Showing posts with label recreation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label recreation. Show all posts

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Untranslatables month: the summary

Still buried deep beneath teaching. For your amusement, here are the 'untranslatables of the day' posted on Twitter last month, as promised in my last post. Where there's only a link, it's an expression that I've already written about in some detail. Please click through to see (or take part in) further discussion of those expressions.
  1. BrE punter

  2. AmE pork : "Government funds, appointments, or benefits dispensed or legislated by politicians to gain favor with their constituents" (American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edn)
  3. BrE kettling :  Police practice of surrounding protesters and holding them in a restricted area. Starting to be borrowed into AmE.
  4. AmE trailer trash : Because the social significance of trailers in US is very different from that of static caravans in UK.  (Mentioned in this old post.)
  5. AmE snit : American Heritage 4 says: "state of agitation or irritation', but that's way too imprecise. It's a tiny fit of temper.  (Discussed a bit back here.)
  6. BrE secondment : temporary transfer to work in another part of a company/organi{z/s}ation, e.g. for a special project.  Pronounced with the stress on the second syllable.
  7.  BrE to skive off, skiving.
  8. AmE to jones, jonesing : To suffer withdrawal symptoms and crave. Originally used in relation to heroin. Increasingly heard in BrE. The verb 'to Jones' is from AmE drug slang noun Jones, a drug habit. Then later, a craving: I have a Jones for Reese's peanut butter cups. > I'm jonesing for some Reese's peanut butter cups.
  9. BrE git : Collins English Dictionary says "contemptible person, often a fool". Closest equivalent probably bastard. Git is originally related to bastardy: it comes from beget.
  10. AmE rain check : A promise for something postponed (the check = BrE cheque). For example, I'll have to take a rain check on lunch = 'Although you invited me to lunch, I can't make it today, but I'll take you up on your offer at another time'. Rain check was claimed by Matthew Engel to 'abound' in BrE in his complaints about Americanisms, but it's also the case that it's widely misunderstood in the UK.
  11. BrE jobsworth : "a person who uses their job description in a deliberately uncooperative way, or who seemingly delights in acting in an obstructive or unhelpful manner" (Wikipedia)
  12. AmE potluck : a shared meal (bring a dish to pass), but culturally a different kind of ritual in US and UK.  I discussed it back here.
  13. BrE Oi! : Kind of like hey, you! but with a sense that the addressee is doing something that impinges upon you.  Not to be confused w/ Yiddish oy (vey), heard in AmE.
  14. BrE naff : Means approximately 'uncool' but with particular overtones of 'dorky', 'cheesy' and probably others. Contrary to widespread folk etymology, there's no evidence that naff comes from Not Available For F--ing. Origin is unknown.
  15. AmE nickel-and-dimed : 'Put under strain by lots of little expenses'.  E.g. I thought the house was a bargain, but all the little repairs are nickel-and-diming me to death.
  16. BrE  jammy.
  17. AmE hazing : OED has "A species of brutal horseplay practised on freshmen at some American Colleges".
  18. BrE to come over all queer : to suddenly feel "off"--physically or emotionally. Queer meaning 'feeling odd' (ill or upset) is much more common in BrE than in AmE.  Also: come over all funny, come over all peculiar.
  19. AmE to nix (something) : Generally, to do something decisively negative to something. Specifically: cancel/refute/forbid/refuse/deny (OED).  It's not unheard of in UK, but it's a borrowed AmEism. This is true of many of the AmE 'untranslatables'. They fill a gap.
  20. BrE oo er missus : Humorously marks (maybe unintended) sexual innuendo. See here for some history.
  21. AmE (from) soup to nuts : absolutely inclusive; from absolute start to absolute end or including every related thing.
  22. BrE taking the piss / taking the mickey : Explained at Wikipedia.
  23. AmE inside baseball : requiring rarefied insider knowledge. William Safire discussed it here.
  24. BrE moreish 
  25. BrE ropey or ropy : Of a thing, inferior, unreliable. Of a person, feeling vaguely unwell.
  26. AmE mugwump : Covered recently on World Wide Words.
  27. BrE lurgi or lurgy
  28. AmE 101 (one-oh-one) : the basics of subject. E.g. saying 'please' is Etiquette 101. From the traditional US university course numbering system. The Virtual Linguist wrote about this one.
  29. BrE faff.  See Oxford Dictionaries on this one.
  30. AmE squeaker : Competition or election won by tiny margin.
  31. BrE gutted.

Goodbye Untranslatables month!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

skiving, bunking, playing hooky

I have now lived in the UK (Brighton, England, precisely) for one quarter of my life. This came home to me today in a lexical way. You might want to shield your eyes now, people in the northeastern/midwestern/western US. We've been having days like this here (photos from my employer, Sussex University):

The temperatures have been around 70°F/21°C, which yesterday prompted three-year-old Grover to drag herself around in her shirtsleeves* protesting "I'm very VERY BOILING." This is how I know that my child is English. And that she watches too much Charlie and Lola.

Given the weather and that I have a lot of reading to do for work, I went to the picnic tables outside my building this afternoon. I had expected to find, as I had on Wednesday, some competition for seats in sunny spaces, as everyone would be wanting to work outside. But there was no one there. (I took photos. I have no photos. Why, oh why, great Internet, has my iPhone 3G not uploaded any photos during syncing for the past three weeks?)  My conclusion: everyone else had decided to leave work early on a sunny, non-term-time Friday.

But this is what I actually thought: Everyone but me seems to have skived off.

And then I thought: I have no idea how to say that in American English. 

I put the question to the Twittersphere and received a lot of responses (thank you, all of you!), but none of them were what I was looking for. Most seemed to be about what one does when one doesn't go to school:
 (AmE): play hooky, cut class, skip class
I wanted one that was specifically about slinking out of work early. (The responders may have assumed that I was talking about students, since (a) non-Sussexers mostly don't know that we're between terms at the moment and (b) many people assume that university [BrE] lecturers/[AmE in the sense that I mean it here!] professors don't do any work when we're not teaching. I would like to disabuse anyone and everyone of that notion, but it would involve a good solid hour of ranting and possibly minor physical violence and loss of property.) Here's the OED definition for skive:

intr. To evade a duty, to shirk; to avoid work by absenting oneself, to play truant. Also with off.

