"America's toxic culture" invaded Oz — in words?

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I'm all too familiar with the idea that people from such-and-such a country can't deal with concept X because they simply have no word for it. One common version of this is the idea that without a word for something bad like bribery, people are incapable of understanding that they shouldn't do it.  Alternatively, the idea may be turned around the other way — without a word for something bad like lying, people allegedly don't understand that it's even a possible option.

I wasn't aware, but it seems that until 1990 or so, a linguistic gap of this kind protected Australians from such social evils as begging and armed robbery.  As Andrew Herrick explains ("With American lingo, we've imported toxic US culture", The Age 8/6/2010):

When Australian vernacular is replaced by franchised American terms, exotic tropes are too often introduced into our social and political ecology. Twenty years ago, Australia didn't need the terms homey, mugging, drive-by shooting, gated community and panhandling because these were foreign concepts. But they are not so strange to us now.

We've imported America's toxic culture with its language, and react by resorting to a questionable American "solution".

So it's already too late, really, but Andrew Herrick is not going down without a fight:

Border security is high on the agenda since so much is apparently at threat. But what about the security of our language?

What indeed?  As usual with border security, infiltration can be insidious:

Often the difference is subtle. Sandpit becomes sandbox, and blackboard, chalkboard.

This last one puzzled me, because as an American I've always heard (and used) blackboard in preference to chalkboard. The NYT more or less agrees:  it indexes 2,619 uses of blackboard since 1981, vs. 751 for chalkboard.  The Australian National Dictionary doesn't have either one, nor sandpit v. sandbox either — whatever the usage issues are in these cases, the AND seems to feel that they're the same as in British English. In fact, a bit of Zimmering in the lovely free Australian Newspapers archive reveals that Australians have been using chalkboard at least since this item in the Sydney Morning Herald for 1/14/1954:

I've run into similar problems documenting some of Herrick's other cases:

Even a language bastion such as ABC radio has allowed its presenters to replace peak hour with rush hour. We barely notice the change.

Maybe that's because the OED treats "rush hour" as a prefectly good British English expression, with only one American citation among nine:

1898 Westm. Gaz. 28 Oct. 8/3 Trailer cars can be put on during the ‘rush hours’, mornings and evenings. 1907 ‘O. HENRY’ Trimmed Lamp 233 As solid as granite in the ‘rush-hour’ tide of humanity, stood the Man from Nome. 1926 Daily Graphic 13 May 1 (caption) The ‘rush hour’ at Earl's Court yesterday. Travelling discomforts are mitigated by much good humour and politeness. 1931 Morn. Post 18 Aug. 6/4 Rush-hour trains held up. 1932 D. L. SAYERS Have his Carcase iv. 50 The place is like the Corner House in the rush hour. 1955 Times 17 June 9/4 Even now, great congestion is caused by traffic entering and leaving the park, particularly in the rush hours. 1961 I. MURDOCH Severed Head xxvii. 221 Through the rush-hour traffic the god that protects drunken men protected me. 1973 ‘M. INNES’ Appleby's Answer iii. 32 It was the first of London's evening rush-hours, and their taxi made only a tedious stop-go progress. 1977 B. PYM Quartet in Autumn ii. 17 A woman, slumped on a seat on the Underground platform while the rush hour crowds hurried past her.

And Australians have been happily using this phrase for some time, e.g. this little piece from the Brisbane Courier for 12/20/1902, again courtesy of the Australian Newspapers archive:

Or this from the Sydney Morning Herald for 7/12/1935:

This search of the Australian Newspaper Archive suggested to me that more than a century before the American word "mugging" slipped past the border guards, Aussies somehow managed to work out for themselves the concept of using violence to take valuables away from strangers in public places.

As for those gated communities, the OED's earliest citation is from 1979:

1979 N.Y. Times 26 Jan. A1/5 The deal includes most of the undeveloped portions of Pebble Beach and the Del Monte Forest, a gated community of expensive homes, 5,200 acres of verdant pine, oak, and cypress trees, [etc.].

But I don't think that I noticed the term until somewhat later, though I first encountered the concept, as applied in the modern world, when I saw the 1981 Australian movie Mad Max 2.

A bit of web search informs me that Andrew Herrick knows quite a bit about chickens, and is "a wine-maker, carpenter and writer who lives with his birds in Melbourne". I'm sure that Mr. Herrick's toxic-culture-via-language rant is much appreciated by his friends, especially after a few glasses of wine, but it's always a bit surprising to me when a major newspaper gives space to stuff like this.


