About NOOBs

Over the last decade or so, an alarming number of traditionally British expressions have found their way into the American vocabulary. This page offers a growing list of Britishisms that have been widely adopted in the U.S.–that is, they are not “one-offs.”  Each entry offers a definition/American equivalent, followed by quotes representing the first and most recent American usages I’ve found.
Some entries include a link to a Google Ngram. This is a nifty tool that allows you to search for the frequency with which a word or phrase was used year to year. The link provided here compares the use of the Britishism and the traditional U.S. equivalent in the “American English” corpus between 1990 and 2008, with a “smoothing” level of 0. (Don’t ask.) In some cases–e.g., advert, bits–Ngram data is not applicable because the word or phrase can be used in two or more different ways.
For each entry, readers are ask to vote on their opinion of the Britishism in an American context. By “over the top,” I mean that the word or phrase (still) comes off as mannered or affected. In my humble opinion, the key factor in this is whether there’s an equally good American equivalent.Thus, we already have the perfectly fine words “ad,” “advertisement” and “commercial,” so there is no excuse for “advert.” Same with “fire”/”sack” and “on vacation”/”on holiday.”  On the other hand, we don’t have an expression that succinctly expresses the meaning “run-up” does. So if you use it, good on ya, mate. (At some point, I am going to have to start a blog about not one-off Australianisms!)
Cheers!–Ben Yagoda (Please follow me on Twitter @byagoda)

169 thoughts on “About NOOBs

    1. Punter is actually a cross between a better/gambler and a customer. It usually implies, somewhat derogatorily, someone looking to get a bargain no matter what execrable quality is involved or perhaps looking to make a “fast buck”,,, although what male deer have yo do with it defeats me.

      It is not normally a compliment to be described as a punter – unless, of course, you’re attached to a twenty foot pole in the purlieus (purlieux?) of Oxon or Cantab! Know what I mean, guv’nor?

    2. Yep. Broadly speaking, you can use it as a joky substitute for the word customer. It also has a bit of an element of slightly looking down your nose at that group or person.

  1. Yep, customer is right. I’m interested to see that the reasoning for over-the-top Britishisms is very similar to the one I’ve always used for Americanisms. If it either makes a useful distinction or represents something for which there is not already an expression, fine, no problem. If there’s already an exact equivalent, forget it.

  2. It is a slightly derogatory term for the person who is paying, usually meant kindly, but somewhat patronising.

  3. hmmm….punter can be a used in a demeaning way about people who pay for services (mugs or johns).

  4. Why not write an article about the effect of the BBC, Guardian and Economist on American media? Not just in popularizing various Britishisms, but the writing style and what’s covered (including scandals). Think Harold Evans, Hugo Young, Peter Preston, Simon Hoggart et al.

    1. What do you think the effect has been? I am a little familiar with the writers you mention, but would be interested in what you think about their influence.

  5. Punter isn’t demeaning. A punter means a customer of any stripe or, more specifically, a gambler (ie, I had a punt on the 3.10 at Ascot).

  6. How about “to pong,” a humorous way of saying to stink? Pong is also used as a noun, as in “the pong from the loo . . .”

    1. Rebecca.Pongo is a derisive term from many years ago used by Commonwealth troops(read Australia) against the British Army;’Where The British Army goes the pong (smell) goes.

    2. That’s very old fashioned now. I used it as a child in the 1950s, but haven’t heard it for years.

      A Scots verb meaning the same which has migrated to England in recent years is “to ming” / “minging”, but its meaning has widened hugely in the process. Most English teenagers who use it, always pejoratively, have no idea where it comes from or what it means. They often use it to mean “ugly”, usually of a girl or woman, and they even describe a person as “a minger”. I am not happy about this corruption of a perfectly good Scots word and the attitudes it is used to express.

      The next Scots migration to England seems to be “scran” (food). So far that one appears to be accurately transmitted.

      1. I think you’ll find that the derivation is English rather than Scots. Orwell uses the expression “scrand” to mean food in his “Down and Out in Paris and London” rather than Paisley and Balmoral.

  7. If you would really like to get worked up (or wound up) take a look at the infiltration of Britishism in the sport of soccer (which, the Brits use as a derisive term, but in fact is British in origin). Pitch, boots, brace, kits, etc. These are NOT soccer terms. They are British terms. Give a look.

    1. Sorry but they are Soccer terms, Soccer is an English sport that Americans have only played lately in the sense of the world. Any term used in the sport, no matter English or not, is a Soccer term, and believe it or not are used in other countries as well… Just accept them like we have to accept the word cleats or the lack of s’s and the overload of Z’s in American english

      1. Just to maintain the levels of Britishisms here, that last one would be, “the overload of ‘zeds’,” right?

      2. Regarding the overload of Z’s or Zeds. That is actually traditional English that fell out of favour (tee hee) during the 20th century. The OED have always preferred to use “z” over the “s” in the spelling of words such as optimise/optimize.

        As to the comment about soccer being considered a derisive term, that is fairly recent development probably in the last 15-20 years I would guess. It maybe started after the 1994 World Cup which was hosted by the USA. As a child growing up in the 60’s in the North of England we frequently played soccer. It’s a word derived from association to differentiate Association Football from Rugby Football.

      3. The other thing about the word “soccer” is that although it may have been invented by an Englishman, the Americans use it far more often now. Just because one of our own created the word many years ago, doesn’t mean that the average English person likes his favourite sport referred to by that name in this day and age.

      4. I believe cleats are football boots, or trainers with studs. Or something like that. There may be a slight difference, but it’s close enough in everyday use.

