Category Archives: Outliers

“To Hospital”

John Grossmann alerts me that in today’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof (born in Yamhill, Oregon) refers to someone “rushing a gravely injured student to hospital.”

Truth to tell, I had always thought of as the Britishism as “in hospital,” compared to the American “in the hospital.” But a check of Google News reveals that Kristof’s usage is indeed a common British form. The American version is either “to a hospital” or (less commonly than in the “in” form) “to the hospital.”

This is the first “to hospital” or “in hospital” I’ve seen in lo these many years of paying attention to such things. So, until I find evidence to the contrary, I’m going to categorize this as an “outlier.”

“Stand” someone a drink

I recently encountered this Facebook post (by an American, about an American): “Anyway, I just wondered if any of my Facebook friends in NY feel like standing a good friend of a friend to a drink? Jeff’s a blast, and any friend of mine oughta be a friend of his…”

The verb stand, as used here is defined this way by the OED: “To bear the expense of, make a present of, pay for (a treat); to put up or make a present of (a sum of money), esp. as part of a larger amount sought.” The first citation is from Dickens, Sketches by Boz (1836): ” Mr. Augustus Cooper..‘stood’ considerable quantities of spirits and water.” The quotations marks indicate recent coinage. The dictionary also has this 1890 quote from Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine:  “I’ll stand you a dinner.”

Google’s Ngram Viewer indicates the term is a Britishism, though one that started fading out around 1940. (The blue line indicates use of “stood me a drink” in British English, the red line in American English.)

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 3.36.03 PM

Some readers will have noted that my Facebook friend misused the expression,  talking of standing the gentlemen “to” a drink, when the proper expression is “stand him a drink.” That’s all the proof I need that this expression is a one-off.

“American football”

ImageI meant to note a Britishism uttered on my favorite television show, The Simpsons, a few of weeks ago. I figure that two days after the Super Bowl is about the right time! In the words of the recap on Celebrity Cafe:

Lisa emerges in the kitchen with a book titled “Pretending to Like Football” by Mrs. John Madden. Lisa dishes out a fact about “American football” before Bart interrupts her saying that it’s not “American” football; it’s just football. Lisa rubs it in that Milhouse invited her to the “American” football game instead of Bart. And Bart tattles on Lisa to Marge.

Congrats to the Seattle Seahawks side and their supporters for a brilliant match.

Lisa emerges in the kitchen with a book titled “Pretending to Like Football” by Mrs. John Madden. Lisa dishes out a fact about American football before Bart interrupts her saying that it’s not “American” football; it’s just football.

Lisa rubs it in that Milhouse invited her to the “American” football game instead of Bart. And Bart tattles on Lisa to Marge.

Read more at http://thecelebritycafe.com/feature/2013/11/simpsons-recap-labor-pains#1w1VrtCrQvlwo4Lw.99

Lisa emerges in the kitchen with a book titled “Pretending to Like Football” by Mrs. John Madden. Lisa dishes out a fact about American football before Bart interrupts her saying that it’s not “American” football; it’s just football.

Lisa rubs it in that Milhouse invited her to the “American” football game instead of Bart.

Read more at http://thecelebritycafe.com/feature/2013/11/simpsons-recap-labor-pains#1w1VrtCrQvlwo4Lw.99

Lisa emerges in the kitchen with a book titled “Pretending to Like Football” by Mrs. John Madden. Lisa dishes out a fact about American football before Bart interrupts her saying that it’s not “American” football; it’s just football.

Lisa rubs it in that Milhouse invited her to the “American” football game instead of Bart.

Read more at http://thecelebritycafe.com/feature/2013/11/simpsons-recap-labor-pains#1w1VrtCrQvlwo4Lw.99

Lisa emerges in the kitchen with a book titled “Pretending to Like Football” by Mrs. John Madden. Lisa dishes out a fact about American football before Bart interrupts her saying that it’s not “American” football; it’s just football.

Lisa rubs it in that Milhouse invited her to the “American” football game instead of Bart.

Read more at http://thecelebritycafe.com/feature/2013/11/simpsons-recap-labor-pains#1w1VrtCrQvlwo4Lw.99

Lisa emerges in the kitchen with a book titled “Pretending to Like Football” by Mrs. John Madden. Lisa dishes out a fact about American football before Bart interrupts her saying that it’s not “American” football; it’s just football.

Lisa rubs it in that Milhouse invited her to the “American” football game instead of Bart.

Read more at http://thecelebritycafe.com/feature/2013/11/simpsons-recap-labor-pains#1w1VrtCrQvlwo4Lw.99

“Aeroplane”

I’ve been reading about the return tour of an American cult rock band from the 1990s, Neutral Milk Hotel. The reviews all mention the album that’s considered their best, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.”

Aeroplane was first used for a “heavier-than-air aircraft,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, in 1868, that is, before the aeroplane before it was invented. The OED describes airplane as “chiefly North American”; its first citation is from a 1906 Scientific American article that notes: “Air-plane is a much better word than aeroplane. It is as good etymologically, and much better when it is spoken.” The OED comments: “Airplane became the standard U.S. term (replacing aeroplane) after it was adopted by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1916. Although A. Lloyd Jones recommended its adoption by the BBC in 1928, it has until recently been no more than an occasional form in British English.”