  1. Nicholas Waller said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 9:04 am

    "writer who lives with his birds" – shouldn't that be "writer who lives with his Sheilas" in Ozspeak?

    [(myl) They're chickens, man. And watch out for that toxic American heteronormativity.]

  2. John Cowan said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 9:43 am

    Are you sure chicken isn't just a false expansion of chick?

    Seriously, the WOMEN ARE BIRDS metaphor seems to go wayyyy back; surely people who used burd, which now survives only in ballads, < OE byrd, bryd > ModE bride noticed the pun. Though I must in conscience record that the OED2 pooh-poohs any connection between bird, burd, and bride.

  3. richard howland-bolton said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 9:48 am

    Talking of toxicity, maybe it's revenge for the Aussies sending Dame Edna to tour the US.

  4. SeanH said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 9:49 am

    It is rather suspect that Herrick includes, in a field of terms referring to violent crime, antisocial behaviour and social ills, an innocuous term ("homey") associated with African-Americans.

  5. BlogReader said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 9:55 am

    Ahem, that's African-Australians. Well unless they were there first. Australian-Australians?

  6. Christopher said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 9:59 am

    I remember looking at a book on Canadian history(?) complaining how English Canadians stopped using "mum" instead of "mom" as an example of Americanization.

    [(myl) It might even be true. But now that you mention it, I wonder what the facts are. It might be that the American version is the older one, and the typical British pronunciation is an innovation. Then the Canadians might have started out like the Americans, switched to "mum" under British influence, and then switched back. Or something. Anyhow, does anyone know what the actual history is?]

  7. SeanH said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 10:06 am

    BlogReader: Ahem, that's African-Australians

    But he's talking about terms imported from America. His whole claim is that these are foreign terms, so surely he's thinking about black Americans, not black Australians.

  8. John Lawler said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 10:07 am

    Clearly, they've imported America's peeving culture. Complete with the usual toxic brew of ignorance and arrogance.

  9. Paul Zukowski said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 10:08 am

    Funny thing, here in the Great Midwest, I feel just as invaded by this so-called "American" culture of drive-bys and "ganstas" as our chicken-loving mate from Down Under. He does have a point, except it's not just the words themselves but the concepts they stand for that are toxic. The idea of renegade youth bent on sex and violence is intoxicating, especially when you're stuck in a boring place like Wisconsin.

  10. John said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 10:10 am

    The term homey really stuck out to me, too. Not only does it have an innocuous meaning, but it's completely fallen out of use stateside for at least a decade (it's been replaced by son and other words). Australia isn't going to "need" homey unless they start broadcasting reruns of "In Living Color" over there…

  11. Jac said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 10:24 am

    Unfortunately, I am not surprised by a major newspaper giving space to whinging drivel, in any culture.

    [(myl) Well, I guess that none of us should be suprised at this, alas. But I think it's appropriate to maintain the attitude that we expect better: hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.]

  12. kip said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 10:29 am

    Funny to hear Australians have a word for "border security." Australia has no borders. It only has coastlines. (With the exception of borders around diplomatic enclaves, like the US Embassy.) (And of course there are subnational borders, but those aren't guarded.)

    When I go to the beach in North Carolina, I certainly don't think I'm on the US/Morocco border.

  13. Lane Greene said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 10:50 am

    The cowards over there closed the comments. Of the ones I've seen, sadly, most agree with the piece.

  14. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 10:51 am

    I think it's interesting that we end up with rants like this because of the unexamined assumption that "my English is X English", where X is whatever we consider our culture to be: American, Australian, underground, hip-hop, whatever. I'm sure from Herrick's own perspective, blackboard feels Australian, because that's the term he uses, and chalkboard feels American, because he heard an American say it once, or has seen it in publications he rightly or mistakenly thought were written by American authors. But as we find out in your post those subjective perceptions don't necessarily have anything to do with the objective facts.

    I can sympathize; it's disorienting to find out that something you've always assumed is shared by the linguistic culture at large is actually an idiosyncratic feature of your idiolect.

  15. SeanH said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 11:28 am

    I can sympathize; it's disorienting to find out that something you've always assumed is shared by the linguistic culture at large is actually an idiosyncratic feature of your idiolect.

    A friend of mine only recently discovered that it is not an ordinary English term to refer to the end of a loaf of bread as "Percy's piece" (a family phrase of uncertain origin).

  16. Dan T. said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 11:38 am

    If they're green, it makes no sense to call them "blackboards".

  17. Nik Berry said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 11:41 am


    OED has 'mum' from 1595, 'mom' (chiefly American) from 1894.

