World English: From Aloha to Zedby Robert Hendrickson
Library Journal, from a review of Human Words
From Pittsburgh to Portsmouth to Papua, a lively tour of English usage around the world
English is spoken by more than a billion people around the world, and each English-speaking region has
"We have adopted as words Bartlett's and Webster's; maybe some day, we'll have Hendrickson's as a generic term."
Library Journal, from a review of Human Words
From Pittsburgh to Portsmouth to Papua, a lively tour of English usage around the world
English is spoken by more than a billion people around the world, and each English-speaking region has made its own unique contribution to English vocabulary. A book that will have great appeal for word lovers, travelers, and any one alive to the rich cultural tapestry that is the new global village, this is an A-to-Z reference to English vocabulary in all its flavors and forms. World English contains thousands of terms and phrases from every English-speaking region, including the U.K., the United States, Canada, Australia, India, the Philippines, the Caribbean, and Africa. Each entry provides region of origin, definition, etymologies, and synonyms found in other English-speaking vocabularies. Plus, this delightful volume features many amusing and enlightening anecdotes, and fun facts.
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aandag! South African
Attention! The word, frequently employed in newspaper ads, derives ultimately from the Dutch aadacht, meaning the same.
Ago. "Ten years aback we were there, but we never returned."
above snakes American (West)
Above the ground. "He's a lean, rangy cowpoke, about six and a half feet above snakes."
abroad American (South)
Heard especially among old-fashioned speakers in the American South, a trip abroad is often not a journey overseas but a trip or visit within the community, even a stroll down to the store. It can, however, mean a distance of fifty miles or more, as in the common newspaper expression "[Mr. Jones] has returned from his trip abroad."
absentee ballot American, Australian
A ballot used by a voter who is unable to vote in person at the polling place. The British call it a postal ballot (q. v.) or a postal vote.
according to Cocker British
Very accurate or correct, according to the rules. According to Cocker could just as well mean "all wrong"; however, few authorities bother to mention this. The phrase honors Edward Cocker (1631-1675), a London engraver who also taught penmanship and arithmetic. Cocker wrote a number of popular books on these subjects, and reputedly authored Cocker's Arithmetick, which went through 112 editions, its authority giving rise to the proverb. Then, in the late nineteenth century, documented proof was offered showing that Cocker did not write the famous book at all, that it was a forgery of his editor and publisher, so poorly done, in fact, that it set back rather than advanced the cause of elementary arithmetic.
According to Hoyle, according to Guinness, and according to Fowler are three similar British phrases understood wherever British English is spoken.
according to Rafferty's rules Australian
According to no rules at all, no holds barred. It apparently arose in Australian boxing matches, though who the original Rafferty is--if there was one--is unknown. The expression probably has nothing to do with the British slang Rafferty.
ace on Bahamian
The best at, excellent or outstanding at, as in "She ace on singin'."
acorn calf American (West)
A runt or weak calf; sometimes used to describe a physically weak person. It was once believed that cows that ate too many acorns gave birth to such calves.
action replay British
A television sports term whose U.S. counterpart is instant replay.
adrift American (New England)
A seafaring term used on land in Maine and other New England states, adrift can mean to be tied improperly, to become untied. "That package is all adrift; you don't know your knots."
An abbreviation of advertisement; ad in America.
An exclamation of great surprise used by older Scottish speakers. The term's origins are unknown.
aeroplane Australian, British
Airplane. The British aerodome means an airfield or airport.
African time South African
A humorous term used by both whites and blacks that refers to being late, not on time.
Dessert, the last course of lunch or dinner.
ag South African
A common exclamation, meaning oh or ah. "Ag, man, all I want is another chance--I know I can do it." From the Dutch ach.
Anymore, any longer, as in "She don't love him again."
aggravoke American (South)
Combination of aggravate and provoke. William Faulkner himself used this Southern slang, which means "to incite or provoke."
Awry, off to one side, wrong. American mountain folk used this word in the same sense, as in "Jake's gone agley since he got in with those boys," or "That shed is all agley."
Agony Aunt British
A tabloid lonely hearts columnist who answers questions from readers.
agricultural show British
A state or county fair--that is, an exhibition of farm goods accompanied by competitions and entertainment.
agricultural worker British
A farmhand or farm worker.
aided school New Zealand
A school founded and funded by a religious organization.
air hostess British
A female flight attendant on a commercial airliner. The term stewardess is used in America.
airish American (South)
(1) Drafty. "It's plenty airish in here." (2) One who puts on airs or acts superior to others. "He's real airish, ain't he?"
An intellectual. "He counted himself among the airy-fairies." As an adjective this derogatory word means completely visionary, without substance.
aisle tooth Scottish
Any of the molar teeth, so named because of their broad biting surface.
Aladdin's cave British
A hiding place, such as a warehouse, for stolen goods that criminals are waiting to sell or distribute.
An alcoholic drink made from grain that is popular in Canada.
alight and look at your saddle American (West)
An invitation to a rider to get off his horse and visit a while, come inside for a drink or a meal. "It's a hot day. 'Light and look at your saddle, pardner."
all and all Jamaican
Often used instead of "all," as in, "She tell all in all her friends."
all arms and legs beer British
Slang for a very weak beer with "no body" to it, an inferior beer.
all bally-which-way American (West)
Twisted in every direction, highly confused. "Just when you think you know that country, somehow it's twisted all bally-which-way."
all fingers and thumbs Australian, British
Americans would shorten this expression, meaning lacking coordination and skill, to all thumbs.
all hat and no cattle American (West)
Someone who acts rich or important but has no substance, such as a person who pretends to be a cattle baron, even dressing the part.
all his bullet holes is in the front of him American (West)
He's brave, not a coward. "I ain't ashamed of him. All his bullet holes is in the front of him."
all-in insurance policy British
A policy protecting against all types of risk. An "all-risk" policy in American English.
all-in wrestling British
A wrestling match in which there are no holds barred; almost everything is permitted as long as no weapons are used.
all my eye and Betty Martin British
Baloney, bull, etc. This old saying may have originated when a British sailor, looking into a church in an Italian port, heard a beggar praying, "An mihi, beate Martine" (Ah, grant me, Blessed Martin) and later told his shipmates that this was nonsense that sounded to him like "All my eye and Betty Martin." Most authorities dismiss this theory, but St. Martin is the patron saint of beggars.
all of that! Jamaican
A common phrase expressing complete agreement: "All a dat, man!"
all right already American (New York City)
Stop it, that's enough! Stop talking! Enough already is a variation. Both are common expressions influenced by Yiddish speech rhythms.
A versatile cricket player who is good at all aspects of the game--batting, bowling, and fielding. What Americans would call an all-around player.
all the hours God sends British
All the time, every hour of the day. "He works all the hours God sends."
Probably the best known of Hawaiian words contributed to standard English. Aloha, meaning either "hello" or "goodbye," literally means "love" in Hawaiian and can mean "I love you" if mi loa is prefaced to it. It has been called the world's loveliest greeting or farewell. Hawaii is, of course, America's Aloha State, its anthem "Aloha 'Oe" (Farewell to Thee), written by Queen Liliuokalani.
aloha shirt American (Hawaiian)
Colorful shirts in bright prints of hula girls, palm trees, pineapples, and many other Hawaiian subjects. These shirts date back to the 1920s, when small Honolulu tailor shops began making them for the tourist trade. Native Hawaiian Ellery Chun (1909-2000) was the first to mass-produce them. Mr. Chun, a Yale graduate, coined the name aloha shirt in about 1933 when he began turning the shirts out at his Honolulu plant. (See also aloha.)
A letter of the alphabet, as in "My name begin with the alphabet B." This follows a Japanese practice taken from the many Japanese settlers in Hawaii, the Japanese word for letter being the same as that for alphabet.
Often means "yet," as in "I called you up, but you weren't there already." This usage probably stems from a similar practice among Portuguese settlers in Hawaii.
The breed of dog commonly called a German shepherd or a police dog in the United States.
alst American (New England)
Common in Maine for all or all that. "That's alst I heard about it."
A Japanese borrowing and shortening of amateur.
amalaita South African
A ruffian who fights in the streets. "A gang of amalaitas beat him senseless." From a Zulu word meaning a street desperado. Pronounced ama-lay-ta.
amber fluid Australian
Descriptive Aussie term for beer. See also tinner.
amen corner American (South)
A group of fervent believers is called an amen corner, after the similarly named place near the pulpit in churches that is occupied by those who lead the responsive "amens" to the preacher's prayers.
American coffee, meaning "weak coffee," unlike espresso or other strong brews.
An American, not an Englishman, coined this expression. In 1781 Dr. John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), wrote a series of essays on "the general state of the language in America." He listed a number of "chief improprieties," such as Americans using "mad" for "angry," and coined the word Americanism to define them.
amn't I? Irish
Used in Ireland and Britain but rarely, if ever, in America. As odd as it may sound to some ears, the locution is preferred to "Aren't I?" by a number of good writers and is widely employed. James Joyce used it in Dubliners, Rumer Godden employed it in An Episode of Sparrows, and Rebecca West used it in one of her novels ("I'm just awful, amn't I?"). Amn't I? is especially popular in Ireland, the expression dating back at least two centuries there.
anancy rope Jamaican
A spider web. Anancy derives from Anansi, the name of a cunning spider in an old African folk tale.