Google Ngram Viewer confirms this analysis:

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 11.16.32 AMIf the chart is too small to make out, it shows that aeroplane is still (barely) the preferred spelling in the U.K., and is virtually never used in the U.S.–other than in Neutral Milk Hotel albums.

Of course, I’d bet that in both lingos, the far preferred term is plane.

“Naff”

The indefatigable Nancy Friedman sends along a sentence from a New Yorker blog post by Adam Gopnik: “Then Bob Dylan showed up from Minnesota—telling various tales about places he had never actually been, with his naff, made-up name—having nothing but genius.”

She sent it along, of course, because Gopnik (a native Canadian who has lived in the U.S. and written for American publications for numerous decades) used the word naff.

The OED defines the adjective as “Unfashionable, vulgar; lacking in style, inept; worthless, faulty.” The first citation is a 1966 quote from  B. Took & M. Feldman in B. Took, Best of ‘Round the Horne’ (1989): “I couldn’t be doing with a garden like this… I mean all them horrible little naff gnomes”

The OED has a lengthy etymological note, which I have slightly abridged:

Origin unknown . Probably unrelated to slightly earlier naff v.

Various theories have been proposed as to the origin of this word. It has been suggested that it is (in Polari slang: see polari n.) < naff in naff omi a dreary man (compare omee n.), in which naff may perhaps be < Italian gnaffa despicable person (16th cent.).

One of the most popular theories is the suggestion that the word is perhaps an acronym either < the initial letters of Normal As Fuck , or < the initial letters of Not Available For Fucking , but this seems to be a later rationalization. O.E.D. Suppl. (1976) compares the earlier English regional (northern) forms naffhead , naffin , naffy , all denoting a simpleton or idiot (see Eng. Dial. Dict. s.v. Naff v.), and also niff-naff n., niffy-naffy adj., and nyaff n., nyaff v.

The OED defines the “unrelated” verb naff, bluntly, as “fuck,” and notes it is often followed by off.

The etymology may be unknown, but it is unquestionably the case that naff is British to the core. I searched the entire run of The New Yorker (which has been publishing since 1925) and found seven previous naffs. Six either referred to a person named Naff or were spoken or written by British people. The seventh was from, yes, Adam Gopnik, who wrote in 2004: “Being an expert on wine and writing about it is what the English call ‘naff,’ embarrassing and uncool…” (“Uncool” is right, but I’m not sure about “embarrassing.”)

The New York Times has been publishing since 1851, so has printed naff more than the New Yorker, though not that much more. Twenty-one times in the Times’ pages, the word either been uttered or written by a British person, or presented as a British term. On three occasions, it has been used by the fashion writers Suzy Menkes and Cathy Horyn. That leaves this quote, from a 1999 review of Martin Gardner’s Annotated Alice: “An English author, one fears, would have found it ”naff,’ embarrassing, to point out what a hansom cab is…”

The writer of the review? Adam Gopnik.

“High Street”

Solihull High Street

Solihull High Street

When I first started spending time in England, one new phrase that was completely unfamiliar to me was the High Street, which the OED defines as “very generally, the proper name of that street of a town which is built upon a great highway, and is (or was originally) the principal one in the town.” By the 1950s, metonymic noun and adjective forms had developed, referring to the shops not just on the High Street proper, but on surrounding streets as well, and the goods that could be found in them. From a 2000 article in Elle: “High-street queen Karen Millen launches her first range of spectacles this season, so nab yourself a pair for that librarian-chic look.”

The closest American equivalent, I suppose, would be “Main Street,” but it’s not really the same thing, and besides, to the extent Americans shop in brick-and-mortar stores anymore, they don’t go to High Street or Main Street shops, but instead to big-box stores like Home Depot and Office Depot located in suburban strip malls.

Imagine my surprise, then, to pick up the Philadelphia Inquirer recently and read, “Retail rents on Walnut Street have gone up 33.8 percent in a year, the sharpest annual increase of all ‘high streets’ among U.S. cities…” True, high street was in quotation marks, but it was there.

It turns out the article referred to a report from the real estate company Colliers International. High street is sprinkled all over the Colliers website, but, surprisingly, it’s an American company, based in Seattle. However, a deepish dive into the site reveals that the company originated in Australia,  merged with a Canadian company in 1976, and moved to Seattle only in 1976.

So it would appear that Colliers’ use of high street is something between an appendage and an affectation. I would say its chances of catching on here are low.

“Knickers”

There must be something about American movie stars and British lingo. We just witnessed Mark Wahlberg going all NOOB-y. Now Anna Kendrick is quoted in GQ magazine about the horror of being approached for an autograph while shopping for underwear:

“There’s something deeply embarrassing about being approached when you’re holding knickers. And it’s happened TWICE!”

It’s enough to put your you-know-what in a twist.