How Does Language Change Impact You?

Rose Jacobs at Lingua Franca has an interesting idea:

And yet I accept that language changes. I like it, even. So why am I resistant to such a widely accepted if relatively novel usage? I’m reminded of a New Yorker piece by Robert Sapolsky in which the author, a neurobiologist, investigates the age at which a person’s appetite for novelty is likely to dwindle — and when our taste for the new vanishes completely. He finds that if you haven’t heard a certain style of music by the time you’re 35, you probably won’t become a fan. You’ve got a longer time window with culinary tastes, and a shorter one when it comes to body art (Sapolsky probed piercings). What about linguistic taste? He didn’t look into it, but we can.

I’ve chosen seven examples of novel language that have emerged in the past 75 years or so, tried to roughly pinpoint when each came into relatively common usage, and put them into a shared Google spreadsheet. My dates might be off, and I welcome your comments and corrections — but note that I’m not looking for Oxford English Dictionary-backed evidence of when a neologism began. Yes, impact was around as a verb in the early 1600s, and yes, there are scattered examples of its use ever since, but according to the Google N-Gram viewer at least, its boom time began in the 1970s.

Anyway, the point of the shared spreadsheet is data collection. If you’re up for taking part, fill in one row with your birthdate and a “Yes” or “No” in each subsequent column, according to whether the language at the top of that column bothers you. Once we have critical mass, we can start looking for patterns.

The examples involve reveal as a noun, Xerox and impact as verbs, the noun skillset, morph as a verb outside the context of computer animation, medal as a verb, and lowkey/low-key as an adverb; I’m mildly annoyed by the last, but not really, and I’m not taking part in the survey because my responses (as someone who has spent many years purging himself of peevery) would be so skewed. But I urge you to take part if it appeals to you, and I look forward to the results. (Sapolsky’s findings seem spot-on to me; the late 1980s, right after I turned 35, are precisely when I lost interest in new music.)

Comments

  1. The two most recent usages I can think of that grate on me are calling a “living room”, a “living”, and referring to “main dishes” as “mains”. I’ll probably get used to these truncations eventually, but for now, they still get under my skin.

    Contrary to Sapolsky’s observation, I’m still open to new music at nearly 50, but I shudder inwardly at all body art, even when the work is attractive and original.

  2. Lucy Kemnitzer says:

    I looked at the spreadsheet but couldn’t find the words I was supposed to react to. All I saw was a vertical left column of dates (birthdates?) and a series of yeses and noes. The top row–I assume where the words are supposed to be–was only labelled with letters of the alphabet.

    I can’t agree with the premise though. I’ve been discovering new kinds of music all along–even last year, and I’m 65. Ditto new foods. My tastes in clothes have also changed (though not with the fashions much).

    The only thing that hasn’t changed much for me is my politics: I still hate capitalism.

  3. marie-lucie says:

    to impact

    I remember when I first heard “impact” as a verb. It was while General Haig was replacing President Reagan (or VP Ford?) when Reagan was shot by a would-be assassin and had to spend time in hospital. Haig had not been very well-known, nor heard speaking to the nation, and many people were struck by his unusual vocabulary, which was attributed to his using words typical of the military. One of these was “to impact”, which generated a lot of comments but was soon adopted into current American speech.

  4. I looked at the spreadsheet but couldn’t find the words I was supposed to react to.

    I have to confess that the spreadsheet put me off — even if I had had a stronger impulse to take part, it seemed a ridiculously archaic way of constructing a survey, one level up from asking people to send in postcards.

  5. My favorite Haigspeak – “we must definitize the President’s catalyzation”

  6. And best quote about Haigspeak ever:

    Haig, in congressional hearings before his confirmatory, paradoxed his auditioners by abnormalling his responds so that verbs were nouned, nouns verbed, and adjectives adverbised. He techniqued a new way to vocabulary his thoughts so as to informationally uncertain anybody listening about what he had actually implicationed. . . .

  7. it bothers that the verb ‘agree’ takes a direct object now, which wasn’t the case before – i see this frequently in the financial times – i would have said ‘agree on’

    i also am sad about old words i can’t use any more – when i was a child ‘negro’ was polite

  8. I don’t mind most of her examples – ‘to medal’ is just a sports commentator thing off the telly, so I can safely ignore it – but I couldn’t figure out how to use the spreadsheet. At the age of 65 I would welcome hearing new styles of music IF THERE WERE ANY TO HEAR. All I get is the relentless singsong they play on my car radio and complaining about crappy radio stations is well within the remit of the 1960s generation. It’s good to be reminded nowadays that there once was General Haig. Not everything was better before Trump. For his insidious approach to English I’m reminded too of Donald “Known Knowns & Unknown Knowns” Rumsfeld.

  9. Well, to answer your question outright is that, as I’ve mentioned before, and well, from “The Case Against Italians”:

    “They’re rude, and prone to violence, and anyone who thinks the Mafia is dead is living in a fantasy world” . . . wait, that’s a different blog I comment on. I meant “The Case Against Italics”:

    Me: To quote Donald M. Ayers in English Words: from Latin and Greek Elements: I am sure that English was [as linguists say] created equal. But after nativity, it lacked the benefit of being reared by dutiful parents during its formative years, and, rather like Topsy in the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it ‘just growed’.” I’m sure most readers know enough about the development of English to know what he means. Few languages have four competing etymological morphologies: Greek, Latin, French, and what we’ll just call older English. Syntax competes, too, as the phrase “split infinitive” demonstrates. I don’t know how relevant this actually is, but it jumped to mind. Even vocabulary: English is flooded with so many borrowings that, to quote Ayers again, “One stutters before the range of possible choices of words while the opportunity to speak flies by!” We also have a lot of especially French and Latin words and phrases that, though not in first-rate English dictionaries, we use pretty often in literary, legal, and other forms of academic writing.

    That is, it’s only natural to object to the less than euphonious “impact” when we have so many other verbs that do the job well. However, you could argue impact was actually a verb, if not quite having the same metaphorical range back, in English before it was a noun, its use beginning circa 1600 — its noun form only taking root over a century later, from the verb of course, in 1738 — and to quibble over the metaphorical range puts one on shaky ground, me thinks, although I don’t use it myself, probably having an aversion similar to Hat’s. More anti Italian rhetoric:

    Another commenter: The case against italics is that there is no need to label the foreign word as foreign. People who don’t know the word will figure it out anyway and readers who know the word do not need reminder of its foreigners.

    Me: As I tried to explain above, that argument doesn’t really work for English, because there are too many English words and common foreign expression with which most native English speakers are unfamiliar for that “figuring out” not to become tiresome. It wouldn’t be only for people essentially fluent in Latin, (ancient) Greek, Old French, and Old English. Then again, I’m pococurante, like D.O.

  10. Shit, I just realized that it was the last item on your list that bothered you especially — “lowkey/low-key as an adverb” — and it does me, too. I can only offer my previous reasons; that and its actual novelty. Etymonline doesn’t even have an adverbial form. (I almost got that into the first comment, missed the saved button by a second!) Yeah, I hate it.

  11. I don’t even know what a “reveal” is! So yes, it does bother me. “Medalled” I’ve never heard but it sounds ridiculous. “Lowkey” doesn’t bother me at all.

    I think I’ve been living under a rock.

    What does bother the hell out of me is “advocate for” instead of “advocate”. What does “advocate for the death penalty” tell you that isn’t conveyed by “advocate the death penalty”? I only noticed this one recently but it seems to have spread like wildfire.

  12. The trouble with the 35 cut-off date is that it fails to take into account social factors. I didn’t have exposure to hiphop / rap because I didn’t move in those circles (young, Western) at the time, nor did I have access to those channels (music videos?) that would have familiarised me with it. It’s a trend that doesn’t speak to me because I never lived through it. And not having lived through it, I can’t say coming to it later that singing about gangsters seems very appealing.

    On the other hand, I came across Mongolian music much later and do find some of it quite pleasant to listen to.

  13. “Lowkey” doesn’t bother me at all.

    You realize it’s the adverbial use we’re talking about? The example Jacobs gives is “I’m lowkey annoyed by her response.”

  14. January First-of-May says:

    I wonder how many of the early respondents answered “yes, I’m fine with it” rather than “no, it doesn’t bother me” (or vice versa).

    In my case, I’m somewhat bothered by the adverbial “low-key”, and very mildly bothered by “medaled”. The rest just feels like normal English (though I’m skewed on “morphed” by reading too many transformation stories).

  15. J.W. Brewer says:

    I believe Fowler was already peeving about “advocate for” coming on a century ago, so bathrobe may be having a Recency-Illusion issue. Although further back in the history of peeving’s greatest hits is Ben Franklin’s 1789 letter to Noah Webster complaining about the newfangled use of “advocate” as a verb (which the OED rather cruelly uses as one of its citations for the verb!).

  16. J.W. Brewer says:

    Separately, I’m now 53 but am not convinced there have actually been any stylistic revolutions or innovations in music since I turned 35 with the new millenium. As best as I can tell the music The Young People listen to is various variations on or combinations of 20th-century styles that were already extant before I was 35, and I like it or not depending on some combination of how I do or don’t already like the component parts and how well-executed it is. My old-dude-not-liking-new-stuff bias probably tends to be more a heard-it-done-better-before thing than a this-is-a-weird-novelty-I-can’t-grok thing. And to be fair a lot of stuff I liked when I first heard it on the radio as a teenager I might have liked less if I’d had at the time a deeper base of prior knowledge that would have predictably led to a higher incidence of heard-it-done-better-before reactions.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t even know what a “reveal” is!

    Probably limited to the phrase “the big reveal”, which is the moment in a story when the most important plot twist is revealed (the villain’s identity for instance).

    What does bother the hell out of me is “advocate for” instead of “advocate”. What does “advocate for the death penalty” tell you that isn’t conveyed by “advocate the death penalty”? I only noticed this one recently but it seems to have spread like wildfire.

    …I didn’t even know it was possible to omit for here.

  18. January First-of-May says:

    …I didn’t even know it was possible to omit for here.

    Basically the same in my case. I do vaguely recall having heard of some people advocating things, but advocating for things sounds so much more natural that I wasn’t sure if I would’ve even been fine with the plain phrasing.

    There’s probably a study idea in there somewhere – phrasings that had gone (mostly) out of use in the 1980s, 1970s, 1960s, 1950s… how old do people have to be to still not be bothered with them?
    It’s probably much harder to search for such recently-obsolete phrasings than for newfangled ones, however.

  19. With advocate, are we talking about the noun or the verb? I find “X is an advocate for the movement to abolish plastic sporks,” perfectly fine, as is “X advocates abolishing plastic sporks.” The first means X was hired by or otherwise speaks for the movement, as a lawyer or spox. The second means X is advocating a personal position.

  20. Stu Clayton says:

    Spox !! [ shakes cane in impotent annoyance, then reflects that it is a reasonable way to avoid the attentions of gender gripers ]

    Kismet is now balking at arrow brackets. What next ?

  21. I don’t even know what a “reveal” is!

    Medieval/Tudor dress style: in those leg-of-mutton puffy shoulder pieces, an inset lozenge-shaped piece in contrasting colour.

    Also a term in architecture.

    Also a term used by conjurors as the ‘punch line’ of a trick.

  22. Stu Clayton says:

    My initial dismissive reaction to “spox” was due to taking the “o” as being pronounced as if in “spoxymoron”.

