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Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
February 24, 2012 7:47 AM   Subscribe

If you use Americanisms just to show you know them, people may find you a tad tiresome, so be discriminating.
You may have to think harder if you are not to use jargon, but you can still be precise.
Use all metaphors, dead or alive, sparingly, otherwise you will make trouble for yourself.
Some words add nothing but length to your prose.

(Notes from The Economist's style guide.)
posted by Joey Bagels (126 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also: "one article every week must include the phrase 'cack-handed', preferably in an article about the United States".
posted by Nelson at 7:52 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


company not corporation

Ugh. Words mean things. Different words often mean different things, no matter how similar the contexts they pop up in. This is an example where that is the case.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:52 AM on February 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


The Guardian Style Guide is still my favourite:

Goths (uc) Germanic tribe that invaded the Roman empire
goths (lc) Sisters of Mercy fans who invaded the Shepherd's Bush Empire

posted by permafrost at 7:55 AM on February 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


In the context of an article whether or not a company is incorporated doesn't really matter. It's still a company.
posted by zeoslap at 7:56 AM on February 24, 2012


company not corporation

Ugh. Words mean things


Yeah, that jumped out at me, too.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:56 AM on February 24, 2012


The military, used as a noun, is nearly always better put as the army.

I'm not so sure that the Navy and AIr Force would agree, to say nothing of the Marines. 'Military' is the whole of the armed forces, not just the Army, and the AHD agrees with me, so there.
posted by jquinby at 7:56 AM on February 24, 2012 [14 favorites]


"exponential" does not mean "fast". Just once I want to see a news article say that "the number of people with VCRs is changing exponentially".
posted by madcaptenor at 8:00 AM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Love. Love love love love love.
posted by millipede at 8:03 AM on February 24, 2012


"Meeting with someone" is not the same thing as "meeting someone" -- do these guys know any Americans?
posted by escabeche at 8:05 AM on February 24, 2012 [15 favorites]


"Every caption must include at least one pun and/or middle-brow allusion. NO EXCEPTIONS."
posted by flechsig at 8:05 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm on the record as emphatically loathing it when Americans use Britishisms, so I suppose the reverse should hold, too.
posted by jonmc at 8:06 AM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


company not corporation

Ugh. Words mean things.


Until recently, "corporation" wasn't used in the British Commonwealth. An incorporated company was legally a "company." I don't know if that's still the case in Britain, and I'm too lazy to check the legislation.
posted by smorange at 8:08 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Economist used to say - somewhere, I thought it was in the style guide but I cant find it - that as a weekly 'newspaper' they cannot compete on speed but only on the quality of their prose and analysis.

I always took that to heart - someone is always faster, you have already lost that fight. Where can you win?

Also: "Do not be hectoring or arrogant. Those who disagree with you are not necessarily stupid or insane. Nobody needs to be described as silly: let your analysis show that he is ... Go easy on the oughts and shoulds ... Do not be too pleased with yourself."
posted by shothotbot at 8:08 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I believe "pearl-clutchers" to be an Americanism.
posted by mneekadon at 8:09 AM on February 24, 2012


I find it interesting how every list of this sort tries to justify itself according to some logic, when inspection of the list quickly makes it apparent that the preferred conventions are products of history rather than reason.
posted by Pyry at 8:14 AM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


"exponential" does not mean "fast".

This. This, this, this.
posted by King Bee at 8:14 AM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Do not write Your salary just got smaller or I shrunk the kids. In British English it is Your salary has just got smaller and I’ve shrunk the kids.

The Economist lumps these together, but they're two distinct issues.

The first is as they describe it--a dropped auxiliary verb ('has').

The second is just a very common tense error. It should be 'shrank.' American English speakers do sometimes substitute the past participle for the past tense, exactly as they do with sink/sank/sunk.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:14 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm on the record as emphatically loathing it when Americans use Britishisms, so I suppose the reverse should hold, too.

Damn straight, guv'nor.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:15 AM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Gubernatorial is an ugly word that can almost always be avoided.

It may be ugly (I am agnostic about this), but it is fun to say, at least occasionally.

And what do you use in it's place? Governorial?
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:17 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Today I learned that I don't want to write for The Economist.
I'm going to stick to Strunk and White.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:18 AM on February 24, 2012


Also don't forget to put the superfluous and incorrect "i" in the suffix of aluminum.
posted by Aquaman at 8:25 AM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


"exponential" does not mean "fast".

