British Copyeditor at N.Y. Times?

A while back, I pondered that signs in Philadelphia say “No Parking In This Street,” where American usage would favor “… On This Street.” The other day this photo captioned showed up in the Real Estate section of the Sunday New York Times, below a photograph of an apartment:

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To be clear, Sutton Place is a street in New York City, and American would normally refer to an apartment “on” Sutton Place. Either “in the street” is taking hold in the U.S., or the Times has a British copyeditor writing captions.

Update: I am reliably informed that in New York, Sutton Place is not only a street but a neighborhood, in which case “in” would be consistent with American usage. In the words of Emily Litella, never mind.

 

“Chuffed to be here”

A few days ago, Philadelphia-born musician Todd Rundgren inducted his fellow rockers The Hooters into the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame. Here’s a little of what he had to say, as recorded by Dan DeLuca of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Explanatory note 1: Jerry Blavat, aka The Geator, aka The Boss with the Hot Sauce, is a legendary Philadelphia DJ whose career has spanned from 1960 till the present day.

Explanatory note 2: “chuffed” is a NOOB meaning, basically, pleased as punch.

The magic of the Internet reveals that Rundgren–who’s had lots of collaborations and contact with British musicians, notably Ringo Starr–has used the word at least once before, in this 2017 interview with Variety.

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Ventriloquism

If you look to the right of this post and scroll down a bit, you’ll find a “Category Cloud,” consisting of words or phrases with which I’ve tagged posts.  If you click, you’ll be taken to the relevant posts. I haven’t been very diligent in my tagging, which one reason why the biggest word is “Uncategorized.” (The larger the type, the more often the category has been used.)

You’ll find a fair number of posts in such categories as “On the Radar,” “Outliers,” “Australianisms,” and “Food and Drinks.” Others are more or less orphans, including “Ventriloquism.” This refers to the phenomenon of American writers using British terminology while writing about British people or topics. While I’ve only labeled one post that way, it’s not at all uncommon.

The latest example I’ve encountered is from the Twitter-feed of American (New York-born) journalist Heidi N. Moore. Yesterday, she objected to a Guardian obituary of the English Scottish Deborah Orr (which did indeed come off as weirdly passive-aggressive and drawn to non-relevant details).

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(By the way, for those not on American Twitter, there’s a tradition to adopt scary names around Halloween time, hence “Hades N. Morbid.”)

There are two NOOBs in the tweet: “stroppy” (derived from obstreperous and meaning bad-tempered or belligerent) and “sacking,” British equivalent of American “firing.”

Then Moore–who once was a U.S. correspondent for The Guardian–followed up by going even deeper into Brit-speak, to terms that haven’t even penetrated here.

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“Sloane”: “a stereotypically conventional, if fashionable British upper-middle-class young woman (occas. man)”–Green’s Dictionary of Slang. “Head girl”: “an older female student in a British school who is chosen to have special duties and to represent the school“–merriam-webster.com.

The really subtle one there is the last two words, “won’t they?” It’s a very British thing to use these question tags (sometimes called tag questions) at the end of sentences. In fact, I’m driven crazy by their incessant use by British tennis and football commentators; I keep wanting the scream out the answer. And I have a sense that the use has spread to American announcers. If I get some data, I’ll write a post about it–and make sure to mark it with the correct category, won’t I?

“Poser”

I was recently talking with a professor at an American university who regularly brought students to London for study-abroad programs. (He’s now retired.) He said that by the end of the semester, his male students had always incorporated into their vocabulary three insults: wanker, tosser, and poser. I’ve covered the first here (and touched on it several other times: plug it into the “Search” field at right to see). As for “tosser,” the OED defines it as “A term of contempt or abuse for a person; a ‘jerk,'” and etymologically originates it in the same activity as “wanker.” But it seems to be used rarely if at all in the U.S.