  23. “Advocate for” the verb. “He advocated the death penalty” vs “He advocated for the death penalty”. Perhaps I am a victim of the recency illusion but I honestly can’t say I’d ever heard “He advocated for ….” It sounds like a back-formation from “an advocate for the death penalty” — which itself is obviously fine.

    I did a very crude Google n-gram on “advocated the” vs “advocated for the”. The latter was minuscule compared with the former, but slowly increasing. So I’m not sure why some people feel that “advocated for the” is the only possible phrasing.

  24. Stu Clayton says:

    What about “advocate against” ? Do we need “abvocate” instead ?

  25. Stu Clayton says:

    Kismet is forgiven. Should have used the HTML escapes.

  26. “To advocate for the death penalty” actually loses an important distinction:

    He is an advocate for the poor > He is advocating for the poor.

    He is an advocate for the death penalty > He is advocating the death penalty.

    But since this is a classic tactic of peevers, I won’t push my luck with this one — not on LH!

  27. David Eddyshaw says:

    @AJPC:

    I’m no Rumsfeld fan in the least, but his “known unknowns” thing is not only perfectly sensible but has a sort of poetry about it. It doesn’t belong with the Haig gobbledegook.

    Re music: rap. It’s the only completely original sort of pop music to have arisen in my period of musical paying-attention, and as predicted, I don’t like any of it. Recently, I’ve been wondering if I was looking for excellence in the wrong place. Sensible people whose opinions I respect seem to find genuine verbal artistry in the best sort. I may try again.

  28. Long ago, I made my peace with the fact that in English, you can verbify pretty well anything.

  29. you can verbify pretty well anything

    I think that should be “you can verb pretty well anything”.

  30. Stu Clayton says:

    You can verbify pretty well any noun. Annunciation of verbs is also permitted.

  31. I’m no Rumsfeld fan in the least, but his “known unknowns” thing is not only perfectly sensible but has a sort of poetry about it.

    Indeed. What’s more, it’s a standard engineering insight. Rumsfeld himself says he heard it from a NASA administrator, who undoubtedly heard it from his own geeks. The term unknown unknowns was apparently first used by military intelligence, and later by strategic planners, including project managers.

  32. The “advocate/advocate for” question is just one example of a more general trend.

    Another example is “explain/explain about”.

    I’ve had to deal with a lot of people from India, and verb forms with extra prepositions are very common in Indian English. I don’t know whether there are other varieties of English where such things are common too.

    Another new style is the use of “farewell” as a transitive verb, often in reference to funerals. I associate this mostly with Australians.

    As far as music goes, as I’ve grown older I’ve started to listen to older music. When I was 30 I wouldn’t listen to anything from before 1895. Now I’m back to the 1600s.

  33. Rumsfeld’s “known unknowns” thing is not only perfectly sensible but has a sort of poetry about it.’

    It’s only the poetry that’s contentious. There are plenty of other ways to say it, but bureaucrats will bureaucrat.

    unknown unknowns was apparently first used by military intelligence

    Arf.

    I wasn’t talking about rap as singsong radio music. “Music industry” is another oxymoron.

    A reveal is a well-used noun in Architecture and the construction business to mean what Germans call a shadow gap (Schattenfuge), the modernist version of disguising the joining of two different materials previously accomplished by covering the whole messy area with a piece of moulding. Some say a reveal can make the bulk look as if it’s floating on thin air, but I don’t buy that (it’s quite obviously being pulled downwards by gravity – duh).

  34. “Xerox” is not legally genericized. Xerox Corporation is still telling people not to verb it, and so is the AP.

    (Meanwhile, Dumpster’s trademark has expired, and as of 2013, the AP Stylebook approves lowercase “dumpster”.)

  35. I agree with other people that the spreadsheet is hard to deal with. In any case I don’t really disagree with any of the usages, despite being someone who can remember seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

    It’s a long time since last I heard someone use “Xerox” as a verb. Don’t bogart that joint, man.

    However I did misread one of them as “I’m trying to develop my skillet”. I thought it was about one of those celebrity chefs.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    I never noticed the known unknowns as anything strange. Now that I think about it, it’s probably because in German die Unbekannten, literally “the unknown ones”, is one way to say “the (mathematical) variables”.

    Dumpster was a trademark? The things I learn.

  37. “To advocate for the death penalty” actually loses an important distinction:
    He is an advocate for the poor > He is advocating for the poor.
    He is an advocate for the death penalty > He is advocating the death penalty.

    If the distinction is so important, how come it’s not made in the noun versions (before the >)?

    I wasn’t talking about rap as singsong radio music.

    Were you talking about it at all? In my case, rap is a perfect example of the 35-and-out rule; I fell in love with the rap I encountered when I moved to NYC just before my 30th birthday: Grandmaster Flash, Run-DMC, those guys (and gals — anyone remember “Roxanne’s Revenge”?), but from the late ’80s on I’ve admired newer forms of rap/hiphop from a respectful distance: great stuff, but Not My Thing.

    I agree with everyone that the “known unknowns” thing is perfectly fine; I’ve been arguing with people about it ever since he said it.

  38. I am certain that the British agree things while we Americans agree to things (or agree on things.) I’m not at all sure that the difference between advocate and advocate for has any basis in regional dialect. It doesn’t startle me to hear of someone advocating x as opposed to advocating for x. While we aren’t being invaded by Britishisms in general, they are being terribly aggressive about ‘different to’ instead of ‘different from.’ And wrongly so. A is not different to B, not even when David Mitchell says it. My general conclusion is that prepositions are the weak underbelly of language and this is where novelties most easily slither in.

  39. If the distinction is so important, how come it’s not made in the noun versions (before the >)

    Well, it is when you think of it:

    He is an advocate for (not ‘of’) the poor > He is advocating for the poor.

    He is an advocate of (not ‘for’) compulsory castration > He is advocating compulsory castration.

    At any rate, I was only jokingly making that argument. I am well aware that these things are not decided that way.

    @ Phil Jennings

    This Australian thinks that it’s normal to agree to or on things. He was also brought up to sit for exams, but the preferred usage appears to be to ‘sit exams’.

  40. It’s perfectly fine and reminds me of Groucho’s ‘Party-of-the-First-Part’ speech, another perfectly fine & useable piece of jargon that we all have a duty to mock because it jargons.

    I completely agree about rap. And no, I wasn’t talking about it. I’m just not always as articulate as you and a few others here.

  41. For people who don’t like rap, I like to suggest listening to some in a language you don’t understand. Helps to appreciate the beats and flow, while allowing you to ignore the lyrics (which too often are sexist, homophobic, … sadly 🙁 ).

    Around these parts there’s probably hardly anyone who *doesn’t* understand French (I don’t), but here’s a French rap tune I like: https://youtu.be/DFWLvUia8U0

    Do make it at least as far as Vicelow’s verse on MNOP, which, according to the Internet, begins…

    Eh mec, tu mimes une momie
    T’es lent tel une mamie
    Même au M.I.C. tu blasphèmes
    N.O.N. j’ai des lunettes, mais ch’uis pas
    Dwayne Wayne, toi t’es C.O.N
    Obligé, Vicelow te lance ce lot de mots…

  42. Phil Stompa: I am certain that the British agree things while we Americans agree to things (or agree on things.)

    No, this is wrong. As in Australia, in Britain one uses all these constructions (in different circs).

  43. The distinction about agree is that in American English, it does not exist as a bare transitive. Agree on s.t. and agree to s.t. are fine, but agree s.t. is not.

  44. I think I make a distinction between ‘advocate X’ and ‘advocate for X’. If you advocate for X, you go out on the streets and on Twitter in support of it. If you advocate X, you’ll say you’re for it if asked, but you won’t necessarily be moved to stir from the couch. I advocate kindness on the internet, but I don’t find much time to advocate for it.

    On ‘reveal’: nowadays it’s often used in reference to reality TV programmes. The reveal is the moment when the audience and the relevant participant is shown the results of the house / garden / person makeover. It probably also covers moments like the one on Antiques Roadshow when the expert announces, after much tension-raising historical discussion, that the rusty bayonet you keep under the bed is worth £10,000 or nothing at all. What’s presented in a reveal may or may not be a revelation.

  45. I think I make a distinction between ‘advocate X’ and ‘advocate for X’. If you advocate for X, you go out on the streets and on Twitter in support of it. If you advocate X, you’ll say you’re for it if asked, but you won’t necessarily be moved to stir from the couch.

    I think that’s my usage as well.

  46. ‘to advocate policies’ vs ‘to advocate for policies’. Don’t tell me I’m suffering from the recency illusion.

  47. J.W. Brewer says:

    Did some inadvertent linguistic fieldwork this evening due to there being five ninth-grade girls (only one of whom is my own child) chatting up a storm in my house. Heard not only in-the-wild instances of adverbial “low-key” but at least one usage of its antonym adverbial “high-key,” plus approximately a zillion instances of vocative “guys” or “you guys” w/ female addressees, if there’s anyone left who still thinks that’s a controversial innovation.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: vocative “guys” or “you guys” w/ female addressees

    It is interesting that “guys” is only used as a term of address – I doubt these girls use it when referring to themselves or members of their group. Even though singular “guy” is a masculine noun, “guys” as an adjunct to the pronoun in “you guys” is genderless, as is vocative “guys”. “You guys” is one of several possible solutions to the lack of an unambiguous second person plural pronoun in modern English, like “you all”, “you people” and others (“yous” does exist in some areas – rural Nova Scotia is one – but is mostly frowned upon). When I lived in an indigenous community in British Columbia, the children (all monolingual in the community’s brand of English) used three plural pronouns: you guys, us guys, them guys, all obviously plural, and genderless.

  49. > I think that should be “you can verb pretty well anything”.

    You can ehm… ergativify verbs rather easily in English, so you might even go for

    Pretty well anything verbs

  50. Lars (the original one) says:

    In this thread we prefer to ergative verbs, thanks. Our motto is zero derivation for fun and profit!

  51. marie-lucie says:

    In this thread we prefer to ergative verbs

    Shouldn’t it be “to ergate”? or perhaps even “to erg”?

  52. Re: verbifying advocate

    I once run into phrase “while attorneying at law”

  53. “it bothers that the verb ‘agree’ takes a direct object now,”
    As others have noted, this is standard British English usage, which is why you’ve noticed it in the FT but not in US publications.

    Similarly, in British English the verb “subscribe” can take a direct object.

    And contrariwise, Americans use “graduate” with a direct object whilst the British don’t.

  54. David Eddyshaw says:

    Similarly, in British English the verb “subscribe” can take a direct object.

    I don’t recall ever having come across this. It certainly can’t in my own idiolect.

  55. Please subscribe me to your newsletter.

    Isn’t that a direct object? And possible in US or UK English, I would think.

  56. January First-of-May says:

    I think that’s my usage as well.

    I thought there must have been some difference, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. The described distinction sounds about right.

    (Though I suspect that there are also some cases along the lines of “to advocate for the poor” where the plain phrasing is ungrammatical, or at least means something wildly different.)

  57. David Eddyshaw says:

    I hadn’t thought of “subscribe” in the sense “make/allow to subscribe”; I can imagine people using it with an object expressing the subscriber, though I wouldn’t myself.

    This sort of zero-derived causative can be made from quite a number of intransitive verbs.

    “Walk me through it.”

    Maybe that’s what Bloix had in mind, though.

  58. Lars (the original one) says:

    Shouldn’t it be “to ergate”? or perhaps even “to erg”? — those aren’t words in English as far as I know, regardless of word class. You can’t zero derive from something that doesn’t exist — but ergative is a bona fide noun.

