Author Topic: Prevalence of words in US and UK  (Read 856 times)

Alan W

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Prevalence of words in US and UK
« on: October 17, 2020, 03:06:10 PM »
I've occasionally mentioned in the forum items appearing in the Separated by a Common Language blog. In this blog, linguist Lynne Murphy, who is American but lives in Britain, talks about differences between American and British English.

Recently the blog looked at lists of words found by recent research to be known by a lot more Americans than British people, and vice versa. More information about the research can be found in Lynne Murphy's two posts, American words (most) British folk don't know and British words (most) Americans don't know.

What's interesting to me about these lists is whether each of the words is classed as common or rare in Chihuahua. And if any are common, should they be rare? Well, it seems most of the words known by a lot more Americans are classed as rare, but almost all the words known mainly by Britons are classed as common.

Here are the words more prevalent in America. (If you don't know what some of these words mean, look in Lynne Murphy's post.)

manicotti
ziti
tilapia
garbanzo
kabob
kwanza
crawdad
hibachi
sandlot
acetaminophen
tamale
kielbasa
conniption
chigger
tomatillo
provolone
albuterol
staph
goober
luau

Of these words, the Chihuahua list classes as common garbanzo, acetaminophen, tamale, kielbasa, provolone, staph and luau. All the rest are classed as rare, except for albuterol, which is not in our lexicon at all.

The only one of these words I can recall us discussing at any length is sandlot, which was changed from common to rare a few years ago, also discussed here.

I'll do a separate post shortly about the words that are much more prevalent in Britain.
Alan Walker
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pat

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Re: Prevalence of words in US and UK
« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2020, 07:25:18 PM »
I have to say that if garbanzo, kielbasa, acetaminophen or provolone appeared in a puzzle they would definitely contribute towards my not getting a rosette! (I know acetaminophen has too many letters but who knows - one day there might be an 11-by-many puzzle  ;D)

blackrockrose

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Re: Prevalence of words in US and UK
« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2020, 07:29:19 PM »
I'm an Aussie brought up and educated in the UK. I regret to say I only know what seven of those words mean - kabob, hibachi, sandlot, tamale, conniption, provolone and staph.

I've read a great many American novels, but not watched much American TV, with the exception of The West Wing and Mad Men. I have, of course, seen plenty of American movies. I expected my familiarity rate to be much higher. Now I feel somewhat illiterate.
« Last Edit: October 18, 2020, 09:22:20 AM by blackrockrose »

pat

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Re: Prevalence of words in US and UK
« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2020, 07:53:35 PM »
I only know what seven of those words mean... now I feel somewhat illiterate.

I only know half a dozen or so of those words but that doesn't make me feel illiterate in the slightest!

mkenuk

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Re: Prevalence of words in US and UK
« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2020, 08:28:33 PM »
I'm with you on this, Pat.
I don't think I knew any of these before I started playing Chi apart from chigger (a flea) and staph .
I knew kebab, of course but not this weird spelling of it.
I've since learned a couple of others: - (tamale and luau) which I have come across from time to time in films

By my reckoning, twelve of the twenty words relate to food, plus luau, at which I'm sure there's plenty of food.
I wonder if that's significant.

And I'm perplexed as to why the name for the Angolan currency (kwanza) would be common in the US?
I wouldn't have thought the two countries had much in common!

 

Valerie

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Re: Prevalence of words in US and UK
« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2020, 09:04:28 PM »
I'm an Aussie brought up and educated in the UK. I regret to say I only know what seven of those words mean - kabob, hibachi, sandlot, tamale, conniption, provolone and staph.

Ditto on all accounts, blackrockrose, including (save for a few interruptions) our brought-upness, education and only recognizing the same seven words.  The other words on that list are a complete mystery.  Will be interested to see the British list.

As an aside, I have just downloaded and started playing Scrabble against the computer, a game I have loved playing all my life.  Despite me winning so far, I'm certainly agog at some of the words played by the confounded machine.  I am sadly lacking in my vocabulary.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2020, 09:51:07 PM by Valerie »
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mkenuk

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Re: Prevalence of words in US and UK
« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2020, 10:23:12 PM »

Will be interested to see the British list.


