Category Archives: On the radar

“In the new year”

Imagine it is the autumn of 2018. You want to refer to something that will happen in 2019. Do you say it will happen A, “next year,” or B, “in the new year”? I contend that it you are British, the answer is likely to be B, and if American, A. My sense is that I encountered the whole “in the new year” thing for the first time while reading British novels and the British press and watching British TV.

It’s a bit hard to quantify my contention using many of my go-to databases and other tools, because Americans do say “ring in the new year” and similar expressions. However, Google Ngram Viewer allows for case-sensitive searches, so I searched for “In the new year” — the capital “I” ensuring that the phrase wouldn’t be preceded by “ringing,” “seeing,” “welcoming,” “bringing” or any such verb. Here’s what I got:

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That is, it appears that in the twentieth century, “in the new year” as a standalone phrase was consistently  more than twice as popular in the Britain than in the United States. And note that I’m not saying it wasn’t used at all here; it was just used less often.

The Corpus of Global Web-Based English, which offers a snapshot of nearly 2 billion words of text in 2012-2013, doesn’t allow me to separate out the “ringing-in-the-new year”-type usages (or at least I don’t know how to), but even so, it shows “in the new year” as being generally much more common in Australia, Canada, Britain, and (especially) Ireland than in the United States.

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Here are just a few of the 1,153 times the phrase was used in British web pages:

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And here are some of the 236 American hits:

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Numbers 1, 2, and 8 are of the “welcome-in” form, but the rest have a definite British “in the new year feel.” Enough, at least, for me to designate the phrase On the Radar.

 

 

“Pot” (of yogurt)

Comments to the recent post on “potted,” meaning summarized or abridged, led me to understand that British people use the the word “pot” to refer to smallish containers for food, whereas for Americans, a pot is strictly the thing you cook in, frequently mentioned in company with pans. (British) Catherine Rose commented:

Potted food is in pots. It isn’t even always in a closed pot – potted shrimps are in an open-top pot which is sealed with a layer of butter, and has a very short shelf-life. Sometimes it’s in a ceramic pot with a ceramic lid, and sometimes in a glass jar with a lid that closes down with a seal (like a Kilner jar).

That made me remember that in Britain, a single-serving receptacle of yog(h)urt is called a pot, whereas I would just call it a container. (Being a native New Yorker, I would use the same word for the vessel in which you get coffee to go, properly pronounced “a containuh of cawfee.”) Some research confirmed this distinction. For example, consider this Google Ngram Viewer chart showing phrases’ frequency of use in books in the Google Books database:

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I included British “container of yoghurt” in my search, but it doesn’t show up on the graph because, seemingly, that phrase has never appeared in a British book. The Brigham Young University Corpus of Contemporary American English, comprising 560 million words of text uttered or written in the U.S. between 1990 and 2017, allows you to search for the words that most commonly occurred before the phrase “of yogurt.” Here are the results:

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“Cup”‘s 100 percent margin of victory over “container” is a bit misleading, I would say, because the word is also a unit of measurement (8 ounces), and is used that way in many of the thirty-four hits in COCA. But “cup” definitely is also used for a single serving (and not a measurement), as seen in this photo of a Dannon yogurt’s nutrition label I snapped at a supermarket. The serving size is listed as “1 cup,” but 150 grams is only 62 percent of a measuring-cup cup.

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For additional research, I created separate Twitter polls for British and American people. Here’s the result of the British one.

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And here’s the American one:

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That 20 percent “Something else” response is a sign of a poorly designed survey. The Twitter comments revealed that the most popular other term was, you guessed it, “cup.” “Thing” and “carton” also got some mentions.

The question remains, is “tub of yogurt” a Not One-Off Britishism? The phrase occurs exactly once in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, in a 2007 New York Times article about a redesign of the 1957 Fiat 500: “In France, … the original 500 was lovingly known as the ‘pot de yaourt,’ or pot of yogurt, for its soft shape.”

But the 5 percent showing in my American Twitter poll, and its presence in the Ngram Viewer chart, suggests “pot of yogurt” is making a U.S. incursion. My daughter Maria Yagoda, the digital restaurant editor at Food and Wine magazine, wrote me that she felt “pot” had gained popularity in the last ten years or so: “Because ‘container’ just wasn’t a good, specific enough word so we jumped on the opportunity to use pot.” A few examples pop up when you search in Google News. Last year, in Elite Daily, American Jordan Bissell wrote, “Who wants a little plastic pot of yogurt when you can have a frozen stick full of delicious, nutritious goodness?” And in 2017, the Wall Street Journal published this headline:

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Bottom line, expect to see more American “pot of yogurt.”

 

 

“Give a Toss”

From today’s New York Times, an article about the all-girl rock band the Go-Gos:

“Here were five women from my homeland, in angular haircuts and thrift-store miniskirts, tauntingly singing about their own public shaming — and not giving a toss.”

The author, Evelyn McDonnell, says that in 1981, when the band debuted, she was “a California-born punk-rock pirate marooned at a Midwestern public high school.”

Yet she uses the British expression “give a toss.” Green’s Dictionary of Slang‘s first citation for “toss” used this way is George Eliot’s 1876 novel Daniel Deronda. (“I don’t care a toss where you are.”) All subsequent citations are from British or Commonwealth sources until a 2012 American story called “Topless Vampire Bitches”: “A real horro nerd, Jimmy […] A shame that no one else gave a toss.”

It’s a nice NOOB. While it means the same as “give a hoot” or “give a fig,” it has a nice salty air to it–though there’s apparently no connection to the truly salty “tosser.”

