sorted

Will Fitzgerald has asked me more than once to cover British use of the adjective sorted. It has made an appearance on the blog before, as part of an Untranslatable October. But that short bit on it does not really give it its due. In the Corpus of Global Web-Based English, the word sorted is found more than three times more frequently in British than in American English. It's definitely a word to know if you interact with British people.

The OED has three UK-particular meanings for it in their 2001 draft additions. I'm going to cheat share the fruits of their defining, with some fresh examples.

The first sense, and by far the most frequent one, is illustrated in a current British Transport Police campaign, with posters like that at the right.

 a. Chiefly Brit. slang. Of a state of affairs, etc.: fixed, settled, secure; arranged, prepared, dealt with. Chiefly used predicatively and (esp. in earlier use) frequently indistinguishable from the past participle of the passive verb (cf. sort v.1 16a(e)). Also as int., esp. used to express assent to a proposal, readiness to act, or to mark the satisfactory conclusion of a transaction.
This sense is perhaps influenced by a British Army slang use of the verb meaning ‘to attack fiercely, to shoot to pieces’
The implication of the "See it. Say it. Sorted." slogan is that if you report suspicious things you see, the police will take care of it. They will (BrE) get it sorted. In AmE and more usually (until recently) in BrE, you'd have to say that the police will get it sorted out. As the entry says, this probably comes from an older (1940s) Army usage, but this more modern sense seems to have got(ten) going in the 1980s. Here are a couple of recent examples from UK news websites, courtesy of the News on the Web corpus.
The EU’s 27 member states have insisted that talks cannot move onto trade and commerce until the three key issues of EU and British citizen residency rights, the UK’s so-called divorce bill and the border with Ireland are all sorted.  (Verdict)

Your entertainment for the rest of the year is sorted with our 2017 guide. (East Anglian Daily Times)
Another example, from the GloWBE corpus, is an interesting case of sorted before the noun it's modifying:
I would make it a nice outing with your son to a well sorted hifi shop where you actually have time to listen. (from a hifi discussion board)

The second meaning comes along in the early 90s (at the latest), and is used particularly of people.
 b. Brit. slang. Esp. of a person: self-assured, emotionally well-balanced; streetwise, ‘cool’.
This one may be a bit dated. I don't feel like I hear it as much as I used to. I'm certainly having trouble finding a clear example of it in the corpora. It's the kind of thing you might read in a (orig. AmE) personal ad. I'm not signing up for a singles site to research this for you, so here's a bit from the Yorkshire Post about the word:
Today, people are perhaps a little more transparent in the language they use to describe themselves in personal ads. But, just as "bohemian", "sporty" and "adventurous" in a woman and "artistic" in a man could be loaded with meaning a century ago, today's more mainstream lonely hearts ads can still require a full glossary of euphemisms, from "sorted" (no weirdos, no baggage) to "creative" (possibly "willing to experiment" or simply "not boring").
You can see that kind of usage in one of the OED examples. 
1993   T. Hawkins Pepper xiv. 268   Thank you so much for replying. You seem really sorted.
The third OED sense is one I'm not sure I would have counted as separate from the first:
 c. Brit. slang. Of a person: supplied with or under the influence of illicit drugs, particularly those associated with the U.K. club subculture.
You sorted? is the kind of thing you'd expect a drug dealer to say. Here's the OED's first example for it:
1991   Independent 23 Dec. 5/2   Are you sorted? It's good stuff, it'll keep you going all night.
So that's sorted sorted. The first sense is the one you're most likely to run into.

---
Apologies for no blog posts in August. I was very busy with getting the last changes to my book manuscript off to the publisher. Publication date is 10 April, but I'm going to wait to share moreinfo until both publishers (US and UK) are ready to take pre-orders. (It would not be good for my nice UK publisher if British folk were ordering from the US.)  I'm afraid that blogging will probably be sparse in the Autumn as I have my whole year's teaching load in one term. But one of the things I'm teaching is a new (BrE education jargon) module (=AmE course) called Language in the United States. Maybe that'll inspire some bloggy procrastination. Or maybe I'll get some guest posts from my students!
Today, people are perhaps a little more transparent in the language they use to describe themselves in personal ads. But, just as "bohemian", "sporty" and "adventurous" in a woman and "artistic" in a man could be loaded with meaning a century ago, today's more mainstream lonely hearts ads can still require a full glossary of euphemisms, from "sorted" (no weirdos, no baggage) to "creative" (possibly "willing to experiment" or simply "not boring").

