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

a personal note

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two matters for this belated blog post:  Words of the Year nominations and the Untranslatables Month summary.

WotY Nominations
Long-term readers will know that we have (at least) two Words of the Year here at SbaCL, and nominations are open for both categories as of now:

1. Best AmE-to-BrE import
2. Best BrE-to-AmE import
The word doesn’t have to have been imported into the other dialect in 2012, but it should have come into its own in some way in the (popular culture of the) other dialect this year. I retain the editor's privilege of giving other random awards on a whim.

Please nominate your favo(u)rites and give arguments for their WotY-worthiness in the comments to this post. It might be helpful to see my reasoning on why past words were WotY worthy and other nominations weren't. Click on the WotY tag in order to visit times gone by.

Vote early and often! I plan to announce the winners in the week before Christmas.

Untranslatables II
Last year, as a birthday treat to myself, I declared October to be Untranslatables Month, which meant that I tweeted an expression that was unique to one dialect or another, in that its meaning was not captured by an expression in the other dialect. This year, I did it again, but made the job easier on myself by deciding not to tweet on weekends. Here's a summary of the 'untranslatables' I tweeted. In some cases, you can follow links to places where I (or someone) have discussed them in more detail.
  • BrE lie-in (noun). The act of staying in bed later in the morning than usual. Sleeping not required, but lazing is. Example: 'The family was away, so I had a lie-in on Saturday as an early birthday treat.'  (AmE & BrE both have sleeping in for when one sleeps late.)
  • AmE cater-corner, kitty-corner, catty-corner (regional variations), adj & adv, meaning 'diagonally opposite to'. Example: 'I live kitty-corner to the bordello'.
  •  BrE builder's tea. Very strong (hot, of course), basic (i.e. not a special cultivar/flavo[u]r) tea with milk and lots of sugar. The 'lots of sugar' part is in most definitions for it, but some of my correspondents don't consider 'sweet' to be a necessary feature.
  • AmE Nielsen rating. The television rating system that determines advertising rates, used figuratively as a measure of popularity. Example: 'When you give babies a choice of what to listen to, a kind of baby Nielsen rating, they choose to listen to mothers talking to infants' (from The Scientist in the Crib).
  • BrE It's not cricket. 'It shouldn't happen because it's not fair/proper'. Occasionally heard in AmE too.
  • AmE poster child. Figuratively, an emblematic case of something, esp. a cause. Originally a child on posters promoting a charity. This one has come into BrE--as untranslatables often do (because they're useful). In the US, it's especially associated w/the (US) Muscular Dystrophy Association, which is also responsible for the US's longest-running charity telethon. It's interesting how different diseases are 'big' in terms of fundraising in different countries...
  • BrE overegged describes something that is ruined by too much effort to improve it. From the expression to overegg the pudding.
  • AmE hump day. Wednesday, but with the recognition that it's a milestone on the way to the weekend. Though it's heard a bit on the radio in the UK, I'm not sure it'd work well in BrE because of interference from BrE get the hump (='get annoyed, grumpy'). (The sexual meaning of hump is present in both dialects.)
  • BrE bumf = a collective term for loose printed material/paperwork (forms, pamphlets, letters) that's deemed to be unnecessary. It comes from old slang for 'toilet paper': bumfodder.  Example: 'The hallway is littered with election bumf that's come through the door.'
  • AmE earthy-crunchy (noun or adj), Having 'hippie', 'tree-hugging' tendencies. Synonym = granola.
  • BrE white van man. I mentioned it on the blog here, but there's more about it here.  Though I've read of white van man making it to the US, white vans are much more common and much more associated with skilled manual trade in UK. Some American correspondents had assumed it meant serial killer or child molester, which is not usually the intended meaning in BrE. 
  • AmE antsy. 1. fidgety and impatient, 2. nervous, apprehensive. Has been imported to UK somewhat, but mostly in sense 1.
  • AmE visit with. To chat with someone, especially if you're having a good catch-up.
  • BrE for England. To a great extent. Example: 'He can talk for England'. There's no for America in this sense, but in South Africa, for Africa is used in the same way. And perhaps elsewhere. So, 'untranslatable' to AmE.
  • AmE soccer mom or hockey mom (regional). A (middle-class) mother who spends much time ferrying kids to practice.
  • BrE sorted (adj & interjection): Most basically, it means something like it's all sorted out. 'My blog post? It's sorted!' But its meaning has extended so that can mean, of a person, basically 'having one's shit together'. Example: 'With all my new year('s) resolutions, I'm certain I'll be fit and sorted by April'. Collins also has it as meaning 'possessing the desired recreational drugs'. Deserves a blog post of its own.
  •  AmE freshman/sophomore/junior/senior. Names of the people in the 1st/2nd/3rd/4th years of secondary (high) school and undergraduate degrees. Fresher is used somewhat for university 1st years in UK, but generally the university years do not have (universally applied) special names in the UK.
  • BrE gubbins. To quote the Collins English Dictionary:
    1. an object of little or no value
    2. a small device or gadget
    3. odds and ends; litter or rubbish
    4. a silly person
  • AmE to tailgate. To have a party where food/drink served frm a vehicle's tailgate. Mentioned in this old post. (Both dialects have the meaning 'to drive too closely behind a car'.)
  • BrE for my sins = 'as if it were a punishment'. Often used to mark a 'humblebrag'. Example (from the British National Corpus): 'I happen for my sins to have been shadow Chancellor since the last election in 1987.'
  • AmE the (academic) honor code. Ethical guidelines that students must follow. Of course, UK univeristies have ethical guidelines for students, but there's not really a term that covers them all, like honor code does. Also, US honor codes typically require that students turn in other students whom they know to be cheating. This does not seem to be as frequently found in UK academic conduct rules.
  • BrE locum. Someone who stands in for someone else in a professional context, particularly doctor or clergy member. This is a shortened form of locum tenens, which one does see a bit in AmE medical jargon these days (but not just locum, and not in general use).
Whether I do Untranslatables Month again next year remains to be seen...

