Announcing Untranslatable October VI

On Twitter, I usually post a 'Difference of the Day' between British and American English every weekday. But for the past five Octobers, I've done the Untranslatable of the Day.
The moment I start tweeting about 'untranslatables' I expect to receive tweets and emails complaining about the concept, particularly that 'nothing is untranslatable'. That's why I write this self-plagiarizing introductory blog post each year. 
Yes, 'untranslatable' is not a very useful concept. I use it because it's shorter and more familiar than what I really mean: 'Lexicalized in a particular variety of English, but not another' That is, the concept may be expressable in the other English, but it hasn't been packaged as a lexical item--i.e. a word or an idiom--in every variety of English.

Comparing which concepts warrant lexicalized (belongs-in-a-dictionary) expressions in a language can be interesting from a cultural perspective. They tell us things about working conditions, social relations, and other good stuff. Sometimes they make us think "yeah, I need a word for that!" and there the word is to borrow. 
So, I repeat again the clarifications about Untranslatable October that I've given before:
  • I'm only talking about the relationship between British and American English here (as is my theme). These expressions may well have equivalents in other languages or dialects.  
  • By Untranslatable I mean that there is no lexicali{z/s}ed equivalent in the other dialect. And by lexicali{z/s}ed I mean that the expression is a word or an idiom--something that language users learn through hearing others say it, rather than something that has been made up anew.
    One can translate things by making up new sentences or phrases that describe the same thing, sure. But it's special when a language has lexicali{z/s}ed an  expression for something--it tells us something about the culture that invented and uses that expression.
  • Many of these have started to be borrowed between the dialects--and that's natural. If it's a useful expression and the other dialect doesn't have it, it's a prime candidate for international migration.
  • If you have not heard of the word before (even though I've said it comes from your country), then I hope that you might celebrate that you've learned a new expression, rather than complain to me that it's not 'really' American or British. Please know that I'm not posting them without some research, and none of us has a complete vocabulary. That said, if you can improve on my definitions, challenge the 'untranslatability' or give other insight into the untranslatables, please let me know!
  • If it's a word for a thing that isn't found in the other country, it doesn't count. That is, it's not Americans don't have a word for Eccles cake, it's that Americans don't have Eccles cakes
  • I'm grateful for suggestions of additional untranslatables (though they may not make UotD status until next year), but I won't repeat any expressions that have been used in previous Octobers. The lists for each October are accessible by clicking on the 'untranslatable' label in the right margin, the bottom of this post, or, conveniently, here: untranslatable.
    There are also search boxes at the top and in the right margin of this blog. (The one in the margin works much better.) So please have a quick search before making suggestions, in order to cut down on the time that I spend responding to suggestions. (This is all voluntary on my part, please remember!)

Each year I've wondered: can I really keep this up for a(nother) month? Are there that many concepts that are put into words or idioms in Britain or the U.S., but not the other country? Well, we've come up with more than 100 so far, and this year, I kept a file of UotD suggestions all through the year and can say with confidence that there are enough for a sixth go-round. But unlike in other years, I've not been able to balance the number of British and American untranslatables. I've got lots of British ones. Please feel free to send more American ones my way! 
Untranslatables (like Differences of the Day) will appear at 3pm British time (10am US east coast) each weekday on Twitter till the 31st. If you don't use Twitter, you can see them in the Twitter feed to the right here, or wait for the summary at the end of the month. In any case, I hope you enjoy them! 

141 comments

  1. Hi, I'm an American living in Germany. I get British TV by satellite and have been having a field day (there's one for you, maybe?) with all the differences.

    Would "I'll be mother" be an untranslatable British phrase, do you think?

    Also, is "T-boned" (side collision) used in Britain or is this an untranslatable from AE?

    Also, I was wondering if "corny" is used in BE?

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  2. I'd considered 't-boned' in an earlier year (I hadn't known it from AmE!), but I found enough BrE examples that I thought it'd be hard to justify. What do others think?

    The OED's first example for 'corny' is British--and there are a lot of British ones mixed in with the American from then on.

    'I'll be mother' is a good one. :)

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  3. Pinter's play The Dumbwaiter mentions an Eccles cake. Back in the 1960s I saw an American production in which a Ring Ding was mentioned instead. A localization rather than a translation, but it worked very well.

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  4. I don't think I'm familiar with the term "t-boned" (except for steaks), but I'm a non-driver.

    Corny I though was British. I remember a school friend back in the sixties in the north of England complain that his father made so many corny jokes "we need a combine harvester in our house when he gets home." (Presumably using corn in the sense of the local cash crop, wheat. Can you use a combine harvester for maize?)

    As for being mother, I am reminded of a story a friend told me of having breakfast in an hotel with a German friend. A pot of coffee arrived at their table in front of the German.

    "Are you going to be mother?" asked my friend.

    "Nein, all we Bavarians tend to be plump."

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    1. "Corn" was traditionally used in Ireland to mean "grain" in general, or whichever the predominant local crop was, as far as I understand, so your friend's allusion to wheat harvesting sounds right.

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    2. I've read any number of historians' complaints about the problem that the English word "corn" makes for them. It has always pretty much meant "whatever grain is the main crop hereabouts", and it's often very difficult for a poor, suffering historian to determine which grain that was at a specific place and time.

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  5. "Graunch", pronounced just as you'd imagine.
    v intransitive or noun

    The noise (or making the noise) produced by crashing cog wheels or changing gear without using the clutch (maybe this is not easy to imagine in a nation that seems wedded to automatic transmission?).

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  6. Just found your blog--this is great! The BrE untranslatable I seem to see the most as a fiction editor is "to be playing at," as in "what are you playing at?" It doesn't quite mean "what are you doing?" or "what the hell are you doing?" and while "what do you think you're doing?" or "what's he up to?" sometimes come close, other times they miss the mark entirely. I have the hardest time explaining to authors that we really don't have an equivalent expression in AmE.

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  7. For 'What are you playing at?' would 'What's your deal?' work? Interesting one...

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    1. We have a phrase in the classical music business, when someone is sawing away at a passage they have no hope of mastering -- "What are you building there?{

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  8. Melody Maker was a British publication, but they wrote a lot about American music. When corny was a fresh word, it was equated with corn-fed. Now Melody Maker supplies the earliest OED quote for corn-fed also — three years earlier than that corny quote. And while adding apologetic quotation marks to 'corny', they didn't add any to corn-fed.

    The OED reckons that corn-fed was a jazz expression, which even today suggests American English; back in 1929 I don't believe it could have been anything else. Which makes corny also a word of American origin, which happened not to be written down (or hasn't been found to have been written down) earlier than its discovery by the British jazz scene.

