Ventriloquism

If you look to the right of this post and scroll down a bit, you’ll find a “Category Cloud,” consisting of words or phrases with which I’ve tagged posts.  If you click, you’ll be taken to the relevant posts. I haven’t been very diligent in my tagging, which one reason why the biggest word is “Uncategorized.” (The larger the type, the more often the category has been used.)

You’ll find a fair number of posts in such categories as “On the Radar,” “Outliers,” “Australianisms,” and “Food and Drinks.” Others are more or less orphans, including “Ventriloquism.” This refers to the phenomenon of American writers using British terminology while writing about British people or topics. While I’ve only labeled one post that way, it’s not at all uncommon.

The latest example I’ve encountered is from the Twitter-feed of American (New York-born) journalist Heidi N. Moore. Yesterday, she objected to a Guardian obituary of the English Scottish Deborah Orr (which did indeed come off as weirdly passive-aggressive and drawn to non-relevant details).

Screen Shot 2019-10-22 at 11.06.20 AM

(By the way, for those not on American Twitter, there’s a tradition to adopt scary names around Halloween time, hence “Hades N. Morbid.”)

There are two NOOBs in the tweet: “stroppy” (derived from obstreperous and meaning bad-tempered or belligerent) and “sacking,” British equivalent of American “firing.”

Then Moore–who once was a U.S. correspondent for The Guardian–followed up by going even deeper into Brit-speak, to terms that haven’t even penetrated here.

Screen Shot 2019-10-22 at 11.06.53 AM

“Sloane”: “a stereotypically conventional, if fashionable British upper-middle-class young woman (occas. man)”–Green’s Dictionary of Slang. “Head girl”: “an older female student in a British school who is chosen to have special duties and to represent the school“–merriam-webster.com.

The really subtle one there is the last two words, “won’t they?” It’s a very British thing to use these question tags (sometimes called tag questions) at the end of sentences. In fact, I’m driven crazy by their incessant use by British tennis and football commentators; I keep wanting the scream out the answer. And I have a sense that the use has spread to American announcers. If I get some data, I’ll write a post about it–and make sure to mark it with the correct category, won’t I?

20 thoughts on “Ventriloquism

  1. We should revoke her passport. She’s American AND lives in the US, for goodness’ sake.

    On Tue, Oct 22, 2019 at 11:57 AM Not One-Off Britishisms wrote:

    > Ben Yagoda posted: “If you look to the right of this post and scroll down > a bit, you’ll find a “Category Cloud,” consisting of words or phrases with > which I’ve tagged posts. If you click, you’ll be taken to the relevant > posts. I haven’t been very diligent in my tagging, whi” >

  2. “…she objected to a Guardian obituary of the English Deborah Orr…”

    Excuse me, but Deborah Orr was Scottish and I doubt she would be at all happy at being called English.

      1. And indeed the content: “My roof didn’t collapse, my kids didn’t flee and my husband isn’t that famous. My roof episode has taught me we need more decent insurers – and newspapers”

  3. Two mentions of Sloane in two posts (the other is a comment in the recent Poser post). It’s a word I hadn’t either used or read since the 1980s. Is it making a mini comeback?

    1. And having just read this, I open today’s Guardian and there’s a headline in their style section: “Heads up! ‘Powerbands’ are not just for Sloanes’

      1. That’s three. I think we’ve entered the Twiglet Zone.

        As an aside, I just noticed that the quote from Green’s slang dictionary doesn’t give enough context. Sloane is short for Sloane Ranger. Sloanes are named such because of the high concentration of them around the Sloane Square/King’s Road area.

      2. The definition in Chambers is quite good. I’d forgotten it was Peter York who coined the term.

        A young person, typically upper- or upper-middle-class and female, favouring expensively casual clothing suggestive of rural pursuits, speaking in distinctively clipped tones, evincing certain predictable enthusiasms and prejudices, and resident (during the week) in the Sloane Square area of London or a comparable part (also Sloane)
        ORIGIN: Coined in mid-1970s by Peter York, punning on The Lone Ranger a television cowboy hero

    2. I was expecting your comment to be about the word ‘snotty’. Is that used in American English?
      Also, it’s interesting that Americans don’t often use tag questions, isn’t it? Am I right?

  4. Stroppy is such a great word – in Australia, you can also be ‘in a strop’.

    Anyone from a grumpy baby to an adult can be stroppy, and it’s not gendered.

  5. My favorite “question tag” is the one Mandy Rice-Davies used when it was “put to her” that Lord Astor said he’d never had anything to do with her: “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?” What a lovely way to call someone a liar without actually calling someone a liar!

  6. A pub in Fulham, the White Horse, is also known as The Sloaney Pony, even though Sloanes don’t officially exist any longer.

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