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:

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 11.19.16 AMSo “CCTV” appears to be established in America, and on the rise.

If only there were a website that pointed such things out.

21 thoughts on ““CCTV”

  1. It looks like there are more cameras in US, but the US is really big compared to UK. The camera PRESENCE seems much greater in my transcontinental experience, and the density is certainly greater. With the higher estimate on cameras in UK (which I would guess is the truer one), there are 3 cameras per square km in US versus 17 in UK, according to my math(s).

  2. My guess is that it began to be used on BBC/ITV shows as part of policier jargon — my first encounter with it may have been from Prime Suspect. With the greater import of Brit shows via PBS, BBC America, et al in the 2000s, US audiences began to pick up on it — I doubt there’s an episode of Spooks/MI5 that doesn’t somewhere make reference to CCTV. (Which is, of course, also the acronym for Chinese state TV, and given the presence of surveillance in that country, it closes the circle nicely.)

  3. Sorry if it has already been mentioned and I missed it but: what is the American equivalent of CCTV ?

    1. When I briefly worked in broadcasting in the US in the 90s, we simply said out the whole thing: “Closed-Circuit Television,” without using an acronym.

  4. Clearly reference to “CCTV” is ubiquitous in British media movies and TV shows. I believe the term was coined to describe hard wired cameras and monitors. Nowadays the systems are connected by WiFi and the Internet to servers, so hardly “closed circuit”, particularly since both the good guys and bad guys seem to be able to hack in.

    1. Yeah, the term “CCTV” is a fossilized remnant of an earlier generation of technology. They’re now digital cameras connected with digital recorders for storage. “Closed circuit” doesn’t describe the system in a meaningful way.

      Similarly, the American term “cell phone” is often a poor fit, since it is used to refer to both phones connected to land-based cellular networks, but also to satellite phones. “Mobile phone” is a better usage, but it too is outdated. It really only makes sense to refer to those devices as “phones”. Unmodified “phone” should be the default, with “land-line” used to as a modifier to refer to the other kind of device, when you need to make clear what kind of device you’re referring to.

  5. I agree with Jeffrey Miller. As a Brit living in the US since 1977, I had no idea what CCTV referred to until I started watching crime drama on Britbox. And yes, cameras are everywhere in London.

    1. CCTV is a technology. Surveillance is an application. CCTV also has other uses such as exploring hazardous environments. It was originally just a private tv system with a camera connected to a monitor.

  6. CCTV is the only term I ever use. We pretty much only watch British shows, so I don’t even feel comfortable using anything else for this term.

  7. I don’t understand Americans who get furious that British English dares to enter their world and yet they think nothing of the amount of Americanisms that have been imported everywhere else on the planet, y’alls.

  8. I remember CCTV being the AmE expression for any kind of in house video– like a college or corporate video feed. Also– I may be wrong– I think of it as being the equivalent of Pay Per View a few decades ago.

    1. It was also used to show sports events (on big screens) to people who couldn’t attend the event itself.

  9. I recall CCTV from a long time ago as a technical term in the US, often relating to surveillance systems but for other uses as well. I think the common terms in the US now would be ‘surveillance cameras” or more commonly “security cameras”. For police operated cameras you might see.”crime cameras”. Other types of cameras seem to get specific names like ‘traffic cameras” or “body cameras”.

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