Showing posts sorted by relevance for query canadian. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query canadian. Sort by date Show all posts

purses and bags

Kate, a Canadian attached to a South African, wonders about handbags, having noticed that Britishoid Englishes use that term where North Americans would say purse. What's more confusing is that the word purse is used in BrE, but for a different kind of object than in AmE.

The thing to the right (from is called a handbag in BrE, and a purse in AmE. One can say handbag in AmE, but it sounds rather old-fashioned. In keeping with that feeling, I'd tend to reserve the term for vintage items (when speaking in American environs). Handbag can be used to refer to most handled women's accessories for carrying around life's essentials—money, lipstick (lippy: BrE informal, orig. AusE), (BrE) mobile/ (AmE) cell phone, Syndol--which itself is a major reason to emigrate to Britain. Longer-handled ones might also be called shoulder bags (as they could be in AmE as well). But in everyday BrE life they all tend to be called just bags--as in I have some Syndol in my bag--want some?

Purse in BrE is a (typically women's) leather/cloth/etc. thing that money goes directly into--like the ones at the left, from Arnold & Arnold. Thus female BrE speakers usually have purses inside their bags. AmE retains this sense of purse in change purse. For North Americans, the things on the left are wallets. If it's in a man's pocket, it's wallet in both dialects--but my dad (like others in his AmE-speaking generation) calls his a billfold.

BrE has a few handbag idioms worth noting. Handbags at dawn (also a great name for a band) or handbags at ten paces is a way of referring to a usually loud, public fight--originally among footballers. This is sometimes shortened to handbags. The OED's earliest citation for this is 1987, but they're looking for earlier ones. To handbag is an established verb in BrE, meaning 'to assault with a handbag', and can also be used figuratively, meaning 'to verbally assault or criticise', as in:
Not since Mrs Thatcher handbagged her cabinet into attending a seminar on climate change at Number 10 had so many senior Tories been seen doing something green in one place. -- The Telegraph

Kate's Canadianness has reminded me that I haven't reported an instance of being assumed Canadian. It happened last weekend at the Scrabble tournament, though to be fair it was after I was explaining the differences between Canadian, American and British spelling. Who but a Canadian would know such things? I would, apparently.

(Links to commercial sites here are just (a) to acknowledge the sources of photos and (b) prevent people asking me "where did you get that bag/purse?" Now you know already. This is not an endorsement of these companies/products, but they are rather pretty, aren't they?)
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packing peanuts and monkey nuts

How am I avoiding marking/grading? Let me count the ways... Every time I finish a dissertation (which in AmE would be called a thesis, since it's an undergraduate piece; thesis and dissertation are used in reverse ways in BrE and AmE), I reward myself by going on-line. I probably read more on-line in my breaks than I read on paper in the work times (which means that the work times then extend through the night in order to stay on schedule). It's just so much more pleasant to read things that don't involve me having to make a formal judg(e)ment about them, which I'll later have to defend to someone else (second examiner, external examiner) and which I'll later have to live with--and live with the knowledge that someone else has to live with it. Don't get me wrong, I'm reading some really good work, but still I find the process emotionally draining.

But I've taken so many reading breaks that I've pretty much read the Internet now. Well, everything in my bookmarks, at least. So on this little dissertation break, I'll write instead of reading. Some time ago, I ripped the following bit from the Guardian, intending to write about it later. (Welcome to Later.) It's from a piece in the Work section on April Fool's pranks for the office:
Fill a desk with peanuts
According to the interweb, Americans love filling other people's desk drawers with peanuts. Handy for a snack--but read the small print. These are packing peanuts (whatever they are), and therefore not edible. Ridiculous! I'll be going straight for the dry-roasted KPs [a UK brand of peanut--L]. Open those drawers wide. [Vicky Frost, 'Pick a prank for the delayed April Fool', The Guardian, 31 Mar 2007]
Now, usually I will defend the Grauniad, but here I cannot. Vicky Frost, what kind of reporter are you if you have to write "whatever they are" in an article? (OK, an article that is meant to be taken as humorous, but an article nonetheless.) Research, darling, research! (This is starting to feel like marking/grading. Uh-oh.)

I was reminded to find and write about this item (in my staggering tower of things to write about) when BH and I walked by a packing supply shop/store the other day. Its sign advertised that it sells loosefill. Now, this is trade jargon (used in the US too), not BrE particularly, but it gave me cause to ask BH "Is that what you'd call packing peanuts?" and he guessed that it would be the name for them, though not a word that he'd necessarily use. He'd probably just call them annoying polystyrene (=AmE styrofoam) bits, or some such thing. (The photo of a particularly miscellaneous collection of packing peanuts comes from this blog.)

Packing peanuts are so-called in AmE because of their typical shape, like a whole peanut (i.e. with its shell on). Perhaps this name is not so transparent in BrE because the word peanut is generally restricted to the shelled nuts (technically not nuts, but legumes; but since this isn't a botany blog, we'll just call them nuts). The shell-on version are sold as monkey nuts. (Stop that tittering!) Packing monkey nuts just doesn't have the same ring. (Photo 'borrowed' from this blog.)

Incidentally, I haven't run into cornstarch "peanuts" in the UK, though they are a wonderful invention, as they melt in water, making them completely biodegradable. Of course, it's the corn (BrE maize) growers of America, trying to find more things for us to do with corn/maize, that are behind this--so not terribly surprising that you don't find them here. (Just as you're more likely to find cars running on ethanol in the US.) Still, I really like them, as they're relatively guilt-free packaging.

P.S. I had a Canadian count double-whammy yesterday (at a Scrabble tournament--these happen often in Scrabble contexts). A player (whom I've known for a few years now) expressed surprise when I mentioned going to the US to see my family. She said "Oh, you're not Canadian?" And then added "I told A [another player from her town] that you were American, but he was so insistent that you were Canadian..." So, those are numbers 8 and 9 on the Canadian count.
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I told my friend The Poet about the site and its complement, the blog RateYourStudents. Some days later, she e-mailed me to say that she'd found, but didn't think it did what I said it did. What had happened, you see, was that she unconsciously translated the American name of the site into something that made more sense for a BrE speaker--then found that it didn't mean the same thing in AmE.

While RateMyProfessors is used in the UK, the name doesn't quite work, since at most UK universities, only a small proportion of the faculty is/are professors. The full range of academic ranks varies some from university to university, but typically the entry-level position for an academic on a permanent teaching/research contract is Lecturer, and Professor is the highest rank. In between my university has Senior Lecturer and Reader. But whoever takes the teaching role for a course is the course's tutor. Another role one can take is that of personal tutor, a term which is being replaced at my university by academic advisor, and which at my US undergraduate university was simply called advisor: the role in which one gives guidance (and pastoral care) to a student with respect to their overall academic development, rather than just for a particular course/class/module (whatever you want to call it).

In most American universities, the entry level for academics is Assistant Professor, then there's Associate Professor, then full Professor. All of these people are called Professor. So, in the US, I was Professor Lynneguist, but in the UK, I'm just Doctor Lynneguist. In the US, a student might ask another Who's your biology professor? But in the UK, one would ask Who's your tutor for biology?