  18. Adam said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 11:42 am

    Clearly, they've imported America's peeving culture.

    How many words for "peeve" are there in American English?

    [(myl) In the "express annoyance" verbal sense (as opposed to the causative version meaning "to annoy") there aren't very many single words that I can think of. Rant, fret, fume, … what else? ]

  19. mollymooly said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

    The language peeve that most struck me when I was in Australia was that "ketchup" was an Americanism and all good Aussies call it "tomato sauce". I say "most struck", meaning I was told this twice.

  20. Ken Brown said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 12:19 pm

    Isn't mum/mom one of those mama/dada/nana/papa words that gets continually re-invented? So it doesn' have to have a long history, if you see what I mean.

    Of course Americans don't say "mom" – or at least not to these English ears they don't. The sound that "mom" would represent if I said a word written that way, maybe IPA/mɒm/, is not one I hear Americans calling their mother. (At least not on TV) To me what they seem to be saying is in fact much nearer to "mum" than "mom" – or possibly even "mam".

    [(myl) The vowel in "mom" is the LOT lexical set, but (in America) it's not going to have the rounded [ɒ] vowel that RP has in those words. It's some kind of low unrounded vowel. In my pronunciation, I think it's roughly [mɐm], but for others it might anywhere along the (unrounded) bottom of the vowel quadrilateral, which is pretty narrow anyhow. especially for Americans. ]

    (Just as I suppose, the written form "er…" doesn't represent to Americans the sound I'd mean by writing it, which they might rather put down as "uh"

    Its pretty easy to find websites claiming that people from the English Midlands say "mom" rather than "mum" but, again, to my ears, they don't. Its not my /mʌm/ with the STRUT vowel but its not "mom" either. Maybe its one of those "northern oos" – perhaps /mʊm/, having fallen on the different side of the FOOT/STRUT split.

  21. Rodger C said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 12:20 pm

    In America we have both ketchup and tomato sauce. Does this mean that a real Aussie will buy only one kind of tomato preparation, to put on anything? I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.

  22. Chris Travers said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

    In America we have both ketchup and tomato sauce.

    Here's a funny parallel though. In Bahasa Indonesia, I believe, they borrowed the word "kecap" (pronounced like ketchup) from English. They have a few kinds of kecap: kecap asin (salty kecap), kecap manis (sweet kecap), etc.

    What is kecap? In English we call it "soy sauce."

  23. Jongseong Park said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

    Incidentally, is there any variety of English where 'ketchup' doesn't automatically mean tomato ketchup?

  24. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

    I don't know anything about mom vs. mum, but a while back I came across a modest study about the relative fortunes of couch and chesterfield. Apparently the more Canadian form is holding out better in the Prairie Provinces, but for how long?

  25. Q. Pheevr said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

    You've clearly demonstrated that both Australians and Britons have been using rush hour for many years. On the other hand, I have a suspicion that peak hour (in the relevant sense) is a characteristically, though of course not exclusively, Australian term. (This idea initially came to me from the fact that the only place I could specifically recall hearing peak hour was in a song by the Australian singer Penelope Swales, a fact which means nothing by itself.) I tried a Google news search on "peak hour" just now, and got what looks like a significantly large proportion of hits from the southeastern part of the Commonwealth—especially from Australia, though also some from India and Malaysia. So perhaps there's a grain of truth to Herrick's belief that peak hour is the Australian way to say it.

    [(myl) That makes sense (though someone should inform the folks at the Australian National Dictionary…) But it looks like Aussies and Brits have been using "rush hour" about as long as Americans have, so that it's not a great case for cultural degradation by insidious linguistic immigration.

    Just now, I was surprised to learn that smog is not an American invention — neither as word nor as concept. According to the OED's citations:

    1905 Daily Graphic 26 July 10/2 In the engineering section of the Congress Dr. H. A. des Voeux, hon. treasurer of the Coal Smoke Abatement Society, read a paper on ‘Fog and Smoke’. He said it required no science to see that there was something produced in great cities which was not found in the country, and that was smoky fog, or what was known as ‘smog’. 1905 Globe 27 July 3/5 The other day at a meeting of the Public Health Congress Dr. Des Voeux did a public service in coining a new word for the London fog, which was referred to as ‘smog’, a compound of ‘smoke’ and ‘fog’.

    I'm disappointed. This somehow reminds me of the audiophile record I once bought, which announced that it was made from "finest European vinyl". I mean, really, you'd think that plastic and smog were things we could handle pretty well on our own.]

