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


When I started this blog, I wrote short little posts about things I noticed in British and American English. Few read them, and I usually managed to write three a week.  Since then, many more readers and commenters have appeared ([AmE] howdy! thank you!). As I imagine this larger audience responding to posts about X with "But what about Y?", I try to fit the Ys in.  Sometimes the Ys are other expressions that I could discuss; sometimes they are beliefs about language that may or may not have basis in reality. As a result, my posts have got(ten) much longer and less frequent. (The latter is also due to parenthood and more responsibility at work. But [BrE] hey-ho.) I now look back on old posts and think: I can do better! So I'm going to have [more BrE than AmE] another go at the pronunciation of herb, which I first dedicated six sentences to in the second month of this blog.

I've more sentences about it because I (BrE) go about/(AmE) go around discussing it in my talk: "How America Saved the English Language". It's one of a long list of differences for which the folklore is faulty, with people like comedian David Mitchell (below) assuming and repeating that Americans don't pronounce the 'h' in herb because we think we (or the word) are French. (The implication here is that the British are not under the illusion that they are French. Except of course that they eat aubergine rather than eggplant and increasingly use -ise instead of -ize and spell centre with the letters in a very French order. And so on. And so forth.)

Mitchell went to Cambridge University, apparently (according to his Wikipedia bio) because he was rejected by Oxford. I can only assume this has caused him some sort of allergy to the Oxford English Dictionary and that this caused him not to research the claims he made here about herb as well as tidbit/titbit. Had he just looked it up, he would have found the following information.

From the Middle Ages, the word in English was generally spelled (or spelt, if you prefer) erbe, from the Old French erbe—but sometimes it was spelled with an h, after the Latin herba. From the late 15th century the h was regularly included in the spelling in English, but it continued not to be pronounced for nearly 400 years. This was not a problem for English, of course. We often don't pronounce written h, for example in hour and honest and heir, and our ancestors didn't pronounce it in humo(u)r, hospital, or hotel. Change and confusion about these things leads to the oddity of some people insisting that some (but not other) words that start with a pronounced h should nevertheless be preceded by an, not a, as if the h weren't pronounced. (AmE) To each his/her own/(BrE) each to his/her own...

The h in herb finally started being pronounced in the 19th century in Britain. By this time, the US was independent and American English was following a separate path from its British cousin. Why did the English start pronouncing it then? Because that's when h-dropping was becoming a real marker of social class in England. If you wanted to be seen as literate (or at least not Cockney) you had to make sure that people knew you lived in a house, not an 'ouse. This 1855 cartoon from Punch (reproduced as a postcard for the British Library's Evolving English exhibition) illustrates:

The result seems to have been more self-consciousness about pronouncing h where it was in the spelling, and some h's got louder where they had not previously been heard. Why did this happen to herb and hotel but not honest or heir? I don't know.

So, pronouncing herb without the h is the Queen's English, if we're talking Elizabeth I, rather than Elizabeth II.

And in case you were wondering:  Americans pronounce the h in the name Herb, which has a different history from the plant herb.
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(h)erbs and (h)aitches

Just as it makes Americans giggle to hear English people say reckon, I've elicited numerous gasps and giggles with my American pronunciation of herb (more like urb). In fact, I've had to take up saying it the English way, with the /h/, so as to maintain any kind of credibility as an educated person.

[Update, 14 June 2006: As is often the case, Americans have the older form of the word--the British used to say 'erb too. It just happened to be mentioned in the Guardian's Weekend magazine this week. See Michael Quinion's World Wide Words for more...]

[Update, 3 September 2014: I've now done a proper post on herb.]

A common response to an American pronunciation of herb is: "Are you a Cockney, then?" Dropping aitches is a definite marker of lower social class--and these days it's fairly rare. In fact, aitches get inserted sometimes in the name of the letter, i.e. haitch. This is heard in the semi-humorous admonision to not 'drop your haitches' (and thus sound 'common'), but is heard unironically in many people's everyday speech, although it is not considered to be 'standard' usage. The story is that it's the Irish pronunciation, and I've read in various places that haitch marks Catholics in Northern Ireland and the Catholic-educated in Australia. I've noticed no such associations here, and neither have friends of mine, though one did suggest that it might be a marker of region rather than religion here. Indeed, my haitch-saying friend is from Liverpool, whose dialect (Scouse) is influenced by Irish immigrants.

As long as I'm talking about herbs...there aren't many that differ in name between the US and UK. Americans call the green part of the coriander plant cilantro, while the British call it coriander. Americans use coriander to refer to the spice made by drying and grinding the plant's fruit. Presumably the difference exists because Americans were introduced to the herb in Mexican cooking, whereas the British know it from South/Southeast Asian cooking. Once, reading a British recipe in Texas, I got confused. I knew that British coriander wasn't meant to refer to the powder in my coriander jar, but could only remember that the American translation also started with C. So I put a whole lot of cumin into my chicken soup. I ate about three bites before I decided that there was nothing to do but toss it out.

Oregano differs in pronunciation, with Americans saying oREGano and the British saying oreGANo. In South Africa (where I first started picking up 'commonwealth English'), they use oreGANum.

As for other herbs and spices, I have been asked "Why do Americans put cinnamon on EVERYTHING?" I can only answer (ignoring the hyperbole): "Because it's tasty."
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eating faggots

My family (AmE) is/(BrE) are here this week, so I haven't a lot of time for blogging. You'd think that there would be a lot to blog about, with six Americans clashing with English culture constantly, but the linguistic conversations are mostly of the "Chips are French fries!" variety, and the miscommunications mostly occur when asking waiters for water (OK, I'll blog about that next).

Most menus need a fair amount of translation, both for the dishes that are not eaten as much in America and for the food names that are different. So far, the one that's caused the most raised eyebrows was beef and herb faggots. Better Half described these as English meatballs, which seemed like a reasonable description, but all of the recipes I've found this morning (for beef or pork faggots) involve a fair amount of offal--which is not what comes to mind when I think 'meatballs'. Here is a recipe for the curious.
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solder (and a bit about calm)

I've had requests from Andy J and (long ago) Doug Sundseth to cover this one. Here's an excerpt from Andy's recent email on the topic:

I watch a lot of Youtube videos which feature people who self-describe as makers (part DIYers and part semi-professional craftsmen and women). I have noticed that also without exception those based in the USA and Canada pronounce the word solder as sodder, whereas we BrE speakers would invariably sound the L in both the noun and the verb solder.
The North American variation seems at odds with the similar phonic construction in soldier or for example folder which, to my ear based on film and TV utterances, seem to be pronounced in a largely similar way to BrE, ie the L is sounded.

Before I go into the history of the word, I want to do a little bit of "here's how a linguist thinks".  Andy's got(ten) us started along the right lines here, in that (a) he talks about variation, rather than deviation, and (b) he looks for broader patterns. It's important to look for the broader patterns because we know that:
  • Where spelling clashes with pronunciation (that is, where spelling is not phonetic), the spelling often gives clues for finding an earlier pronunciation.
  • Linguistic sound changes are very often regular. That is to say, they apply across all words that would be susceptible to that change. 
(A bit on how linguists write: putting a letter between / / means I'm using the International Phonetic Alphabet —or a simplified version of it in this case— and talking about sounds. Where I'm talking about spelling, I'm using italics.)

We can illustrate those two points with the /r/ after vowels. In my inland northern American accent, I would pronounce the -er in solder with an /r/. In my spouse's London accent, he would pronounce it as an unstressed vowel /ə/ —no /r/.  That difference carries on to every word that ends in -er (and every other r that follows a vowel, actually). If we look at that spelling and those pronunciations, we are well justified in thinking that earlier English pronounced the /r/ there, and the English of southern England later stopped pronouncing it. Otherwise, why would all those r's be there in the spelling? And indeed, that's the case.

Pic from (AmE) Jewelry Making Daily
But in this case, as Andy notes, there is no evidence of a regular sound change. Most Americans don't pronounce an /l/ in solder, but if there had been a sound change that got rid of /l/ after a vowel or before a /d/, then Americans should pronounce folder as "fodder" and soldier as "sodyer", and Americans just don't do that.

In the absence of evidence for a regular sound change, we have two possibilities:
  1. the /l/ is not an original part of the pronunciation, but people started pronouncing an /l/ because they saw it there in the spelling. This happens often enough that we have a name for this kind of sound change: spelling pronunciation.
  2. the /l/ is an original part of the pronunciation, but for some idiosyncratic reason, someone started pronouncing it without the /l/ and that caught on. That can happen too.
So our question is: which of those is it?  (And does it have to be just one of those?) Here's where we have to look at the evidence from the past.

The OED gives the following historical spellings of the word (the numbers indicate the centuries in which you see those spellings):
α. ME soudur, ME soudure, soudour, sowdur, sowdowre; ME soudre, ME–15 souder, ME–16 (18 dialect) sowder (ME sowdere, 15 soweder); 18 dialect sowther. β. ME sawdur, sawdyr, 15 sawyer; ME sawd(e)re, 15 sawder (16 sawter), 15–16 saudre, 16 sauder. γ. 15–17 soder (16 soader, sodar), 16– sodder; 15 sother, 16 soather. δ. ME souldour, 15–16 soulder (15 sowl-). ε. 16 soldure, 16– solder
I've highlighted the five paths that the spelling seems to follow (indicated by the Greek letters). Why five paths? Because language is a moveable, social thing. The word shows up in English in the period when English was getting a lot of vocabulary from France (after the Norman Invasion and all that). But words don't have to just show up once. And once they do show up, they don't stay the same.And when they change, they can change in different ways in different places.

