Pardon? Say what?

Proof that Don Draper was a social climber…

“What?” … “Huh?” … “Excuse me?” … “Can you [please] repeat that?”

Those are some of the ways an American might ask you to repeat something when they didn’t hear you. And apart from their varying degrees of politeness, there’s not much to distinguish between them.

But it’s a different story on the other side of the Atlantic. Brits are inclined to judge you by how you say “huh?” — as much as by the clothes you wear, where you went to school or what accent comes out of your mouth.

“Pardon?” Continue reading

Thanks a bunch, and what’s up?

bunch    what'sup

Here are two common colloquialisms that divide Americans from their English-speaking cousins across the pond.

Last week, after news of her older brother’s stroke made headlines , Reba McEntire took to her social media channels to thank her fans and friends for their support: “We really appreciate all your thoughts and prayers. We will keep you all posted. Keep sending your prayers! Thanks a bunch!” Those last three words of gratitude from the American country singer were straightforward in their meaning. Reba was saying “thank you” with the most heartfelt sincerity.

But those words might have landed strangely on British ears, especially in that context. Continue reading

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (May 22)


TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky. Stories about language usage in the news this past month include unexpected Latin translations; an inappropriate exclamation mark; a famous fictional advertising exec showing off his grammatical prowess; a grammatically correct bank robber; football fans ranked by spelling and grammar ability; a punctuation-free doctoral dissertation; and a very expensive web site name.

Continue reading



Far From the Madding Crowd was Thomas Hardy’s fourth novel (written in 1874), but it was his first literary success, and it has been adapted into two notable movies — starring Julie Christie and Carey Mulligan respectively as the farmer heroine Bathsheba Everdene who is being courted by three men in England’s rustic Wessex. But as well as giving us what some people think of as one of the greatest love stories in English literature, Hardy’s novel has left a slightly more esoteric legacy, with its title living on in our language and keeping an otherwise extinct word alive. “Far from the madding crowd” still crops up in colloquial, promotional and sometimes literary prose as a poetic expression that means — when describing a place — “secluded and removed from public notice”, as the Oxford English Dictionary acknowledges with a hat-tip to Hardy’s novel.  Continue reading

Don Draper is a grammar nerd … “Be still, our writerly hearts”


“If you’re a grammar nerd, no doubt your heart grew three sizes when you learned that Stannis Baratheon [from Game of Thrones] and Don Draper [from Mad Men] have something more than awkward relationships with their daughters in common. That’s right, these two emotionally unavailable men are also grammar pedants. Be still, our writerly hearts.” So wrote Vanity Fair‘s Joanna Robinson shortly after the airing of Mad Men‘s penultimate episode a few evenings ago, and oh how right she was — about our hearts growing three sizes.

And thanks to Vanity Fair, we can now watch that breathtaking moment over and over and over again, without tiring of the memory of Don’s linguistic prowess. (Except: shouldn’t it be any more — two words — rather than one? Perhaps that’s for a separate discussion …)




Why do Brits pronounce lieutenant “leftenant”?


Back in 2013, on The Guardian‘s Notes and Queries page, a man called Jeff Rushton from London asked this very good question:

Why exactly do the British say lieutenant as ‘leftenant’? 

Armchair linguists on both sides of the Atlantic offered up various answers and suggestions: here’s a selection for your interest and entertainment … Continue reading

Charlotte Windsor



The Duchess of Cambridge has given birth to a baby girl, and her name is Charlotte. HRH Princess Charlotte of Cambridge. Charlotte Elizabeth Diana Windsor is fourth in line to the throne after her grandfather Prince Charles, her father, Prince William, and her brother, Prince George.

The name Charlotte is of French origin, meaning “free man”, and is the female form of the male name Charles. There are nice family connections for the Windsor family, with Charlotte being the middle name of her aunt, Pippa, and one of the princess’s grandfathers being called Charles (the Prince of Wales). Continue reading

I say Derby, you say Darby …

iroquoisIroquois was the first American-bred thoroughbred racehorse to win the Epsom Derby

It’s Derby Day in the U.S. and all the hats were out in Kentucky. The Brits will dust off their own fascinators for their big day in June when the country’s fastest colts and fillies run the one-mile four-furlong ten-yard race on the Epsom Downs in the world’s original and most famous Derby. But what’s the biggest difference between the Derby Stakes and the Kentucky Derby — apart from the names of the speedy nags running for the roses on either side of the Atlantic? That will be in the way the names of the famous races themselves are pronounced: as in DERBY here in the States and DARBY over in Blighty. Why do the Brits do that? Continue reading

That lusty month of May

“The month of May was come, when every lusty heart beginneth to blossom, and to bring forth fruit; for like as herbs and trees bring forth fruit and flourish in May, in likewise every lusty heart that is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds.  For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May.”
—  Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur

Vanessa Redgrave sings “The Lusty Month of May” in Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot