Showing posts sorted by relevance for query no knickers. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query no knickers. Sort by date Show all posts knickers

Wore my red shoes today, which always provides someone with an excuse to exclaim red shoes, no knickers! The word knickers is, of course, a dead giveaway that this is a BrE expression. The first 50 or so times I heard it, I assumed it was a comment on the raciness of the colo(u)r red and the type of woman who might call attention to herself (and her feet) by wearing red shoes, but the story is a bit less lady-of-the-evening than it seems at first.

The more common phrase--never applied to me because of my fondness for wool--is all fur coat and no knickers. Both phrases are used to refer to someone (or something) that is all flash and no substance. That is, one who's bothered with the decorations, but not with the basic necessities, like knickers (=AmE panties).

Of course, the moralistic edge of the phrase--encouraging us to have a good foundation (garment) before turning our attention to frills, is often these days overlooked, in favo(u)r of the ol' nudge-nudge, wink-wink. Search (unfiltered) all fur coat and no knickers on Google Image to see what I mean, if you need to. But you don't really need to, do you?

Another faintly misogynistic (which is not to say entirely unuseful) phrase that the British have introduced me to is mutton dressed as lamb: used to refer to any woman who is unflatteringly dressed in a style that is deemed too young for a woman her age. Better Half also enjoys the phrase mutton dressed as mutton, which is to say a woman who is unflatteringly dressed in a way that is too appropriate to her age. (Thankfully, neither of these has yet been applied to my face.)

The British do not have a monopoly on phrases that pass judg(e)ment on the sartorial choices of women. Muffin top, to refer to the roll of flesh that often appears at the top of some low-slung trousers/pants is an Americanism. This word has made its way into BrE, even though the types of muffins that the phrase alludes to are a fairly recent import to the UK.

[Here I must digress. The cake-like American-style muffin seems to have taken over the UK. This is the kind of muffin that a lot of my students think of first when asked to describe muffins--which they are often asked to do in my courses--rather than the type of flat, non-sweet thing that looks like what Americans call an English muffin, but which actually differs from those as well. According to United Biscuits, individually packaged muffins, such as those pictured at the right, are now 'the second largest sector in eat-now cakes' in the UK. But...there has been some semantic slippage in the transfer of this term (and baked good) to the UK: (a) The muffins that are sold in the UK as American-style muffins often lack 'muffin tops' --i.e. the mushroomy bit that has risen over the side of the muffin tin-- so I'm not sure whether the phrase muffin top is quite as evocative here when applied to love handles. I've yet to come across a home-baked muffin in the UK that wasn't made by me--though one can buy Betty Crocker blueberry muffin mix at Asda, I see. (Not that I want to admit to having been in an Asda--which is owned by Evilmart.) (b) Many of the so-called muffins I see in UK shops are, in AmE terms, cupcakes, as far as I'm concerned. One started to see (horrors!) chocolate chip muffins in the US when I was in my late teens, but to my mind, muffins have to have some whiff of healthfulness about them--bran or fruit, or at least cornmeal--and certainly no frosting. Something built around the theme of a chocolate bar, such as the Galaxy muffin above, is most definitely a cupcake. And before raising the issue of fairy cakes or otherwise taking this conversation any further on the baked goods tangent, please do have a look at the baked goods post from July.]

Back to American body-fascist misogyny! Or cultural observation...take your pick! The other AmE phrase that springs to mind (though admittedly not as widespread as the others discussed so far) is sausage casing girl, to refer to someone young and female who wears clothes in a size or two smaller than the sizing lords intended. I learned this phrase from an LA Times article this summer, and it did strike me as descriptive, though cruel. The article seems to no longer be accessible to the masses on-line, but you can read Grant Barrett's record of it here.