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  9. One American word is "punt", meaning "give up for now, in hopes that conditions are better in the future". It comes from the American football tactic of the offensive team kicking away the ball, hoping their defense can stop the other team's offense and they can get the ball back later in better position.

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    1. I'll actually vote for this one, but in the whole phrase "time to punt" because a only a few years ago I used this in a comment to someone from Wales, and then had to go through a bit of an explanation as to what it meant.

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  10. Joe:

    American football has been shown on UK television for over thirty years - there was even an NFL game in London yesterday - so the term is not unknown. However, punt has another meaning in the UK, to bet, and a punter is someone who is betting.

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  11. Punt in the sense 'drop-kick' is actually a British word. It originated in the British game of rugby, and was transferred to the American game.

    Literally there is no difference between the two. It's just that the purpose of a punt in American football has given the word those overtones when used figuratively. In rugby, I believe, a punt is almost the opposite of a tactical move. If I understand aright, a player punts the ball if there's no prospect of running with it, and nobody available to pass it to.

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  12. A bit of a correction. A punt is not the same as a drop-kick.

    In a drop-kick, the ball actually touches the ground. A punt is when your boot connects before the ball can land. It's the same in rugby and in American football.

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  13. Maybe it is just my office, but my British colleagues weren't familiar with the idiom 'skin in the game' Don't know if that is just in AmE, or just not common with the people I work with.

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    1. As a speaker of Australian English, I first heard this expression "skin in the game" while working in the US back around 1998. I inferred its meaning from the context, but - at the time - it seemed bizarre; something about people being flayed alive? "Skin in the game" has infiltrated Australia in the last 15 or so years; now I've heard heard Australians using it speaking to other Australians. I suppose that shows there was no existing local expression with quite the same meaning.

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    2. I hear "dog in this fight" with the same meaning as "skin in the game" -- I have no idea where or when that phrase first came into being. It feels relatively recent, but it may not be. I think I hear it more often in the negative sense of "I don't have a dog in this fight, but...." when someone is offering an opinion on something that doesn't actually affect them.

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    3. "Skin in the game" was popularized by Ross Perot, the third party presidential candidate who ran in 1992 (and 1996). While the billionaire businessman financed his own campaign, he suggested supporters contribute $5 if they wanted "some skin in the game".

      Perot didn't coin the phrase, however; it's recorded as early as 1976.

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    4. I'm a Brit, and I have never heard 'skin in the game'. And I can't even see exactly what it means from what's been said above. Is it used at all in the UK?

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    5. Could the expression originate in the Georgia skin game?

      This was described by Zora Neale Hurston as 'the most favourite gambling game among the workers of the South'. I think she meant Black workers. Jelly Roll Morton told an anecdote about a near disaster when he learned to cheat at the game. He describes joining the game — and therefore the betting — as 'skinning'. The OED records that one of the many meanings of the verb skin is to lay your card down — Georgia skin seems to involve just laying one card down, followed by some complex and very hazardous betting.

      I haven't seen the noun skin used for such a card, but it does seem plausible.

      One of the first Blues LPs to come out in the UK included Peg Leg Howell singing Lost all the money I ever had and Lucille Bogan sang Skin Game Blues about her man losing all his money.

      Peg Leg Howell and Nora Neale Hurston sang Let your deal go down as something chanted at the skin game. The phrase was learned by White performers like Charlie Poole and Don't Let Your Deal Go Down became a standard.

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    6. Check out this definition of skin game at Dictionary.com. It provides both American and British definitions. The first U.S. citation in the U.S. definition comes from a memoir by the American golfer Ben Hogan, which made sense to me because for reasons I can't explain (since I don't play golf) I associate the sport with the term skin game.

      That led me to search on skin game golf, which turned up this web page: "How to Play Skins in Golf." According to this page, a "skin value" is assigned to each hole on the course and with it a betting value. So while skins in golf doesn't involve the cheating or trickery indicated by the Dictionary.com definition, it does involve money stakes ... which could definitely result in cheating or trickery.

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    7. Dicl, I'd already seen the 'American' definition in the OED. To summarise

      1 a. U.S. An unfair or rigged gambling game, esp. of cards. Now chiefly hist .

      1b. orig. U.S. In extended use: a fraudulent deal or piece of business; a swindle, a scam. Also: an activity considered to be characterized by fraudulent or dishonest dealings.

      This must have become fairly familiar in the UK, since John Galsworthy wrote a novel called The Skin Game in 1920.

      2. U.S. (chiefly in African-American usage). = skin n. 25

      Sense 25 of skin is the Georgia Skin game I talked about.

      3. Golf (orig. and chiefly ). = skins game n. (a) at skin n. Compounds 5.

      The cross-reference is to

      skins game n. N. Amer. Sport (a) Golf a game in which prizemoney is awarded to the winner of each hole (cf. sense 26); (b) Curling a game in which prize money is awarded to the winner of each end.

      This cross-references to sense 26 of skin

      26. N. Amer. Golf. A sum of money offered as a wager or prize to the winner of a given hole, which in case of there being no outright winner may accrue to the following hole. Cf. skins game n. (a) at Compounds 5.

      It seems likely that sense [1a] — the crooked card game —is the source of the others. In the Galsworthy sense [1b], the card-game aspect was forgotten. The Georgia skin game and the golf skins game liked the sound of the phrase and forgot about the crooked aspect — although cheating was possible in Georgia skin, as Jelly Roll Morton testifies.

      I still think that Georgia skin is a more likely source for skin in the game because

      1. it involved heavy gambling
      2. players chose to enter the game in a way that doesn't seem to be the case in a golf skins game.

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  14. T-boned is definitely used in the UK. It's not very common though because drivers in the UK are so safe.....

    When I lived in NZ, the local baker sold Eccles cakes, They were exactly the same as the British ones, from Eccles, near Manchester - so not really translatable.

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  15. "Corny" not AmEng? "I'm as corny as Kansas in August" couldn't be more American could it?

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    1. I think corny in BE has a completely different meaning. I'd use it to describe a joke.

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  16. If 'punt' means 'give up for now' in AmE then it's almost the exact opposite of BrE where it means 'give something a try', as in "I'll give it a punt" or "I'll take a punt on that."

    "My family had been pestering me to apply... I had a day left to apply so I thought I would give it a punt." http://bit.ly/2dDUA9W

    I assume the origin of this is the betting usage referenced by Paul Dormer. Similarly, 'punters' is now widely used in a non-betting sense to mean 'customers' or 'consumers'.

