Fully gets some celebrity love:
(Thanks to @mariayagoda.)
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.
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:
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.”
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 binwithout 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.”
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.
Just as if it were a chrysanthemum, Alex Beam planted a NOOB in the opening of a recent column in the Boston Globe:
And here I thought we had the place to ourselves.
Not by a long chalk, it turns out. New census data show that Massachusetts is the fastest-growing state in New England, population wise.
The NOOB in question is “not by a long chalk” (which I hereafter abbreviate as NBALC). I know he planted it because he proceeded to go on Facebook and write: “‘Not by a long chalk'; is that one of those “one-off Britishisms” that Ben Yagoda is always on about?” First of all, it’s “not one-off Britishisms,” not “one-off Britishisms.” Second of all, no.
Alex can certainly be forgiven for his mistake, since for nearly a hundred years , NBALC has indeed been more popular in the U.K. than the U.S., where the preferred wording is the similar-sounding “not by a long shot.”A 1995 New York Times review of a book of Italo Calvino short stories notes that the translator “re-creates the mix of languages while combining standard English with British usages, some colloquial (‘Mummy,’ ‘not by a long chalk’), others antiquated (‘wont,’ ‘woe betide us’).”
But NBALC, like bumbershoot, actually sprang from American soil. John Russell Bartlett included it in his 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms. Three years earlier, “The Knickerbocker,” a New York monthly, printed this saw: “THANKSGIVING ‘aint what it used to was, when we were a little shaver, sprouting up out of our boots among the green hills of Vermont—not by a long chalk.”
We can understand the confusion by taking a look at Google Ngram Viewer chart. The red line shows U.S. use of the phrase, the blue line British use.
In other words, starting in about 1920, “not by a long chalk” became inexplicably popular in the U.K., to the point where people like the New York Times reviewer and Alex Beam thought it was a Britishism. But is it? NBALC.
Lynne Murphy, proprietress of the Separated by a Common Language blog, has since 2006 selected the most noteworthy words that have traveled from the U.S. to the U.K, and the other way round (AmE: “around”). Here are her past U.K. to U.S. selections:
The links go to her posts. I have covered all except “kettling,” which I confess I wasn’t aware of until today; you can find my entries by putting the words into the “Search” function.