The Old French word that solder comes from is represented in the OED etymology as:
< Old French soud-, saud-, soldure (compare Italian saldatura ), < souder , etc.,
Three of the paths are  L-less (and these are the paths for which the OED has more examples—so the L-less spellings were more widespread. That's because it came into English without an /l/ sound because it mostly didn't have one in French. The Italian comparison word that has an L tells us that there's a fair chance that the French came from a Latin word with an /l/, which the French subsequently lost. And that's indeed what we find: the Latin etymon is solidare 'to make solid'. Both French and Italian dropped the Latin word's second syllable, but French did it by losing a consonant and Italian by losing a vowel.

So what about the two L-ful paths? There are (again) two possibilities (plus the possibility that it is both of these to different degrees/in different places):
  1. Maybe some of the people who brought the word to England did pronounce an /l/ in it, and so the spelling reflected that. Note the soldure spelling that existed in Old French.
  2. Maybe some scribes started inserting an L because they knew the word came from Latin and they wanted to hono(u)r its Latin roots. 
If the answer is (1), then it is possible that the minority pronunciation was what came to be standard in the spelling, and eventually that pronunciation became standard across England.  Maybe the word travel(l)ed to the US between those two standardi{s/z}ation events.

But (2) is more likely, judging from the clear history of sentimentality for Latin affecting English spelling. Here's an article by Arika Okrent on weirdly spelt words, and indeed she includes solder in the same category as debt and receipt, as victims of re-Latini{s/z}ing in the 15th and 16th centuries. The L got added into the spelling, and then later, people started pronouncing it as a spelling pronunciation.

We've seen a similar story for herb: the spelling got Latini{s/z}ed, and the English (eventually) went for a spelling pronunciation, but Americans carried on with the old pronunciation.

When did the spelling-pronunciation shift happen? After America had had its English from England (mostly).  The OED notes that Smart's 1840 pronouncing dictionary (from England) included only the /l/-less pronunciation, but it looks like this was very much a 'live' problem in the 18th and 19th centuries (when Englsih had been burbling along in America for over 100 years). The 1824 edition of Walker's Critical Pronouncing Dictionary said this:

Click to embiggen
If you can't read that: the key point is that Johnson's dictionary of 1755 preferred spelling it without the L, but the L spelling was already well established. It acknowledges differences in opinion about the pronunciation among orthoepists [pronunciation prescribers] and that the L-less pronunciation was used by workmen, but "workmen ought to take their pronunciation from scholars and not scholars from workmen".  (Ah, social class in England...)

Solder does seem to be exactly the kind of thing whose spelling would revert to older form in AmE, so it's a little surpising we don't spell it sodder.  Noah Webster did try to change it. At solder in his 1828 dictionary there is a cross-reference to soder, which reads:

click to embiggen

It's no wonder soder didn't catch on, since it looks like it should have the same first syllable as soda. If only Webster had doubled the d.

While I've been known (to myself) to misspell it as sodder, that spelling hasn't had much traction in AmE, and neither has Webster's, as can be seen in numbers from the Corpus of Historical American English. (The Soders in the 2000s here are all someone's name.)

Interestingly, for those who find such things interesting, the addition of L to an L-less French borrowing is also why we have an L in salmon (French saumon, Latin salmo(n)), but there's been no big movements toward(s) pronouncing that L in English. This just goes to show that spelling pronunciation changes are not regular changes.

And I expect someone will have calm on their mind now. That one's pronounced with no /l/ in England but some Americans do have an /l/ in it. The vowels differ in these cases, but then most of our vowels differ, don't they? I believe my own calm varies from pronunciation to pronunciation (and probably did so even before I moved to the UK). Calm differs from solder in that it came into English from French with its L. However, it looks like not everyone was pronouncing it, since there are some caume/cawme spellings in the 1500s and 1600s.

This seems to be a case of the /l/ being lost because it's in a phonetically complicated place—between two other sonorous elements. An /l/ after a vowel/at the end of a syllable is pronounced differently than one at the front, and that back-of-the-syllable "dark /l/" often does strange things, especially in combination with other consonants. You can see (or hear) in Irish and Scottish English the evidence that /l/+consonant combinations often feel a bit unnatural. Those Englishes often sort out /l/+consonant by inserting a vowel between the consonants, which "un-darkens" the /l/.  Filmfi-lum, Colm Co-lum (you can hear that at 1:50 in this Derry Girls clip, and any excuse to watch Derry Girls should not be snubbed). English English (and French before it, it seems) has sorted this out by just not pronouncing the /l/. Whether some Americans have added it back in as a spelling pronunciation, or whether the /l/ came over as the original pronunciation and stayed, I'm not sure.

I've been careful to say "England" and not "BrE" in this post, since we're talking about pronunciations and they can vary more than spellings.  I've only gone with the pronunciations in the OED, so your mileage may vary. It would be interesting in particular to hear about Scottish and Irish pronunciations in the comments, since they do interesting things with /l/+consonant combinations. But also please let me know if you know of variations within England or elsewhere.