Don't forget to leave your WotY nominations in the comments!
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American words (most) British folk don't know

Some years ago a survey went (a)round from the University of Ghent on English vocabulary knowledge. I recall doing the survey and I believe I shared it on social media. Perhaps you did it too. Last week I read the published results: Word prevalence norms for 62,000 English lemmas by Marc Brysbaert and colleagues.

The point of the research was to establish how well known various words are in order to help psychologists (etc.) choose words for experiments. I was pleased to see that it included a table showing words that differed most for AmE and BrE speakers. So, my plan is to write two blog posts where I go through the lists of unevenly known words and see what I can say about them (or what I have already said about them). I'm starting with the words that were much more familiar to Americans and I'll put them into categories, rather than going down the list as published.

Here's the (half) table. (Sorry it's not very clear. All the words will be mentioned below.) The unfortunate headings 'Pus' and 'Puk' mean 'prevalence for US respondents' and 'prevalence for UK respondents'. These are not the prevalence scores that one can find in the data files from the paper (which are z-scores with positive and negative values), though, so I think they are just percentages—i.e. 90% of US respondents knew manicotti, but only 16% of UK ones did. The main point about them is that the scores are much higher for American respondents than British ones. 


Many of these words are relatively unknown in the UK because they refer to things that are not common in the UK. So, less linguistic difference than cultural difference. Many reflect the US's ethnic diversity.

Glorious food

The Italian American angle

The first two are pasta-related. Manicotti are a kind of large tube pasta, which are stuffed, usually with ricotta, to make the dish pictured to the right. The name is used both for the empty pasta and for the dish. It comes from the Italian for 'little sleeves', but is, according to Wikipedia, "an Italian-American dish". BrE speakers are more likely to know the very similar pasta/dish canneloni, which is also found in the US and Italy. The difference? "Manicotti tubes are ridged, larger and slightly thicker. Cannelloni tubes are smooth, a touch smaller and slightly thinner."*
Ziti is a smaller tubular pasta. Size-wise it is between penne (popular in both countries) and rigatoni. Rigatoni is what my family traditionally had for Christmas Eve dinner, and I usually have to explain that word to BrE speakers as well. (The study confirms that Americans are much more likely to know rigatoni.)  Wikipedia notes that "Ziti in the US is most commonly associated with the Italian-American dish of baked ziti. In Sicily it is traditionally served at a wedding feast." For more on pasta more generally, click through to this old post.
Provolone is an Italian cheese that you can get in the UK, but you just don't see as much as in the US. I like it on hot pastrami sandwiches, but it's usually in Italian dishes. Whether you pronounce the e at the end (when using the word in English) is a matter of personal preference—or possibly regional affiliation.

