.

    My dad, pictured right, was another transatlantic stumper. He and my mother came as what they (claim to) call each other (never in front of the children, though!). Mom came as "the cat's (AmE) pajamas/(BrE) pyjamas", wearing p{y/a}jamas with cats on them. Dad's was a less visuali{s/z}able metaphor, though the BrE speakers consistently guessed that he was the cat's whiskers (='the acme of excellence'--OED). While that was originally an AmE expression, it's now mainly used in BrE. In AmE, the expression is more usually (at least where we're from) the cat's meow. (All of these are a bit dated, like my dad, who celebrates a big birthday next month. Despite having enjoyed my metaphorty party, he's declined having a metaseventy party.)

    Another American friend came as a mixed metaphor--so it's no surprise that people had a hard time guessing what he was. He had a target, with an antlered deer superimposed on it, taped to his back. By his estimation, he was "a moving stag", mixing the metaphors of a moving target and going stag to a party (i.e., 'without a date'). The latter of these (as the telltale bold font indicates) is AmE, and relates back to the notion of a stag party (orig. AmE), which was raised when we discussed local fauna terms.

    Please steal the metaphorty party idea (leave off the -ty if you're not forty, but have the party all the same)! It's a helluva lotta fun, and if you invite both AmE and BrE speakers, you can report back to us any further metaphors that don't translate. My own metaphor required translation as well, but only because it was in Swedish. Jag var en djävil på Scrabble. (I was a demon at Scrabble--the first metaphor that I was called [to my face] på svenska.)

    Or, join the virtual party in the comments area. What would your metaphor be? (Try to keep it clean, please!)
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    Abbr.

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