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March 22, 2017


"Two pieces of British arcana for y'all's delectation (or is it "all y'all" now as the plural...? I lose track)."

"Y'all" is always plural. People using it as a singular "you" are incorrect and should be shunned until they learn to live in civilized society.

"All y'all" is used for emphasis, much like the phrase "great big". I used to drive a Scottish woman crazy by saying "wee little" for the same reason, so it's possible this is just something Americans do.

somewhere, John Boehner is watching Paul Ryan's thrashing and congratulating himself on making the right decision.

Gawd I love England. A historical office handed down from William the Bastard. It should be restricted to descendants of the Inklings, IMO.


also, what the hell are people not "passionate" about nowadays?

for regionalisms, I'm a fan of "wicked pisser", which is properly pronounced as "wickit pissah", preferably employing glottal stops for the "ck" and "t" in "wickit".

things that are "wicked pisser" are good. it's kind of like "craic" but with a broader application.

The lobsters in Finding Nemo nailed the New England manner of speech. It still cracks me up.

I went to college at CMU in Pittsburgh; I am still fond of Yins, Stillers, and Mullets (and, unrelated, the oxford comma). The locals were mutually amused by my barbaric New England speech.

Don't Pittsburghers and New Englanders both say "pawt" for the thing you might boil pasta or cook soup in?

I didn't know Stillers was a thing. That's like Iggles in Philly.

The pawt really confuses us, as we have the Native American names for Pawtucket (city), Pawcatuk (river), and Pawtuxet (village and river).

Tonic verse Pop verse Soda verse Hoagie, I guess.

OTOH, I recall Chuck Berry / Barris, Hedy / Hedley Lamarr, and Chuck / Peter Lorre were all massively confusing.

And what the hell is going on with Main Street, Post Road, and Water Street? Not to mention Watling Street, returning to merry olde Englaland. Alfred, Ælfrēd, Ælfrǣd the Great?

Tonic vs pop vs soda reminds me of my adventures as an eighteen-year-old midwesterner off to college in the Boston area.

I still remember going into the Brigham's (long gone) in Harvard Square, ordering an ice cream cone, and having this exchange:

Kid behind the counter: "Withuhwuhthout?"

Me: "Sorry, what?"

Kid: "With or without?" (Enunciating patiently.)

Me: "With or without what?"

Kid: "Jimmies."

Me: "What are jimmies?"

He must have shown me rather than told me at that point.

Me: "With." (Chocolate sprinkles.)

I was cured of midwesternly referring to soda as "pop" about a month into college. Been soda ever since (but my siblings and parents still call it pop, the neanderthals).

Where I grew up soda was Coke.

Would you like a coke, sure. What kind? Dr Pepper is fone.

I think the soda region is nearly conterminous with the sneaker region. Pop and tennis shoes for the rest, I guess.

I hear both sprinkles and jimmies, but usually it's rainbow sprinkles and chocolate jimmies.

Some people, particularly Italians (or people from South Philly, even if they aren't Italian), call the red stuff you put on spaghetti "gravy." But there is sometimes the distinction that it's only gravy if it involves meat. Marinara is still sauce in that case.

The family that Ughs together hugs together.

In my growing up world (Ohio "Italian"), "sauce" meant tomato sauce and "cheese" meant Parmesan. Other "sauces" and other cheeses had to be specified. I've never heard any of my Italian relatives use the word "marinara." But then, we came from southern Italian peasant stock, so I'm sure there's a dialect issue among other things.

Types of pasta were specified. We ate macaroni most often at my house, spaghetti sometimes at Grandma's, or, for a special treat, hand-made cuhvuhdills (cavatelli). I never heard of gnocchi as a kid, though cavatelli are kind of like smaller gnocchi, without the potatoes.

I don't think I've ever heard tomato sauce called gravy in real life to this day. But then, I've never been to Philadelphia. ;-)

Just keep your mitts off "youse guys" and no one gets hurt

made me laugh out loud.

Annoying misuses:

flaunt v flout
uninterested v disinterested

English people saying "garden-variety" instead of what we used to say up until around five years ago "common or garden" and saying "from the get-go" instead ditto of "from the word go". I realise this is pretty rich from an English user of y'all, but whoever said I was consistent? Also in this connection, from my youth I heard certain Americans (Texans I think) use y'all for the singular as well as the plural. Any more rebuttals or else confirmations?

In no particular order: everybody being passionate about everything also drives me slightly crazy; I am under the impression that only Americans call Italian tomato sauce Marinara; the only equivalent I think I know to "likeded" is from Israel, a country I had occasion to visit several times a few decades ago. As you know, "im" is the plural ending in Hebrew (a language I do not speak), as in kibbutzim. Someone I knew needed a new seal-beam headlight unit for his car, and he discovered that because of the way "seal-beam" sounded, the Israeli mechanics treated the word as a plural "silbim", and when they only had to order one called it a "silb".