    2. “Soccer” is a stupid name for football invented by the upper classes -and used ONLY by them- in the 19th century. It is a corruption of “association” and was coined following the formation of the Football Association in 1863. It has a distinct upper class sneer at the lower orders about it, and anyone who calls football “soccer” can expect derision in return.

      The word “football”, on the other hand, goes back at least to the 13th century, usually in connection with denouncing or banning it.

      1. Surely the game now universally known in British (and European) English as “football” (and in the American dialect as “saccur”) only required differentiation from anything else after Webb Ellis (apocryphally) handled the ball in 1823. Hence the emergence when necessary of “rugger” and “footer” (in the UK) to distinguish between 15 (or sometimes 13) mud-caked brutes using their hands from the originally beautiful game, today best exemplified by overpaid, pampered, injury-prone, self-opinionated, media-hungry exemplars playing an almost choreographed sport. (What’s that sound like, me-wonders?)

        Is it not that too similar terminology is apt to confuse your average US armchair spectator Real Madrid with the Redskins and Spurs with the Seahawks? So US TV commentators of football games are perforce to advise their punters that this saccur rather than football? Who knows?

  8. Off the top of my head come “more-ish” and “rent boy” as increasingly common terms in the US. “Randy” is so familiar I can’t tell whether it was always American. “Nosh” may not be strictly British in origin, but I first heard it in a Beatles movie — along with “kip” — when I was young enough that the movie was new and I had to ask around to find out what it meant. Personally, I use both “chuffed” and the quite useful “high street,” but that may be pure idiosyncrasy.

    I’ve not encountered “crap” in the States as an adjective, but in the UK, is it really more common than the more vulgar “s” words alternative, or the rather less strong “rubbish”? Incidentally, the latter makes a perfectly good verb as well, though one unlikely ever to replace “trash” for the same purpose.

    Also, “that’s not cricket” has no succinct alternative to convey the notion of “that’s not the way the game is played” And then there’s the almost certainly misused “high tea” to mean a proper English tea….

    1. Randy is a common male first name in the US. I find it hard to believe that many parents would have knowingly named their offspring “Horny”!

      1. Many years ago Time Magazine published a piece about the fact that it was becoming more acceptable to be openly gay. The article included an account of how a young man from a small town in the Mid-west who had been to college in the East, where he had come out, had taken his boyfriend home to his traditionally-minded, church-going parents for Thanksgiving. The parents had welcomed the boyfriend into their home with open arms and treated him in a loving fashion. It was a heartwarming story that brought a tear to the eye, but was ever-so-slightly undermined for the British reader by the fact that the boyfriend’s name was Randy Ponce (‘Horny Pimp’ to UK ears).

      2. Your grandparents named your dad “Rod”!? Sounds like he was just continuing the tradition!

        Reminds me that I had a friend in high school with the surname “Wang”. His parents, in a fit of either supreme obliviousness or abject cruelty, named him Richard. Not being particularly cruel children, we used the name he chose to go by, “Richie” — but seriously, who names their child Dick Wang?

    2. I reckon that “randy” as a synonym for “horny” has become more popular in the last 15 years or so with the advent of the Austin Powers movies. It has long been a diminutive form for the name Randall in the States, but I think it’s become more widespread as slang since “Do I make you randy baby”.

      1. On the other hand, “reckon” has never caught on in the U.S. except by screenwriters writing dialog for westerns. Which, with the disappearance of said westerns, means it’s now all but extinct.

      1. Not really: “that’s not cricket” indicates that the spirit or the tenor rather than the formal law has been ignored or breached, whereas the Hoyle reference is definitely to do with written or accepted rules of the game.

    3. Your comments on English tea prompt a memory of going to ‘tea’ on a Cruise ship recently (inevitably a US-owned cruise line, of course). I was tempted, by the ‘English muffins’ with jam and cream. These alternatives to scones were fine but for one crucial addition: they contained CINNAMON which made them close to inedible. Why? Did an English muffin/scone ever contain cinnamon? I think not…..
      Thanks for the chance to get this off my chest!

      1. Oops! This should have been a reply to the previous post from Tomm Undergod (Nov 27th 2011). Apologies.

  9. I lived in Britain in the 80s with some American friends and we all laughed at how they said “as well” all the time instead of also or too. Now I hear it in the US all the time.

    1. Snap. It took me a long time to see “pissed” as anything other than drunk. I still have to mentally translate it when I hear it used in what must be the “angry” context.

    2. The distinction between “pissed” (drunk) and “pissed off” (dissatisfied, angry) is most important. Someone who says “I’m really pissed” is likely to be ignored or advised to go to bed and sleep it off.

      Someone who says they are “pissed off” might be asked to explain and their grievances discussed. At least, that would be the constructive approach. There is no constructive approach to a drunk

      1. Yeah, but that’s changed in recent years, it’s not nearly as clear-cut and simple as it used to be. In America, it’s extremely common today for the anger sense of “pissed” to be used as a feeling or an emotional state, especially when it’s directed at an external entity. So, I can be “pissed at my boss” or “pissed at the review board’s decision” or “pissed I’m losing my job”, and if that progression had happened to you, you’d probably be as pissed as I am about it.

        (Note: The events mentioned above are merely examples, they are in no way autobiographical.)

  10. Hello! I’m not sure where to go to leave a suggestion, so here it is. Someone above mentioned “rubbish,” and I seem to be hearing it a good deal lately, also “rubbishy” (rubbishy bits). I edit exhibition catalogues, so I regularly encounter academics; perhaps that is the reason?

    Anyway–I love this project. Thank you!

  11. This blog is ace! 🙂

    As an American living in Spain, about 90% of my English-speaking friends are from the UK/Ireland. My favorite words come from my former flatmate (not roommate) who instilled such gems as knackered and faff into my daily vocabulary.