    "Last orders called on nightclubs as punters turn their backs" http://bit.ly/2dkVc94

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  17. I would translate Joe's description of "punt" as "kick it into touch". Which I have certainly heard used in the same way, though deriving more obviously from rugby.

    After the great "frown" questoin, I'm wondering if the British use of "frown", meaning in concentration rather than in anger or grumpiness, is untranslatable.

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  18. I believe I tweeted this expression to Lynne last year but I figured I'd bring it up again, just to be safe. It's spring fever -- something Americans get when they've survived another brutal winter and are eager to do things out of doors, even if it's at the expense of other obligations. It also suddenly makes me think of cabin fever, which is a kind of claustrophobia one develops from being confined indoors for an extended period of time.

    Aside: it's my understanding that on the American frontier in the 19th century cabin fever could be fatal. Essentially the men who led their families to homesteading sites on the great plains of the Midwest -- and who found themselves confined to a one-room log cabin during a long, bitterly cold winter -- would snap, shoot their wives and children, and then commit suicide.

    I know spring fever isn't well known in the UK because I used it last year in an email to an English client (explaining why I hadn't completed an assignment for him on time) and he wrote back to me expressing the hope I was now feeling better.

    Not sure about cabin fever, though.

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  19. Rachel Ganz said:

    After the great "frown" question, I'm wondering if the British use of "frown", meaning in concentration rather than in anger or grumpiness, is untranslatable.

    No. This use of "frown" is well-known in American English.

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  20. Surely, even if 'rough sleeper' isn't used in the US, the concept must be universal? After all, isn't the US the home of skid row, buddy can't you spare a dime, and people selling their contaminated blood for cash?

    I've not heard of 'spring fever' before but 'cabin fever' is used a lot here to describe the cooped up feeling you get when you've been stuck in doors all day.

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  21. Surely, even if 'rough sleeper' isn't used in the US, the concept must be universal? After all, isn't the US the home of skid row, buddy can't you spare a dime, and people selling their contaminated blood for cash?

    As someone who has lived in the US all my life, I've never heard the expression "rough sleeper."

    So what does it mean? Based on your context I'm guessing it has to do with being homeless and thus sleeping under "rough" conditions, e.g., in a car, under a bridge, in a cardboard box ... is that it? If so, does it have an extensible meaning applicable to anyone who isn't homeless?

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  22. How about layby ?

    c. An area adjoining a road where vehicles may park without interfering with the traffic.

    IIRC 'turn-out' might suit, but was not universally understood.

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    1. "layby" definitely has no universal corresponding term in AE. Pull-off, Turn-out, shoulder, emergency pull over, and more ... but not one that is used everywhere to describe these things.

      OTOH, actual UK layby's are a somewhat halfway between US equivalents - not rest areas, not shoulders - which makes the word even more perfect as an untranslatable term.

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    2. Doesn't that make them an ecceles cake?

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  23. "sleep rough" carries with it the implication of repetition and that there was no real choice such as when homeless.

    OED 1672 to sleep (formerly also live, lie) rough: to sleep or live in uncomfortable conditions, now typically out of doors.

    If out of choice an alternative such as bivouac would be used.

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  24. 'Spring Fever' was a 1948 novel by that most English of authors, PG Wodehouse.

    Also, I suspect that 'corny' to mean an old, groan-inducing joke or comedy routine, came over here in the 1940s and 1950s when a lot of US radio comedy shows, starring great vaudevillians like George Burns, Bob Hope and (my favourite) Jack Benny were broadcast in the UK.

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  25. Bingo wings (Br Eng.): large, fat-filled hanging upper arms, often found in elderly women and more prevalent in those who are overweight. Named after (for Am. Eng.) the (perceived) predominance of female pensioners believed to exhibit this condition in large numbers during regular UK bingo sessions, often clad in sleeveless summer frocks.

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  26. Suck it and see! (Br Eng): If you don't know what it is or tastes like - try it! Analogous to infants' first attempts at breast-feeding.

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  27. I thought rough sleeper was a recent term, but I was wrong.

    The OED gives two meanings
    • someone who sleeps fitfully, one who tosses and turns during sleep
    • someone who sleeps without adequate shelter, esp. on the streets of a town or city; a homeless person

    It regards the first meaning as now rare and the second meaning as British.

    The earliest quotation (which happens to be with the second meaning) is from 1925.

    It's quite true, sir, that he's a rough sleeper. Hasn't slept in a bed since I've known him.

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  28. MJ Simpson

    'Spring Fever' was a 1948 novel by that most English of authors, PG Wodehouse.

    Well yes, but he was living in America when he wrote it, and American characters feature largely.

    I'm not sure we'd guess that Wodehouse was British if all we could read was his song lyrics.

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  29. Paul Dormer--Not language related, but in answer to your question about harvesting maize/corn. In the US there are 2 types of corn: sweet corn which is people food and field corn which is animal feed.

    Field corn is harvested by combine: http://thefarmerslife.com/farmers-harvest-corn/

    Sweet corn is harvested by a different kind of machine: http://www.oxbocorp.com/Products/FreshMarketVegetables/SweetCornHarvesters.aspx

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  30. Paul Dormer -To elaborate on your corn comment: British people use the word corn as a generic term for wheat, barley, oats and rye. Maize is either called sweet corn (or corn on the cob, in its whole state for human consumption) and usually maize in the farming community, where most of the crop is chopped and ensiled for animal fodder.

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  31. Corny derived from corn-fed in America, and therefore related to 'Indian corn'.

    But corn-fed was coined centuries earlier on this side of the Atlantic to mean literally 'fed on grain'. The OED quotes

    1576 G. GASCOIGNE Steele Glas sig. H.ijv, Than cornfed beasts, whose bellie is their God.
    a1600 T. DELONEY Pleasant Hist. John Winchcomb (1619) viii. sig. Kij, My folkes are so corne fed, that wee haue much adoe to please them in their dyet.
    1638 J. PENKETHMAN Artachthos sig. Iiijv, An Ox stalled or Corne fed, 24s. a grasse fed Ox 16s.

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  32. Chris Fairs:

    Chambers definition of corn goes on to say: esp (in England) wheat, (in Scotland and Ireland) oats, (in N. Amer.) maize.

    Certainly, my grandfather (b. 1900) would refer to corn flakes as wheat flakes, and I saw an article in The Daily Telegraph (about 30 years ago) about corn flakes which suggested the journalist thought they were made from wheat. (But I think that article might have been about corn chips, and the journalist was doubly confused.)