Fresh-water foods

Tilapia is a fresh-water fish that is apparently easy to farm. Its popularity in the US is fairly recent—I only learned it on a trip back to there maybe 15 years ago. Wikipedia says: "Tilapia is the fourth-most consumed fish in the United States dating back to 2002". It's originally from Africa, and the name is a Latini{s/z}ation of a Setswana word for 'fish'. Apparently you can get tilapia in the UK, but it's just not as common. My guess is that an island nation has less need of fresh-water fishes to eat.
Crawdad is a synonym for crayfish (or crawfish), which are abundant and popular as a food in some parts of the US. The word crayfish is used in both UK and US, and crawfish will have come over from the UK. The OED's etymology is helpful:
Etymology: Middle English crevice , -visse , < Old French crevice (13–15th cent. in Littré); compare crevis (masculine), crevicel diminutive in Godefroy; in Old French also escrevisse , modern French écrevisse , Walloon grèvèse , Rouchi graviche (Littré); < Old High German crebiȥ Middle High German krebeȥ , a derivative of stem *kraƀ- in krab-bo crab n.1
In Southern Middle English the second syllable was naturally confounded with vish (written viss in Ayenbite), ‘fish’; whence the corrupted forms [...], and the later crey-, cray-fish. The variants in cra- go back to Anglo-Norman when the stress was still on second syllable, and the first liable to vary between cre- and cra-; they are the origin of the modern craw-fish, now used chiefly in U.S.
So, the craw- came from the UK and later was mostly forgotten there. The -dad seems to have been added in the US as a "fanciful" variation, according to Oxford. Their example sentence includes more synonyms:
‘Whether you know them as mudbugs, ditch bugs, river lobsters, crawlybottoms, crawdads, or crawfish, anyone who has spent time in streams is familiar with crayfish.’

The Mexican-Spanish angle

I've covered (AmE) garbanzo bean versus (BrE/AmE) chick pea in the Big List of Vegetables.
Tomatillos are a member of the physalis family that look kind of like green tomatoes with husks. (Wikipedia gives Mexican husk tomato as an alternative name. The GloWBE corpus only has that one in South Asian countries.) You don't see these much in UK.  For the type of physalis you frequently see in the UK, here are some old tweets of mine

A tamale consists of a leaf wrapped around a filling—often a corn husk around a maize dough called masa.

Other foods, other cuisines

Kabob is simply a different spelling from what BrE speakers are used to. In BrE it's usually kebab. Since it comes from Arabic (and other languages that got it from Arabic), it's not surprising that the spelling varies—that happens easily when different people are moving a word from one alphabet to another. The cultural place of this food is very different, though. Americans tend to think of shish kabobs—little pieces of food (especially meat) on a stick, typically cooked over fire. In the UK, one often thinks of doner kebabs, which AmE speakers might call gyros, getting the idea from Greek rather than Turkish. That's the compacted meat cooked on a big spit, then sliced off for putting in a pit(t)a bread or similar. In the UK, that kind of kebab is stereotypically found at the end of a night of binge drinking. 
(Late addition: here's a corpus view. Note that K-Bob is not a spelling of this food. It's a prolific commenter's handle on a political website. Kubab and Kibib are names of other things as well.)

In AmE hibachi is usually a tabletop (AmE) grill/(BrE) barbecue or a kind of iron hot plate used in Japanese restaurants. The word comes from Japanese, but has shifted in meaning. Wikipedia can tell you more. 

Kielbasa means 'sausage' in Polish, but in AmE it refers to a specific type of sausage, which Wikipedia tells me "closely resembles the Wiejska sausage". You can find the word kielbasa in the UK in Polish shops, but it remains to be seen how many of these will survive Brexit.