This. This, this, this.


Yes, but they are correctly counseling you not to say "exponential" when you actually mean "fast," so what's the problem?
posted by escabeche at 8:26 AM on February 24, 2012


Their style guide says:

Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought. So think what you want to say, then say it as simply as possible.

Maybe it's me getting older and fussier, but it seems like The Economist is getting a lot sloppier these days, mostly in an effort to sound hip.

I seem to often come across the phrase "loads of Xs..." rather than "lots of Xs..", as in "loads of companies do something or other".

And the other day there was a piece about machine learning where some software learns how to recognize possible sign of employee fraud based on what lawyers look for in documents when they're investigating. The article then went on to say that the converse also happens and lawyers learn from the software too, only to throw in a "joke" about maybe lawyers can learn empathy from computers.

There's a place for lawyer jokes, but it's probably not the Economist, esp when the joke is there instead of actually explaining something interesting.
posted by philipy at 8:29 AM on February 24, 2012


This is something that MetaFilter does SPECTACULARLY well.
posted by tzikeh at 8:29 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


They will have to rip this here eggplant out of my cold, dead, aubergine-stained hands.
posted by Danf at 8:30 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a place for lawyer jokes, but it's probably not the Economist

Perhaps your reference point is much further in the past, but to me the Economist has always been the one "serious" publication that would make the joke.
posted by mullacc at 8:38 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The military, used as a noun, is nearly always better put as the army.

Not if you're writing about the American military.
posted by ocschwar at 8:38 AM on February 24, 2012


Ugh. Words mean things. Different words often mean different things, no matter how similar the contexts they pop up in. This is an example where that is the case.

There are corporations (such as the City of London Corporation) that are not companies. At least it isn't as bad as the horrendous phrase "corporate sector".

I'm going to stick to Strunk and White.

Lol.

I find it interesting how every list of this sort tries to justify itself according to some logic, when inspection of the list quickly makes it apparent that the preferred conventions are products of history rather than reason.

Well, it's a style guide isn't it? The idea is to create a magazine(*) that has a consistent tone, I don't think any style guide would embarrass itself by pretending to be logical.

Just once I want to see a news article say that "the number of people with VCRs is changing exponentially".

It might be. If the utility of having a VCR is related to the number of other people who do (and that's not so implausible), then you might actually get an exponential decay in the number of extant VCRs.

(*) No. Fuck off.
posted by atrazine at 8:40 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


rumpus rather than ruckus

And, what, pray tell, shall I say when I have to report that there is a ruckus in the Rumpus Room?

Do not figure out if you can work out.

I am reading this as an admonishment to "just go to the gym, already!"

To paraphrase Eddie Izzard, the United States and the UK are indeed two countries separated by the Atlantic Ocean.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:40 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I loves me my Economist subscription, though it's always depressing when a new issue arrives and I'm nowhere near done with the current one.

The *court* of Judge Judy is different than her courtroom or courthouse; it's the conceptual space where justice is meted out, not a physical location.

*Normalcy* was largely a Warren G. Harding malapropism that has passed into common language, but I use it cromulently. Especially when Madden talks of "defensing".

And what's wrong with *snicker*? "Snigger"? Please...
posted by lothar at 8:44 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gubernatorial is an ugly word that can almost always be avoided.

Gubernatorial should only be used in reference to Jimmy Carter; as in Jimmy Carter was a gubernatorial candidate in 1966 and 1970. Jimmy Carter won the gubernatorial election in 1970.


The preceeding 1970s joke was brotchabie Planters.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:47 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Until recently, "corporation" wasn't used in the British Commonwealth.

The British Broadcasting Corporation has been in existence since 1927, that's 85 years. How recent do you mean by recent?
posted by biffa at 8:48 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you use Americanisms just to show you know them, people may find you a tad tiresome, so be discriminating.

Fuckin' A.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:49 AM on February 24, 2012


Gubernatorial is an ugly word that can almost always be avoided

if you are the kind of savage who doesn't appreciate a fine line of dactylic dimeter.
posted by escabeche at 8:50 AM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


and the AHD agrees with me, so there.