The term is originally from the military, so perhaps the best AmE equivalent is go AWOL (=absent without leave; marked in OED as 'orig. U.S.'), though that sounds a bit too permanent. The best suggestion that I had from the Twitterpersons was (AmE) ditch, which American Heritage also defines as being about school: ' To skip (class or school).' But, unlike the above suggestions, I can more easily use it about work (I ditched work to play Scrabble today) and to mean that I left early, rather than that I didn't show up at all. I think ditch allows this flexibility because it has other, related AmE senses concerning derailing (of trains) and ridding oneself of things or people (let's ditch Lynne and have some real fun)--which may at some level all run together as a big meaning-mass. One can transfer hooky from school to workplace too (e.g. I played hooky from work), but it, like skip, generally means not showing up at all.

***NEWSFLASH (orig. AmE)***
As I was previewing this post, about to hit *send*, two Twitterphiles suggested AmE blow off as in blow off work. That's pretty damned good. But it still isn't quite skive (see the bullet list below and compare). And I'm excited to have the excuse to mention another difference.  In AmE you can blow off a person by not showing up to an arranged meeting. In BrE you would blow [them] out. I've been told by UKers that blow off sounds obscene, but to my AmE ears blow out sounds violent--like a (AmE) tire/(BrE) tyre bursting. Now back to your regularly scheduled nonsense.

BrE has its own expressions for not going to school, including bunk off, which happens to be the first thing I thought of when I was looking for a synonym for skive. Bunk off comes from bunk meaning 'to run off', and though it's associated particularly with school, there are over 75K Google hits for bunk off work[Added a few hours later:] A friend on Facebook has pointed out (AusE, but apparently known in BrE) wag, which the Online Slang Dictionary defines it as 'to not attend school or work, without permission'. 

The only other possible translation for skive that I can think of is the general English shirk. But it just doesn't have the same connotations. Shirking ones duties is morally wrong, but skiving can be (in the current slang, at least--possibly not in the military) just a bit mischievous. (Or it can be morally bad. But my indignation about skivers this afternoon was a mock indignation--something harder to carry off when calling people shirkers).

So, I come to the conclusion that skive is a wonderful BrE word that has no equivalent.
  • I love that it is intransitive (requires no noun after it).  While words like cut, ditch and skip make you mention the thing that you're ignoring, skive lets you really ignore it.
  • I love that it can be a noun, and one can have a good skive.
  • I love that you can do it by leaving work or being at work (see: The Art of Skiving)
  • I love that it is a grown-up activity, rather than a concept borrowed from childhood. 
And I wonder: Why doesn't AmE have a good equivalent? Perhaps it doesn't fit with the Work Hard, Play Hard motto Americans are so fond of. Kate Fox (in the ever-recommended Watching the English) suggests that the more apt slogan for England is 'Work moderately, play moderately'. Having a ready vocabulary for talking about not-working (another one: having a duvet day, which came up in the discussion back here) is consistent with various things about English† culture, discussed in Fox's book (quoted, selectively, from p. 178, with linguistic commentary added in brackets/parentheses):
  • We are serious about work, but not too serious.
  • [W]e also believe it is a bit of a [BrE] fag (general English translation: drag, bother) and a nuisance [...]
  • We indignantly disapprove of those who avoid work [...] but this reflects our strict, almost religious belief in 'fairness', rather than in the belief in the sanctity of work itself (such people are seen as 'getting away with' idleness, while the rest of us, who would equally like to be idle, have to work, which is just not fair).
  • We often maintain that we would rather not work, but our personal and social identity is in fact very much bound up with work. [...]
  • We also have vestigial traces of a 'culture of amateurism', involving an instinctive mistrust of 'professionalism' and businesslike efficiency [...]
The first (reflecting the general cultural values of moderation and avoidance of earnestness) and the last are probably where the US and English cultures differ most in terms of work values, and seem to coincide well with the apparent contradiction in treating avoidance-of-work as both wrong and (in small doses) completely understandable. Especially on gorgeous days like today.

* Is this AmE? It isn't in Collins or OED (that I can find). It is on Macmillan's website, but I generally find them to be more dialectally inclusive. It means: wearing a shirt but no jacket or (BrE) jumper/(AmE) sweater, etc.

† Here I can only talk about English, not general British--you'll have to enlighten me about whether Fox's observations on the English reach any further.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

glee clubs, with asides on club-joining and barbershops

Still active on the Twitter feed, but having a hard time re-introducing myself to the world of blogging.  I am starting to think that the internet, with its 140-character limits, 60-second games, and instant 'friend'ship, has robbed me of my attention span. But since I keep writing books (have I mentioned that this is the year [August to August] of three book deadlines?), I must have some attention span left.  It just gets used up on the day job.  (And why do I call it my "day job" when it doesn't seem to let me get any work done till night?)

At any rate, my attention span held out for several tweets on a single topic tonight, and that's just cheating.  That's trying to make Twitter do what the blog does, and doing it a lot worse.  So, in true blogger spirit, I hereby embark on a long exposition on something I know almost nothing about.  I'm back!!

I'm disqualified from writing this one on at least three levels:  
  1. I have never seen the (AmE) TV show/(BrE) programme Glee.
  2. I have never voluntarily belonged to a choir.  ('Chorus' class in school was my living purgatory.)
  3. I have consistently found excuses to leave early when required to attend choir concerts.
  4. I hated that Journey song the first time (a)round, and I hate it even more now that it's re-released in a form that is mind-bendingly more over-earnest than the original.  
Oops, that was four.  I got a little carried away there.  I might very well like Glee —several people whose taste I respect are addicted to it— but I'm not a choral music person and I just can't afford a new television addiction at the moment (see paragraph one, parenthetical comment one).  But I assure you: I could never like it enough to get over my horror at the Journey cover.  Never ever.