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Hobbit

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Re: Prevalence of words in US and UK
« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2020, 05:47:39 AM »
Quote
As an aside, I have just downloaded and started playing Scrabble against the computer, a game I have loved playing all my life.  Despite me winning so far, I'm certainly agog at some of the words played by the confounded machine.  I am sadly lacking in my vocabulary.

Oh Val I'm with you.  I love Scrabble.  I've got an old Nintendo DS which I keep just for playing Scrabble & Countdown (not sure if you have an Aussie version of that - it's a TV programme with letters & numbers) & I also play Scrabble on my tablet.  I'm convinced it makes up half of the words it uses!!

I'm ashamed to admit that I only knew one or 2 words on the list :-[  I'm even more lacking in my vocabulary!
Pen

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Re: Prevalence of words in US and UK
« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2020, 06:08:24 AM »
Thanks Mike, didn't think to do that!

Yes, Pen, we did have a programme called Letters and Numbers which was similar to your Countdown.  Unfortunately no longer although they are showing repeats.  We do have the 9 Out Of 10 Cats Countdown here which is very funny.
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Jacki

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Re: Prevalence of words in US and UK
« Reply #9 on: October 18, 2020, 07:06:09 AM »
Love Scrabble, loved the West Wing, love food so know a few of the food words. Linguists don't always get it right - I'd question those words being common in the US.

Tom44

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Re: Prevalence of words in US and UK
« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2020, 01:48:27 PM »
I (an American) knew all the words (except Angolan currency) - big surprise.  But Mkenuk asked about Kwanza, the Angolan currency.  I'm pretty sure very few Americans know what kwanza is, but a lot of us know kwanzaa.  That is an African-American cultural celebration Dec 26-Jan 1.  I have to ask Alan if he meant kwanza or kwanzaa for his common words list.  If you google kwanza, it looks up kwanzaa and you cannot even get it to kwanza unless you google kwanza currency.  Still, given the state of prejudice and bigotry we have, I wonder if kwanzaa is really a common word.
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blackrockrose

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Re: Prevalence of words in US and UK
« Reply #11 on: October 18, 2020, 04:05:02 PM »
The list Mike reproduced from shows 'kwanza', but lower down (in the explanation of meanings) there are references to both 'kwanzaa' (the holiday) and 'kwanza' the currency, with the implication that Americans were recognising the former word.

Alan W

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Re: Prevalence of words in US and UK
« Reply #12 on: October 18, 2020, 04:21:10 PM »
You're right, mkenuk, kabob is certainly a weird spelling. It's normally كَبَاب‎
 ;)

I wasn't suggesting that all of these words are common in the US - just that they're much better known in the US than in the UK. The scores given in Lynne Murphy's post show the words as being known by between 74% (albuterol) and 98% (kabob) of American respondents to the survey. But, from what I can see, there's no guarantee that survey participants were a representative sample of the population. The survey was on a website and open to anyone, but I gather it was mainly publicized in academic circles.

I would expect the words that are very well known in the US to be also fairly well known in the UK, even if not used there. E.g. dime.

The test that provided the data for this survey is still online. You can try it out yourself at http://vocabulary.ugent.be/

It seems to me that provolone and staph are reasonably well known in Australia, but none of the others.
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Alan W

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Re: Prevalence of words in US and UK
« Reply #13 on: October 18, 2020, 05:59:41 PM »
These are the words known by many Britishers, but by few Americans:

tippex
biro
tombola
chipolata
dodgem
yob
gazump
abseil
naff
kerbside
plaice
judder
chiropody
korma
bolshy
quango
pelmet
brolly
chaffinch
escalope

The meanings of all these words are discussed in the blog post I got them from.

In the Chihuahua puzzle, all of these are currently classed as common words except tippex, biro, abseil, naff, plaice, korma, bolshy, pelmet and brolly. (And of course yob, which is too short for our list.) At least three of these were originally common, but were changed to rare after discussion: biro, plaice and abseil. Kerb has been discussed - inconclusively - but not kerbside.

Looking at a few of these words, I'm surprised to learn they're not well known in the US. If anything, I might have suspected that chipolata and gazump would be better known to Americans. It just goes to show that you can't always rely on casual impressions.
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Valerie

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Re: Prevalence of words in US and UK
« Reply #14 on: October 18, 2020, 06:25:36 PM »
As a Brit/Aussie, know them all.  Thanks Alan.  Very enlightening. 
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