Well, it would wouldn't it? The American Heritage Dictionary is obviously going to cover the American usage, not the British. I wonder what the OED says?

The British Broadcasting Corporation has been in existence since 1927, that's 85 years. How recent do you mean by recent?

The word was used for Crown Corporations, city corporations, and bodies of that nature. It wasn't used for limited companies until recently.
posted by atrazine at 8:51 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, but they are correctly counseling you not to say "exponential" when you actually mean "fast," so what's the problem?

I read their advice to not use "exponential" to mean "fast" as saying that "exponential" does actually mean fast, it's just that you shouldn't use it that way if you're not writing a mathematical or scientific paper. They see it as an error in register. I want to see "don't use exponential to mean fast" along with, say, "don't use square to mean triangle".
posted by madcaptenor at 8:52 AM on February 24, 2012


As long as we're talking about style guides, people saying "THIS" to agree with somebody on the internet makes me want to punch them through my screen.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:52 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


"exponential" does not mean "fast"

Maybe not to a mathematician, but the dictionary says there is an informal meaning of "very rapid". And in fact this is (according to said Collins dictionary) the only non-technical, non-field-specific meaning.

When the goal is to communicate with other human beings we need to be careful to use words in a way that they will understand correctly.

The problem with using "exponential" to mean "fast" is not that it doesn't mean that in some contexts, but it could be ambiguous and misleading to some readers because of meaning different things in different contexts.

Equally if you are dealing with something that really is exponential, and the audience is either not math savvy or a mxture of the savvy and non-savvy, you had better explain further, maybe saying something like "X is doubling every Y years".
posted by philipy at 8:53 AM on February 24, 2012


Words that are used by people who don't know what they mean, in an attempt to sound smart, don't count as words.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:55 AM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's funny that they say "Some American expressions that were once common in English English (and some still used in Scottish English) now sound old-fashioned to most British ears" and provide a list, whereas in the next paragraph they provide all the Britishisms they require that sound fuddy-duddy to me: railway station, passengers, hire a car.

Also, But many are unnecessarily long ... district not neighbourhood

I can think of an easy way to make the alternate word a character shorter...
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:57 AM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yes, but they are correctly counseling you not to say "exponential" when you actually mean "fast," so what's the problem?

huh? I think you misread my comment. I applaud those who are telling people not to say "exponential" when they mean "fast".

Maybe not to a mathematician, but the dictionary says there is an informal meaning of "very rapid".

And meaning is use, so from now on, I shall use the word "dick" to mean "car". As in, "Shelley's dick is a smooth ride, you should try it", or "there are plenty of open spots here to park your dick".
posted by King Bee at 8:59 AM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Do not write Your salary just got smaller or I shrunk the kids. In British English it is Your salary has just got smaller and I’ve shrunk the kids.

Some of these are solved by looking at our language roots. For instance, in German they also have both versions of past tense for "I shrunk the kids" and "I have shrunk the kids." Both are correct, but one is narrative past (written/formal) for "have shrunk" and one is conversational past (informal) for "I shrunk."

I have no way of knowing if this is the case, but I always imagine that when our language was coming out of other languages, some habits were kept, and others were dropped; and that's before we even got into trans-atlantic dialects. Either way, as an English nerd, I still feel they should relax. There are things which are just plain incorrect, and things which have some wiggle room if you look to the language roots.

neato post though.
posted by billypilgrim at 9:02 AM on February 24, 2012


Use rumbustious rather than rambunctious.

I did not know rumbustious was a word. Is it in common use somewhere in the US?
posted by workerant at 9:03 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Style guides, published by The Economist, must make excessive use of bold text, and superfluous punctuation. Paragraphs, as printed in the style guide, must contain at least three sentences, and those sentences must be as long as possible. Include at least one jab at American culture, or a competing publication, per every three paragraphs. Legibility is optional, column widths must be maximised, and paragraph spacing must be virtually indistinguishable from line spacing.

Seriously. Did anybody have serious trouble reading this thing? It's impenetrably written, and the formatting kept causing my eyes to dart all over the page.
posted by schmod at 9:05 AM on February 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


I can think of an easy way to make the alternate word a character shorter...

Agreed — I'm kind of amused that "neighbourhood" was listed as an Americanism.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:08 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps your reference point is much further in the past

Yes, I've been reading it on and off since the 80s.

