“Kick/push into the long grass”

Katherine Connor Martin, the head of U.S. dictionaries for the Oxford University Press, tweeted me a quote from a Nov. 30 New York Times article about a potential state visit of Donald Trump to Britain: “Even before the latest uproar, there was speculation that the state visit was being pushed into the long grass.” She commented, “First time I recall seeing this BrE soccer metaphor (it’s usually ‘kick’) in a US pub[lication].”

The OED says “kick into the long grass” was originally political and defines it as “to put aside, defer; to sideline.” The first citation is a 1973 quote from The Times, which the OED notes employs an extended football (soccer) metaphor: “Mr Rippon set himself up as the archapostle of community politics..with all sorts of pledges about not ‘kicking the ball into the long grass’ from which it might emerge muddier than before.”

(Jonathon Green, in Green’s Dictionary of Slang, gives another meaning for “long grass,” defined in a 1986 quotation from Bob Geldof: “When you gave not someone for a long time and you ask them where they have been they might replay, ‘Oh, I’ve been in the long grass,’ meaning they’ve been around but not visible.”)

As Katherine suggested, the phrase is not commonly encountered in the U.S. All the Google Books hits for “kicked into the long grass” are British. And as she also suggested “push” is a fairly rare variant, with only twenty total Google hits for “push/ed it into the long grass.” The first seems to have been a 2011 quote from the actor Hugh Grant, referring to his campaign against newspapers’ phone hacking: “Grant called this an ‘enormous national scandal,’ saying, ‘The politicians will for sure try to push it into the long grass.'”

Two of the hits are from American sources, one being the New York Times article I mentioned at the start. It actually doesn’t count as a NOOBs source because it was written by Cambridge graduate Stephen Castle. The second is a testimonial from someone identified as “Nick from NYC” to  a company called Speedy Papers, which sells students plagiarized term papers. He supposedly said:

“My paper was easy from the first sight and I pushed it into the long grass. I had only 24 hours to complete it. Speedypaper writer did my 3 page writing in 16 hours. You helped me out of difficulties. Keep right on!”

If Nick exists, he is almost certainly not from NYC as no one there says “pushed it into the long grass.” And “Keep right on” is a pure British phrase, originating in a Scottish hymn sung by Harry Lauder and adopted by the Birmingham City football club. (“From the first sight” also sounded odd to me–the familiar expression is “at first sight” or “at first glance”–but it seems like it’s used by Americans.)

Because of the lack of U.S. examples, I’m categorizing this as an “Outlier.”

In the course of my research, I came across a 1966 quote from a Parliamentary debate: “”In other words, how long is the ball to be kicked into the long grass?” I tweeted it out since it predates the first OED citation by seven years. A few days later, the official OED Twitter account, @OED, replied:

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That truly made my day; for a geek like me, contributing an initial citation to an OED definition is an achievement along the lines of a birder spotting an orange-bellied parrot. A friend asked, “Is this like winning an Oscar for you?” I said: “No. Lifetime Achievement Award.”


Thanks for the “pear-shaped” link

I love it that New York Times food editor Sam Sifton, in his Thanksgiving Cooking newsletter, not only used “pear-shaped” but linked to the NOOBs post on it.

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Pro-predicate “do”‘

Recently this exchange occurred on the American radio show/podcast “On the Media”:

KATHRYN VAN ARENDONK: …. when you go about separating art from artist, you can then run into all of these problems where you love work and you love an understanding of that artist that turns out to not actually be at all who they were in life.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Did I just hear you say “Louis C.K.”?

VAN ARENDONK:  I may have done.

And this from a recent New Yorker article: “Araten acknowledged that, relative to sales, the Hatfield factory employed fewer people than it had done in the past.”

The “may have done” and “had done” are examples of what ace Anglo-American linguist Lynne Murphy calls “pro-predicate ‘do'” (which I’ll abbreviate as PPD). As she explains in a blog post, in expressing the same thought, British people would say, “I ate all the chocolate, even though I shouldn’t have done,” where Americans would say, “I ate all the chocolate, even though I shouldn’t have.” In the examples at the top, the normal American constructions would be “I may have” and “… than it had in the past.” (Lynne doesn’t mention this, but I think an American alternative in the first case is to extend the sentence with another pronoun–that is, “I may have done it,” or “I may have done so.”)

In her post, Lynne has a full explanation of the relevant grammar, as well as a quote from a scholar who has found that the construction only became popular in Britain in the 1920s. (By the way, the “pro” in PPD stands for “pronoun”; as with pronouns, the “do” stands in for another word, in this case a verb.)

Since starting this blog six years ago, I’ve been on the lookout for American uses of PPD, with very little results, until now. Over the last year or so, I’ve noticed a handful examples, the “On the Media” and New Yorker ones being the most recent. Will Americans soon adopt PPV more broadly?

They may do.


The hot kitchen appliance in the U.S. right now is the Instant Pot, a programmable electric pressure cooker that can also be used as a slow cooker and does various other things as well. I’ve been in the market for one and in the store snapped this picture, which shows just some of its functions.