24-Hour Clock

The all-time most popular post on this blog, with more than 146,000 views and 99 comments, is “European Date Format” (that is, rendering a date as date/month/year rather than the traditional U.S. month/date/year).

A communication I recently received from Amazon, giving instructions on returning an item to one of its Lockers, made me wonder if I might repeat that post’s success. Here’s what Amazon sent me:

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The key is that “21:00.” The traditional American rendition of that time is 9:00 PM. So, I wondered, is there a trend of U.S. adoption of European time format?

For the purposes of this blog, the first question to answer is whether the 24-hour format is indeed a British thing. The answer is a bit mixed. I just read an entertaining free e-book on the subject called Counting Time: A Brief History of the 24-Hour Clock, by Peter Boardman. He recounts how this idea was broached following World War I, was adopted by the British Army and Navy, and was endlessly debated in the House of Lords and the letters pages of The Times in the 1920s and early ’30s. The Lords endorsed the 24-hour clock in 1933 and the BBC experimented with it the following year, but no one seemed to like the idea and it was pretty much dropped till 1964, when the railways and London Transport adopted. Boardman concludes, “Instead of having just one time system, we have two, and they’re both going to be with us indefinitely. ”

The book was published in 2011 and things may have changed in the intervening years, at least according to the responses I got when I asked British people on Twitter if they thought the 24-hour clock was common in the UK. Lynne Murphy said, “Very widespread–and I love it.” Mark Stradling ventured, “Written down, pretty much ubiquitous,” but noted a caveat: “Nobody talks like that, makes you sound like a robot.”

In the United States, the only home of 24-hour time has until now been the military, as one knows from movies where people talk about “Fourteen hundred hours.” But it’s also (not surprisingly) widespread in the computer world, which is presumably where Amazon picked it up.

In sum, I deem the 24-hour clock a Britishism and, in these parts, On the Radar. Let the page views and comments begin.

 

“Shock” (attributive noun)

I was lucky enough to attend the British Open (Americans’ term for The Open Championship) in Scotland in 1999. After the second round, a French golfer, Jean van de Velde, who had won only one tournament in his career, improbably went ahead by a stroke. I snagged this poster from a newsstand and it still hangs in my house:

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(The shocks would continue. Wikipedia says: “[Paul] Lawrie, down by ten strokes at the start of the fourth round, completed the biggest final round comeback in major championship history, headlined by van de Velde’s triple-bogey at the last hole.” The tournament ended in a three-way tie among Lawrite, van de Velde and another golfer, and Lawrie won the playoff.)

What caught my eye on the poster was the unusual, to me, use of “shock” as an attributive noun, meaning “shocking.” I later encountered other instances in the British press. There’s no relevant entry in Dictionary.com or Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary but the Oxford English Dictionary has a brief one: “of things that startle or shock.” The only example is a 1974 “heading” (US: “headline”) from The Times: “Shock news is broken to EEC ministers.”

Fortunately, Lynne Murphy of Separated by a Common Language wrote a substantial post about this “shock” in 2015. She reported a communication from David Sewell, an editor at the University of Virginia:

Some time within the last year or so I started noticing the distinctive usage of the phrase “shock poll” in the British news media; since then it seems to have migrated to the US, though apparently not in major news outlets. It appears so far as I can tell to mean simply “poll with startling results”, with adjectival “shock”. Some googling shows that “shock survey” and “shock study” are out there as well.

Is this use of “shock” as an adjective in fact coming out of British newspaperese, and is its usage spreading beyond a delimited set of nouns?

Lynne went to the corpora and was able to answer “yes” to the questions in the last sentence; some of the other nouns to which it’s been attached–all from British sources–are “victory,” “departure,” “resignation,” and “decision.”

Tantalizingly, Mr. Sewell didn’t explain why he thought the usage had migrated to the U.S. I for one had certainly never encountered it here until yesterday, when I read this sentence from a Washington Post dispatch in my local paper. (Emphasis added; the reference is to Trump’s announcement that he would raise tariffs on aluminum and steel, and was looking forward to a trade war.)

In an unorthodox presidency in which emotion, impulse and ego often drive events, Mr. Trump’s ominous moods manifested themselves last week in his zigzagging positions on gun control; his shock trade war that jolted markets and was opposed by Republican leaders and many in his own administration; and his roiling feud of playground insults with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

This is filed under “On the radar” and I don’t especially expect it to ascend to larger acceptance here. One reason is that, being short, it’s especially useful for headlines in print newspapers. And it would take a shock reversal for print newspapers to start being important again.

 

“Lift”

“Lift” is such a sensible way to say “elevator,” if only because it has three fewer syllables, but I have never encountered it in the U.S., maybe because it is such a quintessential Britishism.

Never encountered it until now, that is. Here’s what I saw on the lower level of the Chelsea Market in New York City:

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Was “lift” used here merely because “elevator” wouldn’t fit? Or is this the harbinger of a “lift” incursion on U.S. shores? Only time will tell.

“On the day,” again

I last discussed the British expression “on the day”–AmE equivalent: “on the day of the event,” or “on the day in question”–because it was used by an American writer who turned out to have spent twenty years in the U.K. Two years later, it’s shown up again, this time in a quote by since-departed U.S. football manager Bruce Arena, after his team failed to qualify for the World Cup:

“This game in my view was perfectly positioned for the US team and we failed on the day.”

Arena has never coached anywhere but in the U.S., but, as has been discussed here in several posts, many Britishisms have made their way into American soccer. “On the day” hasn’t achieved broad acceptance, but it’s a useful expression, and Arena’s use of it makes me elevate its status from “outlier” to “on the radar.”