  26. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 12:42 pm

    @Chris: Actually, we borrowed "ketchup" from them and they in turn got it from Hokkien Chinese khe-chiap (鮭汁).

  27. groki said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 1:22 pm

    OED: 1973 ‘M. INNES’ Appleby's Answer iii. 32 It was the first of London's evening rush-hours, and their taxi made only a tedious stop-go progress.

    how many evening rush hours were/are there in London, and why: work day end, theater curtain, last orders at the pub, something(s) else?

  28. Mary Bull said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 1:24 pm

    So, can anyone enlighten me on why I got told as a child that I should be spelling it "catsup"?

  29. groki said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

    or (duh!) did it just mean the first hour of the evening's multi-hour rush? drat, I had visions of night-life repeatedly choking tight mediaeval streets until the wee hours.

  30. Boris said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

    Re: "peak hour" I find it interesting that the Russian term for rush hour is (roughly) "chas peak". Chas means hour, but there is no word "peak" in Russian. Wikipedia claims it comes from English. So, was it borrowed from Australia or was it the preferred term in English at some point?

  31. grackle said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

    "Unfortunately, I am not surprised by a major newspaper giving space to whinging drivel, in any culture."

    Humph! In American that would be whining

  32. Boris said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

    Addendum to my previous comment: it may be that many Russians are unaware of this etymology. There was a Russian language morning show on a radio station out of Newark, NJ which had the name "chas peak" in Russian, but "Rush'n Hour" (actually I don't know how it was spelled. It may have just been "Russian Hour", but was clearly meant as a pun) in English. Or maybe they did know, but "peak'n Hour" wouldn't work. It was also two hours long, but then rush hour is longer than an hour anyway.

  33. Nik Berry said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

    @Mary Bull


  34. groki said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

    Adam: How many words for "peeve" are there in American English?

    [(myl) In the "express annoyance" verbal sense (as opposed to the causative version meaning "to annoy") there aren't very many single words that I can think of. Rant, fret, fume, … what else? ]

    in an earthier register: "bitch"

  35. Will said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    @Mary Bull, "catsup" was the predominant American spelling when it was first introduced a couple centuries ago, while "ketchup" was the predominant British spelling. Over time, Americans started to spell it "ketchup" as well and that trend has been continuing. Nowadays, most Americans spell it "ketchup", but some still spell it "catsup". And the latter spelling is not listed as obsolete in any dictionary I know, it's just an uncommon spelling.

  36. Ray Girvan said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

    Q. Pheevr: the only place I could specifically recall hearing peak hour was in a song by the Australian singer Penelope Swales

    I first heard it in Peak Hour from the Moody Blues' 1967 album Days of Future Passed. Before reading the sleeve notes I thought – what I know now to be a mondegreen – that they were singing "Pee cow". Actually, it still sounds like "Pee cow".

  37. Clarissa at Talk to the Clouds said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 2:01 pm

    @Ken Brown (Just as I suppose, the written form "er…" doesn't represent to Americans the sound I'd mean by writing it, which they might rather put down as "uh")

    I had a hilarious/embarrassing conversation recently with a shockingly large group of friends who, like me, grew up reading British novels. We had all been stunned to realize–as adults!–that the "er" and "erm" sounds in British written dialogue were the equivalents of "uh" and "um" in North American written dialogue. In fact, rhotic "er" and "erm" had actually crept into the spoken idiolects of a few of us due to far too much reading. Yikes! (Of course, attempted excision is underway now…) I suspect that the rhotic forms, which should not really exist, are probably shibboleths indicative of North American geeks/bookworms (unless there are regional variations where people really do say that).

  38. Clare said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

    These rubbish articles are published in some rag or another every few months. This one was particularly nasty – having a go at Wittgenstein and all!

    As long as Australians don't import the toxic American culture of misunderstanding the passive voice, I'm happy. (Incidentally, to see whether this was the case, I googled "passive voice" restricting results to site:au — not very reliable, but still … ALL of the top 20, as well as all the shonky pages I looked at on the 10th page of results, got it right. Yay! Very few things make me swell with national pride (Olympic victories, no; 2006 World Cup qualification, yes) but this was one of them. Just a couple of times there were confused discussions about the crap advice given to Americans.

    This one made me laugh, especially given the gruesome subject matter:

    Our dialect is clearly more pure than yours, so keep your bloody Americanism away from us, yah galahs!