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  33. In the UK we might expect that rough-sleeping occurs in 'cardboard cities', under railway arches, in doorways or under shrubs in parks. We would hope that a hostel bed would eventually be provided.
    One notch up from this, in terms of transient homelessness, is the 'sofa- surfer' who relies on the generosity of friends for a night or two - or a month or two - when searching for a job or a home.

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  34. I was going to suggest "cut" as an AmE term meaning something along the lines of "(of a male) to be muscular and have low body fat, therefore good-looking". But I think there is a BrE word meaning something similar (which I now can't think of).

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    1. Ripped is the BrE equivalent I was thinking of. Would others agree that "Cut"="Ripped" in this sense?

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    2. I'd agree, however where I live I'd be more likely to hear ripped that cut, and I'm in the US. I think I myself would be most likely to say "He's really built" but I think I've heard my son (just out of high school and into his first year at a university) say ripped. So I don't think this would count as untranslatable.

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  35. As long as we're still talking about corn and corny I thought I'd bring up an extended meaning of corny that has been embraced by young people -- at least in the US.

    Where the word was once limited to describing painfully stale jokes, kids today have extended it to convey what one Urban Dictionary definition describes as "Trying to be cool, but ultimately very uncool indeed, and often even extremely embarrassing".

    So, for instance, you might have an exchange like this:

    Young Person A: Hey, you want to go bowling?
    Young Person B: No, man, bowling is corny.

    But come to think of it, a broader use of corn to mean deeply sentimental (which is sort of a grown-up way of saying "very uncool indeed") has long been used in the portmanteau word "Capricorn" to refer to the movies of the American film director Frank Capra. I'm guessing this use of corn is a shortened form of the word cornpone, which Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines as "of, relating to, or appealing to people who live on farms away from big cities". (It's notable that M-W's definition is accompanied by this example: <the comedian's cornpone wisecracks were old even in the days of vaudeville>.)

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    1. BTW: For what I hope are obvious reasons, "Capricorn" should read "Capracorn".

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  36. I regret I've never heard of the word 'gongoozler', But as an extra birthday present, Lynne and that does get a comma because it's a parenthesis, at first reading of your tweet, I misread 'canal' as 'carnal'.

    Are though, the English usages of 'trainspotter' and 'anorak' untranslateables? Obviously a trainspotter is a person who watches trains and collects their numbers, but it has come to mean anyone who is obsessively nerdy about something most people don't get. An anorak, used as a noun to describe a person, not the garment itself, comes from the same source, the usual garb of a trainspotter. Anoraks are conventionally portrayed with monotonous nasal voices, but a person can be an anorak about anything, e.g. politics, or even use of English.

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  37. If you subscribe to Post Comments you may believe that this is the most recent thread. It isn't. There's a new posting that I discovered by accident comma, vocative: a birthday experiment.
    Once you've gone there and read it, you need to subscribe anew.

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  38. Speaking of corn as a general word for grain, I'm reminded of Samuel Johnson's infamous definition of oats as "a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people."

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  39. To which Boswell supposedly replied, "Yes, but what horses and what people!"

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  40. I'm from NY, and have lived in the East Midlands for 31 years, Today I was at the hairdresser's, and the young woman doing my hair said they'd hired a new Saturday girl, and "She starts next Friday." I understood completely - "Saturday girls" don't just work on Saturday, though once upon a time they probably did. I'm pretty sure there's no US equivalent - is there?

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    1. Hey, nice! As an American I certainly have never heard of "Saturday girls", so that sounds like a winner. (I could bring up the by-now-slightly-embarrassing "girl Friday", which used to be used in the Help Wanted ads of U.S. newspapers when employers were looking for what were essentially secretaries, but its meaning obviously isn't remotely similar.)

      BTW: I like your screen name. Once upon a time I had a girlfriend who lived on Avenue U in Brooklyn ... unless that's not the reference you're going for.

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    2. Thanks, Dick! The reference is spot on (is that another untranslatable?). I lived on East 12th Street between Avenue T and Avenue U back in the olden days - late 50s through late 60s (when I left home and moved to The Big City). Where did your girlfriend live?

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    3. Sorry -- I've long since forgotten the exact address. I also grew up in the olden days ... ;)

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    4. 'Girl Friday' is used in the same way here, and presumably derives from Robinson Crusoe, but I have to admit that I don't get the references to Avenues and letters. So that must be an untranslatable

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    5. Avenue U is the actual name of the avenue. Just as in Manhattan the grid system resulted in numbered streets (e.g., 42nd Street) and avenues (e.g., 5th Avenue), in Brooklyn it resulted in lettered avenues. I'm guessing the Broadway show Avenue Q hasn't yet made it to the West End.

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    6. There used to be an Avenue Q in Brooklyn, but its name was changed to Quentin Road, in honor/honour of Teddy Roosevelt's son. (Before I lived near Avenue U, I lived between Kings Highway and Quentin Rd.)

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    7. Oh, and "Avenue Q" has been running in the UK for many years - in the West End and elsewhere. I saw it in Nottingham a couple of years ago and loved it.

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    8. I'm Brtish and know what a "Saturday girl" is but have not come across a "Girl Friday" before... (that doesn't mean it doesn't exist in BrE, of course).

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    9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    10. People in Britain used to talk about Girl Fridays quite a lot, but that was some years back.

      From the way they talked about the position, I took it to mean 'like Robinson Crusoe's Man Friday' — i.e. doing odd jobs, whatever came up, at the disposal of people with a 'proper' role and job description.

      Nothing to do with the day of the week. (At least that's how I understood it.)

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  41. Technical update

    It seems that some comments are reaching me from my old subscription. I may be wrong, but just in case I suggest that subscribers use the new feed in addition to the old, not as a replacement.

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    1. In case that wasn't clear, what I mean is that some comments are reaching me from the old subscription which are not reaching me from the new

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    2. Is the difference in whether you get replies to comments as well as comments (or replies that aren't your comments)? The only thing that's different, I think, is the hierarchical nature of commenting now, and the new-old subscriptions may work differently for how the sub-level of comments is handled.

      This is all blogger/google systems, so I'm afraid I don't have much control over it.

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    3. As far as I can tell

      • Notifications of comments on this thread reach me through the old subscription and not by the new.

      • Notifications of comments on the more recent Comma vocative thread reach me through the new subscription and not by the old.

      The level of Reply doesn't seem to make any difference.

      I'll post a comment on an old thread and wait to see how I'm notified.

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    4. Lynne

      I was notified on the black()currants
      thread of two posts I made: one through Add a comment and one through Reply. Both appeared, each in its appropriate place.

      However, it seems to me that I'm having to subscribe to each individual thread. I've just subscribed to the frowns
      thread and found some posts that were new to me.

