“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.

“Taking the Piss,” continued

When I wrote about the expression in 2014, it was very much an outlier. Its use by American food television personality Anthony Bourdain in an (excellent!) People.com interview suggests it may be catching on.

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The OED says this adjective derives from “obstreperous” and means the same thing, with some overtones, to wit: “bad-tempered, rebellious, awkward, unruly.” All the citations (starting in 1951) are from British sources, including John Burke’s novelization of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” (The word also appears, differently, in the screenplay by Alun Owen, a Liverpool writer. After Ringo complains to a little boy about being knocked over with a tire, the boy says, “Oh, don’t be so stroppy.”)

As this Google Ngram Viewer chart indicates, it’s indeed a Britishism:

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Also as the chart indicates, the word’s presence in the U.S. is minimal at the moment. I had to go through about 100 hits of a Google News search before I found an American use, from a July Boston Globe review of the Amy Winehouse documentary: “the early sequences of ‘Amy’ are heartbreaking in the way they capture a lumpy, stroppy North London girl who just about bursts into flame when she opens her mouth to sing.” Also in July, there was a USA Today story quoting (the British) Piers Morgan on rapper Nicki Minaj: “I experienced at first hand what a stroppy little piece of work she could be when she appeared as a guest act on ‘America’s Got Talent’ when I was still a judge on the show.”

Over at the New York Times, the word has mainly been in quotes by or attributions to British people. Otherwise, the last use was in a 2011 review of a Sarah Palin biography, in which–according to the reviewer, the feisty Jack Shafer–anonymous sources characterized Palin’s marriage as “bloodless and stroppy.” The same year, the Times quoted a song by the Topp Twins, lesbian singers from New Zealand: “We’re stroppy, we’re aggressive, we’ll take over the world.”



As I say, NOOB readers predicted “flat”–AmE equivalent, “apartment”–would catch on here, and so it seems to have, judging from the above and similar advertisements. The term is, in my experience, largely restricted to commercial attempts to fancy up a dwelling, rather than being a word an actual American person would use.

Except in San Francisco, Nancy Friedman reports: “One of the things that struck me when I moved to the Bay Area 40+ years ago [from Southern California] was that San Franciscans ALWAYS said ‘flat’ instead of ‘apartment.’ I’d never heard the term at all, and I grew up 370 miles away. It’s still true, and I still have no idea why.”


I see that back in 2012, I gave a poll asking readers for NOOB nominees. I promised to follow up and do posts on the winners, which were shagflat, and a tie for third between gap year and row.

Typically, I proceeded to totally forget about it, though I did ultimately write about row and gap year.

Bringing this to mind is a line in an article by an American college professor that just came out in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He’s writing about the depiction of professors in Woody Allen’s films, starting with “Manhattan” (1979) where

Michael Murphy plays an English professor dragging his feet on an F. Scott Fitzgerald book while still having enough money to wonder if he should trade in his spacious apartment on the Upper East Side for a house in Connecticut, with seemingly endless time and money to eat the overpriced food at Elaine’s (and being enough of a celebrity to get a table there) and have an affair with Diane Keaton, with whom he can have a spontaneous shag at a hotel somewhere between Bloomingdale’s and 68th Street.

So, “shag.” It’s of course a verb and noun (as above) referring to the act of copulation, made popular worldwide by the subtitle of one of Mike Myers’s Austin Powers movie: “The Spy Who Shagged Me.” Fascinatingly, the Oxford English Dictionary’s first citation for it came from none other than Thomas Jefferson in 177o: “He had shagged his mother and begotten himself on her body.” All the subsequent citations are from British and Commonwealth sources.

I’m not sure of its current state of play thereabouts, but in the U.S., post-Austin Powers, it seems to have settled in as a euphemism slightly more randy  than some of the others on offer but still respectable enough to meet the standards of such publications as the Chronicle.

Next: “flat.”

“The penny dropped”

The OED defines this useful phrase as meaning “a situation or statement has at last been understood; a person has reacted belatedly” and notes, “Originally used with allusion to the mechanism of a penny-in-the-slot machine.” The first citation is from The Daily Mirror in 1939; all the later cites are British as well.

As I say, it’s useful phrase. The closest American equivalent would be something like, “The lightbulb went on,” which, besides being clunky, lacks the apt imagined “click” of the penny equivalent.

In addition to the OED cites, this Google Ngram Viewer chart suggests the phrase is indeed of British origin. The red line indicates British usage, the blue American.

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(There’s a fair amount of noise in the chart, emanating from references to actual pennies actually dropping.)

The chart indicates a steady rise in U.S. uses through 2008, and it appears to be continuing. In the New York Times, through 2006, the phrase almost always appeared as part of quote by a British or Canadian person. But there have been about fifteen uses of it by Times writers since then.  Quite a few of them came from the pen of one person, Deb Amlen, who writes the “Wordplay” crossword puzzle blog. Clearly, pennies have to drop or the puzzle doesn’t get solved.