At any rate, my interest was piqued by this Guardian article about Glee, which includes the line (emphasis added): 
The comedy-musical show charts the story of a group of teenagers in a US high school show choir, or glee club.
Not knowing a lot about the subtypes of choirs, I had to look these things up.  Wikipedia (best that I could do) said this about show choir:
A show choir (originally called 'swing choir') is a group of people who combine choral singing with dance movements, sometimes within the context of a specific idea or story.
Show choir traces its origins as an activity in the United States during the mid-1960s, though cultural historians have been unable to determine the date and location of the first "true" show choir group [...]. Two groups of touring performers, Up with People and The Young Americans, traveled extensively throughout the country in the 1960s, performing what could be called the show choir concept. When students and directors of the day saw these organizations, they would, in turn, start similar groups at their high schools.
So, show choir is original to AmE, but used in BrE now too.  But the definition of show choir didn't particularly sound like the glee clubs that I remember from my school and (AmE) college/(BrE) university days.  In particular, I don't remember them dancing.  So I looked up glee club.  The OED says:
glee-club, a society formed for the practice and performance of glees and part-songs
Wikipedia expands on this a bit:
A glee club is a musical group, historically of male voices but also of female or mixed voices, which traditionally specializes in the singing of short songs—glees—by trios or quartets.
And that's what I remember. The Wikipedia article goes on to say:
Although the term "glee club" is still used in some places, including the American TV series Glee, glee clubs have largely been replaced by the show choir in schools throughout the United States. Show choirs tend to be larger and more complex than the traditional glee club.
What I'm less clear on —and I'm sure you Gleeks out there can help me— is (a) whether it's ever called a show choir on Glee and (b) whether the meaning of glee club shifted pre-Glee to mean something more like a show choir.  (I suspect not--Glee is a really good title for television, so I would think it might be an opportunistic appropriation of the term.)  

The meaning of glee club has certainly shifted now in the UK at least, since schools (see the Guardian article) are leaping on the Glee bandwagon and re-naming their choirs glee clubs (or is that Glee clubs?). What's interesting (to word-nerdy dual citizen me, at least) is that although the Guardian felt the need to explain the term glee club to its UK readership, it is an originally BrE term. Here's Wikipedia again:
The first named Glee Club was founded in Harrow School, in London, England, in 1787.[1] Glee clubs were very popular in the UK from then until the mid 1850s but by then they were gradually being superseded by choral societies. By the mid-20th century, proper glee clubs were no longer common. However, the term remained (and remains) in use, primarily for choirs found in Japanese and North American colleges and universities, despite the fact that most American glee clubs are choruses in the standard sense and no longer perform glees.
The term didn't entirely die out in the UK, but the only recent pre-Glee uses of it that I can find are figurative uses or plays on the term (referring to the emotion glee, rather than the song type).  For example, the headline of a 2001 Simon Hoggart column, "Two-party disharmony with the Tory glee club", describes this group of Conservative Members of Parliament:
John Redwood rocked gently with happiness. Eric Forth's tie, a modest effort of only six or seven colours, seemed to wink at us as he too rolled about in pleasure. And Ann Widdecombe does a wonderful fake laughter turn. She throws back her head, waves her arms in the air, and opens her mouth as wide as you do at the dentist, in order to imply that she might otherwise implode with the sheer effort of keeping all that hilarity inside.
Now it's back in UK consciousness, but with a different meaning again.

As a cultural side note, I was thinking about the fact that I've known several adults in England and South Africa who belong to non-church choirs.  In the US, I  was never aware of non-church, non-school choirs, with the exception of gay choirs (and I never lived in a city big enough to sport one of those).  I've also been known to opine that clubs are more popular in  England than the US.  (In a small city in Texas, I had to travel 90 miles to get to a Scrabble club. In England, I moved to a not-large city that had two.) And I'm not alone in that--commentators on Englishness like Jeremy Paxman and Kate Fox have noted this tendency, since there seems to be a clash between Englishpeople's "obsession with privacy and [their] 'clubbability" (Fox, Watching the English). Kate Fox has this to say about English club-joining:
If you do not have a dog, you will need to find another kind of passport to social contact. Which brings me neatly to the second type of English approach to leisure [...] — sports, games, pubs, clubs and so on. All of these relate directly to our second main method of dealing with our social dis-ease: the 'ingenious use of props and facilitators' method. (Watching the English)
So, I was wondering whether there seem to be more choirs here because choral music is more popular here (it definitely is in South Africa and Wales) or because there's a greater tendency to join organi{s/z}ed groups. And then it hit me.  It's that non-church bit.  It's not that Americans don't join things.  They do. They join churches (and other religious groups, but mainly churches), and with that comes all sorts of activities, clubs, and committees.  UKers are less likely to  organi{s/z}e their hobbies and social needs around a church, because they're less likely to go to church, and it's generally more socially acceptable not to go to church in the UK.  (This site has church attendance at 44% in US and 27% in UK. According to this site, 53% of Americans consider religion to be very important in their lives, versus 16% of Britons.)  It may be that gay men's choirs became so strong in the US because of a need for joinable singing groups among people who were less likely to turn to the community church to fulfil(l) that need.  The rest of the US population might dip into church to satisfy their need to sing, but in the UK there are plenty of other outlets.  (In fact, my old reflexologist belonged to a non-religious Gospel choir--they just like the style of singing, not the religious message.)

Come to think of it, I do know Americans who belong to non-religious community singing groups, but these are (orig. AmE) barbershop quartets.*  Am I wrong about community choir-joining?  Should barbershop quartets count as choirs, when the things I'm thinking of in the UK have far more singers?  Let me have it in the comments...

*OED notes that barber(-)shop as a name for a haircutting establishment is not originally AmE, but is "chiefly North American" nowadays.  I'm not quite sure whether there's a replacement in the UK--Better Half just talks about going to the barber's and we both marvel all the time that yet another hair-cutting place is taking over yet another place that used to be a nice shop.  Do other people in Brighton get their hair cut every two weeks? Do people travel for miles for a Brighton haircut?  How can the population possibly support this many hair stylists?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Words of the Year 2009: staycation and go missing

My thanks to everyone who has engaged in the nominations and debate on Words of the Year for 2009. Here's a reminder of the rules (I'm a Libran with Virgo rising/ascendant, I've gotta have rules):
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 2009, 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.
And now, without further ado...