All of these expressions describe phenomena that exist in both countries, but the two cultures have had different priorties as to which type of woman gets judged on the basis of her behavio(u)r with reference to her appearance. As ever, we can wonder about what this says about the cultures--although one has to be careful about plucking a couple of phrases out of the culture and judging the culture on the basis of those. Nevertheless, in the spirit of sweeping generali{s/z}ation, we see in (some of) these phrases British women being mocked for not acting their age and American women being mocked for not acting their weight. And men on both sides of the Atlantic remaining relatively unscathed.
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Knickerbocker in English starts out in the US, where it was used to refer to descendants of the early Dutch colonists in Manhattan, formerly New Amsterdam. Knickerbocker (in various spellings) was a common name among those settlers, but the one that inspired the New Yorker nickname was the fictional Diedrich Knickerbocker, the supposed author of Washington Irving's satirical A History of New York (1809). It seems to get going as a term for such New Yorkers in the mid-19th century.  Irving and some writer contemporaries later became known as the Knickerbocker Group.

But the more famous group of people named after the knickerbocker nickname is the basketball team, the New York Knickerbockers, which these days tends to go by the shortened name, The Knicks.

Baggy trousers

See Fashion History Timeline
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In the 1860s, it comes to be used for a style of (orig. AmE in this sense) poofy knee-breeches, which resembled the style worn by the Dutchmen in (Englishman) George Cruikshank's illustrations of Irving's book in the 1850s.

This fashion sense of knickerbockers moved over to the UK too. In the US, it is often shortened to knickers (it's a clipping), but not BrE because...

Women's undies*

After knickers came into BrE, it started to refer to women's underpants. The AmE panties can be given as an equivalent, except that many AmE speakers (including me) find the word panties a bit (AmE) icky, and so we just say underwear. Technically, underwear can refer to more than just those small bottom pieces, but if I say "I need to do laundry. I'm out of underwear", it's specifically those bottoms that I'm talking about. (Bre) knickers is not so icky in its natural environs.

Though knickers is a very clear example of a Britishism now, it's interesting to note its AmE roots, since it is a clipping of knickerbockers. I presume this is because women's undies used to look like knickerbocker breeches. Such undergarments were also called bloomers (in both Englishes), as were the outerwear women's knickerbockers that gained popularity as women started bicycling. (Unrelatedly, bloomer also  happens to be the name of a type of bread loaf in BrE.) In BrE, the word knickers changed with the changes in underwear styles, but the word bloomers didn't.

I've written about knickers a couple of times before: in contrast to men's (BrE) pants and in expressions like red shoes, no knickers.

*Undies appears to be originally BrE (early 20th c), but has long been well-established in AmE too.

Ice cream

This whole post got started because an English friend gave the word knickerbocker as an example of a word with three Ks (in discussion of this tweet) with the aside "as in knickerbocker glory", leading me to think that he only really knew the word in that context.

A (BrE) knickerbocker glory is an ice cream sundae served in a tall glass. The first citation for it in the OED is in a Graham Greene novel in 1936—though the term was clearly well-known at that point since he didn't have to explain it. It only takes off in British books in the 1970s, though, when my friend and our friends were growing up, eating ice cream. 

This is quite a while after Americans invented the word sundae, which was originally Sunday, as in the day of the week when it was (purportedly) served. About this, the OED says:

Evidence suggests that the use of Sunday to designate an ice-cream dish of this kind originates with Chester C. Platt (1869–1934), proprietor of Platt and Colt's Pharmacy in Ithaca, New York, who is said to have served it to Unitarian pastor John M. Scott at his premises after the Sunday church service on 3 April 1892. A letter from a patent attorney dated 24 March 1894 shows that Platt sought advice on trademark protection for the use of ‘Sunday’ for ice-cream novelties a few days earlier.
The motivation for the subsequent respelling of the word [...] is uncertain: it may reflect an attempt by other retailers to avoid a perceived breach of trademark; it may be a reaction to the religious associations of Sunday as a day of abstinence; or it may simply have been intended to be eye-catching.