      This might be a fault of my feed, Leaf, but it used to give me new postings from all threads.

      Could you check with Blogger that the link Post Comments (Atom) can be made to work for all threads?

      Delete
  42. Lynne

    Just for the record, Reply doesn't work in Blogger on my Android (v.4.3) Samsung phone (or anyone else's similar system, I presume).

    Btw, Comex-Forex Signals' comment was: "Thanks for update knowledgeable information.", followed by three links to one URL.

    David Crosbie

    Kate, my sister isn't that strange, especially in speech where it is an afterthought, meaning "not the other Kate we both know". I definitely wouldn't use a full stop(/period) there. Perhaps it's a bit like "the actor Gwyneth Paltrow", though, and the comma is unnecessary (or plain wrong per Markn).

    I agree with your reading of girl Friday (though some would insist on girls Friday as the plural). A Saturday girl is, of course, a girl who only works Saturdays, usually because she is at school Monday to Friday. Boys can have Saturday jobs too: Saturday boys.

    Wisob

    'Would others agree that "Cut"="Ripped" in this sense?'

    What sense, sorry?

    Jane Elizabeth
    Perhaps the capitals relate to the uniqueness of the particular occasion, something like "the Queen", "the Houses of Parliament". I understand this sort of capitalisation is on the wane (as is almost all in some new media!), maybe that is reflected by the fairly even split in Lynne's birthday greetings?

    I've a feeling some of the above pertains to a different thread. Apologies, if so.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Does "cut" (AmE) mean "ripped" (BrE) mean "(of a male) to be muscular and have low body fat, therefore good-looking"?

      Delete
    2. Thanks, wisob, but I'm no wiser as I've not heard ripped in that sense. Is it like fit, which is perhaps more often used to refer to a (sexually attractive) woman, but also for men. I'm not sure if that comes from "fit and healthy" or "fit for the purpose I have in mind".

      Delete
  43. Was watching an American-made video a few minutes ago and heard a variation of the familiar (to me, anyway) expression it's not a bug, it's a feature and wondered if it might qualify as an untranslatable.

    What I find interesting about this expression is its origin with computer nerds and how it's somehow managed to cross over into conventional discourse. Indeed, the first time I heard it perhaps 15 years ago was from an old friend who happens to hold a Ph.D. in computer science. With respect to computing it basically describes an unforeseen idiosyncrasy in a computer program -- one the author of the program has decided, usually in retrospect, can be considered a positive and not a negative.

    This idea has somehow spread beyond computing, so that it can be heard -- as I heard it in the video I watched this morning -- in the context of political satire. Here's Samantha Bee, host of the cable television program Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, describing the provocative language of the Republican governor of the state of Maine, Paul LePage:

    "Like Trump, the governor and his core supporters see his unfiltered mouth garbage as a feature, not a bug."

    In this case the phrase illustrates how an elected official's remarks can be viewed either as deeply racist or as refreshingly plainspoken depending on one's social and cultural predilections.

    Oddly, I tried Googling it's not a bug, it's a feature and found virtually all the links on the first page of results led to computerish discussions -- nothing mainstream. But Bee's use of it makes clear it definitely is in common parlance ... at least in the U.S.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been in computing circles in the UK for a while and "it's not a bug, it's a feature" is a standard phrase within them. I think it is universal coder-speak. (Along with all the sysadmin jokes). To share one of my favourite coder-speak jokes "Unix is very user-friendly. It's just fussy who its friends are"

      Delete
    2. Thanks, Rachel. I'm not really surprised that it's a well-known phrase in computing circles in the UK. But is it an expression you hear *outside* of computing circles ... do you hear it used by non-computing friends or on television the way Samantha Bee used it in my example?

      Delete
    3. Sadly I am surrounded by geeks, so I am unable to confirm or deny whether it has emerged from computing circles in the UK. It is used by people who work in computing to describe things outside computing: e.g., a minor cake disaster.

      Delete
  44. How about "in train"? A British colleague keeps saying we have things "in train" which appears to mean something like "lined up and ready to go/organized."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Francophile by any chance? Sounds like a calque of French en train (de)

      Delete
    2. I'm British and ould have no idea what someone meant if they told me they had something 'in train'

      Are you sure they didn't mean something was getting wet because they had left it out in t'rain? (pronounced int-rain)

      Delete
    3. The OED reports in train dating back to before there was BrE/AmE split.

      In 15324 Sir Thomas More wrote (in a letter)

      To use th'erle of Angwish for an instrument to wryng and wreste the maters in to bettre trayne.

      This use with a descriptive adjective is now rare, they say, but the use without an adjective also dates back to the 16th century.

      The fayre Diana or Moone shall arise, setting you in traine and order to go and to inuade our enemies.

      Nowadays, it's mostly found in the three-word transitive verbs set in train and put in train.

      Delete
    4. CORRECTION

      Thomas More wrote in 1524.

      Delete
  45. What about "love handles"? Not the same thing as "spare ti[y]re" or "middle-age spread". Googling the term seems to bring up only US links.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What exactly is the relationship between "love handles" and Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death?

      Delete
    2. I have definitely heard the term in the UK, and I've never thought of it as an Americanism.

      Delete
  46. Is "doing "that difficult thing" is above my pay grade" an Americanism? I've noticed it come into use here in the UK, and it's a very convenient phrase

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We don't really say "pay grade" in Britain, do we? Or do we? What does "doing X is above my pay grade" mean? Is it like "more than my job's worth"? In fact, do they have "jobsworths" in America?

      Delete
    2. Complete opposites, I think. "More than my job's worth," means if I do that, my boss won't like it, and I'll be sacked. (Or, that's what you want the person you're talking to to believe.) "Above my pay grade" means, they don't pay me enough to do this.

      Delete
    3. 'Jobsworth' was an Untranslatable in a previous October.

      Delete
    4. Oops, missed that. (Your new blogging software makes investigating old posts much easier now, by the way.)

      Delete
  47. I'm American and when I say that X is "above my pay grade", I'm saying that X is beyond my authority or purview. It's something for someone higher up the ladder to worry about.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Going back to "rough sleeper", I think in America we'd say someone is a "street person" or "living on the streets" to mean the same thing.

    This is different than saying someone is streetwise. Would that count as an untranslatable, or is that used in common to all English-speakers?

    What about "bag lady" meaning one of those homeless women who carries all her possessions in a shopping bag with her all day?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Streetwise is used in British English. To me, it still feels like a bit of an import. But then I'm the wrong generation and never possessed the qualifies described.