    But of course, behind closed doors we can play any games we like. Cf Stu’s annunciation earlier.

  59. The verb graduate takes a direct object in all versions of English in its oldest sense: Trinity College graduated James Clerk Maxwell in 1854. It’s the pseudo-ergative formation that is specific to American English: I graduated high school in 1995. It is actually somewhat logical that this usage is not found in, say, British English, since the uses of (noun and verb) graduate with many different levels of education (e.g. kindergarten graduate) is particularly American.

  60. David Marjanović says:

    Part of the loss of the distinction between school and university in the US.

  61. @David Marjanović: That the difference in the structure of higher education between America and Britain has anything to do with the differences in terminology sounds like pop-Whorfian bullshit to me.

  62. marie-lucie says:

    Brett A (the same or not?)

    It’s the pseudo-ergative formation that is specific to American English: I graduated high school in 1995.

    Pseudo-ergative? I am reasonably well acquainted with ergative elements and constructions, but not the pseudo kind.

  63. For some reason one recent change which drives me nuts is that people now say “step foot in” where they used to say “set foot in”. When I hear “step foot in” I feel like my brain is broken.

  64. Stu Clayton says:

    A more robust approach is to posit that *their* brains are broken. There is reassurance to be found in My Last Duchess.

    # … Who’d stoop to blame
    This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
    In speech—which I have not—to make your will
    Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
    Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
    Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
    Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
    Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—
    E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
    Never to stoop. … #

  65. @marie-lucie: By “pseudo-ergative,” I meant a verb with inverted subject-object identities. (I have seen this terminology out there, but I am not sure how common it is.) The point is that graduate is an “either-way” verb in American English: My daughter will graduate Richland Northeast High School; and Richland Northeast High School will graduate my daughter.

    The verb like is another pseudo-ergative. Originally, the syntax was, “This apple likes me.” The verb passed through an “either-way” period, but the original formation is now obsolete, and only, “I like this apple,” remains. Graduate may go the same way, with the form with the school as the subject eventually disappearing.

  66. marie-lucie says:

    Brett: My daughter will graduate Richland Northeast High School; and Richland Northeast High School will graduate my daughter.

    I am familiar with the first use of graduate as a transitive verb, but that is not what I originally learned: rather, this verb was intransitive and to be followed by from : She will graduate from RN High School. Its transitive use in the next clause sounds alien to me, although I would not find it strange to read RN High School graduates 200 students each year. The plural or collective noun makes a difference versus the singular noun.

  67. Nice idea, but yes, the spreadsheet is quite clunky.

    So I put Jacobs’ questions in a Google form quiz, much easier to fill

    https://goo.gl/forms/hImnV9ArVuLKn63t2

    the answers get recorded in this Google docs spreadsheet (viewable for anyoneO)

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/18UgWAkoBFNBN6CkC6DpUe87Ke-PttXjiow8w_Im35K8/edit?usp=sharing

    I also mailed her/Lingua Franca about it, so maybe she’ll go for it. Otherwise, I’ll send any answers that accumulate here.

  68. David Marjanović says:

    @David Marjanović: That the difference in the structure of higher education between America and Britain has anything to do with the differences in terminology sounds like pop-Whorfian bullshit to me.

    The differences in terminology are amazingly consistent: it’s not just graduate, and it’s not just Britain but all of Europe as far as applicable.

    In all languages other than AmEng that have the word student in recognizable form, it means strictly “university student”; highschool student is unthinkable outside the US. Even the verb study means “be inscribed as a student of that subject at a university” outside the US, except for the metaphorical usage in, e.g., “I’ll read this thoroughly”. “Study hard” is expressed differently. Likewise, school only ever refers to a university or a part thereof (medical school, law school) in the US, outside of specialized compounds (German Hochschule “any institution of tertiary education”, Icelandic háskóli). Class appearing in a university context is an AmEng specialty, too.

  69. For some reason one recent change which drives me nuts is that people now say “step foot in” where they used to say “set foot in”.

    Same here! I can’t seem to get used to it.

    So I put Jacobs’ questions in a Google form quiz, much easier to fill

    What a great idea; thanks very much for that.

  70. I don’t think it’s a Whorfian effect, I think it’s the jargon of educationists (which is a particularly horrible jargon, right up there with literary theory for awfulness) in the U.S. It’s clear that the use of student for all levels of education is a 19C thing: as late as 1935, the OED has American quotations s.v. pupil that shows it was the ordinary word for kids in primary schools, and for scholar as the word for somewhat older but not yet adult students. Someone probably made a conscious decision to use student more broadly, and it not only stuck but spread to the general public; the OED’s first record of the extended sense is an American newspaper in 1854, if we neglect an anomalous use of student at Eton (which after all is called a college) in 1764.

    But as for school as part of a university, Tolkien taught in the English School at Oxford, which might also be called the English faculty (AmE English department). As long ago as 1565, people spoke of a school of fence (that is, defense), and as recently as 1994, RADA is called a drama school, both per the OED. Law school and medical school originated in AmE, but have definitely spread to BrE.

  71. Reassurance for the Duke, perhaps, but hardly for his victims. If I were the Count’s emissary, I’d speak softly and get the hell out of Dodge, and return a highly negative report to my boss. (Americans don’t normally use master or servant, as those meant ‘slaveowner’ and ‘slave’ and the stigma clings to them.)

  72. In all languages other than AmEng that have the word student in recognizable form, it means strictly “university student”

    Sadly, not. Everyone’s a student nowadays. I’ve even seen it used for kindergartners (that might have been in Norway, I can’t remember the details). In England, ‘pupil’ is only used by me. The only alternative, ‘boys’ or ‘gels’, is used exclusively by headmasters & headmistresses.

    the verb study means “be inscribed as a student of that subject at a university” outside the US

    Nope.

    school only ever refers to a university or a part thereof (medical school, law school) in the US

    But, but… They have art schools, medical schools, summer schools and business schools in Britain.

    Class appearing in a university context is an AmEng specialty, too.

    Not exclusively. It’s true they don’t do that ‘Class of 2018’ thing in Britain, but Britons do take classes.

  73. In all languages other than AmEng that have the word student in recognizable form, it means strictly “university student”; highschool student is unthinkable outside the US

    Not so; “secondary school student” is much more common than “secondary school pupil” in Ireland, according to Google, which accords with my sense of it. And on UK sites, “grammar school student” comes out about even with “grammar school pupil”.

  74. But as for school as part of a university, Tolkien taught in the English School at Oxford, which might also be called the English faculty (AmE English department).

    BrE has university departments as well – Oxford has four Divisions (medical, sciences, social science and humanities) each of which contains faculties (Faculty of English Language and Literature) and/or departments (Department of Zoology).
    Tolkien did not teach “at the English School” because it does not exist as a place – the “Oxford English School” is a collective noun meaning the students reading English and the academics teaching them. As a professor of Anglo-Saxon, he was a member of the English School, and proposed reforms to it – meaning reforms to the way it was taught.

  75. Not so; “secondary school student” is much more common than “secondary school pupil” in Ireland, according to Google, which accords with my sense of it. And on UK sites, “grammar school student” comes out about even with “grammar school pupil”.

    But I would be fairly confident that “student” on its own in the UK means “university student”. If you told a BrE speaker “there are a couple of students in the room” and he opened the door to see a pair of ten-year-olds in school uniform, he would, I think, ask them where the students had gone. Similarly “school” on its own means primary or secondary school. Which school are you at? I’m not at school, I’m a student. (Even if the university in question has “School” in its name like the LSE or SOAS.)

  76. But I would be fairly confident that “student” on its own in the UK means “university student”.

    Same here, but I think that’s the same as US usage.

  77. “Three students were killed in a fire at Whatevertown High School” – the BrE reaction is, I think, “what were students doing there? At least all the pupils got out safely”.

  78. marie-lucie says:

    When I first came to the US as a graduate student I was shocked and amused to read about kindergarten students.

  79. @Breffni: That is not the case. In American English, student has no collegiate implications whatsoever. I was not even aware until just now that such an implication existed in other varieties of English.

  80. Oh, OK; interesting. In Ireland it’s the same as ajay reports for the UK: “student” without further specification usually refers to university students (maybe third-level students in general, but more likely university). Student fashion, student pub, student life, the student experience… “When I was a student” means when I was at university/college… and so on.

  81. Ajay: Note that I didn’t say “at the English School”, but “in the English School.”

    Breffni: Compounds often have restricted semantics. Student pub and student union don’t make sense for younger students. In NASA-speak, mission suitability means ‘suitability (of something) for the (relevant) mission’, not ‘suitability of the mission (for some purpose)’.

  82. When I first came to the US as a graduate student I was shocked and amused to read about kindergarten students.

    Me too. I thought it was some kind of joke. In these parts, the only students we have are still those past secondary school. I’ve grown accustomed to modern English usage, though.

  83. In all languages other than AmEng that have the word student in recognizable form, it means strictly “university student”; highschool student is unthinkable outside the US.

    A little bit of poking around suggests that “students in the American sense” is used in Indian English. E.g., this article from The Times of India:
    “At 315 million, India has the most students in world”

    Or this from Quartz India:
    “Students at India’s private English-medium schools can barely read English”

    Or this Indian Government report: “Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016” [PDF], which has things like “Ensuring upward transition/mobility of students from elementary to secondary to achieve universal secondary education and from secondary to higher secondary and tertiary education continues to be a challenge.”

  84. I think we got that one sorted.

  85. Likewise, school only ever refers to a university or a part thereof (medical school, law school) in the US,

    The second part of that — “only in the US do people refer to parts of a university as a school” seems not to be true.

    Just sticking to London:
    The University of London has London Business School, the London School of Economics, the UCL School of Pharmacy, the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, the School of Advanced Study, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, King’s College London GKT School of Medical Education, and the School of Oriental and African Studies.

    Imperial College (apparently no longer part of the University of London) has Imperial College Business School, Imperial College School of Medicine, the Dyson School of Design Engineering, and the Royal School of Mines (founded in 1851 as the Government School of Mines and Science Applied to the Arts).

    As for “medical school” in a generic sense, there appears to be a Medical Schools Council (“the representative body for UK medical schools”), which uses “medical school” throughout its web site. And even though the Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford, in apparent contrast to most other British law schools, doesn’t officially have “school” in its name, its About web page notes that it is “a federation of thirty law schools in the colleges of the University”, and helpfully points out that “Oxford is different from any other law school.”

    So I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that “medical school” and “law school” are actually used in the UK as well as the US.

    I agree with ajay’s point that “school” in a more generic/casual sense — “When I was in school” — isn’t used for university in the UK the way it is in the US.

  86. My daughter who’s starting at the Royal College of Art can use the swimming pool of Imperial College next door and the Dyson School is some sort of joint effort (Dyson, of vacuum cleaner fame, went to the RCA).

  87. David Marjanović says:

    I think we got that one sorted.

    Yes – thanks, everyone.

  88. Indeed, the 1854 American quotation for student in the wide sense is immediately followed in the OED by an 1888 Indian one.

  89. I’ve seen more than one California corner store with a sign reading “no more than three students at the store at one time”, which I found baffling—there’s no college nearby, and why?—until I realized they were talking about high school kids, and then it made perfect sense.

  90. marie-lucie says:

    The tern university applies to an institution offering courses and degrees in a variety of disciplines. A university can include one or more schools specializing in separate disciplines, often with the goal of preparing students for definite professions, hence law school, medical school etc (see Peter Erwin’s list above) but such schools can also be separate institutions.