    Keep up the great work!

      1. Agreed with Quieter Elephant. Though where I’m from it’d often get shortened to knacked, and used to mean ‘tired’, combined with get (get knacked) to mean to get wrong / get told off, and gete (gete knacked) to mean very tired, etc… 🙂

      2. A comment from a Brit. ‘Knackered’ meaning ‘worn out’ came from ‘knacker’, meaning horse buyer and slaughterer, and means ‘worn out’ – ie ‘fit only for the knacker’s yard’. ‘Knackers’ meaning ‘testicles’ comes from the onomatopoeic term for castanets (or similar clappers). Few people under 70 nowadays know anything about work horses and the knacker’s yard and assume that ‘knackered’ somehow relates to testicles. That results in it being considered a mild swear word. Not dissimilar in that regard to ‘tosser’, which is derived from ‘toss-pot’ – a heavy drinker – and not from ‘toss (off)’ meaning masturbate – but, with the loss of the original expression, ‘tosser’ nowadays is just a general insult that has the same mild degree of offensiveness and taboo as ‘wanker’ (offensive and taboo in Britain that is; in the US I understand the borrowed word has no such connotation).

  12. How long does it take for Brits to start speaking American?
    The Economist, online blog on language, Nov. 3rd 2011

    One of the set-piece conversations that Britons living in America have with each other, besides how cold it is, how hot it is, or how interesting it is that people here don’t talk about the weather all the time, is about which British words or pronunciations they have shed in favour of their American equivalents.

    For many of us, the first to go are pronunciations so interchangeable that we can’t even remember which version is which. For instance, shedule vs skedule, or contROVersy vs CONtroversy.


    1. The most offensive and disrespectful US pronunciations are things like “Eye-raq”. I guess Ay-dolf Hitler deserves no respect, but the pronunciation is still wrong. Why the simple short vowels “i” and “a” have to be turned into confusing, waffling long ones which murder the non-English languages concerned escapes me.

  13. According to dictionary.net (and urbandictionary, but that doesn’t count), gotten is “obsolescent”. Finally, a major Internet dictionary that agrees! Gotten is horrible and old-fashioned, and there are plenty of alternatives: obtained, received, acquired, etc.

    1. It sounds very archaic here, not even 19th century but older than that. As such I don’t object to it. I wish US English retained more archaic words, as Indian English does with 18th cehtury ones. We could then have the fun Dutch speakers enjoy with Afrikaans, which is mainly 17th century Dutch, but hilarious when the subject is computer games or traffic congestion on the motorway.

  14. Is “streets ahead” well-established in American sources? Earliest OED reference is 1885 in Ireland. Recently a character in NBC’s “Community” tried to “coin the phrase”, without realising it already existed (for the backstory see http://earnthis.net/2010/04/community-is-streets-ahead/ ). Appearances of this phrase in US news outlets are now being seen as references to the TV show rather than the original Britishism.

  15. Keep your eyes open for “pie hole” and “cake hole,” both of which I have seen in the last year or so but do not have documentation for,

    1. If that’s a Britishism, then it’s come at us roundabout. It’s a staple of Southern, and by extension, enlisted military, speech.

    2. Cake hole ie gob means mouth.I used it as a child in the 50’s thinking it a strong expression as in ‘I’ll punch you in the cake hole@..not that I ever did.Have never seen pie hole in UK.

    3. Tony Hancock to Sid James circa 1958 or ’59:

      “Cake hole? Cake hole? Why can’t you speak the Queen’s English, man? If you mean “spudgrinder”, say so.”

    1. That ranks with the politicians’ stock phrase “the fact of the matter is..”

      In both cases it can be taken to mean “big lie coming”.

      1. To which I would add the following phrases (mainly but not solely used by politicians): ‘to be absolutely clear’ and ‘with all due respect’. Both of these usually mean precisely the opposite.

  16. Well-played. Heard this one this morning in a Lincoln (auto) commercial. “You moved from a third-floor walkup to the home of your dreams. Well played.”

    Usually heard in cricket or polo scenes in British films.

  17. Nonstarter. Keep your eyes peeled. Used in an insurance context: “gave us a new demand but it was a nonstarter.”

    1. Is “nonstarter” supposed to be a Britishism? I’ve heard this word used in political reporting in the U.S. for years — e.g., Republicans consider Obama’s tax proposal [or any other proposal, for that matter] to be a nonstarter.

      1. I think it comes from horse racing and refers to a horse withdrawn before the race.

  18. Glad you have this Blog! I noticed that in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Daniel Craig said he would “do the washing up.” It kinda blew my mind since I didn’t know how Americans would take it. They probably glossed over it, but maybe…it will become a part of our everyday speech? Probably not, in my opinion it’s a bit too general. What are you washing!? But of course the British get it because it’s “the” washing up!

    1. It may be worth noting that there’s an interesting distinction we Brits make concerning our washing chores. ‘Doing the washing up’ refers, as you know, to cleaning our crockery, glasses, etc. but simply ‘doing the washing’ refers to washing our clothes.

      1. Very true Matt. May I also add that “having a wash up” refers to a review of events and that “washed up” is Pete Docherty.

    2. I have caused confusion with my Canadian friends when referring to “doing (or washing) the pots” – maybe that’s more Yorkshire rather than British. Others can comment. They do seem to use “doing the dishes” though.

      1. Yes, “pots” is very Yorkshire. It specifically refers to earthenware -fired clay- and I even heard tiles called “pots” by old Yorkshire people in the early ’60s. Its generic use long ago expanded to cover all cooking, eating or drinking vessels regardless of the material used.