The strongest member of a track team, the runner who runs the last leg of a relay race, has been called the anchorman since the late nineteenth century, the term possibly having its roots in the anchor man at the end of a tug-of-war rope. By the 1930s anchorman was being used for the strongest member of an American radio broadcasting team. With the rise of women in sports and television news broadcasting, the term is increasingly heard as anchor, not anchorman.
and pigs fly! British
The American counterpart would be a sarcastic yeah or sure, both expressing disbelief. But Americans also use the similar phrase and pigs have wings!
angel teat American (Ozark Mountains)
Moonshiners call particularly good, mellow whiskey with a good bouquet angel teat or angel's teat. A synonym is good drinkin' whiskey.
angle with a silver hook British
An old British expression without much currency in America. An unlucky fisherman who fails to catch anything doesn't want to go home empty-handed. Thus when he buys fish (with silver coin, in past times) to conceal his abject failure, he is said to angle with a silver hook.
angry teeth Scottish
Used to describe the sharp, fragmentary remains of a rainbow, which are said to forecast bad weather.
Annie Oakley American
Slang for a complimentary ticket. At first this was just the stage name of Phoebe Annie Oakley Mozee (1860-1926), star rifle shot with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Her most famous trick was to toss a playing card into the air and shoot holes through all its pips. The riddled card reminded circus performers of their punched meal tickets, which they began to call Annie Oakleys, and the name was soon transferred to free railroad and press passes, both of which were customarily punched with a hole in the center. Today all complimentary passes, punched or not, are called Annie Oakleys.
A name given to both a parka and a warm waterproof coat made by the Inuit natives from animal skins.
answer phone British
The usual name for what Americans would call a telephone answering machine. The British also use the trademarked name Ansaphone.
Counterclockwise in American. "To open the medicine bottle, push the top down and twist it anticlockwise."
Antsie's limit British
A British expression with some American use. The nineteenth-century physician Edward Antsie advised his patients that more than one and a half ounces of pure alcohol a day, consumed day in and day out, will eventually cause physical damage to the body. Stay under this limit, Antsie said, and drinking won't harm you. One and a half ounces of pure alcohol translates roughly into three one-ounce drinks of 100-proof whiskey, or four beers, or half a bottle of wine. Some experts agree with Antsie, but most refuse to generalize.
Frequently used instead of everybody, as in "Anybody went to the beach today."
any joy? British
Slang for "Have you had any luck and success?"
An American expression with worldwide usage. An accidental coinage, A-O.K. was not used by American astronaut Alan Shepard while making the first suborbital space flight, in 1961, as was widely reported. The term is actually the result of a mistake by NASA public relations officer Colonel "Shorty" Powers, who thought he heard Shepard say "A-O.K." when the astronaut, in fact, uttered a rousing "O. K." Powers liked the sound of A-O.K. so much that he reported it several times to newsmen before learning of his mistake. By then it was too late, for the term became part of the language practically overnight. See also O.K.
Used by Jamaicans to mean not a separate residence but a rented room in a house.
Apple American (West)
A derogatory name given to certain American Indians by other American Indians who believe their values are too much like those of whites; that is, they are, like an apple, red on the outside and white on the inside. See Oreo.
O.K.; under control, everything's in apple-pie order. "Everything's apples, mate."
apricot sickness South African
The runs or the trots, often caused by eating unripe apricots or too many apricots.
Loud arguing or squabbling. The word derives from argue. "Did you hear all that argy-bargy next door?"
Arizona strawberries American (West)
American cowboys and lumberjacks used this term as a humorous synonym for beans, also employing the variations Mexican strawberries and prairie strawberries. Some dried beans were pink in color, like strawberries.
The most common term for an armpit.
around the horn! American (West)
A cry used by loggers in the Pacific Northwest when a log is swinging through the air to be loaded.
Still used by most British for the buttocks. Americans would say ass; the word arse in this sense is rarely heard in America.
arse licker Australian, British
What Americans would call an ass kisser, a sycophant, or an apple polisher.
Ass backward or vice versa, all wrong. "You've got it all arsy-varsy."
arterial road British, New Zealand
A major highway or trunk road.
artic British, New Zealand
Short for an articulated lorry, which Americans would call a trailer truck or rig.
artsy-fartsy American, British
Someone who tries to appear more educated or knowing about art than he is, a pretentious person. Also arty-farty.
arvie South African
Afternoon. "I spent the whole arvie at the movies." Probably a corruption of afternoon.
Slang for afternoon: "It's a sunny Sunday arvo."
ary American (New England)
An old-fashioned word meaning either. "Take ary one or the other."