  91. David Marjanović says:

    That’s how it works in the US and, as shown above, in the UK. Outside the English-speaking world, however, completely different words are used, usually cognates of faculty; the next smaller division is department or institute.

  92. No, Russia does this too.

    Moscow Higher School of Economics, for example.

    Or Higher Party School in Soviet times.

    Expression “vysshaya shkola” (‘higher school’) means college or university.

    Same thing in countries with considerable historical Russian influence.

    Mongolian National University is literally translated as Mongolian National Big School

  93. squiffy-marie von bladet says:

    When I was a kid reading guitar magazines it was players as endorsed products; now usage has flipped to brands endorsing players who are now obediently proud to proclaim themselves endorsed by Fumbly plectrums.

    Sports commentators, always looking for new ways to say nothing of any consequence, having nothing of any consequence to say and a lot of time in which to say it, were verbing “podium” and “pee-bee” (set a personal best) as verbs in the recent past.

    But I am semi-retired from the state of BrEnglish, which is after all hardly my problem any more, and I am strictly in Team Neologism in Dutch, since it annoys my betters and I was not beaten by Dutch nuns in grade school or gymnaesiums.

    (I didn’t get into heavy metal, opera or for that matter Dutch until my late thirties.)

  94. David Marjanović says:

    Expression “vysshaya shkola” (‘higher school’) means college or university.

    That’s a special case, which I mentioned for German above.

    Mongolian National University is literally translated as Mongolian National Big School

    That looks more Chinese to me, where institutions of primary, secondary and tertiary education are literally called “little”, “middle” and “big learn” (of which at least the latter is also used in Japanese).

  95. That looks more Chinese to me

    Could be. Then “ikh surguuli” would be calque from Chinese ‘da xue’, but “deed surguuli” calque from Russian “vysshaya shkola”.

    I still haven’t figured out semantic differences between these two.

  96. David Eddyshaw says:

    France has its grandes écoles, of course, spawners of énarques and also of useful citizens.

    Then (to muddy the waters) there’s “polytechnic”; in the UK a (now-defunct) name for a kind of lower-status university, whereas a French polytechnique is a very different animal.

  97. the state of BrEnglish, which is after all hardly my problem any more

    It will ALWAYS be your problem, Squiffy-Marie. You just added problems.

  98. Deed surguul’ and ikh surguul’ are used in both Mongolia and Inner Mongolia. The former is 学院 xuéyuàn (roughly ‘institute’) in Chinese, the latter 大学 dàxué (‘university’). There doesn’t appear to be a fixed way of translating the names into English, but ikh surguul’ is definitely a cut above deed surguul’. An ikh surguul’ is a full-fledged university. A deed surguul’ appears to be used for smaller, often private colleges, or vocational schools that specialise in certain areas. There may be a formal difference (e.g. in terms of government recognition or government ranking) but I’m not aware of this.

  99. I was not beaten by Dutch nuns in grade school or gymnaesiums.

    Well, there’s your problem right there. Come on, Dutch nuns, step up and do your job: squiffy-marie needs a beatin’!

  100. squiffy-marie von bladet says:

    (My recommended solution for a given problem is generally not to have it – I trained as a technical support specialist, after all.)

  101. (of which at least the latter is also used in Japanese)

    They’re all used in Japanese.

    小学校
    中学校
    大学

  102. Outside the English-speaking world, however, completely different words are used, usually cognates of faculty; the next smaller division is department or institute.

    Those are hardly “completely different” words, because they’re all used within the English-speaking world as well.

    “Faculty” is, I believe, pretty common in the UK; it’s rare in the US, but not unknown (the largest subdivision at Harvard is the Faculty of Arts and Sciences).

    “Institute” is pretty common, too, though often specifying a scholarly/research entity that doesn’t normally offer classes for students (e.g., the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton). And there are certainly cases where the entire university is called “Institute”: MIT, Caltech, etc.

    And “department”? That’s the standard name for the lowest level of subdivision within colleges/faculties/schools. (E.g., UCLA has several dozen departments within the College of Letters and Science, and three departments within the School of Engineering.)

  103. I just overheard two university students discussing tutoring relationships between undergraduate students in different years, using the word “grade,” as in, “She was two grades ahead.” This usage genuinely seems out of place to me, but it is probably fairly common and not necessarily even recent.

  104. The tern university applies to an institution offering courses and degrees in a variety of disciplines.

    In the US, there’s a tendency to use “university” for a place which specifically includes graduate[1] programs, even if the majority of students are undergraduate. A “college” by itself[2] only has undergraduate programs.

    It’s definitely an American thing to refer to one’s undergraduate experience as “college”, even if you went to a large university. (When I’m talking with British people, I have to consciously remember to say, “when I was at university” instead of “when I was in college” to avoid confusing them…)

    [1] Or “postgraduate” if you’re British.
    [2] As opposed to the use of “college” for a subset of a university, or residential/housing units within a university.

  105. January First-of-May says:

    Moscow Higher School of Economics, for example.

    In which I had the fortune to study for several years before I was forced to admit that I’m far too lazy for regular studying.

    Incidentally, the recent discussion made me wonder – are the Hogwarts students also referred to as Hogwarts students in the original Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (as opposed to, say, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and the numerous fanfics based on the latter), or are they, for example, Hogwarts pupils instead?
    (I don’t have a copy, so I can’t check – though I might be able to find an online version…)

  106. @ January First-of-May:

    A quick search inside HP and the Philosopher’s Stone (on Amazon UK, to avoid any possible Americanizations) turns up 2 hits for “pupil” and 27 for “student”… (In one case, the text had a teacher using both words within the same speech, as if they were interchangeable synonyms.)

  107. David Marjanović says:

    Those are hardly “completely different” words, because they’re all used within the English-speaking world as well.

    I worded that badly, I just meant “school” vs. “faculty” – and of course the word faculty is used a lot in the US, but to refer to the teaching personnel, except evidently at Harvard.

  108. I absolutely concur with Breffni as to usage here in Ireland and in Northern Ireland; as an American expat I find no difference between the way I use the words and the way they use them here, except that “college” doesn’t mean “university” and “student” seems to be the wrong word to use for young ones in nursery. (Interestingly I actually live in what was, anciently, Bréifne.) My English co-worker, who is quick to pounce on my Americanisms, has little to say about this as well.

  109. A “college” by itself[2] only has undergraduate programs.

    Except Dartmouth College which also has a med school, business school and other graduate schools. I’ve never known why, but Dartmouth University – University of Dartmouth? – it ain’t. It seems to weasel around the convention by referring to itself as “Dartmouth” in connection to the grad schools.

    I’ve mentioned this a million times already and see no reason not to do so now since it hasn’t been stopped: schools, and their former pupils, that add an unnecessary The to the name just for the sake of free pretentiousness. As in The Dalton School, The Chapin School and worst of all: The Riverdale Country Day [ugh] School. There’s also a The Manhattan Country School on, like, 90th Street in Manhattan.

  110. Dartmouth College is called that because it always has been; unlike Harvard College, it neither changed its name nor (like Radcliffe College) became incorporated into a larger institution. It was founded in 1769, in the words of the royal charter, “for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land in reading, writing & all parts of Learning which shall appear necessary and expedient for civilizing & christianizing Children of Pagans as well as in all liberal Arts and Sciences and also of English Youth and any others.” In practice no Indians attended until modern times.

  111. > In all languages other than AmEng that have the word student in recognizable form, it means strictly “university student”;

    In at least my Danish idiolect, “student” almost exclusively means “high school graduate”, even if you never go on to university. When you graduate high school (sic) you become a “student”. For university students, I would use “studerende”, the nounified present participle.

    > unknown unknowns

    Using adjectives as noun phrases is possibly a case where derivation (if we call it that) is more complicated in English than in at least other Germanic languages, where we just decline the adjective as if the noun were there, then leave the noun out. In English there’s a couple of strategies:

    1. Use “ones” (The green ones)
    2. Zero derivation, but no plural -s (The Japanese)
    3. Zero derivation, plural -s (The unknowns)

    By the way, I occasionally run into “a Japanese” from native speakers, which sounds strange to me, and which I learnt was wrong. Does this depend on the speaker?

    Unknown unknowns remind me of a riddle I heard when I was a kid: Out of a bag of balls you randomly draw 10, of which 5 turn out to be white and 5 black. If you draw another, what’s the probability it’s black? I said “0.5”, feeling smart. White? “0.5”. Blue? Now I felt stupid.

  112. January First-of-May says:

    Unknown unknowns remind me of a riddle I heard when I was a kid: Out of a bag of balls you randomly draw 10, of which 5 turn out to be white and 5 black. If you draw another, what’s the probability it’s black? I said “0.5”, feeling smart. White? “0.5”. Blue? Now I felt stupid.

    IIRC, several similar puzzles are discussed at length in Dodgson’s (or Carroll’s, don’t recall) Pillow Problems.

    I think the first two probabilities are supposed to be 5/11, but I don’t recall if that’s the right answer either.
    The third probability is indeed 0 as stated, as the last case divides into the ball being blue or green or yellow or gray… up to theoretically infinite possibilities.

  113. In Australia, you are a student from pre-kindy until you finish university. The word pupil is rarely used.
    At primary school and secondary school (known in Australia as high school), you go to class. “Class” can also refer to the time that you spend inside a classroom, eg. “my brother is in Maths (not Math as in the US) class”. Schools are divided into different grades, from grade 1 to grade 12. But when you are talking about which grade you are in, you use the word “year” eg. “I am a year 5” or “I am in year 5”, meaning “I am in fifth grade”. You can also say “year fives” when talking to, or about, all the students in year 5.
    Teachers and principals (or headmasters) are called Mr Smith, Miss Smith, Mrs Smith, and not “Sir” like in the UK. You don’t have to stand when speaking to the teacher, but you do have to raise your hand (not two fingers as in Europe) before you are allowed to speak.

    In tertiary education, students go to universities or unis for short, and not school. The American system of naming grades is not used, instead you say eg. “I am a second year commerce student” or “I’m studying master in arts”. The only exception is for first year students who are also called freshers, but that’s more uni slang, and not used widely outside unis.

    My university was divided into faculties, but the Faculty of Law was housed in a building with a sign that said “Law School” on it. However, it’s much more common to say “I’m studying law / medicine” rather than “I go to Law / Med School.”

    The word College is used in three senses. One is a residential college at university. These colleges provide residential accommodation for students who live on campus. The second sense is as a synonym for high school, but only in a specialised way. A number of private as well as public high schools are called colleges in their name: eg. “I go to high school. My school is called St Mark’s College”. The third sense is in certain private institutions who offer specialised courses. For example, private educational organisations that offer English courses for foreign students are usually called XYZ College. These are very small organisations, often run as for-profit companies.

  114. > I think the first two probabilities are supposed to be 5/11,

    I think the whole point was that it’s hard to say anything about the probabilities at all unless you make some a priori assumptions. Hence unknown unknowns.

    IIRC from my studies of compression algorithms using Markov models, the modeling of unprecedented events was mostly up to convention or experimentation. One way to model it would be to say you’ve drawn unprecedented balls 2 out of 10 times, so you model the probability of the unprecedented as 1/5. If you have finite possibilities (in this case a finite number of color terms) a more advanced model would reduce the probability of unprecedented events as you get closer to seeing all possibilities.

  115. @ Dainichi

    I’m a bit puzzled about the context, but for me “a Japanese” is fine.