  19. Interesting blog. Thanks.
    Sometimes, too, what are thought to be “modern” British-isms, such as reckon (see above) in Western movies, because it was used in the 16thc ~ 19thc in America and is now out of use here, but has not died out in Britain. Try a real Britis-ism: ‘lagging’ Material providing heat insulation for a boiler, pipes, etc.
    I laughed aloud when my dear husband of 20+ years in America went to the hardware store for me. He called and asked “What’s the American word for lagging? This fellow at the shop doesn’t know what it is.” I had no idea! Or the time he went for 3 tab asphalt shingles and had asked for ‘soft slates’ What if he’d asked for ‘thatching’? At least I knew that one.

  20. I loved this blog. My mother was from London and used all kinds off british-isms that I often took for granted to be regular American speech. I’d love to hear more on: “have a go”, “get on with it”, and “off we go”. I also want to share my favorite saying of hers, when we couldn’t find something, and there it was right in front of us, she’d dangle it before us and say, “What’s this? Scotch mist?”

  21. ^There are so many more that are occurring to me now… “have a bath”, as opposed to “take” a bath. Also, “in you get” and “out you get” (from the car, for instance.)

    1. That used to amuse me when I lives with people from the USA. They used to “take a shit” or “take a piss”. I used to ask where they were intending to take it, and expressed the hope that it would be somewhere far away

      1. The standard joke there (come to think of it, this may be George Carlin) is that you’re really not taking a shit, you’re giving a shit — but of course, that means something else entirely.

  22. I just discovered your blog and I’m thrilled.
    I’m an American married to a British-Australian – at times it’s as if he’s speaking an entirely different language. It took me 2 years to realize that the reason I was reacting so negatively to one of his phrases was my misunderstanding of the meaning.
    Just recently, we were invited to a dinner party and it was suggested that we bring pudding. I spent two days agonizing about what kind of ‘pudding’ to make. Then my husband said, ‘take a fruit salad.’ But that’s not pudding, I replied.
    Anyhow, look forward to reading your blog regularly.

  23. Partly because my family lived in the UK for a few years while my father went all ABD at Cambridge and the University of London, then I worked right out of college for British Airways in NYC, I’m a wicked Britishismophile.

    Love chuffed and sussed and still cling to the 22.May.2012 date structure I learned as a kid and had reinforced by years in rez at BA.

    As I work my way through Netflix’s British series and film lists, I’ve waded into Skins. Maybe my work as a high school English teacher makes me look forward innit’s crossing. (Spellcheck like-y innit; innit’s not so much.)

    Thanks for the comma support and the blog.

    1. “Innit” belongs with “know what I mean” and both are nominal or rhetorical interrogatives -certainly not expecting an answer- mainly used by people who have little confidence in their language skills or that they are communicating effectively. As such, it would be a shame if it travelled anywhere else.

    1. I’ve had my eye on “innit”–and also the less flashy but equally common “yeah?” at the end of a statement or sentence. No penetration yet for either, as far as I can see.

      1. The rising inflexion and use of “yeah?” at the end of a non-interrofative sentence is characteristically Australian, not British, but it has spread here. I suspect crappy Australian soaps for teenagers have brought this about. Not that British soaps aren’t crappy, too, but the Aussie ones broadcast here are the pits.

    2. ‘Scuse the delay…

      I can live with sentence-ending, rising intonation, “innit” and “yeah”, but what gets right on my toot is a similarly inflected: “right?” or more accurately pronounced “rite”.

      Anybody any humane suggestions for remediation before I commit a capital offence on my workmate?

      PS Just noticed my spellchecker didn’t like my “c” in “offence”. Sorry, RITE?

  24. I thought, whilst reading this post, that this might be a crap blog because it fails to *appreciate* affectation.

    But I was entertained enough to have a go.

    Pip pip, ol’ cock!

  25. I’m fascinated by your blog. We brits, well, some of us, have long groused about “americanisms” shoe-horning their way in to our language, which, after all, we’ve been using a lot longer than you guys! But there are more than a few words in your list which would never have occured to me as either different from yours (did you see what I did there?) or just not used in USAland. I live and learn. I’m also amused to see some folks over there get as worked-up over people using “brit” terms as we do over your exports. I note however that in many cases you attribute this to the speaker trying to “sound british” or similar. I wonder if it isn’t just the case, as it fairly surely is over here, that the speaker has picked up the word from a televisual entertainment. I shall return from time to time to learn more! I offer for your consideration, especially as you start the run up to the next decision by the denizens of Florida as to who should run the entire country for the next couple of years, the difference between running for election, and standing for election. Cheerio.

    1. Politicians are easier to pie when standing than when running. Is there a verb “to pie”? There is now!

  26. I am british and I said to an american friend the other day “have a think” (very common expression in the UK) as if to say “think about it for a while”. She didnt really know what I was talking about and said that you cannot use “think” as a noun.

    1. Well, Walter, you old Windbag, I had a think about that “who/whom” dichotomy too. Ended up plumping for who as that person elected would be doing the running (ie the subject) rather being run (the object). Gottit?

      Bit like Ms Franklin’s “Who’s zoomin’ whom” rather than “Whom’s being zoomed by who”! Innit? Gertcher!

  27. Punter is still over here a word that at its heart means “gambler”; but the meaning has stretched. I’m surprised the Telegraph used it that way – but the overtones are of someone wanting or willing to give something a try, without an outcome being clear do come from the gambler root. If you just used it for “customer” there is a hint of it being derogatory – as someone noted. That’s fading, though. I suspect carnies’ use of “mark” may have its insult fading in a similar way; though probably not as fast. One should also not forget the other uses – A Master Punter would be talking about his time on waterways, rather than gambling! (That is a shallow draught boat pushed along by a pole; most commonly seen in Oxford and Cambridge).

