“Care Home”

While we’re being timely, in addition to “jab,” Gigi Simeone mentioned that she had come across U.S. writers/speakers using “care home,” where normally, she said, Americans would say “nursing home.”

I wasn’t aware of ever encountering “care home” in a source from any nationality, so I looked it up in the OED, which has a “Draft Addition” listing as of 2011: “a small institution providing residential accommodation with health or social services for the elderly, vulnerable children, the infirm, etc.” That’s a more general definition than the American “nursing home,” where the residents would be elderly and not the other categories. The most recent OED citation, from the British author Christine Reddall in 2009, is: “When an elderly person goes into a care home, much of their independence and choice is lost.”

The Corpus of Global Web-Based English, which provides a snapshot of the use of the language in 2012 and 2013, establishes that “care home” was, at least in that moment, a Britishism. “Per mil” indicates the times “care home” comes up per million words.

It’s a little trickier to determine whether “care home” has migrated to these shores. I found a few uses in American sources, but they were a bit ambiguous. A New York Times obituary of the poet Diana di Prima said she “had been living at an elder care home since 2017.” In Britain, presumably, the word “elder” would have been superfluous. A June 2020 report on NPR attributed to an official of “a group that represents people with intellectual and developmental disabilities” a statement the effect that “there are consequences to paying less attention to people who live in other care home settings.” But the “other” suggests a broader meaning for “care home.”

I finally found what appeared to be an American “care home”=”nursing home.” A Wired article posted in December 2020 talked about local U.S. health departments sending “extra help in certain cases, such as at a care home or to an infected health care worker.” Unfortunately, when I clicked on the name of the writer, Tom Simonite, I learned that he “received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Cambridge and a master’s from Imperial College London.”

So for the time being “care home” remains On the Radar.

And the Word of the Year Is …

Linguist Lynne Murphy, at her Separated by a Common Language blog, each year chooses two Words of the Year: one that’s traveled from the U.S. to the U.K., and one that’s traveled the other way, and is thus of interest here. Yesterday she named the U.S.-to-U.K. word: “furlough.”

Today’s she announced her U.K.-to-U.S. selection. There were two runners-up, both of which have been looked at here: “reckon” and “rubbish.” She specified “rubbish” as adjective (“a rubbish idea”) and verb (“don’t rubbish my idea”). My various posts on the word (which you can search for in the sidebar at right) have been as adjective and noun. For the latter, in the U.S., “garbage” or “trash” are more common, except in Massachusetts. I will have to keep my eyes out for “rubbish” as verb.

And Lynne’s winner is … “jab,” covered here just a week or so ago. She included this funny cartoon from @birdyword on Twitter:

While we’re talking about end-of-the-year things, I want to offer hearty thanks to NOOBs readers and commentators, who make this enterprise worth doing. Hard to believe, but 2020 was my tenth year of doing the blog — the actual tenth anniversary will come in a couple of months. This year — as in every year since the first — there have been more than 200,000 page views, about 100,000 from the U.S., 60,000 from the U.K., and the rest from all around the globe.

The most popular posts this year were:

One again, thanks so much for reading and have a great 2021. At the very least, it’s got to be a huge improvement on the year that came before.

“In hospital,” upgraded?

My wife would like the house tidied up, a bit, for the holidays, and thus I have been collecting scraps of paper I’ve left here and there. One of them contains these scrawled words: “The president is in hospital now” — Rachel Maddow, 10/2.

Maddow is an MSNBC host, and she was referring to the fact that soon-to-be-ex-president Trump was what Americans would term in the hospital with the Coronavirus. “In hospital” is certainly a Britishism, and the piece of paper inspired me to remind myself that I had covered it once before, back in 2014.

I’ll pause to say to say that I am not receptive to arguments that the British way is more logical than the American. Logic plays a pretty small role in language usage. And (as I believe Lynne Murphy once pointed out), if the British are so averse to the intrusive “the,” why don’t they say they’re going “to pub”?

Anyway, in that earlier post, I had found only one American “in hospital,” from the radio show “This American Life,” so it definitely seemed a one-off. I now have four additional examples. However, they’re all from Rachel Maddow, so it’s not exactly a huge American fad. Maddow was using it as far back as 2010, when she reported that a Winter Olympics athlete crashed, and “died shortly afterward in hospital.”

