“Drugs party”

In his review of the English nature writer Robert MacFarlane’s book Underland, Dwight Garner wrote in the New York Times:

There’s the prickling sense, reading Macfarlane like [Geoff] Dyer, that a library door or a manhole cover or a bosky path might lead you not just to the end of a chapter but to a drugs party or a rave.

The sentence has led me to add a new category to the blog: “Ventriloquism.” By that I mean cases where an American writer is writing about British people or topics, and consciously or not adopts British lingo. One example in the Garner sentence is “bosky,” which Google Ngram Viewer suggests has consistently been used roughly 50 percent more in Britain than the U.S. (The word, which means “wooded,” is now pretty rarely used on either side of the Atlantic, and when it is generally precedes “glen” or “dell.”)

But I feel “bosky” is a one-off and will devote my attention to Garner’s choice of the word “drugs” instead of “drug” to describe a party in which presumably taking drugs is the dominant feature. It’s a case of pluralizing an attributive nouns, and I’ve written about it before, in the cases of “drinks menu” (instead of “drink”) and and “covers band” (instead of “cover”). Other examples include “books editor” (for the person in charge of book coverage at a newspaper or magazine) and “jobs report” (for studies and statistics about employment trends). In the post on “covers band,” I summarized some of the surprising amount of research done on the topic. For example:

In a 2002 paper, the linguist Elisa Sneed refines the work of Maria Alegre and Peter Gordon in determining the circumstances in which plural attributives tend to be used. There seem to be two important factors. The first is “abstractness.” Sneed writes: “Something not easily imagable, such as a process (admissions), an action (assists), a thing (benefits), or something that is otherwise complex (dissertations) is abstract; something easily imagable and simple conceptually, such as pencils or flowers, is concrete” (italics added).

So dissertations index sounds okay; *flowers pot does not.

The second factor is heterogeneity in the head (final) noun of the phrase. Sneed gives the example of analyst as a head noun that promotes “diversity among the entities denoted by the internal noun” and pile as one that highlights homogeneity. So we might say weapons analyst but weapon pile, as well as cookie jar and sock drawer….

Three other wrinkles. First, irregular plurals tend to be more acceptable than regular plurals as attributives. We might say mice droppings but never *rats droppings. Second, as noted by David Crystal, the plural is often used in cases when meaning might otherwise be ambiguous or misleading. Thus, in baseball, a batter who doesn’t have enough power to produce doubles, triples, or home runs is a singles hitter. To call him a single hitter might mean that he’s just one hitter, or that he’s unmarried. Finally, the plural is used in cases when a possessive apostrophe is understood, such as farmers market.

But here’s the funny thing. It seems self-evident to me that plural attributives are a strongly British phenomenon … but I’ve never seen it referred to as such in any scholarship or commentary, and I even got pushback when I asserted this in previous posts. So I’ll try to support my contention, a little at a time. In the “covers band,” I included an Ngram View chart showing British preference for the plural and American for the singular. (And by the way, Google being an American company, it’s “Ngram” not “Ngrams.”)

As for “drugs party” vs “drug party” here’s the Ngram Viewer chart for use in American books, 1990-2000:

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And here’s the one for British use:

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2000 is the most recent year for reliable Ngram Viewer data, but the News on the Web (NOW) Corpus, which tracks postings from 2010 to the present, shows “drugs party” being used exclusively in Britain and Commonwealth countries (though admittedly not very often).

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So can I get an “amen” that Dwight Garner’s “drugs party” was a NOOB?

Next up: “jobs report.”





Double-L spelling

Brian Hitchcock writes in to the American Dialect Society listserv:

When did Americans start putting two ells in “canceled” and “canceling”?  I am well aware that two ells are preferred in British spellings, and that “cancellation” with two ells has been long preferred on both sides of the pond; for some reason Americans seem to be adopting British practice for the other forms as well.

