Category Archives: One-off Britishisms

“Stalls”

It’s a rare day that I have a chance for cross-promotion, but today is such a day. My other blog is called Movies in Other Movies, and each post is about a scene in a movie or TV show in which the characters are watching a movie or TV show. There are a surprisingly high number of such scenes; I’ve been doing the blog for two and half years and new examples keep coming up.

The latest post is about Charlie Chaplin’s 1957 film A King in New York. Here are two notable facts about the movie:

  • It’s set in New York (as the title suggests) and much of it is a satire on current American culture.
  • Chaplin had been out of the United States in a semi-voluntary exile since 1952, and shot the film in his native England.

At one point, Chaplin’s character — a king who has been kicked out of his country by a revolution — goes to see a movie, and before we see him watching three coming attractions (the subject of my blog post), he witnesses the tail-end of a rock and roll show.

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Behind him, on the theater doors, you can clearly see the work “STALLS.” Now, “Stalls” is the British term for what Americans would call the Orchestra. (I have never encountered “Stalls” here.) The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) offers conflicting information on where this scene was shot, either the Odeon Cinema or the Warner Theatre, both on Leicester Square in London. But whichever it was, Chaplin and his crew neglected to erase a telltale word.

 

“Postman”

The current issue of the New Yorker has an interesting article about the novelist Dan Mallory, who under the pen name “A.J. Finn” wrote a best-selling thriller, The Woman in the Window. The first line of the article is “Dan Mallory, a book editor turned novelist, is tall, good-looking, and clever,” and the use of the “clever” (instead of the more common Americanism “smart”) is a clue that the New Yorker writer, Ian Parker, is English.

But that is neither here nor there. What’s interesting for the purpose of this blog is a paragraph where Parker describes some affectations of Mallory, who is American-born but partly educated at Oxford:

Whereas in London Mallory had sometimes seemed like a British satire of American bluster, in New York he came off as British. He spoke with an English accent and said “brilliant,” “bloody,” and “Where’s the loo?”—as one colleague put it, he was “a grown man walking around with a fake accent that everyone knows is fake.” The habit lasted for years, and one can find a postman, not a mailman, in “The Woman in the Window.”

Hmm, the British use “post” as both noun and verb while Americans say “mail,” but I hadn’t thought of “postman” as a particularly British term. In fact, the first thing that comes to mine is James M. Cain’s quintessentially American 1934 noir novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice. And, as Dan Geringer reminds me, the Marvelletes’ 1961 Motown hit was “Please Mr. Postman.”

Google Ngram Viewer, which charts words’ frequency in the Google Books database, suggests while “postman” is indeed (much) more popular than “mailman” in Britain, “postman” is also more popular than “mailman” in America (at least through 2000, the last year for which the application has reliable data).

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The New York Times archives tell a similar story. Since 1950, the paper has used “postman” 1,966 times, and “mailman” 2.203 times. (There’s a bit more of a gap than those figures suggest, since “Postman” at least occasionally appears as a surname.)

However, Brigham Young University’s 1.9 billion-word Corpus of Global Web-Based English, which offers a snapshot of the use of the language in 2013-2014, suggests that “postman” has recently gotten less common in the U.S. Here’s its chart showing relative use of the word in the U.S., Canada, and Britain.

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So I think we can conclude: in addition to his other sins, Dan Mallory is guilty of pretentiousness.