  39. Mary Bull said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

    @ Nik Berry and @ Will:
    Many thanks. Fascinating.
    Especially "… You can blame Jonathan Swift for it if you like, since he used it first in 1730: “And, for our home-bred British cheer, Botargo, catsup, and caveer”. from Nik Berry's link, http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-ket2.htm

    A few people I know regard ketchup as toxic in and of itself. Although Ronald Reagan (I think) famously proposed declaring it to be a vegetable for purposes of meeting federal (USDA) guidelines in U.S. public school cafeterias.

    But it's indispensable on French fries, according to others of my acquaintance. (Who all spell it ketchup and usually mean Heinz.)

  40. Karen said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

    The word пик (pik (pronounced peek) does exist in Russian, beyond the "rush hour" meaning. It also means a tor, a spike (both like in a graph or for mountain climbing), a crescendo, and a pike (weapon), as well as the cards suit spades, as in Pushkin's Pikovaya Dama, The Queen of Spades.

    According to Vasmer's Etymological Dictionary, in most of its meanings it was borrowed from French pic or picque, but in the "rush hour" meaning, from English.

  41. Alex said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

    On mom/mum pronunciation: I remember as an American kid being confused as to why Black Adder addressed the Queen as "Mom," until it had to be explained to me that this was actually "Ma'am" with the British "a" sound as in "bath." Similar problem with borough/barrow; it took me a while to realize the British did not name electoral districts for burial mounds. For some reason, confusion between these two phonemes caused more comprehension problems for me than any other phonetic differences between British and American English.

  42. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

    @Karen: I think пик also means, well, 'peak', as in a 'mountain peak', e.g. Pik Kommunizma. Unless that's what you meant by tor, which I don't think is quite the same thing.

    In Polish, 'rush/peak hour' is godzina szczytu (more often in the plural as godziny szczytu), where godzina is 'hour', and szczyt is 'peak'.

    And I don't think the borrowing could have come all the way from Oz. If it's a borrowing to start with.

  43. Boris said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

    I should have remembered the "spade" meaning, though I guess it's really пика with an a at the end. I never heard of the other meanings though. And the "spade" meaning was as opaque to me as the "rush hour" meaning until I learned English (and For spade, not even then, in fact, not until you mentioned it)

  44. Qov said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 3:29 pm

    As a [Canadian] child I wrote "Mummy" phonetically and when I encountered the Mommy spelling, probably in a book, I remember being angry at my mother for letting me spell it "wrong" for so long. She considered Mummy to be the correct spelling and Mommy to be the American spelling. Yet in school I would have "honor" marked as a spelling error but not "Mom," so it must have been a later transition.

  45. Boris said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 3:38 pm

    Ok, shows what I know about Russian. Now, after all these years, knowing English, it's hard to remember whether the same word was available in Russian in the same meaning. I see it's even used in the "peak oil" sense.

  46. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 3:51 pm

    @Mary Bull: Of course, it wasn't anyone as high-ranking as the POTUS who suggested the change but a mid-level official at the FDA during Reagan's first term of office. And what was missing from most coverage at the time was that the impetus for the proposal was elimination of waste: existing regulations demanded a full serving of raw or cooked vegetables that was almost invariably discarded untouched. That is, it was driven by the schoolchildren's actual consumption habits rather than any top-down mandate to reduce the amount of aid being given the poor. (A detail I myself only learned recently, despite being old enough to remember the original news coverage of the story.)

  47. richard howland-bolton said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 3:56 pm

    @ Mary "ketchup… indispensable on French fries" Bull

    No! Nooooo!! Fat AND sugar! Aaaargh!

    Chips should only be slathered in vinegar (and of course salt to maintain a good, high blood pressure). What would your ancestor John say?

  48. Mary Bull said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

    @Daniel von Brighoff
    Of course you're correct. But it's still fun to joke about it. And, actually, whether or not the vegetables were wasted when left on the children's plates (usually they were donated to someone's hog farm, I think), part of the children's education in health and nutrition took place in the lunchroom. At least, in my day as a teacher, lo these many years ago.

    @richard howland-bolton
    LOL Didn't say I subscribed to the view myself! Had some delightful fish&chips with the aforesaid vinegar and salt in Glasgow a few years ago on my one trip across the Atlantic. Enjoyed them so much, I repeated the meal when we extended our tourism into Dublin. Would be pleased to call John Bull my ancestor — he was at the very least my late husband's ancestor. :)

    Do the Aussies eat fish&chips? (And call them "chips," not "French fries"? — my feeble effort not to get too far off-topic in all this pleasant banter.)

