“Chattering class/es”

I could have sworn I’ve done a post on this one, but apparently not, so here goes. The OED‘s definition and first three citations:

chattering classes  n. (occasionally also in sing. chattering class) freq. derogatory members of the educated metropolitan middle class, esp. those in academic, artistic, or media circles, considered as a social group freely given to the articulate, self-assured expression of (esp. liberal) opinions about society, culture, and current events.

1980   F. Johnson in Now! 21 Mar. 48/1   The peculiar need for something to be frightened about only seems to affect those of us who are part of the chattering classes.
1990   R. Crichfield Among British vii. 457   The old Britain of Eton, Oxbridge, the land, and the Guards, allied with a chattering class of literary intellectuals, so invaluable when it came to running an empire, is deadly when it comes to bringing the country into the 1990s.
1994   Daily Mail 18 July 8/2   A battle between Middle England—the sensible heart of the British middle classes—and Islington Person, the politically correct voice of the chattering classes.

Tooling around Google, I found a use that antedates the OED‘s first cite by more than a century, in an 1871 article in The Spectator called “The New Indian Danger”: “… and everything seemed to grow dear at once, to the immense disgust of the chattering classes who bought …” It’s clearly an outlier–nobody picked up on it–but it’s there.

In any case, the phrase is definitely of British origin. This Google Ngram Viewer chart shows it picking up popularity in the US starting in the 1990s, though still lagging far behind Britain.

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Ngram Viewer only offers reliable data through 2000, but “chattering class/es” has definitely picked up steam in the U.S. since then. In the New York Times, one or the other variants phrase have been used 295 times post-2000, most recently in a review of a book on Hillary Clinton’s campaign that appeared April 24 of this year: “… while the chattering class may be intrigued by, for example, Clinton’s flirtation with ABC’s David Muir, ordinary readers may find themselves swimming in references to journalists and staffers who are far from household names.”

 

“Organ-eye-zation,” etc.

I have in my repertoire one parlor trick. I do it when chatting with someone whose speech is generally unremarkable, but who employs a pronunciation like “global-eye-zation” (the vowel in the third syllable rendered /ai/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA) instead of the typical American schwa (“global-/ə/-zation”). I say, “I bet you’re from Canada, aren’t you?” And they invariably say, “Yes!”

It’s one of the few pronunciation that Canadians have retained from Britain; others are pronouncing the first in pasta as in cat or hat and the long o in process. You can hear this long i when Canadian hockey players and fans refer to teams as organ-/ai/-zations, and in the Canadian William Shatner’s rendition of civilizations at about the 25-second mark of the opening monologue of Star Trek (right before an infinitive is boldly split):

Although Shatner spoke the words, the character he played, James Kirk, is supposed to be from Iowa. The fact that the producers nevertheless allowed civil-/ai/-zations to stay suggests that to them (as opposed to me), the departure is subtle and maybe not even noticeable.

In any case, I predict my little trick is not long for this world. That’s because Americans have started to adopt the /ai/ vowel in such words. The data I have to support of this assertion is admittedly preliminary, but suggestive:

  • In 2014, when someone on the Word Reference.com Language Forums asked about the pronunciation of organization, two Americans responded that their countrypeople alternated between the  /ə/ and the /ai/ forms.
  • Again, on the crowdsourced pronunciation site Forvo, two Americans offer pronunciations of organization, and they split the same way.
  • The /ai/ version is creeping up more and more on NPR. Just in the past week or so, I’ve heard the reporter Shannon Dooling say author-/ai/-zation; a newsreader (I forgot to write down the name) say denuclear-/ai/-zation; and, on the WBUR program Here and Now, Dipayan Ghosh, a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School and the New America Foundation, say organ-/ai/-zation. Dooling graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (though she did get a master’s at the University of British Columbia!) and Ghosh from the University of Connecticut. (After a version of this piece was originally published on the Lingua Franca blog,. Ghosh told me, via Twitter, “I think I’ve always said it that way because it’s how my parents — from Calcutta — have said it.”)