I can’t tell you how many times I have looked up home pages of people who post on Facebook, wondering they are Canadian, Indian or Australian, only to find they are Americans who just use the spellings favoured (sic) elsewhere.

I expect they will soon start wasting ells on “levelled/levelling”, “bevelled/bevelling“, “travelled/travelling”, “pencilled/pencilling”, “parcelled/parcelling”,
“carolled/carolling”,”devilled/devilling”, “cavilled/cavilling”  et al. as well?

note: or maybe they already have—in the above list, Apple spell-chequer (sarcasm) did NOT flag bevelled, travelled, pencilled, or pencilling as misspelled.

I confess I was not aware of the double-L trend — except, of course in The New Yorker, a fairly recent version of whose stylebook I have in my possession.

IMG-6503(Note the banning of “transpire.”)

The whole single-L notion started with Noah Webster, who in the dictionaries he published in the early nineteenth century promoted new (and what he considered simpler and more logical) spellings for the new American continent. But according to this Google Ngram Viewer graph of word frequency in books published in the U.S., it took until about 1940 for “canceled” to catch up, and until the early ’80s for it to start surging ahead.

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Interestingly, “traveled” took hold in the U.S. much earlier, in the 1910s.

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Reliable data for Ngram viewer only goes up to 2000, at which point the American double-L trend perceived by Brian Hitchcock trend hadn’t come on the scene. The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) takes up the story, and suggests that things started to change right about then. The bottom number indicates that “cancelled” occurred .94 times per million words of text in 1995-1999, and 3.53 times in 2015-2017. (“Canceled” appeared 9.85 times/million in that period–still nearly three times as often.)

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Yet another database, the Corpus of Global Web-Based English, crunches a couple of billion words of text from 2012 and shows “cancelled” appearing 7.17 times per million words of text, compared to 6.13 for “cancelled.” The number is presumably that high because spelling is looser on the web, while most American publishers and periodicals still adhere to the traditional “canceled.” Here are some of the U.S. “cancelled” hits:

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Bringing us up to the present, a Google News search for “cancelled” yields eight of ten American hits on the first page, including these:

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So to Brian Hitchcock, I will say, you are right, and to answer the question you start out by posing: 2000.


“Anorak” (the jacket)

My learned colleague Lynne Murphy regularly tweets a “Difference of the Day” (#DotD), pointing out cases where the U.K. and the U.S. use different terms for the same thing. A few days ago, she tweeted

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Several commenters pointed out the similar word “anorak.” And indeed it’s hard to tell them apart by their OED definitions:

Anorak: “A weatherproof jacket of skin or cloth, with hood attached, worn by the Inuit in Greenland; a similar garment elsewhere.” (The first citation is from 1924, the first one in a non-Innuit general sense from 1937.)

Cagoule: “A lightweight, waterproof (or windproof) hooded garment resembling an anorak, worn originally by mountaineers and now generally.”

The first cite for “cagoule” is in 1952 but it didn’t start climbing in popularity till the late 1970s, as this Google Ngram Viewer graph suggests (it still hasn’t taken off in the U.S.):

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Why then? Lynne cleverly suggested, “Looks like ‘cagoule’ in UK is partly motivated by avoiding ‘anorak’ b/c it has a negative sense in BrE.” Negative is right. Here’s the relevant OED entry for “anorak”:

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This insulting “anorak” (similar to “train-spotter”) hasn’t caught on in the U.S., but the literal term has. It’s been used 414 times by the New York Times, including nineteen since the start of 2018. For example, this is from a December 2018 fashion article on “war-core” clothing.

A surfeit of dystopian apparel was evident on the men’s wear runways this year.
Junya Watanabe showed nylon anoraks, wool lumberjack jackets and firefighter coats adorned with the kind of bright reflective tape usually seen on school crossing guards.
Prada trotted out padded nylon vests that look like they could repel bullets and oversize rain suits that looked like they could protect against nuclear fallout.
And for his Calvin Klein Collection show in February, Raf Simons, the creative director, dressed the male models in safety-cone-orange jumpsuits, knee-high waders and knit balaclavas, all of which gave new meaning to the term “fashion emergency.”

