Category Archives: Yanks vs. Brits

X v Y: The British “public school”: what does public really mean? Private?

etonschoolboys   British public schoolboys 

Glosso’s “X v Y” series tackles the complicated matter of British schools: when are they public, and when are they private? Can any actually be both? Continue reading

X v Y: Sarcasm and jealousy: the darker sides of irony and envy (and the irony of Aristotle)

greeneye

Glosso’s series, “X v Y”, takes a look at two sets of words — envy and jealousy, irony and sarcasm — that are often treated as synonyms but actually have substantially different meanings. Continue reading

The discomfort of pregnant pauses … … … … … … in different languages

Wikimedia Commons

Glosso apologizes for the slightly longer-than-normal pause that followed the last post. …

It wasn’t deliberate. …

But it was slightly awkward …

How long do you think a pause in conversation has to be before it becomes uncomfortable? Two seconds? Four seconds? Eight? Continue reading

Ich sage marmalade, you say jam … (But maybe not for long)

Frank Coopers Oxford Marmalade / Wikimedia Commons

“Brussels MEP plots sweet revenge for Brexit by changing definition of MARMALADE so it includes German jam.” So screamed one of the more bizarre headlines in Tuesday’s Daily Mail. What does marmalade actually mean?

According to the OED, it’s “a preserve made from citrus fruit, especially bitter oranges.”

As the Daily Mail went on to explain, “Under EU rules the spread — a staple of many British breakfast tables and beloved by Paddington Bear — can only be labeled such if it contains at least 20 per cent citrus fruit. … This enshrines in law the British definition that it refers exclusively to spreads made from oranges or lemons. But Germans have traditionally used the name to refer to all sorts of jams made from a variety of fruits including strawberries and plums. … Jakob von Weizsäcker, a German socialist member of the European Parliament, called for the definition to be changed.” You can’t make this stuff up…

Etymonline offers this history of the name of the sweet spread: “late 15c: from Middle French marmelade, from Portuguese marmelada “quince jelly, marmalade,” from marmelo “quince,” by dissimilation from Latin melimelum “sweet apple,” originally “fruit of an apple tree grafted onto quince,” from Greek melimelon, from meli “honey” + melon “apple”. Extended 17c. to “preserve made from citrus fruit.”

***

What’s funky?

 

Would you get away with this name for a juice stall in North America?

Passing through Fulham Broadway Shopping center (in London) recently, I was more than a little surprised to see this juice stall pictured above. “Funky Juice.” It was the American in me that was surprised. Smelly fluids? Rhythmic beverages reminiscent of James Brown and George Clinton? A trendy tasty health drink wasn’t exactly what Funky Juices promised in that moment to me. Continue reading

“Alternative” or “alternate” facts?

From my inbox …

“Kellyanne Conway says Donald Trump’s team has ‘alternative facts.’ Which pretty much says it all’,” reported the Washington Post recently. Well, these ‘alternative facts’ issuing from our new President’s administration might be wrong, but at least the adjective Conway uses to describe their facts is correct on both sides of the Atlantic. She could easily have used the alternative adjective and called them ‘alternate facts’.

“Alternative facts” are the new lies. And at least in America, they can also technically be known as “alternate facts,” which will grate on many an Englishman’s ear. Take the following examples:

The day before the inauguration, the New York Times reported that “around the country, an unusual number of alternate activities are planned to coincide with weekend events surrounding the inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump and the Women’s March on Washington.” And in the same article, discussing her own event that she hosted up in Washington Heights, the actress Ellen Burstyn explained: “It’s not a protest,” “It’s an alternate reality.”

Yes, in America we don’t just have alternative facts, but we also have alternative words for alternative. On this side of the pond, alternate is a synonym of alternative (as well as being an adjective describing things that are alternated). This is presumably a case of linguistic evolution, in which a word frequently confused with and substituted for its similar-sounding colleague has been absorbed into the vernacular with the ‘wrong’ meaning becoming standard and legit.

As Oxford Dictionaries explains succinctly: “In both British and American English the adjective alternate means ‘every other or every second’, as in they meet on alternate Sundays, or ‘(of two things) each following and succeeded by the other in a regular pattern’, as in alternate layers of potato and sauce. Alternative means ‘available as another possibility or choice’ (an alternative route; some European countries follow an alternative approach). In American usage, however, alternate can also be used to mean ‘available as another choice’: an alternate plan called for construction to begin immediately rather than waiting for spring. This American use of alternate is still regarded as incorrect by many people in Britain.”