      I think bag lady is widely understood here, but largely from American culture. In my experience, that means Doonesbury and Lily Tomlin sketches. It's not that bag ladies don't exist here, but we're much more aware of other street people.

      Rough sleepers are familiar largely from news reports, since few of us are awake and walking about when they are actually sleeping rough. And if we are out and about, we're unlikely to be walking where they are sleeping.

      Delete
    2. Come to Brighton... you will walk by three rough-sleepers sleeping on London Road in the day time. And a few more sleeping bags in the doorways of not-open businesses...

      There's a phone app you can get to report rough-sleepers to the charities that are supposed to be helping them.

      Delete
    3. I (BrE, mid 40s) would say that streetwise, rough sleeper and bag lady are all normal words/phrases in British English...

      Delete
  49. "We don't really say "pay grade" in Britain, do we?"

    Pace Whistler('s ghost): we will, wisob, we will!

    Here's a blogpost from 2014 about London's answer to the "problem" of rough sleepers. Not sure if it reflects current policy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure we used pay grade at my employers.

      I worked for the electricity industry for 30 years and we had a pay scale based around power stations. So our grades were Engineering Assistant, Third Engineer, etc.

      But I worked in computing, not at a power station, so the building we worked in was designated as a power station of a megawatt capacity to justify the numbers of engineers we had working there. A bit like a navy shore base facility still being designated as a ship.

      Delete
  50. What about streetsmart? It's another way of saying someone graduated from the school of hard knocks -- that is, knows a lot but never went to college/university.

    ReplyDelete
  51. I believe "above my pay grade" may have originated in the American military, probably in the Vietnam era. Certainly it was common when I was in the USAF back in the 80's.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Is the BrE term "gone pear-shaped" equivalent to gone south or gone sour, or is there something else to it? I've been listening the the "History of England" podcast and the author likes to use it a lot. But I've certainly never heard it in AmE.

    ReplyDelete
  53. "gone pear-shaped" is familiar to my American ears. I have always wondered what connection the phrase has to Eric Satie's "3 pieces in the shape of a pear", which at least apocryphally was named in rebuttal to a critic who said his music had no form. Which came first?

    My candidate is "donkey's years", which I have only heard in the speech of visiting British colleagues. Google N-grams puts it at only 3-4 times more common in British text than American text, but I don't recall ever coming across it in American writing at all.

    ReplyDelete
  54. I love the phrase "gone pear-shaped" but it's always sounded British to me, and I've never heard anyone actually say it, just read it in fiction, fanfiction and comments on Facebook. The phrase I'd be more familiar with would be "that went out the window" or simply "it went to hell."

    I think what I hear now more often, which seems to have started with the younger generation, is "that escalated quickly" though that doesn't mean quite the same thing.

    Years ago when I was learning to proofread, someone told me "When in doubt, follow copy -- right out the window if necessary."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've never heard "that went out the window" or "it went to hell" but "gone pear-shaped" is a common enough expression in my experience. "Gone tits-up" is another variant.

      "That escalated quickly" is surely just a reference to the film Anchorman.

      Delete
  55. Because of something that came up between Zouk Delours and me in comments on one of the other posts I'm nominating "on the up and up". It's so common a phrase for me it never occurred to me that someone else wouldn't understand it, but apparently it's not.

    ReplyDelete
  56. On a US TV programme I was watching recently, in a scene set in 1973 in London, and English character told another character (a Russian) that there was a hospital "three blocks away". That sounds wrong to my ears. Anyone who looks at maps of British towns can see why we don't use blocks. So, is "blocks" untranslatable? I think in those circumstances I'd say something like "five minutes walk away" or "down the street".

    I was once stopped by a group of young American tourists in London asking directions to Leicester Square (which they pronounced lye-sester). They asked how many blocks it was, and I was unable to answer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yesterday (not for the first time) I used the idea of a block in giving directions. I'd be less happy using two blocks.

      Even if we used blocks as signpost directions in Britain, I don't think we'd use them as an indication of distance, even in areas built on a grid plan.

      The norm is to speak of turnings — e.g. after the third on the left. In Scotland I've discovered an alternative — at least among older speakers — after the third entry.

      Delete
    2. The British equivalent would be "It's three streets away".

      Delete
  57. Replies
    1. Total apologies! I completely missed that. My fault entirely for not scrolling back up and double checking!

      Did my explanation in the other post make "on the up and up" more understandable?

      Delete
  58. Pear-shaped

    I think this refers to a process (maybe baking or glass-blowing?) where something that should turn out spherical sags under gravity. I.e. things aren't turning out as one might have hoped. Can't back this up with evidence, but it seems very plausible and might help an expert looking for the origin. I associate its use mostly with security types.

    A related Br expression is: "It's all gone Pete Tong", rhyming slang for "wrong". Perhaps not as popular now as it was a few years back. It was the title of a film, but I don't know if that's the origin.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Although, according to the OED, it appears to have been possibly RAF slang,

      I remember the TV show Balderdash and Piffle investigated this, but I can't remember their conclusions. One suggestion was it was to do with hot-air ballooning, where trying to inflate a balloon.

      Delete
    2. Pete Tong is a popular DJ. Wikipedia dates the use of his name as rhyming slang to 1987.

      Delete
  59. There's a phrase that's getting a lot of use in the US now during election season. It refers to something that's a complete disaster as being a "dumpster fire." It's used in reference to a particular political candidate's campaign (who shall remain nameless). Does that term exist in the UK?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We don't really use the word "dumpster" in the UK, so no, the expression "dumpster fire" doesn't exist. I'm not sure it is an untranslatable as per Lynne's definition, though?

      Delete
    2. AmE dumpster = BrE skip. But I've never heard of one catching fire so 'dumpster fire' would indeed be untranslatable.

      Delete
    3. I've never heard dumpster fire used on the media here in the US, whether in relation to the current election, or in connection to anything else. And I've been listening to a lot of cable news lately.

      That said, a dumpster is one of those large trash bins that stand behind businesses or at apartment (flat) buildings where a lot of different people consolidate their garbage rather than having individual trash cans for each residence. I've never heard of one catching fire either, but apparently they do, for instance when someone makes the mistake of dumping hot coals from a barbecue in one.

      I found this long explanation from the Huffington post, which includes a couple pictures: Where Did ‘Dumpster Fire’ Come From? Where Is It Rolling?

      Delete
    4. Ah, there's the difference. In the UK a skip is used as a temporary receptacle for large-scale rubbish, often building refuse when a home is being renovated. A home-owner hires a skip for a week or so and it lives outside their house, getting filled with stuff, then taken away by the company who owns it. A not uncommon trope of British comedy is the idea that one family pays for a skip but all their neighbours take advantage by filling it up with their own rubbish overnight.

