“Nobby”

Every day, the online Merriam-Webster dictionary chooses a “Word of the Day.” Yesterday it was “nobby,” which M-W defined as “cleverly stylish; chic, smart.” It derives from the noun “nob,” meaning a person of wealth or social distinction. (Interestingly it doesn’t appear to be etymologically related to “snob.”) There was no mention of the word being a Britishism, but it is. It doesn’t appear in the archives of the New York Times, and the only quote M-W gives is from the British magazine The New Statesman: “Sponsorship of nobby events seems to be the favourite PR trick for City firms in the soup.”

Similarly, almost all the citations in the Oxford English Dictionary are from British sources. The exceptions are the American Anglophiles Cole Porter (“Nowadays it’s rather nobby/To regard one’s private hobby/As the object of one’s tenderest affections”) and S.J. Perelman (“A serried row of floodlit edifices..trumpeted to the newcomer that he was in the nobbiest winter playground ever devised”).

Incidentally, the OED notes in its definition that the word is “In later use depreciative,” that is, mocking. Merriam-Webster appeared to be unaware of this and took some heat on Twitter:

 

The New York Post Has Fully Used ‘Fully’

As found by Nancy Friedman:

More on British/Australian “fully” here.

 

“Mummy tummy”

Shades of “baby bump.” Once again, a singsongy term (that one alliterative and prenatal, this one rhyming and post-) much loved by the Daily Mail and other British tabloids has made its way to the U.S. Unlike the very popular “baby bump,” this new one doesn’t have much of a presence over here–where the preferred affectionate term is “mommy,” not “mummy”–but being featured in an NPR story a couple of days ago may change that.

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Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t my place to comment on any exercise new mothers (or anyone else) choose to undertake. But let’s not take away their dignity. The NPR story says of this condition, “It turns out the jelly belly actually has a medical term: diastasis recti, which refers to a separation of the abdominal muscles.” So, rather than cutesy terms like “jelly belly” or “mummy tummy,” can’t we just call it what it is?

Suspicious

Picking up the “i” newspaper in London today, I read an interview with Alyssa Mastromonaco (lovely name), a former top adviser to Barack Obama who’s written a memoir of her time in the White House. She is an American. However, in the interview, she is quoted as saying: “OK, sure, there were arguments, because we were passionate people, but we always sorted our issues in house.”

My eye fixed on that word “sorted.” Although I have written a NOOBs post on the verb (it means, roughly, “take care of” and is unavoidable here), it really hasn’t penetrated to the U.S. And therefore, just as a few years back when I read an interview by a Welsh journalist in which American ex-CEO Al Dunlop was purported to say “rubbish” instead of “garbage,” I was dubious that Mastromonaco had actually used “sorted.”

Of course, it’s possible that she’s quite up on British lingo and purposely adopted it when talking to the reporter. But the only way to find out for sure is if Alyssa Mastromonaco reads this post. I await her comment.

Update: The internet sure is something. After posting this, I asked Ms. Mastromonaco on Twitter if she had said “sorted.” Within minutes, she replied that indeed she had. So this issue is sorted.

“Nick,” again

I see the last time I dealt with “nick”–BrE slang for the verb “steal”–was in October 2011, when I categorized it as “On the Radar.” I believe the time has come for a upgrade for full NOOB status. My earlier post included examples only from that fount of Britishisms, the New York Times. But last week, reading the more heartlandy Philadelphia Inquirer, I came upon this sentence, referring to a man who in the 1950s built Roadside America, an 8,000-square-foot model of a mythical village: “He built fire escapes from the family’s curtain rods and nicked his daughter’s dollhouse furniture.”

Of course, the Times continues to use “nick,”most recently in a June 28 theater review, describing a character who “begins to appreciate the convent when she notices that a veil she’s nicked acts ‘like a goddamn spotlight for my cheekbones.’”

“Twig”

New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley is a frequent user of Not One-Off Britishisms, presumably having picked  them up during all the time he spends in London going to plays. In the third paragraph of a review last week of a New York production of Gogol’s The Government Inspector, Brantley referred to an actor “called” (instead of “named”) Michael Urie, which led me to turn on my NOOBs-dar. And sure enough one came along just a few paragraphs later:

Any suspense in the plot as to do with anticipating when, or if, the townsfolk will twig onto Ivan’s true identity…

“Twig onto” was unfamiliar to me, but it seemed to have a distinct British feel. Green’s Dictionary of Slang has a long entry for the verb, with definitions and citations dating from the eighteenth century for four different (similar) meanings: “to observe, to watch”; “to understand, to work out”; “to recognize, to expose”; and “to catch sight of, to become aware of.” Interestingly, the dozens of citation almost all use “twig” alone, rather than followed by “onto,” as Brantley has it. For example, from Alan Sillitoe’s 1958 novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning: “Brenda had never the agile mind to twig that he was whiling the days between times away with her sister.”

Green’s suggests the word may have been derived from “twick,” meaning “to jerk,” but Stan Carey has (for me) more convincingly argued for a derivation from the Irish “tuig,” meaning “understand.” The argument is bolstered by the fact that the first citation in Green’s (it’s the “observe, watch” meaning) is from the 1754 play The Brave Irishman, by the (Irish) Thomas Sheridan: “Twig his boots.”

Back to the “twig onto” matter, a search for “twigged onto”  on Google News yields a mere sixteen hits, from an intriguing variety of locations: the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and India. But “twigged that” pops up 1,030 times, the overwhelming majority from the U.K. The takeway is that Brantley got it wrong, and should give some thought to the proposition that if you’re going to use a Britishism, you should use it correctly.

Oh come on, Google

I have no idea why Google adopted British spelling in this notification, instead of the American “customization.”

At least Wikipedia has the excuse of being an international operation (and has established the precedent of using logical punctuation).

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