Goober (or goober pea) is a regional (mostly southern) word for
the peanut. It came into English from a Bantu language (perhaps Kikongo or Kimbundu), brought to the Americas by enslaved Africans. Americans who don't use this as a word for peanuts will still know it as a brand name for chocolate-covered peanuts—a mainstay of (AmE) movie theater/(BrE) cinema concession stands.
Goober can also refer to a foolish person—but that might have a different etymology. (Goober Pyle was a kind but simple character on The Andy Griffith Show—which still shows in repeats on US television.)

Medicine / disease

Two of the items in the list are generic drug names. I've written about acetaminophen (BrE paracetamol) in another post. Albuterol is a bronchodilator (asthma inhaler) known in the UK as Salbutamol, but I'd bet most BrE folk are more familiar with the trade name Ventolin. In the UK, this comes in a blue inhaler, while preventative inhalers' sleeves are mostly brown, so they're often referred to by colo(u)r: take your brown inhaler twice a day and your blue inhaler as needed.
Staph is short for Staphylococcus bacterium. Americans worry about getting staph infections. I'm sure British people do too, but they haven't obsessed about this particular germ enough to it a nickname. (At least, not until MRSA came along. That's is a very severe kind of antibiotic-resistant staph infection, but Americans talked about staph infections long before that was in the news.) I remember staph being mentioned a lot in relation to gym mats at school. A partner to staph is strepwhich (looking at the data file) is also much, much better known in AmE than BrE. Now I see I've written about both of these germs before. So please have a look at the post on infections for more info!
I'll stick chiggers in this category. They're not a disease, but they feel like one. Chiggers are the larvae of a kind of mite. They burrow under the skin and it itches LIKE HELL. They exist in the UK and some people call them chiggers here, but the word comes up a lot less. Where I'm from, you get chigger "bites" from walking around in grass with bare ankles. There is less cause for walking around in grass with bare ankles in the UK, thanks to fewer lawns and colder weather, so I assume that's why people talk about them less. Wikipedia lists other names for them, which I've looked for in the GloWBE corpus. I give the US/UK (in that order) numbers after the names: berry bugs (1/0), harvest mites (1/2), red bugs (4/1), scrub-itch mites (1/0), and aoutas (0/1). Chigger is the most common name for them in both countries, but with 48 hits in AmE and just 7 in BrE.

Other cultural references

Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday that takes place between Christmas and New Year. I assume that's what Americans were recogni{s/z}ing in kwanza, rather than the Angolan currency

A sandlot is a piece of undeveloped land. The word is used especially when such land is used as a playing field, e.g. sandlot baseball.
A luau (or lūʻau) is a traditional Hawaiian party with food and entertainment. 

And all that's left is...

Conniption.  Origin unknown. It means a tantrum, hysterics, a fit of rage, and the like. It's often used in the phrase conniption fit (which means the same thing). Here are a few examples of its use from the Corpus of Contemporary American English:
  • They had a conniption when he starred in a movie
  • Your mom'd have a conniption fit if she heard you talkin' like that. 
  • wealthy Americans have conniptions at the possibility of a tax increase 
So that's that! I'll do the words from other side of the table, known by Brits and not by Americans, in the next post. I won't promise it'll be next week. I might take the weekend off for my birthday!

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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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choirs and preaching to them

I'm feeling a bit of pressure to put nice pictures at the start of my blog posts because the new homepage layout features whichever picture is first. Corpus tables make boring pictures, so I am using this as an excuse to share with you a delightful animation, Choir Tour:

CHOIR TOUR from Atom Art on Vimeo.

So, with that out of the way, @gwynf has asked me about preach to the choir versus preach to the converted, which was a nice coincidence because I'd recently looked it up myself. Either phrase means 'pointlessly make an argument to those who already agree with your point of view'. I felt like I've always said converted and that I'd learned choir in the UK. I think the first of those feelings is accurate (I do believe converted is what my mom said and it is what I say), the second probably isn't, since choir is clearly the preferred American phrasing:
From GloWBE corpus

Preach to the congregation is also found in BrE, but in much, much smaller numbers. (In this corpus: three!) A related BrE expression is sing from the same hymn sheet i.e. 'share an opinion or position'. Both AmE and BrE also have sing the same song/tune. (Thanks for pointing that out @UnexpectedBag.)

