I know I’ve gone quiet lately, and it’s because I’m really occupied with things that I can’t write about. So, so much for that. Nothing to say, move on. I suspect everyone who has had to deal with a residence visa knows how much you really don’t want to talk about the process while it’s ongoing.

I’ve run across a range of British words and phrases this week that have made me think “hmmm…?” so I thought I would post these in a light-hearted post that has nothing to do with the things that are making me crazy right now…

More-ish. The first time I heard this, I assumed it meant “Moorish” and was referring to some aspect of North African culture with which I was not familiar. But it turns out that it is a British word to identify things that are really tasty such that you want “more”. I like it, I’m just not clear on the distinction between “more-ish” and “tasty” or any other word for delicious. There is some subtlety here that I am not comprehending. I liked it better when I thought I just didn’t know enough about North African food to get what sorts of flavors were being discussed.

Cookery. I signed up this week for a course to learn more about baking bread, the science behind it, and how to get better at it. I might then take another course on how to bone a fish and then cook it. (This is part of my new philosophy for the world, in which I am going to take inspiration from my sister and start doing some more interesting things, like taking classes outside of work.) I was amused to realize that where I would use the term “cooking” the Brits would say “cookery”. So I am off to a class in cookery school. Full report to follow.

Plimsolls. I have to admit, I had never heard this word in regular usage, but it showed up in a post by Lynneguist last week, and once I had seen the word, I managed to run across it again–with great confusion of the “I have heard this and don’t know what it means” variety–later in the week. As far as I can tell, the meaning is “cheap tennis shoes” in American, of the sort that would never be used for much outside of fashion in the US but which are apparently the required shoes for gym class in the UK. Interesting. I think if I had been asked to run a mile in these I would have organized some sort of protest, but perhaps British gym classes do not do the same sorts of things as we did in the US in the 80s.

In work. This is an interesting one, as it seems to treat work as a noun that one can exist inside of. I suspect the American equivalent for “having a job” would simply be “working” and, as I am not a linguist, I am interested in how the two forms arose to be so very different. One often hears this in the UK (and Europe more generally) in the context of the phrase “youth unemployment,” a phrase that I have been assured is not on the radar in the US at all right now. Of course, in America we have “in school”, and just to keep things interesting in the UK we have “at Uni” so as to make sure it’s never quite consistent or obvious which words go together.

And a final one, a sign spotted on my walk home tonight: “Garage is in constant use“. I am interested in the use of the word “constant” here. While I can acknowledge that a garage should be in constant use, because it is a place to store things and one is probably always storing things in a garage, the intended meaning was of course that no one should park in front of the garage door because it might need to be used at some point (likely not constantly). I am amused.

I will end this by stating that I am not at all criticizing these Britishisms, as I–now resident in the UK for nearly five years and hoping for more years to come–am merely interested in the language. I get in mild trouble now when I’m back in the US, as I was last month, for the amazing range of British words and pronunciations that I have picked up in the last five years. This has led to an increasing fascination with language, linguists, and other things about which I am not an expert. But for the moment, it provides a very nice distraction from the things I’m worrying about, so I’ll go with it.


18 responses to “Englishisms

  1. For the longest time the only plimsolls I ever heard about was the band The Plimsouls. Imagine my surprise to find they were sneakers and had a different spelling.

  2. ha, I am amused by the constantly busy garage! It’s funny how people often think that they haven’t picked up much in the way of vocabulary and speech patterns – until they move outside of that Sprachraum, so to speak. Same with accents, I always trick myself into thinking I have a neutral accent until I’m confronted with someone whose accent is noticeably different.

  3. Plimsolls – ah, you didn’t read my book did you? I must say though, they are the most unsupportive shoes for physical activity ever. But they are cheap and are often used as indoor shoes in schools too – given that wellies are the usual choice of outdoor footwear. 😉

  4. To add to the confusion, there are regional variations of ‘Plimsolls’. In Derbyshire, I knew these Converse-type things as ‘Pumps.’ In the Bristol area, they were known as ‘Daps’. Dap is also a verb round there – as in, ‘There I was, dapping down the hill.’ (It means to trot lightly, as far as I could make out.)
    Amazed that anyone still uses plimsolls, though, either the article or the word; Nike obviously haven’t yet achieved their goal of footwear world domination.

  5. “Garage in continual use” would be ok, but “Garage in continuous use” not. Am I right? But you’re right. It can’t be “constant use”. I’d never noticed that one!

    I miss the word “cookery”. I think it’s dying a slow death. I like cookery books, but they’ve become cookbooks, or recipe books. ‘Cookery book’ has a lovely poetic rhythm and rhyme to it, as if it belongs in a nursery rhyme.

  6. Hi, I had to chuckle at the “Plimsolls” reference. When I first came to the UK as an eight-year-old from Ireland, I remember reporting back to my mum after school, that I would need a pair of pl,.., pl…, plingsoles? “Aaaahhhh, plimsolls!” she said, and we went to Woolworths and purchased said plimsolls.
    I had never heard of them before that episode and was telling a girlfriend here in Canada about them the other night. She was similarly bemused! It seems Plimsolls are as unique to Britain as Marmite

  7. Tasty = Yummy
    More-ish = So yummy I NEED to eat more

    Hope that explains this from my point of view 🙂

  8. Ditto the More-ish / Moorish experience!

    And when I first moved here and worked in a bookshop my manager used to grind her teeth every time I said The Cook Book Section. One time she asked me, ‘why don’t you just say Cookery Section like the rest of us?’

  9. “I was amused to realize that where I would use the term “cooking” the Brits would say “cookery”.”

    How odd! American and British English are alike in their primary definitions of this word: ” 1: the art or practice of cooking” (Merriam Webster). Not an exclusive Britishism or Englishism at all. Perhaps using ‘cooking’ for ‘cookery’ is a Minnesotism?

  10. About the shoes, I have a regular confusion here about shoes in Ukraine. Any cheap, simple sneaker-like shoe similar to what you’ve described is called ‘keds’. I have always thought of Keds as a brand, not a style (maybe that has change in the last decade in the US?). I’ve gotten used to it, but still can’t quiet bring myself to use it.

  11. Not a Minnesotism: Americans everywhere say cooking, never cookery. although I guess we’d recognise what the word means if we heard or read it.

  12. ‘Not a Minnesotism: Americans everywhere say cooking, never cookery.’

    Well, if that really is the case, it is a shame US English has lost a nuance of distinction between ‘the art/craft/science of preparing something to eat’ and ‘the act of preparing something to eat’. This distinction obviously existed in the US in the past: the first US cookbook, published in 1796, was titled ‘American Cookery, or the art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables, […] Adapted to this country, and all grades of life.’ Notice the word ‘cookery’.

    Have a look at the article on this subject in Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Cookery ), and note that the author of the article cites other authorities — apparently American — who also use the term ‘cookery’.

  13. Haha! I thought that more-ish was spelt “moorish” for quite a long time, until I finally saw it in writing…

  14. “Constant use”. Constant is not the same as continuous. “Continuous use” would indeed be strange, but “constant use” simply means that access might be required at any time. Cf “he is constantly interrupting” – he is doing it all the time, which doesn’t mean continuously. “Garage in continual use” sounds a bit self-conscious.

  15. We only used plimsolls in primary school, and we never had to run a mile back then. In secondary school we were allowed trainers. White only, so they didn’t leave black marks on the floor of the sports hall.

  16. Well all of that is good to know. Should be good preparation for my visit next summer!

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