“War-core” garb. On the left, a Watanabe anorak. I think.


The ever-vigilant Nancy Friedman sends along this image from  “an NYC-based clothing company”:

The key bit is the “elasticated” waistband. Nancy notes, “In my experience, ‘elasticated’ is UK, ‘elasticized’ is US.”

She’s definitely right about that. The citations for ‘elasticated’ in the OED are all from British sources, starting from the first, in 1925, from Chamber’s Journal: ” A sense of the joy of power silkened and elasticated.”

(And by the way, the fact that that use is metaphorical suggests that “elasticated” had been around for a while beforehand. And sure enough, Google Books yields many antedates, the first being in an 1845 edition of the Repertory of patent inventions and other discoveries. It’s for innovations in the manufacture and use of “elastic fabrics.”

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A Google Ngram Viewer chart shows that use of “elasticated” didn’t pick up until the 1950s, and was far more common in Britain than the U.S.

The chart shows some American use–but I wouldn’t count Nancy’s ad as an example. That’s because the clothing company, A Day, according to its website, appears to be more global than New Yorky. The “About” section reports: “As a team, we embrace being international citizens — our founders Meg (yoga teacher) and Nina (former competitive gymnast) were born in Beijing and Frankfurt, eventually connecting in London and moving together to New York.”

The legit American uses of “elasticated” are sparse and specialized enough that I’m going to tag it “On the Radar.” It’s appeared in the New York Times nineteen times, mostly uttered or written by Brits. It’s also appeared mostly in the fashion pages, including in 2014, when (American) Alex Vudela described a “pentagonal polka dot shirt with an elasticated hem, worn with a matching tie and trainers.”

A couple of the Times references are to Tom Stoppard’s 1974 play Travesties, which is based on real-life characters such as James Joyce. Another, lesser-known real-life character, Henry Carr, remembers Joyce working on Ulysses, although, he says, “at that time we were still calling it (I hope memory serves) by its original title, Elasticated Bloomers.” This factoid was pretty clearly made up by Stoppard, yet a Times review of a 1989 revival of the play took it as fact: mentioning the novel and then adding a parenthetical “(or ‘Elasticated Bloomers,’ as it was originally titled).” More recently, someone posted on Twitter in 2016:

The tweet didn’t get any likes, comments, or retweets, so I repeat the query here. Is it true? I hope so, too.



CCTV wired cam shot1You often hear people say things along the lines of, “Never read the comments!” Well, that’s definitely not true for NOOBs, whose comments and commenters are frequently brilliant. Just a few days ago, “oldyellr” commented on the “petrol” entry: “Sadly, Britishisms are infiltrating North American language because somebody thinks they’re ‘cool’. Examples are ‘mobile’ for cellphone and ‘CCTV’ for surveillance video.” The brilliant bit wasn’t oldyellr’s comment but “Michael M”‘s response: “They are? If only there was some website that pointed these out.”

oldyellr, missing the humor, carried on: “You don’t need a website or Google. Just listen to the news and how people talk today. But if you like, here is just one link.” The link was to a BBC article that cited Not One-Off Britishisms and quoted me.

I bring this up, actually, not to have sport at oldyellr’s expense but to thank him (I think he’s a he) for an idea for a post. Not “mobile,” which I covered years ago and continues apace, but his other example. When I started visiting London regularly, in the mid-1990s, I noticed many references in the press to CCTV, an initialism for closed-circuit TV, in this case specifically referring to surveillance cameras. The OED’s first two citations for the term, from 1959 and ’60, are from American publications. I believe I can antedate that by one year with a quote from Radio & TV News, also American:

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According to Google Books Ngram Viewer (whose reliability goes up only to 2000), the term was used with roughly equal frequency on both sides of the Atlantic through the early ’90s, when, consistent with my experience, it shot up in Britain:

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I don’t know why that happened and would be curious about any ideas. It doesn’t appear to be because of a preponderance of CCTV use in the U.K. According to Wikipedia, estimates of the number of such cameras in operation there are between 1.85 million and 4.2. million, while the figure cited for American is 30 million.