The 2009 SbaCL Best American English to British Import is...


Yes, the recession has hit the UK and it's become both stylish and necessary to forgo a (BrE) holiday/(AmE) vacation in Thailand or Morocco and instead brave the British weather in a seaside town or scenic valley. But wait...what's that you say? That's not what it originally meant in American English? All the better for proclaiming it the best AmE to BrE import of the year!

The word is eminently American--the British do not use vacation to refer to something that one can 'go on'. (They do use it to refer to the time in which, say, university is out of session--but not for the non-work activities that one does while free from one's term-time duties. That's your holiday.) And while more British alternatives, like home-iday and holistay have been proposed, they have not caught on:

Google hits
on .uk sites

Word Spy's early AmE citations have it squarely as staying in your own home during one's time off--making a vacation/holiday of being at home (which may include doing the local touristy things or indulging oneself in other ways). WordNik's more current quotations show its use as being more 'vacationing/holidaying close to home'. In BrE it generally has the latter sense, and one's staycation might not be all that close to home, as long as it's in the UK. (Then again, many US states take longer to cross than the longest journeys in the UK, so 'close' is always relative...)

Why did it catch on? First, there was definitely a need for it. The British discuss holidays/vacations a lot more than Americans do, since they generally get a longer vacation/holiday period from their employment. And many of them use that time to go abroad. Abroad is pretty close, for one thing, and many people are keen to get some sun. (They ought to be. Did you know that "in the UK, the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in all adults is around 14.5%, and may be more than 30% in those over 65 years old, and as high as 94% in otherwise healthy south Asian adults"?) Second, the euro strengthened while the pound weakened and other financial calamities. Third, the papers still had their travel sections and supplements to fill and, boy, do they like portmanteau words (or blends, as we linguists tend to call them).

But all of this doesn't tell us why the AmE one was preferred over the BrE equivalents. This may be a matter of taste, but I would say that it's just because staycation sounds better. Unlike home(l)iday, there's no unclarity about how to spell or pronounce it. Unlike holistay it doesn't sound like it should have TM after it. And unlike Broliday, you can immediately recogni{s/z}e the ingredients in the blend.

Thanks to Emmet for nominating this, and to the commentators on the nomination, who helped to seal its fate as AmE-to-BrE Word of the Year.

So, on to the BrE-to-AmE WotY. It's not a particularly new borrowing, but it generated a fair amount of discussion this year. Ladies and germs, I give you:

go missing

And now I brace myself for the complaints that "It's not a word!" Well, that depends on how you define word, and "Lexical Item of the Year" just doesn't have the same ring to it. And I make up the rules, so why am I having to answer to you, Little Commenter Voice in My Head?

At the Dictionary Society of North America conference this year, Garrison Bickerstaff of the University of Georgia gave a paper on the rise of go missing and its various forms (went, gone, going, etc.). His research, based on newpaper data from the past 10 years, shows that the form has steadily gained momentum in US newspapers. Meanwhile, it's also increased in frequency in UK newspapers--indicating that it is less and less seen as 'too informal' for the news. Here are some numbers from the first and last year in Bickerstaff's study. Each represents the number of forms of went missing (the most common form) per ten million words of his corpus:


So, while it is still not used in AmE at anything like the rate at which it's used in BrE, we can see that it has made definite inroads.

Bickerstaff was not the only academic type to ruminate on go missing this year--it was the subject of quite a bit of discussion on the American Dialect Society e-mail list. Another academic discussion was by Anya Luscombe of the Netherlands, who gave a paper on BBC Style at the Poetics and Linguistics Association conference [warning: link is a pdf file]. Luscombe discusses four 'pet hates' of BBC writers, one of which is 'Americanisms' and another is go missing. While her work clearly isn't about the phrase in AmE, it's interesting to see how attitudes to it have changed in the BBC style guides. Luscombe quotes these editions:
Prior to 1992: no mention
1992: ‘“Gone missing” was originally Army slang. It now has wider use, and has become journalese.’
2000: ‘People do not “go missing”. They are missing or have been missing since.’
2003: ‘Go missing is inelegant and unpopular with many people, but its use is widespread. There are no easy synonyms. Disappear and vanish do not convince and they suggest dematerialisation, which is rare.’
And going further, a current BBC webpage says:
Perhaps it's to time to admit that further resistance against "go missing" is in vain. The problem comes when you are writing about the event in the past. " Mr Childers disappeared last Tuesday" is as improbable as "Mr Childers went missing" is ugly. ".....was last seen" is an acceptable alternative.

What I love about the importing of go missing into AmE is that American peevologists don't like it in spite of the fact that it is British! While Americans often suffer a verbal inferiority complex when they encounter a British English (standard or not), grumpy Americans are standing their ground on this one. Perhaps they don't realize that this phrase comes from the Mother Country?

Went missing was Grammar Girl's pet peeve of the year 2008. Another example comes from Peevologist-at-Large Robert Hartwell Fiske's Silence, language and society (reproduced by the eminently reasonable Mr Verb on his blog in June):
"Gone" or "went" missing is dreadfully popular today. Everyone from reporters on "CNN" to detectives (or their writers) on "Without a Trace" now prefer it.

People are so dull-witted and impressionable that, today, in this country, the popularity of "gone" or "went missing" has soared. Words like "disappeared," "vanished," "misplaced," "stolen," "lost," "deserted," "absconded" are seldom heard today because "went missing" has less meaning, or less exact meaning, than any of them, and people, especially the media, perhaps, are afraid of expressing meaning. What's more, "went missing" sounds willful or deliberate, and, indeed, sometimes that connotation is accurate, but the child who has been kidnapped is hardly agreeable to having been so.

Now, that kind of language grumpiness is just precious (and published regularly in Mr Fiske's publication, the Vocabula Review)--language is changing because people are afraid of meaning anything. My goodness, I do hope Mr Fiske is wearing his tin foil hat because the media are probably right now trying to suck meaning directly from his brain so that they can club baby seals with it.