GftNC -- I wasn't going to start quibbling with other commenters who seemed so passionate (TM) about it, but I often heard "y'all" meaning singular "you" when I was growing up.

However, this edges toward the sociological aspects of language, so I'm going to leave it alone for now and maybe take up the bigger topic later.

Just don't forget: A language is just a dialect with an army. Or something like that.

When I had an Irish girlfriend, once or twice we came to minor grief over the American vs British/Irish use of "call."

"I'll call tomorrow" implies the telephone in American English (at least in all the versions I know), whereas in Ireland that would be "I'll ring you." In Ireland, "I'll call" means "I'll stop by your house."

Fun times.

JanieM: as if relationships don't have enough hidden rocks without linguistic differences. MrGftNC is a Yorkshireman born and bred, and if on say Tuesday I say I will do such and such "next Thursday", he thinks it means in 2 days time, whereas I think it means in 9 days time, and that if I meant in 2 days time I would say "this Thursday". This may or may not be a regional difference, I'm not sure.

on the other hand "i'll call you on the telephone" works fine if you're Roger Daltrey and your voice is rough with cigarettes. you bet.

GftNC -- "this" vs "next" drives my daughter crazy, and her irritation about it is catchy. If it's regional, the regional-ness must have gotten well-dispersed in the US, because this ambiguity comes up all the time. I find myself always trying to clarify, as in "this coming Thursday" -- or by specifying a date, especially when talking about weekends.

If I recall correctly "this" and "next" is the way Spanish treats time also (este vs. proxima).

You level an accusation and you levy a tax, but many people who are allowed to comment on TV don't seem to know the difference.

You abscond with the petty cash and you abdicate a responsibility. but a member of Congress I heard interviewed last night didn't seem to know that.

Not content to mangle their own language, many Americans insist on saying things like "coo de grah" and "kewpon". I had to write a strongly worded letter to Rachel Maddow about that once.

My favorite localism is "that's mine's", a common way to indicate possession of some object around Lowell MA when I was growing up.

English being my second language and all, I approach abuses of it somewhat like a converted Savonarola. But they still grate on me less than the abuses of my first language which my Greek American relatives and friends commit as casually as a butcher cutting pork chops. Think Spanglish but much, much worse.


My wife and I argue often over whether a future day is "this" or "next," sometimes even whether a day in the past is "this" or "last."

My logic is that "next" always means the soonest to come of whatever day of the week, but that "this" can refer to the very same day if that day hasn't yet come within the current week. To avoid ambiguity, if I were talking on Tuesday about a Thursday 9 days in the future, I would say "Thursday (of) next week" to avoid confusing it with next/this Thursday. (But that's me.)

Days in the past are less of a problem, because using the past tense allows you to leave a day that occurred within the same week unmodified, though you might go with "this past." But on Thursday, "last Tuesday" could mean 2 days ago or 9 days ago. Best to just leave it as "Tuesday" for 2 days ago or call it "Tuesday (of) last week" for 9 days ago.

That is my theory.

Now that I'm thinking about it, if it's Tuesday and I'm talking about the Thursday in 2 days, it shouldn't need to be modified unless someone asks. Then see above.

Frances was in the broom closet, singing:

Happy Thursday to you,
Happy Thursday to you,
Happy Thursday, dear Alice,
Happy Thursday to you.
"Who is Alice?" asked Mother.

"Alice is somebody that nobody can see" said Frances. "And that is why she does not have a birthday. So I am singing Happy Thursday to her."

"Today is Friday" said Mother.

"It is Thursday for Alice" said Frances.

"this" vs "next" I mostly go with "this Wednesday" vs. "a week from Wednesday" -- with the latter sometimes contracted to "Wednesday week."

As a side note, the biggest confusion occurs 1-3 days after the day of the week in question. once the day is less than half a week away, life is clearer.

'next' means it happens after the weekend.

'next monday' is in 4 days.

saturday is tomorrow.
sunday is the day after tomorrow.

Look, it's quite simple: "This" Thursday is the Thursday of "this" week. "Next" Thursday is the Thursday of "next" week.

More controversial, surely, is the case when on Thursday you're talking about Tuesday. But "this" Tuesday is clearly in the past, and "next" Tuesday is the one next week. It would be madness for "next" Tuesday to be the Tuesday after that!

I'm glad I could clear that up for everyone.

Tony P, I spent a lot of time in Lowell with my cousins in the 60s to 70s. Scary town. Was it liquor store or package store (or packy)?

Same problem in German. "nächsten Donnerstag" can mean Thursday this or next week. "diesen Donnerstag" always means the Thursday this week (and thus cannot be used Friday to Sunday*). "kommenden Donnerstag" (coming Thursday) is far more likely this week (if said Monday to Wednesday) but can be used occasionally for next. Unambiguous would be "diese Woche Donnerstag" (Thursday this week) and "nächste Woche Donnerstag" (Thursday next week).

*around here the week begins on Monday, in other parts on Sunday though.