So it's hard for me to tell whether something that seems off to me is because I've gotten to some "kids nowadays, jeez" life stage, or for some more valid reason.

Either the likes of the Economist and the BBC are getting sloppier, or I'm getting more crotchety about these things. Probably some mix of both.
posted by philipy at 9:09 AM on February 24, 2012


While I understand that most of these rules work in British English, some of them sound really bizarre to my Canadian ears (which, supposedly, straddle the line between American and British English). I didn't even know that "rumbustious" was a word, for example.

Corn and maize are the same thing. A district and a neighbourhood are not actually the same thing. A people run for, rather than stand for, office in Canada's parliamentary system.

I think that Canadian English has started to lean more heavily toward American English than British, which makes sense, given that we are no longer the Queen's Loyal Subjects (well, not in spirit, at least).
posted by asnider at 9:12 AM on February 24, 2012


and people run for...
posted by asnider at 9:13 AM on February 24, 2012


You know, I was reading Jonathan Franzen's book Freedom last month, and I kept being irritated because he would use the word "implacable" to mean something like "unstoppable," whereas I think it obviously means "unable to be placated." But I looked it up, and indeed, the latter is a dictionary-certified secondary meaning. Once it was an error people made fun of, but it isn't now. I have grown to accept that the same is true of "exponential." Words mean what they mean, but they also change what they mean. King Bee will cause confusion if he uses "dick" to mean "car," but also if he uses "dick" to mean "detective," which would once have caused no confusion.
posted by escabeche at 9:13 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ugh. Words mean things. Different words often mean different things, no matter how similar the contexts they pop up in. This is an example where that is the case.

As is "district" vs. "neighborhood." For example, I happen to live in a neighborhood of the District of Columbia.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:13 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, it would wouldn't it? The American Heritage Dictionary is obviously going to cover the American usage, not the British. I wonder what the OED says?

I don't have access to an OED, but someone else here might and can have a look. If the 'Oxford Dictionaries' website can be trusted, though:

military - the armed forces of a country
army - an organized military force equipped for fighting on land
posted by jquinby at 9:13 AM on February 24, 2012


The current phrase that's pissing me off to no end is "on the ground," as in "We've just heard from the commander, now we go to see what the situation is on the ground." The BBC and a few other news sites are really humping this phrase to death, and it seems to mean *anyone else* except for the leaders of the country that we're talking about, or the person that I've just talked to. I propose anyone using "on the ground" should be put "in the ground."
And then interviewed - "We here to get the view of our reporter on the ground, who probably isn't finding the phrase quite so pithy right about now."
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:13 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do not write Your salary just got smaller or I shrunk the kids. In British English it is Your salary has just got smaller and I’ve shrunk the kids.

I think this is an issue of different perceptions of the passive voice (even if it's only minimally passive.) Americans tend not to trust the passive voice, as it sounds either overly formal or flat-out equivocating. I think the way that's it's received to Brits must be quite different (for instance, perhaps the American way of active-voicing everything to the maximum comes off as overly informal or aggressive. I don't know.)
posted by Navelgazer at 9:15 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The military, used as a noun, is nearly always better put as the army.

What if you mean the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines (and sometimes the Coast Guard)?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:15 AM on February 24, 2012


Rule #0: The first paragraph of every article shall contain only superfluous anecdotes.
posted by jiawen at 9:15 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


wiggle room
wriggle room
posted by pmcp at 9:16 AM on February 24, 2012


King Bee will cause confusion if he uses "dick" to mean "car,"

But not if all you guys start doing it too! Maybe it's a mistake we can get to proliferate!
posted by King Bee at 9:16 AM on February 24, 2012


Don't use "orientated" when "oriented" is more concise. Oh wait, for some reason that's not on the list...
posted by mneekadon at 9:17 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


But not if all you guys start doing it too! Maybe it's a mistake we can get to proliferate!

Ok. Then let me state for the record: I don't have a dick. You can get by fine in some big cities without having one.
posted by philipy at 9:19 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Corn and maize are the same thing.

In most contexts this is also the case in contemporary British usage, but in some places "corn" still means "staple grain" which can be either oats or wheat depending on latitude.

