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2007's Words of the Year

Better late than never, I hope (I have a fairly good excuse...), here are my picks for SbaCL Words of the Year. Thanks to all of you who have nominated words...

US-to-UK Word of the Year

In the category of Best AmE to BrE Import, I was fairly convinced by dearieme's nomination of subprime (though I took some convincing; see comments back here for the discussion). But I've decided against it in the end because (a) I'd like to see if it lasts in BrE beyond the current mortgage crisis, (b) the American Dialect Society chose it as their Word of the Year, so it's already had a lot of attention (and I like to support the [orig. AmE] underdog), and (c) I was reminded of another AmE word that made British headlines this year, which has demonstrated staying power in BrE.

So....the AmE-to-BrE SbaCL Word of the Year is:

cookie


Why, you ask? Well, British television has been wracked by controversy this year because of several incidents in which contest results had been fixed, and none of these was stranger than the Blue Peter controversy. On that children's program(me), there was a viewer vote on what to name the new Blue Peter kitten. The viewers voted for Cookie, but the production team named the cat Socks instead. This is how the Blue Peter website explains the situation to the kids:
Back in January last year we introduced you to a new kitten and asked you to suggest names that would suit him. You gave us lots of great ideas and then voted for your favourite name on the website.
Your first choice was Cookie and your second choice was Socks. Part of the production team working on the programme at the time decided that it would be better to choose Socks, as they felt this suited the kitten better. This was wrong because we had said that it was your vote that would decide.
They then tried to make up for their misstep by introducing another kitten and naming it Cookie. No one seems to know why Cookie was deemed unsuitable. One theory is that it's because the name could encourage child obesity. I can't help but wonder if it wasn't because the name was felt to be too non-traditional (i.e. American!).

But the success of Cookie in a poll of children indicates that the word is now entrenched in BrE. What it doesn't show is that the meaning of cookie has shifted between AmE and BrE. In AmE, cookie refers to what BrE speakers would refer to as biscuits, but also to a range of baked goods that were not typically available in Britain until recently--what we can call an 'American-style cookie'--that is, one that is soft and (arguably) best eaten hot. Since in the UK these are almost always bought (at places like Ben's Cookies or Millie's Cookies), rather than home-baked, they also tend to be of a certain (largish) size. In BrE, biscuit retains its old meaning and applies to things like shortbread, rich tea biscuits, custard creams and other brittle things that can be dunked into one's tea, but cookie denotes only the bigger, softer American import. (In fact, twice this year I heard Englishpeople in shops debating the definition of cookie, and had noted this for further discussion on the blog...and here it is. For previous discussion of this and other baked good terminology, click here.)

Postscript (Jan 2015): Since writing this I've given a talk about how often American words don't mean the same in the UK. Here's the slide on cookie:



UK-to-US Word of the Year:


The front-runner in the reader nominations for best BrE-to-AmE import was pint, to refer to a unit of beer. The nominators report that the pint measurement is not literal in this case (and anyhow, the British pint is 118 millilit{er/re}s bigger than the American). I've not experienced non-literal use of pint in the US...but then again I wasn't drinking on my last trip to the US. As fine as the support for that nomination was, I'm going to be entirely selfish (what, again?!) and give the award to a word that was personally very relevant this year. So, the BrE-to-AmE SbaCL Word of the Year is:

(baby) bump


That is, the abdominal protuberance evident in pregnancy, illustrated (unflatteringly) here:

I distinctly remember first hearing this term from Kate Winslet (not in person!) when she was pregnant with her daughter in 2000, the year I moved here. At that point, I assumed it was a Winsletism, but soon learned it was general, informal BrE. (While the OED has only added it in its 2007 draft, its first citation for it is from 1986. The first American citation is from 1999.) Shortly thereafter the American celebrity gossip media started using it too, to my chagrin, as I thought it was a nasty term--too (orig./chiefly AmE) cutesy, in a crude way. And I'm not the only one. Google-search hate baby bump, and one finds lots of American discussions of the term, including:
Can we have a moratorium on the phrase "baby bump"? Ugh... I hate it so much. (commenter on Jezebel)

And yes, by the way, I, too, absolutely hate that stupid term "baby bump". It is EXTREMELY annoying. It sounds like something that a 12-yr old might say because their uncomfortable with the word "pregnant". Any adult who uses the term is a jackass. (commenter on Huffington Post)

The term 'baby bump' sounds so juvenile and pedestrian. How did this term come in to existence, and why do presumably semi-intelligent people use it? (commenter on StyleDash.com)
No one in these discussions seems to reali{s/z}e that its origins are British, and one wonders whether they'd have more affection for the term if they could associate it with "the Queen's English" (not that Her Majesty would ever say baby bump). I should say, in the UK, one is more likely just to hear bump, while in the US it seems more often to be prefaced by baby.
As I said, I used to hate this use of bump, but goodness, if you've got one, it's a useful term. So, in hono(u)r of ex-bump Grover, it is the BrE-to-AmE WotY.
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cake

Baking and baked goods are a perennial source of US/UK miscommunication—in large part because most of our current baking/eating habits were only invented after the split between American and British English. We eat different baked goods with newish names and we often use the same old words in different new ways. 

While I've written many posts that have mentioned cake (see links below), I've come to feel the need for a much bigger one about cake. This one has been several (very busy) months in the making.

cake itself

The word cake came into English from Old Norse (or another Scandinavian source) in around the 13th century. Way back then it was a word for a round loaf of bread that was a bit flattened by having been turned over while baking. These days we associate it more with sweet baked goods, usually (but not necessarily) those leavened with something other than yeast. But its round, bready roots come through in things like (Scottish) oatcake (which refers to something more like modern crackers than like modern cakes) and northwestern England's barm cakes, one of the many regional names for the kinds of bread rolls with which you might make a sandwich (in the American sense). Later, cake came to mean any round, flattened food, and thus we have fish cakes and crab cakes and rice cakes and the like. 

People only started using cake as a mass noun referring to the substance (rather than the loaf as a whole) in the 16th century, and from then it increasingly referred to fancy or sweet bread-like things. 