There is another, similar set of words, such as missile, agile, futile, mobile, hostile, and fertile. Brits pronounce the two syllables with roughly equal stress and use /ai/ for the i, while Americans accent put the accent on the first syllable and use a schwa, for example, missəl. An informant reports that in the corporate world, rhyming agile with mile is all the rage, and I’ve noticed more than a few Americans very British-ly refer to their phone as “my moh-bile.” But this trend awaits further research.

As for the –/ai/-zation words, I note that Ghosh is in his late twenties and Dooling in her thirties; the organ-/ai/-zation guy on Forvo and the NPR newsreader both sounded in that age group to me. And this fits in with a number of other words, spellings, and pronunciations that I’ve noticed gaining popularity among the young: spelling gray as grey and adviser as advisor; pronouncing often as off-ten and sometimes going full oftentimes; saying neither to rhyme with MacGyver rather than beaver; using whomever even when whoever is called for; and saying amongst and amidst instead of among and amid.

What the new uses have in common is that they either are or appear British and therefore (?) fancy. If this blog has proved anything, there is a general American desire to seem British and fancy. But why would this generation act on it more than other generations? I confess I’m stumped.

“Colour”

Wandering the aisles of a local store, I encountered this product:

colour“Colour,” of course, is the British spelling; in America–where the Farberware company has been situated since 1900–it’s “color.”

“Gastropub”

Here’s the third and final (after “bestie” and “flummox“) entry in a series of posts based on words I only realized were Britishisms after reading Lynne Murphy’s book The Prodigal Tongue. They represent a sort of blind spot, or koan, for your humble blogger: if a word or phrase is prevalent in the U.S., how is one to realize that it’s of British origin? Sometimes I encountered it in the U.K. years before hearing it here; sometimes it just has a telltale whiff. Other times, you just have to rely on Lynne Murphy.

And so with “gastropub,” meaning, basically, a bar that purports to serve good food. If I had thought about it, I probably would have realized it’s British, as it’s the British who have proper pubs. In any case, according to the OED, it popped up no later than April 1996, when the (London) Evening Standard wondered: “Will stale pork pies and reheated bangers ever be axed from pub menus? The rise of the gastro-pub suggests that, one day, they might.” The term fairly quickly lost its hyphen.

It crossed the Atlantic in 2003. I can pinpoint the date (as well as the person who brought it over) because in November of that year, the New York Times reported:

April Bloomfield …, a 28-year-old English chef and alumna of the River Cafe in Hammersmith, just outside London, spent the summer in the kitchen of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., preparing for her new job in New York. She will be cooking at The Spotted Pig, a gastropub at 314 West 11th Street, when it opens in a couple of weeks.

After Pig, the deluge. Gastropub has made 315 appearances in the Times since then, including in a 2015 article about a Long Island sports-gastropub called Brixx & Barley. Instead of fried chicken wings,

jumbo wings … are marinated in pineapple juice, beer, jalapeño, cinnamon and other spices for about 48 hours, baked in a brick oven to render off the fat and grilled to order. There are about 15 sauces available, including maple sriracha, Jamaican honey and garlic Parmesan.

“Flummox”

Lynne Murphy’s new book, The Prodigal Tongue, has plenty of blog-fodder, which I’m just starting to make my way through. As with “bestie,” I was surprised when she mentioned “flummox” as a Britishism, but once again, she’s right. For the most part.

It’s a word with a history, for sure. The OED categorizes is as “colloquial or vulgar” and gives as primary definition: “To bring to confusion; … to confound, bewilder, nonplus.” The first citation is a line of dialogue from Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, 1837: “He’ll be what the Italians call reg’larly flummoxed.” (There is no evidence that the word has any Italian derivation–it shows up in late nineteenth-century books described as provincial English slang.) Green’s Dictionary of Slang bests that by three years with this quote from the bawdy songbook Delicious Chanter: “Joe owned he was flummix’d and diddles at last.”

However, both Green’s and the OED note a roughly contemporaneous use of the word in the United States, with the meaning “give in, collapse.” The OED has this quote from the 1839 novel Green Mountain Boys, by the Vermont author Daniel P. Thompson: “Well, if he should flummux at such a chance, I know of a chap..who’ll agree to take his place.” The online version of Green’s Dictionary of Slang has a definition and citations (the first from Britain, the second from the U.S.) for another meaning of the word.