P.S.  Yes, the vowels are different too. Vowels change very easily, so that wasn't as interesting to me here. A consonant change is more of a mystery! BrE solder rhymes with folder and AmE rhymes with fodder. YouGlish is a great resource for hearing words pronounced. You can set it for AmE or BrE, and then use the 'forward' button to skip to the next pronunciation.
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stammering and stuttering

So, I haven't seen The King's Speech, and yes I'd like to and yes I should, but you've got to find me a (orig. AmE) babysitter and (more difficult) a few hours first. Sometimes these days it seems like my cinephile wedding in England's oldest (BrE) cinema/(AmE) movie theater should be annulled on the basis that I haven't been able to keep up with (more current in BrE) the pictures since becoming a parent. In spite of this and in hono(u)r of the popularity and awardiness of The King's Speech, let's talk about stammering and stuttering.

When Ben Zimmer emailed to suggest it as a timely topic, I'd thought I'd done it. But it turns out that instead I'd commented about it on someone else's blog (as has happened before). The nice thing about getting blog suggestions from a seasoned lexicographer like Ben is that he pretty much does the work for me.

So, let's get the big claim out of the way. BrE stammer  = AmE  stutter. When I have said this before, I have been "corrected" by people who insist that they're different. They get their information from people like the novelist David Mitchell,* whose novel Black Swan Green is quoted on the Engine Room blog (the one I had commented at):

Most people think stammering and stuttering are the same but they're as different as diarrhoea and constipation. Stuttering's when you say the first bit of the word but can't stop saying it over and over. St-st-st-stutter. Like that. Stammering's where you get stuck straight after the first bit of the word. Like this. St...AMmer!

I've quoted Alan Cruse on synonymy before, but I'll do it again: "natural languages abhor absolute synonyms just as nature abhors a vacuum". The words stammer and stutter both exist in both dialects, which is confusing for us. And so we look for differences between them in order to justify the existence of two words. But the differences we "find" for these pairs often have little to do with how people actually use the words. What is different in this case is which one is used as a technical term for a habitual speech impediment in the US or UK. The one that plays the role of non-'technical' term in each dialect can be used for non-pathological speech disfluencies.

Ben Zimmer (has) sent a couple of helpful Google Ngrams. These show stammer (blue line) versus stutter (red line) in American English and British English books between 1800 and 2000.

The British English version:

And the American English version:

If it is the case that stammering and stuttering are different things, then it looks like in the 1960s, they found a cure for stammering in America, and somehow that accidentally brought on more stuttering. Of course that's not what happened. What happened is that stutter took over in AmE as the usual term. In BrE, stammer has always been the more common word, but we can see possible Americani{s/z}ation in recent years--or else what has been label(l)ed as 'British English' in Google Books is not all that reliable in the past decade. That wouldn't surprise me. It's easy to see the unreliability of Google Ngrams in searching for dialect-specific instances of the phrases has a stutter and has a stammer. In these cases,  there is less data (or fewer data, if you prefer), and therefore it is more subject to weirdnesses. The BrE Ngram is unsurprising: it shows just has a stammer. The AmE one is wackier:

But if one clicks on the link to the 'American English' Google Books hits for 1983, one finds that some of the instances of the supposedly American cases of has a stammer come from The New Statesman (UK) and India Today.

If, after all this, you don't believe me that these words are dialectal equivalents, then I ask you to believe the British Stammering Association:


"Stammering" is the same as "stuttering". "Stammering" is more often used in the UK and Ireland. "Stuttering" is usual in the United States.

(The US National Stuttering Association seems to be silent on the matter.) 

Thanks again to Ben for the research contributions to this post. This is my third post of the week, although it must be admitted that one of them wasn't a 'real' post. But I'm going to have to count that one in meeting my promise to blog three times this week--as I've received a shockingly (orig. AmE) humongous pile of (BrE) marking/(more usual AmE) grading that must be finished in the next few days. Back next weekend, I hope!

* The comedian David Mitchell was one of the People Who Are Wrong About American English in my Catalyst Club talk this month. He was metaphorically paraded about in metaphorical handcuffs made out of OED pages for his comments on tidbit and herb. Please find me a David Mitchell who hasn't said unsupported things about BrE/AmE differences, before I develop an unhelpful stereotype about those so named.
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NYT Spelling Bee: an archive of disallowed BrE words

Twitter has been my main internet stomping ground since 2009, but I've been withdrawing my labo(u)r from it since October, when it became much more volatile for some reason

The New York Times Spelling Bee has been my morning-coffee activity for some of those years, and since November 2020 I've been jokingly tweeting the BrE words that it hasn't accepted. These go in a thread of posts that always start: 

Perfectly Common BrE Words the @NYTimesGames Spelling Bee Has Denied Me: An Occasional Series

Twitter has really degraded this week, which is making me feel a bit sad that perhaps that thread will have to die. (I'm also sad that the thread has frayed along the way—it's very difficult to read it all the way to the beginning because it splits here and there.) So as a clearly procrastinatory measure, I'm putting the list of "perfectly common BrE words" here, with a little more explanation than they tended to get on Twitter.