    If you line three people up, a Japanese, an American, and a Dane, which one stands out from the other two? (Don’t bother attempting an answer. This is just an exercise.)

    Or perhaps you had something else in mind?

    @zyxt

    I think a change has come about in my lifetime. “High-school student” might have been fine but I suspect “primary-school student” wouldn’t have sounded so familiar 50 years ago. “Pupil” was still in use, if I remember rightly.

    The use of “class” and “grade” seems to depend on the State. In NSW I went from 1st class to 6th class at primary school, and then went to 1st year high school before leaving the State. In Queensland it used to be numbered through from Grade 1 (primary school) to Grade 12 (high school). But terminology in Queensland has since changed and the grades have been renamed “years”.

    Universities used to be universities and colleges (generally specialised or vocational institutions at a tertiary level) were colleges. Everything has since changed. For example, the old Queensland Agricultural College has been merged into the University of Queensland. What used to be the Kelvin Grove Teachers’ College is now part of the Queensland University of Technology (formerly the Queensland Institute of Technology). Many of the old colleges have been renamed TAFEs (institutions of “technical and further education”). In Queensland, at least, all of the old TAFEs have since been merged into one huge “TAFE Queensland” with campuses all over the State.

    It is now common to name combined primary-high school institutions “colleges”. Kelvin Grove State College is a school for students from “Prep” (start of primary school) to “Year 12” (end of high school) and has nothing to do with the old Kelvin Grove Teachers’ College (which, as I said is now part of QUT).

    Sorry for the excruciating detail, but the continued changes in both organisation and terminology over the past 40 years have been dizzying.

  116. Thanks Bathrobe.

    It sounds like there are differences between states worth exploring. I wonder whether the differences are more of an administrative or legal nature, or are they of a linguistic nature?

    eg. for “college”: Though there might be institutions calling themselves “college”, in my experience, people don’t say “I go to college”. Instead, they say “I go to school” or “I go to high school”, as the case may be.

  117. David Marjanović says:

    Oh – as of 8 years ago, the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (now merged back into the Sorbonne) had an école doctorale as a bureaucratic construct. I immediately thought the whole thing was copied from an American graduate school.

    Unrelatedly, I should perhaps mention the French use of fac from faculté for a whole university: je vais à la fac “I’m physically on my way to an unspecified university building”.

    In at least my Danish idiolect, “student” almost exclusively means “high school graduate”, even if you never go on to university. When you graduate high school (sic) you become a “student”. For university students, I would use “studerende”, the nounified present participle.

    Fascinating. Over here, Studierende is used as a cover term for, y’know, Studenten and Studentinnen.

    raise your hand (not two fingers as in Europe)

    I’ve seen two fingers, but I’m pretty sure I was taught one finger, and usually it’s the whole hand anyway.

  118. Teachers and principals (or headmasters) are called Mr Smith, Miss Smith, Mrs Smith, and not “Sir” like in the UK

    Actually, in England (I won’t vouch for the rest) teachers nowadays are mostly called by their first name. And I don’t know where you heard this two-fingers business, but it probably happened at one particular school fifty or more years ago. I went to a lot of schools in England from 1956-1970 and I’ve never heard of it. Perhaps it was an overzealous regulation to avoid hand raising being confused with a Nazi salute, like it was here.

  119. Lars (the original one) says:

    Danish studenter: It used to be that university students, at least in the first stages of their education, were known as just that, and there was even a special cap (studenterhue) that was worn as a sign of their status.

    Also back then, almost everyone who went through gymnasium (year 10 to 12) went on to enrol in university (or the engineering and agricultural colleges (højskoler) which were not so called). If you didn’t have such plans, you went on after year 9 to take a special one year finishing class (realeksamen) that was preparatory to starting a white-collar career.

    Because of that, the final exam of the gymnasium was known as studentereksamen — and in modern times, where that exam is required for many other kinds of job, traditions have changed so that everybody gets their studenterhue when they take the exam, or rather at the “translocation” ceremony (properly dimmission), instead of at the immatriculation ceremony of the university, and are called studenter from that point.

    So as @dainichi said: to distinguish those who actually do start a tertiary education, they are now known as studerende.

    On a tangent, I have several times tried and failed to get a firm idea of what “high school” means in the Anglosphere. Most of the times is seems to be what you do for 2-3 years just before university, but I think I’ve seen references to high schools starting at year 7 already…

  120. I have several times tried and failed to get a firm idea of what “high school” means in the Anglosphere

    Depends on the jurisdiction. For a rundown, check out the Wikipedia articles on “middle school” and “secondary school”.

    Whatever the jurisdiction, there is generally a split between lower secondary education (generally up to the end of compulsory education) and upper secondary education (prior to tertiary education). Lower secondary education is the work of “middle schools” or “junior high schools”. Upper secondary education is the work of “high schools”.

    In Australia the two are almost always combined into “high schools”, but there is still a split between what is known in Queensland as “junior” (equivalent to middle school) running up to the end of compulsory education, and “senior”, after which students proceed to tertiary education. But each country has its own systems and naming, which makes it all very complicated.

  121. @Lars (the original one): In American English, high school means, unambiguously, four years (so grades 9 to 12). In almost all cases, a physical high school building contains exactly these grades.

  122. The third probability is indeed 0 as stated

    No, that can’t be. If the probability of drawing a blue ball were really zero, it would be impossible to do so. And then when you actually did draw a blue ball, wouldn’t you be surprised.

    from grade 1 to grade 12

    That is also Canadian usage, as opposed to the ordinal number used in the U.S.

    If you line three people up, a Japanese, an American, and a Dane, which one stands out from the other two?

    I shall answer anyway: there is not enough information to say, for all nations are represented in the U.S., and therefore an American could look like anyone at all. Except, usually, taller.

    On a tangent, I have several times tried and failed to get a firm idea of what “high school” means in the Anglosphere.

    Well, I’ll tackle it for the U.S., but it’s complex and not entirely known. Education is mostly a matter for the states, and it is highly devolved; there are over 13,500 school districts overall (NYC’s being the largest with almost a million students) with responsibility for primary and secondary education, and many of them are highly autonomous, though that depends on the state. In its infinite wisdom, the federal government does not collect statistics on the subject, so making definite assertions about American education is a mug’s game, and we have little more than rumor and stereotype to go on.

    In the 19C the traditional pattern was eight years of elementary (primary) school, starting at age six, followed (for some) by four years of high (secondary) school. (I am neglecting kindergartens entirely here.) These four years corresponded to the normal American four-year college, and were often seen as a prefiguration of them. The same quartet of terms (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior) were applied to students in the 9th-12th grades, for example, and when college football teams became de rigueur, so did high school football teams.

    About a century ago, the pattern shifted when it was realized that the span between six-year-olds and thirteen-year-olds was too big for a single institution to bridge. High schools were cut back to 10th-12th grades only, and a new institution, the junior high school, covered the 7th-9th grades. As the high school prefigured the college, so the junior high school prefigured the high school, adopting the same names (omitting freshman), the same athletic teams, and so on.

    More recently, the pattern shifted again: the junior high school was renamed the middle school, typically covering 5th-8th grades, in order to clearly differentiate it from the high school. This was the pattern in use where I grew up, but the older pattern is by no means dead. In NYC today, all elementary schools cover 1st-5th grades, but what happens after that varies with the school.

    In short: high school is prototypically four years but sometimes three: two years is improbable, though it may exist somewhere for all I (or anyone) know.

  123. squiffy-marie von bladet says:

    “High school” isn’t really a thing in EnglandandWales (Scotland has a different education system of which I know nothing). Secondary school covers ages 11 to at least 16 (by law) and when attempting to speak American some people may call that “high school”, I guess.

    (I also don’t know what US grades correspond to, largely for lack of inclination to find out.)

    I am in the process of having my passive-aggressive ignorance of Dutch secondary schooling dismantled it is a whole new world of fun. (Everyone wants to explain it, but they all want to first explain how it was when they where young and then give a chronological outline of the changes since, every one of which has weakened the spinal fortitude and dissipated the precious bodily fluids, they will insist, of the nation’s youth.)

  124. in my experience, people don’t say “I go to college”

    Then it’s changed since my day.

    an American could look like anyone at all. Except, usually, taller.

    I’d just been about to say that the Dane would probably be the tallest.

    the junior high school prefigured the high school, adopting the same names (omitting freshman)

    Not in mine (WV, 1958-61).

  125. I still can’t get used to “middle school”; when I were a lad we said “junior high.”

  126. “High school” isn’t really a thing in EnglandandWales (Scotland has a different education system of which I know nothing)

    There are plenty of schools in Scotland called “something or other High School”. Craigmount High School and the Royal High School in Edinburgh come to mind. It’s just another word for “secondary school”. You go there after primary school, at about 11, and stay until 16-18.

  127. David Eddyshaw says:

    Indeed yes: I am myself an alumnus of the High School of Glasgow.

  128. I still can’t get used to “middle school”

    For me it only became familiar from the Japanese education system. It’s kind of exotic.

  129. Lars (the original one) says:

    So, to sum up what John said: From 1st to 4th grade, you’re in Little (primary) School. In 5th-6th grade, you are either in Little or Middle School. In 7th and 8th grade you are either in Middle or Junior High School. In 9th grade you could be in Junior High or High School. And from 10th to 12th life is simple again, you’re in High School.

    In the US.

  130. @Lars (the original one): I have never heard of “little school” in American English. The normal adjective is “elementary,” with “primary” as an alternative synonym. Moreover, since kindergarten is now essentially universal (and generally runs the full school day, unlike the half day that was standard when I was a kid), K also counts as “elementary.”

  131. David Marjanović says:

    Heh. The closest thing I had to an immatriculation ceremony was standing in line…

    I shall answer anyway: there is not enough information to say, for all nations are represented in the U.S., and therefore an American could look like anyone at all. Except, usually, taller.

    No way Americans are taller than Danes on average.

    Especially those of the female persuasion.

  132. The Dutch are the tallest. Longer than Danes. Americans are tiny ants by comparison. On request Dutch hotels will supply extensions for their beds.

  133. > that can’t be. If the probability of drawing a blue ball were really zero, it would be impossible to do so

    0 probability is not the same as impossible, in fact, in any continuous probability distribution, all possible individual outcomes have probability 0. Of course, if you consider blue an interval, the probability might be non-zero.

    > a Japanese, an American, and a Dane

    The way I learnt it and feel it (to the extent I’m allowed to feel anything about a language I’m not native in), American and Dane are nouns, whereas Japanese is not, so it has to be “a Japanese noun”. Does your grammar allow “a Danish”? (When talking about a person, since your answer might be different when talking about pastry =D)

    > In American English, high school means, unambiguously, four years (so grades 9 to 12).

    I realize this probably differs by state, but does this mean compulsory education is 8 years, 12 years, or some other number which doesn’t align with graduations?

  134. Compulsory education is generally to age 16, so no, it doesn’t align. And no, I can’t call people Danishes (or Dutches) except in the mode of irony or whimsy. As for height, I only said “usually”.

    Elementary, primary, or grade school isn’t called little school, no. But then again, the name of the least comprehensive dictionary of Ancient Greek is A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek–English Lexicon, but that does not prevent irreverent people from calling it the Little Liddell. The larger lexica are of course the Middle Liddell and the Great Scott.

    I note that L & S has now been translated into Modern Greek.

  135. Here’s a link that breaks down compulsory education in the US by state: http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/01/07/03/10703.pdf

  136. Stu Clayton says:

    I note that L & S has now been translated into Modern Greek.