The terminological discrepancy was still present in the early 2010s, when “CCTV” was used about ten times more frequently in Britain than in the U.S. (and Canada), according to another database, the Corpus of Global Web-Based English.

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But as oldyellr perceived, things seem to be changing just a bit. According to yet another database, the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), the use of the term in the U.S. rose roughly tenfold between 2000 and 2017, from .08 uses per million words to .80:

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Here are some examples from COCA, all from 2017:

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 11.19.16 AMSo “CCTV” appears to be established in America, and on the rise.

If only there were a website that pointed such things out.

“In the fullness of time”

This phrase, “the fullness of time,” meaning, more or less, the appropriate time, was originally confined to Christian contexts. For example, in the King James Bible, Galatians 4:4 reads, “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.”

In due course — or in the fullness of time — the expression began to universally take the form “in the fullness of time,” meaning at the appropriate time, or after a certain amount of time, usually lengthy, has passed. The first secular use cited by the OED unsurprisingly is from Charles Dickens (Barnaby Rudge, 1841), who, as he did, brought the high-flown rhetoric down to earth: “Nor was she quite certain that she saw and heard with her own proper senses, even when the coach, in the fullness of time, stopped at the Black Lion.”

As far as transatlantic patterns go, Google Ngram Viewer shows much more frequent use in the U.S. than in Great Britain in the late nineteenth-century; I’d venture that the reason is America’s greater degree of public piety.

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The phrase’s popularity shot up in Britain between 1900 and about 1945, corresponding, I’d say, to its adoption there in non-religious contexts, especially favored by windbag politicians, and those making fun of them.

But in the fullness of time (sorry, can’t help myself), America caught up. Reliable figures for Ngram Viewer only go up to 2000, but the Corpus of Global Web-Based English — a snapshot or nearly 2 billion words on online text in 2012-13 — shows nearly equal use of the phrase in the U.S. and U.K.

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Since it began publishing in 1865, the New York Times has used the phrase 210 times, but 17 percent of them have been since 2010. For example, in reference to astronomical shifting, science writer Dennis Overbye observed in 2018, “In the fullness of time, everything gets everywhere.” And that same year, in a review of George Bernard Shaw’s St. Joan, theater critic Jesse Green wrote:

“What other judgment can I judge by but by my own?” Joan asks, casually assuming supremacy over churchmen and kings. From this idea comes not only the necessary sentence of a perfectly fair proceeding but also, in the fullness of time, Protestantism, nationalism, individualism and, as Shaw would have it, the Great War, which had recently concluded as he started writing the play.



I never thought I’d see this one (BrE for AmE “gasoline” or “gas”) in these parts. Even the OED flatly states, “This sense is not in use in the U.S. and Canada,” which doesn’t leave much room for discussion. Google’s Ngram Viewer bears this out, showing use in American books of “gas,” “gasoline,” and “petrol.” I’d wager that the lion’s share of the “petrol” uses are in American editions of British books, or in dialogue spoken by a British person. (Bear in mind that “gas” includes references not only to the fuel but to substances that aren’t solid or liquid.)

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But look what just showed up in an e-mail from the very American Sierra Club.

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I checked the New York Times and found that the newspaper used “petrol” 32 times in 2018-19. But in all but one or two case it’s said or written by a Brit, Australian, etc. The One exception is a reference to Texas-brewed beer: “a musty, petrol-y offering aged with Texan white-wine grapes.” I imagine it was used here because “gassy” means something very different indeed.