In AmE, a tutor is generally understood to provide private tuition. (That sounds ambiguous in AmE, since tuition in America usually refers to (BrE) school/university fees. Tutors provide tutoring or tutelage--not fees!) When I was a (BrE) postgrad/(AmE) grad student, I was a logic tutor for student athletes--meaning I helped them understand the lectures that had gone over their heads. In the UK I am a tutor in that I am the person getting paid and doing most of the talking in the classroom--the one whose lectures might go over the students' heads. The (American) RateMyTutor site is about people who provide private lessons to school children.

That reminds me of another thing... Lesson in AmE most often refers to the kind of thing that a private tutor might do. One has piano lessons and flying lessons, etc. School teachers make lesson plans, and may refer to the mathematical part of the day as the math(s) lesson, but once the (AmE) students/(BrE) pupils are old enough to have different teachers for different lessons, the lessons tend not to be referred to as lessons in AmE, but instead are called classes. (This ends up being ambiguous, as the class could be the activity or the group of students.) I thus find it strange when my BrE-speaking students refer to my lectures or seminars as lessons (as in: Could you send me the notes from yesterday's lesson? I had to miss it because my housemate was having her poodle dyed and the bath flooded and ruined my bus ticket so I had to stay at home and watch Countdown instead.). It sounds oddly childish to my ear.

As of this moment, no one has bothered to rate me on that professor-rating site. I simultaneously consider myself lucky and feel a little hurt.

P.S. A second-hand addition to the Canadian count: someone else wondered to Better Half whether I was Canadian. We're now into double-digit Canadian count.
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prototypical soup

I've been unwell (which is a very BrE way to put it, see this old guest post) a lot this winter, which seems to be the price one pays for procreating. They say that minor illnesses are good for developing children's immune systems, so I try not to resent the germs that infect poor little Grover. But I supposedly have a developed immune system. Shouldn't I be immune to some of these preschool bugs?  At least our norovirus kept us away from the preschool this week, when Erythema infectiosum has been going around. Or, as the note to parents said, slapped-cheek disease. Never heard of it? Neither had I. A little research showed that the more common nickname for it in AmE is fifth disease. That didn't really help either.  All in all, it sounds like a fairly pathetic entry into the childhood illnesses roster. (The child illustrating the infection's Wikipedia page looks like he's having a pretty good time with it!)

Before the stomach bug, it was a bad cold that had downed Grover and me. Both since my last blog post. (Better Half stays curiously well. Maybe I don't have a British-enough immune system.) Pity us!

In fact, you should pity any expat or immigrant with a minor ailment (or [BrE] the dreaded lurgy), because the one thing you want when you're feeling (chiefly BrE) grotty is the comforts of childhood--which are thin on the ground when one is separated from one's childhood by miles, oceans and passport controls, not to mention the decades. When I'm ill, I want two things, which, in my home culture, are known to have magical-medicinal properties: cold, flat ginger ale and chicken soup.

The ginger ale can be achieved. Saint Better Half only had to go to three shops before finding some.  Here, it goes by the BrE name American ginger ale, which I find amusing because (a) where I come from, we think of it as Canadian, (b) I can see no other kind of ginger ale for sale, so why do they need the adjective? One can only guess that it's to distinguish it from ginger beer, a much spicier drink, which is far more common in the UK than ginger ale (which in the UK is thought of as a mixer and not a drink in its own right). I can feel a tangent coming on. Whoops, here we go... Ginger ale consumption in the US is fairly region-specific. I come from the kind of place (the northeast) where it's a drink that you can buy cold in a single-serving bottle from a (orig. AmE) convenience store/(BrE) corner shop, but this isn't true throughout the US. And if there is a down-home 'American' ginger ale, then it's not the stuff that's used as a mixer. The Canadian mixer type is 'pale, dry' ginger ale (like this Schweppes or Canada Dry). But there is also 'golden' ginger ale, which is darker, heavier and gingerier (more like a traditional ginger beer). This is rarer in the US and even more regional. You'll know if you're in one of the regions for it if the names Vernor's or Blenheim mean anything to you (or a few others...see Wikipedia).  At any rate, it's the dry stuff that one wants if one's had a (more BrE than AmE) tummy bug. Because ginger is good for nausea, you know. It should have lots of ice, so that it gets watery and flat and rehydrates you without causing any more gastrointestinal upset.  But I live in England with a man for whom ice trays are one of those mysterious plastic things that come with a fridge yet have no clear connection to it, so I water mine down with water straight from the (BrE) tap/(AmE) faucet. Hey, I'm not well. I'm desperate.

Hm, over 600 words and I haven't even started to get to the point of this post. A record? Probably not.

The point is the soup.

See, we Americans know that chicken soup is the cure for the common cold. And, when you're recovering from a stomach virus, a nice chicken soup is a good second foray (after toast) back into the land of the digesting.  But, of course, you can't make it yourself. You're sick, after all. Stay in bed. And who wants to cook a whole chicken when no one feels much like eating? This is what the (orig. AmE) can-opener was invented for.  

It is perfectly possible to find 'chicken soup' in the UK. The problem is finding the kind that is good for a cold. Send your English (and vegetarian) husband out in the rain to buy a (AmE) can/(BrE) tin, and he will come home with five kinds of wrong before you send him out again whispering cock-a-leekie to himself.  The tins/cans of wrong will include various cream-based, coconut-based, curry-based concoctions--not what an ailing American soul needs.

The problem, I have come to understand, is prototypes.

So here comes the linguistics. Soup in either British or American English will include puréed and strained things like tomato soup, things with lots of cream in them, broths like the cock-a-leekie to the right, with pieces of meat and vegetable. All these things come within the boundaries of the category 'soup' in English. But categories have more than boundaries (and those boundaries are often 'fuzzy'. Yes, that's the technical term). Categories, as represented in our minds, also have peaks...or cent{er/re}s...or cent{er/re}s that are peaks. Pick a metaphor that works for you.  That cent(e)ry peak or peaky cent{er/re} is known as the prototype of the category, and a particular thing (like cock-a-leekie) is deemed to be part of a category (like SOUP) if it is close enough to/has enough in common with the prototype.  To quote a fine reference book on the matter:

According to one view, a prototype is a cluster of properties that represent what members of the category are like on average (e.g. for the category BIRD, the prototype would consist of properties such as ‘lays eggs’, ‘has a beak’, ‘has wings’, ‘has feathers’, ‘can fly’, ‘chirps’, ‘builds nests’ etc.).  Category members may share these properties to varying degrees—hence the properties are not necessary and sufficient as in the classical model, but instead family resemblances.  In the alternative approach, the mental representation of a concept takes the form of a specific, ideal category member (or members), which acts as the prototype (e.g. for BIRD, the prototype might be a representation of a specific robin or sparrow).
In other words, when deciding whether or not something belongs to the BIRD category, one measures its birdiness against some (possibly very abstract) notion of an ideal bird.  Now, it's reasonable to believe that there might be some room for dialectal variation in what the prototype of a particular category is. But we have to be careful here--it's not just a matter of what is more frequent locally that determines what the prototype is.  Chickens and ducks might be the most common birds down on the farm, yet the farmer will not treat them as if they are the prototype against which 'birdiness' should be judged--that hono(u)r stays with the birds that (BrE) tick/(AmE) check more of the 'bird' boxes like 'can fly' and 'chirps'.