However, “poser” is worth looking into. Here’s what the OED has to say:

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Since “poseur,” from the French, is an almost identically-spelled synonym, it’s worth looking at the OED deets:

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This suggests to me that “poseur” has been out and about since circa 1870; the Time and Maxim (American lad magazine) citations and a Google Ngram Viewer chart suggest it’s been used with relatively equal frequency in the U.S. and Britain.

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The Anglicized “poser” is trickier. First, note all the citations are British. Second, I suggest that the Pall Mall Gazette and Shaw (” The man..is young, agile, a talker, a poser, sharp enough to be capable of anything except honesty or altruistic considerations of any kind”) quotes are interesting outliers, in which the straightforward noun “poser,” one who poses, is extended to the derogatory meaning the word would later come to adopt. Even the 1987 Guardian quote (“I’ve always been a poser,..but the first time I did a modelling job I was shit scared”) seems to refer to literal posing. Only the final quote, from The Sun, sounds like the “poser” one is used to today: “The former World Cup striker is shown as a precious poser who wears a blond wig and refuses to play if it’s raining.”

It’s a little hard to be definitive with “poser,” since in database searches I’ve found it impossible to separate out two other meanings of the word: a hard-to-answer question (“that’s a real poser”) and a French verb meaning to put or to place. But assuming that “poser”=”poseur” had taken hold in the 1980s (by which time “poser”=tough question had fallen out of fashion), Ngram Viewer shows almost twice as frequent use in U.K. as in U.S. (As I’m fond of saying, reliable data for Ngram Viewer only goes up to 2000.)

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But the word has caught on on this side of the pond. The main character in a new Broadway play by Tracey Letts says Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is nothing but a “scrubby little poser.” (I know Yorke is English, but Letts is a Yank.) The headline of an ad in the New York Times reads

Getting Digital Right: Posers, Players and Profits

And last month Forbes had:

Peak Performer Vs. Professional Poser: Creating The Right Team

Earlier this year, Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke has been compared to “a middle-school poser who ‘went to Zumiez and spent $27 on stickers.'”

Don’t ask me to explain that. I only come up with the quotes, not what they mean.

 

“Full marks”

shopping

Note British “odour” spelling

This post marks a Not One-Off Britishisms first. I don’t believe it’s ever previously happened that, while researching American use of a British word or phrase, I came upon an example written by me. The phrase is “full marks.” Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary has these definitions and examples:

1 chiefly British : the highest possible grade on an exam or in a course. “She got full marks for the coursework”… — Lancashire Telegraph

2 chiefly British : due credit or commendation. “Regarding the question of aircraft nomenclature, my pet peeve is commercial airline aircraft. I give the Europeans full marks in this department: Comets, Caravelles and Concordes are above reproach.”— John Ryan

There’s a nice used of the term, sort of half-literal and half-metaphorical, in E.M Forster’s A Room with a View:

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In my many years as a student and teacher, starting in 1960, I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered Merriam-Webster’s first meaning. The American equivalent would be “got 100” or “got straight As” or “aced it.” But I found that in years past, it was used here. This is from a 1908 New York Times article about a graduation ceremony at a school “for Immigrant Children”:

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The literal meaning fell out of favor in American education but the figurative use shows up in the prose of mid-20th century belle-lettristic sorts, including Times writers like Orville Prescott, Arthur Krock, and Brooks Atkinson, who in a 1947 pan of a Molnar play wrote of the author, “Possibly he should be given full marks for attempting a sublime theme.”

But the phrase was used considerably more commonly in Britain, especially in the ’30s through the ’60s, as this Google Ngram Viewer graph shows. (Reliable data for Google Ngram Viewer only goes up to 2000.)

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Nowadays, the metaphorical meaning pops up quite a lot in the U.S., including two in sports contexts in just the past few days: The (American) football website Fansided on October 1: “If [Josh] Rosen ever becomes a legitimate starter in the NFL, full marks to him.” And ESPN’s National Hockey League preview on September 30: “Full marks to Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brad Richardson” of the Arizona Coyotes.