Two years later she used the phrase in reference to the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings, and in March of this year, when the virus had just begun, said: “A slice of those same new infections from three weeks ago are the people who are now critically ill and needing to be treated in hospital.”

Maddow has appeared on this blog before. She

  • said that Franklin D. Roosevelt had “stood for president four times” (this turned out to be a bastardization of the British usage)
  • used the adjectival compound “follow-on”
  • and always pronounces “scenario” as “sce-nah-rio.”

Maddow, a California native, was a Rhodes Scholar and went on to receive a doctorate from Oxford. But still.


It isn’t often that NOOBs is timely and up-to-the-minute. But this post, suggested by Gigi Simeone, is about a word that’s as much in the news as a word can be. The rollout of Coronavirus vaccines over the past week in both the U.K. and the U.S. highlights the different common word used in each for an injection. Here it’s “shot”; there it’s “jab.”

Interestingly, “jab” originated in American underworld slang around the turn of the twentieth century, specifically meaning an injection of narcotics. But a more general sense had migrated over to Britain by 1959, when the OED cites this quote from Punch: “Receiving the hypodermic jab intended for the bullock.” (One can only imagine the context.) More recently there’s this 1973 quote from The Times: “The visitor must..take precautions and submit to a variety of jabs.”

I don’t recall ever encountering “jab”=”shot” in America. I would normally look it up in Google Ngram Viewer or another corpus, but at the moment don’t have the bandwidth to figure out how to eliminate all the other various meanings for both words. (In the U.S., for example, “jab” is frequently used as a boxing term and as both a noun and verb referring to a humorous insult. And don’t even get me started on “shot.”) Perhaps Lynne Murphy or another estimable scholar is up to the task.

Anyway, Gigi pointed out that she’s lately been hearing the hypodermic “shot” in the U.S. recently, and my investigation bears her out. I would imagine that a big reason is elegant variation — there’s only so many times a journalist can write “shot” or “injection” before yearning for a synonym. As far back as September, American virologist Jesse Erasmus said on NPR, “It would be nice if you could just have an RNA that can be manufactured. And then someone could just take a jab in the muscle, and then your muscle could produce that antibody, and you could reach protective levels.” (I am so not sure about this, but isn’t this more or less what happened?)

The New York Times has recently adopted the word, referring on December 2 to someone participating in a vaccine trial and getting “a jab in the arm.” But the acceptance was still a little shaky a week later, when the paper put the word in quotation marks in a headline:

Just yesterday, the Times used it in another headline, sans inverted commas — which would have ruined the play on words:


The word has a long and varied history. The current “usual sense” according to the OED is: “A person who receives a pension or stated allowance in consideration of past services or on account of injuries received in service; a retired person who receives a pension.” (“In earlier use,” the dictionary adds, “frequently applied to disabled soldiers and sailors of the Chelsea Royal Hospital and Greenwich Hospital.”)

Here’s what Google Books Ngram Viewer has to say about American and British use of the term (click on the image for a bigger view):

That is, sort of went back and forth in the 19th century, with notably more use in Britain in the 20th, but a pronounced dip there in the 21st. The OED citations are all British or Australian, with the exception of a quote from Herman Melville’s 1891 novella, Billy Budd: “The same thing was personally communicated to me now more than forty years ago by an old pensioner in a cocked hat, with whom I had a most interesting talk.” American use started falling off around then, slowly declining ever since.

I have the feeling — not backed up by the OED or other dictionaries I’ve consulted — that in Britain, “pensioner” might refer to a person who is no longer working but is not necessarily receiving a pension: what Americans would call a “retiree.” That’s suggested to me by the most recent OED citation, from Empire magazine in 1997: “Every other Thursday we do a golden oldies film club where we let pensioners come in for a pound.”

Bearing on the usage, probably, is the fact that in Britain and Europe, most retirees get pensions. In the U.S., by contrast, retirees generally receive modest Social Security payments but not pensions, which here are the offered (or not) by employers, not the government. They were once widespread, but as far back as 2008, only 13% of the workforce could expect to receive pensions; the number is certainly smaller now.

