Vernacular Spectacular #24: “gas” vs. “petrol”

“Petrol” has the unique-word advantage: if it’s usage as short for petroleum went away, then that’s it. Whereas “gas” has various uses, including one that is rather confusing given that gas-short-for-gasoline is a liquid. Also, I tend not to like one syllable short-a words, for if a word is only going to have one vowel-sound it’s the harshest one to have. But gasoline is also a simple and very common thing, so having a very simple word as its everyday form makes sense, especially since it ends up getting combined into a lot of short phrases (“step on the gas”, “gas station”, “gas guzzler”).

Jeremy’s winner: Continue reading

Vernacular Spectacular #22: “license plate” vs. “number plate”

This marks a special moment in the Vernacular Spectacular series. This pair is up for comparison because, for the first time, I was having an exchange with someone in America and I used the Australian phrase instead of the American because I’ve come to like the ring of the Aussie phrase more.

But, we should think about this. Maybe I’m just infatuated with “number plate.” I do like -mber/-mper endings, which makes me worry all the more that I was simply hasty with my previous pick of “dodgem cars” over “bumper cars.” And, the two soft s’s in “license” don’t go that well with a simply and stately word like “plate.”

On the other hand, “number plate” isn’t exactly an accurate term, since here and elsewhere the plates have both letters and numbers on them. We’re talking about an item people are legally compelled to attach to their cars, so accuracy is not a trivial concern.

Jeremy’s winner: Continue reading

Vernacular Spectacular #21: “bumper cars” vs. “dodgem cars”

This is one of the most back-and-forth ones we’ve had so far. Three issues:

1. Bumper is a splendid world. Say it five times out loud. You’re smiling at the end, aren’t you? At least I hope so, because if not, you are dead inside.

2. Even so, dodgem cars is probably better-sounding phrase. Nothing against bumper cars, except part of the beauty of bumper is what a taut two syllables it is. But dodgem cars has spunk and snap: fits great for an old-time attraction that’s still good for a kick at a carnival.

3. At a literal level, dodgem cars is completely wrong: the point isn’t to dodge the other cards, it’s to ram into them with glee. If you’ve spent five minutes in dodgem cars and haven’t had a collision, it’s not because you’re a great driver, it’s because you are being shunned. Bumper cars get the point of the activity spot-on.

Jeremy’s winner: Continue reading

Vernacular Spectacular #20: “silent e” vs. “magic e”

We are talking about the end of hope here. And why hope isn’t pronounced “hoppy.”

To be clear, it’s super-cute when Beckie says “magic e” instead of “silent e.” But we are talking about a hypothetical linguistic merger here that will affect the whole of English-speaking humanity, and so we must be scientists.

“Silent e” is straightforward. Don’t say the e at the end of the word. “Magic e” sounds like a mysterious little enchantment has been bestowed upon the word. Maybe you are supposed to say the “e” extra loud, or in an astonished whisper, or while doing jazz hands. Who knows? Then again, with “silent e,” it seems like hope should just be pronounced “hop.” Magic e does work with the idea that the rest of the word is also transformed, so the short vowel becomes a long vowel.

If it is magic, though, it’s a pretty fickle magic. After all, love does not rhyme with cove, nor does give with five. But then again, what is magic without unpredictability?

Jeremy’s winner: Continue reading

Vernacular Spectacular #19: “cantaloupe” vs. “rockmelon”

Beckie had me buy one of these on New Years’ Eve. This is our first V.S. matchup since The Clarification. If this fruit was called the same thing everywhere: what name would I choose?

I grew up calling this a “muskmelon,” but that’s a American ruralism, like saying “pop” instead of “soda.” “Cantaloupe” is what anybody who isn’t a hick says, so it’s the official candidate.

I think as ___melon goes, rockmelon actually has a really nice ring to it, but my enjoyment of it is hindered by me thinking “But wait, ‘muskmelon’ had a nice ring to it, too, and that’s not even on the table.” Cantaloupe is a nicely peculiar word, which sounds like it should be an animal instead of a fruit.

Jeremy’s winner: muskmelon cantaloupe

Vernacular Spectacular: a clarification of criterion

In the “Vernacular Spectacular” blog feature, I compare the American and Australian way of saying something, and offer my winner.  The “Australian” way may be a more broadly “Commonwealthian” way, or more uniquely Australian way, but regardless it’s not how we do things in the United States.

I’m not sure if I’ll keep going or not.  Downside is that it might have been a more amusing idea in the abstract than in practice.  Upside is that the differences are bountiful and having opinions about them is irresistible, so these posts are easy to knock out.  We have a goal of trying to have something from one or the other of us between Beckie’s daily photos, because the death of this blog could go one of two ways: Beckie stops posting her daily photo, or all there is on the blog is one happy “Daily Photo” after another, which would be beautiful but sad.

Anyway, doing them makes it clearer to me that I should have some standard for what makes something the “winner.”  Am I just saying it’s what I prefer, or think sounds coolest, or something else?

So, I’ve decided on a criterion that I will here make explicit: Imagine that globalization leads to the elimination of local ways of saying things, and one of the two variants in questions is the one that survives to be used both in American and in Australia.  Which would I pick?

Vernacular Spectacular #17: “trash-talking” vs. “sledging”

“sledging” has been in the news here because the Australian and English cricket teams have been engaging in a lot of verbal back-and-forth during The Ashes (even getting American attention!).

The short-a is a harsh sound to me. For example, my least favorite of all normal women’s name is Pam (nothing personal against the many great Pams I’ve known). I usually don’t like short-a words, but with “trash” it makes a fair bit of sense given what the word means. For this reason I would probably pick trash over rubbish in a head-to-head, but would take rubbish over garbage.

On the other hand, sledging to me connotes an image of dogs transporting something across the tundra.

Jeremy’s winner: Continue reading

Vernacular Spectacular #15: “math” vs. “maths”

Many school subjects are plurals, like physics, economics, and forensics. More to the point: mathematics. So, while it’s gratuitous pluralization, it’s not completely out of left field. To Americans, hearing a Commonwealthian says “maths” sounds cute. The other way around, I think it sounds more directly incorrect, like somebody saying they studying “particle physic” or “home economic”.

At least for the American accent, “maths” is not just a needless plural, but a homonym with “mass”. So if it caught on, it could be included on this game show.

Jeremy’s winner: Continue reading

Vernacular Spectacular #14: “biker” vs. “bikie”

One of the major news stories since I have been in Brisbane has been the government’s crackdown on motorcycle gangs, which includes measures so audacious in their scope that I suspect American readers wouldn’t believe they could be passed into law all at once in a contemporary democracy.

The major outlaw gangs here are Bandidos and Hell’s Angels, just like in America. Yes! They not only borrow all our movies and television shows, but our biker gangs as well! Only here, they are called “bikies” instead of “bikers.” It shows the flexibility of the -ies/-ees ending here in Oz; where in America it’s used to make something more diminutive or childlike, here it’s the way you make a nickname out of anything. Maybe before I leave there will be a crime story where the police catch a serial killie or break up a ring of paedophillies.

Jeremy’s winner: Continue reading