There have been twenty-one uses in the Times since 2012, including:

  • Recap of the TV series Outlander: “Full marks to Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe for doing a scene on actual horseback instead of on barrels with hair.”
  • Theater critic Charles Isherwood: “I’d grant [playwright Adititi] Kapil full marks for invention.”
  • Sports column quoting Ron Katz, the chairman of the Institute of Sports Law and Ethics at Santa Clara University, on a National Football League report on “deflate-gate”: “I thought the N.F.L. was going to brush it under the carpet. I give them full marks for coming out with this report.
  • Theater critic Ben Brantley in a review of The King and I: “give full marks to the first-rate Ruthie Ann Miles”

And including an article about comma use listing various mistakes and saying that if the reader spotted them, “give yourself full marks.” The author, I was interested to note, was Ben Yagoda.

“Numpty”

I was surprised to find that I have never covered this term for a stupid or foolish person, given that I have done wazzock and shitgibbon, and that British insults are much in the air. The OED describes “numpty” as originating in Scotland and gives this possible etymology: “Origin uncertain; perhaps an alteration of numps n. or numbskull n., with ending perhaps remodelled after humpty-dumpty n.” The first citation is from 1985  (‘They are a pair of turkeys,’ he said. ‘Numpties, the both of them.’–P. Firth, The Great Pervader), and more recent ones show a migration to England.

Neither the OED nor Green’s Dictionary of Slang show U.S. use, but the term did appear in the New York Times in 2009, when Dallas-born novelist Bill Cotter said:

In the mid-’80s, Boston’s Kenmore Square, where part of [his novel Fever Chart] is set, was home to three-card-monte men, ordinary punks, beer-devastated Red Sox bleacher-seat numpties, the Guardian Angel menace, and the only music venue worth visiting in that fourth-rate city, the Rat, a black basement often populated with bloody-nosed hardcore girls swinging tiny fists of stone.

More recently, I’ve started to see it over on Twitter, inevitably regarding the most frequent subject of all these insults, the U.S. president. As I’ve noted previously, the Tweetdeck application lets you filter tweets geographically. Here are some recent ones that use “numpty” and were posted within 200 kilometers of New York City:

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“BAL-let” (pronunciation)

New York Times critic Gia Korlas writes today:

It was dismaying that [Lara] Spencer, a host of “Good Morning America” on ABC, would openly laugh at the news that a 6-year-old boy had elected to study ballet. Listing Prince George’s curriculum on Thursday morning, she ticked off “religious studies, computer programming, poetry and ballet.”

She pronounced it, “BAH-lay.”

And then she continued. “Prince William says George absolutely loves ballet,” she said, looking mystified while she stifled laughter. “I have news for you, Prince William. We’ll see how long that lasts.”

I’m not sure why Korlas thought the pronunciation of “ballet” was noteworthy. But it caught my eye because that’s the way the British give the stress in the word, whereas Americans put the accent on the second syllable. (The vowel sound in the first syllable, for both British and Americans, is like the “a” in “cat,” so perhaps Korlas was struck that Spencer said it to rhyme with like the first word in “Bah, humbug.”)

It’s one of those cases where the Brits seem (to me) to make a big point of not attempting to adopt the original language, in this case French. Other examples include MAHN-ay (the painter), PASS-ta (the Italian noodles), Cuh-RACK-iss (the Venezualan capital), and JOCK-o-vitch (the Serbian tennis player). At least they don’t put a “t” in ballet, as they do in “fillet” (or “filet”) and “valet.”

Spencer is American, which I found out from Wikipedia, which oddly calls her a television “presenter” in the British manner. I wonder if she cleverly used the the British pronunciation of “ballet” because she was talking about British people. Ms. Spencer, if you happen to come upon this post, please enlighten us!