      Delete
    5. Nice link, Dark Star, thanks. The BrE term for "containers that could be mechanically lifted and emptied into the vehicle" is wheelie bins. All households here (in my area, at least, if not throughout the UK) have them these days, in various colo(u)rs for the different types of (BrE) rubbish/(AmE) garbage. E.g., where I live in a block of four flats/apartments, there is a brown one for cardboard, red: glass, black: plastic bottles and tins/cans, blue: paper and two green for landfill. An internet search on "wheelie bin fire" gives thousands of hits. There been horrific incidents where rough sleepers (see elsewhere on this page) have resorted to them as sleeping accomodation and suffered terrible fates, at least one of which (as I recall) involved the death of a rough sleeper in a wheelie bin fire. There's also the story of the woman who dumped a cat in a wheelie bin, which caused a big stir in 2010.

      Re skips, there is now also the verb, to skip, meaning to trawl through skips, especially for food, generally from the large skips or wheelie bins where supermarkets dump food past its "sell-by date". Some people feed themselves solely by skipping.

      Delete
    6. https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.co.uk/2006/06/bins.html

      Delete
  60. Paul Dormer: re pear-shaped

    Perhaps, then, that "sagging sphere" image just came to mind when I was first acquainted with the expression. I don't remember any actual occasion of having that set out to me. Is that in fact how balloons behave when they go a bit wrong, then? The RAF theory of origin fits, at least, with my perception of the groups using it most. (No doubt someone will now say "I'm a computer programmer and we use it all the time!")

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, there is a field near my house where they sometimes launch hot-air balloons. Not seen one go pear-shaped.

      The Wikipedia entry links to this OED entry:

      https://web.archive.org/web/20100504150538/http://www.oed.com/bbcwordhunt/pear-shaped.html

      The earliest citation is a 1983 book called Air War South Atlantic. I presume that's about the Falklands, but I do not recall hot-air balloons being much used in that conflict. Maybe the details are still being kept secret.

      Delete
    2. No one seems to know the origin of "go pear-shaped". I'm struck by the close similarity in meaning and idiom with the related expression "go south" (the cent{re|er} of gravity in a pear is "south" of that of a perfect sphere).

      Delete
    3. wisob

      Haha! I've only recently heard about the WWII Japanese balloon bombs (on QI, I think), so maybe the true story of "a Falkland attack ballon that went disastrously pear-shaped" will be heard when the information is released under the fifty-year rule!

      Thanks for the OED link. The OED online is a subscription service, isn't it? Is that entry accessible as an academic reference by a subscriber or something, do you know?

      Delete
    4. It looks as if that entry was available as part of the Balderdash and Piffle TV programme. And it looks as if, despite asking viewers for earlier citations, none were found.

      And it looks like some of the episodes of the show are available on Youtube, so you may be able to find what they had to say about "pear-shaped".

      Delete
    5. Thanks, Paul. I got lucky! First YouTube I looked at was the right one: letter P! Pear-shaped is first item up (in this programme where members of the public try to find antecedents which the OED editors will accept for entry in the dictionary), and theories considered are:

      1) An improperly executed loop-de-loop, resulting from pulling back the joysick with a constant pull.

      2) Glass-blowing -- my theory! (But I did see some episodes of the programme so maybe, although I don't remember it, I saw that and it stuck?)

      3) Ballooning, with a reference to an 1849 newspaper account of a ballooning disaster involving "famous balloonist Mr Green", who was quoted explaining that a balloon, which on the ground is apple-shaped, "at a certain height assumes the form of a pear". This is said to have caused uncontrolled release of gas leading to a disastrously fast descent.

      4) A 1958 movie, where pear-shaped is used to mean "circumspect".

      Delete
  61. For the October 20 untranslatable, condo v. apartment, there are a bunch of highly NY nuances that I think might be starting to spread as the US densifies.

    In New York, where where almost everyone lives in an apartment, my 25-year experience is that "apartment" is the generic regardless of whether you own or rent. It seems highly unnatural to refer to "my condo" or "my co-op" (or even "that condo/co-op" unless you're talking about a sale. And even then, I'd say "my/our apartment," and wait for someone to ask whether it's a condo or co-op. Even at that, the distinction is often "rental" versus "condo/co-op" -- they're all "apartments."

    My parents and sisters live about 35 miles northwest of Washington DC, and therefore are a better reflection of the rest of the country. There, I do hear people refer to "condos" much more frequently in distinction to "apartments." My mom's a realtor, very active in the local business, and I think she'd naturally say a "condo" or a "condo complex/development."

    I suspect at least part of the reason that distinction is common in most of the country is that historically, an apartment was inherently a rental and it was a sign of poverty: something you'd start out in after leaving home but with the strong cultural assumption that you'd buy a house of your own soon enough.

    I recall condos starting to become common in the late 70s/early 80s, when I was entering my teen years. I think I remember my grandparents (from North Dakota) asking what they were, and being surprised that you'd ever want to own an apartment.

    My dim memory from law school is that the condominium ownership form came to the US from Puerto Rico, but only took off in the 1960s when New York (and maybe Florida?) started passing the necessary enabling statutes to make it possible. It then spread like wildfire. Previously the only way to own an apartment was a co-op, a much more unwieldy form of ownership (I'll leave it at that, the details are numbing) that was too much trouble for most US markets to bother with, other than New York -- and that was really for lack of a better option.

    But with property becoming ever more unaffordable in city after city, I suspect "apartment" will start to lose its stigma much as it has in New York.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To give the UK (or at least, England - property laws are different in Scotland) equivalent, a residence that is part of a large building, and the residences are on different levels, is usually called a flat. Although, if each residence in the building has its own street entrance, it's a maisonette. So, in the eighties, I lived in a flat. The street entrance led to a stairwell, and their were entrances to two flats per level. At the same time, my friend lived in a maisonette. You entered his residence through a front door onto the street, but there was another front door for the maisonette upstairs. (And, of course, you've got things like semi-detached houses and terraced houses, where everything from the ground to the roof was part of the same residence, but there are common walls between the residences. These are not considered flats, but houses are often converted into flats.)

      I owned the flat. In England, there are two ways to own a property, leasehold and freehold. The flat was leasehold. Although I owned the flat, a company owned the block it was in and undertook maintenance of the common parts of the block. For this, I was charged ground rent for the lease - which actually was not very much - and an annual service charge, which varied and led to a couple of court cases when the residents' association felt that we'd been charged too much for the work done. (We had a water main burst one morning - right outside my window, it woke me up - and the work we were asked to pay for, we didn't think was what was actually done.)