Go missing
is beautifully meaningful--giving us some nuances not available in other words. It's not the same as vanish or disappear--and that's what makes it so useful. When something is said to go missing, it makes it seem like a less mysterious event than 'disappearing' or 'vanishing' which have a whiff of the supernatural about them. One can use it as a way to avoid blame--including self-blame: My phone went missing rather than I lost my phone. If a person 'goes missing', then there's a sense that although we don't know where they are, they do.

For more on this, I point you to another language commentator who picked up on this phrase this year, Jan Freeman of the Boston Globe (and not just because she quotes me!). It was her research on the phrase earlier in the year that put it in my mind as the frontrunner for the WotY crown, and it wears it well, I think.

Happy New Words!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

seaside diversions

While it's still seasonal, I should mention a couple of differences that have come up in Grover's first summer of proper playing on the beach.

First there are these things:
[photo and instructions for building it from]

In my AmE dialect, this is called a pinwheel, but in BrE it's called a windmill (because it looks like a 'real' windmill). It may also be called a windmill by Americans as well. Pinwheel in AmE is also extended to other things that resemble including the pinwheel quilt pattern and pinwheel cookies (which resemble the motion more than the thing).

And then there are these things:

[from Open Clip Art Library]

In BrE, this is a bucket and spade. Now, whenever my in-laws discuss these, they put them in that order (bucket and spade), and so I was going to say that this phrase is an irreversible binomial (something we've discussed before) but via Google, I actually find more spade and buckets [see the first comment for vindication of my intuition/experience]. The AmE equivalent (in my dialect, at least) is shovel and pail, which I would put in that order, but for which there are many times more examples of the other order, pail and shovel, online. So, don't listen to me about word orders--apparently I don't know.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


It's been a while since I've had a simple 'they call it this/we call it that' post. Some of you can think of this as a reward for sitting through all the grammar and html tables. It's an old request, but a seasonal one. Mrs Redboots wrote months ago to ask:

"She had once stayed in a rented cottage in Surrey, and she remembered the odd term the British use for this arrangement: self-catering."

Is it odd? And what do Americans say?
It is odd, Mrs R. And although just sentences ago I promised a 'they call it this/we call it that' post, I can't hono(u)r my own promise, because Americans don't call it anything.

Why? Because Americans don't expect their holiday/vacation abodes (and their prices) to include any meals. The British notion of 'bed and breakfast' is regarded as a quaint one that was only imported in earnest (as tourist accommodation) to America a couple of decades ago (or so). In fact, I recently had a conversation with an Englishwoman who had come over to the US for our second wedding reception and was still talking (two years later) about how incredibly wonderful the B&B in my hometown was. While that B&B is especially nice (elaborate, different breakfasts every morning, warm cookies every evening, all antique furniture, scented bath potions, and so forth), I think it especially impressed my English friend because B&B accommodation in the UK can be somewhat dire (it can also be very, very nice). In fact, B&Bs often serve the roles in the UK that (AmE) motels do in the US (except that there are far fewer films involving murders in B&Bs than in motels!). For evidence, see this article that recalls a B&B's role in housing homeless families.

I'm finding that increasingly one can get a room in a hotel without breakfast in the UK (for a lower price), just as in the US provision of included-in-the-price breakfast (or at least doughnuts and coffee) has increased.

But back to self-catering. This is generally used by BrE speakers to refer to (BrE) holiday/(AmE) vacation accommodation such as cottages, cabins, and (BrE) flats/(AmE) apartments,where there is no restaurant or service staff to provide meals, but cooking facilities are available. In the US, we'd just say we were renting a cottage somewhere, and that would be that--no need to mention the eating arrangements. One often hears BrE speakers saying things like "We want to go self-catering this year", to mean that they want a reduced-cost, back-to-basics holiday/vacation.

One often sees (BrE) package holidays advertised as 'self-catering' (as opposed to 'bed and breakfast' or 'all inclusive'). Here's another contrast: Americans rarely take package holidays unless (a) they've got a deal to go to Disneyworld, or (b) they're in their 'golden years'. This is probably because (a) Americans are wary of anything that might 'tie them down' too much, (b) [and therefore] they often just get in the car and drive, and (c) they get almost no holiday/vacation time (usually two weeks' paid vacation for Americans versus the six weeks or so that Europeans usually get)--and therefore often use what they've got to do things that need to be done, like visiting family or undertaking big projects, rather than going on treks to new and different places.

We've discussed a couple of other differences in tourist accommodation in past posts--so click back if you'd like to read/discuss (BrE) flannels/(AmE) washcloths in hotel bathrooms or (BrE) en-suite accommodation.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

seasons and series

Apologies to those of you who wrote to me during my recent confinement, as I wasn't able to respond to e-mail at that time, and the thought of responding to all of those messages now is a bit overwhelming. So, if you're requested coverage of something on this blog, then rest assured that I've marked your request for further attention, and will let you know if/when I cover that topic on the blog. And now...I'll start work on that backlog, starting with a request from my old friend the Ginger Nut (whom we met back here). She writes:
We downloaded what's available of series 3 of the Boosh so far and we're working through it. Here's a BrE / AmE question for you. They [BrE speakers] call a season a series. We use series for the show across time (Seinfeld was a series that ran for 9 seasons) and break it up into seasons which usually correspond to years. What's the BrE equivalent to our use of series?
My read on this would be that BrE doesn't have a series/season distinction, since there really isn't such a thing as a television season in British broadcasting. In the US, new program(me)s [i.e. new (AmE) series] and the new set of episodes of an old program(me) [i.e. the new (AmE) season of an existing (AmE) series] typically begin around the same time in the (AmE) fall/(BrE) autumn. So, one can talk about the television 'season' as something that begins in fall/autumn and continues through to spring. (Some series begin later in the year, after other series get cancel(l)ed , and these are known as [AmE] mid-season replacements.) Because almost all series begin and end at the same points in the year, they tend to be 24 to 26 episodes (13 for the first season of mid-season replacements). This makes them much longer than typical British series (if we're talking about dramas or situation comedies; soaps and reality program(me)s go on FOREVER), which are typically not longer than 12 episodes, and more usually quite a bit shorter--situation comedies are often six episodes, for example. In the US, anything that short would be called a mini-series. In UK television listings, the name of the program(me) is often followed by a fraction, for example:
8:30 Jam & Jerusalem
2/6; series two. Indignant that Spike has saved up to buy a ticket for Glastonbury, Tash resolves to find her way in for free as usual, but things do not go to plan. [Radio Times, 22 Dec 2007-4 Jan 2008]
The fraction tells us that this is episode 2 of 6 in the current (BrE) series/(AmE) season. Of the UK-made program(me)s on terrestrial channels in that week according to Radio Times (not a typical week, because of the New Year holiday, but it's the only copy of RT I have here), they were composed of:
4 x two episodes [2 x comedy; 1 x mystery; 1 x documentary]
3 x three episodes [1 x costume drama; 2 x documentary]
1 x four episodes [documentary]
1 x five episodes [documentary]
3 x six episodes [1 x drama?, 2 x comedy]
2 x seven episodes [(BrE) quiz/(AmE) game show; reality]
4 x eight episodes [1 x panel quiz (more on this later), 2 x comedy, 1 x how-to]
1 x nine episodes [reality/competition]
3 x twelve episodes [hospital drama, panel quiz, talk show 'best of' series]
1 x sixteen episodes [comedy]
(God, I do know how to make blog-writing unnecessarily time-consuming--which is why it's taken me most of a week to write this entry.) The short lengths of series means that new series begin throughout the year, hence, we can't talk about a particular year's television 'season'.