  49. Clarissa at Talk to the Clouds said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 4:18 pm

    At least it's not mayo–fat on fat. ;)

    Oh, the looks of bafflement when my French students asked in restaurant after restaurant for mayonnaise for their fries. But restaurant after restaurant accommodated them, even if they had to go in the back and spread some mayo into a paper cup. I was fascinated by how people cling to their customs, even when they're in the middle of what's supposed to be an "experiencing life abroad" experience. But I don't really like either ketchup or mayo, so I'm a neutral observer. I'd rather have spiced fries, but if there weren't any, malt vinegar is actually good–but just last week I read on a friend's Facebook page one of their friends asking "What are all those bottles of vinegar doing at the new hamburger-and-fries place that just opened? What on earth are they serving that you put vinegar on?"

    Oh, dear.

  50. un malpaso said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 4:24 pm

    Hmmmm.. by this logic, we Americans should have a perfect antidote to our own problems with crime and violence: all we have to do is to start importing Australian words, and they will go away: (After all, the culture follows the language, not the other way around, right?)

    Therefore, in this spirit, I am inviting my Atlanta mates for a bonzer Labor Day party, with shrimps on the barbie, plus boomerangs, budgerigars, and didgeridoos for everyone. I can feel the gangsta culture dissipating already.

  51. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 4:38 pm

    Where can I find out if more Americans pronounce "mom" with the LOT vowel than the STRUT vowel?

    I'm Canadian, and I spell it "mom" but pronounce it with the STRUT vowel. I think of the LOT pronunciation as an Americanism, but I could have sworn I've also heard significant numbers of Americans using the STRUT vowel like me.

  52. Bob Ladd said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

    My mother was definitely Mum (STRUT vowel) rather than Mom (LOT vowel). She was a conservative New England (the US New England, not the Australian one) speaker – I don't know if that's relevant. But as far as I know, in any variety of North American English only mom can be used as a common noun (your mom, soccer mom, etc.). Even though I grew up with Mum as the proper noun, I remember being completely mystified the first time I heard a British English speaker talk about a mum, meaning 'a mother'.

  53. Jim said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 5:45 pm

    "When I go to the beach in North Carolina, I certainly don't think I'm on the US/Morocco border."

    Well if you had boatloads of Moroccans off-shore, you might just come around. For a period of years they felt as though they had a border with Afghanistan.

    "So, can anyone enlighten me on why I got told as a child that I should be spelling it "catsup"?"

    Because proper ladies speak Cantonese, not that vulgar Fook.

    "with shrimps on the barbie"

    Oh God, Matel has finally jumped the shark on her clothes…..

  54. lynneguist said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 6:13 pm

    Lovely…thanks for this! (Saved me some Zimmering!)

  55. Peter Metcalfe said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 6:52 pm

    The rot started much much earlier.

    The Ozzies began spelling their Labour Party as the Labor Party in 1912!

  56. Jongseong Park said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

    @Mary Bull: Do the Aussies eat fish&chips?

    Actually, they eat feesh n cheeps. ;)

    Can no one answer my earlier question whether any variety of English doesn't take 'ketchup' automatically to mean 'tomato ketchup'?

    [(myl) The OED gives the gloss "A sauce made from the juice of mushrooms, walnuts, tomatoes, etc.", and gives citations that include:

    1748 MRS. HARRISON House-kpr.'s Pocket-bk. i. (ed. 4) 2, I therefore advise you to lay in a Store of Spices,..neither ought you to be without..Kitchup, or Mushroom Juice. 1874 COOKE Fungi 89 One important use to which several..fungi can be applied, is the manufacture of ketchup.

    So apparently British English was once such a variety.]

  57. David Jackmanson said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 8:42 pm

    Re "Labor Party", in Australia we still keep British spellings for other words. So on Labour Day the labour unions support the Australian Labor Party.

    I understand that the party changed the spelling of its name because US spelling was seen as simpler and thus more progressive than British spelling. But that is about the only long-term result of that movement.

  58. Randy Hudson said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 8:56 pm

    If you're really interested in ketchup, check out "The Language of Food: Ketchup", a blog post by Dan Jurafsky, a professor of linguistics at Stanford. It's a pretty fascinating social, commercial, culinary, and linguistic history.

  59. Julie said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 9:58 pm

    I learned arithmetic on an small black chalkboard. Then I went to school where they had a large green blackboard. And now I'm supposed to think one is more "American" than the other?

    @Clarissa: Add me to your list of people who thought "er" and "erm" were things people really said.

    The spelling of ketchup depends on the brand: Hunts fans eat "catsup," while Heinz fans eat "ketchup."

    Mom is pronounced with my normal LOT vowel, which is generally unrounded.