For those who don't know the Bee: it's an anagram game where one must use the middle letter. The twist—and what makes it a superior anagram game—is that you can use any of the letters as many times as you like. Here's what it looked like on the 5th of April when I hadn't yet got to Genius level.  (My goal every day is 'make it to Genius before breakfast'. It's nice to be called 'Genius' before you've started work.) 

The game, of course, has its own word list, which is suitably American for its New York Times home. Still, some not-usually-AmE words are playable, like FLATMATELORRY and PRAM. But many words that are part of my everyday vocabulary in England are not playable. And non-AmE spellings are generally not playable. 

There's been a lot of attention to AmE words that (orig. AmE) stump non-American players in Wordle. (Here's Cambridge Dictionary's 2022 Word of the Year post, which covers some—and includes a video in which I talk about why HOMER was a great choice for Word of the Year.) Not as much attention has been paid to the Spelling Bee, which you need to subscribe to. I'm sure British players have their own (mental) lists of American words they've had to learn in order to get "Queen Bee" status (finding all the day's words) in the game. If you're one of them, do use the comments to tell us about those weird words.

So, after all that preamble, here are the "Perfectly Common BrE Words the @NYTimesGames Spelling Bee Has Denied Me" words in alphabetical order, with translations or links to other blog posts. But first, a bit more preamble. The disclaimers! 

  • Words in the puzzle must be at least four letters long, so some of these are suffixed forms for which the three-letter base word was unplayable. If there's an -ED form but not an -ING form (etc.), that'll be because the other one's letters weren't in the puzzle. 
  • Some of these would not have been allowable—regardless of their dialectal provenance—on the basis that they are "naughty" words. I include them anyway. 
  • I have checked questionable cases against the GloWbE corpus to ensure that the word really is more common in BrE than AmE.
  • Some are Irish or Australian by origin, but they are still more common in BrE than in AmE.
  • Sometimes my spelling is a bit liberal here. If I could find one British dictionary that allowed me the word with the given spelling, I included it.  
  • Also the phrase "perfectly common" is not meant to be taken too seriously!
  • These words were not playable at the time when I tried to play them. The word list may have changed and some of them may be playable now. 
  • Red ones are ones that have been unsuccessfully played/tweeted about since I first started this blog list. Green ones have been added to the blog since the original post, but were tweeted-about earlier than that—I just missed them in the tangled Twitter threads when I was writing the blog post. 

  AmE slaughterhouse

AGGRO aggression, aggressive behavio[u]r

AITCH  the letter. Less need to spell it as a word in AmE. See this old post.

ANAEMIA / ANAEMIC  AmE anemia/anemic

ANNEXE  minority spelling in BrE; usually, as in AmE, it's annex

APPAL   AmE appall; old post on double Ls

ARDOUR   old post on -or/-our

ARGYBARGY this is a bit of a joke entry because it's usually spelled/spelt ARGY-BARGY (a loud argument), but the Squeeze album has no hyphen. 

ARMOUR    -or/-our

BIBBED  I don't know why this shows up more in BrE data, but it does, just meaning 'wearing a bib'

BINMAN / BINMEN  AmE garbage man (among other terms); old post on bin

BINT  derogatory term for a woman

BITTY having lots of unconnected parts, often leaving one feeling unsatisfied; for example, this blog post is a bit bitty

BLAG covered in this old post

BLUB / BLUBBING to sob (= general English blubbering)

BOAK retch, vomit, throw up a bit in the mouth. That was gross. Sorry.

BOBBLY having bobbles 

BOBBY  I think this one might be playable now. Informal term for police officer. In AmE, found in bobby pins

BODGE / BODGED make or fix something badly

BOFFIN  see this old post

BOLLOCK / BOLLOCKED  reprimand severely

BOLLOX  This one's more common in Irish English than BrE. To screw something up.

BOKE   see BOAK 

BONCE  the head (informal)

BOYO a boy/man (Welsh informal)

BRILL  short for brilliant, meaning 'excellent'; also a kind of European flatfish

BROLLY  umbrella (informal)

BUNG / BUNGING to put (something) (somewhere) quickly/carelessly. People cooking on television are always bunging things in the oven. 

BUTTY  see this old post

CAFF  a café, but typically used of the kind that is analogous to an AmE diner (that is to say a café is not as fancy in BrE as it would be in AmE)

CAWL  a soupy Welsh dish (recipe); also a kind of basket

CEILIDH  a Scottish social dance (event)

CHANNELLED   post on double Ls

CHAV / CHAVVY  see this old post and/or this one

CHICANE  a road arrangement meant to slow drivers down; see this old post

CHILLI  see this old post

CHIMENEA / CHIMINEA the 'e' spelling is considered etymologically "correct" but the 'i' spelling seems to be more common in UK; I think these kinds of outdoor fireplaces are just more trendy in UK than in US?

"cholla" at a UK online supermarket
CHOC chocolate (informal, countable)

CHOLLA  a spelling of challah (the bread) 

CLAG  mud; more common is claggy for 'having a mud-like consistency'

COLOUR    -or/-our

CONNEXION this is a very outdated spelling of connection. Not actually used in UK these days, but wouldn't it be nice to be able to play it?

COOTCH  a hiding place, a shed or similar (from Welsh cwtch)

COUNCILLOR  post on double Ls

CRAIC it's really an Irish one (a 'good time'), but it qualifies here because it's used more in BrE than AmE (and understood pretty universally in UK)

CRIM  criminal

CUTTY  short (in some UK dialects)

DADO  as in dado rail, what's often called a chair rail in AmE (here's a picture)

DEFENCE  AmE defense

DEMOB /DEMOBBED  de-mobilize(d); that is, released from the (BrE) armed forces / (AmE) military

DENE  a valley (esp. a narrow, wooded one) or a low sand dune near the sea (regional)

DIALLING  post on double Ls

DIDDY    small (dialectal); see this old post

DOBBED / DOBBING  actually Australian, dob = to inform on someone; see this old post on the BrE equivalent grass (someone) up

DODDLE  it's a doddle  = (orig. AmE) it's a piece of cake (very easy)

DOOLALLY  out of one's mind

EQUALLED   post on double Ls

FAFF / FAFFING  one of the most useful BrE words. See this old post

FARL  a kind of (AmE) quick bread, usually cut into triangles; can be made of various things, but here's a recipe for a common kind, the potato farl

FILMIC cinematic, relating to film

FITMENT = AmE fixture, i.e. a furnishing that is fit(ted) in place

FLANNELETTE = AmE flannel  old post on flannels

FOETAL AmE (and BrE medical) fetal

FUELLED  post on double Ls

FULFIL   post on double Ls

GADGIE / GADGE guy, man, boy (regional)

GAMMON  this post covers the meat meaning, but lately it's also used as an insult for Brexiteers and their political similars

GAMMY  (of a body part) not working well; e.g., I have a gammy knee

GANNET a type of sea bird, but also BrE slang for a greedy person

GAOL  now less common spelling for jail

GIBBET  gallows; to hang (a person) [not really in current use]

GIGGED / GIGGING  to perform at a gig  [playable as of May 2023]

GILET   covered at this clothing post and also at this pronunciation post

GIPPING form of gip, a synonym of BOAK (see above)

GITE French, but used in English for a type of holiday/vacation cottage

GOBBED / GOBBING  form of gob, which as a noun means 'mouth', but as a verb means 'spit'

GOBBIN waste material from a mine

GOBBY mouthy

GOOLY (more often GOOLIE, GOOLEY) a testicle (informal, see GDoS)

getting gunged/slimed
GUNGE  any unpleasant soft or slimy substance; also used as a verb for having such stuff poured over one's head on a children's show (= AmE slime)

GURN / GURNING  see this old post

HAITCH  = AITCH, but pronounced differently See this old post.

HALLO old-fashioned hello 

HENCH strong, fit (like a weightlifter)

HOLDALL  a duffel bag or similar heavy-duty bag; often spelled with a hyphen (hold-all), but at least some places don't. 

HOOPOE a kind of bird (mostly African), which sometimes makes it to England

HOGMANAY it is a proper noun, but I wanted to include it anyway

HOICK / HOIK  to lift/pull abruptly

HOTCHPOTCH  AmE hodgepodge

INNIT invariant tag question: isn't it

JAMMY  lucky; old post 

KIPPING  form of kip, to take a nap

LAIRY  (esp. of a person) unpleasantly loud, garish 

LAMPED  form of lamp, to hit a person very hard

LAYBY  AmE turnout (and other synonyms/regional terms); a place where a car can move out of the flow of traffic (usually has a hyphen lay-by, but I found one dictionary that doesn't require it)

LIDO an outdoor public swimming pool; there's some debate about how to pronounce it 

LILO  a blow-up mattress for floating on in a pool

LINO  short for linoleum

LOLLY  lollipop or (AmE) popsicle (especially in ice lolly)

LOVAGE  a(n) herb that Americans don't see very often  [has been added! Played successfully on 3 May 2023]

LUPIN  AmE lupine, a flower

LURGI / LURGY  see this old post

MEDIAEVAL  the less common spelling of medieval

MILLIARD  (no longer really used) a thousand million, i.e. a billion 

MILORD address term for a nobleman

MINGE  a woman's pubic hair/area (not flattering) 

MINGING  foul, bad smelling, ugly (rhymes with singing!)