Cake v dessert/pudding

Many Americans would think of cake as a rather normal dessert. But those who've watched the Great British (orig. AmE) Bake Off (GBBO) will have seen that cake and dessert are treated as different things. Such is the case in English culture (at least) more generally. Cake is something you'd have with coffee or tea as a break, not something you'd immediately think of preparing for the final course of a meal. (Though you will find the occasional cake on a UK dessert menu.) As we've already seen in the dessert/pudding post, puddings are another matter. Some look and feel like cakes (e.g., my fave sticky toffee pudding), but are not usually considered cakes in BrE. (Please do go to the pudding post, linked above, if you want to comment on puddings.)

Cake(s) as sweet baked snacks

On the other hand, in certain contexts, all sorts of things can loosely count as cake in England that would not be so called in AmE. Say you went to a coffee shop with your friend. If you were English you might ask them "Which cake do you want?" And your English friend might say "A (orig. AmE) brownie" or "The apple turnover, please" or "The carrot cake, please". If you were American, and you wanted the brownie or the turnover, you'd probably answer that question with "I'm not in the mood for cake, but I'd like that brownie/apple turnover." For Americans, cakes are cakes and other baked goods are other baked goods. For the English, cake can be an umbrella term for sweet baked goods eaten in the situations where one usually eats cakes in the narrower sense. (NB: I'm saying English rather than British because not enough Scottish or Welsh people have offered to buy me cake in coffee shops. More fieldwork needed.)

If I were Americanly asking someone which thing they wanted in the coffee shop, I'd probably say "Which kind of cake do you want?" because "which cake" doesn't really sound right in AmE, where it more usually refers to a big thing that you slice and not an individual serving of it. If a BrE speaker had a cake with their tea, it would fit on a small plate (under which the server will have inexplicably placed a paper napkin as if it's a doily, rendering the napkin useless—a coffee-shop peeve of mine). If an American had a cake with their coffee, they'd be an incredible glutton, eating enough for a dozen people.

AmE snack cake refers to the overly processed small cakes that are packaged for putting in lunch boxes. Twinkies are a famous example, but there are lots of other kinds as well (here's a guide). You can get such individually wrapped cakes in the UK too, e.g. Cadbury Mini Rolls are pretty much the equivalent of a Hostess Ho-Ho and the Mr Kipling brand offers a variety of such products, but I don't know of a generic BrE term for them. But again, we'd call them a snack cake but probably not a cake.

Types of cake

A very noticeable thing if you watch GBBO is the constant reference to sponge. Americans can use the term sponge cake (emphasis on the cake) but don't use it often because that's the prototypical cake type—and you don't need to specify the most typical type. (I've discussed the psycholinguistic concept of prototypes here.) It'd be like saying cloth shirt—almost redundant. 

[Update: see the comments for some more-informed American takes on sponge, which seem to indicate that for AmE sponge is a method (making with egg whites, not butter) and for BrE it's a result (a spongy texture). This fits beautifully with other examples of Americans naming things in reference to the form of the ingredients (pre-assembly) and British using names relating to the form of the result. See previous discussions of mashed potato(es) and scrambled egg(s) and burgers and hot dogs for other examples.]

But BrE speakers are more likely to call it sponge than to call it sponge cake, if that's the kind of cake they're talking about. A Victoria sponge (aka Victoria sandwich) is a two-layer cake with jam (and often cream) in the middle (no icing/frosting on top)—a very common cake in England. On GBBO they talk about lots of different types of sponge, like genoise or joconde, but that's specialist jargon that you don't tend to hear elsewhere. If you want more about those, see this Wikipedia entry.

from Meg Rivers Bakers

A reason that BrE speakers need to talk about sponge is that it's not necessarily the default cake type. Fruit cakes are very traditional and (get ready for a shocker, Americans) even loved in England. You cannot imagine my disappointment the first time I was handed a slice of English wedding cake and discovered it wasn't a nice, white sponge cake like I was expecting, but a fruit cake as in the photo to the left. When I got married in England, I had to insist that one of our cake's layers was not fruit. I didn't care what it was, as long as it wasn't fruitcake. 

(A note on spelling: AmE prefers fruitcake and BrE goes both ways: fruit cake or fruitcake.)

The traditional English Christmas cake is also a fruit cake. This has been adopted to a small degree in the US, where there is some tradition of giving fruitcakes as Christmas gifts. (When/where I was a kid, the local Lions Club sold them as Christmastime fundraiser. It seems they still do in New Zealand.) But Americans also have the tradition of mocking fruitcakes as the worst cake and the worst gift, starting with Johnny Carson in 1973: "The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other." American fruitcakes are generally unfrosted/uniced, whereas English Christmas cakes have white royal icing (see link) and decoration.

American wedding cakes are often made of white cake, which is a kind of sponge made with only the whites of the egg (here's a recipe—notice how it Americanly never uses the word sponge). Americans also talk about yellow cake, where the yolks are left in. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting is a well-known combination. I could link to another recipe, but I'll instead show a picture of a very typical American cake mix—these, like many things, come in many more varieties in the US than in the UK. 

While there aren't as many cake mixes in the UK, there are a lot of long-life ready-made cakes in boxes. (Something that surprised me when I moved to England.) The popularity of one supermarket chain's Colin the Caterpillar cake (the birthday cake for one side of my UK family) gave rise to the 'generification' of the caterpillar cake, which gave rise to lawsuits and news stories last year. (Click on the last link for pictures.)

Another cake type I've tweeted about a lot is coffee cake:

Other US cake types include (links are to Wikipedia):

  • angel food cake (a very light sponge made with egg whites and cream of tartar—an ingredient that seems to show up in US baking a lot more than UK baking)  
  • devil's food cake, which would probably be called chocolate fudge cake in BrE
  • pound cake, which isn't necessarily American, but it's much more common in the US—and thus shows up nearly seven times as much in AmE as BrE in the GloWbE corpus.

On the UK side, one runs into lemon drizzle cake a lot, while in the US one mostly gets lemon cake or lemon bars.

Image from Wikipedia
No discussion of the BrE meaning of cake is complete without mention of the Jaffa cake, which Americans would call a cookie. It is a little disc of sponge cake with a bit of orange jam/[AmE] jelly on top and dark chocolate on top of that. [I'd originally written BrE jelly/AmE gelatin here, which it might well be, but I went with what Wikipedia said.] There was a famous court case about whether such things should be taxed, since there is (or was?) VAT ('value-added tax', approximately AmE sales tax) on chocolate-covered (BrE) biscuits (AmE cookies), which are a luxury item, but no VAT on cakes, which are, apparently, a necessity. Part of the decision to label them as cakes was based on the appraisal that cakes go hard when they get stale, whereas (British) biscuits go soft when they're stale (thus demonstrating a main difference between BrE biscuit and AmE cookie).

cake accoutrements & shapes

The utensil with which you lift a slice of cake is a cake slice (BrE 1810s) or a cake server (AmE ?1890s).

