“In hospital,” upgraded?

My wife would like the house tidied up, a bit, for the holidays, and thus I have been collecting scraps of paper I’ve left here and there. One of them contains these scrawled words: “The president is in hospital now” — Rachel Maddow, 10/2.

Maddow is an MSNBC host, and she was referring to the fact that soon-to-be-ex-president Trump was what Americans would term in the hospital with the Coronavirus. “In hospital” is certainly a Britishism, and the piece of paper inspired me to remind myself that I had covered it once before, back in 2014.

I’ll pause to say to say that I am not receptive to arguments that the British way is more logical than the American. Logic plays a pretty small role in language usage. And (as I believe Lynne Murphy once pointed out), if the British are so averse to the intrusive “the,” why don’t they say they’re going “to pub”?

Anyway, in that earlier post, I had found only one American “in hospital,” from the radio show “This American Life,” so it definitely seemed a one-off. I now have four additional examples. However, they’re all from Rachel Maddow, so it’s not exactly a huge American fad. Maddow was using it as far back as 2010, when she reported that a Winter Olympics athlete crashed, and “died shortly afterward in hospital.”

Two years later she used the phrase in reference to the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings, and in March of this year, when the virus had just begun, said: “A slice of those same new infections from three weeks ago are the people who are now critically ill and needing to be treated in hospital.”

Maddow has appeared on this blog before. She

  • said that Franklin D. Roosevelt had “stood for president four times” (this turned out to be a bastardization of the British usage)
  • used the adjectival compound “follow-on”
  • and always pronounces “scenario” as “sce-nah-rio.”

Maddow, a California native, was a Rhodes Scholar and went on to receive a doctorate from Oxford. But still.

24 thoughts on ““In hospital,” upgraded?

  1. Anthony, I think I [almost] always say “in court,” as in “have their day in court,” except in the phrase, “order in the court.” So, yeah, I think we do say “in court.” But I’ve also always said “in the hospital.”

      1. “Americans also say “in school” or “in college” – in the UK I think we would tend to say “at school” or “at college”.

      2. Although, if they’re really being British, they’d say “up at university”. You still read “He went up to Cambridge to read English”. (I recall reading a discussion, now removed, on the Wikipedia talk page for the entry for John Oliver over the confusion caused by the phrase “He read English at Oxford.”)

      3. I’d say that’s rather an upper class or public school way of describing going to university. Perhaps only Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge). But then I went to a red brick university and came from a background where few (if any) from the generation above mine had gone to university at all.

  2. Quote
    if the British are so averse to the intrusive “the,” why don’t they say they’re going “to pub”?

    Oh dear, someone who’s not been t’Yorkshire then ? Where they sit around in t’pub, talking about t’footy ….

      1. In Yorkshire, and probably also Lancashire, I think they would say “I’m going t’pub”, “going t’shop”, “going t’cinema” etc, so I think t’ can either be “to” or “the”.

  3. In this video there are examples of the Yorkshire t’ usage.
    0:52 “…between that house and t’neighbour’s house and tha’s got a little route down t’middle of it”

  4. Short ‘a’ versus long ‘a’.
    Americans say a version that rhymes with ‘Mario’.
    Brits say ‘senaaahrio.’

    1. That’s funny. I disagree with the second sentence in two ways. 1, I would say the most common American pronunciation of Mario is similar to the Italian, “Mahrio.” And as noted I think we pronounce the second syllable in scenario to rhyme with “dare.”

      1. We must have begun our posts at about the same time but I got interrupted. I was not challenging what you wrote.
        I take your point, Ben. I think I was projecting the British pronunciation of Italian words with that short, sharp ‘a’. Yes, the ‘dare’ vowel is closer to what I hear from Americans.

  5. Yes, she’s being, as Jack Gavin said, Britensious. (I love that; thank you.) It doesn’t surprise me that it surfaced on This American Life; in fact, I’d say use of Britishisms is a sad trend among American podcasters now. I’ve been listening to Hit Parade on Slate, and the host keeps using Britishisms in an almost pathetic way. He’s not fooling anyone, as he uses them badly, mis-enunciates them, and just sounds earnestly awkward.

  6. It seems rather unfair to accuse a person of pretentiousness for using language obviously picked up whilst living in England. It may be American humour that I am failing to recognize, but I must say it sounds somewhat sour to me.

  7. @John Bewdley: I agree. A constant subtext of this blog is that British English is somehow false, affected, and generally wrong. It’s interesting to read, but the loan of idioms between two neighbouring dialects of the same language is not something to get het up about.

  8. I love when people try to write how things sound different but they aren’t – “Americans say a version that rhymes with ‘Mario’. Brits say ‘senaaahrio.’” – to me, these are the same. So, with that caveat in mind, I think Australia says it like the US – s’n-airy-oh. (where ‘air’ rhymes with ‘dare’).

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