The knickerbocker glory is a prototypical ice cream sundae, but the word sundae has not caught on so much in BrE as in AmE:

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milk and tea

In my American family's home, unless it's a holiday or a barbecue, milk is the drink that you have with meals. (Probably fewer families drink milk with meals today than when I was a child, though.) There is something so refreshing about a glass of milk--yet many of my English acquaintances turn their noses up at the notion. I've never seen an adult (other than myself) in the UK drinking milk with a meal (and as mentioned before, the English are more likely than Americans to have no drink with a meal), and in the antenatal/prenatal ward I had to withstand the most quizzical looks when I requested a glass of milk instead of a cup of tea. (And here was I thinking that pregnant women were supposed to pack in the calcium!)
Alpha Stock Images

But the English do go through a lot of milk--in their tea. Now it's my turn to turn my nose up. English tea, or at least the everyday blends that we refer to in our house as (BrE) bog standard tea, is blended to be strong enough to withstand milk and sugar. Because they're used to very strong tea, the British claim that American tea (typically an orange pekoe) is "like dishwater". Americans are more likely to drink their orange pekoe with lemon than with milk, and it makes nice iced tea. (Don't try to make iced tea with British brands like PG Tips or Typhoo--it turns out incredibly bitter. And don't try to serve nice iced tea to the English--they probably won't appreciate it, though some are starting to drink overly sugared and overpriced flavo(u)red iced teas that come ready-to-drink.) Some British folk insist that Americans would drink more tea if we had "proper" tea like theirs. Faced with the prospect of British tea, however, I've become, for the first time in my life, a coffee drinker. My thinking is that if milk and tea were suited to each other, then tea ice cream would be at least as popular as coffee ice cream. But it isn't, is it? (Mental note: prepare for onslaught of comments and small incendiary devices.)

But I started this post to write about types of milk, having done types of cream some time ago. (It remains one of the most Googled posts here, although the top ones are probably red shoes, no knickers and smacking and spanking, which are Googled late at night by people with something other than dialectal variation on their minds.) Milk with the fat removed is called skimmed milk in BrE, while in AmE it tends to be called skim milk. On the other end of the scale (3-4% fat) is what Americans call whole milk and the British call full fat milk, which is a nice dieting ploy, since I'm too embarrassed to buy it. In between, Americans have options, known as 1% milk and 2% milk, while the British have semi-skimmed milk, which is 1.5-1.8% fat, according to Delia (old-school British TV chef).

When referring to the units of milk you can buy, Americans speak of buying a half-pint, pint, quart, half-gallon (i.e. 2 quarts) or gallon of milk. (Pints aren't that common, though, as we are probably buying it to drink, rather than to splash on our tea. Half-pints are what you get with your [AmE] school lunch/[BrE] school dinner.) In BrE, one always speaks of units of milk in pints (metric system be damned!). So, you can buy a pint of milk, or two-pint, four-pint or six-pint containers. British (Imperial) and American (US) liquid measures are not the same, and a British pint is slightly bigger than an American pint ('Hear, hear!' say the blokes down the pub). But there are such things as Imperial quarts (2 pints) and gallons (8 pints), so I'm not sure why only the term pint is used in measuring milk. By law, the pint-label(l)ed containers now tell you how many (milli)lit{re/er}s they hold, but no one pays any attention.

---Note to homesick Americans within easy reach of south-eastern England. Tallula's tea rooms in Brighton, behind Waitrose, serve a nice iced orange pekoe and very nice American pancakes--although they haven't learned to serve the latter with butter and they put way too much citrus fruit in the glass with the former. When I complained once that all I could taste was orange, and not tea, the waiter said, puzzled, 'But it's orange tea'. No, it's orange pekoe--it's thought to be named after the royals in Holland, not its flavo[u]r or colo[u]r. That said, they take requests for butter and 'not much fruit' without much eyebrow-raising.--

Postscript (15 April): I meant to mention (BrE) builder's tea: very strong, with lots of milk and sugar. So, here we have the way you take your tea linked to your social class...