Maybe (and I know I'm going to make enemies here) I like converted better because I mostly really don't care for choral music. (Sometimes it's less the music that's the problem than the choir.) I don't want to preach to the choir because if I pay them too much attention they might guilt me into going to their charity concert at Christmastime and sitting miserably through it, thinking "I could die later today and I will have wasted my last hours here." I know I shouldn't admit to not liking choirs. They're like mobs. They could (orig. AmE) beat me up.

Anyhow, the word choir is worth discussing too. In BrE there are choirs all over the place. Many of my friends (who will soon be beating me up) are in them. And many, many of them are non-religious. Community choirs they're called, and they do everything from classical to indie music to gospel (for the music, not necessarily for the gospel). BBC (BrE) programmes Last Choir Standing, The Choir, and The Naked Choir give an inkling of the popularity of choral singing as a secular activity.

In the US, choir is more associated with church-affiliated groups and maybe some classical ones. My school didn't have a choir, it had a chorus. Other terms like chorale and glee club give a sense that the group is singing works that are not necessarily choral in origin. (At least, that's the sense they give me--but there's nothing to stop a chorus from singing non-choral works either. My school chorus memories are of a bunch of kids belting out cheesy Christmas songs at the tops of our lungs with no attention to cooperation or harmony.) Various websites out there argue about the differences between these various terms. The fact that they have to argue probably means that the terms aren't being used in any consistent way. I would take chorale and glee club to be much more old-fashioned terms.

A look at statistically-strongly-American (pay attention to the green ones) versus statistically-strongly-British words before choir in the Corpus of Global Web-Based English shows that choir gets more of a (orig. AmE) workout in BrE:

But then there's (AmE) show choir, a type of non-religious school singing-and-dancing group that was brought to the world's attention by the television (AmE) show Glee. I've written about that before--so please see/discuss at that old post.

Before I (AmE) go hide (BrE/some AmE go and hide) from the angry singing mobs, I'll just note that I'm on BBC Radio 3's The Verb this Friday (11 Nov) at 22.00 (UK time). It's available online for a month afterward. I think we'll be talking about words for the generations, so to speak.

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goatee (beard)

My brothers and I have discussed making a 'Mom bingo' game, in which you get to mark a square in your bingo card if it matches something that our mother regularly says or does--mostly says. Things like to each his own, said the old woman as she kissed the cow and we're off on an adventure! and paint the barn white if you want it to look bigger (the reason you will never, ever see me in white [BrE] trousers/[AmE] pants). Another that I would add to the bingo card is never trust a man with a goatee. Which, of course, is why I married one.

I am reminded of this because a dip down to the bottom of my virtual mailbag brings this query from Joan:
As a US-ian, I've always heard it used as "goatee" pronounced (sorry for the non-technical notation) [go-TEE]. My department manager is a UK-ian, and he uses the phrase "goatee beard" rather than just the word "goatee," and pronounces the first word [GOAT-ee] as if it were spelled "goatey" or "goatie." Is this a real US/UK difference?
The answer to Joan's question, like most of my answers to most readers' questions, is "Yes, but..." In this case, yes, the difference is dialectal, but while a goatee beard-sayer will be British (if the choice is only between British and Americans) not every British English speaker will say goatee beard. The one I live with says goatee without the beard. I suspect it's a generational thing.

Goatee is originally an AmE word, and in AmE to say goatee beard would sound pleonastic, and it would grate, like saying robin bird or bungalow house. Which is not to say we're pleonasm-free. After all, we say crossword puzzle and tuna fish. It's just to say that goatee beard sounds weird and redundant to Americans because it's not what Americans say--we just say goatee. I did a quick comparison of a couple of newspapers just to check. The Boston Globe website has four examples of goatee beard, all of which come from UK sources. The (London) Times Online on the other hand, has 99 goatee beards and more than twice as many just plain goatees. So, goatee beard is not necessarily the norm in the UK, but it's definitely of this place.

