“From [a point in time],” “works a treat” and “bit” (once again)

Sometimes, this blog writes itself. The most recent falling-in-lap bounty comes via the Wall Street Journal. And before I get into it, I’ll say that this past weekend, the Journal‘s language columnist, the redoubtable Ben Zimmer, has written a piece about the incursion into America of British “jab,” crediting NOOBs with the first noticing of the trend back in December.

Around the same time, Caitlin Ostroff, a Journal staffer, noted on Twitter that the paper’s in-house style memos are now online. She shared this excerpt from one of them:

First of all, on the first word in the heading. There are two terms that indicate a particularly British word or phrase: “Briticism” (first OED cite 1868) and “Britishism” (1879). According to Google Books Ngram Viewer, “Briticism” was more commonly used till the decade of the 2010s, when it was surpassed by “Britishism.” And that’s the one I prefer, hence the name of this blog.

As for “from next month,” I confess I had no idea it existed, but yes, I agree with the author of the memo that it’s not idiomatic in American English. In addition to the alternatives he or she suggests, I’ll add “from next month on.”

The day after Ostroff’s tweet, the always observant Jan Freeman had a tweet of her own:

Again, “works a treat” was a new one on me. The OED has an entry for “a treat,” defined as “so as to gratify highly; extremely well; also (gen. or ironically) extremely, excessively. colloquial.” All the citations are British, including one from Alan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1954): “The sports ground looked a treat: with big tea-tents all round and flags flying.” The most recent quotation is from the American magazine The New Yorker in 1984, but it was written by the Scottish poet Douglas Dunn: “I knew this floor had life left in it… It’s come up a treat.”

In any case, I bet the Journal style desk is on Dan Neil’s case even as we speak.

As for Jan Freeman’s final question, my answer is, Yes! That is, the British say “bit” where Americans would traditionally say “thing,” “part,” “aspect,” or “dimension,” and I believe I’ve covered it more than any other word, most recently here.

Two days later, yet another American used another British word in the Wall Street Journal–although, to the relief of the style desk, the American was a source, not a Journal writer. Dennis McNally, former publicist for the Grateful Dead, described seeing the band’s wall of amplifiers and speakers for the first time: ““It looked like a spaceship, a giant alchemical sculpture. I was gobsmacked.”

7 thoughts on ““From [a point in time],” “works a treat” and “bit” (once again)

  1. Both Britishism and Briticism sound dubious to me . . . and inaccurate, as surely there is no component to Welsh or Scots language in Britishisms . . . so Anglicism is surely much better. Also, you can certainly say something is “Anglicized” (Anglicised!) but not Britishized, I think!

    1. There is equally little Navajo or Iroquois in the Americanisms we’ve taken up, either. All these are pretty commonplace usages in Wales and Scotland too.

  2. The thing about, “works a treat” compared to the, “looks …” usages is that it also conveys a measure of glee, possibly gloating, or even surprise about how well the “thing” works. The sort of thing you might say if you lashed up a repair to a bit of kit and only half expected it to work, or were reviewing a car and weren’t expecting great things from a particular feature. So, anywhere from, “This works far better than it should/I thought it might.” to, “Blimey, it actually works!”

  3. When something works a treat, it probably does what it says on the tin – which I believe you have also mentioned.

  4. Perhaps the Wall Street Journal should take a break from ‘policing’ Britishisms to police itself. It’s ‘…creep into our copy’ not ‘…creep in to our copy’.

    Judge not, lest ye be judged.

  5. “Jab”, I’m afraid, is only England (and Wales??). In Scotland we say “jag”, which is a much better description of what happens. when they stick the needle in!

  6. The author of the WSJ in-house memo is confused: in the UK, when used correctly (not always the case), “practise” is the verb and “practice” the noun, as in “to practise medicine takes a lot of practice” – and the same with “license / licence”. And of course we use a ‘c’ for the nouns “offence” and “defence”.
    On the other point, you would rarely see “beginning next month” or “starting next month” here – both phrases sound clumsy, to my ear at least, although inserting the ‘from’ would improve them. Surely best to say simply “from next month”, which is just as clear and a lot shorter!

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