It's also the case that British sitcoms and the like are not necessarily meant to go on for years. Take the original UK version of The Office, for example. It ran for two series of six episodes, plus two Christmas specials. It was very successful in the UK (hence the Christmas specials), but that didn't mean that it was destined to go on for years and years, well past the time when it had (orig. AmE) jumped the shark. Now, compare the US version of The Office. While at first it was very closely based on the UK series (just Americani{s/z}ing the scripts where necessary, as I understand it), it's now gone on for 59 episodes--so they must've been adding lots of new plots since starting. (Has the shark been jumped yet? I don't watch it, so I don't know. I could only watch the UK version through my fingers, as such drastic social discomfort gives me nightmares.)

A couple of downsides to the UK system are:
  1. Because the series are so short, if you don't pay a lot of attention, you may not discover a good one until you've missed most or all of it. (But if it was good, it'll probably be repeated at some point.)
  2. You often don't know whether a favo(u)rite program(me) will ever be back. Fans of the wonderful Spaced still listen for rumo(u)rs that it might come back--even though the last episode was in 2001. (Our hope gets more far-fetched as Simon Pegg's (AmE-preferred) movie/(BrE-preferred) film career develops.)
And, of course, the television schedules are not as predictable in the UK as the US, where, for instance, Thursday nights meant Cheers for years and years and years. I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Far fewer sharks get jumped.

Another thing that differs between UK and US television is the survival of (BrE) light entertainment programming in the UK, when it has pretty much died out in US prime time network programming (in favo[u]r of a strict diet of sitcoms, dramas and reality shows). Light entertainment refers to comedy-music-variety programming, and while it may technically (in terms of what the light entertainment budget at the BBC covers--I'm not sure) include formats that are familiar in the US, like sketch shows and comedian-led talk shows (which don't tend to run in prime time in the US), it prototypically covers (prime time) variety shows like Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway (which involves a lot of audience competitions as well) or panel quizzes (called panel games on Wikipedia, but quiz is what I more typically hear) like Have I Got News for You, QI and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. These program(me)s are typically hosted by a comedian (though some, like Have I Got News..., have guest hosts who may be other kinds of celebrity--e.g. newspaper editor or politician), with teams of other entertainers/famous people answering questions on a particular topic and being awarded points by the host--usually in a fairly capricious way. The point of these quizzes is not so much to get the answers right as to be entertaining in discussing the questions. The closest thing I've seen on US television was Whose Line is it Anyway?, which was (BrE) nicked from the UK (which was more a game than a quiz--but had the capricious score-giving element). I believe that there are some panel quizzes on National Public Radio, but I can't remember if they're British imports or homegrown (answers, anyone?).

Saturday, September 15, 2007

posted, post and mail

On to April's queries--with the goal of getting through them before the term starts.

On a visit to Colorado, Chris was puzzled:
Lining the roads were expanses of trees, and every so often I'd see a sign nailed to a tree that said "Posted."

Nothing else.
We have signs like this in my native New York state, too, and many, if not most, other states--though whether they can get away with just saying Posted might vary. The longer form of the sign would say Posted: No Trespassing, and we could refer to the area of land with these signs at its borders as posted land. In other words, the sign is saying that the land is privately owned (or at least not open to the public) and that you are not allowed to be on the land without the owner's permission, and that because signs have been 'posted' you have been warned of this fact. These kinds of signs, in my experience, are particularly used in wooded areas of countryside. This is the landowner's way of keeping away hunters, anglers, dog-walkers, (AmE) hikers/(BrE) ramblers, (orig. N. Amer. E) snowmobilers, others' livestock, etc. This also gives rise to the transitive verb: to post land--that is, to declare it off-limits by posting signs at specific intervals, as specified by state law. When I was a child, I was told that landowners were allowed to shoot trespassers if they'd posted their land. This, of course, was not true (though it could well have been true a longer time ago). These days, the penalties are fines or short jail stints and/or loss of hunting/fishing licen{c/s}es, depending on the state and whether the trespasser has hunted or has previous convictions. Click for miscellaneous examples from Kansas, Florida and North Dakota.

The trend in (at least northern) Europe is toward public access to private land. The UK recently implemented the Countryside and Right of Way Act (2000), informally known as the right to roam, which allows anyone the right to (BrE) ramble/(AmE) hike on uncultivated land (but not to ride horses, camp, etc.). (Hunting privileges are another matter, about which I have no clue.) For other European countries, see this Wikipedia article.