As far as I know, not much work has been done on regional variation in prototypes. The only example I can think of is a small study by Willett Kempton (reported in John Taylor's Linguistic Categorization) on Texan versus British concepts of BOOT, showing that even though both groups considered the same range of things to be boots, there was variation in their ideas of what constituted a central member of the BOOT category, with the Texan prototype extending further above the ankle than the British one.

Though I've not done the psychological tests that would tell us for sure, I'm pretty sure that the American SOUP prototype is along the lines of this:
a warm broth with pieces of meat, vegetables, and/or starchy things (e.g. noodles, barley, rice, matzo balls) in it
And the English one is more along the lines of this:
a warm, savo(u)ry food made from vegetables and possibly meat that have been well-cooked and liquidi{s/z}ed
 These are not the definitions of soup, but the core exemplars of what belongs to the SOUP category, from which the 'soupiness' of other foods is measured. So, each culture has soups that don't conform to these ideals, but they nevertheless have enough in common with them (e.g. being liquid, considered food rather than drink, containing vegetables) to also be called soup.  The differences in the prototypes might have some effects on the boundaries of the category. So, for instance, since the English prototype has more emphasis on liquidi{s/z}ation, you'd expect the extension of the word soup to tolerate less in the way of (orig. AmE) chunky pieces than the AmE use of the word, which is stemming from a prototype that likes pieces and therefore will tolerate bigger ones (see point 3 below).

My experiential evidence for the differences in prototype are as follows:
  1. American dictionaries (American Heritage, Merriam-Webster) explicitly mention the likelihood of solid pieces of food in soup, while British ones (Collins, Oxford) don't.
  2. The soup of the day in English restaurants is very often a puree. In US restaurants, that's much more rare--the people want stuff in their soup.
  3. Some of the things I have made and called 'soup' have been met with a puzzled "that's more of a stew, isn't it?" from the Englishpeople I've served it to.
  4. Some of the most common soups in England are generally smooth: leek and potato, tomato (often 'tomato and basil', which to me is like eating pasta sauce with a spoon), carrot and coriander. Whereas American soups are often full of solid things: chicken noodle, beef and barley, vegetable (which brings us to...)
  5. Order 'vegetable soup' in England and it will almost certainly be smooth. Order it in the US and it will almost certainly be a broth with diced vegetables. 
But this could be more rigorously tested, so I mention here that dialectal differences in prototypes might be an interesting area for a student dissertation project to cover.  (Are any of our second years reading this?)

Two more things to cover before I go. (I must be feeling better...I haven't collapsed in a heap yet.)

First, notice that I've been saying 'English' rather than 'British' when talking about the prototype differences. The two most famous Scottish soups, cock-a-leekie and Scotch broth, are broths with (more BrE) bits in them, so the prototype might be different up there.

Which brings us to broth. It's a word found in both AmE and BrE, but in AmE it basically means BrE (but also AmE) stock--that is, a liquid made by cooking things in water, then straining the things out. In BrE, it can be used to mean a stock with stuff in it (hence Scotch broth).  So, when I've expressed my longing for a more American-style soup to an Englishperson, I've been told "oh, you mean a broth". But AmE also has bouillon, which is again broth, but I'd call it bouillon if I were drinking it out of a mug (as I used to have to do in the days when I had to go on clear liquid diets a lot. I'm not the healthiest character), especially if I'd made it with a (AmE) bouillon cube (or powder), which in BrE would be a stock cube (or, more colloquially, an Oxo cube--the dominant brand).

I'm going to stop there and go to bed, trying not to think about how much easier my life would be if I could write this many words in grant proposals in an evening.  That way lies insomnia.

P.S. [Jan 2024]  Here's another American take on stock v broth, which doesn't work so well in BrE. From All Recipes: Soups and Stews magazine.

Magazine sidebar defines stock as always cooked with bones but not necessarily with meat. Broth is defined as any liquid that has meat and or vegetables cooked in it which may or may not contain bones. The final result is much thinner liquid in stock and doesn’t gel when chilled . ALT Jan 6, 2024 at 12:54 PM 5 likes  0  Victoria Redfern · 15m I'm not an expert cook, but I'm pretty sure you're right.  There's beef stock and chicken stock but also veg stock.  Broth to me is a type of actual soup.  0   Lynne Murphy · 8m I was being a bit disingenuous with the “I suspect”. I’ve written a lot on the topic of soup. One of my great passions!  0   Rebecca Brite · 6m Per Oxford, stock = liquid made by cooking bones, meat, fish, or vegetables slowly in water, used as a base for soup, gravy, or sauce; broth = liquid made by cooking bones, meat, or fish slowly in water, or soup consisting of meat or vegetables cooked in stock and sometimes thickened with cereals  0   Rebecca Brite · 3m In other words, stock can be veg based and broth isn't? Like you, I'm an expat American, but not being a soup fan had never considered this question. In French it's all bouillon.  0   Lynne Murphy · 13s Partly, but see here for more:  0   Home Search Feeds Notifications Lists Moderation Profile Settings Search Following Discover Popular With Friends More feeds Feedback  ·  Privacy  ·  Terms  ·  Help   Magazine sidebar defines stock as always cooked with bones but not necessarily with meat. Broth is defined as any liquid that has meat and or vegetables cooked in it which may or may not contain bones. The final result is much thinner liquid in stock and doesn’t gel when chilled .

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"I love this guy!"

Better Half got back (on) Tuesday after eight days in New York. He had a great time promoting his work at an English teachers' conference and enjoyed working with his US distributors, except for one thing that niggled. He'd be chatting with the American folk, cracking jokes as he is apt to do, and someone would exclaim (no doubt indicating him with a nod or a pointing gesture) to the others in the group, "I love this guy!" or "Don't you just love this guy?" or some variation on this. (He should be used to this by now—some of my family members are guilty of the same behavio(u)r.)

Now, BH, it must be said, usually enjoys the attention that he gets for being English when in America. In fact, his main complaint about the country on one of our visits last year was that due to the favo(u)rable exchange rate, New York was crawling with Brits, and he was no longer special. So, one might think that he'd love people exclaiming their love for him, but he found it rather off-putting—and so would I. No doubt, the people who say it would think that they're being complimentary. So, what's behind this phrase/behavio(u)r (which I can't say I've ever experienced in the UK)?

Why some people would find it off-putting, or even rude, to be the topic of such an exclamation is easily explained. There you are, getting along with people, feeling like you're making headway in being accepted as part of the gang. Then you say something funny, and instead of laughter, compliments, or inclusive back-slapping, someone starts talking about you in the third person. You stop being you or Lester (or whatever your name is) and start being this guy. It's distancing. It makes you feel like a performing seal and not a person taking part in the conversation. And what do you say after someone says I love this guy? You haven't been addressed, so it has essentially ended your turn at talking. You're put in an awkward position.