Post-postscript (March 2010): Tallula's has gone out of business.  I am SO SAD!
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bills, notes

At the post office today, I needed to pay 64p for stamps, but only had 63p in change. The following conversation ensued:

Me: I'm afraid I'll have to give you a big bill. A really big bill.
PostOfficeMan: That's ok, we like big bills.
Now, hearing an Englishman call £20 a bill rather than a note made me
reali{s/z}e that I'd said the wrong word:
Me: I mean, a large note!
POM: I know what you mean. We call them notes, but they tend to call them bills in America--oh, and Canada, Canada.
I took his eagerness to mention Canada as further evidence of the aforementioned fear of Canadians going bonkers when assumed to be American. (I should say that while I find these conversations amusing, I don't blame Canadians at all for resenting being assumed to be American. However, since Canadians don't seem to leave their country without maple leaf flags sewn onto all of their outerwear, it is hard to mistake them for Americans.)

But a few words on money. Americans (and Canadians!) have particular words for their coins: penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢), quarter (25¢), and in Canada loony for the $1 coin. The British mostly don't have names for the coins. Presumably this is because they had nice names for units of currency that almost all became obsolete with the introduction of decimali{z/s}ation in the early 1970s. So, don't go looking here for sixpence and guineas, they don't exist anymore. One might say that a nickname for the pound coin is quid, but that is really a nickname for the amount (on a par with American buck for dollar), rather than for the coin.

The copper coins (collectively known as coppers, which is also slang for policemen--by a different etymology) do have names, presumably because these units survived decimali{s/z}ation: penny (1p) and tuppence (2p) (although they were worth different amounts in the decimal system, so were, for a time, called new penny/pence). Pence is the plural of penny, so it's technically incorrect to say 1 pence, but more and more people do. The ha'penny (pronounced hay-p'nny), or half-penny, is no longer in circulation as a coin, but remains in circulation in some idioms and place names. My friends' mothers coached them: Keep your hand on your ha'penny--that is, don't let anyone in your knickers (US: panties).

On the other hand, the British have names for two notes/bills, the self-explanatory fiver and tenner. I tend to remember to use the British term too late and say things like "Have you got a five...R?" I'd call these the names of the notes/bills, rather than slang terms, as they are not at all stylistically marked in the way that saying a fin (=$5) or sawbuck ($10) would be in the US. There are no similar names for larger bills--i.e. no *twentier. While US bills/notes are sometimes called by the name of the person (usually president) pictured on them, all the UK Bank of England notes have the reigning monarch on the front, and the people on the back change from time to time, and thus aren't so firmly associated with a particular denomination.

Here's a site on British money slang that may be of interest, if you like that sort of thing.
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pants and trousers; bobbles and pills

I want to write about one thing, and can do so while writing about something someone's asked me to write about, but:
I will not get sidetracked into writing about every kind of clothing.
I will not get sidetracked into writing about every kind of clothing.
I will not get sidetracked into writing about every kind of clothing.
OK, here we go. Kate e-mailed to request some coverage of pants, trousers and slacks. In BrE, pants refers to underpants, which sometimes leads to sub-hilarity when an American says something like I look good in pants. Pants is a generic term—those for women can also be called knickers or panties. Pants has another life as a term of derogatory evaluation. Better Half has obliged us with an example:
Superman Returns was completely pants—and he even wears them on the outside.
(For those interested in Greek terms for odd turns of phrase, that's a zeugma, though some would prefer you to call it a syllepsis.)

The BrE word for the bottom half of a suit is trousers—indeed British women wear trouser suits, while their American counterparts wear pantsuits. Trousers is understood, but not much used, in AmE. I'd certainly never apply the word to womenswear in AmE, but do so easily in my approximation of BrE. In AmE, trousers is an old-fashioned, kind of funny word.