  28. My (English) kids and school friends use the noun “Noob” instead of the word nerd. Look out for Noob becoming a NOOB.

    1. Also, the meaning is different. A nerd is a gimp / geek / etc. A newb or newbie is someone new to something (e.g. an online game). A n00b is the same thing, except the person’s being an idiot and thinks he knows better. So it’s more insulting than newb. Something like that anyway.

      1. A noob certainly isn’t a gimp. That word has, at root, a different meaning entirely, one that’s far less family-friendly…

        And hello to the curator, by the way. Just discovered this via the BBC article – I shall be following!

  29. Dear, dear ‘Merkins, we love you, we really do, just like a pedigree British mummy dog loves her over-enthusiastic mongrel puppies, but you do have your knickers in a twist over this alleged abuse of your mother’s tongue.

    An Englishman must point out that there is no such word as “Britishism”. It’s a made up nonsense of Dahlian proportion.

    The word you are grasping for is simply, English, the language of Keats, Shakespear, Lawrence, Churchill, Orwell and Humperdink.

    Whereas what you speak, ain’t.

  30. OK ( rubs hands briskly ) here we go…. As a Brit, what I’ve always hated about the Merkin use of MY language was the utter refusal to routinely split an infinitive. Star Trek was indeed going boldly when it did it, as I’ve rarely heard another example since. Never mind the few odd words, the obsession with pounds and inches and the horrifically tedious and pretentious dropping of the H from ‘herb’. No, what made you stand out was the lengths you would go to keep that ‘to’ next to its verb.

    And now, guess what, we’re doing it on this side now. Strewth, words fail me! No they dont, desperately trying to uphold a pointless grammatical rule by undertaking a verbal game of twister is idiotic. You have been told!!!

    1. As a fellow Brit, I have very few problems with how Americans use OUR language (it’s theirs and ours). But you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head of two of them. There’s nothing wrong with a split infinitive, and the dropped ‘h’ from herb is the one thing that annoys me a lot more than I realise it really should.

      Ironically, if it weren’t for that bloody Stark Trek intro, and the subsequent (incorrect) pedantry it caused, I’d be willing to bet that unseemly verbal Twister would be much less common in that instance.

  31. “…an alarming number…”? Well! When I think of the tide of words and expressions (to say nothing of spellings and verb forms and the very accent in which they are delivered) that has moved and is still moving in the opposite direction, it’s hard to be solicitous about your alarm!

    I speak, of course, in jest and with good wishes. I am a lover of words and good blogs that discuss them, and will follow yours.

  32. I have lived for more than 10 years in BC Canada, and find it a delightfully mixed up place. I have seen colour and color appear in the same paragraph in technical documents. (Microsoft kindly accommodate this quirk by simply allowing both UK and US spellings when you select “English – Canadian” in MS-Word) Zeds and zees live happily side by side. But I was taken aback recently when a “proper” Canadian friend used “ferkle” in ALMOST the right way. It was in a mountaineering context, and had been used to refer to someone generally mucking about and delaying things for the group. It was NEARLY right (to my own understanding – the only one that matters, let’s face it! 😉 ), in that the specific case was someone causing the delay by searching for an item in their rucksack. I remember first encountering it at my grandma’s in the 70’s on a mono recording of “Blaster Bates” – a stand-up comedian and demolition expert from Cheshire I believe. The context there was generally being ineffective when trying to find something, such as ferkling around trying to find a golf ball. Or indeed searching for something in the bottom of a rucksack. I’d be glad to learn a more definitive definition and root. Is it used elsewhere in the colonies?

    1. Blaster Bates?

      He of Shite Over Shropshire fame?

      Only a few podium steps down from Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Byron, Wordsworth, Keats, Dickens, Kipling, Joyce, Woolf, Ian Dury… but a source none the less!

    2. I know I’m like years late (bored evening), but do you mean fertle? A ferkle is an immature pig, whereas to fertle is to fiddle / mess about with.

    3. I think the word you are looking for is “furkle”, as in “furkling around at the bottom of my bag for somthing”

  33. Gov. Jerry Brown (California) quoted in today’s paper(s) using “dustbin”. Saw it on BBC news & other outlets. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-19789505

    “In a statement, Mr Brown said sexual orientation change efforts “have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery”.” I realize that some people in small U.S. enclaves grew up saying “dustbin” in lieu of trash/rubbish/garbage bin or barrel. but it’s not commonly used.

  34. One Britishism that fascinates me, and which inexplicably, I’ve been on the look-out for it here in America, is:

    Sentences which end in “do/done”. Example, “You couldn’t have done [it/that]”. Or, “You could do [it/that]”. In American English, of course, we would INCLUDE the contents of the square brackets.

    Any signs of this phenomenon cross-pollinating to here?

    1. As I think I’ve mentioned somewhere, this is my Holy Grail, or white whale, or whatever. No sign of it here yet. I would amend your description to the effect that Americans more commonly end the sentence earlier, I think, rather than add the “it” or “that.” That is, we characteristically say, “You couldn’t have,” “I might,” “You should,” etc.

  35. I was in a car one day with a former brit and he said he was getting a bit peckish (hungry) and if we were going to stop…

  36. Very entertaining commentary. I’ll be watching for more. After reading novels by British authors, I adore the English version of the English language!

  37. Something I’ve noticed my wife saying recently- “on about,” as in, “What is he on about?” Those two adverbs at the end just don’t make any sense.

