Category Archives: Yanks vs. Brits

Killer Queen & Royal Jelly: What’s turpentine got to do with it?

 

Gelatin dessert / Wikimedia

With Bohemian Rhapsody becoming the second-highest grossing music biopic of all time, Freddie Mercury and Queen are back in the news and on the airwaves. There’s a word in the chorus of “Killer Queen” (“Mercury’s piano-led paean to a Moët-quaffing courtesan”*) that I’ve only just realized I’ve been hearing wrong all these years. And I had always assumed Freddie knew something I didn’t when he sang the French loan word. How could I have been so wrong? Continue reading

Highbrow: a person to regard with admiration or disdain?

phrenology

Highbrow and lowbrow come from phrenology, the 19th-century peudo-science of regarding the shape of the skull as a key to intelligence. Is highbrow — that man of high thoughts and high culture — the sort of person we all aspire to be? Or is the highbrow with his pretensions of superiority an object of disdain? Continue reading

You say smelled, I say smelt; you say dreamed, I say dreamt …

Clothes were hung up to dry …

Men were hanged at the gallows …

There are several common verbs that have more than one past tense or past participle — like spill, and hang. Where he spilt the ink, I spilled it; the villagers hung their clothes out to dry, but they hanged their thieves. Many of these usage differences are geographical, determined largely by which side of the Atlantic you’re on. (Brits tend to prefer the poetic “t” to the more formulaic “-ed”.) But not all. There are a few other factors — some of them slightly obscure, and even possibly unconscious — that can affect which past-tense version you decide to opt for. Continue reading

Old-fashioned journo jargon

UPDATE, Nov 5: see a new entry – cock-up – below, brought to Glosso’s attention on our Facebook page.

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The world of journalism is changing — fast. Not just in terms of who is writing (or no longer writing) about what on which platform or outlet: it’s how and by what means the words travel logistically from the writer’s mind to the reader’s eye. And along with that shifting means of transport comes a whole new constantly-changing language. Let’s take a nostalgic journey back to the old-fashioned days of journalism when red pens, paper galleys, metal rules, fax and telex machines, telephones and glue sticks ruled the newsroom. Some of the old jargon from that time still floats around today, but mainly only in the dusty minds of us old scribes and subs … Continue reading

Dead & quite: How two intensifiers behave on either side of the pond

First of all, what exactly is an “intensifier,” in grammatical terms? It’s an adverb or adverbial phrase that gives the adjective it precedes extra force or emphasis. (Intensifiers are actually a particular type of what we call a “sub-modifier”: an adverb used in front of an adjective — or another adverb — to modify its meaning.) British or American, we use standard intensifiers all the time: absolutelycompletely, extremely, highly, rather, really, so, too, totally, utterly, very. And most of these “very variations” are used the same way on both sides of the Atlantic. But not all: there are in fact a couple of exceptions, one of which is quite ambiguous … Continue reading

Twit or tw*t? (Warning: explicit – but only for Americans …)

He was allowed to use the word arse last week on the Graham Norton Show, but when Rowan Atkinson (aka Mr. Bean) chose another word synonymous with idiot to finish up his story (see 2:05 in the video above), BBC America roundly expunged it. BLEEP! I’m guessing that when the show aired originally in the UK a few days earlier, the four-letter word didn’t raise a single British eyebrow — let alone set off the censors’ bells. Speakers of American-English: read on at your peril … Continue reading

Intent or intention? Exhibit or exhibition?

Do you ever hear people saying the word intent or exhibit — and think there should surely be an “-ion” on the end of it? “You mean that was your intention rather than your intent?” “Are you talking about a whole exhibition, rather than a single exhibit?” Well this might well happen if you’re an Englishman abroad (i.e. on the other side of the pond), where you’ll hear exhibit and exhibition used interchangeably these days. Intent and intention have also become similarly synonymous Stateside — and I’m not sure if this is also happening over in the UK. Read what distinguishes — or used to distinguish — the “-ion” version of each noun from its “-ion-less” counterpart. Continue reading

Some sketchy business email language

Wikimedia Commons

We’ve all got our own lists of business buzzwords that set our teeth on edge. Synergy, bandwidth, actionable items, scalable, leverage — and the more recent and ubiquitous “circle back”: these are just a few of my personal bugbears in the boardroom, and I know you’ve got more. (You can get your fill of them from an earlier Glossophilia post on The ubiquity of buzzwords and business speak.) But there’s another category of business-lingo that’s getting some of our backs up: it’s the common misuse in emails of certain standard English words or phrases, which just never will sound or be right, however often they’re typed and no matter how good the intention. They’re not just icky words and phrases: they’re just plain wrong. Continue reading

Overleaf …

Is overleaf a Britishism? This morning I received a Glosso-related question from Andrea, one of my American friends. “My friend Mary*, who has written several books, uses the word overleaf (which I have come to find out is an adverb) in this sentence: ‘You can see some alternative models of ‘stuck’ overleaf.’ In this sentence, overleaf must describe a verb — like ‘see’. My brain can’t absorb that word as an adverb. It is more like a preposition+noun. Do you have experience with overleaf? Does that sentence sound normal to you?” Continue reading

I’ve just twigged …

In a recent letter in The Times (of London), a reader described his experience of driving his old Renault 4 through France: “On the road, the beeping by other drivers made me nervous — until I twigged the car was being saluted.” Does the word “twigged” make any sense to you in that context? If you’re a Brit, it probably does. But I’m sure most Americans won’t twig … Continue reading