      But a flat can be rented. Indeed, the block I lived in had been rental up to the seventies, but the individual flats were sold off as the tenants left. However, there is no single word to describe a flat as owned or rented.

      Delete
    2. 'Buy Me a Condo' from the 1984 album Weird Al Yankovic in 3D:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfGg7ERgQIo

      Delete
    3. Scottish property laws most significantly affect the buying and selling process. There's some different vocabulary, but it's because there are different things.

      Like most people I know in Edinburgh, we live in what is called a tenement. The word has different meanings outwith (a Scottish English preposition) Scotland, and often a negative connotation. Here it typically denotes a unit of terraced housing with its own street door leading to a common stair , with (usually) two or more apartments at each landing.

      I gather from the OED that these apartments used to be called houses. I've never heard this, but I have heard the words flat used for a landing. Indeed, when we first moved to Edinburgh, the Post Office recognised addresses like Second Flat Left. This was officially our address until it was changed to 2F2.

      Again, like most people we know, we own our flat=apartment. This entails joint ownership of the outer fabric, including the roof and what in England would be a back garden but in Scotland is a back green — strictly speaking a drying green. Repairs are meant to be arranged by common consent, with the cost shared. There's an office in the Council that can step in when common consent fails. They can insist that the repair be done, and they can appoint a contractor if the residents can't agree on one.

      The word stair is used to denote the unit. But, perversely, we are part of a stair without being on the stair or using it. This is because of a builder's device to have ground-floor flats under the common roof. So we are a main door flat with our own street door. Next to us is the door to the common stair with six flats (apartments) on first-floor, second-floor and third-floor landings (flats). Next to them is the other main door flat.

      Each of the eight flats has an owner (or two joint-owners), all but one of them an owner-occupier (or pair or owner-occupiers). The remaining flat has tenants, who make no payments toward the upkeep of fabric/roof/back green; for this the absent landlord is responsible.

      There used to be a lease-type arrangement in Scotland which developed out of feudal law. Indeed the party from whom the property was leased was known as the feu (pronounced FEE) holder. This was abolished within living memory.

      Delete
    4. Tenement

      The Days of Pearly Spencer by David McWilliams:

      (Live - best visuals):
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiywqd4w7qo

      (Commercial recording - best sound quality):
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rg02Jj91NWM

      Delete
    5. A tenement, a dirty street...

      That's not what Scottish tenements are like necessarily. Our tenement is on a very pleasant little street overlooking a park, flower beds, children's swings and a croquet club.

      Delete
    6. Your tenement certainly sounds much nicer than Pearly's, David. As I've learnt since posting, his was in fact in Ballymena in N. Ireland, and I note you originally said, "The word has different meanings outwith (a Scottish English preposition) Scotland, and often a negative connotation", so I guess this is such a case. In fact, misled by the "Mc" in McWilliams, perhaps, I have always imagined the song set in Scotland -- in particular, Glasgow, where I have always associated tenements with that city's notorious slums (which are, of course, no longer).

      Still, cracking song which, although not a hit here till Marc Almond covered it in 1982, sold worldwide and was covered by over 100 artists.

      Delete
    7. Incidentally, a friend told me yesterday of an uncle who lives in an Edinburgh tenement, and I was fascinated to learn that one summoned him from the (rather grand) main entrance to the building via a mechanically-operated bell, whereupon Uncle Bill would pull a lever outside the front door of his dwelling to raise the catch on the main entrance. Do you still have that, or has the system been electrified now?

      Delete
    8. Marc Almond's cover: 1992, not 82

      Delete
  62. I also live in a tenement flat in Edinburgh (waves to David Crosbie). I'm on the top floor, and so enter my flat via the common stair, as David describes above. My stairwell has more of a mixture of owner-occupiers and tenants than his does - also all the flats are accessed from the stairwell rather than the ground floor flats having a main door. These are just minor differences, though.

    On some blocks you can see the old mechanical bell fittings that Zouk Delors' uncle had. These days I think they have all been replaced by electric systems with entryphones. However our flat does still have a thing that you pull which rings a proper little bell within the flat, which is quite cool. It confuses a lot of people who try to push the thing when you need to pull on it!

    ReplyDelete
  63. Victorian tenements in some ways resemble the tower blocks built a century later. Both can be perfectly satisfactory, provided that
    • they've been kept in good repair
    • they've been upgraded as expectations have risen
    • they're not subject to middle-class flight

    Tenements in England and Ballymena seems not to have met these conditions. Perhaps, too, they weren't built very well. The problem in Glasgow is that areas like the Gorbals became ghettos, which drove away the moneyed landlord and occupiers who might have turned those excellently built stone structures into desirable residences.

    This recalls the Coronation Street-type terraces of Lancashire and Merseyside which have been demolished in recent years, despite their popularity with many house-dwellers. (Of the Granada site of the original Coronation Street see, it was said that the lock on the gate was necessary to keep out the thousands who wanted to live there.)

    Tenements and terraces, suitably upgraded, are better suited to the average British household today than the grander houses built for more affluent middl-class Victorians families with large families and the odd servant or two living in. There are plenty of those in Edinburgh, but most have been split into flats or Bed and Breakfast establishments.

    There are a few areas of Edinburgh where older properties were allowed to deteriorate and were demolished. But in most neighbourhoods Victorian tenements and ever earlier buildings have been adapted to modern standards. The only danger is the fear that too many tenement flats are being turned into multi-occupancy flats rented to students.

    ReplyDelete
  64. I feel sure you'll have covered this somewhere, but 'Bob's your uncle' is my favourite untranslatable Britishism. (I remember a Polish colleague receiving an email which ended 'and Robert is your father's brother' - and when he asked me to explain it, I realised that 'Bob's your uncle' wasn't, in and of itself, explanation enough.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's been suggested several times, but I have to say, I don't find it all that untranslatable. "There you have it" or "There you go" or similar phrases seem to me to do the same trick, they're just not as colo(u)rful. Do you think I'm missing something?

      Delete
  65. Referring to "dumpster fire" I have seen a fire being lit in a skip to dispose of confidential documents. It is a condition of skip rental that you are not to light fires in them. The large portable rubbish bins were flagged up as a safety hazard on my fire marshal course. Apparently you should secure them away from buildings, as they are an easy assist to arsonists. From my understanding of the meaning of dumpster fire, would it be translated as "cock-up", "dog's breakfast"? I think there are plenty of phrases for self-achieved disasters in both vocabularies, or have I missed a nuance?

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Abbr.

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