The function that caught my eye was “Porridge,” which is a word we don’t really say in the U.S. (other than in “The Three Bears” and other fairy tales). Having been served it in English B and Bs, I had the sense that in the U.K., “porridge” means what we call “oatmeal.” Anglo-American linguist Lynne Murphy confirmed this, basically. Over Twitter, she said that in Britain, “the default porridge is made of oats…. if you ask for porridge, you will get oatmeal. For others, you’d need to specify–‘buckwheat porridge’ or whatever.”

It turned out that Instant Pot’s “porridge” isn’t a pure NOOBs. Although the product is hugely popular in the United States, it originated in Canada, whose residents seem to use “porridge” much as the British do. Indeed, Lynne forwarded me an article from the Canadian grain journal Grainews (and it somehow warms my heart that there’s such  a thing as a Canadian grain journal) titled, “What’s more Canadian than a bowl of porridge?” The article seems to use “oatmeal,” “porridge,” and “oatmeal porridge” interchangeably.

Of course, Instant Pot could have changed “porridge” to “oatmeal” for its U.S. shipments. But keeping the original term adds an exotic flavor that–who knows?–could have contributed to the product’s immense success.

More on “stand”

Prompted by some comments to my post on “stand (for election)” to take a deeper look, I find some interesting nuances. To start, “stand” in the sense of put oneself forward for an office dates to at least 1551, according to the OED. For the first couple of centuries, it was always used in reference to a specific position (“Were he to stand for Consull”–Shakespeare, Coriolanus), especially, from the 1700s on, Parliament (“Dr. Thorne intended to stand for the county on the next vacancy”–Trollope). This Google Ngrams chart shows the frequency of that “stand for Parliament” in the Google Books database.

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Then the more general “stand for election” popped up, slowly. Google Books contains only two uses of that phrase prior to 1900–one in Connecticut in 1814, the other in South Africa in 1888. Things picked up in the 20th century, as this Google Ngrams chart shows.

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The graph is instructive in terms of this blog’s subject. It shows “stand for election” was used roughly equally in U.S. and British sources until about 1920, when it took off in the Britain and stood still here. And what replaced “stand” in the U.S.? Basically, “run” followed by the name of the office. This Google Ngrams chart shows only American sources.

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In other words, the phrasing in Rachel Maddow’s statement quoted in the original post–that FDR “stood for president”–had, until then, basically never been used in American English.

I have to admit I was surprised to find “stand for election” as popular in the U.S. as Google Ngrams shows it to still be; certainly, I don’t recall ever coming across it. To try to get some insight, I searched the phrase in the New York Times archives, and got some interesting results. A lot of the hits come from articles about foreign (especially British) elections. The most recent American story came in February 2016 and was about the governing board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science: “Traditionally, nominees stand for election by the individual branches.” The next one, published a month earlier, was: “Lion Point Capital …has proposed two director candidates, whose names were not released, to stand for election at the company’s annual meeting.”

The next five examples, dating back to 2013, were along the same lines–all referred to people putting themselves forward to boards of trustees or directors. That makes sense because it doesn’t sound quite right to say someone is “running” for such a position.

Incidentally, the other example in the original post, besides Maddow’s, was from an article in the New York Times Magazine by Sasha Chapin. I noted that he’s Canadian and wondered whether “stand for election” is common in that country.

Chapin (@sashachapin) responded on Twitter:

“But here’s a twist: that line was inserted by my editor, an American. Cor blimey!”




“Stand for (election)”

Top NOOBs scout Nancy Friedman alerted me back in September to U.S. news host Rachel Maddow’s use of a certain Britishism:

… standing for re-election as president in 1972, Richard Nixon was due to make history. He was going to match FDR`s record for being on the national ticket for his party in five different elections. FDR had stood for vice president once. Of course, he stood for president four times…

The Britishism is “stand”–the exact Americans equivalent is “run.” I mentally filed away the example and planned to eventually write a post on it. I expected that I would find that it was a true one-off from the mouth of Maddow, who studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and is quite fond of British expressions.

Well, it’s at least a two-off, as Nancy has detected another use, in last Sunday’s New York Times magazine: “… Jeff Flake, in a speech announcing he would not be standing for re-election…”

The author of the article, Sasha Chapin, is Canadian. Following a Twitter discussion, ace Anglo-American linguist Lynne Murphy kindly searched a corpus of Canadian English. She found three hits for “run for election” and six for “stand for election.”

Still, even if it was normal for Chapin, the usage got by the Times copy editors. Oh, I forgot, the Times has eliminated the position of copy editor.

Anyway, such is the press’s need for elegant variation, I expect to see “stand for election” pop up again.


Is “Feeling a …?” a thing?

A while back, I discussed Donald Trump tweeting that his political enemy Bob Corker “was made to sound a fool”–the Britishism being the omission of the word  “like” after “sound.”

Soon afterwards, my friend and neighbor Nanette Tobin alerted me to this sign in our town grocery store:


Nanette wondered if the first line were a similarly British elision–the meaning being “Feeling like having a treat?” (Obviously, the more common way of expressing this on the other side of the Atlantic would be “Fancy a treat?”) I tend to think that it sounded British to the signmakers, but it actually isn’t. What do you lot have to say?