(I liked this quotation in the OED from Isabella L. Bird's The Englishwoman in America:

1856 I. L. BIRD Englishw. Amer. 366 They [Americans] also indulge in eccentricities of appearance in the shape of beards and imperials, not to speak of the ‘goatee’.)
As for the pronunciation, I have only heard initial stress on GOAtee when I've heard it before beard (though I am not sure that everyone who says goatee beard stresses it in that way). The OED does not record the GOAtee pronunciation, just the goaTEE one. I can think of two (and a half) reasons why the stress might've moved in this case: (1) the British like to move the stress to the front of words, which is where most native disyllabic English nouns would be stressed (recall our discussion of beret, ballet, etc.) and (1.5) maybe this need is particularly felt when the word is compounded, since we expect the first element in a noun compound to be more heavily stressed, or (2) perhaps he is thinking of goatee as an adjective meaning 'goaty'--after all, it's a beard that's like a goat's. I'm leaning toward(s) (1). But as I have prove{n/d} time and time again, I'm no phonologist--so I hope that someone with a better insight will be inspired to write an elucidating comment.
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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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high tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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chinese whispers and telephone

Cathy wrote the other day to ask:
I've been watching "The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard" on Masterpiece Theatre in the US. [...] I noticed an interesting phrase Mrs. Pritchard used, "Chinese whispers." I thought at first she meant what Americans mean when we say children are playing telephone or whisper down the lane. Then I thought, in the context it was used in, that it wouldn't be appropriate to suggest the person was playing a child's game. Mrs. Pritchard's right hand man (I can't remember his title) has passed on a bit of gossip that was passed on through several people. Any thoughts?
Coincidentally, the night before, Better Half and I had been watching the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in which Larry David (surprise, surprise) makes a faux pas in playing telephone at a party, and BH asked, 'That's Chinese whispers, right?' Chinese whispers and the telephone game are indeed names for the same game in BrE and AmE, respectively. (And this came up once before in the comments for a previous post.)

What has thrown Cathy off is the fact that Chinese whispers is much more likely to be used in an extended or metaphorical way than this sense of telephone is. This is probably not too surprising, since telephone has other senses that would make the metaphor less clear. The OED lists Russian scandal as having the same two senses as Chinese whispers (though I've only ever heard the latter):
(a) a game in which a whispered message, after being passed from player to player, is contrasted in its original and final versions; (b) gossip inaccurately transmitted
People disagree about whether Chinese whispers should be avoided due to racist connotations. It makes me a little uncomfy, but then I don't find myself needing to say it very often, so I don't worry about it too much. It also reminds me of an AmE term (at least I've not found a BrE speaker who knows it yet---but I haven't asked that many) for another silly pastime with an ethnically (BrE) dodgy name: the Chinese fire drill. Wikipedia describes it as:
A Chinese fire drill is a prank, or perhaps an expression of high spirits, that was popular in the United States during the 1960s. It is performed when a car is stopped at a red traffic light, at which point all of the car's occupants get out, run around the car, and return to their own (or go to other) seats. Chinese fire drills are sometimes executed when one needs to get something from the trunk of a car. Occasionally, if one of the participants is late to get inside the car, the others might drive off without him/her. People have reported this phenomenon as early as the 1940s, so it is possible that the phrase was current at the time, but simply was not written down that early.

The term is also used as a figure of speech to mean any large, ineffective, and chaotic exercise.
When I was a child (a bit later than the dates in the Wikipedia article), the driver never got involved--because the driver was Mom or Dad. But we'd try our luck and yell "Chinese fire drill!" and judge how much trouble we were going to get into for trying to do it before opening the car doors. It always sounded like a marvelous idea to my young mind, but I don't know that we ever executed a true Chinese fire drill.
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yard sales, car boot sales and other sales

Getting back to Kelley of Delaware's queries (which I started answering here):
Every weekend this time of year there are dozens of yard/garage sales in my town. Do such things exist in the rest of the English-speaking world, and, if so, what are they called?
I can't speak for the rest of the English-speaking world, but similar things do exist (to some degree) in England, though not by the names yard sale or garage sale. These things are allegedly named after the locations in which they occur, however the ones I've passed by this week (in NY state) that have been advertised as 'yard sales' or 'garage sales' were mostly actually in (chiefly AmE) driveways (BrE drives) next to (AmE) yards or garages. AmE has other terms for such kinds of sales, including tag sale (popular in New England). Many of these terms can be seen at the Dialect Survey map here.

