Category Archives: Shape-shifters

“Splashed Out”

Jan Freeman, former language columnist for the Boston Globe, is one of the sharpest observers I know, and when she passes on a tip, it’s always worth listening to. So it was the other day when, on Twitter (@Jan_Freeman) she directed me to an article about holiday tipping in the November issue of Real Simple Magazine. The paragraph in question:

Rounding up to the nearest dollar on your coffee run is not necessary, but it’s a nice gesture, especially if you’re a regular or a barista has gone out of their way to make your visit special. “If they’ve really splashed out on the latte art or given you a great recommendation for walking around the neighborhood, go ahead and make it at least 20 percent,” says Emilio Baltodano, founder of Eleva Coffee in Brooklyn, New York.

And the phrase in question is “splashed out.” It was a new one to me, and when I looked into it I confirmed (as Jan suspected) that it wasn’t being used in the traditional way. The phenomenon of Americans slightly or not so slightly changing the meaning of a British expression isn’t a new one: see “cheers.” On the blog, I label these terms “shape-shifters.” Mr. Baltodano used it to indicate making a big effort, but the OED confirms that’s not the traditional British meaning.

d. colloquial. To spend (money) extravagantly or ostentatiously. Frequently const. adverbs, esp. in to splash (money) out on (something). Also absol.

1934   Times 7 Mar. 7/5   Public money ought not to be splashed about in this manner without grave and searching examination by the House of Commons.
1946   F. Sargeson That Summer 82   After we’d splashed on a talkie we went home.
1960   S. Barstow Kind of Loving ii. ii. 170   I splash eight-and-six on a pound box of chocolates and send them with a little note.
1973   Courier & Advertiser (Dundee) 1 Mar. 2/2   Allied now plan to splash out an extra £150,000 on advertising.
1978   Morecambe Guardian 14 Mar. 17/2   Splash out on something new to wear; the result will be worthwhile.

 

So it seems to have started as “splashed” or “splashed about,” with the “splashed out” form taking hold in the 1970s. Judging by the New York Times, it’s gotten some use on these shores, mostly in reference to business or sports moguls shelling out cash. From 2016: Disney chief Bob Iger “splashed out $1 billion for a one-third stake in Major League Baseball’s streaming technology, with the option to buy it out.” 2017: former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer “splashed out $2 billion for the Los Angeles Clippers in August 2014.” And in 2018, “teams in the decidedly mediocre Chinese Super League splashed out more than $400 million on international stars like Carlos Tevez and Oscar, outspending even the English Premier League.”

As far as I can tell, it’s the precise equivalent of the traditional U.S. “shell out,” the moral being, never underestimate the appeal to journos of elegant variation.

Update: A lively discussion in the comments has persuaded me that, in Britain at least, “splashed out” is not the same as “shelled out.” I don’t agree that “shelled out” always or even usually implies reluctance, but, clearly, “splashed out” conveys enthusiasm (sometimes deployed ironically) or splurging. I still maintain, however, that the three New York Times examples are equivalent to “shelled out,” suggesting that U.S. use of “splashed out” has shape-shifted it a bit.

“Cuppa”

My colleague McKay Jenkins writes:

What’s with the newly trendy use of the word cuppa, to imply a coffee- or tea-drinking experience? My lovely wife tells me that this is a “400-year-old” British expression. Is she right?

Well, McKay, 79 years, 400 years, what’s the diff? The OED says the term is used “elliptically” and colloquially to mean cup o’ tea and offers a first citation from Ngaio Marsh’s A Man Lay Dead (1934): “Taking a strong cuppa at six-thirty in their shirt sleeves.” All subsequent citations are from U.K. or Commonwealth sources.

But McKay is right that it’s hit these shores. The Tampa Bay Times in an article last month referred to a local establishment that serves “lunch and an old-fashioned cuppa,” and the Palm Beach Post said of a tea house in that city, “the experience isn’t complete without a girl to chatter with and a good, strong cuppa.” (Must be something about Florida.)

The interesting thing about cuppa is that, like some other NOOBs (their identity escapes my mind at the moment), it has acquired an additional meaning here. McKay alludes to it: cuppa to mean (the horror!) a cup of coffee. Thus, Holley’s Cuppa is a coffee shop in Las Vegas. And an Associated Press dispatch from December 2012, datelined “Golden Triangle, Thailand,” begins:

In the lush hills of northern Thailand, a herd of 20 elephants is helping to excrete some of the world’s most expensive coffee.

Trumpeted as earthy in flavor and smooth on the palate, the exotic new brew is made from beans eaten by Thai elephants and plucked a day later from their dung. A gut reaction creates what its founder calls the coffee’s unique taste.

Stomach turning or oddly alluring, this is not just one of the world’s most unusual specialty coffees. At $500 per pound, it’s also among the world’s priciest.

For now, only the wealthy or well-traveled have access to the cuppa, which is called Black Ivory Coffee.

The U.S. cuppa contains multitudes. The Philadelphia Daily News recently noted: “One trick is to stir chopped chocolate into a little of the milk to make a paste, then add that to the rest of the steamed milk, for a smoother, richer cuppa.” That’s right, a hot chocolate cuppa. What’s next, cold beverages?