There are two words screaming from today’s British headlines: prorogation and prorogue. “MPs pledge to form alternative parliament in case of prorogation.” “Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is preparing to ask Queen Elizabeth II to prorogue or suspend the UK Parliament from September until mid-October.” You’re probably wondering — as I am — what on earth prorogue means, and where that word comes from. Continue reading
Originally posted in 2013, and then updated last year when it came back into the news …
Update: The censored cake … With the word “cum” back in the news today, Glossophilia is happy to republish one of its most popular posts.
* * Warning: contains strong language * * Language advisory: viewer discretion advised * *
I was watching Masters of Sex the other night on Showtime, and it struck me that Masters and Johnson were using the word come a lot. And they weren’t meaning the opposite of go. (It didn’t escape my notice that they also seemed to be coming a lot — but that’s another story…) I know these ground-breaking sex researchers of the 1950s and ’60s were famously ahead of their time, but not in their word choices — and their use of this particular piece of sexual terminology sounded weirdly anachronistic to me. I really thought that this word “come” was a more modern invention… Continue reading
Originally posted in May 2011.
“For ever”: these two words, when used together, are so poetic and so laden with meaning. In their definitiveness they conjure up the most extreme notions and emotions of the human condition: eternities of love, of despair, of hope, of estrangement, of desire, of determination, of life itself and even the hereafter. The words can’t be used lightly, whether they’re whispered or declared in the context of a single mortal lifespan or the unfathomable eternity of the universe; their meaning carries a certain gravitas in terms of time and intention. “I will stay here for ever” has no ambiguity about it. The OED defines the expression “for ever” as “for all future time” – or, more colloquially, “for a long time”. But put those two little words together, and here’s where the Americans and the Brits part company. Continue reading
Originally posted in April 2011.
Here are some words and expressions you won’t necessarily hear in New York City – unless you’re loading up on Bisto at the fabulous Myers of Keswick, or chewing wine gums at the recently opened London Candy Company on Lexington Ave, or chowing down on bangers and mash at Tea & Sympathy, or scoffing spotted dick at the Chip Shop in Brooklyn …
I’ll add definitions in a fortnight. Meanwhile, let me know if you can think of any more Englishisms that provoke such delight in American listeners and readers.
NB: it has just occurred to me that most of these slang words and expressions have quite negative connotations, referring to undesirable characteristics, moods, or commands. A few exceptions are ‘chuffed’, ‘dishy’, ‘morish’ … and of course we all love a bit of how’s your father.
any road (not meaning vague directions)
belt up (not fastening your seatbelt)
blow me (not what you might like to think)
bob’s your uncle
bovver (spot of)
(big) girls blouse
(a bit of ) how’s your father
(get your) knickers in a twist
nick / nicked
pear-shaped (not describing your figure)
piece of cake (not what you eat)
pissed (not mad, angry)
porkies/pork pies (not what you eat …)
rubber (not a condom)
sod / sod off / sod all
spend a penny (not what you do at Myers of Keswick – unless you ask very politely)
strop / stroppy
suss / sussed out
table (as verb; not removing it from the agenda)
take the mickey / take the piss
ups a daisy
waffle (vb.; not what you eat for breakfast with syrup)
wobbly / wobbler (not what the Weebles do)
And here are some favorite English delicacies:
Bubble ‘n’ squeak
Bangers ‘n’ mash
Toad in the hole
Originally posted in April 2011.
Elvis Costello’s lyrics are sometimes exquisite. I’ve been listening to them for years, since I was a teenager. But it was only this morning, sitting in Riverside Park and listening to my iPod, that I realized for the first time something curious about the chorus of one of his songs: that he uses the same collective noun with two different verb forms, one after the other:
Oliver’s army is here to stay
Oliver’s army are on their way
And I would rather be anywhere else
But here today
Unlike Americans, who tend to use verbs only in the singular form when the subject is a collective noun (“the crowd is screaming loudly”), Brits use collective nouns followed by either singular or plural verb forms, depending on the context. It’s a matter of emphasis and importance: whether the group is acting as a whole or whether the group’s individual members are important to the meaning of the sentence determines how it is formed. “The student class are causing unease in the school, given the range of learning differences amongst the scholars,” versus, “the student class is the most successful in the school’s history”. However, as a rule*, in both England and America, national sports teams are always treated as a plural noun: “England are beating all the odds and scoring their way to victory.”