Commonly substituted for who, as in "There are some of us as don't know."
as cold as charity British
Bitterly cold. The saying alludes to the coldness encountered in the offices of charitable or welfare organizations by people seeking help.
as different as chalk and cheese British
Completely different, like night and day. "They're in love, but they're as different as chalk and cheese."
ashamed American (Ozark Mountains)
Among hillfolk the word is used to mean modest, shy, or bashful, as in "He was so ashamed to meet women he sat in a corner all night."
A serving dish, borrowed from the French assiette for same.
Used to mean "aboard" a vessel, as in "All hands come ashore, we're set to sail."
ashy American (South)
Angry; ill-tempered, ill-humored. "He argued awhile and then got right ashy about it."
as mad as a two-bob watch Australian
Slang for someone extremely mad or silly. See two-bob.
as near as damnit British
Very close, just about. "I'll get there by twelve, as near as damnit." The phrase was originally "As near as 'damn it' is to swearing."
An insurance adjustor; someone who investigates insurance claims.
assistant British, New Zealand
A clerk, a salesperson in a store; short for shop assistant. In the United States an assistant would be a clerk or a salesman.
at all events British
In any event. "At all events, I'll finish it by Saturday."
at close of play British
Originally a cricket expression, this saying means when all is said and done.
attend to Hawaiian
Often used instead of attend, as in "I attend to Honolulu High School."
Can mean any person who manages property for its absentee owner; not necessarily a lawyer.
Eggplant. Aubergine is the French work for this vegetable. It is also used as an adjective meaning "black" or "dark purple."
Old, as in the well-known song "Auld Lange Syne" (The Good Old Days).
Auld Sooty Scottish
The devil, one of many such names for Satan, including Auld Bobby, Auld Bogie, Auld Clootie, Auld Nick, Auld Roughy, and Auld Waghorn.
Aunt Edna British
The creation of British playwright Terence Rattigan, Aunt Edna is the equivalent of the American little old lady from Dubuque--nice but provincial, very prudish, and traditional.
auntie South African
(1) A friendly, mostly respectful form of address to any older woman. (2) Among blacks the name for an old woman who sells liquor illegally. See also shebeen queen.
Aunt Sally British
A scapegoat or a patsy, after the Aunt Sally figure used as a target in an old British carnival game.
au pair American, British
A young woman, often foreign, who receives room and board and a small salary in return for housework. The term is becoming more common in the United States, especially to describe one who watches children.
Aussie salute Australian
A humorous term for waving a hand in the air to swat or scare off flies.
away from Jamaican
Except for. As in "He always live here away from a year in America."
away to the woods British
Gone crazy. "He's away to the woods, I'm afraid."
awful Canadian (Newfoundland)
Instead of having a negative connotation, the word means remarkable or exceptional, as in "He gave her an awful present, beautiful and very expensive."
ayuh American (New England)
Yes, though the word has shades of meaning ranging from the affirmative to the sarcastic. Chiefly heard in Maine, ayuh (EYE-uh) is used throughout New England in variations such as eyah, ayeh, eeyuh, ehyuh, aaay-yuh, and even ayup. A touchstone of New England speech, it possibly derives from the nautical aye (yes). Another theory has ayuh coming from the old Scots American aye-yes, meaning the same.
Bad, when slowly pronounced baaad, has long been American black slang for something or someone good, and recently this meaning has come into general usage to a limited extent. The variation is so old that it is found in the American Creole language Gullah three centuries ago, when baaad was used by slaves as an expression of admiration for another slave who successfully flouted the white men's rules.
baas South African
Boss, master. This usage as a form of address from a black to a white man is dead in Namibia, where it has been banned by law, and it is fast dying in South Africa. It derives from the Dutch for master.
babbalaas South African
A classic hangover after a hard night's drinking. The word derives ultimately from a Zulu word meaning the same. "He's got a bad case of the babbalaas."
baboon rock South African
Rocky soil that is not suited for farming. "We couldn't make a living on that baboon rock."
baby in the bushes American (Appalachian Mountains)
A euphemism for a child born to an unwed mother.
What would be called a baby-sitter in America.
bachelor party American
See stag party.
bachelor's tart Australian
A piece of bread with jam spread on it. See damper.
back American (Ozark Mountains)
An old-fashioned term meaning to address an envelope, from the days when letters were folded and addressed on the back. "As soon as I back this letter, I'll mail it."
Meet the Author
Robert Hendrickson is the author of several critically acclaimed works on the English language, including Human Words, American Talk: The Words and Ways of American Dialects; The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins; and Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms. He is also the author of several celebrated works on American literature and the Civil War. He lives in Peconic, New York.
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