So, why it makes people uncomfortable—easily explained. Why do people say it? It seems to say "Look at me! I'm sophisticated and/or clever enough to appreciate this person's humo(u)r!" In other words, it seems a rather self-cent(e)red thing to say. So, part of me is tempted to say that one hears expressions like this more in the US than the UK because the US is a more individualistic society, with more emphasis on the 'me' in conversation. And I'm sure that's part of it. Another part, I think, is the relative insularity of mainstream American life—if you don't interact with a lot of people from other cultures (as equals) on a regular basis, perhaps you don't know what to do when they make a slightly off-colo(u)r comment. (BH does have a tendency to like to shock middle Americans with his Anglo-Saxon vocabulary.) Folded into this is some Americans' insecurity around British folk, whom they consider particularly funny, well-spoken (recall AVIC) and therefore possibly more intelligent than themselves. So, perhaps in such a situation, it's more natural for people to express their appreciation in a distanced way (this guy!) rather than a personal way (you're hilarious!) or a joining-in way (carrying on the joke).

Those are my working hypotheses, at least. (Or since it's a bit of this, a bit of that, maybe it's only one complicated hypothesis.) I'm not sure how much they're worth (it's been a long and tiring week—not a good time for self-critique!), but at least I can offer the public service of pointing out to I-love-this-guy-sayers that there are more effective ways of making people feel loved.

BTW, one more notch in the Canadian count bedpost this weekend—courtesy of a very nice (well, not nice enough to let me beat him) Scrabble player from the Wirral. The Canadian count has slowed down of late (we're just up to 11 now)—maybe I'm not meeting enough new people, or maybe I'm volunteering information about my childhood home too early in conversations, or maybe I'm being accepted as British now that I'm a citizen (HA HA HA—tell us another one, Lynne!).
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tape measure / measuring tape

Emma, an English friend now living in Canada, asked me:
Have you ever looked at measuring tape/tape measure for UK/US? A Canadian friend said she uses the first for the bendy fabric kind and the second for the more rigid, retractable builders' kind.
And I said 'That's how I do it too. What do you do?'  Since this was on Facebook, I now know that I know four Englishpeople who say tape measure for both. Everyone who's commented so far follows the English/North American division that Emma and her Canadian friend observed.

In other words, I learned to call this a measuring tape:

Photo by Ben Watkins:

and this a tape measure:

Photo by redjar:

...and my BrE-speaking friends call them both tape measure.

What's interesting is that neither the North American semantic distinction nor the North America/UK difference is recorded in most dictionaries. They (both UK and US ones) tend to say measuring tape is another word for tape measure (Merriam-Webster [learner's dictionary], Oxford). Collins has measuring tape as an alternative for tape measure in its British English listings, but doesn't include it at all in American English. The American Heritage Dictionary doesn't have measuring tape at all. (The OED's first record for measuring tape is in 1805. Tape measure is 1873.)

Now, before you say 'maybe the distinction is a regional Americanism', note that Emma's friend is from western Canada, I'm from New York state and another Californian friend has reported that he makes the same distinction. There doesn't seem to be anything else similar among us either--male and female, people who sew and people who don't. Searching on, the distinction is not solid, but it's a tendency--one sees more of the metal things if searching 'tape measure' and more of the cloth things when searching 'measuring tape'. (The corpora just tell us that both terms are used in both countries.)

What the dictionaries do tend to tell us is that tape line is an American alternative for tape measure--but this is a term that's completely new to me. There is only one US example in the Corpus of Global Web-Based English, and in that one the author felt the need to clarify that they meant 'some kind of measuring tape of some sort'. In the Corpus of Contemporary American English, only one of the eight examples of tape line (as part of surveyors' tools) might be relevant--most are about making a line of tape (e.g. on a floor). And in the Corpus of Historical American English, the most recent relevant example is from the 1930s. The original citation in the OED is from Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language (1847), and it seems to have just been repeated in dictionaries ever since. So this looks much less current than the measuring tape/tape measure distinction. Attention lexicographers!
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The American Heritage Dictionary lists bollard as 'Chiefly British', and indeed this is a word that I hadn't encountered before I lived here, though I'd certainly encountered the things before.

A bollard (in its most frequent sense in BrE) is a post that is used to get in the way of traffic--for instance to keep cars from driving or parking on the (BrE) pavement/(AmE) sidewalk (like the ones on the left) or to direct cars toward(s) the correct lane (see right). There's a scene I like in the film The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz that involves some paranoid bollards. But then again, I like every scene in that film. It's not a film that would be to everyone's taste (I saw it in a Paris cinema's season of 'British eccentrics'), but it's one of those films in which the city (London) is at least as much of a character as those that are played by actors.

Prior to my residence in Britain, I would have called bollards posts. Oh, what an impoverished vocabulary I had back then! But then one does come across more bollards in the UK than in the US. Sometimes they're there for no obvious reason. For example, on a two-way road near my house, there is a bollard that makes traffic going down hill give way (AmE yield) to traffic that's coming up the hill. Since the road is wide enough at this point to let the traffic go both ways, the bollard is just there to slow down the cars that are going down the hill. I can't see why they didn't choose another way to slow the traffic that wouldn't involve the creation of traffic (BrE & regional AmE) queues (general AmE lines). For instance, one could use a (BrE [originally] & regional AmE) sleeping policeman (other AmE speed bump; BrE & AmE speed hump; BrE road hump). Better Half has just called this bollardy arrangement a chicane, another word that only entered my (passive) lexicon after I moved here. The term comes from motor racing, where it usually refers to a little kink in the racetrack, but it's extended here to include the type of traffic slowing measure described above, and like the one (that's barely visible) in this picture from Lancashire.

Sometimes the word bollard is used (in BrE) to refer to the thing on the left, though such things are usually termed traffic cones in BrE and pylons in (at least my dialect of) AmE. Pylon, of course, can also refer to the electrical type of thing to the right--in either dialect. A strange piece of lexicographical trivia is that American Heritage doesn't record the 'traffic cone' sense of pylon, while the OED does (and marks it 'U.S.').


In other news, I was away playing Scrabble again this weekend (hence the lack of blogging), and, as often happens in such situations, I was twice mistaken for Canadian. That brings the Canadian count to five instances in five months. (I also got one instance of "I usually don't like American accents but...".)

Perhaps it's a good thing that I didn't have a chance to blog, as I believe the blog is starting to work against me. I mocked mushy peas, and, lo and behold, five days later my application for UK citizenship was turned down. They say it's because some of my paperwork didn't arrive on time, but I think we can read between the peas...
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two quick notes

I know I promised another posting on determiners, but here are just a couple of items that I want to slip in between posts:

1. Benjamin Zimmer points out the linguistic issues that are allegedly related to the Prince William-Kate Middleton break-up over on Language Log today. The post and the links from that post touch on many topics that we've already discussed here. Jan Freeman of the Boston Globe has blogged on this too--linking to my humble blog here. Thanks, Jan!