(Side note: The pronunciation of garage was a point of discussion at dinner tonight. Better Half's mum said it in her normal way, so that it rhymed with HAIR ridge carriage, and my mom expressed her admiration of BHM's unfamiliar pronunciation. BHM countered that the AmE (and sometimes preferred BrE) pronunciation gər-RAZH was nicer. Garage is one of the few words (maybe the only word?) that BrE speakers have complimented my (AmE) pronunciation of. This is another case in which the AmE pronunciation is closer to the original [French] pronunciation than the BrE--which only matters if you're one of those people who think 'older' means 'better'.)

Of course, part of the reason that people don't have yard sales in Britain is that they would not call the un-built-upon fronts of their properties yards. That would instead be the front garden (at least, if it's planted). (This was a point of contention between an American and an English friend this summer. The American kept calling the Englishwoman's garden a yard, and the Englishwoman kept letting the American know that she felt insulted by this description.) Nevertheless, there is nothing called a front garden sale either. I've not seen many sales of household merchandise on/in residential properties in the UK, but those that I have seen have been advertised as moving sales. Obviously, that term only applies to certain situations, when people are trying to get rid of things that they don't want to cart to their new abode. There may be a term for non-moving household sales that I've not come across. (Answers in the comments, please!) But these kinds of things are pretty rare--at least in my neck of the English woods.

What the UK does have (and the US generally doesn't) are car boot sales. These take place in public spaces, usually a (BrE) car park/(AmE) parking lot [or a field--see comments]. People put the things that they want to sell into their car's (BrE) boot/(AmE) trunk, then set up a little stall of their wares (often using a folding table, etc.) by their car in the car park/parking lot (typically paying a fee to the organi{s/z}er/landowner). These happen all year round--there is one that happens every week, for example, at Brighton station. Big ones like that often have professional sellers, who may be selling new or used goods (so they resemble flea markets). Others, like the one at a school near our house, are more geared toward(s) the occasional seller.

Both countries have other types of sales in which people donate their used goods for a one-off sale (and possibly social event) to benefit a charity--for example a church. In the greater part of the US, these are called rummage sales, although they may have other regional names. In the UK, they are jumble sales. White elephant sale is a term that I heard as a child in the US (and it was already old-fashioned at that time), but that I've seen more often in the UK.

When I asked Better Half if he knew of any BrE equivalent of yard sale, he drew a blank and noted that such things are a rarity in Britain. One reason for this is that most British homeowners wouldn't have the space for such things. Front gardens/yards tend to be very small, drive(way)s are quite short, and garages are a luxury in town cent{er/re}s. Another reason is that most British homeowners just don't have the space to store as much unwanted junk for as long as American homeowners can--and thus they can't store up a sale's worth of merchandise. BH's mum, for example, has a good-sized three-bedroom house. But as is typical of a post-war London home, she has no basement, no attic to speak of, no garage, and no walk-in closets. In that situation, one doesn't wait long to get rid of clothes that don't fit, gifts that didn't hit the mark, and decorations that have been replaced. People have various ways to get rid of unwanted stuff (and, it must be said, they tend to buy less junk in the first place), with charity shops (AmE: thrift stores) playing a major part in the second-hand economy.
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blinders and other metaphors personified

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previously on SbaCL: I started a discussion of expressions that include names of animals that are special because both the expressions and the animals mentioned in them are local to either BrE or AmE. The discussion started with the AmE raccoon eyes and (slightly cheating) BrE pissed as a newt. While I was having a hard time coming up with more related to British (and not American) animals, Swedish Teacher's Beau yesterday suggested flat as a hedgehog, which works. The thing to understand here is that hedgehogs are very often roadkill (orig. & chiefly AmE). There are only a few examples of this expression on the net and a couple more of flat as a steam-roll(er)ed hedgehog:
The sign said WATCH OUT THIS HOUSE COULD FALL DOWN AND KNOCK YOU FLAT AS A STEAMROLLED HEDGEHOG. --Story by a (BrE) pupil/(AmE) student at Abernethy Primary School
I have to make the point that the McFly version is as flat as a hedgehog on the M1! --'Michael' on Ramair 1350am Forum
But still, I can think of more relating to American animals, possibly because there are more American-and-not-British animals to name.

