“In the new year”

Imagine it is the autumn of 2018. You want to refer to something that will happen in 2019. Do you say it will happen A, “next year,” or B, “in the new year”? I contend that it you are British, the answer is likely to be B, and if American, A. My sense is that I encountered the whole “in the new year” thing for the first time while reading British novels and the British press and watching British TV.

It’s a bit hard to quantify my contention using many of my go-to databases and other tools, because Americans do say “ring in the new year” and similar expressions. However, Google Ngram Viewer allows for case-sensitive searches, so I searched for “In the new year” — the capital “I” ensuring that the phrase wouldn’t be preceded by “ringing,” “seeing,” “welcoming,” “bringing” or any such verb. Here’s what I got:

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That is, it appears that in the twentieth century, “in the new year” as a standalone phrase was consistently  more than twice as popular in the Britain than in the United States. And note that I’m not saying it wasn’t used at all here; it was just used less often.

The Corpus of Global Web-Based English, which offers a snapshot of nearly 2 billion words of text in 2012-2013, doesn’t allow me to separate out the “ringing-in-the-new year”-type usages (or at least I don’t know how to), but even so, it shows “in the new year” as being generally much more common in Australia, Canada, Britain, and (especially) Ireland than in the United States.

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Here are just a few of the 1,153 times the phrase was used in British web pages:

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And here are some of the 236 American hits:

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Numbers 1, 2, and 8 are of the “welcome-in” form, but the rest have a definite British “in the new year feel.” Enough, at least, for me to designate the phrase On the Radar.

 

 

“Backbencher” spike

Back in 2013, I looked at U.S. adoption of the British political word “backbencher,” referring to junior members of Parliament who literally sit in the back benches. [Update: As the comments reveal, this is not a good definition of British “backbencher.”] Three years later I noted failed Republican presidential nominee Jeb Bush’s habit of using the word to disparage his rivals in the race.

Now, Nancy Friedman reports a surge in U.S. use of the word, thanks to newly elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (aka AOC), a liberal Democrat who seems to really get on Republicans’ last nerve.  “Backbencher” is actually one of their milder epithets for her, but it might be the most popular. Nancy writes:

Do a Google search for “Ocasio Cortez backbencher” and you get results from the Orlando Weekly (“For all the attention paid Ocasio-Cortez, however, she’s just a backbencher”), The Federalist (“She could easily become yesterday’s news, dismissed like other backbenchers and cranks within the House Democratic caucus”), The Hill (“[I told her] to pick some of those issues and really lead on them from day one and not to be told to keep her head down or be a backbencher, but to come here and lead” – California Rep. Ro Khanna), The Advocate (“If she wants to even be moderately effective as a legislator and not some permanent backbencher … she’s gonna have to play the game”), and Esquire (“that backbenchers-should-be-seen-and-not-heard business should’ve died with Sam Rayburn”).

And she reproduced some tweets, including:

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It’s almost makes you think that all these people were working from the same talking points.

Hotly tipped CNN article

A few days ago, Fred Vultee posted about a CNN article in his HEADSUP blog. The article was about a college basketball game between Duke and the University of North Carolina in which Duke star Zion Williamson suffered an injury after his shoe fell apart while he was playing. Here’s the online headline:

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The language was a bit off, as Vultee, a copyeditor (subeditor in BrE) turned college professor, noted: “I don’t recall much transitive scuppering from my years of reading American sports pages.” (In 2016 I did report on a rise in U.S. use of the word, though my examples were from coverage of politics, not sports.)

The CNN article went all in on the Britishisms. Vultee supplied an annotated screenshot of the first few paragraphs.

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Of the underlined phrases, I’ve covered”match” (AmE: “game”) and I believe “side” (“team”) as Not One-Off-Sportisms. “Forcing him off” (not underlined by Vultee) also is familiar from soccer/football coverage. But I would guess that “hotly tipped” (“highly touted”) and “local derby” (meaning a game in a regularly played regional rivalry) have never appeared in a U.S. publication.

You’ll note I didn’t write “have never before appeared…” That’s because the CNN article came out of the network’s international division and was written by a staffer named George Ramsay, who appears to be based in England and who almost always writes about rugby. I tweeted Ramsay at @georgeramsay6 to ask whether he was aware that the expressions he used were so unfamiliar in the U.S.–whether he was having a bit of fun–but haven’t heard back from him yet.

“Pot” (of yogurt)

Comments to the recent post on “potted,” meaning summarized or abridged, led me to understand that British people use the the word “pot” to refer to smallish containers for food, whereas for Americans, a pot is strictly the thing you cook in, frequently mentioned in company with pans. (British) Catherine Rose commented:

Potted food is in pots. It isn’t even always in a closed pot – potted shrimps are in an open-top pot which is sealed with a layer of butter, and has a very short shelf-life. Sometimes it’s in a ceramic pot with a ceramic lid, and sometimes in a glass jar with a lid that closes down with a seal (like a Kilner jar).