Read more at: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/analysis/strictly-personal-behind-the-lines-with-a-history-of-lonely-hearts-1-2334630
Today, people are perhaps a little more transparent in the language they use to describe themselves in personal ads. But, just as "bohemian", "sporty" and "adventurous" in a woman and "artistic" in a man could be loaded with meaning a century ago, today's more mainstream lonely hearts ads can still require a full glossary of euphemisms, from "sorted" (no weirdos, no baggage) to "creative" (possibly "willing to experiment" or simply "not boring").

Read more at: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/analysis/strictly-personal-behind-the-lines-with-a-history-of-lonely-hearts-1-2334630

28 comments

  1. Oh yes, please do persuade your students to guest-blog here!

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  2. sense 3 got a fillip from Pulp's 1995 song "Sorted for E's & Wizz" (UK No.2 hit)

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    1. I think that's an example of the transition phase where the preposition was just on the cusp of disappearing:

      Jarvis Cocker could leave out the "out" in the title of the track, but couldn't quite bring himself to do it in the actual lyrics:

      "Oh, and no-one seems to know exactly where it is
      But that's okay 'cause we're all sorted out for E's and wizz"

      That would fit with my perception of when the change went from irritating youth speak, to a slight cliché, to mainstream, as much as it can.
      For the record, I first recall hearing it from the Mitchell brothers on EastEnders in the late 80s. Though of course I could be misrecalling.

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  3. For me sorted in the sense of 'fixed' is a recent thing that other people say. Sorted out is something I do say — or used to say— but in a slightly different way. Rightly or wrongly, when I hear sorted I interpret it as a vigorous, decisive fix. When I say sorted out I'm thinking of a calmer, steadier process of solution or improvement.

    However, I think I'm probable more likely to say It needs sorting than It needs sorting out. The Scottish English equivalent would be It needs sorted, but I don't think I've ever heard it.

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  4. I've heard sorted used in all three forms ways you describe. That might say something about some of the years I was a student more than anything for the last one.

    I think I only really use it in the first sense and I use sorted out as well. I think I'm in agreement with David Crosbie that sorted out implies a longer process, sorted implies a shorter fix (although it might be permanent).

    That would extend to it's use in an instruction. "That needs to be sorted," I hear with Ray Winston gangster-boss overtones as an instruction more likely to be "He needs to be sorted." Probably with concrete shoes, or a sawn-off. "That needs to be sorted out," is more of a process thing, followed by "who will you assign, how long will it take, when can we expect interim reports?"

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    1. Interested to see reference to military sense which resembles the crim/hard man/thug euphemism I recorded from early 1980s: sort out, later sort = assault/punish/incapacitate. I wonder which came first, but can't access GDOS to check his citations.

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  5. Lynne, how many of your Sussex U. students are native AmE speakers? Or AusE?

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    1. No Australians. Occasional US year-abroad students. None will be in this class.

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  6. When I was at (Southern England) secondary school in the early nineties, a phrase one might have expected to hear was "sorted and safe", or just "safe". Used in the general expression of positive situation or person sense.

    There's also "sorted, respect due", as demonstrated by Harry Hill's blue cat friend Stoofer at the end of this video:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0v6irhiHAE

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  7. Chambers' 7th edition (1988) has:

    "to adjust, put to rights, attend to (Scot.)"

    so maybe that's where it comes from? Sorted?