    1. That’s easy. It means “What’s he talking about?”, usually in such a way as to imply that either the speaker or listener doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. “What are you on about? I don’t understand a word you’re saying!”

  38. I don’t know where else to put this, so I’ll try here.
    “Poofter” is English slang for a homosexual. One of the more mincing variety might be described as a “great screaming poofter”. The word can be shortened to “poof” or “poove”.
    Remember Liberace the pianist?. He was as queer as a nine bob note, or as bent as a hairpin, and he became an early AIDS victim.
    In the mid 50s he came to Britain on a concert tour. The London Daily Mirror carefully published an article suggesting very obliquely that he might not be totally hetero, and this at a time when homosexuality was still illegal.
    The Paper fell foul of England’s draconian libel laws. Liberace sued-and won!
    It had to pay out in today’s money well over $1million. Maybe he was the first to laugh all the way to the bank.
    You may have heard over there of Jimmy Savile, a disc jockey who got away with being a predatory paedophile for about 50 years until his death.
    How did he get away with it for so long?. With a precedent like Liberace, who would be mad enough to “out” him

    1. I remember the case well. The article was quite vicious, but avoided the use of any word that unambiguously meant homosexual, concentrating on Liberace’s manner of speaking, his flamboyant clothes, the fact that his fans were mostly middle-aged women, and so on. It certainly didn’t use terms like ‘poof’. As I recall, the word that convinced the court that the writer was accusing Liberace of being gay was ‘fruitcake’. Liberace had a nice line in self-mockery and a pleasant wit. When asked after the case how he felt to have been so disgracefully libelled he answered ‘I cried all the way to the bank’.

  39. What an interesting site.
    I have loved the differences in usage since living in the USA many years ago. It is good to know that the tide of US-isms moving our way is being very slightly offset by a few UK-isms moving the other way. Keep up the good work!
    I still remember a charming waitress in a southern-state restaurant being fascinated by our accents and asking where we were from. When we said ‘England’, she replied ‘Oh, you speak English in England?’. ‘Nuff said.
    Tata for now, m’ducks.

  40. This blog is amazing. However, I will only be really surprised when I hear an American utter a phrase like “that’s a whole other kettle of fish”. where on earth did THAT come from??

  41. In my part of the world the fish kettle is usually different rather than just being other. Innit?

    Somebody earlier mentioned the sentence closing “yeah” and the interrogatory (generally-agreed Australian originated) upward intonation of statements as well as questions.

    Has anyone else noticed the increased prevalence of the both irritating habits: “I was walking down the street – right?”

    Does my crust in as I work with someone who (not whom) does it incessantly. Surely no jury would convict?

  42. ‘Kettle of fish’ seems to originate in Scotland about 200 years ago-and-no surprise- relates to cooking fish in a kettle. ( Help required here!)
    Perhaps its most famous usage was in the Abdication Crisis of 1936.
    King Edward V111’s mother, Queen Mary, was totally bewildered by her son’s failure to do his duty as King. She said to the P.M. of the day ” Well Mr. Baldwin, this is a fine kettle of fish”

    1. Fish is cooked in a fish kettle. Not the same thing as a tea kettle, and the two bear little resemblance to each other. A tea kettle is boiled. A fish kettle is designed for slow cooking, traditionally on embers.

  43. Wonderful blog — I’ll have to ration my time in looking through the back posts! I’m from the U.S. and have never lived anywhere else; but I have always read voraciously, and naturally, a portion of my intake has been British classics. Add that to a significant amount of involvement in community/amateur Shakespeare production, and I honestly don’t know sometimes when I’m being British and when I’m just being a general vocabulary lover. If I ever do visit Britain, I think I’m going to have to be fairly careful with my terminology lest people think I’m either mocking them or trying too hard to assimilate!

  44. I love this blog – found it while trying to look up an 16th century Irish colloquialism (can’t remember what it was now, and not entirely sure how it pointed me here. . . ). Regardless, I’ve enjoyed reading the archives. I lived in Ireland for a time, and brought an Irish husband home, so I had quite a few Irish-isms. Your posts bring back great memories and words I had forgotten! Thanks!

  45. Really recently, as in the last 5 years or so, “ginger” for redhead has inexplicably become part of American/Canadian vocab, starting with teens and now even adults use it. I’ve always known the term from all of the British movies and TV shows we get in Canada. Unfortunately not only the term “ginger” [which has never made sense to me, as red hair is orange coloured, not the colour of ginger root or gingerbread] has carried over but also the British cultural stigma. Now “ginger kids” as they’re known are being bullied, whereas before, the stereotype was that redheads were bullies, not the bullied in American media. The only term young American/Canadian teens have for redheads now is “ginger” I never ever hear them saying redhead or red-haired at all. And it was so sudden, as I’m in my early twenties [speaking of which, Canadians pronounce it “twenty / twenny” not “twunny” as Americans do] and when I was a teen no one said “ginger”.

    The other one is mate. Why did we need mate? We have “friend”, “buddy”, “pal”, “chum”, etc. We didn’t need another word, especially one that sounds like someone you’d have carnal relations with. Animals “mate” with each other, mates are pairs of animals, not humans. As a kid, when I’d hear an Aussie or an Englishman say it, I thought it sounded so odd, because before I heard it on British shows, it was only something I heard on the Discovery Channel referring to mating giraffes or something. “Mate” is a really recent addition to American English, I don’t know if it will last. In Canada I never hear it in real life, but Americans on the internet use it all the time now.

