“Shtum”

Nancy Friedman recently alerted me to an American use of a Britishism I had been unfamiliar with. (As she does.) It was from a blog post by an American writer named Tim Carmody, referring to an interview with public radio figure Ira Glass, in which Carmody thought Glass was unforthcoming: “he kind of schtums up and falls back on generalities and a few broad compliments.”

The OED doesn’t have an entry for “schtum,” but, unsurprisingly, Green’s Dictionary of Slang does. Green’s says its origin was the Yiddish word for “silent” and gives these citations:

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One immediately notices the array of spellings — shtoom, stumm, schtum, stumm, and stumpf — and the procession of Union Jacks, indicating all of the sources are British. In an admittedly less than comprehensive search, I was unable to find any other American uses beyond Carmody’s, other than an National Public Radio interview with the British author of a novel called Shtum (about a 10-year-old boy with autism who has never spoken). Therefore I’m classifying it as “Outlier.” (BTW, Green’s has a separate entry for the verb form Carmody used, “shtoom up.”)

The word apparently emerged from Yiddish to the British criminal underground; Green’s first citation is from a memoir of petty crime and prison by Frank Norman. I was able to antedate that by one year. British journalist Laurence Wilkinson’s 1957 book Behind the Face of Crime has this passage (the snippet view was all I could get from Google Books):

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“Good on You” (not “Ya”)

The American clothing chain Men’s Wearhouse has a new ad campaign. You don’t have to watch the whole thing; the relevant bit comes in the last three seconds.

I’ve covered the expression “Good on (someone, usually “you”) a couple of times, and I’m slightly embarrassed to see that the second time I did it, I had forgotten the first time. Anyhoo, the Men’s Wearhouse spot is consistent with usual American–as opposed to the original Australian–pronunciation. That is, the announcer says. “Good on you,” as opposed to the Australian “Good on ya.” Of course, with the attempted pun (Men’s Wearhouse clothes supposedly look good on its customers), he would have to.

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“Mate” as Direct Address

I have covered “mate” a couple of times as a synonym for “buddy” or “friend.” But this sign in a men’s room in the Seattle airport is the first time I’ve seen it in America as a form of direct address:

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The capital M in “Mate” suggests to me that the writer wasn’t especially comfortable or familiar with the term. Meanwhile, both the excessive politeness and the “eh” at the end suggest that he or she might be Canadian.

In any case, the first two citations in the OED for this use of the word are both from Englishmen (Arthur Polehampton and Lord Robert Cecil) who noticed it in their travels in Australia in the mid-nineteenth century.

1852   R. CecilDiary 31 Mar. (1935) 36   When the diggers address a policeman in uniform they always call him ‘Sir’, but they always address a fellow in a blue shirt with a carbine as ‘Mate’.
1862   A. PolehamptonKangaroo Land 99   A man, who greeted me after the fashion of the Bush, with a ‘Good day, mate’.

It had arrived in Britain by 1880, when this line of dialogue appears in a novel by Mary Elizabeth Braddon: “Who’s the magistrate hereabouts, mate?”

In the U.S., the comparable terms include “buddy,” “pal,” and, in recent years, “dude.” Those words are often used in a hostile, or at least passive-aggressive manner. “Mate” works well for this purpose, as the men’s room admonition illustrates. I’ll be curious to see if it catches on in these parts.

New Horizons in “Sport”

Nancy Friedman points out a new hashtag campaign by Nike, seemingly launched yesterday on Twitter:

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That’s the British “sport” rather than American “sports.” The usage has been noted on this blog from time to time. With Nike buying in, I expect it to surge.

“Hotchpotch”

Sometimes NOOBs are entertaining, often they’re useful, but once in a while they are purely pretentious. I’d say that’s the case when the term is very rare in the U.S. and there is an exact or very nearly exact American equivalent. The word used in a tweet by the San Francisco Business Journal and flagged to me by Nancy Friedman certainly qualifies.

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The word is “hotchpotch” and the American equivalent is “hodgepodge.”