    It must have cost an enormous amount of money. Could that have contributed to the economic difficulties ? In a similar vein, I wonder how the pomp of the Grammarian’s Funeral was financed.

  137. David Marjanović says:

    Austrian compulsory education is 9 years, which doesn’t align with anything except the rare choice of Volksschule (4 years) + Hauptschule* (4 years) + polytechnischer Lehrgang (1 year).

    * Recently renamed Neue Mittelschule in a typical Austrian compromise.

  138. I note that L & S has now been translated into Modern Greek.

    “It is the most pointless book since ‘How to Speak French’ was translated into French.” – E. Blackadder

  139. The way I learnt it and feel it (to the extent I’m allowed to feel anything about a language I’m not native in), American and Dane are nouns, whereas Japanese is not, so it has to be “a Japanese noun”.

    Well, “American” is an adjective, too. Danes have a noun to their name, so “Danish” is mainly used for pastry.

    I don’t know what people are taught, but “a Japanese” (and “several Japanese”) are fine by me.

    “Several Japanese were sitting in the restaurant drinking beer.”

    Both Wiktionary and Dictionary.com list this usage.

    There is a question on “Why is ‘Japanese’ offensive?” at English Language Learners, but the answers were all over the place (grammar, implication that it treats a person as a thing, terms in ‘-ese’ are racist against Asians, it’s offensive in Japanese) and the writers don’t appear to have much idea what they are talking about.

    It does, appear, however, that there are people who regard “a Japanese” as ungrammatical. Sorry, I don’t.

  140. Lars (the original one) says:

    I have never heard of “little school” — I have, albeit rarely, and probably facetiously. I used it for the parallel with “Middle”, cf the Greek lexicon. I missed the opportunity to use Tallest and Tall for High and Junior High, though.

    Immatriculation ceremony is still a thing at the University of Copenhagen, and maybe half the new year attends, I believe. A speech, handshakes from the Rector and the Prorector, and the Dean of your faculty feeds you cake. What’s not to like?

  141. Irish contribution to the comparative schoolology thread:

    Primary school (=”National school” for public ones): 4-12 years. The first two years (=US kindergarten?) are called Junior Infants and Senior Infants (sometimes colloquially “First/Low Babies and Second/High Babies”, though I haven’t heard those for a long time). Then it’s First Class through to Sixth Class (called First Standard etc. in my old school; no idea why).

    Secondary school is usually called just that, and it covers ages 12 to 18, with no formal subdivisions (though there’s a state exam after three years), and the “grades” are called First Year to Sixth Year.

    On “a Japanese”: I’ve occasionally heard that, but it sounds old-fashioned and a bit derogatory to me; I can’t explain why, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it actually proscribed. Same for “a Chinese”. “An Italian” is fine, and “a Candian”, but not “a French”, “an Irish”, “an English”, “a Welsh”.

  142. I have never heard of “little school” — I have, albeit rarely, and probably facetiously.

    Have you heard it from native English speakers? It doesn’t sound to me like “something people across the water probably say,” it just sounds wrong. To me, a little school can only be a small building, parallel to “little library” or “little gas station,” and even there, “small” would be more likely.

  143. Lars (the original one) says:

    I believe that -anus traces its noun/adjective duality all the way back to Latin. “Properly” things, places and events from/in Italy would be Italic, and only individual denizens Italians. (Don’t tell your local peever).

    The Danish primary school system at present is not very interesting, just mandatory K-9 with an optional 10th, followed by optional high school or vocational schooling. But the old system (from 1903 up to 1958 (law) or 75 (reality)) was a mandatory 7 year basic school, where pupils after year 5 could change to a 4-year “middle” school (første mellem following femte klasse) to prepare for gymnasium, or an alternative year ten ending in realeksamen if your grades or inclination for book learning were low.

  144. What Breffni mentioned turns out to be an interesting property of the suffix, ie the head morpheme, of gentilics:

    -ian, -an, -er, and -i allow plurals/singulatives across the board (Martians/a Martian, Italians, Romanians, Nigerians, Norwegians, Syrians, Germans, Icelanders, New Yorkers, Pakistanis…) but never collectives: *The Martian/German/Pakistani are very friendly…

    -ese never allows plurals/singulatives (*Cantoneses/*a Cantonese, *Chineses, *Burmeses, *Portugueses, *Lebaneses, *Senegaleses…) but readily allows collectives: “The Burmese are very friendly and hospitable.”

    -ish, -sh, and -ch on their own, behave like -ese: they never allow plurals/singulatives (*Englishes/*an English, *Spanishes/*a Spanish, *Swedishes/*a Swede, *Turkishes/*a Turkish, *Irishes/*an Irish, *Welshes/*a Welsh, *Frenches/*a French, except in the irrelevant meaning of multiple languages), and readily allows collectives: “The English are very friendly and hospitable.” Unlike -ese, though, words that take these often allow you to form plurals/singulatives by other strategies:
    – further affixation of -man (in one case with irregular reduction of -ish to -s-): Englishmen/an Englishman, Scotsmen/a Scotsman, Irishmen/an Irishmen, Frenchmen, Dutchman, Welshmen…
    – substitution of -ard for -ish: Spaniards/a Spaniard
    – eliminating the affix: Swedes/a Swede, Turks/a Turk..

    Can’t think of any other gentilic suffixes offhand; can you?

  145. On “a Japanese”: I’ve occasionally heard that, but it sounds old-fashioned and a bit derogatory to me; I can’t explain why, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it actually proscribed. Same for “a Chinese”. “An Italian” is fine, and “a Candian”, but not “a French”, “an Irish”, “an English”, “a Welsh”.

    Yes, it’s odd. For some countries the adjectival form of the name is fine as a noun describing an inhabitant: Bolivian, Italian, Canadian, American, Mexican etc.

    For a few others it’s adjective + “man” (or “woman”): Englishman, Frenchman, Irishman, Dutchman.

    Not so much “Scotsman” now; “Scot” is more commonly used, and I can’t think of many other examples where the word for a person of a certain nationality isn’t [adjective] or [adjective+man]. “Turk”, I suppose.

    But Japan and China don’t seem to have anything; “Japanese” is old-fashioned and, you’re right, sounds derogatory, as does “Chinese”. We don’t say “Japaneseman”. There isn’t any single word that means “person from Japan”. I think the same is true for Portugal. “There’s a Portuguese waiting outside my office” sounds wrong in the way that “there’s a Nigerian waiting outside my office” doesn’t.

    Edited: Lameen has covered this all much better.

  146. David Marjanović says:

    First Class through to Sixth Class

    Like in German – though Austrian practice resets the count after the 4 years of elementary school, while German practice does not, and the bureaucracy (at least in Austria) prefers Schulstufe, lit. “school stage”, over Klasse and does not reset the count, forcing Austrians to calculate (achte Schulstufe = vierte Klasse Hauptschule/Gymnasium…)

    This is never extended to university, where years don’t even exist. The unit of time is the semester, and a term for students comparable to “freshmen” exists only for first-semester students (the unimaginative Erstsemestrige, nickname Erstis).

  147. “Japanese” for “Japanese person/people” is quite common on the Internet. It might sound rude to say “There’s a Japanese waiting outside my office”, but “There’s a Nigerian waiting outside my office” doesn’t sound too polite, either.

    I admit that “Japanese” used in this way seems relatively common in Australian sources, but “Japanese” for “Japanese person/people” is found in sources around the world. And most examples do not sound derogatory at all.

    “Three Japanese were killed and another three were injured in a terrorist attack on Tunisia’s national museum”

    “Two out of three Japanese are against accepting more foreign workers, let alone manual workers.”

    “One in three Japanese are aged 60 or older which is why it is considered a “hyper-aging” country.”

    “The three Japanese are about to be flown to remote areas of Burma where they will be parachuted in to Japanese forces who have not yet surrendered in order..”

    “Twenty-three Japanese are still unaccounted for including ten college-age students from the Toyama College of Foreign Languages”

    “When two Japanese are talking, the listener not only listens but also nods along ”

    “It will be the first time two Japanese are in space at the same time.”

    “The two Japanese are in the country on their 149th Hiraiwa Africa Tour. They are Michio Hiraiwa and daughter Masayo”

    “The two Japanese are only playing their third tournament together with their best result being a quarterfinal finish at the Korea Open.”

    “I tend to think a lot of relationships between two Japanese are often extraordinarily shallow too”

    “Two Australians and two Japanese are also believed to have perished, as well as Belgian and Turkish travelers.”

    “Is true that many Japanese are converting to Islam?”

    “Many Japanese are convinced that their nation is “unique for being unique””

    “Thus, it’s a concept that many Japanese are quite familiar with.”

    “Many Japanese are reluctant to die at home because they feel hospitals are safer and they don’t want to burden family members with caring for…”

    “Yet many Japanese are concerned that social harm will come with casinos.”

    “So in one sense, a Japanese is a person who is brought up speaking Japanese.”

    “However, when a Japanese is asked a question posed by a non-Japanese, it is not rare in many instances for a Japanese to cock his or her head and say,”

    “it has long been frowned on in Japan, where the question of who is a Japanese is not usually a topic for idle discussion.”

    “A Japanese is said never to be angry, and I must say that although we were often in most trying positions I never once saw Ishida out of temper”

    “Just as a Japanese is opening his mouth to say something, someone else jumps in and starts speaking.”

    ” I wouldn’t say that Japanese are good at time management AT ALL.”

    “However, most Japanese are about as polite or impolite…”

    “Americans and Japanese are pessimistic about ending North Korea’s nuclear program and oppose military options.”

    “Now more Japanese are remaining single, while couples are having fewer, if any, children.”

    “Japanese are increasingly leaving corporate jobs”

    “Few Japanese are positive toward Putin or Russia.”

    “Why do so few young Japanese want to work overseas?”

    “There is delay because Japanese want to learn as much as possible about an issue. Japanese are more holistic than US Americans and believe more facts are…”

  148. I note that only five of your about 30 examples are “a Japanese”. It seems to work much better in the (semantic) plural. That said, it’s not ungrammatical for me either, though it gives me the same funny feeling as “a Jew” (at the end of that thread, the two expressions are explicitly compared).

  149. “There’s a Nigerian waiting outside my office” doesn’t sound too polite, either.

    Interesting. It sounds completely neutral to me; can I ask if other nationalities of this form sound impolite to you? “The gold medal, however, went to an American”. “Marc Garneau was the first Canadian in space.”

  150. It sounds completely neutral to me too.

  151. I think pretty much all speakers of English agree on the collective use: “The Japanese/Portuguese/Assamese are good at time management”. (Likewise, all speakers of English reject the collective use for -an: no one says “The American are good at time management.”) But for the singulative there seems to be variation. For those who find “a Japanese is a person who is brought up speaking Japanese” normal, what’s your reaction to sentences like these? Normal, or weird?

    – A Portuguese is a person who is brought up speaking Portuguese.
    – A Lebanese is said never to be angry.

  152. To me (L2) “A Portuguese” works and “A Lebanese” doesn’t, entirely because in these contexts the former is definite and the latter isn’t.

    (“The Lebanese” works as a collective noun if I imagine I’m reading some cheesy 19th century colonialist travel guide.)