    1. Really recently, as in the last 5 years or so, “ginger” for redhead has inexplicably become part of American/Canadian vocab, starting with teens and now even adults use it. […] Unfortunately not only the term “ginger” […] has carried over but also the British cultural stigma. Now “ginger kids” as they’re known are being bullied, whereas before, the stereotype was that redheads were bullies, not the bullied in American media. The only term young American/Canadian teens have for redheads now is “ginger” I never ever hear them saying redhead or red-haired at all. And it was so sudden, as I’m in my early twenties […] and when I was a teen no one said “ginger”.

      That’s not inexplicable at all. South Park did it. The popularity of Doctor Who in the States was certainly a factor (what with the Tenth Doctor’s purported obsession with being ginger), but mostly you can trace the whole thing back to Eric Cartman’s obsession with gingers (and how “They creep us out, and make us sick to our stomachs.”), a recurring theme that began with the 2005 episode “Ginger Kids” (S09E11).

    2. With apologies for the 30 month delay in thinking of a snappy response and with reference your comments on the applicability of “mate”…

      “As a kid” strikes me as something of a double standard; were your parents, Billy and Nanny???

  46. What a delightful unexpected site, encountered by accident, and it happens, immediately after the horrible experience of a political site where reading the comment line is like swimming in a polluted river, constantly feeling yourself bumping into a turd. Here, discussion is marvellously civilised. As a neutral party in re US vs UK let me suggest two places where normally glorious US English is outright weird. (1) They can’t say Nuclear. They introduce a non-existent syllable, noo-cue-ler. (2) They inverse the meaning of “I could care less”. If they could care less, that means they care.
    PS: why, may I ask, go along with this ridiculous “Rate This”? As bad as Facebook’s “Like”. Those who like, like.

    1. Oh, no no no, Denis. Don’t imagine that “newcular” is “US English” pronunciation. It’s not even a dialect, merely an irritatingly common and widespread mistake. We Americans ridicule the people who pronounce it that way, too (including our previous Decider-in-Chief) as it is not right, and NOT OK.

      I even had one college Physics professor who said “newcular”. There should be some sort of law against that.

    2. Yep, nucular is as English as it is American. I once made my father in law have close to hysterics in a restaurant because I could no longer contain my irritation at my husband saying nucular, and just shouted out ‘clear’.

      With you on ‘could care less’ though.

    3. I have always felt strongly that nobody should be allowed to discuss anything to do with matters nuclear if they cannot say the word. A Physics Professor who can’t pronounce it should have been forcibly introduced to elecution lessons (or perhaps electrocution….),
      The thought of a certain person who couldn’t say the word having his finger on the nuclear button always gave me the screaming abdabs.

  47. Thanks, Ferdnik, for this elucidation. I take your point though to split a hair I might mention that the version I hear is never ‘new’, only ‘noo’.

  48. Recently saw a tweet in which someone called someone else a knob (both Americans). Haven’t heard bell end yet, except on Ali G reruns.

  49. Dear Ben,
    Are you sure you’re always finding “Britishisms”, or might you sometimes just be finding “non-Americanisms”?
    After all, just because something is not used in the US and is used in the UK doesn’t automatically make it specifically British. Do you control for use in other English-mother-tongue cultures (Republic of Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies etc)?

    1. Hey, c’mon — that was Sir Humphrey’s original spelling! Not our fault he changed it afterwards. We’re traditionalists here in the Colonies. (Plus, the Canadians agree with us on that one.)

  50. I figure a thread on noobs maybe the place to suggest a new one to research(?). That said, I receive business emails from suppliers or other sundry colleagues with the irritating phrase “I’ll revert back to you soon (with xyz information).” Is this a Britishism? I am old enough to remember when it was not used, and the ngram for “revert back to you” shows a mass increase after 1980. To me, revert means “to return to an earlier state”, not “to reply later with information.” Curious as to where this one came from…

    1. I never encountered it, but there are various discussions on the Internet, including this one, where someone says: “In the wild, I see this usage (revert to signify a request for a reply) primarily from those who learned to speak English in South Asia: India, Pakistan, Nepal. Increasingly, also noted coming from Persian Gulf / Middle Eastern sources.”

  51. Fine case of language growing. Revert used to mean “return to the earlier” and now ALSO means “reply later”. I don’t think either side of the Atlantic has copyright; it’s just grown. I never heard anyone saying “revert back”, though, or even “to you”. As I hear it the fashion is simply “I’ll revert”.

  52. I have only recently discovered your excellent blog. I was looking at the list of Britishisms you have looked at over the years and I noticed that you use the phrase “chattering classes” quite a bit, and with a wonderful ironic tone.
    “Chattering classes” was, I understand, invented by the late great Auberon Waugh, son of Evelyn and doyen of the Spectator for many years. It is thus a Britishism that has been popularised in the US by your good self. Maybe you should do a post on it.

  53. Revert is one of those poncey words we lawyers use a lot. Thus when you provide a solicitor on the other side of a case with an offer of settlement you will often get a quick email in response saying something like: “I will get some instructions from my client and revert.”
    We lawyers get to be incredibly camp sometimes.It all comes with the wigs and gowns.

  54. I just came across this blog while Googling “on the back foot” an expression I most often hear uttered by British sports commentators. I always presumed it was something to do with cricket.

    Anyway, I love the blog. I thought “Britishism” was a word I had invented to describe British words and expressions that irritate me, mostly used by Americans who copy them to sound “cool”, often not knowing the meaning. As a teenager I came to Canada from the U.K. in the mid-1950s and worked hard at losing my “Britishness” since at the time British immigrants weren’t popular because they snapped up all the cushy police, government and transit jobs. Growing up “over there” puts me at an advantage understanding all kinds of expressions and Cockney slang we encounter in British TV shows and movies. However, use of British expressions by Americans annoys me. Years ago “wanker” really annoyed me because those parroting the word probably didn’t even know what it meant. Today my pet peeves are “whinge”, “mobile” for cell phone and “satnav” for GPS. A perennial peeve is “at the weekend” for “on the weekend”. Those just sound stupid coming out of the mouths or from the keyboards of non-Brits. Oh, and I absolutely hate “Merc” (pronounced Merk) for Mercedes when we all know a Merc ia a Mercury.