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    1. A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue includes

      3. To settle, finalise.
      1571 Bann. Memor. 106.
      About one eftir midnycht, we lay downe our lederis and our coirdis and sortit all our bussines;

      4. To deal with (a person) by way of punishment.
      Kirkton Hist. 205.
      [The Court of High Commission] Their power is very ample; they make many offenders, and sort them strangely, even in their commission;

      The Scottish National Dictionary (1700–) includes

      2. To restore to proper or working order, to put to rights, to repair, mend, fix up, to heal

      Mry. 1806 J. Cock Simple Strains 82:
      My Muse is maistly grown gizzen, But that 'ill sort her.
      Dmf. 1821 Carlyle Early Life (Froude 1882) I. 100:
      Send them [clothes] all home that I may wash and sort them once more.
      Lnk. 1853 W. Watson Poems (1877) 76:
      An' yet we think it might be seen How matters could be sortet.
      s.Sc. 1880 Border Counties Mag. I. 94:
      To get some smith work dune, in the shape o' scythes sortin'.
      Fif. 1893 G. Setoun Barncraig 47:
      I'll gang for water for ye, the time ye're sortin' the lamp.
      Per. 1899 C. M. Stuart Sabbath Nights 41:
      There was never nae siller for new things gin the auld could be sorted up.
      Gall. 1929 Gallovidian 16:
      Is your fit gey sore the nicht, son? — will I sort it for ye?
      Sc. 1951 Scots Mag. (May) 123:
      I'm no seekin' a new house. I think an' I had the ane I hae sortit I would be braw enough.

      The 2005 Supplement adds

      Gsw. 1920 Neil Munro Erchie & Jimmy Swan (1993) 260:
      ‘I’m tired lookin’ at that clock and it no gaun for the last three month,’ said Erchie. ‘Could ye no bring it doon to the watchmaker and get it sorted!’
      Slg. 2001 Janet Paisley Not for Glory 26:
      The protests fae the twa cells silenced. ‘It’s aw right,’ she said. ‘I’m here. We’ll sort it’.
      Gsw. 2001 Herald 1 Mar 18:
      If they’re not, they’re trading illegally and they should be made to sort that. Let us do it voluntarily, they plea.

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    2. Another sense in the Scottish National Dictionary suggests a possible source for the Britsh Army usage quoted in the OED

      'to attack fiercely, to shoot to pieces'

      [1945 J. D'Arcy-Dawson European Victory viii. 151 We went into Div. H.Q., which had been well and truly sorted.]

      Compare the Scots

      5. To deal effectively with (a person), by rebuke or punishment, to put someone in his place, to drub, to scold ... Gen.Sc., also in Eng. dial.

      Edb. 1791 Caled. Mercury (12 Sept.):
      If Willy wi' him aught gainsays, He sorts him weel.
      Sc. 1820 Scott Monastery iv.:
      May ne'er be in my fingers, if I dinna sort ye baith for it!
      Lnk. 1836 Justiciary Reports (1838) 22:
      He said, if he had John Wilson there, “he would gar him sort me.”
      Abd. 1882 T. Mair John o' Arnha' 56:
      She shortly sorts the cats wi' clods When they get cauterwaulie.
      Sh. 1891 J. Burgess Rasmie's Büddie 40:
      Hiss! “Starrie!”, “Seemun!” Tak a hadd! Till I win oot an sort da lad.
      Ags. 1927 V. Jacob Northern Lights 8:
      Weel he kent he'd get a sortin' frae the carlin'.
      Fif. 1950 Scots Mag. (July) 263:
      But I'll sort her when I get the chance!

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  8. I've never seen the posters, but for some time now, the usual tannoy announcement at railway stations about what to do if you see something suspicious have, irritatingly, signed off with that slogan (although I've always heard it as "See it, say it, sort it". Irritating not just because authorities talking "street" is always cringeworthy, but also because the grammar is wrong: it's words which are said, not their subject. Can somebody please sort it!

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  9. Is "sorted" not the same as "done"?

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    1. Well, let's see how it works in Lynne's examples for the first sense:

      The EU’s 27 member states have insisted that talks cannot move onto trade and commerce until the three key issues of EU and British citizen residency rights, the UK’s so-called divorce bill and the border with Ireland are all done.

      Your entertainment for the rest of the year is done with our 2017 guide.