That made me remember that in Britain, a single-serving receptacle of yog(h)urt is called a pot, whereas I would just call it a container. (Being a native New Yorker, I would use the same word for the vessel in which you get coffee to go, properly pronounced “a containuh of cawfee.”) Some research confirmed this distinction. For example, consider this Google Ngram Viewer chart showing phrases’ frequency of use in books in the Google Books database:

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I included British “container of yoghurt” in my search, but it doesn’t show up on the graph because, seemingly, that phrase has never appeared in a British book. The Brigham Young University Corpus of Contemporary American English, comprising 560 million words of text uttered or written in the U.S. between 1990 and 2017, allows you to search for the words that most commonly occurred before the phrase “of yogurt.” Here are the results:

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“Cup”‘s 100 percent margin of victory over “container” is a bit misleading, I would say, because the word is also a unit of measurement (8 ounces), and is used that way in many of the thirty-four hits in COCA. But “cup” definitely is also used for a single serving (and not a measurement), as seen in this photo of a Dannon yogurt’s nutrition label I snapped at a supermarket. The serving size is listed as “1 cup,” but 150 grams is only 62 percent of a measuring-cup cup.

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For additional research, I created separate Twitter polls for British and American people. Here’s the result of the British one.

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And here’s the American one:

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That 20 percent “Something else” response is a sign of a poorly designed survey. The Twitter comments revealed that the most popular other term was, you guessed it, “cup.” “Thing” and “carton” also got some mentions.

The question remains, is “tub of yogurt” a Not One-Off Britishism? The phrase occurs exactly once in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, in a 2007 New York Times article about a redesign of the 1957 Fiat 500: “In France, … the original 500 was lovingly known as the ‘pot de yaourt,’ or pot of yogurt, for its soft shape.”

But the 5 percent showing in my American Twitter poll, and its presence in the Ngram Viewer chart, suggests “pot of yogurt” is making a U.S. incursion. My daughter Maria Yagoda, the digital restaurant editor at Food and Wine magazine, wrote me that she felt “pot” had gained popularity in the last ten years or so: “Because ‘container’ just wasn’t a good, specific enough word so we jumped on the opportunity to use pot.” A few examples pop up when you search in Google News. Last year, in Elite Daily, American Jordan Bissell wrote, “Who wants a little plastic pot of yogurt when you can have a frozen stick full of delicious, nutritious goodness?” And in 2017, the Wall Street Journal published this headline:

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Bottom line, expect to see more American “pot of yogurt.”

 

 

“Postman”

The current issue of the New Yorker has an interesting article about the novelist Dan Mallory, who under the pen name “A.J. Finn” wrote a best-selling thriller, The Woman in the Window. The first line of the article is “Dan Mallory, a book editor turned novelist, is tall, good-looking, and clever,” and the use of the “clever” (instead of the more common Americanism “smart”) is a clue that the New Yorker writer, Ian Parker, is English.

But that is neither here nor there. What’s interesting for the purpose of this blog is a paragraph where Parker describes some affectations of Mallory, who is American-born but partly educated at Oxford:

Whereas in London Mallory had sometimes seemed like a British satire of American bluster, in New York he came off as British. He spoke with an English accent and said “brilliant,” “bloody,” and “Where’s the loo?”—as one colleague put it, he was “a grown man walking around with a fake accent that everyone knows is fake.” The habit lasted for years, and one can find a postman, not a mailman, in “The Woman in the Window.”

Hmm, the British use “post” as both noun and verb while Americans say “mail,” but I hadn’t thought of “postman” as a particularly British term. In fact, the first thing that comes to mine is James M. Cain’s quintessentially American 1934 noir novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice. And, as Dan Geringer reminds me, the Marvelletes’ 1961 Motown hit was “Please Mr. Postman.”

Google Ngram Viewer, which charts words’ frequency in the Google Books database, suggests while “postman” is indeed (much) more popular than “mailman” in Britain, “postman” is also more popular than “mailman” in America (at least through 2000, the last year for which the application has reliable data).

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The New York Times archives tell a similar story. Since 1950, the paper has used “postman” 1,966 times, and “mailman” 2.203 times. (There’s a bit more of a gap than those figures suggest, since “Postman” at least occasionally appears as a surname.)

However, Brigham Young University’s 1.9 billion-word Corpus of Global Web-Based English, which offers a snapshot of the use of the language in 2013-2014, suggests that “postman” has recently gotten less common in the U.S. Here’s its chart showing relative use of the word in the U.S., Canada, and Britain.

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So I think we can conclude: in addition to his other sins, Dan Mallory is guilty of pretentiousness.

“Do” (a menu item)

My observant friend Pat Raccio Hughes remarked that she’s lately been noticing young people ordering food in restaurants in a particular way. Let’s say they want a hamburger. Instead of saying “I’ll have a hamburger,” or “I’d like a hamburger,” or even the dreaded supposed Americanism, “Can I get a hamburger?”, they’ll say, “I’ll do the hamburger.”

