“Garden/ing leave”

Friend of NOOBs Ben Zimmer points out a line in a New York Times article about Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter’s retirement: “His post-Vanity Fair plans involve a six-month “garden leave” (Mr. Carter is fond of Britishisms) and a rented home in Provence.” The link goes to a Wikipedia article saying the expression “describes the practice whereby an employee leaving a job – having resigned or otherwise had their employment terminated – is instructed to stay away from work during the notice period, while still remaining on the payroll.”

The original form was “gardening leave.” The OED gives a 1981 citation from The Times (the British newspaper), the inverted commas indicating it was a recent coinage: “There are too many senior officers on permanent ‘gardening leave’.” The Wikipedia article says that the expression gained popularity through its use in a 1986 episode of the TV series “Yes, Prime Minister.” The OED’s first citation for the shortened “garden leave” is a 1990 Financial Times article. For more background on both variants, see this 2010 post by Nancy Friedman.

All OED citations for both versions come from U.K. sources, but they show up now and again in the New York Times, for example in a 2011 article about a Goldman Sachs executive who had “to take a paid 60-day leave before he could start at Dealbreaker [a satirical blog], a common industry waiting period referred to as a ”garden leave.”’

I was interested to learn about this expression because I’m currently undergoing it myself. I’ve retired from the University of Delaware, which allows prospective retirees to take a sabbatical at reduced pay before walking out the door. UD’s slightly morbid name for this period: “terminal leave.”



A few days ago, Louise Linton, the wife of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, got into trouble for posting this picture on Instagram:

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The trouble stemmed from her hashtagging various items of her designer clothing–weird and creepy in itself, all the more so when accompanying a picture of getting off a U.S. military jet with official government markings.

What caught my eye was the reference to Tom Ford “sunnies”–sunnies being Australian shorthand for sunglasses. All citations for the term in both the Oxford English Dictionary and Green’s Dictionary of Slang are from Australian or New Zealand sources.

Linton is a native of Scotland who has lived in the U.S. for more than fifteen years. Did she pick up “sunnies” in Scotland, or is the term prevalent in the U.S. circles in which she travels? Please weigh in if you know.


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?


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.’”