      I would make it a nice outing with your son to a well done hifi shop where you actually have time to listen.

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  10. In AmE, sorted is restricted to uses like putting something in alphabetical order or arranging by size or color. Every explanation I've heard of the British usage just does not fit into any acceptable category of AmE. Untranslatable was quite apt. Means virtually nothing to me.

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    1. As an AmE speaker, while a bare "sorted" doesn't work, "sorted out" has much the same meaning for me as the first definition listed (as Lynn mentioned). I assume that it arose as a metaphorical extension of exactly that "place in order" sense of "sort".

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  11. The Scottish National Dictionary lists as its antepenultimate sense of sort:

    6. tr. To select, to choose. Obs. in Eng. since 17th-c.

    And yet the OED list this as its first sense

    1. Picked, chosen, selected.. Picked, chosen, selected.

    with its earliest quote from 1547 : A convenient number of sorted men for the relief of the Lord Deputy.

    Obsolete in English of England? Tell that to JK Rowling with her Hogwarts sorting hat.

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  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  13. The Scottish National Dictionary lists as its antepenultimate sense of sort:

    6. tr. To select, to choose. Obs. in Eng. since 17th-c.

    And yet the OED list this as its first sense

    1. Picked, chosen, selected.

    with its earliest quote from 1547: A convenient number of sorted men for the relief of the Lord Deputy.

    Obsolete in English of England? Tell that to JK Rowling with her Hogwarts sorting hat.

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  14. Slight digression:

    I think even Americans will be familiar with sort (n.) in the sense of "fellow, type of person", e.g. "a good sort"(?), but what about the (cockney?) slang:

    He's a proper sort (stressed on the last word, not the adjective),

    meaning something like "He's a very fine fellow indeed"?

    Jonathon Green has the former, but not the latter.

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    1. I'm familiar with the first sense, but I don't recall hearing it in the wild in the US.

      The second sense is entirely unfamiliar to me. Further, before now, I'd probably think it a mild euphemistic insult.

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  15. I think I've been seeing "sorted" for "sorted out" more frequently in the US to the point that I might start using it soon. I do know it was only in BrE the first time I heard it.

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  16. FWIW, I left the UK in 1997. At that time, I didn't say "sorted" to mean "sorted out", and I had heard of it only through the comedy TV show "Only Fools and Horses".

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  17. To my AmE ear, the "sorted out" in a phrase like "the police will get things sorted out" means something quite different than the first definition you give of BrE "sorted." It doesn't mean that the police will resolve or fix things; it means they will be able to understand a confusing situation. I think "figure out" might be a close synonym.

    Confusingly, for me as an American, the OED Online puts these (what I would consider) two uses in the same definition (11f):

    "f. To separate out and resolve the complexities of (a problem); to clear up (a confusion or difficulty); to put to rights, deal with. Also, with a person as object: to solve the problems of (someone), ‘put (him) straight’. Also refl."

    But I think only the first two here are common usage in the US (and using it reflexively would be rather strange, too):

    "To separate out and resolve the complexities of (a problem); to clear up (a confusion or difficulty)"

    Also, I'm pretty sure the second "sorted" is in Harry Potter somewhere; I think that's where I first encountered it. Unfortunately, discussion of the Sorting Hat makes in virtually impossible to find discussion of other uses of "sort" in HP.

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    1. That's one way to understand it in AmE, but also see Merriam-Webster's third AmE sense: "to solve the problems of (someone) They're still trying to sort their son out. I just need a little more time to sort myself out."

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    2. That seems very new and British-sounding to me, particularly the reflexive (even though you point out it's in an AmE dictionary). I found my print MW11 (2003), and it doesn't have "sort out" as a headword, and the third MW Online definition that you point to is absent (although the first two are there, more or less, under "sort," phrased a bit differently).

      Curiously, the closest thing the print MW11 has to the BrE definition (here "to put to rights") is labeled as "chiefly Scot."

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  18. The Scottish author Jane Duncan once wrote that someone threatened an ill-behaved child, "Do that again, and I'll sort you!" which actually makes sense to me!

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AmE = American English
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