As a result, American uses of “pensioner,” what few there are, tend to refer specifically to people getting (often particular) pensions, not to a general class. For example, these quotes, all from 2020:

  • “The chief investment officer of one of the country’s biggest public pension funds said the government response to the coronavirus should be focused on supporting unemployed workers, not stocks owned by pensioners.”–CNBC
  • “[McClatchy’s] acquisition of Knight Ridder loaded it with billions of dollars more of crisis, and its pension thing is unsustainable. They say they have 28 pensioners for every employee.”–National Public Radio
  • “A spokeswoman for Scott Stringer, the New York City comptroller who sits ex officio on the boards of pension funds serving teachers and other workers, said, ‘We are troubled by these reports, and we are closely monitoring the situation in accordance with our fiduciary duty and to protect the interests of our pensioners.'”–New York Times

“If I’m honest”

Wes Davis, often mentioned on this site, used the expression on top of this post in an email the other day and parenthetically added, “(as Paul Hollywood says).” I’m not proud to say I had to Google to find out that Hollywood is a judge on “The Great British Bake Off.” But I didn’t really have to consult any sources to realize “If I’m honest” is a characteristically British expression. It just sounds like one.

Google Books Ngram Viewer confirmed the impression. It shows the expression coming on the scene in about 1990 and always being much more popular in Britain than in the U.S.:

Thoughtfully doing my work for me, someone on the Quora site asked, “Is the phrase ‘if I’m honest’ used outside the U.K.?” Three people responded, most pithily Andrew Humphrey, who said, “Wherever it is used, it is a pointless affectation. People in the UK are very fond of such redundant and pretentious words and phrases. They use these phrases to give their hackneyed or cliched pronouncements some fake importance or profundity.”

But more helpful was Luke Proctor, who dug up examples of two American using it, thus securing NOOB status:

If I’m honest I don’t believe the world would miss me if I never acted again.

Jamie Lee Curtis, actress

Because if I’m honest, people in the white world might be appalled, but in the black world they’re making myths out of me. And I know that ain’t the life

John Singleton, director

I also found, amazingly, no fewer than eight popular songs called “If I’m Honest”: by Blake Shelton, Missy Higgins, Brendan Murray, Julia Gargano, Jay Denton, the group All That Remains, and Kaitlyn Bristow of “The Bachelorette.” I know Shelton is American and assume Bristow is; I’ll leave it to you lot to sort out the nationality of the rest.

In a post on her blog, Separated by a Common Language, linguist Lynne Murphy did some investigating and found out that not only “If I’m honest,” but also the similar expressions “If I’m being honest” and “To be honest,” are used far more in the U.K. than the U.S. She goes on to muse:

One has to wonder: why are these such popular idioms in BrE? And then one has to wonder: is it because most of the time people are expected NOT to be honest, so it has to be marked up where people are being honest? There may be something to that — the British, after all, have an international reputation for not saying what they mean.

Of the three expressions, the one that sounds most familiar to my American ears is “To be honest.” So I plugged it in to Ngram Viewer and found this:

That is to say, it was roughly equally popular in both countries for a long time, and was used markedly more frequently in both between about 1980 and 2000. After that, it skyrocketed in Britain.

Why? If I’m honest, I have no idea.

“Spanner” Convergence

Continuing with the post-election catchup, back in late October (a veritable lifetime ago), @JLaBua sent on Twitter a link to a use of “spanner” by NPR’s Nina Totenberg. Speaking of the confirmation of now-Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, she said: Senate Majority Leader “Mitch McConnell is a master strategist, and they’re still on track, but their execution has to be perfect. They can’t have many more GOP senators get COVID-19. It could really throw a spanner in their plans.”

It was interesting but I felt I had said all I had to say about the word so didn’t plan a new post. But the very next day my brand new spin bike arrived. When I looked at the included tools, what should I find but:

Interestingly, a third tool was included, which was labeled a “wrench.”

What is the difference between a spanner and a wrench? That turns out to be the title of a post on the (British) Wonkee Donkee Tools website:

Spanners vs Wrench

In the UK, a spanner is a fixed-profile hand tool which fits or removes a fastening by turning a nut or bolt and a wrench is a similar tool but turns non-fastening components, for example, a pipe (or Stillson) wrench which is used to turn and manipulate pipes.

The term ‘wrench’ is also used to describe a spanner-type tool that has an adjustable profile size. These tools are also known as ‘adjustable spanners’ or ‘monkey wrenches.’”

In the USA, the word ‘wrench’ is used almost entirely instead of the word ‘spanner,’ but, because the USA and European markets are linked, the terms ‘wrench’ and ‘spanner’ often appear interchangeable in Britain.