  153. The word which once worked in place of ‘Japanese’ was ‘Jap.’ This became such a hate word, even more vile for being a single snarled syllable, that we Americans became ashamed of using it after WW2. There’s no redemption for ‘Jap.’ It is strangely parallel that we scrupulously use ‘Chinese’ as the good word, similarly to ‘Japanese,’ in place of ‘Chinaman,’ which is avoided because it brings up an image completely out of date. The innocent British have been slow to eschew ‘Chinaman’ but it must happen, the Brits becoming even more contrite because for once we Americans have shown ourselves earlier to be politically correct.

  154. “The Lebanese” works as a collective noun if I imagine I’m reading some cheesy 19th century colonialist travel guide”

    Really? “In the quarter finals, the Lebanese played well but were brought down 3-1 by Morocco” – that sounds out of date?

  155. Lameen: Can’t think of any other gentilic suffixes offhand; can you?

    There is -ite, which is most strongly associated with a legendary City of the Plain. However, it is also used for inhabitants of real cities. A person from the capital of Oregon is unambiguously a Salemite.

    For an individual of Chinese extraction, there is, beside the Chinese and Chinaman already mentioned, the term Chinee (variously spelled), equally obsolete. As old-fashioned, somewhat offensive terms, they all have a certain Old West feel (the West being where in America most Chinese immigrants were to be found in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries). Both Chinamen and Chinee were used in Back to the Future Part III, the latter memorably by Pat Buttram:
    “Looks like he got that shirt off’n a dead Chinee.” (Buttram, as well as Dub Taylor and Harry Carey, Jr., played saloon patrons in the film, as an homage to their many western roles.)

    Unrelated: Google is also getting terrifyingly smart. I did a quick search to verify that I remembered the Back to the Future line correctly, using “back to the future 3 script” as the search string. The first result was a script of the correct film, which was no surprise. What was striking was that the sample text displayed on the Google search results page included the very same “Chinee” quote that I was searching for! Apparently, Google had figured out, based just on what I was typing in this Chrome window, that I probably was interested in that precise line!

  156. Lots of suffixes in the Wikipedia “Demonyms” article.

    I should have said that although “an English” and the like are straightforwardly ungrammatical, “a Japanese” just make me uncomfortable. Likewise Lameen’s Portuguese and Lebanese sentences.

  157. marie-lucie says:

    “There’s a Nigerian waiting outside my office”

    I would be surprised to discover that said Nigerian is a woman. It seems to me that all the examples quoted above assume that the person identified by their nationality is an adult male, unless man as a suffix (as in Frenchman) could be replaced by woman. But if I was the person waiting outside the speaker’s office, I think they would be more likely to refer to me as a French lady. Similarly for the hypothetical Nigerian above. In French of course (as in other Romance languages), the gender of the person in question is indicated by the word referring to the nationality, as in une Française, una inglesa, una italiana etc.

    The existence of the neighbouring African countries le Niger and le Nigéria caused a problem with how to refer unambiguously to the citizens of both. Un Nigérien already existed for the former French colony of Niger, so the solution was just to add just n, hence the English-looking un Nigérian, une Nigériane. Similarly for the other countries with names ending in -a, for instance un Kényan, une Kényane.

    other suffixes

    There is also -i as in Israeli, Somali and a few others, where the suffix is not exactly borrowed, instead the whole word is, from the language spoken by the people referred to. in French this suffix is not used, instead a word (noun or adjective) is formed using the existing suffix -ien as in israélien (which contrasts with Israélite which refers to a person practicing the religion known as le judaïsme).

  158. All the examples I quote show “Japanese” in the meaning “Japanese person” or “Japanese people”. I scrupulously avoided examples referring to the Japanese as a collective group (which everyone keeps assuring me is fine) because it is part of a universal phenomenon: the British, the Americans, the Lebanese, the Brazilians, the Californians…

    I also scrupulously avoided the many examples that seemed attributable to Japanese speakers:

    “In giving a gift, a Japanese will stand up and hold the gift out with his two hands. Then the other Japanese is expected to stand up and extend his two hands in.. ” (A Kumayama)

    “A Japanese will rarely commit his or herself totally to either side of a subject. ” (Y Kumagai)

    “Note with what patience and skill a Japanese will wrap something in such a trivial object as a furoshiki, which is nothing more than a simple square of cloth ” (Hideyuki Oka)

    I also avoided the large number of examples from non-Japanese who appear to live in-country.

    “But a Japanese will really be “abroad” everywhere. Few people will have lived in Japan, counterparts in government and business are unlikely…” (Japan Times)

    “First impressions are important and how you act and talk when you first meet a Japanese will determine this. ”

    “If you are about to leave somewhere, mainly home or the office, a Japanese will say “ittekimasu” to the remaining people.”

    “However, a Japanese will answer, “Yes,” meaning, “Yes, I do not want this.”” (Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council).

    “Your chances of running into identical twins in America are many times greater than the chances that a Japanese will run into a born again Christian” (Japanese Ministries)

    What Dainichi pointed out was the ungrammaticality of “a Japanese”, not its offensiveness. None of the examples I gave are offensive in the way that “a Jap” is.

    As for “There’s a Nigerian waiting outside my office”, the offensiveness lies in feeling the need to raise the person’s nationality at all. “There’s a man/woman waiting outside my office” should be fine. Mentioning the person’s nationality is flagging it as important, as though there’s something specially significant about it being a Nigerian as opposed to a Congolese. Or an Englishman. Or a Japanese.

    A Portuguese is a person who is brought up speaking Portuguese.

    That sounds strange because it doesn’t make sense. That’s not how people think about Portugueseness. Portugal had many colonies, the largest of which is Brazil. You can’t define Portugueseness in that way. It works for “Japanese” because Japan is pretty much “one country one language”.

    “A Spaniard in a heated discussion about Spain will defend his country’s honour to the death. A Portuguese will sit quietly thinking how to change the topic.”

    That works for me, even if it’s not an accurate depiction of reality.

    A Lebanese is said never to be angry.

    Does this work for “An Egyptian is said never to be angry”? If it sounds strange for an Egyptian, there is no way it should work for a Lebanese.

    I’ve given plenty of examples where “Japanese” is used to refer to Japanese people. I would be happy to say something like “I want to marry a Japanese”. I find it difficult to see why it should be construed as either offensive or ungrammatical.

  159. I would be surprised to discover that said Nigerian is a woman.

    Thanks, m-l, my feelings exactly. There is an inherent sexual bias in all these terms.

    “There’s a Nigerian waiting outside my office”, whatever its grammaticality, sounds pointed to me.

  160. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe: As for “There’s a Nigerian waiting outside my office”, the offensiveness lies in feeling the need to raise the person’s nationality at all. “There’s a man/woman waiting outside my office” should be fine. Mentioning the person’s nationality is flagging it as important, as though there’s something specially significant about it being a Nigerian as opposed to a Congolese. Or an Englishman. Or a Japanese.

    Without a context, this sentence could be offensive, but in a suitable context it could be very significant, for instance if some administrator is expecting representatives from West African countries and the receptionist has been told to prioritize citizens from those countries and make other people wait or send them to someone else. So the administrator getting a phone call could use this sentence to cut short the caller if the latter was aware of the importance of the African visitor.

  161. “In the quarter finals, the Lebanese played well but were brought down 3-1 by Morocco”

    Not as bad to my ears, because it refers to a specific group of Lebanese, rather than speaking of a supposed ethnic characteristic. “The Lebanese have increased their consumption of beef by 20% in the last ten years” sounds fine, too.

  162. As for “There’s a Nigerian waiting outside my office”, the offensiveness lies in feeling the need to raise the person’s nationality at all. “There’s a man/woman waiting outside my office” should be fine. Mentioning the person’s nationality is flagging it as important, as though there’s something specially significant about it being a Nigerian as opposed to a Congolese. Or an Englishman. Or a Japanese.

    This is very odd. You seem to be saying we should never refer to any aspect of a person not directly relevant to the situation; if gender isn’t relevant, you shouldn’t use gendered pronouns, etc. etc. That may be admirable, but it is completely against human nature and an unattainable and faintly absurd goal. It may be that we shouldn’t describe people’s nationality, but in fact we do and will keep on doing so, and within that context of actual behavior surely “There’s a Nigerian waiting outside my office” is no more “offensive” than similar sentences with “Congolese” or “Englishman,” which I thought was the point at issue.

  163. Or “Japanese”.

  164. David Eddyshaw says:

    When I lived in Ghana (things may have changed since) no Ghanaian seemed to have any problem with using ethnic group names in pretty much any context, including direct address; “Whiteman!”, to me, for example, was plainly not meant offensively (unless the person knew my name, and was not using it, which would be very rude indeed.)

    Having said that, it was also the case that nobody seemed to find it particularly problematic to stereotype people on the basis of ethnicity either; this is basically the default human attitude, as Hat more-or-less implies.

    m-l is right re context, of course; “there’s a Nigerian waiting outside your office” is a perfectly reasonable statement if Nigerians rarely wait outside your office. I may say that the statement would give me great pleasure, as I would then anticipate being able to reminisce sentimentally about West Africa with somebody who wouldn’t switch off after the first thirty seconds of listening to me (as Whitemen who’ve never been to Africa do, having no way to relate what I’m talking about to their own experience.)

  165. The discussion of whether, “There’s a Nigerian waiting outside your office,” is offensive or derogatory cannot help but remind me of an exchange from Howard’s End:

    Annie: There’s a woman to see you, ma’am.
    Margaret Schlegel: A woman and not a lady, Annie?

    The dialogue is quote from the 1992 Merchant Ivory film, but given how closely the screenplay hews to the original novel, the same thing probably happens in the book as well.

  166. We have got to this point:

    A. “Talking about ‘a Japanese’ is ungrammatical.”

    B. “But there are lots of examples of ‘a Japanese’.”

    A. “Yeah, maybe. But ‘a Japanese’ is offensive.”

    B. “But lots of people use ‘a Japanese’ and it’s neutral.”

    A. “Sorry, it’s offensive. But talking about ‘a Nigerian’ is neutral.”

    B. “But ‘a Nigerian’ could also sound offensive.”

    A. “No, it’s neutral. It’s human nature to categorise and describe. ‘A Congolese’ is also ok. But ‘a Japanese’ is not. So take your examples elsewhere.”

    End of story.

    Personally, I suspect the actual situation is this:

    As Dainichi noted, in older style English, “a …..-ese” was frowned upon. As a result, this was avoided and “….-ese person” used instead. But by analogy to “an American” etc., “a Japanese”, “a Senegalese”, “a Lebanese”, “a Chinese” are used (or have come to be used). However, there is still residual resistance to this usage because it sounds somewhat dehumanising. Thus some people think it’s offensive, especially given past attitudes to the Japanese and Chinese.

    But I don’t think that sentences like “You can’t say that to a Congolese and get away with it” or “You can’t say that to a Senegalese and get away with it”, “You can’t say that to a Vietnamese and get away with it” are any more objectionable than “You can’t say that to an American/Nigerian and get away with it”. All are equally categorising.

  167. (Time ran out)

    Since there is a tradition of adding “person” to “…-ese” words, if you want to be polite/understanding/neutral you might say: “You can’t say that to a Congolese person and get away with it”, “You can’t say that to a Senegalese person and get away with it”, “You can’t say that to a Vietnamese person and get away with it”, ““You can’t say that to a Japanese person and get away with it”. Perhaps.

    On the other hand, “You can’t say that to an American person and get away with it” is probably less common (in fact, it sounds funny) because “American person” was rare to begin with. But talking about “an American” is just as categorising as “a Japanese”, “a Congolese”, “a Lebanese”, etc., and could sound equally offensive (or equally belligerent), depending on the context.