2. Another notch on the Canadian Count belt. A vendor at the Portobello Market asked me if I was Canadian. Her response to my Americanness was "Your accent is very soft." I've had that one before too...
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Last month Linguist Laura wrote a blog post congratulating the students who were graduating from her program(me). She discusses graduate, then moves on to alumni, excerpted below. I've highlighting the bit that was news to me.

When the graduands morph into graduates, they also become alumni, another Latin word. It's plural, in that form, and pedants will have know[n] that the singular is alumnus or alumna, depending on whether you're male or female. Again, this is a bit annoying for English speakers who don't really bother that much with gender other than pronouns, [...]

Normal procedure when removing gender distinction is to go with the male for everyone: actors and actresses become actors, lady doctors become doctors, and so on. With alumni, we're taking to using the plural form for everyone. You're an alumni once you graduate. This ever so slightly grates on me but I am a good linguist and a descriptivist and do not go around correcting people. I don't know why we use the plural. We're familiar with this in words like cactus/cacti so we might have used alumnus as the singular; we just didn't. Perhaps it's because we use alumni in the plural way more often than the singular and, as it's not that common a word, that's the one that stuck.
I am not sure who the we is here. Laura's department? English speakers? It seems to me it's British English speakers, as in my experience Americans haven't adopted the plural as a singular.

First, Americans use the gendered singulars. I looked for an alumn* of in the Corpus of Global Web-Based English (GloWBE) in order to get only singular instances:

(I checked the one that says alumni* and it's by a graduate of The Open University [UK] who uses the word maths, so I have mentally flipped it into the GB column.)

In AmE singular alumni amounts to about 9% of the total, but in BrE it's about 22% (and in Canadian English, it's 35%). Note the lack of alumna in BrE.

When Americans want to avoid the gendered Latin terms, we often hack off the Latin suffix. I am an alum of the University of Massachusetts. I am friends with many of my fellow alums.

The word looks odd and is hard to pronounce if you don't know that it's a clipped form. It is not a homophone with the astringent chemical alum. The chemical is A-lum, the graduate is a-LUM, following the stress pattern of the suffixed form. I've also seen it spel{led/t} alumn and I kind of like that better. (There are 6 instances of alumn in GloWBE, 5 American and one that is classifed as GB, but when you look it's from an organi{s/z}ation in New York. None of these is in the phrase an alumn of, so they aren't included the numbers below.)

An alum of gets 10 hits in the US and 2 in GB (all legitimate; plus one Canadian hit, for those keeping track). If we add these to the numbers in the chart above, we get the following proportions:

a ___ of AmE BrE
gendered singular alumna/us 81% 75%
plural-form singular
8% 21%
clipped singular
11% 4%
total number 88 52

Now, if you worked at a college/university in the US, I am quite sure that you would hear alum much more than you'd hear singular alumni. I had a quick look in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, which showed twice as many an alum of as an alumni of (though the numbers were small--21 in total).

So, a few points of unseemly defensiveness after all this:
  • Americans are able to and do use the Latin gendered suffixes. I mention this because there seems to be some belief that the British know Latin better than Americans do.  One of the interviewees in Jones's book on English expats in the US says she felt "she got to win a lot of arguments" because Americans assume “I [have] this great level of culture [and speak] and read fluent Latin” though of course she didn't. Similarly, I've had it said to me that Americans make barbarous "false" Latin words because we aren't close enough to the language. An British commentator on early American accents wrote that "Americans do not, however, speak or pronounce English according to our standard; [...] probably from a want of any intimate knowledge of Greek or Latin." I can't see much evidence for thinking the contemporary British folk have some access to Latin that contemporary Americans don't. Latin comes and goes in both American and British schools. Yes, the fancy public (i.e. private) schools of Britain do tend to offer Latin, but so did my run-of-the-mill American high school. Very few schools anywhere require it (or even offer it) any more--though apparently it's popular with American home-schoolers.
  • If you see Latin plurals masquerading as singulars, it's not a case of "American political correctness" coming over and "ruining" the language. The British are very capable of being sensitive to gender discrimination and changing the language themselves.  
The other thing to notice is that Americans use these words more. In fact, Americans have a great head start on using them. This is not necessarily a bragging point. The reason Americans needed these words earlier is that American universities have long depended on their graduates' generosity.

That was not an issue for British universities, which until recently were funded mainly through government grants. While I've lived in the UK, I've seen tuition fees go from 0 to over £9000 per year. And it was only once the government stopped directly funding university teaching that universities needed to step up relations with their graduates in the hope of getting donations and bequests. That's when my university got an Alumni Relations Office, something any American university would have had decades earlier.

Americans, I would say, have a keener sense of alumnihood. They have stickers identifying their alma mater in the back windows of their cars. The phrase alma mater is about four times more common in AmE than BrE (in GloWBE). They go to homecoming. They follow their institution's sports teams for the rest of their lives. (The need to keep alumni involved is a big reason for American universities having so much sporty activity.) They might even know their college's/university's song. That's in general, of course. I can't say I do any of those things. But I know many more Americans than Britons who do. 
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try and, try to; GMEU app

Our university's website provides helpful information for students about research and writing. It says things like this:
Another big mistake is to try and write an essay at the last minute.
I look at that and itch to edit it, just like early in my time in England, when my department head sent round a draft document for our comments, and I "helpfully" changed all the try and's to try to's. Imposing your American prescriptions on a learned British linguist is probably not the best idea, and it's one of those little embarrassments that comes back to haunt me in the middle of the sleepless night. I had had no idea that try and is not the no-no in BrE that it is in edited AmE.

I'm reminded of this for two reasons:
  1. Marisa Brook and Sali Tagliamonte have a paper in the August issue of American Speech that looks at try and and try to in British and Canadian English (and I've just learned a lot about the history of these collocations from it)
  2. I've been using this new English usage app and testing it on matters of US/UK disagreement. (Review below.) 

The weirdness  

Try and is weird. I say that as fact, not judg(e)ment. You can't "want and write an essay" or "attempt and write an essay". The try and variation seems to be a holdover from an earlier meaning of try, which meant 'test' or 'examine', still heard in the idiom to try one's patience. Though the  'test' meaning dropped out, the and construction hung on and transferred to the 'attempt' meaning of 'try'.

Though some people insist that try and means something different from try to, those claims don't stand up to systematic investigation. A 1983 study of British novels by Åge Lind (cited in Brook and Tagliamonte) could find no semantic difference, and a statistical study by Gries and Stefanowitsch concluded "where semantic differences have been proposed, they are very tenuous". The verbs be and do seem to resist try and and prefer try to.

There are some cases where try and doesn't mean the same thing as try to, where the second verb is a comment on the success (or lack of success) of the trying:
We try and fail to write our essays. ≠  We try to fail to write our essays.
But in most cases, they're equivalent:
Try and help the stranded dolphin.  = Try to help the stranded dolphin.
Try and make it up to them. = Try to make it up to them.

