If you think they refer to umbrellas as bumbershoots in the UK, think again. The word bumbershoot actually originated in the United States! In Britain, it’s prolly a brolly. • Also: snow-grooming language, more than one way to say bagel, Philadelphia (not the city), strong like bull, whistle britches, long suit and strong suit, homey and homely, wet behind the ears, dead nuts, and more. This episode first aired April 14, 2018.
If you think they refer to umbrellas as bumbershoots in the UK, think again. The word bumbershoot actually originated in the United States; in Britain, it’s more likely a brolly. You’ll learn that and much more about the differences between British English and American English in the marvelous new book The Prodigal Tongue by linguist Lynne Murphy.
A middle-school teacher and her students in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, have a question about one girl’s pronunciation of the word bagel. Is this round yeast roll with a hole in the middle pronounced BAY-gull, BAG-ull, or BEG-ull? Although most people pronounce it with a long a, for many people it rhymes with waggle.
A ski slope groomer in Stowe, Vermont, says he and his colleagues use vehicles that make corduroy, the packed, parallel, ridged surfaces of snow that are perfect for skiing. Another term for corduroy, or someone who wears it, is whistle britches, because of the sound corduroy pants make when the wearer is walking.
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz similar to the board game Tribond, in which the object is to figure out the bond that links three things. For example, what’s the common bond that links the words playground, trombone, and microscope?
In The Prodigal Tongue, linguist Lynne Murphy recounts the story of a friend from the US who was confused when her physician inquired about her waterworks. In Britain, that’s a slang term for urinary tract, whereas in the US, it’s a slang for crying.
In the US, if you’re ambivalent about something, you’re said to be of two minds. In the UK, however, they use a different preposition — they’re said to be in two minds. Also, Americans talk about brainstorms, which in the UK are called brain waves.
An Escanoba, Michigan, construction worker who specializes in plumbing and pipefitting says that when he and his co-workers finish a task just so, they approvingly call it dead nuts. But he wonders if there’s anything obscene about that expression.
In the US, if you step on a piece of Lego, you scream bloody murder; in the UK, you step on a piece of Lego and scream blue murder. Also, in the US, you eat scrambled eggs; in the UK, it’s scrambled egg.
The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English by linguist Lynne Murphy is a trove of information about differences between these two versions of English. Murphy’s blog, Separated by a Common Language, is another great source, and you can take online quizzes to test your knowledge of the two.
A woman in Omaha, Nebraska, wonders about the difference between the adjectives homey and homely. In the UK, the word homely is still a positive term that means cozy, whereas in the US it usually means “unattractive” or “plain-looking.”
Bert Vaux, the linguist whose data was the basis of the wildly popular New York Times Dialect Quiz, is collecting more data about American English, and invites you to take a survey. The answers will help inform a new app he’s working on.
A woman in Fairbanks, Alaska, says she’s been described as strong like ox, smart like streetcar. Is that a compliment? Other variations include strong like bull and smart like tractor or smart like dump truck. The phrase strong like bull was most likely popularized by the character of Uncle Tonoose on the 1950s sitcom, The Danny Thomas Show.
This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.
Photo by Kieran Clarke. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Book Mentioned in the Episode
Music Used in the Episode
|Feelin Good||The Three Sounds||Feelin Good||Blue Note|
|Open Space||Piero Umiliani||To-Day’s Sound||Easy Tempo|
|Down The Track||The Three Sounds||Good Deal||Blue Note|
|Bad John||Lou Donaldson||Good Gracious!||Blue Note|
|The Holy Ghost||Lou Donaldson||Good Gracious!||Blue Note|
|Caracas||Lou Donaldson||Good Gracious!||Blue Note|
|Green Valley||Piero Umilliani||To-Day’s Sound||Easy Tempo|
|Dag Madam Merci||Placebo||Placebo||Harvest|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|