What about slacks? BH and I were just saying the other day that we thought we'd only use slacks as an AmE word for certain types of women's trousers. The very same evening, we were watching an episode from the first (BrE) series/(AmE) season of the very clever BBC comedy The Smoking Room, in which a male character's trousers are referred to as slacks. So it looks like BH and I don't know nuffin. (On the positive side, I can start to cite watching comedy DVDs as an important research activity.) Nevertheless, we both think of slacks as a word that's more at home in our mothers' or grandmothers' vocabularies.

But all of this talk just gets me further from what I wanted to talk about. I mean, we're entering the glorious season of Lynneukah (the festival of Lynne), so I should get the space for my big rant here: WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON WITH WOMEN'S TROUSERS/PANTS? I've worn skirts through several years of the low-waisted fashion, because no one makes a woman-shaped trouser anymore. They make trouser legs with something to hold them together. Even the ones that call themselves natural waist (I'm talking to YOU, Boden!) reach nowhere near that narrower part of me between my hips and my ribs. So this year (after some rumblings in this direction last year), the fashion mags proclaimed that high-waisted trousers are back! In fact, they seem to believe they are ubiquitous:
And for anyone tired of the smock, and the baby doll, and the high-waist trouser, and sick to death of wearing nothing but grey, or black, or shell (fashion speak for off-white), then I am afraid that next summer you will be disappointed. —The Daily Mail, 18 September 2006
Where on earth are all these high-waisted trousers? This summer I've returned five so-called items to mail order houses, and found just one pair in the High Street (AmE = 'on Main Street', but since there are no (AmE) stores/BrE shops on Main Street, USA anymore, the translation doesn't really work). Which brings me to the heart of my rant. I found another pair of trousers-that-fit-women-with-hips-and-waist in the US in March and both of these pairs of trousers/pants are made of (it makes my skin crawl even typing this) p-o-l-y-e-s-t-e-r. Reader, I am so desperate that I bought them. And by the second wearing, each of them was covered with (here comes the big BrE/AmE distinction that I wanted to get to!) (AmE) PILLS/(BrE) BOBBLES.

BH tells me that I need to get a Remington Fuzz-Away. But then again he is also the man who just said "If I had a band I'd call it Victor Kiam's Love Child."
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Special trade names issue: wally, waldo and chocolate bars

Standing outside a bookshop today, Better Half pointed out the Where's Wally books, and wondered why the man called Waldo in America is Wally in the UK. No one seems to know.

The Wally/Waldo books are the invention of an Englishman, so I am assuming (just because there's precious little info on this on the internet) that Wally was the original name. In BrE, a wally is someone who's a bit of an idiot. It doesn't have this meaning in AmE, and neither does Waldo, so why they felt the need to change it in the US, I'm not sure. My only guess is that they chose Waldo because it's a funny-sounding name, and that might make up for the fact that the 'dunce' connotations of the name were lost on Americans. It's also a name that's pretty much died out in the US since the 1950s. The Where's Waldo books have not, it seems, sparked a baby-naming trend. (See: Name Voyager, a fun way to waste some time.)

The family of (US) candy bars / (UK) chocolate bars made by M&M/Mars (aka Masterfoods) provide another case of onomastic mismatch between the US and UK, as the following table shows. (Hey, look at me! I figured out how to make an html table!)

inside the barUSUK
nougat3 MusketeersMilky Way
nougat, caramelMilky WayMars
nougat, caramel, peanutsSnickers until 1990: Marathon; since 1990: Snickers
nougat, caramel, almondsuntil 2000: Mars now: Snickers Almond n/a
caramel (in a pretzel shape--vague equivalents; not made by the same company)Marathon (R.I.P.) Cadbury Curly Wurly

Just to be confusing, there's now an energy bar called Snickers Marathon. I have read one theory that Snickers was originally called Marathon in the UK because Snickers sounded too much like knickers (i.e. underpants).

For a visual comparison of US/UK Mars, see The Visible Mars Bar Project In general, Americans are more likely than Europeans to put Almonds in their chocolate, and Europeans are more likely to put hazelnuts in their chocolate, though you see more and more of both on both sides of the Atlantic these days. Both are delightful in their own ways.
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The book!

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