The shape of a cake depends on what you bake it in—in AmE a cake pan and in BrE a cake tin. Into the pan/tin you put AmE cake batter or BrE cake mixture. BrE reserves batter for really thin mixtures (and British cakes often seem to have thicker mixtures than American ones).



Ring-shaped cakes made in fluted pans/tins are common in Europe, but it's in the US that they came to be known as Bundt cakes, after the trademarked name of a pan sold by the Nordic Ware company. (See Wikipedia for more.) 

Sheet cakes also seem to be an AmE invention—these are unlayered, frosted (and often decorated) sponge cakes made in a rectangular pan. People talked about them a bit more after Tina Fey went onto Saturday Night Live to propose "sheet caking" as a method of dealing with far-right demonstrations.

(I must say, though, that her sheet cake seems tall enough that it must be layered.)  

In BrE I've seen a sheet cake referred to as a tray bake, but tray bake is used for all sorts of things that are baked in a low, rectangular pan/tin/tray, including the things Americans would call bar cookies. (For past posts about cookies, see here.)

I've written before about AmE cupcake v BrE fairy cake. In BrE today, cupcake has been imported for bigger, fancier ones.

[Late addition, 27 Dec]: I'd thought I'd written here about BrE loaf cakes v American quick breads, but my memory played tricks on me—I must have been remembering writing about it in The Prodigal Tongue. In the book, I use two banana bread recipes as illustration of how many levels AmE and BrE can differ on, and one of the differences is that at one point in the British recipe, the banana bread is called "the cake". Many sweet, loaf-shaped things that Americans bake and might well slice and butter (banana bread, zucchini (BrE courgette) bread, pumpkin bread, ) turn up as [ingredient] loaf cake in UK coffee shops. (When transferred to BrE cake status, they often have icing drizzled over.) Here's a bit of what I wrote in The Prodigal Tongue:

American baking has a traditional category called quick breads, that is, breads leavened without yeast. Quick breads include banana bread, zucchini (= UK courgette) bread, and my mother’s famous pumpkin bread, as well as American biscuits (which look a bit like British scones, but don’t feel or taste like them) and what the British call American-style muffins, including blueberry muffins and bran muffins (though they’ve proved so popular in the UK that the American-style is usually left off these days). In an American cookbook, these recipes are located in the bread chapter. Banana breads and blueberry muffins are relatively new to Britain, and they came over without the larger quick bread category. They thus fell into the cake category.

This isn't the only American baked good that gets re-classified in BrE. When I've made snickerdoodles  for UK folk, I've been congratulated on my "little cakes". (The way I make them—with cream of tartar—gives them a nice cakey texture.) While the cake category is broad in BrE, it's the cookie category that's broad in AmE.

cake expressions

a piece of cake comes from AmE in the 1960s and means 'easy'. BrE has borrowed it and added a more vulgar version: a piece of piss.

that takes the cake (AmE 1830s) versus that takes the biscuit (BrE 1880s)  = 'it is the best/it wins' (though these days it's mostly used ironically to indicate something that "wins" at being the worst).

off one's cake (BrE informal)  = deranged [1880s]; extremely intoxicated [1980s]

bake sale (AmE 1890s) v cake stall (BrE 1600s, but then a more formal business) v cake sale (now more BrE than AmE, but Irish & AmE evidence precedes BrE evidence) = selling donated baked goods as a fundraiser

more links

Before commenting on this post with comments suggesting or asking questions about other baked goods, please see these past blog posts. Comments are welcome on those old posts—conversations on this blog keep on going.

baked goods (misc., includes the usual suspects)

(more on) cookie, (more on) biscuit

icing & frosting

pudding

molasses, treacle, golden syrup, caramel, toffee (and see the comments there for more on gingerbread)

types of: flour, cream, milk, eggs (that last one's less baking orient(at)ed)

bake-off

candy & sweets


P.S. It's the time of year when I declare the US>UK and UK>US Words of the Year and nominations have been very, very thin this year. Please let me know if you have any nominations for these categories!

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zwieback, rusks--and more on biscuits

We're back in the UK, dealing with a very jet-lagged baby. During our US visit, I had reason to think about another BrE/AmE difference in baby paraphernalia terminology, since Grover's got her first two teeth and is working on her next two: (AmE) zwieback (toast) and (BrE) (teething) rusk.

These refer to essentially the same thing (when it comes to the baby product), although rusk can also be used in BrE to refer to a kind of bready stuff that's added to sausages. Zwieback rhymes with 'lie back' or 'lie Bach' (if Bach has a hard /k/ sound at the end) in my dialect, but American Heritage lists a number of alternative pronunciations. It comes from the German for 'twice baked', as that's what they are: first baked as a loaf, then sliced and baked again. In other words, they're biscotti for babies. (In South Africa, rusks are used just like biscotti--eaten by all ages, dunked into coffee or tea.)

Strangely, we weren't able to buy any of this staple of babyhood in the US, although we searched for it in supermarkets and (AmE) drug stores (=BrE chemist's shop, more or less) in three counties. Sometimes we found the empty space on the shelf where they were supposed to be, sometimes not even that. I searched on the web for signs of a recall or shortage, but found no information, except that, like all finger foods apparently, Gerber zwiebacks now carry stern warnings that they should not be given to children who cannot yet crawl with their stomachs lifted off the ground. They've made them part of their 'Graduates for Toddlers' range, suggested for age 10+ months. But, of course, you need them when the baby is cutting her front teeth, long before toddlerdom. Meanwhile, I just ordered some rusks from my UK on-line grocery and found them label(l)ed 'suitable from 4 months'. (Granted, they do give a recipe for making a sort of porridgy thing from them, so that's probably what's suitable for a 4-month-old.) I have to assume that the warnings on baby foods are the product of the litigious culture...but the warnings are so uniform across the brands/products that I wonder whether they're legally required. (Do any of you know?)