(If the rightmost example sounds odd, make sure you're pronouncing it naturally with the to reduced to 'tuh'. If the leftmost one just sounds bad to you, you may well be North American.)

Though there are other verbs that can be followed by and+verb, they don't act the same way as try and. For one thing, try and seems to stay in that 'base' form without suffixes. It's harder to find examples in the present or past tense (see tables below). 
? The student tries and writes an essay. 
? The student tried and wrote an essay.
  Compare the much more natural past tense of go and:
The student just went and wrote a whole essay.
So, try and is a bit on-its-own. Be sure to/be sure and is the only other thing that seems to have the same grammatical and semantic patterns.

The Britishness

Here's what Hommerberg and Tottie (2007) found for British Spoken and Written data and for American Spoken and Written.

In the forms that can't have suffixes (infinitive and imperative), BrE speakers say try and a lot more than try to. They write try and less, but in in the infinitive, it's still used about 1/3 of the time.

Brook and Tagliamonte found that BrE speakers under 45 use try and over try to at a rate of about 85%, regardless of education level. But for older Brits, there's a difference, with the more educated mostly using try to

AmE speakers sometimes say try and, but they say try to more. They hardly ever use try and (where it could be replaced by try to) in writing.
Brook and Tagliamonte find much the same difference for British English versus Canadian English.

The "non-standard"ness

Though the try and form goes back before American and British English split up, its greater use in Britain is the innovation here. The try and form only started to dominate in Britain in the late 19th century.

Brook and Tagliamonte note that it's "curious" that BrE prefers try and when it has "two ostensible disadvantages":
  1. it's less syntactically versatile, since it doesn't like suffixation,
  2. it's long been considered the "non-standard" form, repeatedly criticized in even British style guides. 

On the second point, Eric Partridge's Usage and Abusage (1947) calls it "incorrect" and "an astonishingly frequent error". However, other British style guides are much more forgiving of it. While the third edition of Fowler's Modern Usage (1996) says that "Arguments continue to rage about the validity of try and", it notes that the original 1926 edition said that "try and is an idiom that should not be discountenanced" when it sounds natural. The Complete Plain Words (1986) lists it in a checklist of phrases to be used with care ("Try to is to be preferred in serious writing"), but it got no mention in  Ernest Gowers' original Plain Words (1948) or the recent revision of the work by Rebecca Gowers (2014). Oliver Kamm's rebelliously "non-pedantic" guide (2015) calls try and "Standard English".  Other British sources I've checked have nothing to say about it. Though it's only recently climbed the social ladder, British writers and "authorities" seem, on the whole, (BrE) not very fussed about it.

American guides do comment on try and. Ambrose Bierce (1909) called it "colloquial slovenliness of speech" and Jan Freeman (2009) calls it "one of the favorite topics of American peevologists". The dictionaries and stylebooks that are less excited about it at least pause to note that it is informal, colloquial, or a "casualism". The American Heritage Dictionary notes:
To be sure, the usage is associated with informal style and strikes an inappropriately conversational note in formal writing. In our 2005 survey, just 55 percent of the Usage Panel accepted the construction in the sentence Why don't you try and see if you can work the problem out for yourselves?
(I can't help but read that to be sure in an Irish accent, which means I've been around Englishpeople too long.)

One hypothesis is that try and came to be preferred in Britain due to horror aequi: the avoidance of repetition. So, instead of Try to get to know, you can drop a to and have Try and get to know. The colloquialism may have been more and more tolerated because the alternative was aesthetically unpleasing.

Try and is an example I'm discussing (in much less detail) in the book I'm writing because it seems to illustrate a tendency for British English to make judg(e)ments "by ear" where American English often likes to go "by the book". (Please feel free to debate this point or give me more examples in the comments!)

Garner's Modern English Usage

And so, on to the app.  The Garner's Modern English Usage (GMEU) app is the full content of the 4th edition of the book of the same name, with some extra app-y features. I've tested it on an Apple iPod, but I think it's available for other platforms too. On iTunes, it lists at US$24.99.

Full disclosure: Bryan Garner gave me a free copy of this app in its testing stage.  I've met Garner in person once, when I'm quite sure he decided I was a hopeless liberal. (The thing about liberals, though, is you can't really be one without lots of hope.) He's a good one to follow on Twitter.

Sad disclosure: I received the offer of the free app not too long after I ordered a hard copy of the 4th edition, which (AmE) set me back £32.99, and, at 1055 pages, takes up a pretty big chunk of valuable by-the-desk bookshelf (AmE) real estate. I bought that book AFTER FORGETTING that just weeks before, hoping to avoid the real-estate incursion, I'd bought the e-book edition for a (orig. AmE) hefty $34.99. So, although I got the app for free, I expect to get my money's worth!!

So far, the app works beautifully, and is so much easier to search than a physical book. Mainly, I've used it for searching for items with AmE/BrE differences. I also used it to argue back to a Reviewer 2 who was trying to (not and!) (orig. AmE) micromanage aspects of my usage that don't seem to have any prescriptions against them (their absence in GMEU was welcome). (Reviewer 2 did like our research, so almost all is forgiven.)

GMEU didn't have everything I looked up (see the post on lewd), but that's probably because those things are not known usage issues. I had just wondered if they might be. But where I looked up things that differed in BrE and AmE, the differences were always clearly stated. Here is a screenshot of try and:

Garner's book is so big because it's got lots of  real examples and useful numbers, as you can see in this example. Nice features of the app, besides easy searchability, include the ability to save entries as 'favorites', tricky quizzes (which tell me I qualify as a "true snoot"), and all the front matter of the book: prefaces, linguistic glossary, pronunciation guide, and Garner's essays about the language.

The search feature gives only hits for essay topics and entry headwords. That is probably all anyone else needs. I'd like to be able to search, for instance, for all instances of British and BrE to find what he covers. But I guess that's what I can use my ebook for...

Over the course of his editions and his work more generally, Garner has included more and more about British English, but at its heart, GMEU is an American piece of work. Other Englishes don't really (BrE) get a look-in (fact, not criticism). I very much recommend the app for American writers, students, and editors, but also for British editors, who are often called upon to work on American writers' work or to make British work more transatlantically neutral.

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sounding English/American

Bbrug pointed out an article on British and American authors' renditions of the other dialect's speech on the Telegraph website. Not being a Telegraph reader, I was grateful for the link.

The author starts with the following premise (BrE: premiss):
America has become more interested in the outside world since September 2001. If their first, bewildered question was "Why do they hate us so much?" it has, in time, been followed up by questions about what life in the outside world is actually like.
This premis{e/s} itself may be the most faulty part of the article. There have always been people in the US who are interested in what the outside world is like. But, having been an expat both before and after September 11th, I've felt that the proportion of 'what's it like to live there?' to 'why do they hate us?' conversations has changed in the opposite direction of that suggested by the author. Just in March, I was trapped in a conversation at an American party, where a man who'd never needed a passport kept drilling me on the hatred subject, refusing to believe that I didn't suffer as an American abroad. On the two occasions in which I've had dental work in the US since the terrorist attacks, I've been stuck with Dr Dentist's hands in my mouth while he lectures me on why he'll never return to France because of its government's stance on the war. When travel(l)ing with Better Half in the US, I'm always amazed when people ask where he's from and then say "That sounds nice. I have no interest in going there. There's enough of America to see." Why, exactly, did they feel the need to say that?