Don't use "orientated" when "oriented" is more concise. Oh wait, for some reason that's not on the list...

Some things are too beastly even to consider.
posted by atrazine at 9:20 AM on February 24, 2012


Gubernatorial is an ugly word that can almost always be avoided.

Except when trying to talk about the office or election of a Governor.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:20 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some things are too beastly even to consider.

Pearl clutcher.
posted by mneekadon at 9:22 AM on February 24, 2012


This is double-ish, but what the heck -- I loves me some style guide and usage discussion.
posted by Zed at 9:27 AM on February 24, 2012


The word was used for Crown Corporations, city corporations, and bodies of that nature. It wasn't used for limited companies until recently.

I agree that at least in the UK, corporation has a range of use and meaning should make folk think twice before using it as a simple replacement for company. We see the problem when US people use the word corporatism to mean rule by business interests, which is a full misuse of the word. Also, phrases like corporate manslaughter lose their full sense if only understood as company manslaughter.
posted by Jehan at 9:29 AM on February 24, 2012


Also, phrases like corporate manslaughter lose their full sense if only understood as company manslaughter.

And shouldn't company women be allowed to laugh, too?
 
posted by Herodios at 9:31 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


And what do you use in it's place? Governorial?

Being from a state that has enshrined English as the official language in its state constitution, I always insist on describing our state's senior executive as High Thegn, ergo Thegnish is the clearly preferred usage.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:33 AM on February 24, 2012


Shouldn't Your salary has just got smaller be Your salary has just gotten smaller? My dictionary says the latter implies the act of obtaining something while the first implies ownership. I suppose it's the change inherit in the salary getting smaller that causes me to favor the latter though nothing is being obtained. Either way, this is a sneaky way to write it as salaries don't just get smaller; they are cut.
posted by Tashtego at 9:33 AM on February 24, 2012


I think "High Thegn" is a language in a undistinguished fantasy trilogy....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:40 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do not feel obliged to follow American fashion in overusing such words as constituency (try supporters)

What if your constituents don't support you (for reference see Congressional Approval Rating)?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:41 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Shouldn't Your salary has just got smaller be Your salary has just gotten smaller?

No because "gotten" sounds old-fashioned to them.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:46 AM on February 24, 2012


I was just conversating with someone about a sign that said "No solicitators!"
I'm not even over-exaggerating.
posted by hypersloth at 9:48 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Happy the man who has never been told that it is wrong to split an infinitive: the ban is pointless. Unfortunately, to see it broken is so annoying to so many people that you should observe it.

A tutor made me cry once by taking my (already mediocre) essay and circling each and every split infinitive, right there in front of me.

Still smarts hurts.
posted by dumdidumdum at 9:49 AM on February 24, 2012


Do not write Your salary just got smaller or I shrunk the kids. In British English it is Your salary has just got smaller and I’ve shrunk the kids.

I think this is an issue of different perceptions of the passive voice (even if it's only minimally passive.)


That's not passive at all.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:52 AM on February 24, 2012


Seriously though, the American tendency to dilute words' meanings maddens me. Take "chef" for example. Not good enough that it already means chief or boss. Nope, we need a head chef. No wait, top chef. Not good enough. Master chef!
posted by hypersloth at 9:58 AM on February 24, 2012


I wish I could write like The Economist all the time.

My big, fat, hamburger-eating, freedom-loving American face scrunched up when I saw the "companies, not corporations" advice. However, I did some googling, and I discovered that that advice was perfectly decent, especially considering the fact that The Economist is a UK publication. It turns out that the publication should not be dominated by Americans who've had the difference between the two concepts beaten into them by American law school.

Also, seeing the Twain quote reminds me of Mark Twain's venomously thorough takedown of James Fenimore Cooper.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:58 AM on February 24, 2012


Take "chef" for example. Not good enough that it already means chief or boss.

Not in English, it doesn't.

(does angry, sexy, defiant dance)
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:59 AM on February 24, 2012


"Shrunk" and "gotten" sound too informal in the UK for serious writing.

Likewise phrases like "I already ate" instead of "I've already eaten".