So, given Costello’s use of two simple words, perhaps he’s conveying two disarming messages. “Oliver’s army is here to stay”: the army of his imagination (representing “a vision of mercenary and imperial armies around the world”) has no internal doubts or conflicts about its purpose, and it has no intention of leaving or disbanding. But as the lyrics’ author observed when asked about writing his song, ‘they always get a working class boy to do the killing’. “Oliver’s army are on their way”: The army is made up of many young souls, all of whom are marching into battle …
The song’s verses are worth reading, to get a sense of Costello’s brilliance not just as a musician but as a lyricist and poet.
* with some notable exceptions
As The Week reported last week: “Since January, President Trump’s re-election campaign has posted more than 2,000 Facebook ads focusing on immigration that use the word “invasion,” the New York Times reported. He also used the word “invasion” in several tweets regarding immigrants at the border. Trump’s word choice is in the spotlight following Saturday’s massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, which left at least 22 people dead. The suspect is believed to have written an online screed ahead of the attack, declaring it “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Data from Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic communications firm tracking 2020 presidential candidates’ digital advertising, shows that since late March, Trump has spent an estimated $1.25 million on Facebook ads about immigration.”
Donald Trump isn’t the only world leader who has used the words “invasion” and “invaders” with political (and malevolent) intent. As Lynne Tyrrell explained yesterday in The Guardian: “A 1992 speech by Rwandan political leader Leon Mugesera is widely considered to have launched genocidal mobilization in Rwanda. Mugesera repeatedly called Rwanda’s Tutsis “invaders”. Like Trump, who recently said that four Democratic congresswomen should go back to “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Mugesera said that the Tutsi “invaders” should be sent back to where they came from: “I am telling you that your home is in Ethiopia, that we will send you by the Nyabarongo so you can get there quickly.” The Nyabaraongo river runs to the Nile. After steady repetition of this rhetoric, the river grew clogged with Tutsi bodies during the genocide. Sending them back to Ethiopia, literally. Words became horrific action.”
An installment of The Duchess of Sussex’s now defunct lifestyle blog, “The Tig”, has been doing the rounds, thanks to People magazine. Describing in hungry detail what Meghan Markle wrote about five years ago on the subject of “the sweetest tradition [she] can think of,” People quotes liberally from the former actress’s July 2014 post in which she listed her summer literary “favs” and those of some of her Suits co-stars. I caught a couple of little gems in The Duchess’s post — both sparkling prettily in the same paragraph. Can you spot them? (Clue: I wrote about one of them in a very recent Glosso post. The other one just made me giggle.) Here’s the paragraph in question: Continue reading
“Lay, lady, lay,” sang Bob Dylan back in 1969. “Lay across my big brass bed
Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile”
Would Dylan have been more correct to write “Lie, lady, lie“? It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it? And we might have thought from the first few words that it was a song about deceit or infidelity. But it might have been more technically correct, vocabulary-wise …
Lay and lie are similar, but they don’t officially mean the same thing. (And we’re talking here about the “making horizontal” and “setting down” senses of these words – not the telling fibs or porkie pies kind of lie or lying. That’s another story altogether.) What makes things really confusing about lay and lie is that they mean different things and have different uses in the present tense, but one serves as the past tense of the other. OK, now you’re really confused. Take it away, Oxford Dictionaries: you explain it quite well. (And Glosso has thrown in some edits and examples to make it even clearer.) Continue reading
“The eagle has landed” is a common expression used to indicate any successful arrival or completion of a “mission” objective. The American astronaut Neil Armstrong said these words when he announced the successful landing of the Apollo 11 lunar module named “Eagle” in the Sea of Tranquility on the moon 50 years ago today – on July 20, 1969.
Glossophilia is posting this one again — as Wimbledon fortnight gets underway. Djokovic and Murray aren’t meeting tomorrow, but they’re both still in the game (just!). Familiar faces, but new balls …
They’re meeting tomorrow in what promises to be a nail-biting Wimbledon final (nail-biting at least for the great British public). But how much love will there be on Centre Court between these two formidable sportsmen, Novac Djokovic and Andy Murray? On the scoreboard, there might be a fair amount during the course of the match; perhaps not so much on the court itself. Why is love the name given to the score for zero in tennis? And what the deuce is the story behind the score for 40-all? Continue reading