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I also found this “flummox” in a slightly later novel by Thompson, Locke Amsden, or The Schoolmaster: “‘Well, he was a mean scamp, for all that,’ replied the oldest boy; ‘and we should have shipped him, at one time, if some of the boys had not flummuxed from the agreement.”

In any case, the “confound” meaning and the “flummox” (rather than “flummux”) spelling got solidified in Britain and seem to have been taken up in the U.S. in the middle of the twentieth century. An early use in the New York Times came in a 1954 James Reston column: “The Democrats were frankly flummoxed tonight.”

As this Google Ngrams Viewer chart suggests, U.S. use began to really rise in the 1960s and caught up with and then surpassed British use just before the turn of the twenty-first century:

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“Bestie”

Lynne Murphy’s new book, The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between British and American English, has a lot of insights and revelations, which I’ll have more to say about in a subsequent post. For today, I’ll just note Lynne’s inclusion of “bestie”–slang for best friend–in a list of British expressions. That surprised me, because it’s certainly all over the place in the U.S.

But she’s right. The OED says the word is “originally and chiefly British” and has as its first citation a 1991 quote from The Observer: “Diana’s friends often date from the days BC (Before Charles). Some are Besties—reliable pals from school.” That appears to be a bit of an outlier. The next cite is from a 2008 novel called Swingers, and that’s about when the word starts showing up in the Google Books database.

By that time, “bestie” was already out and about in the United States. The first use in the New York Times came in a 2007 Maureen Dowd column, complete with quotation marks and definition indicating it was new on the scene; Dowd referred to “Urbanista, an online Rolodex that dispenses advice for ‘hip’ girls in Manhattan, offering to be a ‘bestie’ (a best friend) and answer questions like ‘Where should I go to get my Marc Jacobs shoes reheeled?’”

The word appeared once in the Times in 2009 and 2010 and kept moving up: 2012, four times; 2013, five; 2014, seven; 2015, 13; 2016, 16; and 2017, 14. (The slight dropoff is probably explained by the novelty having worn off.) There’ve been three appearances this year, including a headline:

Kardashian Bestie Simon Huck Is Selling You Beer and Shampoo

I’d be interested if any readers–British or American–could recall a specific pre-2007 when you recall using, hearing, or reading “bestie.”

“Bits and Bobs”

As noted in the previous post, I was surprised to see Harvard historian Jill Lepore use “bits and bobs” in a New Yorker piece; the phrase seemed just too British to be used by an American. But to paraphrase John Lennon, Lepore is “not the only one.”

Backing up a bit, “bits and bobs” does not have its own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, but is included in a larger entry for various expressions that include “bit.” It’s lumped with “bits and pieces” (very familiar to Americans) and “bits and bats” (not so) and defined as “fragments, oddments, odds and ends; small articles, personal belongings, bric-à-brac.” The first citation is an entry in A Warwickshire Word-book, 1896, which gave a sample sentence: “Gather up your bits-and-bobs, and let me lay the tea.”

However, I have found in the Google Books database a use that seems to precede that by two years. It’s in the novel Baptist Lake, by John Davidson (a Scottish writer):

For an hour and more, Mrs. Tiplady entertained Salerne with gossip — light, if a little muddy, like the froth of porter — with bits and bobs of music-hall songs and step- dances, and with caresses brief and birdlike — the wariest of landladies, deep in love with her viking as she was.

Google Books also suggests that “Bits and Bobs” was used as a chapter heading in a photography yearbook a year earlier, in 1893, but the date can’t be confirmed from what Google shows of the book.

On the matter of “bits and bobs” appearing in American sources, Google Ngram Viewer shows sporadic use in the twentieth century, with a gradual increase starting in the ’70s.

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The expression has been used 57 times in the New York Times, some but not all coming in quotes from British people. The first appearance is in a 1951 review of a children’s book about making puppets, using, for example, “the bits and bobs to be found in a young boy’s pocket.” And the most recent is in a December 2017 Vows column, which describes one of the two grooms: “He was always creative and enjoyed making crafts with bits and bobs of paper he had saved, ticket stubs and back-of-the-envelope doodles.”

In any case, it’s a useful expression, not quite the same as “bits and pieces”–which for me, anyway, always brings to mind the Dave Clark Five song. I imagine it’s here to stay.