“BAL-let” (pronunciation)

New York Times critic Gia Korlas writes today:

It was dismaying that [Lara] Spencer, a host of “Good Morning America” on ABC, would openly laugh at the news that a 6-year-old boy had elected to study ballet. Listing Prince George’s curriculum on Thursday morning, she ticked off “religious studies, computer programming, poetry and ballet.”

She pronounced it, “BAH-lay.”

And then she continued. “Prince William says George absolutely loves ballet,” she said, looking mystified while she stifled laughter. “I have news for you, Prince William. We’ll see how long that lasts.”

I’m not sure why Korlas thought the pronunciation of “ballet” was noteworthy. But it caught my eye because that’s the way the British give the stress in the word, whereas Americans put the accent on the second syllable. (The vowel sound in the first syllable, for both British and Americans, is like the “a” in “cat,” so perhaps Korlas was struck that Spencer said it to rhyme with like the first word in “Bah, humbug.”)

It’s one of those cases where the Brits seem (to me) to make a big point of not attempting to adopt the original language, in this case French. Other examples include MAHN-ay (the painter), PASS-ta (the Italian noodles), Cuh-RACK-iss (the Venezualan capital), and JOCK-o-vitch (the Serbian tennis player). At least they don’t put a “t” in ballet, as they do in “fillet” (or “filet”) and “valet.”

Spencer is American, which I found out from Wikipedia, which oddly calls her a television “presenter” in the British manner. I wonder if she cleverly used the the British pronunciation of “ballet” because she was talking about British people. Ms. Spencer, if you happen to come upon this post, please enlighten us!

“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.

 

 

“Drugs party”

In his review of the English nature writer Robert MacFarlane’s book Underland, Dwight Garner wrote in the New York Times:

There’s the prickling sense, reading Macfarlane like [Geoff] Dyer, that a library door or a manhole cover or a bosky path might lead you not just to the end of a chapter but to a drugs party or a rave.

The sentence has led me to add a new category to the blog: “Ventriloquism.” By that I mean cases where an American writer is writing about British people or topics, and consciously or not adopts British lingo. One example in the Garner sentence is “bosky,” which Google Ngram Viewer suggests has consistently been used roughly 50 percent more in Britain than the U.S. (The word, which means “wooded,” is now pretty rarely used on either side of the Atlantic, and when it is generally precedes “glen” or “dell.”)

But I feel “bosky” is a one-off and will devote my attention to Garner’s choice of the word “drugs” instead of “drug” to describe a party in which presumably taking drugs is the dominant feature. It’s a case of pluralizing an attributive nouns, and I’ve written about it before, in the cases of “drinks menu” (instead of “drink”) and and “covers band” (instead of “cover”). Other examples include “books editor” (for the person in charge of book coverage at a newspaper or magazine) and “jobs report” (for studies and statistics about employment trends). In the post on “covers band,” I summarized some of the surprising amount of research done on the topic. For example:

In a 2002 paper, the linguist Elisa Sneed refines the work of Maria Alegre and Peter Gordon in determining the circumstances in which plural attributives tend to be used. There seem to be two important factors. The first is “abstractness.” Sneed writes: “Something not easily imagable, such as a process (admissions), an action (assists), a thing (benefits), or something that is otherwise complex (dissertations) is abstract; something easily imagable and simple conceptually, such as pencils or flowers, is concrete” (italics added).

So dissertations index sounds okay; *flowers pot does not.

The second factor is heterogeneity in the head (final) noun of the phrase. Sneed gives the example of analyst as a head noun that promotes “diversity among the entities denoted by the internal noun” and pile as one that highlights homogeneity. So we might say weapons analyst but weapon pile, as well as cookie jar and sock drawer….

Three other wrinkles. First, irregular plurals tend to be more acceptable than regular plurals as attributives. We might say mice droppings but never *rats droppings. Second, as noted by David Crystal, the plural is often used in cases when meaning might otherwise be ambiguous or misleading. Thus, in baseball, a batter who doesn’t have enough power to produce doubles, triples, or home runs is a singles hitter. To call him a single hitter might mean that he’s just one hitter, or that he’s unmarried. Finally, the plural is used in cases when a possessive apostrophe is understood, such as farmers market.

But here’s the funny thing. It seems self-evident to me that plural attributives are a strongly British phenomenon … but I’ve never seen it referred to as such in any scholarship or commentary, and I even got pushback when I asserted this in previous posts. So I’ll try to support my contention, a little at a time. In the “covers band,” I included an Ngram View chart showing British preference for the plural and American for the singular. (And by the way, Google being an American company, it’s “Ngram” not “Ngrams.”)

As for “drugs party” vs “drug party” here’s the Ngram Viewer chart for use in American books, 1990-2000:

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And here’s the one for British use:

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2000 is the most recent year for reliable Ngram Viewer data, but the News on the Web (NOW) Corpus, which tracks postings from 2010 to the present, shows “drugs party” being used exclusively in Britain and Commonwealth countries (though admittedly not very often).

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So can I get an “amen” that Dwight Garner’s “drugs party” was a NOOB?

Next up: “jobs report.”

 

 

 

 

Double-L spelling

Brian Hitchcock writes in to the American Dialect Society listserv:

When did Americans start putting two ells in “canceled” and “canceling”?  I am well aware that two ells are preferred in British spellings, and that “cancellation” with two ells has been long preferred on both sides of the pond; for some reason Americans seem to be adopting British practice for the other forms as well.

I can’t tell you how many times I have looked up home pages of people who post on Facebook, wondering they are Canadian, Indian or Australian, only to find they are Americans who just use the spellings favoured (sic) elsewhere.

I expect they will soon start wasting ells on “levelled/levelling”, “bevelled/bevelling“, “travelled/travelling”, “pencilled/pencilling”, “parcelled/parcelling”,
“carolled/carolling”,”devilled/devilling”, “cavilled/cavilling”  et al. as well?

note: or maybe they already have—in the above list, Apple spell-chequer (sarcasm) did NOT flag bevelled, travelled, pencilled, or pencilling as misspelled.

I confess I was not aware of the double-L trend — except, of course in The New Yorker, a fairly recent version of whose stylebook I have in my possession.

IMG-6503(Note the banning of “transpire.”)

The whole single-L notion started with Noah Webster, who in the dictionaries he published in the early nineteenth century promoted new (and what he considered simpler and more logical) spellings for the new American continent. But according to this Google Ngram Viewer graph of word frequency in books published in the U.S., it took until about 1940 for “canceled” to catch up, and until the early ’80s for it to start surging ahead.

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Interestingly, “traveled” took hold in the U.S. much earlier, in the 1910s.

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Reliable data for Ngram viewer only goes up to 2000, at which point the American double-L trend perceived by Brian Hitchcock trend hadn’t come on the scene. The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) takes up the story, and suggests that things started to change right about then. The bottom number indicates that “cancelled” occurred .94 times per million words of text in 1995-1999, and 3.53 times in 2015-2017. (“Canceled” appeared 9.85 times/million in that period–still nearly three times as often.)

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Yet another database, the Corpus of Global Web-Based English, crunches a couple of billion words of text from 2012 and shows “cancelled” appearing 7.17 times per million words of text, compared to 6.13 for “cancelled.” The number is presumably that high because spelling is looser on the web, while most American publishers and periodicals still adhere to the traditional “canceled.” Here are some of the U.S. “cancelled” hits:

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Bringing us up to the present, a Google News search for “cancelled” yields eight of ten American hits on the first page, including these:

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So to Brian Hitchcock, I will say, you are right, and to answer the question you start out by posing: 2000.