MODELLED  post on double Ls

MOGGY  a cat (informal)

MOOB  man boob

MOULT    AmE molt (related to  -or/-our)

MOZZIE  mosquito

MUPPET in its lower-case BrE sense: 'idiot; incompetent person'

NAFF  this has come up in posts about 'untranslatables' and about a study that identified common BrE words Americans don't know

NAPPY AmE diaper

NAVVY  a manual labo(u)rer (old-fashioned)

NEEP  Scottish English for what the English call a swede and what Americans call a rutabaga (old post on the latter two)

NELLY in the BrE phrase not on your nelly (= AmE not on your life)

NOBBLE  to unfairly influence an outcome; steal 

NOBBLY  alternative spelling of knobbly (which is more common in both AmE & BrE)

NONCY  adjective related to nonce (sex offender, p[a]edophile) 

NOWT  nothing (dialectal)

ODOUR    -or/-our

OFFENCE  AmE offense

OFFIE  short for BrE off-licence; AmE liquor store  (discussed a little in this old post

ORACY  the speaking version of literacy; in US education, it's called orality

PACY  having a good or exciting pace (e.g. a pacy whodunnit)

PAEDO  short for pa(e)dophile

PANTO see this post

PAPPED / PAPPING  from pap, to take paparazzi pictures

PARLOUR    -or/-our

PARP  a honking noise

PEDALLED   post on double Ls

PELMET  another one from the study that identified common BrE words Americans don't know

PENG  slang for 'excellent' 

PIEMAN / PIEMEN this one is usually two words (pie man), but I was able to find a dictionary that allowed it as a single word, so I added it to the list

PIPPED / PIPPING  pip = to defeat by a small amount; often heard in to be pipped at the post 

PITTA another spelling for pita, more in line with the BrE pronunciation of the word

PLAICE another one from the study that identified common BrE words Americans don't know

PLUMMY  see this post

PODGY  chubby

POMMY another Australian one, but English people know it because it's an insult directed at them, often in the phrase pommy bastard

PONCE / PONCY  see this post

PONGING horrible-smelling

POOED / POOING  see this post for the poo versus poop story

POOTLE to travel along at a leisurely speed

POPPADOM / POPPADUM anything to do with Indian food is going to be found more in UK than US

PORRIDGY  like porridge, which in AmE is oatmeal

PUFFA full form: puffa jacket; a kind of quilted jacket; it is a trademark, but used broadly; I did find it in one dictionary with a lower-case p

PUNNET  see this old post

RAILCARD  you buy one and it gives you discounts on train tickets

RANCOUR    -or/-our

RUMOUR     -or/-our

TANNOY  AmE loudspeaker, public address system  (originally a trademark, but now used generically)

TELLY  (orig.) AmE tv

THALI  another Indian menu word 

THICKO  stupid person

TIDDY  small (dialectal) 

TIFFIN  usually referring to chocolate tiffin (recipe)

TINNING  AmE canning

TITCH  a small person 

TOFF  an upper-class person (not a compliment)

TOMBOLA  see this post

TOTTED / TOTTING  see this post 

TOTTY  an objectifying term for (usually) a woman

TRUG  a kind of basket; these days, often a handled rubber container  

TWIGGED  form of twig 'to catch on, understand'

UNEQUALLED   post on double Ls

VIVA  an oral exam (short for viva voce)

WANK / WANKING  my original Word of the Year (2006!)

WEEING  AmE peeing

WELLIE  / WELLY  a (BrE) wellington boot / (AmE) rubber boot

WHINGE  AmE whine (complain)


WOAD a plant used to make blue dye

WOLD a clear, upland area (mostly in place names now)

WOOLLEN   post on double Ls

YOBBO / YOBBY  hooligan / hooliganish

YODELLED   post on double Ls

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I've done posts on cream and milk and sugar-refining by-products and other kinds of sugar have come up in passing. Now it's flour's turn, thanks to encouragement from my friend Sandra.

I'm just going to do it as a list:

plain flour             all-purpose flour
strong (bread) flour       bread flour
wholemeal whole wheat
[no such thing] cake flour
corn flour cornstarch
corn/maize meal corn flour, corn meal
self-raising flour* self-rising flour*
[no such thing] Wondra (instant flour)
00 flour fine flour

 *Postscript from 2020: @BNW informs me that self-raising and self-rising differ a bit: "It seems like the AE self-rising flour has less baking powder, added salt, and a slightly softer/lower-protein flour.". So substitute with caution.
There's also very strong bread flour, which seems to be extra strong in Canada. I can't find a US equivalent. It has even more gluten/protein than regular bread flour.

Photo: - CC BY-SA 2.0, Link
Because bleaching flour is illegal in UK (see the link across from cake flour above), unbleached flour is mostly an American collocation.

AmE uses pastry flour more than BrE does. Sometimes in BrE that would be 00 flour--but 00 flour can also be more yellowy pasta flour. (I think I may have heard patisserie flour on Great British Bake-Off, but I'm not finding much evidence of it elsewhere.)

If you follow the link at Wondra above, you'll see it's a special kind of flour that's mostly used for making gravies and sauces. One thing to say about British gravies: they are usually considerably less thickened than typical American gravies.

For more on flour and flour (the word), here's a nice international overview

Finally, this isn't a bread post, but I must note a flour-related bread difference. Order breakfast in the UK, and you will (probably) be asked: white or brown? in reference to your toast In the US, you'd be asked white or wheat? (Actually, in both countries you may be given more options. But I"m saving those for a bread post.)