The etymology is complex and interesting. The original English term is “hotchpot,” dating from no later than 1381, and deriving, the OED says, from the “Anglo-Norman and Middle French hochepot (French hochepot ) dish containing a mixture of many ingredients, especially kind of stew made with minced beef or goose and various vegetables (c1214 in Old French).” “Hotchpot” took on metaphorical meaning, as “A confused mixture of disparate things; a medley, a jumble” by 1405, followed five years later by a rhyming version, “hotchpotch,” referring both to the stew and the figurative jumble. “Hotchpot” and “hotchpotch” both acquired yet another continuing meaning, in law, as “The reunion and blending together of properties in order to secure equality of division; bringing into account, esp. on intestacies.”

“Hodgepodge” came on the scene in 1579, according to the OED, from the pen of poet Edmund Spenser. In the Dedication to The Shepherd’s Calendar, “E.K.” decries writers who have found the English language to be insufficient:

they patched up the 
holes with pieces and rags of other languages, borrow- 
ing here of the French, there of the Italian, every, 
where of the Latin ; not weighing how ill those tongues 
accord with themselves, but much worse with ours: 
so now they have made our English tongue a galli- 
maufray or hodgepodge of all other speeches.

“Gallimaufry” is another name for a mishmash, both of food or anything else.

I’m not sure why “hodgepodge” became the preferred American version, but it did, starting in about 1900, as this Google Ngrams Viewer chart illustrates.

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My guess is that the chart actually overstates the frequency of American “hotchpotch.” The New York Times has used it 37 times in its more than 150-year-history, all but a handful coming from British or other foreign speakers or writers. The most recent exception came from a 2002 article about (American) football, noting that the New York Giants had a hotchpotch offensive line.” In 1954, movie critic Bosley Crowther referred to The Golden Coach as having “a spectacularly hotchpotchly cast.”

On the chart, it’s interesting to see that in 1880, “hotchpot” (combined British and American, red line) was the most popular form, while it barely exists today. I take my hat off to the few souls who use it; they are really owning their pretentiousness.

WC

I was informed via Lynne Murphy of this map for an event held yesterday in Portland, Oregon.

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The key at the bottom says that WC (British term for public lavatory, short for “water closet”) indicates “restrooms” (an American term for same), thus effecting a nice trans-Atlantic hybrid.

American WC tends to turn up in special circumstances, as in the Portland map, where the customary symbol for such facilities, a version of this–

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–might end up too small to be legible. (Or maybe, Portland being Portland, the binary imagery was viewed as politically incorrect.)

The American company Kontextur uses the term for their range of bathroom-cleaning tools:

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And it’s helpful in headlines, where space is at a premium. This 2004 New York Times article is about being stuck on a bathroom-less corporate jet:

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WC is useful term, not only in being concise but in having a Goldilocksean just-right level of euphemism, not explicit about its function but, being willing to acknowledge “water,” nowhere near as opaque as “rest room” or “facilities.” I hope it catches on.

 

 

“Bell-end”

Lynne Murphy alerts me to a line in a Facebook post by the American author Catherynne Valente: “y’all can’t stop being hateful and I’m tired of getting notifications that someone else is being [an] absolute bell-end about their fellow man on NextDoor.” (NextDoor is a regional communication platform, and apparently in Valente’s town, people have been making virulent anti-immigrant comments.)

“Bell-end” (it’s variously printed as hyphenated, two words, and one word) is categorized by the OED as “British coarse slang.” Two definitions are offered, the first being “The glans of the penis”; the earliest citation is the 1961 edition of Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, where it’s listed along with the comparable terms “blunt end” and “red end.” The second definition is “A foolish or contemptible man or boy.” It shows up in 1992 and the most recent citation is from 2008 in The Guardian: “Clearly, no one’s ever taken them aside and said, ‘Er, you sound like a bit of a bell-end here. Perhaps you ought to sit down and be quiet.’”

None of the citations are from the U.S., and indeed, I have not been able to find it used by anyone here other than Valente. And speaking of Valente, her website bio notes: “She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics.”

I gather that along with the B.A. she picked up some salty language.