Notes on American English

The remarkably rich English language, with its infusions since its inception from so many sources, is very dynamic and adds more words every year than any other language. It has several flavors, such as the form of English spoken in South Asia, in Australia/New Zealand, in Africa, in the US, and elsewhere. This page focusses on the American version of the English language. Don't get me wrong: the various forms are not that different, but why not enjoy the variety? Accordingly, I hope you enjoy the content of this page.

Koan The Librarian

"I don't mind" in British means "I don't care" in American, whereas "I don't mind" in American means something more like "I have nothing against it, or I'll allow it".

"Back in the day" means 'in the past'. It might be related to 'back in the good old days'. Not to be confused with "Same old, same old", which means 'nothing has changed.'

"BFF" is a 'Best Friend Forever' to the abbreviation-prone youngsters of our 24/7 connected world. See Facebook and Myspace websites for that milieu.

Right off the bat means, "immediately, to begin with", probably related to the US game of baseball but could have roots in cricket.

"Flashlight" is in American as "torch" is to a Brit. (Saw a recent episode of "Everybody Hates Chris", in which the Wayne Brady character kept singing this 80's hit.)

"Grok" is a verb that comes from Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, and its inclusion gives us a chance to honor this late author on the 100th anniversary of his birth. It means 'to understand completely'.

"C-Suite" refers to top-level management, indirectly. The proliferation of titles such as CEO, CFO, COO, CTO and the like is the basis for this neologism.

"Rap" has had two major modern meanings; in the 60's and 70's, as a shortened reference to 'rapport', it was a verb which meant to speak to someone sincerely, someone simpatico. Later, associated with a hard urban edged sound, it was the staccato story of life on the streets, in the 'hood'.

Three Dog Night

Sure, it's the name of a trio of vocalists who were popular in the US in the 1970's, but it refers to an expression of how cold it was based on how many sled dogs you clustered around in an Arctic winter.

A profligate rich kid who runs afoul of the law might be "heirrested". Perhaps they were just "chillaxing" (combination of 'chill [out]' and 'relax') with their friends and then decided to push their luck.

Herb Caen coined the word "beatnik" based on the Soviet satellite 'Sputnik', and incorporating the beatific nature of the revelations of that movement.

"That's above my pay grade" is largely self-evident in its meaning, but is popular with military and government employees. It means 'that is not my job'.

"Hood" (not 'hoodie'), is short for "Neighbourhood".

"Tattoo Regret" is a fairly common phenonmenon, and a rather self-evident one too. As Americans age and move into more staid professions and lifestyles, a large number of them find it desirable to efface that body decoration.

"Twenty-three Skiddoo" supposedly related to the way the wind whipping down 23rd Avenue near the Flatiron building would catch up the skirts of women pedestrians, but apparently that is not the case. "Twenty-three" means 'exit', and "Skidoo" means 'pronto'

"Revert" in South Asia means to respond to a communication; in the US, "revert" means "to return to the previous state".

"Pronto", unlike Italian translation of 'ready', meant, 'quickly', or 'now' in the US West.

"It don't make me no never mind" - I don't care.

"Mocketing"  means making fun of your own product or brand in order to sell the product and build the brand. This is in turn a reflection of the generational changes in attitude toward the media. You see it a lot in commercials oriented toward kids.

"The whole nine yards" somehow means "everything", you know, the "whole kit and kaboodle". The origins of this are unknown, but could not relate to US football, as ten yards is required for a first down, which entitles you to maintain possession of the ball. It also cannot be traced to the length of a machine gunners 'ammo' (ammunition) belt, and hence according to some related to giving all in an effort. (See 'shoot your wad' later).

The "Alphonse and Gaston" routine refers to a counterproductive deference, and traces back to a French origin, as the names of the protagonists would imply. I first heard it as a child watching a ball game, where two outfielders deferred a little too much on a fly ball, and neither got it, out of ill-applied courtesy.

"Three Hots and a Cot" refers to a night in the local jail. The jail in the US, during frontier days, was often called the 'hoosegow', because the jail and courthouse in simpler times were often the same building (think of the concept of the 'circuit judge' who would 'ride the circuit' of the several towns in his jurisdiction.)