But then so too does "loads of X", which as per my earlier comment, the Economist now uses pretty freely.
posted by philipy at 10:02 AM on February 24, 2012


Point men is a sporting term? I mean I know the American press sometimes treats war as a giant ballgame, but that's a bit of a stretch.
posted by aspo at 10:04 AM on February 24, 2012


Threeway Handshake: "As long as we're talking about style guides, people saying "THIS" to agree with somebody on the internet makes me want to punch them through my screen."

THIS!

(sorry, it had to be done)
posted by symbioid at 10:16 AM on February 24, 2012


Nothing like a post about grammar and spelling to get MetaFilter all wound up!

But seriously, though, the part about mixed metaphors? BRILLIANT.
...a spring clean that became in the next sentence a stalking-horse for greater spending, and Michelin axing jobs in painful surgery.

I especially liked the citation of the rare triple mixed metaphor, often referred to as a Friedman1:
“Like Japan’s before it, America’s stockmarket bubble was inflated on the back of a mountain of corporate debt. So onerous was this debt that many American companies were forced to the wall.”



1. I'm the only one who calls it that, actually, but I'm really hoping it catches on.
posted by jsr1138 at 10:20 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


philipy: "But not if all you guys start doing it too! Maybe it's a mistake we can get to proliferate!

Ok. Then let me state for the record: I don't have a dick. You can get by fine in some big cities without having one.
"

My dick is small.
posted by symbioid at 10:21 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


In fact, about half of humanity gets by without a dick.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:25 AM on February 24, 2012


That's not passive at all.

You're probably right, and maybe it's just me, but use of "has" or "have" in that context takes it a step away from active, in the way I hear the sentence. There's almost certainly a more correct way to say what I mean here.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:26 AM on February 24, 2012


Point men is a sporting term? I mean I know the American press sometimes treats war as a giant ballgame, but that's a bit of a stretch.

HA, nice.

Just checked OED, and the sports reference is actually pretty far down the list. Earliest usage appears to be in reference to the cattlemen who rode at the point of a herd, and next up is the military position of a lead soldier on a march. There were uses of 'pointman' or 'point man' in Canadian sports in between those two, but more in reference to scoring a lot of points. The way it's commonly used now -- 'a player who (habitually) plays in a (particular) attacking position during offensive manoeuvres; (Ice Hockey) a player positioned at the point; (Basketball)' -- didn't arise until the 50s or so.

Suck it, Economist!
posted by jsr1138 at 10:28 AM on February 24, 2012


My wife and I may have to get a bigger dick before we have a third child.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:41 AM on February 24, 2012


Many people consider a sports dick nothing more than a penis substitute.
posted by Babblesort at 10:41 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


In fact, about half of humanity gets by without a dick.

Actually I'm pretty sure that it's far more than half of humanity that doesn't have one.

Even now very few people in India, China or Africa have a dick. Albeit that the numbers who have one have risen rapidly in recent years.

Whether we consider all of those people without one to also be "getting by" I guess is maybe up for debate. Though for poor people in those countries getting a dick is far from being their main priority.
posted by philipy at 10:42 AM on February 24, 2012


Seriously though, the American tendency to dilute words' meanings maddens me.

Unless it truly drives you insane, it angers you.

Prescriptivism is fun!
posted by Jehan at 10:44 AM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Grow a beard or a tomato but not a company

Yeah, this usage has been bothering me since it became widespread--especially among politicians in the US--a few years back. '...grow the economy,' or some such shit. When I hear it, I without fail picture one of those time-lapse nature show clips of a plant growing, which I guess is the point. The style guide did miss one distinctly American and completely ridiculous word: deplane. This one makes my skin crawl. Do we decar? Dehouse? Where does it end?!
posted by TropicalWalrus at 10:45 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's all so very zen, if you have a big dick, you have a small dick.
posted by symbioid at 10:47 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The style guide did miss one distinctly American and completely ridiculous word: deplane.

Also "detrain". And BART seems to like "offboard the train" in its official announcements.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:49 AM on February 24, 2012


If you're lucky not only will your company give you a dick, they'll even pay the expenses when you to use it for own pleasure.
posted by philipy at 10:52 AM on February 24, 2012


I trashed my dick when I discovered I could walk to work faster
posted by mumimor at 11:05 AM on February 24, 2012


The kids have shrunk, but I have shrunken them, surely?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:07 AM on February 24, 2012


madcaptenor: "Also "detrain". And BART seems to like "offboard the train" in its official announcements."