Though we didn't find zwiebacks, we did find some non-zwieback teething biscuits (and ignored age and crawling requirements), which Grover loves (and handles very well, despite being completely uninterested in crawling, since crying for Mum/Mom and Dad to pick her up and carry her wherever she wants to go has worked so well for her thus far). This made me return to thinking about biscuits. As we've discussed before, BrE biscuit is and isn't equivalent to AmE cookie, but in discussions comparing those two words, we tend to only mention the AmE sense of biscuit that refers to a scone-like (in appearance, at least) thing. We should acknowledge areas of overlap with BrE biscuit. Americans do use biscuit in the names for some cookie-like things: teething biscuits and dog biscuits. In both cases, these kind of biscuits are hard--harder than normal (BrE) biscuits/(AmE) cookies. I wonder whether these AmE uses of biscuit remain closer to its etymological meaning 'twice cooked', since teething biscuits (at least) typically are twice-baked (perhaps dog biscuits used to be twice-baked, too?). But note that in both of these cases, biscuit in AmE is used as part of a compound. We don't use biscuit alone to refer to crunchy things like these.

Pressing deadlines mean that I have to reduce my posting even further, I'm afraid. I have told myself that I can only blog once a week now, though it pains me to type that. I promise to work on that backlog of requests from kind readers.
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baked goods

Overheard an exchange at the supermarket today. An elderly (English) lady asked an (English) employee, "Where are the scones?" And he replied "There are scones just there." She laughed and said "You say scons, I say scoans. It's just one of those things." I recall debating with friends in Illinois nearly 20 years ago about what the "correct" pronunciation of scone was--that is, which was the more British. But, as our little supermarket drama points out, they're both English. John Wells at University College London has done a survey (NB: link is pdf file), finding that two-thirds of the 2000 Britons surveyed prefer the pronunciation that rhymes with con. He found no differences between the north and the south of England, but Scotland is solid 'scon' territory.

One of my favo(u)rite in-class activities is to have my students work in teams to create lexical field box diagrams (a way of representing the relations between word meanings) for terms for baked goods. This never fails to create vigorous debate, as one needs to decide things like "Is a scone a bread or a cake?" or "Is a bagel a type of roll?" Part of what makes the debates so complicated is the differing extents to which American English has infiltrated the class. (God help any American exchange students in this activity.) Not only is the range of baked goods in the two countries quite different (and taste preferences are quite different too), but even the words for the common items are often different.

Scones are sometimes likened to American biscuits, which one of the great lies of our time. I'm seriously wondering at the fact that there haven't been any wars about it.  Scones and biscuits are only as similar as British muffins are to what Americans call English muffins. Superficially, they look the same, but the tastes and textures are very different. American muffins (e.g. blueberry muffins) have made their way to the UK and become popular, though I have heard older people react to them with puzzlement--"that's not a muffin, that's a cake!"

The most recent Waitrose Food Illustrated magazine includes a letter to the editor that calls for a campaign to resist the word cupcake for what would traditionally be called a fairy cake (pictured) in BrE. To me, the two things are a bit different, with fairy cakes being smaller and typically a specific kind of sponge cake (traditionally with icing), whereas a cupcake is a cup-sized cake of any sort. You can get fairy cakes of other types, but the assumption upon hearing "fairy cake" is that it's a vanilla sponge.

British biscuits would be called crackers in AmE if they're savo(u)ry or cookies if they're sweet, but American cookies have made definite inroads here in the past few years, with cookie shops like Ben's Cookies (my favo(u)rite: peanut) and Millie's Cookies (my favo(u)rite: raspberry and white chocolate) serving American-style cookies. One wouldn't call those biscuits, as they're soft. My dad (what a guy!) sent me Christmas cookies the last time I was in England for the holidays. (One needs familiar baked goods at holidays, I think, and in the UK it's all about mince pies [AmE prefers mincemeat pies].) I showed Better Half how we put a slice of bread in the cookie tin in order to keep the cookies soft. He looked at me in horror and said, "Why would you want to do that?"

Digestive biscuits, or digestives for short, are somewhat like American graham crackers--though they differ in shape (round vs rectangular), and I often find digestives to be a bit greasier than graham crackers. My personal favo(u)rite UK biscuit is the malted milk biscuit (pictured), or if I'm feeling super-naughty the milk chocolate malted milk biscuit--with a layer of chocolate on the bottom.

One could go on and on about baked good differences. Ok, one will.

As an American, I can make a sandwich using sliced bread, a roll, a bagel, whatever. In the UK, sandwiches are made with sliced bread, and anything else is called by the name of the bread it's in--for example, a ham and cheese baguette. A bacon roll is bacon inside a roll that's been sliced in half (usually with ketchup or brown sauce), and is a popular hangover treatment. Just to confuse you, a sausage roll is not a sausage sandwich made with a roll, but a sausage baked in flaky pastry. The closest American equivalent is a pig-in-a-blanket, which, when and where I was a child, referred to a sausage (often a hot dog), wrapped in bread or (American) biscuit dough and cooked. Nowadays, I mostly see it referring to sausages wrapped in pancakes (about which more below).

Baps (BrE; pictured left) are soft rolls for making sandwiches with, and also a crude term for a woman's breasts. (Channel 4 recently ended an advertisement for the film [AmE prefers movie] The Gift with "...and Katie Holmes gets her baps out!" Apparently, the highlight of the film.) Baps (the baked kind, too) are softer than a Kaiser roll (AmE; pictured right), more like a hamburger bun, though American hamburger buns are typically rather brown on the outside, and baps aren't. Better Half tells me that barmy cake is a Northern term for a bap or a bap-like roll, but I've found little printed evidence of it, besides a number of sandwich shop names. [Postscript: see comments for a correction.]

Hamburger bun is odd to English ears because buns are usually thought of as being sweet, such as Chelsea bun (pictured), currant bun and hot cross bun (also found in the US).

