“Range”; “offer”

There’s a whole set of distinctly British retail terms. One is “offer” for the American “sale.” The other is “range” to mean (in the OED’s definition) “A set of goods manufactured or for sale.” (The dictionary quotes this quintessentially British line from a 1963 issue of Punch: “Harvey Nichols have a new range of Californian swimwear.”)

Both of them turned up in an advert in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer.

dysonI know Dyson originates in the U.K. but still, gee whiz.

“Follow-On” (adj.)

A few days after the Paris terrorist attacks, Dina Temple-Raston of NPR reported that French authorities “were very focused on trying to abort a second attack. And they’re worried another one, a follow-on attack, will happen.” That night, I heard Rachel Maddow use “follow-on” the same way in her MSNBC broadcast.

Not being familiar with the term, I looked it up in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and found this definition: “being or relating to something that follows as a natural or logical consequence, development, or progression.” It would seem a useful term, but the origins are murky. The OED reveals a cricket etymology for “follow on,” starting as a verb referring to a side that “go[es]  in again at once after completing the first innings, in consequence of having made a prescribed number of runs less than their opponents in the first innings.” (I can only assume that that sentence makes sense.)  The dictionary quotes an 1865 cricketers’ guide: “Surrey ‘followed on’, but left only 23 runs for Oxford to get to win.”

The first non-cricket use cited by the OED is from a 1960 advertisement in “Farmer & Stockbreeder”: “This new booklet contains advice about ‘follow-on’ feeding.” Not sure what “follow-on feeding” would be, or how it followed (no pun intended) from the cricket term.

Non-cricket “follow-on” was subsequently picked up in various contexts, maybe most commonly in the business term “follow-on effect.” I feel that it’s mainly been a Britishism, but at this point I am unable to say for sure. I can report, however, that the the majority of the results in a Google News search for “follow-on effect” are from Australian sources.



“Inverted commas”

From a recent article in The New Yorker:

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“Inverted commas” is in the category of Britishism for which there’s an exact American equivalent, like “advert” (“advertisement,” “ad”); in this case, it’s “quotation marks.” It’s actually more annoying than that because the whole notion of inverted commas doesn’t make sense in the U.S., where we use double quotation marks, like “this.” (The British single quotes, like ‘this,” do resemble upside-down commas.)

I would have thought this would be a one-off, but in The New Yorker alone, “inverted commas” have been mentioned several times in the past decade, by such writers as Adam Gopnik and Hendrik Hertzberg.

I say stop it now.

“A right”

Chip Kelly, the coach of the (American) football Philadelphia Eagles was questioned the other day about the Eagles’ play calling: specifically, why relatively few plays have been called for star running back DeMarco Murray to carry the ball. Kelly replied in part: “I would love to get everybody in a right lather and going, but when we’re not having success running the ball at all, then it’s tough to say, ‘Hey, we’re just going to make sure we get [running back DeMarco Murray] 22 carries and he’s lathered up.'”

OK, so the “lather” thing is taken from horse racing, referring to the frothy sweat of a horse. The OED cites an 1837 novel: “Miss Bell had already exercised her [a mare] so well, that, to use a jockey term, she was all in a lather.” The novel is British, but I sense that “in a lather” has been used in racing circles on both sides of the Atlantic.

You’ll notice that Kelly used the term, figuratively, in two different expressions. “In a lather” is a venerable one, but traditionally has been used to mean being in a state of high anxiety, irritation and/or agitation. The OED’s first citation is from Frances Trollope, quoting an American in 1849: “Don’t be in a lather, father, before you are shaved. I’ll do your job, I expect, if you won’t be in such a tarnation fuss.”

“Lathered up” seems to have departed from  horse-racing parlance rather more recently. Searching Google News, I find Kelly is not the only American coach to lately use it about human athletes, especially football players (who are often described with words and expressions traditionally associated with animals). A Louisiana college football coach was quoted as saying about a receiver, “It’s hard to get into a rhythm until you get lathered up a little bit, it’s like a running back.” And the San Francisco 49ers coach said of an injured player, “he will be out there and going through that extended stretch that we do and try to get him into the team, get him warmed up and lathered up.”