    The real problem, of course, is that our government and corporations export only the worst of America to the world. The rest of the world looks at that and wonders why we think we have something worth keeping at all. If someone has been led to believe that McDonald's is synonymous with American cuisine, why should they think America has anything worthwhile to offer the world?

  60. Keith said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 10:24 pm

    un malpaso said '…with shrimps on the barbie, plus boomerangs, budgerigars…'

    Sorry mate, that should be 'prawns on the barbie'. We changed that in the ads 'cause you yanks wouldn't have understood it otherwise. And it's 'budgies', in the long Aussie tradition of abbreviating everything (cossie, barbie, mossie, bikkie, etc.) because we're too bloody lazy (or drunk) to say the whole thing.

    The chalkboard/blackboard whinge is a dead giveaway that the writer is an eccentric oldie, with a 'roo loose in the top paddock: it's all whiteboards, or smartboards, these days anyway.

  61. Josh said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 1:13 am

    Don't forget TGI Fridays, 7-11, and Dunkin' Donuts. I don't think I've been to a country in the last decade that hasn't had at least one of each.

  62. John Cowan said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 4:04 am

    John: My 23-year-old daughter (a product of the inner city) says homie quite frequently, not in direct address, but as a quasi-pronoun, as in Homie just doesn't have a clue, does he.

  63. Thor Lawrence said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 6:43 am

    UK transport companies refer to peak and off-peak travel — with related pricing differentials. No sight of a rush hour on their sites.

  64. the other Mark P said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 6:59 am

    If they're green, it makes no sense to call them "blackboards".

    Unless Australians really are living in the past, you'll struggle to find a blackboard of any colour. They are all white in New Zealand and called, as you might expect, "whiteboards".

    The only people who use chalk these days are kids. And they do it on the footpath sidewalk.

  65. Tim Silverman said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 8:40 am

    @Thor Lawrence: yes, but I've never heard "peak" in this sense used in the phrase "peak hour"—only in the phrase "peak time".

  66. Karen said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 10:57 am

    Tying things together, I (and others) thought Jo, Beth, Amy, and Meg called their mother Mommie with an R in it…

  67. Rodger C said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 11:01 am

    And while we're at it, there's the singer Sade, whom rhotic American DJs continually call Shar-day with an R, presumably because that's the way her non-rhotic Brit publicists spelled it out for them once upon a time.

  68. Lucy Kemnitzer said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

    John said, "The term homey really stuck out to me, too. Not only does it have an innocuous meaning, but it's completely fallen out of use stateside for at least a decade (it's been replaced by son and other words)".

    Really? I guess my ears must be deceiving me . . .

    Around here, people use "homey" as a descriptive word. They wouldn't use it like they would "son."

    People (mostly very young) say, "He's my homey," meaning "he's my friend-and-neighbor." But they wouldn't say "He's my son" to mean that.

  69. DRK said,

    August 8, 2010 @ 1:36 am

    Nice to reflect that when white Aussies first came to Oz, (almost all as convicts), they magically left such behaviors as mugging and begging behind them. If only the bad Americans had'nt re-introduced such concepts with their magik wordz.

  70. Bertil Wennergren said,

    August 8, 2010 @ 6:23 am

    As a non-native I have to ask: Is "catsup" really pronunced the same as "ketchup"? if it's not – as I've always thought – then those are not really different spellings, but different words (synonyms). Sorry for the bitching…

  71. Rodger C said,

    August 8, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

    In a commercial for Hunt's Catsup, the announcer will clearly say "catsup," but an ordinary person gesturing toward a bottle of Hunt's Catsup will normally say, "Please pass the ketchup," at least where I come from.

    An interesting question: Are there any speech communities, as opposed to individuals with pedantic parents, that say "catsup" normally?

  72. Jon Weinberg said,

    August 8, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

    @Daniel von Brighoff: OT, but you've got the Reagan-ketchup-vegetable story only party right. The proposal did come in the context of a "top-down mandate to reduce the amount of aid being given the poor"; its immediate driver was the fact that the 1981 budget bill (which hewed pretty closely to the blueprint the President had submitted) cut child-nutrition funding by over 25% (about $1.4 billion). The cuts (which, among other things, tightened eligibility requirements) resulted in a decline of about two million in the number of children participating in the school lunch program. The idea that it would be desirable to eliminate the requirement that schools serve vegetables, because it would lower "plate waste," was mooted in the process of implementing those cuts.

