I swear I didn’t plan this

In my e-mail inbox just now:

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Spotted in Greenwich Village, NY


More on “Weds.”

I’ve just finished the new thriller “The Girl on the Train,” written by the Englishwoman Paula Hawkins. I read the American edition and I’m not sure to what extent (if any) British expressions in the original were translated into Americanese. But there were a few that cropped up repeatedly: “buggy” (Americans would say “stroller”), “come round for a visit” (“around”), and one I wasn’t aware of–the transitive verb “quieten,” as in “quieten a baby.” Americans say “quiet.”

When I was almost done with the book, I came upon this (I’m pretty sure there aren’t any spoilers):


The thing that caught my eye was “Weds.” Longtime readers may recall my dislike of this abbreviation for “Wednesday” (my preference is “Wed.”), and my not notably successful attempt to determine if it’s a Britishism.

(If you want to know why it annoys me, here’s why: “Wed.” is a perfectly good, shorter, abbreviation; there is no tradition of skipping over letters in abbreviations [there is “Dr.” and “Mr.” but they go right to the last letter in the word]; and “Weds.”–unlike a decent abbreviation–doesn’t even represent how the first part of the word sounds–that would be “Wends” or “Wens.”)

“The Girl on the Train” would suggest, though it doesn’t prove, that a Britishism “Weds.” is.

“On the up and up”

Jan Freeman remarked on Twitter that she had been hearing the phrase “on the up and up” meaning “improving” instead of “honest.”

There are indeed two general meanings of the phrase. The one I’m familiar with is “honest” or “on the level,” and the OED identifies it as originally American, with citations going back to 1863.

The OED doesn’t specify any nationality for the “Steadily rising, improving, or increasing” meaning. The first citation is from The Baltimore Sun, 1930: “From now on, we are led to believe, law and order will be on the up and up, as the current phrase is.” But that strikes me as ambiguous–that is, it could mean that law and order is on the level, as opposed to on the rise. All the other citations are from British sources.

But in any case, as Jan suggests, it’s now being used in the U.S., as in this  from a March post in Forbes.com: “to say that Thrive [Capital] is on the up and up would be a massive understatement.”

Any Yanks out there who have a sense that  “on the up and up”=”on the rise” is a long-term thing over here?

Results are in

Thanks to all who participated in the survey on pronunciation of the “-man” suffix in such words as “policeman” and “gunman.” I reported on the results yesterday on the Lingua Franca blog.

One finding I didn’t report was the difference between U.K.  and U.S. respondents. For certain words it was rather dramatic.

Here is a graph showing respondents from the U.S.:

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 10.47.01 AMAnd this one shows U.K. respondents:

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Generally speaking, U.K. respondents use the schwa more often than do American ones. Here are the three words with the biggest difference:

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My hypotheses for this relates to the general idea expressed in The Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, that reduced-stress schwa-vowel “-man” tends to occur in “well-established formations.”  The three words in the chart above are nothing if not well-established–and were established in the British Isles long before there even was a United States.

Also supporting the hypothesis is results on “lineman,” which I threw into the survey without thinking about the fact that it’s a mainly American term, either as a football position or the job memorialized in Glen Campbell’s song “Wichita Lineman.” (Google Ngram Viewer shows much greater use in the U.S.) Sure enough, U.K. respondents–to whom it’s unfamiliar–significantly outnumber Americans in reporting an equal-stress  /æ/ vowel in “lineman.”

Pronunciation of “-man”

This is (probably) off-topic, but I’d appreciate your help in something I’m looking into for another blog, Lingua Franca. I’m investigating how people pronounce the suffix “man” in such words as policeman, mailman, gunman, etc. (understanding, of course, that they are sexist and on the way out). The issue is whether the syllable is pronounced with a reduced stress and a “schwa” vowel, as in “woman,” or with equal stress, rhyming with “can” or “fan.”

Please take the survey at the link below, and do your part in helping the advancement of (pseudo-)science.


“Bog standard”

Keith Huss (@keithhuss) writes on Twitter: “Having British wife and friends, I’m familiar with the phrase “bog standard”. Recently read it twice on US tech blogger sites.”

New one on me!

The Oxford English Dictionary describes “bog standard” as: “slang (depreciative, chiefly Brit.). Ordinary, basic, standard without extra features or modification; unexceptional or uninspired.”

The citations (the earliest one is from 1962) all refer to cars or computers, with the exception of this 1995 quote from Empire magazine: “A bog-standard biography with a cheap ‘Psycho’ sales gimmick, you can’t help thinking [Anthony] Perkins deserved better.”

An Urban Dictionary definition from 2006 goes:

“Completely, utterly, absolutely ordinary in every way. British slang. ‘Dave drives a totally bog standard Escort. Not even aircon. Dave is a cheap bastard.'”

The etymology is uncertain but interesting. The OED suggests that it may have derived from “box-standard,” an obsolete noun denoting “a frame or standard hollow tubing forming the main framework of a machine, engine, etc.” “Box-standard” shows up as an adjective meaning the same thing as “bog-standard” in 1983. According to Google Ngram Viewer, the two phrases were roughly equally popular until the late 1990s, when “bog” took off and crushed the opposition.

Is “bog-standard” a NOOB? It’s out there, a little. Suzy Menkes wrote in the New York Times in 2012 that a fashion show has a “focus on outerwear, including cropped jackets rather than the bog-standard trench.” But most of the quotes I find are, as Keith Huss suggests, on tech sites, such as this from Ziff-Davis’s Extreme Tech: “The company’s plans for an ARM-based server business may be in their infancy, but AMD has built at least one bog-standard ARM core.”

Whatever that means.