The god of British baked goods is the crumpet (pictured), which is kind of cheating, as it isn't actually baked. Crumpets are made on a griddle, though I've never known anyone who makes their own. They are heavenly, and because of their relation to American pancakes (though crumpets have yeast), I like to eat them very un-Britishly with butter and maple syrup, but they're equally euphoria-inducing with raspberry jam. (American pancakes, by the way, are thicker than British pancakes, which are more like crèpes. We eat them with different things and at different times. Be cautious in ordering "American pancakes" in UK restaurants, as they're often not cooked all the way through. A lovely British tradition is treating Shrove Tuesday, i.e. the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, as Pancake Day.) The last time I was in the US, the international section of our megasupermarket had something called crumpets, but they looked nothing like the kind you get here. They looked more like thick, misshapen pancakes. I didn't dare try them, as the disappointment of a bad (and overpriced!) crumpet would be very, very keen. Pikelet is another (regional) word for crumpet, sometimes specifically applied to a flatter type of crumpet. Crumpet, you probably know, is also dated (sometimes crude) slang for an attractive person (usually a woman) or sometimes a term of endearment.

Of course there are many many more cakes and breads and rolls and such that are different in the two countries, but my main aim here (as ever) was to point out differences in the language for them. I'm sure others will fill in some of the items I've missed here...
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icing and frosting

In the meat post, I mentioned making Nigel Slater's recipe for 'ginger cake with clementine frosting'--which appropriately raised the question of why I hadn't marked frosting as AmE. I've changed it now to 'orig. AmE'; since Slater is a BrE speaker one can see that frosting has made inroads here.

But the AmE frosting = BrE icing equation is one of those things that is more complicated than one might assume. That's because icing is AmE too--it just refers to something more specific (at least for me and some others, as we'll see below). To illustrate, here are the ingredients lists (though I have abbreviated the measurements) from two recipes in my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.

Creamy White FrostingPowdered Sugar Icing
1 cup shortening
1.5 tsp vanilla
.5 tsp lemon extract
4.5 to 4.75 cups sifted powdered sugar
3 to 4 Tbsp milk
1 cup powdered sugar
.25 tsp vanilla
Milk


First thing to note is powdered sugar, which is also called confectioner's sugar in AmE, but is called icing sugar in BrE. (I'd say powdered if it were on a doughnut, but confectioner's if I were using it in a recipe. According to the British Sugar website, powdered sugar is not as fine as icing sugar.) Second thing to notice is that the frosting recipe has a big hunk of fat in it (butter is usually used, cream cheese is another option), and the icing recipe doesn't. Now, I do not claim that this is always the case in every AmE speaker's use of icing and frosting, but it is the distinction the (orig. AmE) cookbook (BrE cookery book) seems to make, as neither of the icing recipes has any fat other than some in the milk. Without investigating the recipe, I can tell the difference between frosting and icing (in my dialect, at least) in that frosting (due to its fat content, no doubt) isn't hard or smooth. A glaze would have to be an icing, not a frosting. The UK also has a hard kind called royal icing and makes much more use than US of soft, roll-out fondant icing—all of which would be frosting in my dialect.

CakeSpy has an excellent article on the topic in which they take issue with the many (even expert) claims out there that frosting = icing. Here's an excerpt--remember, this is referring to American English:
This idea is backed up in a Williams-Sonoma release simply entitled Cakes, in which it is noted that icing is "used to coat and/ or fill a cake...similar to a frosting, and the terms are frequently used interchangeably"...but ultimately "an icing is generally thinner and glossier" than frosting, which is "a thick, fluffy mixture, such as buttercream, used to coat the outside of a cake." Of course, the book even goes on to even differentiate a glaze from the two as being "thinner than either a frosting or an icing"...which makes the slope all the more slippery--but does further define the difference between these sweet toppings.

I think that frosting the word is making its way into BrE because frosting the (fatty) thing is making its way in too. The standard cake topping in AmE is a buttercream frosting--but not so in BrE, where one of the most 'classic' cakes, the Victoria sponge, has jam and whipped cream in the cent{er/re}, but just some sugar on top. Christmas cake has royal icing, which is made with egg whites. The UK has taken to many American treats in recent years, such as the (orig. AmE) cupcake (click on the link if you want to bemoan the fate of the (BrE) fairy cake) and cream cheese frosting on carrot cake. I think that the more frequent use of frosting on these shores reflects an appreciation that it's a different kind of thing from icing, and therefore deserves a different name.

Before I go (to bed), a few items of 'any other business':
  • I'm finally making use of my Twitter account (lynneguist), which I'm going to use for linguisticky/cultury kinds of reflections/observations/incidents (saving the other stuff for Facebook). Having followers means something much more mundane these days than it did a decade ago, doesn't it? At any rate, you're welcome to become one...
  • My tweets today were about the fact that I was on (AmE) tv/(BrE) the telly--BBC One, no less--for a few minutes in the context of an hour-long documentary on Scrabble. If you're in the UK and interested, it's one of the better representations of Scrabble on the screen and can be seen on BBC iPlayer for the next week. (Of course I have my quibbles, particularly that they couldn't spell my name right. Sigh. But it was possible for even Scrabble scenesters to learn something from the international perspective in this one.) Rest of World readers, I'm afraid the site won't let you watch, as you don't pay into the BBC pot. (When are they going to stop linking (BrE) Television Licences to television ownership, I wonder?)
  • A sweet side note on Grover's linguistic development: She's a big fan of Cookie Monster, and sings 'C is for Cookie' with gay abandon, but it only struck me the other day how English my little girl is. She helped me cut out Christmas cookies, and when they were baked was eager to have one. She took her first bite and said with wonder '(BrE) Biscuit!' I don't know what she thought cookies were before this point, but now she's able to translate it into her own dialect. (Second birthday coming up in four days--wayhey!)
  • Merry/happy Christmas!
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Word of the Year round-up

Since I presented four Words of the Year in four posts, I thought it might be useful to have one post that lists all four. Then I thought: why not have a look at all of the US-to-UK and UK-to-US Words of the Year since I started doing them in the first year of the blog?  Yeah, why not?  So here's a (orig. AmE) round-up of the words to date, followed by some reflection/critique of my picks to date.

