“Take a decision”

Make a decision. If not exactly a one-off, this is a novelty item. A 1989 William Safire New York Times column notes its appearance and interestingly comments on the British preference for this verb in such phrases as take your point and take lunch. (Less persuasively, he connects this to the Hollywood-ism take a meeting. I am more convinced by the traditional explanation that this stems from the Yiddish-derived take a haircut or take a steambath.) But Google Ngram suggests that even in Britain, make a decision started to surpass take a decision in about 1925, and today is about nine times more frequently used.

So it was striking to see David Brooks, in his Times column dated March 31, 2011, write, “Obama took this decision [to intervene in Libya], I’m told, fully aware that there was no political upside while there were enormous political risks.”

A 2007 Brooks column shed some light on his choice of this locution, and frequent use of other Britishisms. It began:

Although as a child I had turtles named Disraeli and Gladstone, I was never invited to sip Champagne with the queen until yesterday. Although I’ve been an Anglophile all my life, I was never able to participate in a fawning orgy of Albion worship until the British ambassador’s party for the monarch yesterday afternoon.

It was wonderful.

I got to enjoy many of the features I love about Britain: repressed emotions, overarticulate conversationalists and crustless sandwiches. It reminded me why over the decades so many of my Jewish brethren have gone in for the ”Think Yiddish, Act British” lifestyle — shopping at Ralph Lauren and giving their sons names that seemed quintessentially English: Irving, Sidney, Norman and Milton.

11 thoughts on ““Take a decision”

  1. HI
    Rick’s cousin Deb has 2 suggestions ….
    1) “Plonk” = pedestrian wine
    2)”slap up” = as in “slap up a meal”

    I’ll keep trying !

    1. It’s ‘a slap-up meal’, adjective rather than verb, meaning (according to Chambers) first-class, lavish, sumptuous in an informal context.

  2. As much as I have found many Britishisms useful, melodious, amusing, or all three, I cannot abide “take a decision.” I will “take a pill,” “take my time,” or “take a class,” but only after I have made the decision to do so!

  3. I thought that it was a rather 90s kind of thing, which I did not recall encountering until a lot of Blair news clips were aired on US news reports and he uses the term regularly. Then I began to pay attention when I watched old British movies (films, for the Anglophiles) television shows (programmes) and reading books (books) published in England in the past and realized that the older the source, the more consistently “take” was used. I also noticed it while watching WWII documentaries on the History Channel, which often include clips from contemporary speeches and news reports as well as reminiscences of Brits and other Europeans who use “take” also. (as well).

  4. I researched this some time back, as I had never in my life heard the “take” usage until it showed up in business dealings in the mid-1990s always in a business context (this was a US location of a multinational company) and most of the people using “take a decision” initially seemed to be continental Europeans speaking English. I thus assumed it was a misnomer from imperfect translation that took hold. I was rather chagrined that the usage began to catch on among all mid-level managers even in the U.S. as they all began vying to sound the most sophisticated by bringing this “European” usage into their lexicon of business B.S. catch-phrases. But further researching it online (in a long lost forum where very many people gave an opinion), it appeared that nobody could agree which they preferred nor whether either was more correct. So who knows?

  5. Perhaps the name Irving seems quintessentially English to a NY Jew, but I don’t think many Brits would agree. To me, it is wholly American.

    Also, Milton sounds more American than English, although I can at least think of some Brits who are called Milton.

    1. Brooks’s point was that Irving, Sidney and Milton (he mentions Norman but to me better examples are Seymour, Murray, and Morris) were established British surnames that American Jews in the early 20th century frequently used as first names for their children.

      1. Ah, I didn’t appreciate the conversion from surname to first name. As first names, I would think of these as quintessentially US Jewish.

  6. Pingback: “The Queue”

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