“Piece of kit”

Nancy Friedman has once again alerted me to to a NOOB of which I was not aware. (If you want to know about the other occasions, just key her name into the search field at right.) I was certainly familiar with the BrE kit, meaning both “uniform” (what football players wear) and “equipment,” and had indeed been keeping my eye out for American uses.

Thanks to Nancy, I now know the latter kit, at least, has established a capacious beachhead on these shores. She sent along a link to a September 14 blog post by John Scalzi, about the new iPhone, which includes this line: “As advertised, it is a very lovely piece of kit.”

I poked around the Web for other uses and found it’s most popular among techies like Scalzi. Thus Zack Whitaker, on ZDNet: “It doesn’t matter where you are in the world: a media on-the-go bag has to have every piece of kit you may or may not need.” And Elizabeth Fish, in PCWorld: “The Sandia Hand by Sandia National Laboratories is an impressive piece of kit for a troop to own.” (Both quotes appeared in the last couple of months.)

Besides spotting this rather annoying piece of pretentiousness, Nancy offers a credible starting point for its U.S. popularity: Lenny Kravitz’s 1999 song “Black Velveteen,” which refers to a “nice piece of kit.”

As if all this weren’t enough, Nancy has identified another new NOOB. Watch this space to learn about it.

35 thoughts on ““Piece of kit”

    1. Well, pretentious may not be the perfect word. Possibly “affected”? The idea is that there is a precise one-to-one U.S. equivalent, so why use this variant?

      1. Well, why not “use this variant”? Why should an American speaker ever feel obliged to heed some imperative never to let ones spoken or written discourse ever be tainted by phrases that are not “pure American”? And what on Earth would “pure American” be, and who gets to decide what it is?

      2. I have to agree with Cameron here. Limiting one’s vocabulary is sometimes considered a sign of ignorance. The English language has a huge number of words, and people come across as more educated and intelligent if they vary their vocabulary and use a wide range of words. Also, there is no such thing as “pure American”. America is an immigrant nation; people have come from all over the world.

      3. Then there’s the fact that it’s shorter. Much shorter. Three letters, one syllable, as opposed to equipment’s nine and three. Space in newspapers and magazines is at a premium, so you’ll often find them using the briefest expression possible that gets the point across, especially in headlines.

      4. Although we may be straying a bit off-topic, I agree with Cameron and avengah. Brevity seems to be increasingly prevalent, not just in headlines, but elsewhere in today’s world of phone texts and Twitters. Heck, even “instant messages” are seemingly passé.
        I also support broadening our usable vocabularies. It’s well-established that we use but a small fraction of the words we recognize, and many that we do use are slang, regionalisms, or jargon of some profession. Some such words leak into the mainstream and some do not. Yet, technical manuals, newspapers, and other works designed for mass consumption are purposely written to an eighth-grade level so most people can understand them.
        Why should so much of our language go unused or be restricted? In 2009, the BBC News Magazine reported that, according to the Global Language Monitor, a new word was at that time created every 98 minutes, and that there are now more than a million words in our common language. Under such conditions, I should think that limiting particular words to the exclusive use by one group or another, as if they had a patent on it, would be a fruitless exercise.
        Here in Texas, we have something called Spanglish, a mixture of English and Spanish spoken by some residents of Hispanic descent. As a multicultural nation, our language has been, and continues to be, derived from and influenced by many cultures. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the not too distant future, we see some Chinese terms and idioms creep into modern English, which evolves ever faster, along with technology and global communications.

  1. Since football kit was mentioned, I thought I’d point out another American use of “sport” (meaning sport in general) that I noticed the other day. There’s an episode of Monk involving a boxer who they’re trying to protect from a hitman. When it comes time for his match, the announcer says something about winning the “biggest title in sport”, or something like that. I think the episode’s called “Mr Monk takes a punch” or similar.

    1. Yeah, that’s what the episode’s called – “Mr Monk Takes a Punch”. The line is as follows: “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the rematch you’ve been waiting for. Twelve rounds for the greatest title in sport. The BFC World Championship.”