From US to UK I've declared these Words of the Year (click on them to be taken to the original post):
2006: muffin-top
2007: cookie
2008: meh
2009: staycation
2010: shellacking
2011: for the win - FTW
2012: wonk
2013: Black Friday 
2014 (adjective): awesome
2014 (noun): bake-off


From UK to US I've declared these Words of the Year:
2006: wanker 
2007: (baby) bump
2008:  to vet (e.g. a candidate)
2009: to go missing 
2010: ginger (redhead)
2011: kettling
2012: bollocks
2013: bum
2014 (adjective): dodgy
2014 (noun): gap year

My thoughts on these:
  • I think I've got(ten) better at it over the years. The first year is a bit of an embarrassment, because muffin top is probably originally Australian. It may have been reinforced in the UK by use from the US—at least that was my perception at the time--but I would not have picked it today.
  • We see more 'naughty' words in the UK-to-US direction. The only time I've been tempted to have a 'naughty' one in the US-to-UK direction was in 2012 when my British brother-in-law (and various students of mine) took on the AmE use of douche as an insult (short for douchebag). As discussed in those posts, when people take on words for taboo things from other languages or dialects, they often use them in ways and contexts that they wouldn't in their native dialect. This is especially the case of wanker (and derivatives) in AmE, where it just sounds like a funny thing to say and probably does not (for most US users) give rise to images of male masturbation. Americans often find British words for taboo things 'quaint'. At the same time some British folk find Americans prudish in their reactions to our shared taboo words. 'The c-word' has far more currency in the UK and the social barriers involved in the use of 'the f-word' differ considerably. That's a topic for another post. Possibly on this new blog.
  • A number of the US-to-UK words feel rather dated. This is in large part due to the necessity that the word be 'of the year' in some way. British English speakers use lots of Americanisms, but in order to be WotY, I look for active discussions of them or use of them in the news, etc. Meh.
But I don't feel too bad about some of these seeming like weak choices in retrospect. I'm very happy with some of them. And other Word of the Year declarers, including the one I get most excited about, the American Dialect Society, have had misfires too. In the end, it's a bit of fun. And in the words of T. S. Eliot:  "last year's words belong to last year's language/And next year's words await another voice."

I'm sure you'll let us know what you think!
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spunk and spunky

It's our last full day in the US after a (BrE) holiday/(AmE) vacation of nearly a month.  I'd thought I'd catch up on blogging during this downtime, but I started to enjoy actually being on holiday/vacation. Imagine that!

As we rushed to get everything done before leaving my parents' house and my hometown, I asked Better Half to run across the street/road to the (AmE) drug store/(BrE) chemist's to buy a (AmE & BrE) greeting/(BrE) greetings card for my soon-to-be nine-year-old niece. He came back with a very (orig. AmE in this sense*) cute card that was arguably marketed at a younger age group, explaining (with alarm in his voice) that he couldn't bear to buy a (orig. AmE) tweenie-appropriate (not his words) card addressed to 'a spunky girl'.

An hour or so later, we searched with desperation for a place to have lunch with my parents. We'd checked in at the airport, but there is now nowhere in ROC to have anything but a cookie or a pretzel outside (of) the security zone, and our usual diner across the road had closed down. (We found later that JFK is no better--couldn't find a 'proper' restaurant in which to eat after collecting our luggage/before going to our foodless hotel. I blame Homeland Security. And, America, why don't you put sensible things in your airports after security? Like a drug store/chemist's where one could buy baby food and sunscreen in order to get around the 3-oz./100 ml rule? UK airports [orig. AmE i.t.s] rule, oh yeah!)  We ended up at a local (orig. AmE i.t.s) chain restaurant about which the less said, the better. But it thrilled by being in the same (orig./chiefly AmE i.t.s) plaza (i.e. set of retail businesses sharing a [AmE] parking lot/[BrE] car park) as this gym:





And this had BH clamo(u)ring** for a blog post on spunk

Spunk came up, so to speak, in my last post, because the American Heritage Dictionary gave it as a synonym for gumption. And there I had the footnote:
* I've no doubt that some readers will find this definition humorous, as spunk is BrE slang for 'semen'. But the primary meaning in AmE (also found in BrE, and originating from a Scots/northern England dialect for 'spark') is 'Spirit, mettle; courage, pluck' (OED).
In the comments, a couple of US readers claimed familiarity with the 'semen' sense of spunk, but its use in US business names indicates that it is the 'spirit, mettle; courage, pluck' sense that is called to mind first in AmE. (My research has, however, led me to an adult entertainment business in Australia called "Spice and Spunk Strippers". You're welcome.) In BrE, the 'seminal fluid' meaning has been around since at least 1890, and the other meanings (of which there are many) have been around longer, but many of the other meanings (e.g. 'a spark', 'a match', 'a lively person') seem to be more rooted in northern dialects and may not have had much currency down south when the 'semen' meaning took off. Two meanings that aren't marked as dialectal in the OED are 'tinder' and 'One or other of various fungi or fungoid growths on trees, esp. those of the species Polyporus, freq. used in the preparation of tinder'--and perhaps it is that sense from which the 'semen' sense comes (here's a photo of the fungus, you can judge).

Spunky meaning 'Full of spunk or spirit; courageous, mettlesome, spirited' is not marked as dialectal in the OED, but some of the earliest citations seem to be Scottish. (Well the first one, Burns, definitely is, and the second one has the word lassie in it. For some reason the links to the OED sources aren't working for me.) There is no 'semen-y' meaning in the OED, but it certainly exists. The OED does include a 'US & dial' meaning 'Angry, irritable, irascible', but that's not a sense that I hear used, and the citations are all from the 19th century.

At any rate, the semen sense seems to have taken over British minds--or at least the minds of the under-50s, as far as I can tell. I'd be interested to hear whether people in other parts of the UK have the same impression of the spunk(y) situation. Americans, meanwhile, mostly use the word in with positive connotations--and with a definite feminine bias. Here are the top nouns that follow spunky in the Corpus of Contemporary American English:




So, this is yet another example of Americans innocently using words that sound "dirty" in BrE. And before you comment, please note that there is a £5 tax on this blog for typing fanny pack.***



Oh--and before I go:
If you've ever wondered what a Lynneguist sounds like (after 12 years of anglification), wonder no more! Patrick Cox's latest World in Words podcast is an interview with me about all sorts of things, like how my immigrant vowels have shifted, criticism-softening devices in BrE, and language and social class. He promises a part 2 after his holiday. I had a lovely time (that's me all Britified) speaking with him, as we have converse experiences--he's an Englishman living in the US. I hope it might be of interest to some of you too...




