More on NOOBS from the Beeb

The BBC’s online article about not one-off Britishisms asked readers to send in their favorite examples, and the results of that exercise have now been published. Going through the list, I see I have already weighed in on quite a few of the nominated terms: bloody, bum (meaning buttocks), cheeky, cheers, fancy (verb), gobsmacked, holiday (meaning vacation), kit, loo, mate, mobile (as in “call me on my mobile”), proper, queue, roundabout, and suss out. (My God, I have been doing this for a long time.)

A few of the others are indeed common in American English, but I’m highly doubtful that they can be called Britishisms: autumn, an item (meaning a romantic couple), and frock (meaning a girl’s or woman’s dress). One reader suggests pop over, meaning to come by for a visit; am I nuts, or have Americans been saying that for decades? Knickers is used here exclusively in the expression knickers in a twist, never as an actual term for a woman’s undergarment. I have actually been working on a post about wonky, which, like snarky, has taken on a decidedly different meaning in the U.S. than it originally had in the U.K.

Here are the remaining terms  (definitions are from the BBC post)

  • Chav, n. Pejorative term to express young person who displays loutish behaviour, sometimes with connotations of low social status.
  • Flat, n. An apartment on one floor of a building.
  • Gap year, n. A year’s break taken by a student between leaving school and starting further education.
  • Innit, adv. A contraction of isn’t it? Used to invite agreement with a statement.
  • Muppet, n. A stupid person; from the name for the puppets used in the TV programme The Muppet Show.
  • Numpty, n. A stupid person.
  • Row, n. and v. A noisy or violent argument, a quarrel with someone.
  • Shag, v. To copulate with.
  • Skint, adj. Penniless, broke.
  • Twit, n. A fool; a stupid or ineffectual person.

Bringing back a favorite feature from NOOB’s past (I’m talking to you, Hal Hall), I ask readers to vote on up to three of these expressions that they feel have actually taken hold in the U.S. It’s a free world out there, but I would ask those of you from the U.K, Oz, Canada, etc., not to vote, unless you’ve been observing American usage. I’ll announce the results tomorrow and get to work on posting about the winners.

17 thoughts on “More on NOOBS from the Beeb

  1. I was interested to see flat = apartment, and it reminded me of the trouble my American son in law put me in. He was in the single men’s accommodation on the air base here in England. Before the marriage he asked me to call in at his apartment on the first floor to pick up some items. I duly did so, going up the stairs from the ground floor to the first floor, only to be challenged by by the single women resident on that floor as a perve.. The USAF police were called, and the explanation given by me that this was in fact the first floor was met by derision! It was hard work convincing them that their first floor was an English ground floor.

    At least I didn’t say I was there knocking up the residents, that I understand means something different to Americans than it does in England.

  2. I’m American and I had no idea that “gap year” was a Britishism until reading the BBC list…I heard the term often growing up, and my brother took (what we called) a gap year after high school — I’ve never heard another term for it (unless you count the too-obvious-and-slightly-vague “year off”).

  3. I could only vote for shag, and that’s because of Austin Powers, obviously. I suppose one could have occasionally *heard* some of these (and I’m in the hinterlands, so take that into account), but I wouldn’t give any of them “take hold”.

    Flat is a special case. I am pretty certain that this terminology is enshrined into code for a particular type of stacked apartment house — e.g. “three-flat” for a building with three apartments one above the other — and is not a generic replacement for apartment, although in those cities where it IS used it might get a slightly fuzzier usage. I don’t think people are using it as an adoption of a Briticism, though.

    “Gap year” might get occasional use here as well but it’s an artifact of the structure of UK higher education. Since we don’t have the same structure — or the same instincts for travel abroad — it’s uniikely to really take root here. Basically, it needs to be formally supported by university policies.

  4. Wha’ happen’ to “twit”?

    I think “shag” has become a convenient euphemism in America. It conveys the idea to those who know without being in itself an offensive or explicit word, dunnit?

  5. I’m American, albeit one who spent a few years in England as a child. I tend to think that “gap year”, “skint”, and “twit” are all widely used, or at least understood, in the US. But I also live in New York, and I think New Yorkers might be more exposed to “Britishisms” than Americans from the howling wildernesses outside the Five Boroughs. When I first found this site, at least half of the words and phrases discussed as “Britishisms” were things that I had no idea were not in widespread use across the USA.

  6. ‘Twit’ is very widely used where I live (Massachusetts)–I wouldn’t consider it a Britishism. I also frequently hear ‘gap year’, and can’t think of any other term to describe that particular phenomenon. I often hear ‘shag’ as well, but I feel it’s used self-consciously rather than naturally.

  7. Innit is often used in a mocking way by middle aged middle class people mocking street patois. As in: ‘it is 5 o’clock and time for tea innit?’

    1. Innit isn’t used where “Isn’t it” would be correct. The truly appalling chavvishness of the word comes when it’s used like… “I’m replying to your post, innit?”

  8. I didn’t vote for any of them. Depending on your socio-econo-geo-educational background, a number of the terms will be understood, if not part of an active vocabulary (“chav” least so). If I were to vote on one, it would be “shag,” as a synonym for “screw” in the fornication sense, but outside the West Coast and the Northeast, I think it’s still a long way off. I personally like “flat,” but if I used it in referring to my apartment, people in my circle would consider me affected or pretentious.

  9. Haven’t voted ’cause I’m British, but I have lived in Chicago since 1991 and “flat” is probably the most common word used for an apartment in a multi-floor building here. You would say that you live in a two-flat, or a three-flat typically. If it’s a more modern building with many floors then it’s apartment (or condo – if you’re buying, not renting) but “flat” is very much a Chicago word.

  10. I’m shocked “gap year” didn’t get more votes – when I graduated from high school in ’06, and then during the years after, I’d hear the term fairly often, but never thought that it wasn’t American in origin. It was all over “advice to high school seniors” (on websites, when talking to guidance counselors), who talked about taking a “gap year” to work or travel. The idea may not come up in conversation as much as the topics covered by other words on this list, but in terms of how naturally it fits into American vocabulary (like I said, I had no idea it was a Britishism), I think it’s the winner.

  11. Here in London, I don’t think I heard “innit” until the first broadcast of “Goodness Gracious Me”. This was a ground-breaking comedy series written and acted by Asian Britons. The ‘innits’ can be heard towards the beginning of this famous sketch:

  12. I wonder if ‘slippy’ will ever filter into America. We use it like slippery e.g watch yourself on that ice, it’s slippy.

  13. “Shag” also has the British meaning of being a nuisance or troublesome, as in “a right shag” ; or worn out, as in “I’m shagged from all that work”

    “Twit” has largely passed out of use, except for small children and the specialised case of “upper class twit”.

  14. “Briton” is an interesting one. Up until about 1950 it was used interchangeably with “British” or “English” – as in “Rule Britannia”, with the secondary meaning of “British but not English”, as in “Men of Harlech” in which the Welsh are facing the Plantagenets.

    It seems to have largely passed out of common use after that, to re-appear as a descriptive term applied to Asian immigrants of various descriptions. It is much used in the media but I’ve never heard it used in spoken English, least of all by the English themselves. It has a secondary meaning of “non-white British national or dual national” mostly seen in the press and rarely if ever, in general spoken use.

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