But the real reason Kelly’s quotes spawned this post is the first two words in “a right lather.” The OED defines this “right” as “colloq. (chiefly Brit. and Irish English). As an intensifier (usu. in derogatory and ironical contexts): complete, absolute, total, utter.” It cites The Observer writing in 1974: “‘The Government did not know that there was no settlement in writing, and how could an order apply to something which did not exist,’ he said. ‘The Government made a right mess of it.’”

I would hazard to say that until Chip Kelly spoke, this usage of “a right” has never been uttered, non-ironically, by an American.


The public radio program “Marketplace” recently aired a piece about a new sitcom called “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which is set in West Covina, California. Discussing why she chose that town, one of the show’s producers (a female American, complete with vocal fry) said among other things she liked the fact that the local mall had pretzel shops at both entrances, “just in case you got peckish for a pretzel.” [Note: A commenter observes that “peckish for” is unidiomatic. It strikes me that this woman’s use of it grew out of the currently popular “hungry for”–as in “hungry for lunch”–as discussed here.]

This was the first time I was aware of encountering an American use of “peckish”–defined concisely by the OED as “somewhat hungry.” All of the dictionary’s citations are British with the exception of this from Laurie Colwin’s 1988 book Home Cooking: “At four in the afternoon, everyone feels a little peckish, but only the British have institutionalised this feeling.” (I wondered whether Colwin eschewed the American spelling “institutionalized”; Google Books told me “no.”)

It’s interesting that she would have mentioned 4 p.m., because I personally tend to get peckish in the morning. Many other people apparently do as well, hence the (British) custom of “elevenses,” for which Winnie-the-Pooh Paddington favored  honey on bread with condensed milk.

Anyway, it turns out that “peckish” shows up here now and again. It’s appeared sporadically in the New York Times in recent years, most recently in a review of a bar on the Lower East Side: “If peckish, try the matzo-meal fried chicken with pastrami-spiced gravy ($23).” Somehow, I don’t think Winnie-the-Pooh would approve.

“Done and dusted”

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Google News results for “done and dusted” are all from UK or Commonwealth sources.

The ever-reliable Jan Freeman points out on Twitter that the (American) novelist Elinor Lipman used this phrase in an essay published yesterday in the New York Times. Lipman is describing (romantically) breaking up with a British man she had been seeing. “I had acquitted myself in relatively menschy fashion,” she writes. “Done and dusted.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the phrase as meaning “completely finished or ready.” Its citations are all from British sources, starting with the British Bee Journal, which had this line in 1953: “All to be done and dusted before the National Honey Show. After this the grand clear up.”

I’m labeling this an “Outlier,” as it is rarely found on this side of the Atlantic. The only other times it’s appeared in the Times in recent years is in the soccer (football) columns of Rob Hughes, an English native. Using it was a nice touch on Lipman’s part, as it echoed the patois of the bloke in question.

And Lipman actually replied to Freeman’s tweet, confirming that this was a favorite phrase of his. “‘And Bob’s your uncle,’ he’d add,” she added.

“Long list”

“Long list” (or “longlist”) is list of potential nominees from which a  “shortlist” will be selected. It can be both a noun or a verb, e.g., “The novel was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.”

“Shortlist” came first–as early as the 1920s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary–with “long list” showing up in the 1980s. That’s when it showed up in Britain, that is: the first appearance I’m aware of in the U.S. was last year, when the body administering the National Book Awards instituted a ten-book longlist in each category, subsequently to be trimmed to five.

A measure of the term’s unfamiliarity here is the divergence in rendering it: in this Google search, you can see that Time and The New Yorker use “longlist” while NPR and Vulture use “long list.” The concept and the word will probably catch on, because the more nominees, the more interest can be stoked in a particular prize or award. If and when it does, the one-word form will become standard, as it is in Britain.