*There are several 'in this sense' originally-AmE items here, so henceforth I abbreviate 'in this sense' as 'i.t.s'.
** Quote: "You could blog about that."
*** Payable to: http://www.msf.org/


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migraine, Miss Marpleisms, and linguistic imperialism

Last week I had two emails from fans of the recent British-made television versions of Miss Marple mysteries, which are apparently playing in North America at the moment.  As is often the case with British costume dramas and mysteries (those things that a certain class of American anglophiles like[s]), it is co-produced by British (ITV) and American (WGBH Boston) television companies.  (In a reversal of the stereotype of the original-series-producing television channels in the two countries, the British ITV is a commercial channel, while WGBH is part of the US's Public Broadcasting System.)  WGBH has a long history of Anglophilia; it is the home of Masterpiece Theatre (now just 'Masterpiece') and Mystery! (rebranded as 'Masterpiece Mystery!').  The former was originally introduced by 'Letter from America' broadcaster Alistair Cooke, and the latter by Vincent Price, and they are iconic program(me)s in the States to the extent that Sesame Street created a long-running parody, Monsterpiece Theatre (hosted by Alistair Cookie) and a parody mystery program(me) hosted by Vincent Twice Vincent Twice.  Of course, the only reason I mention this is to have the excuse to post one:



But that has nothing to do with Miss Marple, does it?  Both of my Miss Marple correspondents (American Judy and @mikcooke) have lived in the UK, but watched Miss Marple in North America and were surprised by apparent Americanisms and anachronisms in the script.  Apparently these recent re-tellings of the Miss Marple stories are known for playing fast and loose with the original Agatha Christie texts.  From Wikipedia:
The show has sparked controversy with some viewers for its adaptations of the novels. The first episode, The Body in the Library, changed the identity of one of the killers and introduced lesbianism into the plot; the second episode explored Miss Marple's earlier life; the third episode contained a motive change and the fourth episode cut several characters and added affairs into the story and emphasized a lesbian subplot that was quite discreet in the original novel. The second series also saw some changes. By the Pricking of My Thumbs was originally a Tommy and Tuppence story, while The Sittaford Mystery was also not originally a Miss Marple book and the identity of the killer was changed. The third series has two adaptations that were not originally Miss Marple books: Towards Zero and Ordeal by Innocence. The fourth series continues the trend with Murder is Easy and Why Didn't They Ask Evans?. The fifth series does the same, with The Secret of Chimneys and The Pale Horse.

@mikcooke points out the following:
  • Jane Marple phoned the local police station and asked for "Detective X" (AmE) and would have asked for "Inspector X" [This inspired a 'Difference of the Day' tweet last week--ed.]
  • She spoke about a man who took the bus from the "train station" (AmE) instead of "station" (BrE)
  • The village vicar was in traditional black attire but wore a grey trilby (inappropriate)
  • Various characters used current casual parlance (if not outright Americanisms, sorry, AmE) "not to worry", "waste of space"
  • A man lent another "half a million pounds (c. 1950)" which would be about a billion pounds c. 2010 (a foolish updating, which is never done in the Poirot series)
And Judy queried the pronunciation of migraine, which was pronounced "in the American way" by one of the English characters.  This is how the OED represents--and comments upon--it:
Brit. /'mi:greIn/, /'m^IgreIn/, U.S. /'maIgreIn/   
In other symbols, the BrE pronunciations are 'me grain' or 'my grain', whereas the AmE pronunciation is always 'my grain'.  The symbols are a bit different for the 'my grain' pronuniciations because the OED represents the diphthong represented by the 'y' in 'my' differently for the two dialects--claiming a slight difference in where in the mouth the diphthong starts.

But not everyone agrees that there's a distinction between the two pronunciations of my. For instance,  this dialect coach represents the 'price' vowel (for that's what phoneticians tend to call it) as being the same in the two dialects.  It's represented the same in this chart in Wikipedia, too.  The OED uses a scheme developed by Clive Upton that makes this and a few other distinctions that aren't universally made.  John Wells, writing about the advantages and disadvantages of Upton's system, says:
Price. The standard notation might seem to imply that the starting point of the price diphthong is the same as that of the mouth diphthong. In practice, speakers vary widely in how the two qualities compare. In mouth people in the southeast of England typically have a rather bat-like starting point, while in price their starting point is more like cart. In traditional RP the starting points are much the same. Upton's notation implicitly identifies the first element of price with the vowel quality of cut -- an identification that accords with the habits neither of RP nor of southeastern speech (Estuary English), and strikes me as bizarre.
I'm going to go with Wells on this one.  This means that American 'my grain' pronunciation is a known variant in BrE.  And in fact I've heard 'my grain' so much in England that I was beginning to wonder whether 'mee-grain' was just a South Africanism (since that was where I was first introduced to the pronunciation).

The OED also has a historical note on the pronunciation that first discusses whether the second vowel is pronounced as it would be in French (from which the word came to us--about 500 years ago) or whether it's "naturalized" to the English pronunciation of the spelling 'ai', as in grain.  It also says that two American dictionaries from around the turn of the 20th century listed the pronunciation as if the first syllable had the vowel in mitt and the stress on the second syllable--but that it later turned to the 'my' pronunciation that we know today.  It's unclear here whether the 'my' pronunciation started in the US and spread to the UK, or whether it might have been invented in both places.  To me, it doesn't look like the most natural way to pronounce that spelling--if I saw the word for the first time, I'd probably go for the abandoned /mI'greIn/ (mih-GRAIN)--so, how it turned to 'my grain' I don't know...


At any rate, the English character in Miss Marple could have naturally come upon that pronunciation, but I'm betting that it's anachronistic, like many of the things that @mikcooke noted.  So, has Miss Marple been updated or Americanized?  Probably a little of both.


Now, I've been feeling a bit down about all of the anti-Americanism-ism that's been going on in the UK press these days--everything from The Economist to our local property-listings magazine seems to have a feature or a series that urges its readers to defend the Mother Tongue against (in the words of the latter example) "ghastly, overblown, crass, managerial Americanisms".  It's not infrequent that the alleged Americanisms are (a) long-standing non-standard (or formerly standard) Briticisms, (b) management jargon that didn't necessarily start in the US and that is reviled in the US as much as in the UK, or (c) Australianisms.  

Why does all this make me uncomfortable?  It's not that I think Americanisms should or shouldn't be imported, it's just the vehemence and bile with which the (often unresearched) claims are made--the apparent assumption that if it's American, then it's crass and unnecessary.  (The Economist doesn't like gubernatorial because it "is an ugly word."  Is that the best you can do, Economist?)  One could point out many Americanisms that have found very comfy homes in BrE, and which no one complains about.  