"Hoosegow" is an Anglicized pronunciation of the Spanish juzgado, meaning 'tribunal, courtroom'. This Spanish word is the past participle of juzgar, to judge, from Latin iudicare, to judge, from iudex, 'judge'.

"LOL" is one of many acronyms that has been given life with the advent of 'texting' (Instant Messaging). It means "(I) laugh out loud". I guess one usage could be "His tongue lolled as he LOL'ed".

'Piling On' means to unnecessarily add to someone's burden. It can be used in the context of an emotional relationship. Piling on is a specific penalty in US football (although I cannot admit to hearing it lately). In this foul, once an opponent had been brought to the ground, ('tackled'), he would be officially ruled down by an official (zebra-striped, usually male), and the play would stop. Piling on additional players is redundant, and could hurt someone, so it is not allowed.

"Saucing" or "Hot Saucing" is a practice in many American households, especially in the South, where a bit of hot sauce is placed on a child's tongue for punishment. This controversial practice has been covered in a Washington Post article, and is discussed among other disciplinary practices here.

Showing proper respect. To 'give props to' someone or something is to give it is due.

Other peoples' property. "Are you down with OPP?" went the lyrics to a rap song last century.

If you get so drunk that you start making out with a member of the same sex, where nornally you would not, you are so wasted that you are also gaysted.

Pretty Young Thing. Term of endearment (we hope). Popularized by Michael Jackson song.

'Tending to your knitting'
This is minding one's own business, but can be negative, as in ignoring injustice.  

'Punching above your weight'
In boxing, there are weight classes, to provide (I suppose) some measure of 'fairness' to a brutal 'sport'. With this basic understanding, consider how some boxers are more effective at fighting, and have a punch that is powerful for their weight class. They punch above their weight.

'Punching your dance card'
This means satisfying a check list; having a required meeting.

  'On the [down] low'
  'Yup yup'
  'That dog won't hunt'
  'Have a dog in that fight'
  'Keep a low profile'
  'Git er done'
  'SNAFU' (original form was an acronym, hence the capital letters)
  "Keep ahead of the (power) curve"

To 'show heart' is to do what is necessary in a prison situation to prevent your becoming a victim; it can be seen as part of the initiation of a new member of the community of incarcerated, part of how someone is 'sized up'. To show heart may take the form of a beat-down that you put on someone for demonstration effect, often someone who is about your size or could be smaller or older. This is not a good thing to do, obviously, but in the long run it can save a lot of people a lot of avoidable grief by establishing boundaries. It's a tough world in there. Due to weaknesses and laziness in the justice and penal systems and some of those who work within it, thousands of innocent people are behind bars in the US, which imprisons the highest percentage of its people in the world, a little bit of Americana of which I am not particularly proud.

'Throw down' refers to a fight; you might show heart by throwing down with a fellow inmate.

I have childhood memories of Pig's Knuckles as a food choice (I don't think I took that particular option; even a child's appetite and curiosity have their limits), but that's not in any way related to a 'knuckle sandwich', which means a punch in the mouth, and is obviously (like the Pig's Knuckles, I would aver) NOT a nutritious treat! Pig's Knuckles are just one of countless examples of 'downscale dining', reflecting the fact that poor people don't have much choice about cuts of meat and make do with what they can get. Note the old phrase 'eating high on the hog' to denote how the wealthier people can have cuts of pork that are more preferred, dating from Norman times in England.

To knock someone or something is to attempt to discredit or denigrate them/it.

Knocking boots is a euphemism for sex; don't knock it if you haven't tried it!

A Yuppie is a 'Young Urban Professional', while an African-American version of that is called 'Buppie'. Note also a much earlier construction, 'Yippie', from the Youth International Party co-founded by Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. The label tried to capitalize on the culture's recognition of 'Hippie' as a phenomenon. Hippie, in turn, should be compared to Beatnik, and the Kerouac generation of the 1950s, which produced some of the ferment which transformed the US political and cultural landscape during the momentous decades to follow.