  73. Jethro said,

    August 8, 2010 @ 8:50 pm

    While we're on the subject of importing toxic Americanisms to Australia, can I point out that the article was actually published on 6/8/2010, not 8/6/2010.

  74. Danny Bloom said,

    August 8, 2010 @ 11:04 pm

    I agree with the writer from OZ. They should keep their own
    slang and idioms and try not to let too many US terms in…….mate is much better than buddy, for example, for them. He is right. I completely sympathize with what he said. He loves America, as he said, but he wants to preserve his own nation's language and special terms. Fair dinkum!

  75. Danmcc said,

    August 9, 2010 @ 12:05 am

    I read this article when it appeared, and seemed to observe that most of the so-called toxic imports seem very uncommon in my particular slice of urban Australian society. Panhandling, ketchup and sandbox seem quite American and I can't think of a time when I have heard a native Australian use those terms. Peak hour/rush hour I would see both as interchangeable and not just recently.

    Mugging or drive by shooting seem to me to be imports, but more because they refer to a foreign phenomenon. I imagine we once thought of mugging as something that doesn't happen here and still seems to be very rare. Still, a news report or similar would still tend to say "robbed at knifepoint" rather than "mugged" in my perception. Similarly I can't think of a local occurrence of a "drive by shooting" in my memory, so such a phrase by definition would tend to refer to an external or overseas event.

  76. Peter said,

    August 9, 2010 @ 12:22 am

    @DRK: Amusing to note that Americans seem so caught up with the convict history of Australia, given so many had already been shipped to America. It was only because of the American revolution that they started sending them to Australia.

  77. Gordon Campbell said,

    August 9, 2010 @ 12:34 am


    This blog is quite interesting on words and food generally, and – more specifically – on the relationship between catsup, ketchup and kecap.

    Sadly it's looking a bit like an exblog.

    When I go to the well-known Scottish restaurant (which is not very often 'coz I'm very pure and also high-class and that) I always ask for 'tomato sauce' for my 'chips', even though the restaurant insists on calling the potato things 'fries'. Interestingly, in Britain they have things called chips and things called crisps. In the US the chips are called fries and the crisps are called chips. But in Australia these substances are known respectively as chips and chips. As far as I know, this ambiguity hasn't caused anyone to starve to death.

  78. John Cowan said,

    August 9, 2010 @ 10:14 am

    Here on my small island off the east coast of North America, I can easily buy both chips and (French) fries, openly known by those names, and they are different things. True that they are both made from potatoes sliced and deep-fried, but there the resemblance ends. The shape, the flavor, the degree of crispness, the associated condiments….

    I don't understand why nobody understands this.

  79. peterj said,

    August 12, 2010 @ 3:04 pm

    I can't recall when I first heard "chalkboard", but "chalkie" has been Australian slang for "teacher" for at least 40 years.

  80. peterj said,

    August 12, 2010 @ 3:14 pm

    Peter Metcalfe said (August 6, 2010 @ 6:52 pm)

    "The Ozzies began spelling their Labour Party as the Labor Party in 1912!"

    David Jackmanson said (August 6, 2010 @ 8:42 pm)

    "I understand that the party changed the spelling of its name because US spelling was seen as simpler and thus more progressive than British spelling. But that is about the only long-term result of that movement."

    The change to US spelling was not because US spelling was believed to be more progressive than British spelling, but because of the influence of the US labour movement on the Australian labour movement and on the ALP, and the influence of US political ideas generally in Australia at the time. The Australian constitution, which came into legal effect in 1901, for example, created a House of Representatives and a Senate, not Houses of Commons and Lords.

    A leading figure in the ALP at the time was King O'Malley, who claimed to have been born in Canada, but was most probably born in the USA. He had certainly lived in the US.

  81. Linguistic border security – Fully (sic) said,

    August 16, 2010 @ 9:41 am

    […] are obvious cultural influences from America, Australian English remains a distinct dialect. And Mark Liberman at Language Log wants to tell us that a lot of the terms Herrick claims to be American imports actually don't […]

  82. maidhc said,

    August 17, 2010 @ 9:38 pm

    I've been told by someone who used to work in the business that the USDA standards for catsup and ketchup are different. Catsup can be made from cheaper ingredients and tends to be runnier.

    [(myl) An interesting idea that seems to be false. At least according to United States Standards for Grades of Tomato Catsup, United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service, Fruit and Vegetable Division, Processed Products Branch, Effective date February 26, 1992: "Tomato catsup means the product as defined in the standard of identity for catsup, ketchup, catchup (21 CFR 155.194) issued pursuant to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act."]

    A real Australian would call it "dead horse".

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