But the implicit anti-Americanism in the anti-Americanismism becomes more understandable when one thinks about the American resistance --at an institutional level-- to importing British voices and words.  In addition to producing globali{z/s}ed versions of Miss Marple, British (pop-)cultural products tend to be remade (many would say [orig. AmE] "dumbed down") in some way or another for the American market--whereas the British take their American media mostly (AmE) straight-up.  So, a generation of British youth spout the slang of Friends, while Americans watched re-planted American versions of Coupling and The Office (and lots more).  In the case of The Office, the re-potting has been so successful that the American version is shown in the UK.  In the case of Coupling, oh I feel embarrassed for my homeland.  (See this wonderful compare-and-contrast video to see just how broad and--how can I say this? oh yeah!--terrible American comic acting can be.)  But it's not just changing the situations of situation comedies.  When I heard my American family talking about "Oprah Winfrey's Life on the Discovery Channel", I told them they should watch the David Attenborough series by the same name.  Then I realized it was the David Attenborough series, re-voiced by Oprah.  (You can read this discussion on which is better.  Apparently Sigourney Weaver has re-voiced previous Attenborough series.)  The American television programming that keeps British voices is on the channels that 'intellectuals' are supposed to watch: PBS, BBC America and some co-productions on premium cable channels (HBO, Showtime).  And while there have recently been lots of British actors speaking in American accents on American television (American-columnist-for-UK-newspaper Tim Dowling rates them here), for British characters it's not uncommon to have a North American speaking with a non-authentic accent--see most of the "English" characters (save Giles) on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example.


Of course, ask Americans, and they'll usually say that they love the English (the rest of the UK doesn't really get a look-in) and would love to see more of them.  But that's not what they're getting--and for the most part, they don't seem to mind.  And this is why there usually are ten times as many candidates for AmE-to-BrE Word of the Year as BrE-to-AmE candidates. And why many of its speakers feel that British English is 'under attack' from an imperialistic America.  (But a country that prides itself on its sense of irony should eat that up, eh?)
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    Words of the Year 2006

    Ta-da! Here are the results of the first annual SbaCL Words of the Year Awards, celebrating the words that demonstrated a lessening of the separation of our common language in 2006. I thank readers of this blog for their nominations. My selections from among those nominations have been based upon the timeliness of the nomination (in other words, if the word enjoyed a particular surge in popularity this year) and the success of the word in the relevant dialect--i.e., whether people are actually using the word.

    The first category is Most Useful Import from American English to British English. This is a difficult category because of the regularity with which words travel from AmE to BrE these days. Nominations included Size 00, through when used to describe an inclusive range (e.g. the numbers 1 through 5), and cookie. Only the first of these meets the timeliness criterion, but I think it must be disqualified on two counts. First, its lack of nativi{s/z}ation in BrE is evident from the fact that no one seems to be able to agree how to pronounce it. Second, it remains a name for an American thing. American size 00 is equivalent to British size 2. The term size 00 was in the news a lot, but it is regularly noted as an American phenomenon.

    So, the winner of best AmE import to BrE is...


    muffin topthe roll of fat that bulges over the waistband of (BrE) trousers/(AmE) pants that are too tight and too low
    Muffin top is found almost as often in the UK news as size 00 this year, but when it is used, it's usually to refer to British muffin tops--thus clearly filling a gap in the BrE lexicon. Here we must take issue with Hadley Freeman at the Guardian who incorrectly (a) confuses a muffin top with a double hip (a phenomenon that is not dependent on tight jeans) and (b) claims that muffin top is a British coining. As I've pointed out here before, the term depends on an understanding of American muffins that few BrE speakers have--since it's rare to see an "American-style muffin" in the UK that has an actual muffin top, as illustrated at the right here. And it's been popular in AmE slang for several years now, while it's still used somewhat tentatively in BrE. The majority of my 19-year-old students did not know the term at the start of the Autumn (AmE prefers Fall) term this year, but few Americans who have recently survived high school would have missed the term.

    On to our next category: Most Useful Import from British English to American English. Here there is a clear winner, with no other nominations meeting the timeliness criterion. And the WotY goes to:

    wanker (and its derivatives)
    a detestable person, a loser, a self-aggrandi{s/z}ing person
    The meaning of wanker is difficult to make precise, but it derives from the BrE verb to wank, i.e. to masturbate. Wanker has been sneaking into American popular culture under the radar for some years (e.g. Peggy Bundy's maiden name on television's Married with Children [1987] was Wanker, which was certainly meant as a joke that could make it past the censors' noses--though it would have more trouble doing so on British television). But it came into its own in AmE this year, especially, it seems, in political blogging, where many variants on the term are found, including: wankiest (in American Prospect), wankerism (quoted on Firedoglake), wank-fest (in a letter to Salon.com), wankery (on Brendan Calling from the Underground). Though some of these don't include the -er suffix, I'm treating this as backformation from wanker rather than derivation from wank because of my hunch that wanker was the vanguard word in the move from BrE to AmE. In other words, the British had the word wank and made wanker out of it, wanker travel(l)ed to America, then lost its -er. Notice that all of the above words are derogatory, but there is at least one positive member of the wank(er) family: wankalicious. According to the Urban Dictionary (never the most reliable source), this describes something "so good it compares with masturbation". My understanding of the term, however, is that it's something so good that it inspires masturbation. This one definitely derives from wank without involving wanker.

    Finally, our last category of the evening, Best Word Coined by a Reader of this Blog. And the WotY goes to:
    Googleschaden
    "the way in which pundits' past pontifications can now come back to haunt them"

    Regular reader/commenter Paul Danon created the word, after Andrew Sullivan created the definition (and an ill-fitting word) on his blog, which was forwarded to this blog by M.A.Peel during the nomination stage. Sullivan then noted Paul's word on his blog, leading more than 9500 of his readers to this blog (and the entry in which Paul coined the term) in two days. While I'm sure many of you have created new words this year, and we even witnessed monetary exchange for a new word on this blog, Googleschaden was definitely the one that got the most attention this year. Tip for next year's WotY contest: make sure your word has a good PR machine behind it.

    Thanks again to everyone who's played a role in making the first SbaCL WotY happen!
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    Abbr.

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