More on “spoilt”

Via Twitter:

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 9.23.32 AM

The store is in New York. Once again running the risk of stating the obvious, the American spelling is “spoiled.”

“Spoilt [or “Spoiled”] for Choice”

On my first extended stay in England, some fifteen years ago, I encountered the expression “spoilt for choice,” referring (forgive me if this is obvious)  to a situation where one has a lot of options. Ever since, I have been looking for an appearance on these shores, presumably with the first word spelled “spoiled.”

My wait is finally over. The ever-observant Jan Freeman sent a link to a Wall Street Journal article about women’s trousers that contains the line “Those wanting to make a higher-end designer commitment will be spoiled for choice.”

I was going to categorize this as an “outlier,” on account of the author of the WSJ article, Alice Cavanagh. Her blog doesn’t give her nationality, but most of her writing has been for the British or Australian editions of “Vogue.” So she probably wasn’t even aware she was writing anything out of the ordinary.

But then I found it a couple of times in the New York Times archives, including a 2014 article about a New Jersey ice cream joint: “customers can also find themselves spoiled for choice at the 1940s-style roadside walk-up, which lists 60 flavors of homemade hard ice cream and 11 of soft serve on its outdoor sign.”

So “spoiled for choice” gets bumped up to “On the radar.”

“Fully,” again

Fully gets some celebrity love:

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 2.24.07 PM

(Thanks to @mariayagoda.)

“No joy”

The ever-observant Wes Davis writes, “It may be my imagination, but I think I’ve been hearing Americans using ‘no joy’ in the Brit sense of ‘no luck.'”

I was not aware of that sense, but sure enough, the OED’s definition 1.g. of “joy” reads:colloq. Result, satisfaction, success. Esp. with negative, and freq. ironical.” The first relevant citation is from a 1946 book, Escape to Danger (and the quotation marks suggest a fresh coinage). “At 9.15 the workers had been down nearly forty minutes and still ‘no joy’.” Then from Stanley Price’s 1961 Just for Record: ” I..tried to get a taxi. No joy, so back into the studio.” Those and all subsequent citations appear to be British. There is also a Canadian shoegazing band called No Joy, formed in 2009.

However, as Wes noticed, the expression is creeping into American usage. I found several recent examples on Google News. Boston Globe tech columnist Hiawatha Bray (born in Chicago) writes in a recent piece: “I’ve asked Facebook for a comment, but no joy so far.”

And Tom Maxwell (born in Baltimore), in a Salon review of BBC Music’s video of “God Only Knows,” wrote last year:

Elton John, looking pained, covered in computer-generated blue butterflies, singing, “You’ll never need to doubt it.”  From the look of things, he should be singing, “Everything is satisfactual,” but no joy.

There is also a specifically American use, at least according to Urban Dictionary. A 2006 post offers this definition: “In air intercept, a code meaning, ‘I have been unsuccessful,’ or, ‘I have no information.'”

A later poster elaborates. “When a control tower advises a pilot that he has an approaching aircraft. If the pilot does not see the approaching aircraft, after a few seconds, he can reply ‘no joy.'”

If I could find out exactly how and when “no joy” entered U.S. military parlance, I would be a happy man.

“On the day”

Not long after I started spending time in London, I noticed the use of a phrase for which there is no precise U.S. equivalent: “on the day.” I know quite well that Americans use those words in that order, but not quite in the same context as in the U.K. I searched the phrase on Google News, and the first page of hits all came from British or Commonwealth sources. Here they are:

  • “These games are often fifty-fifty at best and even the well credentialled teams are vulnerable to a bit of bad luck on the day.” (Australian sports site The Roar)
  • Amongst the star performers on the day were young centre duo Jack Roberts and George Catchpole.” (Bourne [England] Local)
  • “Umpiring is a real team environment, just as playing is. We prepare to perform well, and all that matters is making sure you get it right on the day.” (The Roar, again)
  • “There’s been widespread condemnation from fans and teams alike of Force India, who blocked Manor (previously Marussia, previously Virgin, previously Manor) F1’s return to the grid, based on a half-baked excuse they came up with on the day.” (English Formula 1 site Badger GP)
  • “’Potentially, it’s a very useful tool but its complementary to the main pollsters. It would be feasible to do it on the day [of an election],’ he said.” (The Guardian)

That last one is interesting, because the bracketed insertion represents (to my mind) precisely the American version. That is, we are more explicit, saying  “on the day of [fill in the event],” or “when the day finally arrived,” or “on the day itself.” I have no idea why The Guardian should have felt the need to add “of an election,” other than as a gesture to its increasing number of American online readers.

I bring all this up because the other day I heard Vickie Barker’s very American voice, in an NPR report on London’s “Visit My Mosque” campaign, say these words: “But on the day, the center was packed with visitors sipping tea, nibbling pizza and cake, and eagerly listening to community members like Zahra Khimji describe a typical week there.”

NPR doesn’t provide any information about Ms. Barker, but I found a 2012 interview with her saying she had lived in London “over twenty years.” That makes at least twenty-five now, which is clearly enough time to lead even a Yank journo to say “on the day.”

“Bin” (verb, transitive)

There’s something about the Boston Globe. Hard on the heels of columnist Alex Beam’s “not by a long chalk” comes this from his fellow columnist Yvonne Abraham: “Occasionally, the eye-popping cost of a blood test gives us pause, but generally, we bin [explanation of benefits forms] without a second thought.”

“Bin”–meaning to throw something in the rubbish bin (meaning the garbage can)–is not only rare in the United States, it’s non-existent. I can say that because Lynne Murphy of Separated by a Common Language took the trouble to trawl the massive Corpus of Contemporary American English and find that it contains not a single instance of “bin” as a verb.

Googling “Yvonne Abraham” provides an explanation: as she says in this interview (and as her accent makes obvious), she hails from Australia. But as Jan Freeman (who alerted me to the quote) points out, “I doubt that her editor is also from a bin-speaking nation.”

“Nappies”

I thought it would never happen, but it did. Lynne Murphy has alerted me that the American site Slate has published the following sentence. (It’s from the Dear Prudence advice column; a woman has written in complaining that all her friends want to talk about is their darling baby grandchildren.)

Let’s hope these two can get free from the nappies long enough to come to brunch at your house or join you somewhere for coffee.

There is no reason for no reason for an American writing for an American publication to use “nappies” instead of “diapers”–other than being cute, that is. There’s nothing wrong with being cute, of course, but I would be gobsmacked if “nappies” caught on here.