“CCTV”

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:

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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.

 

“Petrol”

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.

“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.”