"Package store" for sure. I always wondered why.

My family got to Lowell in 67 and my mother still lives there. It will always be my home town because, alluding to a couple of threads back, that's where my father is buried. I have not actually lived there year-round since I went off to high school in 71, though. You may be pleased to know (and you might know, if you still have relatives there) that Lowell has gone somewhat upscale since our day.


Clarification: it does not seem to be regional here after all, or even a class difference (always a possibility in this country). Now I think of it, I have had the same misunderstanding with an impeccably upper-middle class, highly educated southern girlfriend, whereas Mr GftNC is a working class Yorkshireman who left school at 15 (although in all fairness seriously autodidactic and decently read since then).

Glad I'm not the only one squabbling over linguistic matters with their partner - our pet peeve:

a couple of x (e.g. days)

My wife insists it means 'two' and nothing else, while I'm of the opinion that it's equivalent to 'a few', i.e. a small number of x.

Your wife is obviously right, novakant. In fact, a few is 3 or more (how many more depending on the context), and most definitely not 2 - says me, that is.

"A few" is, indeed, 3 to some number less than 10 (and probably less than 8). "A couple" can be 2 or 3 or even (at a stretch) 4 -- except when talking about people, in which case "a couple" is exactly 2 and no more.

For numbers from 4 to 6, use "a handful".

Couldn't "a few" also mean some small percentage of some large number? Less than 10%, 8%?

'few' can also mean any number that's grossly insufficient for acute needs.

Clinton received a few votes in Wyoming last fall.

the actual number was nearly 56,000. but 56,000 wasn't even close to what Trump got.

There are some exoressions from the British Isles which I encounteredd in books. DOn;t kow how wide spread the usages is but I use these phrases! Because I love them!

Bog standard for ordinary

not so green as cabbage=looking for a fake

good at bottom but its a long ways down

Tere's a few more but I hae to go to work right htis second so off I go!

I picked up "No worries" from the Australians I know. It frequently seems to fit better than "No problem."

A memorable lede:

There is an expression in England: at the end of the day. It means exactly the same as our "bottom line." And God knows we need an alternative to that.

From sportswriting treasure Frank Deford in Sports Illustrated, 7/16/84.

P.S. It's a lede to an article about John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon that year. Click the link for a walk down memory lane.

And as for "no problem" -- there's a context in which it's appropriate, as, let's say, when someone is apologizing for some minor thing and you want to say it's not a problem, don't worry about it. But it gets used all the time in place of "you're welcome," and that's where tend to want to slap someone. As in:

Me: Can I have a croissant and a medium black tea?

Young (always) person behind counter: No problem.

Me (not out loud): It had better not be a problem, it's your damned job.

(Person brings tea and treat.)

Me (out loud): Thanks.

Person behind counter: No problem.

Me (not out loud): Grrrrrrrr. ;=)

Wonkie, a tip: never say 'British Isles' while in (the Republicans of) Ireland - won't go down very well....

JanieM, don't try that in Berlin, Germany. You risk that the waiter will simply answer 'yes' and then ask what you want (the latter only if in a good mood). (You did not ask for the stuff but whether you can have it).
It's tradition, we even made Goethe run back to Weimar that way. Your correct answer to that would be: 'The croissant only medium black and the tea not too crunchy'. That's the kind of rude to get respect from the (true*) locals.

*if they have a stereotypical Berlin accent, they are either fake or from the region surrounding the city (Brandenburg).

novakant: while few means "3 or more" it can also equal 2. For small values of "3".

Who's next? Martin McGuinness was next. Contrary to what Gerry Adams said, he was neither a terrorist nor a freedom fighter - he was both. A friend told me yesterday to watch the full version of Bill Clinton's eulogy at Martin McG's funeral the other day. Here it is in full, for anyone who is interested:

Hartmut -- this sounds like having to dicker with vendors in China: i.e., something I wouldn't be very good at.

And anyhow, how long would it take me to learn to distinguish a Berlin accent, much less a fake one? If I ever get to Germany, I'll contact you for lessons. ;-)

Novakant--I wasn't including Ireland in that> I was thinking more of the islands up by Scotland and the cones in teh channel. But I was also concerned about not offending by not using a term that would imply that the whole area was England.

Not wanting to be a wanker, yo see.

This seems to be the open thread, so some links --

And one more in the next post, but I have the impression too many links in one post causes problems.

An authoritarian regime which corrupts our democracy by spreading money around --

wonkie --
"bog standard" is, well, bog standard.
"not so green as cabbage-looking" is rare
"...a long ways..." sounds entirely American to me.

Last link

By Airwars calculations, the Russians have probably killed more civilians in the past few years in Syria than we have in Syria and Iraq, but the numbers are the same order of magnitude. In the past month we might be passing the Russians in killing per month.

So this raises a question. With all the outrage over Russian bombing of civilians ( a vastly more serious crime than email theft) in Syria, what do we say if it turns out we are starting to kill more per month than they do?

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