The Posted signs are pretty opaque in their meaning in the first place, but probably even more foreign to BrE speakers, since the related adjectival meaning of posted is used less in the UK:
2. Set up or fixed in a prominent place; displayed so as to provide information; advertised, made public. Now chiefly N. Amer. [OED: Mar 2007 draft revision]
As in:
1975 N.Y. Times 29 Oct. 28/1 There was ample time to peruse the posted menu of the day's cuisine minceur.
In BrE, one might be more likely to interpret posted menu as a menu that had been sent through the (BrE-preferred) post /(AmE-preferred) mail. (Mailed menu sounds a little odd to me in AmE--I'd probably say menu that had been sent in the mail.) When I worked in South Africa, in the days before widespread e-mail availability, I lived for the post/mail, even though it largely consisted of recitations by my mother of who-ate-what when they went out to dinner last. All of my letters were sent to my work address, so every afternoon, I could be heard to be wondering whether the mail was here yet. One of my colleagues could always be counted on to offer himself as "the male". That trained me into saying post fairly quickly.

Of course, the organi{s/z}ation that delivers the (BrE) post in the UK is the Royal Mail, demonstrating that mail isn't an AmE word, but that the senses and usage of the word varies across the two places. In BrE, it's more likely to be the mail when it is in transit in large bunches, and more likely to be the post when it is on its way from the post office to your door. Hence this entry in the OED (2004 draft revision):
2. a. A bag or packet of letters or dispatches for conveyance by post (more fully [Obs.] mail of letters). In later use chiefly: the postal matter (or a quantity of letters, packages, etc.) conveyed in this manner; all that is conveyed by post on one occasion. With definite article or without article. Also (chiefly in N. Amer.) in pl., and (chiefly S. Asian) with indefinite article.
The plural use mentioned here for AmE, the mails isn't used all that much, and sounds fairly outdated to me. (Something that the Pony Express might deal in, but not the modern-day USPS.) But the 'In later use chiefly' bit in the above definition is more true of BrE than AmE, since the following use is equally dominant in AmE:
c. orig. U.S. The letters, packages, etc., delivered to or intended for one address or individual.
The OED goes on to note that mail in AmE and AusE is also used to refer to the 'system of delivery and conveyance of letters, etc., by post', and notes:
The term mail (as distinguished from post) is currently dominant in North America and Australia, both for the system itself and the material carried. New Zealand retains post for the postal system, but mail otherwise. Britain favours post in both contexts. However, this pattern is not necessarily maintained in historically fixed collocations, such as Royal Mail, Post Office, Canada Post, Australia Post, parcel post, junk mail, etc. In the United Kingdom the word was formerly limited in ordinary use to the dispatch of letters abroad, as the Indian mail, etc., or as short for mail-train.
And thus AmE speakers tend to talk about mailmen--or the less gendered letter carriers--while BrE speakers tend to talk about postmen--but I note that the Royal Mail jobs website uses postperson where space is at a premium, and postman/postwoman elsewhere. Postal worker is used more generically to include people who work in the post office or sorting office, as well as deliverers, and of course some high-profile cases of postal workers (orig. BrE, I think) going mental and shooting people resulted in the AmE colloquialism to go postal.

Of course, postman is also known and used in AmE, as evidenced by The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Postman. This sounds a little old-fashioned to me in AmE, and I think Costner used postman in his title because it sounds a little more exotic than mailman. J. Robert Lennon's book title Mailman, on the other hand, carries with it a more quotidian feel. (Is it perverse to use such an exotic word to mean 'everyday'?)

I suppose we can't leave this subject without touching on e(lectronic)-mail. Much of the history of e(-)mail is situated in US Department of Defense (= BrE Defence) projects, which is probably why we call it e(-)mail, rather than e-post. This, of course, led to the AmE coinage of snail mail, but in BrE, of course, one can distinguish between the two types of communication by referring to e(-)mail versus post.

And with that, I'll post this blog post!

Friday, September 14, 2007

on/in the playground

(December 2010 updates in red)

Once upon a time, Grant Barrett forwarded to me the following item from issue 343 (29 March 2007) of Popbitch:
Confessions of an 80s pop fan
ishouldhaveknownbetter writes:
"I met Simon Le Bon at a house party. Everyone was playing it really cool so when he came to say goodbye I just exchanged air kisses, but then as he turned away for some reason I blurted out, 'Simon, I just want you to know that when I was younger I had a whole wall covered in posters of you at jaunty angles'. He went quiet. So I continued, 'And once I had a dream that you and Roger Taylor came to call for me on horses and then we all went out and played on the climbing frames.'
He left the party immediately."
Grant thought a girl [*ahem*] of my generation would appreciate the Duran Duran reference (I never actually bought any of their albums, but did bother to have an opinion on which was the [orig. AmE] dreamiest). He also pointed out the non-Americanness of climbing frame, which he ably figured out is equivalent to (orig. AmE) monkey bars and/or (orig. AmE) jungle gym. Monkey bars is used in the UK now too, and in both dialects it can refer specifically to a contraption like the one below, from US company ChildLife, with a ladder-like structure several feet above the ground.

But in both dialects monkey bars is also used more loosely sometimes to refer to any kind of structure built for children to climb on--i.e. a climbing frame/jungle gym.

Most of the other amusements on a playground have the same names in both dialects, although swing set, to refer to the apparatus involving swings and the frame that they're suspended from, seems to be more popular AmE. Better Half says he'd just call the whole apparatus swings [although the OED does not mark swing set as AmE--see comments]. See-saws are see-saws, but teeter-totter is a dialectal AmE word for the same thing. (I grew up with both terms.)

And those round things that one kid pushes (a)round and (a)round while the kids on it get sick--well, as a child in New York State we called these things merry-go-rounds or roundabouts, but the American Heritage tells me that roundabout in this meaning is 'chiefly' BrE. As a child, I preferred roundabout, because I liked to reserve merry-go-round for the kind of powered thing with horses, also known as a carousel. (Let's ignore the traffic-related meaning of roundabout. That deserves its own post.) Oxford dictionaries like to claim that carousel is spelt carrousel in AmE ('frequently' in OED2, but simply presented as the AmE spelling in my [admittedly out-of-date] Concise). I don't recall seeing it spelt that way anywhere but in an Oxford Dictionary--and, now that I've looked, in the American Heritage, which lists it as an alternative spelling, but not the predominant spelling. The OED also says that attributive use (i.e. placed in front of another noun, to modify it) of carousel, as in carousel music, is chiefly AmE. Nevertheless, their most recent (2007) addition to the carousel entry in the OED On-line is BrE carousel fraud (a kind of scam to reclaim [BrE] VAT/[AmE] sales tax)--indicating that BrE speakers use it attributively too.

