Today’s New York Daily News Front Page

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There is so much to say about this laudable attempt by an American newspaper to simulate British argot in marking Iceland’s remarkable football (“footy” for short) victory over England yesterday.  First, “Mighty England” is a longstanding phrase, applied not only to the national football team but to the country as a a reference  to the chant ““We’re from England – mighty, mighty England.” Over on Twitter, there has been considerable discussion about whether a hypothetical youngster would say “mummy,” or “mum,” or whether he would address his mother at all on this matter. (There have been no objections to “my arse.”)

Then there’s “call bollocks on” apparently meaning “to call something bollocks.” The phrase is not only not listed in the OED, it’s not even listed in Urban Dictionary. Lynne Murphy, who alerted me to the Daily News front page, has already blogged that it’s not an actual British expression. It’s certainly not widespread, but it’s out there, with 1,870 Google hits for “call bollocks on” and 874 for “call bollocks to.”

What do you lot think?

Political analysis

A letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal:

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Perhaps Mr. or Ms. Stansbury is British, but in Los Gatos and the rest of the U.S., we say “college.”

More “Kit”

Spotted yesterday on Twitter from the American online magazine Slate:

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Obviously, Slate is using “kit” for what an American would usually call a jersey or shirt. My question is, would a British person refer to “France kit” or “French kit”?

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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