First Cheeky Nando’s…

… (discussed here ) and now, courtesy of Lauren Collins (@laurenzcollins),




The other day, tiresomely, someone hacked the Twitter account of the National Football League and tweeted that Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, was dead. The tweet was deleted. Then the perpetrator sent out another tweet:

Oi, I said Roger Goodell has died. Don’t delete that tweet.

If the NFL has a forensic team working on the case, I would advise them to concentrate their efforts in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Africa, because that, according to Wikipedia, is where people say “oi.”

According to the OED, the word originated as the naval interjection “hoy!” (related to “ahoy”). “Oi” was originally associated with Cockney argot, and the first OED citation is a bit of dialect from the Evening Standard in 1937: “Oi, there’s a lidy ‘ere wants some juice on the knocker!” The same year, it appeared in the lyrics to the song “Doing the Lambeth Walk,” from “Me and My Girl,” a musical about a Cockney barrow boy who inherits an earldom:

Once you get down Lambeth way
Every evening, every day,
You’ll find yourself
Doing the Lambeth Walk. oi!

Since then it has provided the name to a British punk-rock subgenre and more generally gone mainstream. You can hear it shouted in streets and sporting events of Commonwealth countries, especially Australia, where “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!” is a popular chant. But you don’t hear it in the U.S.

So get on it, NFL security. Your work is cut out for you.

“Fiddly”; “Fiddly Bits”

On Twitter, NOOB friend Jan Freeman reported some British colleagues describing a balky pin as “fiddly,” and remarked, “There’s a word we could use in AmE.”

It turns out we already have it, more or less.

First, the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition: “Requiring time or dexterity; pernickety.” The first citation is from Blackwood’s Magazine in 1926 but the second isn’t until 1960, from The Times– “‘Fiddly things’ should be done by automatic machines.” On my own, I found a 1958 quotation from the same newspaper, referring to the practice of picking snowdrops (the flower), and also, interestingly, modifying “things”: “They were fiddly things and it was cold work.” In any case, that’s about when the word started its ascent–in the U.K., not the U.S., as seen in this Google Ngram Viewer chart:

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The word’s first appearance in the New York Times (other than from British writers or quotes from British people) came in 1984, in a article about cooking grand dishes: “It must be a dish that is prepared infrequently and that requires long, slow, thoughful, but no necessarily fussy or fiddly preparation.” (Pairing fiddly with “fussy” suggests readers may have needed a contextual definition.)

It doesn’t show up again till 1996, but since then has been used 56 times, most recently today, in another food article, about making ravioli at home: “The process is fiddly, but the result is worth the effort.”

The word turns out to be popular not only in food but also in computers and gaming. The question, “What the hell does ‘fiddly’ mean?” on a website about board-game war games generated 92 responses. One succinct definition: “My understanding of the word is ‘full of tiny components’, or ‘requires a lot of small actions (like upkeep) that get annoying after a while’. Basically, things that get in the way of the actual enjoyment of the game.”

Just the other day, my daughter Elizabeth Yagoda used “fiddly” unselfconsciously. Bottom line, it’s out there as a NOOB.

But that’s not the case with the phrase that’s replaced “fiddly things” of the earlier quotations. Indeed, I might nominate it as the quintessential British expression. One of the first uses in the Google Books database is a 1952 quote from a building journal: “Notre Dame Catheral may have more gargoyles and fiddly bits, the Empire State Building may be higher, but none of them compare with the utilitarian might of a machine house roof.”

“Fiddly bits” is inescapable in the Commonwealth. It has been used 32 times in The Times since 2002, including this line from a letter to the editor: “While I am perfectly happy to iron my own shirts, etc, women’s clothes, with all those fiddly bits and pieces all over the place, defeat me.” It is also the name of an Australian spray paint


An American can say “fiddly” with absolute impunity, but “fiddly bits” is very much–and probably will remain–in the outlier stage.

“Have a Look”

The trendy online eyeglasses company Warby Parker apparently thinks that it’s trendy to eschew the traditional American “take a look” for its British equivalent. Have a look at a chunk of Warby’s Memorial Day promotional e-mail:

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Some years back, I commented that the Great White Whale of this blog–the Britishism that seems least likely to succeed in the U.S.–is plural verb for collective noun, as in “Parliament are voting.” Over the years, most of the examples I’ve found relate to soccer/football, or more broadly to sports: “the Miami Heat are..” or (infrequently) “the team are…”

Today, NOOBs friend Wes Davis points out a New York Times headline that demonstrates the usage in a non-athletic context:

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 12.15.10 PMI don’t have access to the Times stylebook but I did search the newspaper’s archives for “Taliban believe” (11 hits) and “Taliban believes” (two hits), so the headline is consistent with past practice. But it may be less a matter of using British style than paying attention to etymology.  According to Wikipedia, “Taliban” is Pashto for “students–that is, it’s a plural.

The Girl in the Trainers

On Sunday, June 17, the New York division of the publisher Penguin Random House is holding a walk to raise money for Camba, a local charity. Groups within the company form their own “teams.” Geoffrey Kloske, the head guy at Riverhead (which published my last three books), has organized one called “The Girl in the Trainers.” This is brilliant because:

  1. Riverhead published the bestseller The Girl on the Train.
  2. The author of the novel, Paula Hawkins, is English, and Penguin was (obviously) originally a British company, so the Britishism trainers, instead of American sneakers, is appropriate.
  3. You wear trainers when you walk.

Well played, Kloske.

“Lost the Plot”

When a friend wrote in a Facebook post the other day that a certain political figure had “lost the plot,” my NOOB-dar came on. I wasn’t familiar with the phrase but it had the definite feel of a Britishism, and sure enough, it is.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “lose the plot” as “to lose one’s ability to understand or cope with events; to lose one’s touch; to go off the rails.” There is a dubious 17th-century citation, with the  next not coming till a 1984 quote from The Times, presumably about a fashion show: “Arabella Pollen showed sharp linens, lost the plot in a sarong skirt and brought out curvaceous racing silk and a show-stopping bow-legged Willie Carson.”

As to the phrase’s national origin, the OED doesn’t say. A 1994 article in The American Scholar claims it’s Australian. It would be interesting to hear about that from an Australian. In any case, it definitely is a Britishism, as shown in this Google Ngram Viewer chart comparing uses of the phrase “lost the plot” in books published in the U.S. and the U.K:

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Interestingly, the first time it shows up in the New York Times, in 1998, it’s also in a fashion article:

From the parade of Mao worker jackets with frog closures and cheongsam dresses at Ferragamo to the indiscriminate layering of tulle and other sheer fabrics over trousers and skirts at Anna Molinari, many designers in Milan had a story’s worth of ideas, but they had lost the plot.

It’s been used a few dozen of times since then, most recently less than a week ago, in a May 14 article about entertainment mogul Sumner Redstone:

The legal fracas has changed Mr. Redstone’s public image from a firebrand whose business acumen and ruthlessness won him control of Viacom, Paramount Pictures and CBS, a $40 billion empire, into something quite different. In the local parlance, he lost the plot.