Friday, April 24, 2009

to create (intransitive)

Grant Barrett, of here and there, wrote about 17 months ago to ask about the BrE intransitive use of create:

I've just come across an intransitive use of create that's Brit-specific. The Oxford Dictionary of English (not to be confused with the Oxford English Dictionary) defines it thus:

[no obj.] Brit. informal make a fuss; complain: "little kids create because they hate being ignored."

Sounds odd to my American ear.
Grant had read it in the Times, in this context (which discusses another term we've discussed before, wife beater):

"...Then suddenly - I'm not a snob - but we started getting all these loudmouthed yobs in. Younger drinkers, 19 to 30-year-olds, and builders and labourers.

"They weren't fighting - we'd never have let things get to that stage - but they were creating, and it was bad enough to make the other customers start leaving early."

When he wrote to me, I'd not experienced this sense of the word yet. But a month later, I had a child, and a few months after that, she started in childcare and we went through a little period where Grover was a bit too attached to her key worker. Whenever the carer went out of sight, Grover would start creating, they told me. Since then, I have heard it used about other children's tantrum-ish or whin(g)y behavio(u)r.

She graduated (AmE--BrE doesn't use graduate for sub-university transitions) from the Baby Room today and moves to the Toddler Room on Monday. My little Grover, all grown up! I shed a tear today, but I expect she'll be the one creating on Monday.

Monday, April 20, 2009

whoa and woah

If there is one arena in which Better Half is not my better, it's spelling. It's not that he's a particularly bad speller, it's just that I like to think of myself as a particularly good one. So, at least a couple of years ago, I rolled my eyes and corrected him when he wrote an interjection meaning 'stop, wait!' as woah! That I can remember correcting BH some years later is indicative of the sadness of my life and my need to always be right, which is pretty hard to be if you're me. I suppose I was reliving 'times I've been right and BH has been wrong' because of another instance of my absolute disability when it comes to accents. I spent some time the other day insisting that a food critic on the television was French, when, in fact, he's Irish. He only dresses French. So, I cling to my 'being right' memories with the tenacity of a starving octopus.

Then I read an article in The Guardian's review section (which I now can't find, so here's a link to an earlier article in the Guardian--by the outgoing poet laureate, no less) that contained a woah. As has been mentioned here before, The Guardian (or The Grauniad) has something of a reputation for bad spelling and typographical errors, so I remarked to myself that BrE writers seem to have a hard time spelling whoa.

Then I was in an English airport and I saw an ad(vert) (I wish I'd taken a photo, but I was too airport-grumpy at the time to think of it--it might've been for Phones4You), that shouted WOAH! WOAH! WOAH! in red and white. At that point, I had to start planning my admission of wrongness to BH.

(I'm sure many halves of long-standing and happy couples are thinking that I did not have to admit that I was wrong. Since BH neither saw the ad(vert) nor remembered the time I corrected him, what was to be gained by interfering with the well-developed roles of She Who Is Right and He Who Must Be Corrected? But, you see, I had to admit I'd been wrong because I have in the past claimed that admitting-when-I'm-wrong is something that I am happy to do, and so in order to prove myself right I have to prove myself wrong--on a regular basis.)

So, my story of whoa (and woah):

The OED lists woah as a variant of woa which is a variant of whoa, which is a variant of the interjection who (not to be confused with the pronoun who--the interjection is pronounced as wo--which is also a variant of all these), which came into the language as a variant of ho! Here are the dates of the OED's quotations for these spellings of the pronunciation /wo/ when it means 'stop!':

who c.1450-1859
wo 1787-1894
woa 1840-1892
woah 1856 (one example--included under the headword woa)
whoa 1843-1898 (but, of course, we know it's still used)
It's interesting that the OED lists woa as a variant of whoa when it has earlier evidence for woa--it implies that whoa is the more standard form. We shouldn't read much into the lack of recent examples of any of these--it looks like nothing has been added to these entries since the first edition.

I don't remember ever seeing the woah spelling (I'd want to pronounce it as two syllables: wo-ah, like Noah) before moving to England, but it's a very popular spelling here. Searching just UK sites, one gets ~170,000 hits for woah and ~255,000 for whoa. Searching some American sites, one gets 33 woahs to 461 whoas on .mil and 8,800 to 39,000 on .edu (the first woahs that came up on the .edu search were quoted from a BBC site, though). Or, if you'd like to see some bar graphs showing US and UK usage of the spellings, try this.

(Can you believe I started this post on the 6th of April? Alas and alack--I wish I had a solid month to do nothing but catch up on this blog.)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I've used my tried-and-tested 'click randomly in the email inbox' method to choose today's topic. Australian Bec moved to the US temporarily (she may well have moved back in the time it's taken me to respond) and found:
I am seeing the word closeout in shops everywhere, online and 'real'. I understand from context that it means something like clearance, but can you tell me if it is an American term, or just a new word or if it is common everywhere and I have just missed seeing it before? It sounds really odd to me.
The OED informs us that Bec is not unobservant--it is an American term and it means clearance (i.e. the selling of a line of stock or a shop's contents until there is no stock left). The OED covers the verb form to close out or , but they note that it's also used as a noun (or an absol. in the OED's vocabulary):
b. To clear out (a stock of goods); to wind up (a business); to sell or finish off. Also absol. U.S.
The examples in the OED mostly have pronouns as the object of close out, and the pronoun goes between the verb (close) and the particle (out), as in close it out. If the object is a full noun phrase, my spider senses tell me that you could put it either before or after the out--but the longer the object noun phrase, the more likely it would be to go after the out. In my experience, though, the noun closeout is currently more common than the verb to close out. That is, I'd be more likely to say They're having a closeout on Acme widgets, rather than They're closing Acme widgets out.

On the noun front, one might say that it's a closeout or a closeout sale. Wikipedia tells me that in the US there are things called closeout stores, which are dedicated to selling off ends of product lines. I've never heard that term (perhaps it is industry jargon), but the same phenomenon exists in the UK--except instead of (US) TJ Maxx, the UK has TK Maxx.

And on that note, I can close out this entry. Or close this entry out.