  2. When referring to sporting attire “kit” does not just mean the “uniform”, it refers to the whole outfit. So it would include such items as boots, shin pads, jockstrap, etc.

    It is more common, at least in my part of Britain to refer to the “uniform” as a “strip”. As in the sentence “Leeds United play in an all white strip.”

  3. What you don’t pick up on here is that ‘piece of kit’ is itself relatively new in British English (I’m a Brit). It seems to derive from military slang, and was popularised (I believe) by embedded by war/foreign correspondents who wanted to sound like ‘one of the lads’ (to use another Britishism). Their use of the term on news broadcasts gave rise to its extension to other fields – such as reports on new cars, phones, computers etc. It annoys the hell out of me – it seems a very male, teccy term, almost brandishing its maleness.

    1. My late Grandfather, born in 1890 used the term ‘kit’ freely. He also used it interchangeably with the term ‘tackle’.

  4. I think there is a nuance with the word kit (and indeed ‘gear’) that sets it apart from the word equipment, in my mind it certainly implies personal equipment that has been issued to a person by their institution, as per your examples of the military or a sports team. In this sense this type of equipment generally has no usefulness until it is operated, thus at the point of issue it has usefulness and can more fully be described as kit. Also in the UK you would commonly use the verb ‘kitted out’ when receiving kit. I think it is this military or institutionalised association with these words that lends themselves in particular to technological equipment, it implies a rugged and reliable standard of utility. I like to think of a computer or camping store as selling equipment, but the customers themselves happily purchasing useful kit.

  5. In my experience of British English, “kit” has come to mean clothing in general, or perhaps more specifically under clothing, so that The Sun likes to talk about Page 3 models having gotten their kit off before being photographed.

  6. I strongly suspect that this Britishism (and many others in the tech world) has come to America via The Register, a British tech news site. It’s the sort of site the ZDNet people read to find out what’s happening in technology.

  7. English schoolboys in the 60s (“And God I know I’m one”) used “kit” to refer to everything you needed to put on to play a sport – surely a borrowing from the military (see “kit-bag” for large unstructured canvas carrying-case)); but I’m interested in the recent use of “kit” to refer to a man’s crown jewels. British or US origin?

  8. There has been a lot of contact between UK & US military for a very long time now. The use of the word ‘kit’ to refer to both sports items and military items and equipment is probably longstanding. As for the use of the word ‘kit’ to refer to reproductive organs; Not usual. The euphemism ‘tackle’ has a long history in this context.

  9. Kit could also refer to the pieces in box for making a model. It consists of a number of parts joined together to make the model. Could not the reference to equipment refer to this?

  10. I have always associated “kit” with British military usage, possibly taken there from the British (non-government) school system, in the sense of equipment you have been issued with, or need, for your studies or activities. Kit is now used fairly generally in Britain for equipment of any sort; even my wife uses it.

  11. “We may wince when the blithering toff, or want-wit, as Shakespeare would say, arrives at the Brits’ home and throws his Cherry Coke Zero can in the prize rose bushes. But what drives his gaffes is his desire to preen over accomplishments.”–Maureen Dowd, New York Times, July 28, 2012, referring to Mitt Romney.

  12. ‘KIT’, from my (UK) service days could be clothing/uniform – “sort your kit out!” – personal equipment – “don’t leave your kit around or it’ll go in the scan bag**” – and bigger things – “..it’s the latest all-singing-all-dancing swept-up bit of kit”. The latter was almost always ironic, usually said just before the wretched thing blew up on launch/crashed, to the merriment of all except attendant boffins.

    ** I’ll spare you more sailor’s argot but recommend http://amzn.to/QWcJjN if you fancy an amusing read. I still live in a naval town and hearing a some matelots in full flow still makes me laugh. Today’s bowdlerised ‘PC’ language is so dull and lacking in nuance.

  13. Certainly an old term, possibly originally military, theres a song from WWI (1914-1918) which goes “pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile”

  14. I was looking up the def. of usage for kit, as I was watching an episode of Chuggington with my nephew, and one of the head trains was speaking to a trainee, and he was showing him all the equipment they use and he said ” This is a nice piece of kit”.

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