Perhaps that clears things up a bit. (Perhaps not.) I will note, in conclusion, that the company that made the bike, Sunny Health & Fitness, says on its website, “We carry only the finest exercise and health equipment from top manufacturers in Taiwan and China.” And the font on the tool package indeed has a characteristic Chinese look. Talk about throwing a spanner into the semantic works.

“Reckon,” Again

There’s been a lot going on in these parts, so you’ll have to forgive me in being late in passing along some correspondence. Shortly after I posted on “reckon,” Wes Davis, a longtime friend of this blog, sent along an article from the Atlantic and commented, “David Frum [the author] helpfully underlined the NOOB for you!” The relevant paragraph:

Of course, the underline wasn’t for emphasis but to indicate a link. If you want to follow it, click here.


New York Times food editor Sam Sifton is a friend of this blog, though I reckon he doesn’t know it. “Reckon” is in fact today’s topic. The verb — defined by the OED as “To consider; to conclude; to suppose, believe, think likely” — was used by Sifton last year in one of this newsletters, which are mainly about eating but also touch on other matters: “Now, it’s only a little bit about food but Dwight Garner got me to order Robert Menasse’s satirical novel ‘The Capital’ and I reckon you ought to do the same.”

Here’s Google Ngram’s assessment of the frequency of “I reckon” in British and U.S. books:

Note the greater popularity in the U.S. from about 1850 through 1950. I reckon (sorry, I’ll stop now) that much of the American use is due to the real or supposed affection of “reckon” by homespun types from the South or West. The word immediately brings to my mind The Beverly Hillbillies, and in fact it was used five times in the 1962 premiere episode, including this exchange:

JED: Granny! Them pigs o’ yours got into the corn.

GRANNY: Did they drink much?

JED: I reckon they did. This here little fella was kickin’ blue blazes out of the mule.

In Britain, there seems to have been at times a bit of a colloquial feel, especially when used parenthetically or at the end of a sentence.; a character in Thomas Hardy’s Old Mrs. Chundle (1929) says, “I may as well do that as do nothing, I reckon.” But it was also used in higher registers. Benjamin Jowett’s 1875 translation of Plato has this: “I reckon, said Socrates, that no one…could accuse me of idle talking.”

The Ngram chart shows “reckon” taking off in Britain starting in about 2000, presumably as a fashionable use of an old-fashioned word. The Corpus of Global Web-Based English, a snapshot of usage in 2012-2013, shows that process in full flower there, and even more so in Australia:

Frequency of “I reckon.” Bottom number is instances per million words.

And here, from GloWbE, is a sense of how it’s used in context in Britain:

If Sam Sifton is the reliable bellwether I think he is, America is about to catch up.

Tag Questions, NEV, and “Level” (verb)

I watch a lot of tennis on TV, and watched a real lot over the last fortnight, as the U.S. Open was contested. As with football/soccer, the American announcers have picked up some British habits and terminology.

Watching the tournament on ESPN was interesting in this regard, as one of its commentators was the British Jason Goodall, with his abundant tag questions (sometimes called “question tags“) and nationalistic elegant variation. (H.W. Fowler coined the term “elegant variation” to refer to writers, especially journalists, who go to great lengths to avoid saying a word or name a second time.). Here’s an example of both in one (hypothetical) sentence: “It’s a vital game for the Austrian, isn’t it.” The absence of a question mark means the question isn’t supposed to be answered, is it.

One could hear the American announcers, presumably influenced by Goodall and the Australians Darren Cahill and Renae Stubbs, make ample use of both.

But I don’t recall any of the announcers using the Britishism employed, twice, by New York Times reporter Christopher Clarey. Referring to Borna Coric, Clarey wrote, “…the young, bristle-haired Croation [NEV and regular elegant variation!] kept grinding and swinging. He saved six match points and leveled the match at two sets apiece.” Then in the next paragraph, Clarey wrote that Stefanos Tsitipas “went up a break in the fifth before Coric leveled.”

That “leveled” doesn’t appear in the OED or most other dictionaries I checked. But it is in the unnamed dictionary that shows up in Google searches:

Americans would normally say “evened it up,” “tied it up,” or “evened the score.”

That reminds me of a British soccer term which I haven’t heard any American use in talking about soccer, tennis, baseball, or other relatively low-scoring sports. That’s “equalizer,” meaning a goal that ties the score. We would just say “the tying” run, goal, or point.