Some time ago–never mind how long exactly–my colleague Dawn Fallik suggested I do a post on “have a quiet word with,” which, she explained, was Britishism meaning to
scream at remonstrate someone in private. I looked at her with elevated eyebrows, having never heard of such a thing. But over the months I have come to understand that it’s a solid Britishism.
I was roused into action a couple of nights ago watching Olympics soccer, when, after a miscue (British) announcer Arlo White commented, “Abby Wambach is going to have a quiet word with her about that.”
Also in the world of sport, the expression came up last year when (Australian) caddie Steve Williams apparently gave an interview that deflected too much attention from his employer, (Australian) golfer Adam Scott. The New York Times reported:
“The calmest reaction of the day belonged to the always-unruffled Scott, who laughed Tuesday when asked if he had had a ‘quiet word’ with Williams about his televised interview and said: ”You know, having a quiet word with Steve is not very easy. He’s a big guy, you know.”
Quiet word shows up frequently in U.K. sources, way back to around the turn of the twentieth century. The other Times, the one in London, commented in 1908 that one of the duties of officers in the Metropolitan Police is to offer “a quiet word to one who suspected if complicity in some offence but who has not yet embarked in a life of crime.”
But is it a NOOB? Not quite yet. Only a couple of hits come up:
“At the funeral of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in August 2009, Boston’s Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley pulled President Obama aside for a quiet word. It was a sign of things to come: the first failure of the president to understand the moral dimensions of his health-care proposal.” (Washington Post, June 30, 2012)
“[Penn State administrators had] thought about telling someone who could actually do something about evidence that [Jerry] Sandusky had raped a child in a locker-room shower, but, after Curley conveyed Paterno’s doubts, “humane” is what they told each other it would be if they had a quiet word with Sandusky instead.” (New Yorker, July 18, 2012)
Then there’s this comment on a CBS News blog, which is inadmissible because you can’t tell if the commenter is American:
Very interesting how CBS, last evening had the article headline: “Pregnant Pa. woman, baby killed by lightning” Today, the article was re-written, with a new more P.C. headline: “Pregnant Amish woman, fetus killed by lightning” The liberal editor had a quiet word with last night’s reporter.
In any case, quiet word is officially on the radar. Thanks, Dawnie.