I'd love for Americans to adopt certain aspects of British railway terminology, because it's a lot more succinct and descriptive than the mish-mash that we use.

I remember the automated announcements on British trains being particularly nice: "This train is for Edinburgh Waverley, and will call at Croy, Falkirk High, Linlithgow, and Edinburgh Waverley. Please remember to take your belongings when alighting from the train."

It avoids unnecessary verbiage, and it's completely obvious what the message means, even to somebody who's unfamiliar with British English.

WMATA's apparently trying to edge 'alight' into the American vocabulary, which I fully support. It's a much nicer word than 'deplane,' 'detrain,' or 'debus' (I don't think the third one's actually a word, but I wouldn't put it past us...)
posted by schmod at 11:12 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The style guide did miss one distinctly American and completely ridiculous word: deplane. This one makes my skin crawl. Do we decar? Dehouse? Where does it end?!

It ends with deplane.

But why should it? Those supposed abominations seem to me to be an improvement over the clunky alternatives.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:15 AM on February 24, 2012


Jeremy Clarkson is a professional dickhead.
posted by philipy at 11:18 AM on February 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


Seriously though, the American tendency to dilute words' meanings maddens me.

Once, skiing in Banff, I overheard a British father tell his maybe 13-year-old son that his ability to procure french fries from the lodge cafeteria was "brilliant." The line went: "Oh, look, Harold's got chips. Brilliant!"

So, yeah, not just an American thing.
posted by gompa at 11:46 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


You have no idea what Harold went through to get those chips, do you gompa?
posted by shothotbot at 12:00 PM on February 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Unless it was the Battle of Hastings, I stand by my conclusion that the father was overstating things. A tad.
posted by gompa at 12:20 PM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


The American political sphere is a constant source of neologisms. One of the more annoying varieties is the conversion of nouns into verbs: instead of simply talking to people, politicians in recent years have begun dialoguing with them instead. That was bad enough, but the suggestion that arrogant politicians are 'demagoguing' their audience makes me feel physically ill every time I hear it. Although I would have been horrified by the idea as a youth, I'm beginning to think that perhaps we should go back to teaching Latin and Greek in school.

I have a pet theory that Americans use linguistic obfuscation as a distancing mechanism to avoid interpersonal conflict in the workplace, especially between persons of mismatched authority. This first occurred to me when I was visiting a public health clinic in a poor neighborhood many years ago; after taking down my personal information, the careworn receptionist sighed 'a ten dollar fee is payable at this time.' I half-expected the $10 to climb out of my wallet and propel itself across the counter under its own steam.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:39 PM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


the 'Jargon' link is pure gold.
the 'Americanisms' one started well but completely* lost me about half-way thru..
(*see where I put the adverb?)
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:49 PM on February 24, 2012



I do so talk right.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:02 PM on February 24, 2012


Do not feel obliged to follow American fashion in overusing such words as constituency (try supporters),

Not the same thing.

And some of that stuff is just straight out of WhatTheFuckVille.

WhatTheFuckVille is a noun, by the way. Don't try to verb it.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:21 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


What do you call it when you go looking for something you know you won't find?

This in their Style Guide: "For clarity for international audiences use Scientist instead of Boffin otherwise your readers will picture a laboratory full of small black and white birds with colorful beaks."
posted by achrise at 1:27 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


SLC, that comment just totally WhatTheFuckVilled me. I've never been impacted so much by a neoligism in my life. I'll be utilizing this new verb often on a go-forward basis.
posted by gompa at 1:27 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also: Gubernatorial is an ugly word that can almost always be avoided.

It may be ugly (I am agnostic about this), but it is fun to say, at least occasionally.

And what do you use in it's place? Governorial?


Gubernatorial was a great word because it allowed Californians to say "the Gubernator" without having to put on a Southern accent. Now that Arnold is gone I suppose there is not much use for it.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:30 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


And what's wrong with *snicker*? "Snigger"? Please...

I see what you did, there.
posted by mreleganza at 2:18 PM on February 24, 2012


I thought I was going to find out how to dress like an economist.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 2:20 PM on February 24, 2012


I feel the need to point out that Obama's dick is known as "The Beast".
posted by philipy at 2:43 PM on February 24, 2012


Also: Gubernatorial is an ugly word that can almost always be avoided.