Anyhow, back to language. The author goes on:
There's an easy test to apply about how substantial this new interest is, or whether the outside world is actually being listened to. Can American writers reliably report the styles of speech of one of their nearest linguistic cousins?
By the end of the article, it's clear that this is not a very good test at all. As the author notes, creating realistic dialogue is one of the most difficult aspects of writing fiction, and few writers master it even in their own dialect. And while Europeans can't help but be exposed to a lot of American culture (through media, retail, politics and tourists), there are few British novelists who ably write American voices without crossing the border into parody.

The author's segue into the main discussion of dialogue in novels starts on a filmic tangent:
From Cary Grant to Dick van Dyke to Woody Allen's inadvertently hilarious Match Point ("I was raised in Belgravia"), English audiences have been retching in the stalls at American film's idea of English speech.
Dick van Dyke's portrayal of a Cockney chimneysweep in Mary Poppins remains a byword for American misapprehension of British speech, but seems a bit unfair here in relation to American writers' reportage of the British 'voice', since an Australian wrote the Mary Poppins books. While it is easier to come up with examples of British (and Australian and South African) actors taking on American accents than vice versa, this probably has at least as much to do with the "economic migration" of British film actors toward Hollywood as to do with the quality of American acting. Renée Zellweger's Bridget Jones was warmly embraced here, and Gwyneth Paltrow's English accents, while not perfect, are rarely marked as a distraction.

The article goes on to discuss the stereotyping of (particularly upper class) British speech as 'pompous' and overly wordy, and this is undebatable. One never hears Brits in American films or novels saying "I reckon...". The pomposity is linked to Americans' tendency to cast Englishmen (complete with ridiculously pompous speech styles) as villains. As Leo Benedictus in the Guardian notes, "Sophistication in all its forms is a sure sign of evil, and American audiences find nothing more sophisticated (or untrustworthy) than a snooty Brit." (I can't help but relate Americans' association of sophisticated, wordy language as a sign of untrustworthiness to the otherwise unfathomable electoral success of George W Bush. Well, that and Republican money an a crooked Supreme Court, of course.)

People here often say to me "you don't sound American" or "oh, I thought you were Canadian." One could believe that this is because British people have wonderful ears for accents and recognize a couple of features that are shared between my part of New York and Ontario. But that's pretty unlikely. The only time any American has accused me of sounding Canadian was when I moved to Massachusetts and was relentlessly mocked for saying eh? at the end of each utterance. (This was useful in South Africa, where I easily adapted to saying hey at the end of each utterance.) No, I think there are three reasons why I don't 'sound American' to some Brits, listed here in order of perceived importance:

  • I don't sound like a hick* or a mafiosa. That is, the British get their ideas of what Americans sound like from stereotyped performances, just as Americans do for the English.

  • Everyone lives in mortal fear of travel(l)ing Canadians, who go bonkers when accused of being American.

  • I make certain accommodations for British ears, namely avoiding intervocalic flaps. (Click here to hear a flap in the middle of the word letter and here to hear it with a regular /t/ sound.)

*AmE has lots of unflattering epithets for rural folk, including: hick, hayseed, hillbilly, redneck, rube, country bumpkin, yokel. The last couple aren't marked in my Concise Oxford as 'US', so presumably they are known in Britain too. (Better Half is not here to serve as my editor today!) But while hick is now considered to be an Americanism, it's another of those words that started out in England and was forgotten here. See The Word Detective on the subject.
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the States

I've had a couple of queries lately about the States as a nickname for the United States of America--with some implication that Americans in Britain learn to say this from the British. One query was (indirectly, through their [BrE] tutor/[AmE] professor) from an American student who has come over on a summer exchange program(me). The other was from Laura, who wrote:
I worked in London for a few months last year and was surprised to hear everyone referring to the U.S. as 'the States' or 'America', both names I rarely (if ever) use. Normally I just say 'the U.S.' or even the full(er) name of 'the United States'. I did a sort of poll on this in a Livejournal community I am a part of, here at Brits-Americans. On the whole, people agreed with me that Americans do not call our country 'the States' (a few more call it 'America' though) and if they do, it is generally only after visiting/living in Britain (or a country outside the U.S., even Canada).
Laura has noticed that this isn't just a British thing, but the student, probably with less travel(l)ing experience, considered it to be BrE--and we can investigate that idea. Others seem to think it's an exchange student thing. I found this claim in a review (warning: .pdf) of Stuff White People Like:
Incidentally, every American exchange student is required by the Geneva Convention to use the term, “The States,” preferably whilst rolling his or her eyes. I did it so effectively that I developed minor eyestrain.)
The obvious reason why Americans only start calling the country America or the States when they're abroad is that an American just doesn't have as much reason to call it anything when in the US--for instance, when someone asks an American where they're from when they're in the US, they'll answer Kansas or Cincinnati, not the US of A or any such thing.

But is it used more in the UK than elsewhere? It's a bit hard to tell, but let's start by looking at where on the web some names for the US are used. Apologies for my primitive skills with html tables, but what I've done is to search for America, the States, the US, the USA, and the United States on the web in two sentential contexts in and out of the UK. First, I searched "are you from x" with the proviso that it should not include any sites that had the phrase "Where are you from"--because otherwise you're flooded with examples like Where are you from? The US. This was important because my aim here was to find uses of these names for the US that were more likely to be written by non-Americans. For the Americans, I searched for "I'm from X". The table shows the total number for the "are you from" searches, followed by the results from just the UK, followed by the proportion of world uses of a term that come from the UK, followed by UK-based writers' preference for the term--and then it repeats that for the "I'm from" searches. So, we can see here that presumed non-Americans in the UK tend to call the country (in web-based writing, at least) the US or the USA. If it were a Briticism, we'd expect UK uses in the Are you from context to be a fairly big proportion of the world uses--but that doesn't seem to be the case. The confounding factor would be if it were British, but the British considered it degrading, in which case they might use it in other contexts, but not the Are you from one.

Are you from [x]   UK  UK/World       UK%       I'm from [x]UK     UK/World   UK %
America1270181%13%32,2009223% 14%
the States313124%9%23,20013306%20%
the US709598%44%63,50028905%43%
the USA17,500402%30%30,0006872%10%
the United States127064%4%23,2008424%13%

Before looking at the American side of the table, let's consider whether it is degrading. Ben Zimmer has kindly pointed out to me this claim by 'Areff' on alt.usage.english:
[in response to someone's usage of the States] First off, you get Oy!ed for using that expression 'the States'. This is a deprecated usage outside of military and diplomatic contexts. Odd thing is, the British think Americans commonly use 'the States' (they don't), and the Americans think the British commonly use 'the States' (they do, but only because they mistakenly think that's what Americans commonly do).
A lot of people on that discussion board took issue with this claim. I've certainly never found 'the States' to be deprecating (which is all I can imagine he meant by 'deprecated'), and would think that non-diplomatic contexts would be less sensitive to such connotations in any case. But at any rate, our evidence here is that Americans in the UK use the term at a much higher rate than the British do--since it's only the 4th most common on the British side of the table, but the second most common way for Americans to refer to their home country. So I have a hard time buying that Americans in the UK are learning it from the British.