If you ever want a reason to argue that British English is superior, do skip the reasons I've already debunked (maths, herb, etc.) and go with this one. Calling one bread-made-of-wheat wheat in contrast to another bread-made-of-wheat is a bit silly. And chances are: you'll say wheat, they'll hear white and breakfast will be ruined!

Postscript (30 Jan): I've added AmE corn flour (=BrE corn meal or maize meal) to the list. Americans use this to make corn bread and corn muffins (a kind of quick bread). Whenever I make these for my English family, I get to eat the whole batch because they do not appreciate its wonderfulness. The UK increasingly has polenta cakes of various types, offered as gluten-free options. Those are like the consistency of corn bread (a bit less crumbly) but more aggressively sweetened, in my experience, by being drenched in a fruit syrup.

Some notes from the harmless drudge:
As the deadline for my book approaches AND I go back to teaching after a glorious year of writing said book (thanks NEH!!!), you can probably expect that I'll be doing a bit less posting than in 2016. I'll set aside a bit of time per week, but less time than it usually takes me to write a post. So, either they'll be very short posts or a few weeks apart. (Though as I viciously cut [more BrE] bits out of the book, maybe they'll end up as quick posts here.)

I will be on (orig. AmE) radios a bit this spring (UK and NZ plans at the moment). I'll announce these via Twitter and Facebook, as usual, and I'm also noting forthcoming "appearances" on the Events and Media page of the blog. (The radio announcements will go up when broadcast dates are firmer.)
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While I've been very good at keeping up with my Differences of the Day on Twitter, the blog posts have got(ten) fewer and f{a/u}rther in between. I'm committing this month (and hopefully from now on) to do one a week, and the way I'm going to make that feel more do-able is to piggyback on the work I've done for the #DotDs. Lately, I've been doing a lot of themed weeks of differences, and those can be built up into a nice little blog post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Egg cartons  are often called egg boxes in BrE:

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

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

One week of blogging down, many to go!

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

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

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

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

When a publisher sends me (unsolicited) books for review a few months before Christmas, they probably intend my review to be part of their pre-Christmas promotions.  What they haven't counted on is that I'd have no time to look at the book until Christmas break.  And so it goes for Patricia T. O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman's Origins of the specious: Myths and misconceptions of the English language (2009, Random House)O'Conner is the author of the popular Woe is I: The grammarphobe's guide to better English in plain English, among other titles and together they run  The book takes on different kinds of myths about language--particularly the kinds of myths that prescriptivists (often so-called language lovers who have very little patience for language) bandy about.  The first thing to note for this audience is that it is a book based in American English, by American authors.

Now, given the theme of this blog, I wouldn't review just any book about the English language that arrives unannounced on my desk.  But this one gets in because of its first chapter, 'Stiff upper lips: or, Why can't the British be more like us?'  The main myth that this chapter discusses is a major topic of discussion here (in their words, p.4): 'If there's one thing that people agree on, it's that British English is purer than its American offshoot.'  And, of course, they show that
neither English is more proper. In some respects American English is purer than British English. We've preserved some usages and spellings and pronunciations that have changed over time in Britain.  But the reverse is also true. [...] In many cases, it's nearly impossible to tell which branch has history on its side.
They go on to give a number of examples of differences, histories and false beliefs about English as she is spoke on the two sides of the Atlantic.  These include many that will be familiar to long-time readers of this blog, including the contradictory meanings of the verb table, pronunciation of /a/-before-/s/ and post-vocalic /r/, the /h/ in herb, Webster's effects on AmE spelling, gotten, and gone missing.   It's only a 13-page chapter (supplemented by three pages of bibliographic notes at the end of the book), so some of these are just mentioned in passing.  The tone is chatty and accessible, the pace is quick and there's lots of good information.

Further myths about English are dismantled in chapters on stupid prescriptive rules (like 'don't split infinitives'), false etymologies, 'dirty' words, English's relationship with French, 'politically correct' language, the role of errors in language change and such.  The chapters are generally loose collections of examples--that's not a criticism, just a description--and it's perfectly understandable in a book of this type.  So many assorted false beliefs about English, and language in general, exist, and they defy easy categorization into chapter headings.  The themes will be familiar to most people who read language blogs or similar types of books, but most people will find new and interesting examples among the familiar ones.  The scholarship cannot be faulted.  The book is pitched toward a non-scholarly audience and so there is little source citation and no endnote reference numbers in the text, but there are bibliographic notes and acknowledg(e)ment of several linguistic scholars--which account for about 17% of the pages in the book.  (Would I have liked to have seen a suggestion that this blog is a nice source for people interested in the BrE/AmE myths?  Well, yes, but they don't cite many blogs at all, so I can't take it personally.)

Incidentally, I love the title--but so did someone else who published a book about gamers this year.  I guess it was the thing to do in the (AmE-preferred) sesquicentennial/(BrE-preferred) sesquicentenary anniversary of Darwin's On the origin of species.
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The book!

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