The groundhog, aka woodchuck, has a day named after it, Groundhog Day, which will be a familiar phrase from the 1993 Bill Murray/Andie McDowell film/movie. The other week, I had to disabuse a friend of the notion that the observation of Groundhog Day and the famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil were not products of a screenwriter's imagination, but real cultural treasures of the United States. The superstition is that on the second of February, groundhogs awake from their hibernation and pop their heads out of their burrows. If the groundhog sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter (so he pops back into the burrow), otherwise, spring will come early. The OED records another groundhog expression: a groundhog case--'a desperate or urgent affair'. Thisis mostly a regional term, chiefly used in the southern Midlands and South, according to the Dictionary of American Regional English. Here's a current use of the term:
Groundhog Case A term used by CS professors to describe a student hopelessly below the passing grade mark that absolutely needs to complete the course for a variety of reasons (graduation, marriage, work, MOM, etc...) --Software Engineering Terms glossary, West Virginia University Insititute of Technology
As for woodchucks, there's the tongue-twister How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

On to the skunks! There's the verb to skunk, meaning either 'to defeat, to prevent from scoring' as in (1) or 'to cheat (by not paying)'. These are listed in the OED as originally and chiefly American.
I've played games where I 'skunk' the opponent, winning without any meaningful response, and it's ego-building, but not nearly as fun. --emlprime on Digg
But there's another verb sense of skunk that the dictionaries don't record: 'to be sprayed by a skunk'. If one Googles "got skunked", one finds lots of examples of that sense:
Our dog recently got skunked for the 2nd time in 5 months. --from Berkeley Parents Network advice forum
Another skunk-derived expression is the adjective skunky, meaning 'to smell/taste bad, in a skunk-like way'. This is not completely foreign to BrE (OED doesn't mark it as AmE), but it's not quite as, um, pungent here as one can't be expected here to know what a skunk smells like--but there are few mainland Americans who've escaped this unpleasant bit of education.

To play possum is listed in the OED as 'orig. U.S.', but again, it's one I've had to explain when I've used the phrase in the UK. It means 'to play dead; to feign injury/illness; to pretend to be asleep'. This follows from the fact that (o)possums are thought to play dead in order to trick their predators--in fact, what they do is pass out, but it has the same effect.

Goodness knows, there are probably other local fauna expressions I'm missing. I've speciali{s/z}ed here on a certain size of animal, it seems. Feel free to add other examples in the comments.
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Foundational Friend (I'll call her that because it was through her that I met much of my English social circle--including Better Half) stayed over last night and had the misfortune of seeing me this morning. Never a pretty sight--but particularly nasty today as I was horribly sneezy and snotty. I nodded toward a bouquet on the dresser and said, "I'm allergic to mums." FF followed my nod and it clicked. "Oh," she said, "you mean chrysanthemums." Yes, I did, and that must've been the fifth time I've had that exact exchange with an Englishperson. Will I never learn?

(I may learn to say chrysanthemum in full, but I won't learn to bin them when they're given to me. I believe in suffering a little for beauty and kindness.)

Mum for chrysanthemum is another case of American word-clipping that isn't shared by most speakers of British English. Americans also say chrysanthemum, but if you were raised in the funeral business as I was, it's handy to have a quicker way to say the names of common funeral flowers--so I say mums and glads (= gladioli). I notice that most of the examples of glads in the OED (1989) come from outside Britain--Ireland and Australia.

I think UK florists are missing a great opportunity in not clipping their chrysanthemums. Imagine the ads running up to Mothering Sunday: Mums for Mum! (= AmE Mom). Yes, that's Mothering Sunday. While these days it's often called Mother's Day, many Brits consider that to be a crass American name for the day. It's also a different day. Mothering Sunday is the fourth Sunday during Lent, which means it's generally in March. American Mother's Day is the second Sunday in May. (The first Mother's Day was on the anniversary of the death of Ana Jarvis' mother, which happened to fall on a Sunday that year. Who is Ana Jarvis? She's the inventor of Mother's Day.)

What this all means is that if you're an American expat in a Mothering Sunday country, you buy a card for your mother in March, with the intention of sending it in May. But then since no one's advertising Mother's Day in May, you forget all about it until you find the card in July. Or until your mother phones with stories of all the lovely things your brothers did for her on Mother's Day. Still, it must be worse to be a British expat trying to remember Mothering Sunday ten months after anyone's mentioned Mother's Day.
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The book!

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