Now on to the American side of the table, we see that on UK websites Americans use 'the States' one-fifth of the time when asked where they're from, but this accounts only for 6% of the world total of people saying they're 'from the States'. But that 6% is bigger than the percentages for any of the other expressions, so perhaps it is a bit more likely in the UK.

For interest, I also checked some other anglophonic countries' sites. The numbers were very small in some cases, but I'll present here the rankings of the terms in Australian, Canadian and South African sites. The figure on the left is the ranking of the 'Are you from' result and the figure on the right is the 'I'm from' version.
South Africa
the States=4/54/2=4/54/2
the US3/43/33/21/1
the USA=1/12/41/32/5
the United States=4/25/5=4/45/4

If Americans do say the States more often in the UK than elsewhere, one of my hypotheses is that it has something to do with language. When I lived in South Africa, I was conscious of referring to the US as America when I was speaking to someone whose native language was not English. One knows that America can be understood by speakers of most languages, but you need more of a grip on English to understand that the States is used as a proper noun. So, it's easier to use it with the (native) BrE speakers than with people who are speaking English as a second language. I also liked saying the States because the US comes out as 'theeyuwess', which sounds pretty mushy coming out of my mouth, and so I found myself having to repeat myself when I said it in South Africa. (The USA just sounds too [AmE] yee-haw jingoistic somehow.)

But why not in Australia? An English friend has wondered whether in the UK the States has an echo of the Colonies. Maaaayybeeeee. I'm preferring a more pragmatic solution. Larry Horn has a principle I like called 'Familiarity breeds CNTNT'--that is, familiarity breeds reduced content; the more familiar something is, the more economical you can be in referring to it. Maybe the States is more common in Canada and the UK because people there have more interaction with Americans and America than Australians and South Africans have.

But in conclusion, from this not-very-scientific investigation, it looks like the people who are most likely to say the States are Americans talking to Canadians or the British. Do we learn it from the British? Do we learn it from each other? Is it an echo of the Colonies? Hard to tell...
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zee and zed

Now that the Term from Hell has finished, I'd like to get back to blogging on an at-least-weekly basis.  Toward(s) this end, I've stuck my cursor into the e-mailbox that holds the 'potential bloggables'. Since it's nearly midnight as I start this, I consider myself very lucky to have blindly picked one that I've mostly done before. [Editor's note: but since it was interrupted by a conversation about applying for primary school places for my daughter and some laundry, I'm still getting to bed after 2. Typical me, typical me, typical me.] Since I feel like it should have had its own post, I shall give it one.

So: BrE  zed versus AmE zee, for the last letter of the English alphabet.

The last time I talked about these was in my grumpy (but reasonably well-informed) reply to BBC News Magazine's (merrily uninformed) grumpfest "Americanisms: 50 of your most noted examples". Here's their Number 46, followed by my reply:

46. I hear more and more people pronouncing the letter Z as "zee". Not happy about it! Ross, London
Fair enough, but why has zed come to us from zeta, but beta hasn't turned up in English as bed? (Because it's come from French and they did it that way. But still!) I have two zee-related suspicions: (1) Some BrE speakers prefer zee in the alphabet song because it rhymes better (tee-U-vee/double-u-eks-why-and-zee/now I know my ABCs/next time won't you play with me). (2) Fear of 'zee' is a major reason that Sesame Street is no longer broadcast in most of the UK. Both of those issues (not problems!) are discussed in this old post.
...which gives you a link to the time before that that I talked about it. And before that, I mentioned it in my zebra post. But there's more still to say about zee and zed.

Zed goes way back in English--the OED's first citations of it are from the 15th century. The OED's first example of zee, on the other hand, is from a 1677 spelling book published in England by Thomas Lye, a non-conformist minister.  Lye was born in Somerset and educated at Oxford, and was preaching and teaching school in London at the time of publication. Bill Cassell at his Canadian Word of the Day site mentions its competitors:
The letter has actually had eight or more names during its long sojourn at the bottom of the English alphabet: zad, zard, zed, zee, ezed, ezod, izod, izzard, uzzard. One of those names is zee, a dialect form last heard in England during the late seventeenth century. That name was brought to America by British immigrants, perhaps not on the Mayflower but very early indeed in American history.
Another English dialect form is izzard, from mid-eighteenth-century English, perhaps from French et zède meaning and z, or else from s hard. Or, as I believe but cannot prove, izzard is simply as an r-infix form of izod that arose in an English dialect where speakers liked to insert r-sounds into r-less word endings. In Scotland the letter’s name has been at various times in history ezod and izod. Even uzzard shows up as a legitimate name of the letter.
(I think we should be a little careful here. We don't have any citations of zee written in Britain since Lye's spelling book--but this does not mean it was last heard then. The names of letters are not often written out, and dialectal names of letters even less so, so goodness knows how long it might have [chiefly BrE] pottered on.)

So, zee is not originally AmE, but it came to be decisively AmE, with Noah Webster (whom we might call the architect of American spelling), specifying in his 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language "Z.‥ It is pronounced zee". 

Decisively American, but not always unanimously American, it seems, as the OED also gives this quotation:
1882    E. A. Freeman in Longman's Mag. I. 94   The name‥given to the last letter of the alphabet‥in New England is always zee; in the South it is zed.

So, dialectal variation for names of this letter has been found on both sides of the Atlantic. Many things conspire against the survival of such dialectal variations--for example compulsory education, formal education of teachers, the rise of the text(-)book (more likely to have the hyphen in BrE, no space/hyphen in AmE), and the spread of the "Alphabet Song" (first copyrighted in Boston, Massachusetts in 1835). I'd be interested to hear whether any of you (in the US or UK) still use dialectal versions that are out-of-step with your nation's standard.

One place where zed is used in the US is on (orig. AmE) ham radio--which is what got me started on this post in the first place. American Bill 'K1NS' wrote to me in September with this:
Amateur radio operators (hams) around the world have
been saying ZED instead of ZEE for as long as I have
been a ham, which is 54 years now. For example, my
old call sign used to be KAY 6 ZED AITCH ARR.

It is odd, but over my lifetime it has become a habit, and
I automatically say ZED when with hams, but never in
other circumstances.

But I must say that the newer generation of hams say
ZED less often. They are more likely to say ZED if
they are "DXers," that is hams who regularly make
international, long distance contacts as opposed to
local hams who mostly "ragchew" with their local
ham buddies.
So, some free ham-radio lingo with your alphabet info.  I cannot attest to the dialect-specificity of that!

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