    1. By the by, I don’t know if your googling turned up the Phrase Finder site (www.phrases.org.uk) but it’s a great resource for getting background on all manner of colloquialism. They DON’T currently have an entry for “on the back foot” (it does appear in a list of body-part-related phrases, but that’s the only reference), but it may be worth suggesting they look into it! Contact is apparently done via posting to their Facebook page these days, that’s found at https://www.facebook.com/phrasefinder/

  55. Just discovered this nifty (or should I say smashing?) site. What took me so long? May I respectfully point out a typo in the About NOOBs entry at the top? It reads “For each entry, readers are ask to vote on their opinion….” Cheers. I mean, ta. I mean, thanks.

  56. Re mobile vs cell, I have been using mobile as often as possible since most phones are no longer actually on the old (pre-2G) cellular technology but now digital, and thus mobile seemed more generally correct. However, if it sounds dodgy for some reason perhaps I’ll rethink that, as the usage of “cell” appears to be broadening out to encompass all the mobile phones now.

  57. They still use the cell network. But this is about what you call them. “Mobile” is a Britishism and “Cell” is what we say in North America. Calling them “mobiles” is an affectation if you’re not British. A mobile is some kind of decorative structure that is suspended so as to turn freely in the air.

  58. Maybe, but only if you use it verbally, my usage of it was almost exclusively written, and wasn’t used in the plural. It may be a “mobile” in the UK, but it’s a “mobile phone” in the U.S., so mobile in an address book or e-mail sig is just an abbreviation.

    1. That’s another case where definitions have evolved, Bob. Phrases like “verbal agreement” or “verbal testimony” are used quite definitively to refer to spoken, as opposed to written, communication, and that’s generally the sense in which “verbal” is commonly understood today.

      1. Not as properly used by the inventors of English, I’m afraid, FerD.

        Origin of oral
        Latin: 1615-25; < Latin ōr- (stem of ōs) mouth (cognate with Sanskrit āsya) + -al1
        Origin of verbal
        Latin: 1485-95; < Latin verbālis, equivalent to verb(um) word (see verb ) + -ālis -al1
        Source: Dictionary.com (US-based, I believe)

      2. So, are the Romans or the Indians the “inventors of English”? Because, the Latin and Sanskrit roots of the word don’t impress me. We speak neither of those languages. At least one of them is stone dead. And since you’re quoting dictionary.com, here’s its definition #3 for “verbal”:

        expressed in spoken words; oral rather than written:
        verbal communication; verbal agreement.

      3. Interestingly, many U.S. usages were originally “invented” by the British, then evolved in Britain, but are still used in the U.S. Akin to French Canadian and modern French. Would the original usage be “more correct” or the newer usage as evolved in the original country? Or is British English only the correct form when it’s the U.S. variation that evolved? To assert either is more correct is rather arrogant and shows a lack of understanding of how the evolution of languages occurs. It’s like saying Neanderthals are more correct humans than Cro Magnons.

  59. I’m certain there’s a way of starting a new thread on this site, but as my wife keeps saying, I am terminally dim.
    A hilarious story in today’s Telegraph. In the 1930’s a fellow Yorkshireman invented the ‘cat’s eye’-those reflectors down the centre of the road that ingeniously self-wipe when cars pass over them.
    If they are removed for whatever reason, a warning sign is put up saying ‘cats’ eyes removed’.
    Unfortunately an American lady took this all too literally and complained about such wanton cruelty to cats, so Suffolk county council has decided to rename them ‘road studs’. Doubtless the rest of the country will follow.
    Why on earth didn’t you Yanks call them cats’ eyes as well?. After all, you borrowed the idea from us.
    Why, when you read the papers, is every day April the first?

    1. I remember those when I lived in England 60 years ago, Rubber things with a couple of reflectors facing back and front. We don’t have them in North America because the snow plows would shear them off.

      1. These are ON the road surface, I gather? Yeah, at least in the Northeast, any road-bed reflectors are actually embedded INTO the road surface. (Basically all of our roads are easily-replaced, short-lifetime “temporary” asphalt, we don’t do the hard permanent road beds you encounter in the South because the seasons wreak havoc with them regardless.) So, if need be they pave these little reflective “lozenges” right into the asphalt. (A search for “road surface marker” in Google Images will produce copious examples.) But even that’s rarely done, since any road big/busy enough to rate them would be wired for streetlights. I’m guessing, but placing both together is probably viewed as overkill (budget-wise).

      2. “A search for ‘road surface marker’ in Google Images will produce copious examples.” …some of which are plow-friendly, was the thought I neglected to finish there.

      3. Searching Google Images for “road surface cat eyes” will bring up lots, especially the British ones with the 2 reflectors that gave them their name.I can’t remember seeing them in Canada, but nowadays we use lots of reflective paint for road markings. Now when I read cat eye, I think of the bicycle computers. And that reminds me of another British road marking I remember from the 1950s, those square (about 4″) stainless steel studs they used in cities to mark where you had to stop. When wet they were slippery as ice and brought down many cyclists.

  60. Trying to link this, in today’s Newsday (12/20/2017) there is a headline for children’s venue, “a playspace and a cuppa“. Thanks for a great column!

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