This was a new one on me, but I immediately started to notice it in my travels. It seemed a sort of reversal of another food-related “do,” previously covered in NOOBs (“This restaurant does a nice pot roast”), so I had a hunch it has a British origin.

The only online dictionary in which I found a relevant definition was in one of the OED‘s many, many meanings for “do”: “To partake of (a portion of food or (esp.) an alcoholic drink); to eat or drink, esp. in a social context.” “Let’s do lunch” is a common phrase. But neither that nor and of the OED citations seem quite the same thing as ordering a particular item in a restaurant:

1853   ‘C. Bede’Adventures Mr. Verdant Green x. 78   To ‘do bitters’, as Mr. Bouncer phrased the act of drinking bitter beer.

1867   J. S. BorlaseNight Fossikers 116   I asked him to come to Poole’s shanty and do a chop and a nobbler with me.

1888   Civil & Mil. Gaz. (Lahore) 8 May 2/1   Hulloo! Back again, old man?.. I think we might do a drink together in honour of the occasion.

1908   S. R. LeeOther Sara v. 65   I feel as if I could do a chop and a glass of stout now.

1987   Sunday Tel. 19 July (Colour Suppl.) 39/3   An invitation to lunch might be pitched as, ‘Come on, let’s do sushi’, or ‘We have to do some Korean’.

In 2013, someone on the WordReference.com forum asked about “I’ll do the salad.” Only a few of the respondents had encountered it, but, amusingly, most of the British ones contended it was an Americanism, and most of the Americans contended it was a Britishism. Someone posted a link to a California magazine article from 1985 about demanding and entitled restaurant customers, an example being a woman who told a waiter

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Also suggesting an ’80s origin was the Random House editor and word maven Benjamin Dreyer, who responded when I brought it up on Twitter: “I’m sure I remember ‘will do the lobster’ from the last years of my restaurant career, so NYC in the late eighties.”

In 2013, an American blogger complained about the usage but had no idea where it had come from. In 2017, another blogger who also appears to be American noted:

“I’ll do the [food]” is one such phrase that’s been bothering me for the past few years—likely because I overheard it on an episode of some Beverly Hills reality show that I hated both for its existence and cult-following. Since then, I’ve continued to hear this phrase assertively stated at formal and fast-casual restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

Finally, I asked my daughter Maria, who is young and who is a writer and editor for Food and Wine magazine. She replied,

I think there’s something slightly pretentious about it, but i definitely do it maybe 50 percent of the time.

It often comes up  when servers are describing specials, and they say, “We have a lovely sole meuniere with chanterelle mushrooms, and we have a pork chop with an apple demi glaze.”

And then you say, “I’ll do the pork chop.”

My conclusion: this do isn’t a Britishism, one-off or otherwise. And it seriously annoys some people.

 

“Potted”

New York Times book critic Dwight Garner has the usual high number of good lines in his review today of former New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s new memoir. Here’s the one that especially interested me:

“Let Me Finish” is a superficial and ungainly book that tries to cover so many bases at once — it’s a series of attacks and justifications, it’s a master class in sucking up and kicking down, it’s a potted memoir, it’s a stab at political rehabilitation — that reading it is like watching an octopus try to play the bagpipes.

The reason for my interest is a NOOB–“potted.” The OED‘s definition is: “Of a piece of information, work of literature, historical or descriptive account, etc.: put into a short and easily assimilable form; condensed, summarized, abridged.” The first citation is from the magazine The Galaxy in 1873: “If I skip the lad’s measures and tidbits of potted history, yet these letters from Augustus are none the less welcome, revealing the traveller in a new light.” Subsequent citations, all from British sources, refer to “potted” abridgments, prose, abstracts, and, again history. That seems to be the word that most commonly follows this adjective, so I used the whole phrase for a Google Ngrams Viewer search to compare frequency of use in Britain and the United States through 2000, the last date for which the application supplies reliable data. (I couldn’t very well search “potted” alone, because that would give me American references to drunkenness, British references to what we would call canned laughter and to food preserved by the process we call “canning,” and reference in both countries to plants in their planters.)

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I’m pretty sure American use jumped not long after that, because of the Harry Potter theatrical satirical abridgment Potted Potter, which has been playing in the U.S. for more than a decade. In any case, I found a number of American uses, including one from Times drama critic Jesse Green in November 2018. Some skits within The Thanksgiving Play, he wrote, “are selections from actual lesson plans and Pinterest boards posted by teachers to share ideas for classroom Thanksgiving activities. They include potted history and offensive ditties and, in one case, a suggestion to split the pupils into Pilgrims and Indians ‘so the Indians can practice sharing.”’

And the previous year, book critic Laura Miller wrote in The New Yorker that “newsreel-like interludes of potted history … are constantly interjected” into Paul Auster’s novel 4 3 2 1.