“On the up and up”

Jan Freeman remarked on Twitter that she had been hearing the phrase “on the up and up” meaning “improving” instead of “honest.”

There are indeed two general meanings of the phrase. The one I’m familiar with is “honest” or “on the level,” and the OED identifies it as originally American, with citations going back to 1863.

The OED doesn’t specify any nationality for the “Steadily rising, improving, or increasing” meaning. The first citation is from The Baltimore Sun, 1930: “From now on, we are led to believe, law and order will be on the up and up, as the current phrase is.” But that strikes me as ambiguous–that is, it could mean that law and order is on the level, as opposed to on the rise. All the other citations are from British sources.

But in any case, as Jan suggests, it’s now being used in the U.S., as in this  from a March post in Forbes.com: “to say that Thrive [Capital] is on the up and up would be a massive understatement.”

Any Yanks out there who have a sense that  “on the up and up”=”on the rise” is a long-term thing over here?

Results are in

Thanks to all who participated in the survey on pronunciation of the “-man” suffix in such words as “policeman” and “gunman.” I reported on the results yesterday on the Lingua Franca blog.

One finding I didn’t report was the difference between U.K.  and U.S. respondents. For certain words it was rather dramatic.

Here is a graph showing respondents from the U.S.:

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 10.47.01 AMAnd this one shows U.K. respondents:

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 10.55.27 AM

Generally speaking, U.K. respondents use the schwa more often than do American ones. Here are the three words with the biggest difference:

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 11.06.47 AM

My hypotheses for this relates to the general idea expressed in The Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, that reduced-stress schwa-vowel “-man” tends to occur in “well-established formations.”  The three words in the chart above are nothing if not well-established–and were established in the British Isles long before there even was a United States.

Also supporting the hypothesis is results on “lineman,” which I threw into the survey without thinking about the fact that it’s a mainly American term, either as a football position or the job memorialized in Glen Campbell’s song “Wichita Lineman.” (Google Ngram Viewer shows much greater use in the U.S.) Sure enough, U.K. respondents–to whom it’s unfamiliar–significantly outnumber Americans in reporting an equal-stress  /æ/ vowel in “lineman.”

Pronunciation of “-man”

This is (probably) off-topic, but I’d appreciate your help in something I’m looking into for another blog, Lingua Franca. I’m investigating how people pronounce the suffix “man” in such words as policeman, mailman, gunman, etc. (understanding, of course, that they are sexist and on the way out). The issue is whether the syllable is pronounced with a reduced stress and a “schwa” vowel, as in “woman,” or with equal stress, rhyming with “can” or “fan.”

Please take the survey at the link below, and do your part in helping the advancement of (pseudo-)science.


“Bog standard”

Keith Huss (@keithhuss) writes on Twitter: “Having British wife and friends, I’m familiar with the phrase “bog standard”. Recently read it twice on US tech blogger sites.”

New one on me!

The Oxford English Dictionary describes “bog standard” as: “slang (depreciative, chiefly Brit.). Ordinary, basic, standard without extra features or modification; unexceptional or uninspired.”

The citations (the earliest one is from 1962) all refer to cars or computers, with the exception of this 1995 quote from Empire magazine: “A bog-standard biography with a cheap ‘Psycho’ sales gimmick, you can’t help thinking [Anthony] Perkins deserved better.”

An Urban Dictionary definition from 2006 goes:

“Completely, utterly, absolutely ordinary in every way. British slang. ‘Dave drives a totally bog standard Escort. Not even aircon. Dave is a cheap bastard.'”

The etymology is uncertain but interesting. The OED suggests that it may have derived from “box-standard,” an obsolete noun denoting “a frame or standard hollow tubing forming the main framework of a machine, engine, etc.” “Box-standard” shows up as an adjective meaning the same thing as “bog-standard” in 1983. According to Google Ngram Viewer, the two phrases were roughly equally popular until the late 1990s, when “bog” took off and crushed the opposition.

Is “bog-standard” a NOOB? It’s out there, a little. Suzy Menkes wrote in the New York Times in 2012 that a fashion show has a “focus on outerwear, including cropped jackets rather than the bog-standard trench.” But most of the quotes I find are, as Keith Huss suggests, on tech sites, such as this from Ziff-Davis’s Extreme Tech: “The company’s plans for an ARM-based server business may be in their infancy, but AMD has built at least one bog-standard ARM core.”

Whatever that means.

Lena Dunham fully is committed to “fully”

Not long ago, I quoted Lena Dunham’s use of the (originally) Australian “fully” as a more all-purpose emphasizer than Americans’ use of the word. Now here she is again in yesterday’s New York Times, talking about when, as a teenager, a therapist asked her to picture a soothing location:

“I fully just imagined Eloise’s home at the Plaza.”

(Heloise Eloise was the heroine of a series of picture books who, indeed, lived at the Plaza Hotel.)

Seems like Dunham is on a one-woman crusade to get this word some traction.

“(Full) credit to…”

I spied a relatively subtle addition to the list of British football expressions taken up by American soccer participants in a quote in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer. The American-born manager (actually, that’s another one–American lingo would be “coach”) of the Philadelphia Union, after a loss, said: “Credit to Dallas because they outplayed us from that point on.”

The more common British sports cliche (and correct me if I’m wrong) would be “Full credit to…” But they both differ from typical American coach-speak in this situation, which is,  “Give them credit.”

I told you it was subtle.

A hard man is good to find

I thought that alleged Mae West quote might get your attention…

Back in May 2013, I wrote that I didn’t expect to come across hard man (BrE for “tough guy”) in the U.S. again. It did take almost two years, but in any event, on NPR this morning, host Scott Simon described the captain of the U-boat that sank the Lusitania as “the kind of guy that you might actually, you know, like to have schnapps with, but a very hard man.”

On Google News, all the recent uses of the phrase are British, but I found one interesting. This was an article from the Daily Mail about Tom Benson, the owner of the (American) football team the New Orleans Saints. The article anonymously quotes “a close family source” as saying, ‘Tom has always been a hard man.”

I wouldn’t trust anonymous sources generally, even less so in the Daily Mail. But when a presumably American anonymous source starts throwing around British expressions in that English rag, well, as we say in New York, fuhgeddaboutit.