2016 UK-to-US Word of the Year: gutted

The day after the US election, it became clear to me that the UK-to-US Word of the Year would have to be the adjective

gutted


The verb to gut is, of course, common to both varieties of English, but in this case I'm talking about an adjectival use of gutted to refer to a feeling of disappointment or sadness that makes one feel utterly emptied. Green's Dictionary of Slang indicates it's been around at least as far back as the 1970s, originally in prison slang.  I blogged about gutted as a Britishism in 2009. Then I shared a story of an American inappropriately understanding its use  in the literal sense 'having had the guts removed', so it hasn't been a common expression in AmE for very long. The events of 8 November certainly put it in American social media feeds. Here are a couple of examples:


Ben Yagoda also noticed it at Not One-Off Britshisms.

The 'devastated' meaning of gutted has been growing in AmE for the last couple of years. A Twitter search today gave me US examples referring to that devastating feeling when the local Chic-Fil-A closes before you (AmE) get off work, when you miss an Ultimate Fighting match, or when you have to give up vlogging. Ok, so some of those would definitely not leave me gutted, but to each their own.

The adjective seemed to come into its own in the US in response to election happenings, when people who had been cruising on optimism for months suddenly felt truly down and hopeless. The New York Times seemed to find it useful:



The etymologist John Kelly, an American in Ireland, noted: 


And I agree. It is visceral. Though it is used a lot in talking about inconsequential things like football (yes, flying my anti-spectator-sport(s) flag again), it's just the right word when events come along and take the wind out of you.

John also mentioned trying out super gutted, but that just doesn't sound right in BrE. Here are some intensifiers that go with gutted, though note that this corpus result includes all senses of gutted. (Hence the large number of American completely gutteds are talking about buildings and the like.) Note that very gutted is also not common.


From GloWBE

I cannot resist ending on this little tweet, depending on the ambiguity of gutted:


Welcome to AmE, gutted!

(Stay tuned for the US-to-UK WotY. I hope to post it on 21 December.)

8 comments

  1. It's funny how some words make the transition but some don't. When I went back to the States after my first decade in Britain, I was surprised to hear gobsmacked and spot-on used regularly. I never heard gutted. Now that I'm back in the UK, I can't imagine myself using the words chuffed or gutted - they just feel alien to me - but I do use knackered and I would be lost without manky. What does it say about me that I also readily use wanker and twat?

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  2. Interesting. As an American who lives in an area with lots of hunting and fishing, I would have just assumed this adjectival form has always been around. It feels natural to me. When I use it, I figuratively mean that I feel as if my insides have been ripped out, usually in reference to an especially crushing sports loss.

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  3. As a British person, I have never used this word! You hear it on talent shows all the time and I've just come to see it almost in a comedic way, like a cliché (along with think outside the box).

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  4. Sometimes adding an intensifier to a word like 'gutted' actually seems to reduce the meaning somehow. Perhaps it's because the dominant thought is then on the intensifier rather than the basic concept? Or perhaps because it stands alone as an absolute concept?
    Intensifiers have robbed 'unique' of its truly absolute sense. Less is more.

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    1. Back in the seventies, BBC Radio 3 use to have a Sunday lunchtime programme called "Words", a five-minute slot where someone would talk about words and the use of language.

      I remember one episode called something like "The case of the fornicating rifles." The speaker was talking about his days doing national service, where some of the more tender conscripts complained about the sergeant major's use of the f-word, so he started using the word "fornicating" instead to send them up.

      The speaker then went on to observe that the f-word was not so much an intensifier, more the reverse. If the sergeant said, "Get your fucking rifles," it was merely an exasperated plea, but "Get your rifles!" meant it was an emergency.

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  5. Gutted was quite big among my friends as a teenager (90s, Berkshire). It was mainly used for minor disappointments. It was also used as a comment on other people's disappointments, either with sympathy ("Aw, gutted") or schadenfreude ("Ha ha, gutted!") Presumably there was an implied "you/they must be" but it was unsaid.

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  6. I have never, or hardly ever, heard gutted used except as a joke expression roughly equivalent to 'basically, Brian, I'm sick as a parrot'. You all know who Brian was, I'm sure.

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  7. Story time - I know of a mother who told her (Estuary accented) teenage son to stop saying gutted - specifically "I'm well gutted" - as she felt it a bit non U. He was next heard to say he was "well dismayed".

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