It may be ugly (I am agnostic about this), but it is fun to say, at least occasionally.

And what do you use in it's place? Governorial?


Guvnic.

And what's wrong with *snicker*? "Snigger"? Please...

Yeah, I feel that in America, the word snigger would feel a bit to close to other uncomfortable words that one should avoid saying. Not to say that it shouldn't be use, but rather that the "snicker" alternative is used for valid reasons.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:54 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The way it's commonly used now -- 'a player who (habitually) plays in a (particular) attacking position during offensive manoeuvres;

Funny, I never think of it as that way outside of basketball. The point man is the guy out in the lead, ahead of the rest of the team (team... not sports team). So if someone is your point man on a project he's the guy who working to make sure everything is good when the rest of the team is ready to come in on force. Just like... well... a point man.
posted by aspo at 2:57 PM on February 24, 2012


Once, skiing in Banff, I overheard a British father tell his maybe 13-year-old son that his ability to procure french fries from the lodge cafeteria was "brilliant." The line went: "Oh, look, Harold's got chips. Brilliant!"

So, yeah, not just an American thing.


I don't want to live in a world where the exclamation of "Brilliant!" to mark the arrival of chips is denigrated. Especially on a mountain in Banff, which was cold as a witch's tit last time I was up there. Mmmmn.
posted by amorphatist at 4:35 PM on February 24, 2012


philipy: "Jeremy Clarkson is a professional dickhead."

I don't necessarily disagree, but how is that relevant?
posted by schmod at 4:53 PM on February 24, 2012


schmod, rewind to here, here, here and then on down for assorted dick/car humor.

It might not be funny to you, and if I explain it any more it certainly won't be.
posted by philipy at 5:43 PM on February 24, 2012


I don't necessarily disagree, but how is that relevant?

Because he talks about dicks for a living. Haven't you been following the thread?
posted by asnider at 5:45 PM on February 24, 2012


I love listening to brits talk, except when they say "in hospital". The correct term is "in the hospital. I don't know why that missing article drives me insane, but I invariably yell at the BBC guy on the radio when he says it.
posted by double block and bleed at 8:39 PM on February 24, 2012


double block and bleed - I know you didn't ask where they go, but I think the British "the"s are exported to California where they tack them on to the front of interstate references e.g. "The 405".
posted by achrise at 8:52 PM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Until recently, "corporation" wasn't used in the British Commonwealth. An incorporated company was legally a "company." I don't know if that's still the case in Britain, and I'm too lazy to check the legislation.

That's funny - I've read and written about a 17th century company which was formally titled "the Corporation of the Great Level of the Fens," or commonly as "the Corporation" - located and operating in eastern England from 1663 to about 1920. It was incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1663.
posted by jb at 9:49 PM on February 24, 2012


Of course, in 1663, there wasn't a British commonwealth yet. That probably explains it.
posted by jb at 9:51 PM on February 24, 2012


I love listening to brits talk, except when they say "in hospital". The correct term is "in the hospital. I don't know why that missing article drives me insane, but I invariably yell at the BBC guy on the radio when he says it.
posted by double block and bleed at 4:39 AM on February 25 [+] [!]


On behalf of the British people, I'd like to apologise for driving you mad. I daresay we all need to go back to the school.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 4:24 AM on February 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's because there's usually more than one hospital in range, for Brits. If somewhere where there's only one hospital for hundreds of miles around, we probably would say "in the hospital" for someone being in hospital.
posted by Mocata at 6:21 AM on February 25, 2012


I love listening to brits talk, except when they say "in hospital". The correct term is "in the hospital. I don't know why that missing article drives me insane, but I invariably yell at the BBC guy on the radio when he says it.

You wouldn't last a day in Yorkshire.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:36 AM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


You wouldn't last a day in Yorkshire.

I predict that this will be the name of a new reality show before the year is out.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:36 AM on February 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


While we're on the subject of Jeremy Clarkson and how word meanings change, last night's Top Gear had a great example of a word that has taken on a life outside of its strict technical meaning: "turbocharge".
posted by philipy at 8:34 AM on February 27, 2012


Clarification well after the fact: the correct term to my ear. Didn't mean to get all prescriptionist.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:00 AM on February 29, 2012


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