Going through my mental playground inventory, the only other dialectal difference that I can think of is AmE sandbox versus BrE sand-pit. But I suppose that this is as good a place as any to mention BrE bouncy castle versus (in my day) AmE moonwalk (or today) bounce house, even though they're generally not found on playgrounds everyday. The naming difference reflects the different ways in which these things are decorated and marketed. The bouncy castle is a big inflated thing that is usually shaped like a castle. Moonwalks tend to have space themes. I've found inflatable castle as an AmE term for the castle shaped ones as well. Apparently, there's some controversy about whether these things were invented first in the UK or the US.

Other business:
  • This is it! I've finally got to the end of the answerable queries from March! Now I'm only five months behind!
  • As for tomorrow's appearance on Ant & Dec, it might be a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of affair. We spent at least an hour together taping yesterday (charming young men!), but I have no idea what they'll edit it down to. But here's the evidence that we have breathed the same air:

Ant, Lynne, fellow Scrabbler Kat, and Dec
(thanks to Stewart for the photo!)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

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.

Friday, February 02, 2007

the names of the games, part 2: games children play

It was probably Better Half's and my visit to the Strong National Museum of Play that inspired me to think and write about board games a couple posts ago. Then I promised a follow-up on children's games, but come to think of it, a lot of the games I've blogged about so far are games I played as a child (Parcheesi/Ludo, Clue/Cluedo, checkers/draughts, slapjack/snap). So, while not repeating those, here are some more.

It's not surprising that a lot of playground games (like a lot of nursery rhymes--there's fodder for another post) are different (in name and rules) in the two countries, since they also vary a lot from playground to playground within a country. Those kinds of games are passed on by oral tradition, and traditions get muddled and/or developed from time to time, so that we're left with games with just vague family resemblances. One of these was raised by the mysterious Dearieme on the previous games post: (BrE) British bulldog(s). When I looked up the game on some website, I didn't recogni{s/z}e the rules as those of (AmE) Red Rover, but according to the Canadian Dialect Topography site (skip down to item 73), the two terms are used synonymously in Canada. The games are no doubt related, but the description of British Bulldog on Wikipedia sounds little like the game that we called Red Rover on my old playground. There, there was no breaking through a chain of people or getting tagged, as described on various website descriptions of Red Rover. No, it was a game of social exclusion at my school (that and kickball were the only kinds of games we played)--the person who was 'it' would say "Red Rover, Red Rover let X come over" where X would be a colo(u)r (of clothing) or another physical/clothing attribute (e.g. "let t-shirts come over"). The 'it' would do this until some poor soul they didn't like was the only person left on the other side and they then knew where they stood on the social hierarchy. But apparently that's not how the game was meant to be played. Better Half says "That's not a game. That's bullying with a rhyme!" Perhaps it's explained to him some of my less appealing adult behavio(u)rs. ("Explained, but not forgiven," crowed BH.)

Kickball, while we're at it, does not mean (BrE) football/(AmE) soccer, as it can (BrE can do) in BrE, where, according to the OED, it's spelt kick-ball and started out as a Scotticism. In the US, kickball is much the same as baseball, except that an inflated ball (about the size of a soccer/foot-ball) is rolled on the ground and kicked instead of a smaller ball being thrown and hit with a bat. It was a staple in my (AmE) gym class (=PE [physical education]) and on our playground. (Since I went to a poor (AmE) Catholic school/(BrE) convent (school), our playground was a church parking lot. So none of this new-fangled climbing equipment and such that kids get these days. And I had to walk there, waist deep in snow. Past man-eating earthworms. Yeah, you kids don't know how good you've got it. I tell you, in my day...)

Let's get back to board games, though, as that's where I meant to be. The most shocking discovery at the Strong Museum was that Better Half had never seen, played nor even heard of Candy Land, a game that only three-year-olds could love. It's one of those games where one has to advance around the board to a final goal. To make it easy for tiny tots, the spaces on the board are different colo(u)rs, and on each turn one takes a card with a block or two of a colo(u)r or a picture of a landmark on the board (like the (AmE) Candy Cane Forest). That way, the child can tell where they need to get to without having to count their way there. Parents and (orig. AmE) babysitters/child-care workers (BrE child-minders) soon learn to stack the deck so that the child will pick the Lollypop Woods card early and the game will soon be finished. I pretended that I felt sorry for BH that he'd missed out on this game, but really I was seething with jealousy.

The advancing-up-the-board game that one does find in Britain is Snakes and Ladders (picture left from here), which was marketed in the US as Chutes and Ladders by Milton Bradley (picture right from here)--the same evil geniuses who brought us Candy Land. As the names suggest, in the more traditional British version the board has ladders that one can advance up and snakes that one must slide down, to a less advantageous position. But who in real life goes down snakes? The literal-minded Americans changed them to chutes, and the boards there reflect this.

Another game for playing with very young children is the memory game (AmE)Concentration/(BrE) Memory, which proves that the Americans don't have the patent on literal-mindedness. That's the one where you have a set of cards in which each card has a matching mate. A player turns one over and then gets one chance to turn over the mate. If the two cards match, the player keeps them and has another go. If they don't match, the cards are turned back over and the next player has a try.

One of the toys at the museum that BH was able to wax nostalgic about was the Erector Set--except, of course, that he knows it by the name Meccano. (I've just discovered there's a Meccano web ring. There's a web ring for everything these days.) But as a child in England in the 70s he didn't have Slinky or Mr Potato Head or Silly Putty. And he certainly didn't have Lincoln Logs. Disraeli Log just doesn't have the same ring.

Postscript! I forgot to discuss a children's amusement that I'd promised to M.A. Peel. (Apologies, Mrs Peel.) Remember dot-to-dot puzzles? In AmE, one must connect the dots, while in BrE one joins the dots--and thus the puzzles are sometimes called connect-the-dots or join-the-dots, depending on where you are. The verb difference carries over into metaphorical use of the phrases--i.e. 'to find the connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information' (or something like that).