    So my point stands. “A Japanese” is quite commonly used without offensive intent, even if the polite commentators at LH feel that it’s nicer to tack on “person”.

    And in news reports, it will probably be normal practice to say “A Japanese woman was found floating off Brighton Pier early this morning”, just as it is normal practice to say “An American woman (not an American) was found floating off Brighton Pier early this morning”.

  168. Similarly, in Dorothy Sayers’s detective novel The Unpleasantness of the Bellona Club, a maidservant at a rich woman’s house refers to Inspector Parker as “quite the gentleman”, causing the cook to snap, “No Nellie; gentlemanlike I will not deny; but a policeman is a person and I will trouble you to remember it.”

  169. In a conversation with my wife the other day she was making a list of people: “A South African, a Norwegian and an English,” she said and I pointed out that it didn’t work that way. We decided that to stand alone as a citizen-noun, the adjective that’s formed from a place name had to consist of the place name (roughly) plus -an: a Russian, a Brazilian, a Cuban, an Australian, Indian etc. -Ish adjectives like English, Irish and British won’t work (and hence the recent “Brit”, “Briton” is too Boadicealike for most purposes). But what about a Swede? He’s Swed-ish. The same with other -ishes: Pole, Scot, Dane and Fleming. So now I’m very muddled. Is there a rule? And how do we automatically know there’s something funny about “a Swiss” “a Welsh” “an English” or “a Japanese” as if they’re missing “-person” (ie they sound like they’re only adjectives)?

  170. David Marjanović says:

    As Dainichi noted, in older style English, “a …..-ese” was frowned upon. As a result, this was avoided and “….-ese person” used instead. But by analogy to “an American” etc., “a Japanese”, “a Senegalese”, “a Lebanese”, “a Chinese” are used (or have come to be used).

    I thought the timeline was the other way around, with increasing reluctance to zero-derive nouns from adjectives and decreasing reluctance to use “person”.

    That would fit the use of adjectives alone to refer to people, which is an English peculiarity by European standards and seems to have been rare before the mid-20th century: “I’m Jewish”, “I’m American”, “I’m Portuguese”, “We are British”.

  171. And how do we automatically know there’s something funny about “a Swiss” “a Welsh” “an English”

    “An English” or “a Welsh” would sound strange because we already have very well-established generic singulars for those nationalities: Englishman, Welshman. (Likewise, Frenchman, Irishman, Manxman).

    “A Swiss” is certainly uncommon, but I’d find the sentence “I went hiking in the Alps with two Austrians, three Slovenians, and a Swiss” acceptable.

    I thought the timeline was the other way around, with increasing reluctance to zero-derive nouns from adjectives and decreasing reluctance to use “person”.

    I think you’re right about this, and that the usage of “a Japanese / a Chinese / etc.” as a singular noun is probably declining, not getting more prevalent.

  172. Two Austrians, three Slovenians and three Swisses….

  173. “An English” or “a Welsh” would sound strange because we already have very well-established generic singulars for those nationalities: Englishman, Welshman.

    That’s not the reason it sounds strange. Look at “a Swiss”: you can’t write “a Swissman” (as opposed to “a Swiss man”) but “a Swiss” is still kind of odd.

    I’d find the sentence “I went hiking in the Alps with two Austrians, three Slovenians, and a Swiss” acceptable.

    I know it’s acceptable. Or accepted, because there’s no alternative. It’s still odd.

  174. But ‘a Japanese’ is not.

    Note that I didn’t say that; I don’t have a clear intuition about it.

  175. That’s not the reason it sounds strange.

    No, I couldn’t disagree more. If there’s a widely used demonym it necessarily follows that any other form sounds strange. If Englishman were not a word with a millennium-old pedigree, then “an English” might be possible (though likely it’d be “an Englander” or some other formulation).

    The rules for forming demonyms in English are complex and rife with exceptions. The WP article on demonyms helpfully breaks down the topic by suffix (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demonym). It’s easy to see patterns, but few, if any, hard and fast rules.

  176. I think you’re right about this, and that the usage of “a Japanese / a Chinese / etc.” as a singular noun is probably declining, not getting more prevalent.

    Possibly….

    In which case we have two competing situations:

    1. Dainichi’s observation that ‘I occasionally run into “a Japanese” from native speakers, which sounds strange to me, and which I learnt was wrong [on grammatical grounds]’.

    2. The observation that “a Japanese” and “a Chinese” are increasingly regarded as offensive.

    Is there some kind of connection between the two?

  177. That’s not the reason it sounds strange.

    No, I couldn’t disagree more. If there’s a very widely used demonym, it necessarily follows that any other form sounds strange. If Englishman were not a word with a millennium-old pedigree, then “an English” might be possible (though more likely it’d be “an Englander” or some other formulation).

    The rules for forming demonyms in English are complex and rife with exceptions. The WP article on demonyms helpfully breaks down the topic by suffix. It’s easy to see patterns, but few, if any, hard and fast rules.

  178. J.W. Brewer says:

    FWIW: a) I find the issue of the grammaticality or idiomaticity of “a Japanese” entirely separate from the question of its potential offensiveness; b) I accept from some of the quotes upthread that there are apparently existing varieties of English in which “a Japanese” is in some degree of active use; but c) my variety of English just ain’t one of those and it remains to my ear so unidiomatic as to be ungrammatical, same as “a Welsh” or “a Portuguese” would be, no more no less. NB that the same morphological process that once gave us “Chinee” as a singulative also gave us “Portugee/Portagee” as a singulative from “Portuguese,” also now archaic and claimed by at least one online source to be or have been derogatory. I will try in future to be mindful that instances I may see of “a Japanese” reflect dialect variation within global English rather than being Just Plain Wrong.

  179. my variety of English

    An amusing thought just occurred to me.

    How much would we understand each other if discussions like this were conducted in real life?

    I know educated British people have a tendency to switch to standard UK speech in such contexts, but Australians, for example, don’t.

    I won’t even mention foreign accents many contributors here must have.

    It’s just somehow strange that people can communicate in written English better than in speaking.

    Like it’s Chinese or something

  180. Laowai, thanks for responding. You clearly know much more than I about this. Thanks for “demonym” too. I guessed there was a name, but I didn’t know how to find it. Patterns is a more suitable word than rules, as you say.

    If Englishman were not a word with a millennium-old pedigree, then “an English” might be possible
    Possible, but still a last resort and weird-sounding like “a Swiss”. And using your logic, there’s no pedigree for “Britishman” (“a Briton” has never had an equivalently wide usage of say “an American” or “a Yorkshireman”) and “a British” sounds most peculiar to my ear (though not of course “the British”).

  181. For a Swiss person, I’ve seen “a Switzer,” but i I think it’s obsolete.

    There’s a restaurant in Bloomington, IN called Japonee. I tried to post a site link, but it didn’t appear.

    And then there’s Milton’s vulture, who

    lights on the barren Plaines
    Of Sericana, where Chineses drive
    With Sails and Wind thir canie Waggons light.

  182. The reason for a Swiss is probably that we lost our original demonym, Switzer, Switzerland being of course the land of the Switzers, as Finland is the land of the Finns.

    Adjectives vs. nouns: David Gerrold puts it eloquently in his book The Trouble with Tribbles (a making-of, not a novelization of the famous Star Trek Classic episode; the book was written in 1973, which I mention once and for all rather than scorning Gerrold’s diction in detail):

    Thinking of a character [in a drama] as any kind of a classification reduces him from a human being to an object. A character cannot be: a Jew, a Negro, a homosexual, a communist. These are stereotypes: they’re made out of cardboard for lazy writers and to push around. A real character —the kind that lives and breathes, and sweats and bleeds when you cut him — is Jewish, is Negro, is homosexual, is communist.

    These words are adjectives, not nouns. An adjective describes a person, but a noun reduces him to an object. A noun purports to explain him; if you want to hate someone, you call him a name. A name says it all: “You Cossack!” [Gerrold, as he would prefer me to say (and I agree), is Jewish.]

  183. A person from here in Sligo is apparently a “Sligonian”. Even my friend who works for the main Sligo events blog was not sure where that “n” came from, but I think it is from “Sligensis”. (I am seeing a parallel with Cork, which is “Corkonian”, from “Corcensis”… why not “Corconian”? Dunno.) It certainly isn’t from the Irish name of the place at any point in its history. Nearby Ballysadare, or Ballisodare, or Baile Easa Dara, or whatever it calls itself, needs to decide what its name actually is before deciding what its demonym is. I kid because I love.

    My husband says he is a “Tyrone man” and is perfectly sure there is not any collective noun for Tyrone people. I think he’s right; the young man who taught me the small amount of Irish I possess thinks it corresponds to an Irish expression that is literally “man of Tír Eoghain”. And I think this is likely to be true of most of Ireland. (“Galwegian” is just strange.)

  184. I would have said Tyronian, not to be confused with Tironian, the adjective for Cicero’s secretary Tiro, purported inventor of the Tironian et, or ⁊, an abbreviation for ‘and’ now mostly used, ironically enough, in writing Irish. It’s a lot easier to write than &, which is a stylized et. But if they don’t say Tyronian in Tyrone, then so much for that.

    All agree that people from the western part of Kent in England are Kentish Men (f. Maids), whereas easterners are Men (Maids) of Kent. But there is no agreement on the exact line of demarcation: some say the River Medway, some the boundary between the dioceses of Rochester and Canterbury, and for others it’s marked by the Kentish Scour. In any case, the Men of Kent resisted the Conqueror (according to legend, armed with tree branches) whereas the Kentish Men submitted (or possibly ran away), and this has caused the two groups to look down on each other ever since.

    In any case, the Conqueror made a settlement with Kent, promising to preserve its ancient rights and customs (including gafolcynn, modernized as gavelkind, the traditional inheritance of real property by the youngest rather than eldest son, still in effect in the 20C), hence the motto of the county, Invicta ‘Unconquered’. The division is older than that, though: the Men and Maids of Kent were Jutes, the only area of Jutish concentration in England, whereas their counterparts across the line were of Saxon origin like most people in southeast England.

  185. David Marjanović says:

    Like it’s Chinese or something

    Some aspects of written English are indeed like written Chinese: consider the relation of spelling and pronunciation of though and through.

    A person from here in Sligo is apparently a “Sligonian”. Even my friend who works for the main Sligo events blog was not sure where that “n” came from

    From interpreting – as a joke – Sligo as a Latin n-stem, like Cicero, which has -n- in all case forms except the nominative/vocative singular.

    “Galwegian” is just strange.

    Strange yet straightforward: take Galloway; interpret way as the English word; reverse-engineer that to weg, and then tack the Latinate ending on.

    Really strange is to model Glaswegian after Norwegian.

    the only area of Jutish concentration in England

    Other than the Isle of Wight.

  186. Just realized there are non-demonymic parallels to what’s going on here. “The young are often cruel”, “The poor live in slums”, “The gifted advance rapidly” are generally acceptable, if maybe a little old-fashioned sounding; *”I saw a young at the bus stop”, “*A poor came up the road”, “*There’s a gifted in that class” are just plain wrong. Yet for other adjectives, the distribution is almost the opposite: “*The white are often red-headed”, “*The black are the majority in South Africa”, “*The blond are stereotyped as dumb” are clearly ungrammatical, while “I saw a white at the bus stop” is not nearly as bad, and “There’s a blonde in that class” is fine (though both are kind of cringey for the reasons David Gerrold, via John Cowan, outlines above).

    For many English speakers, including me, “Japanese” (like other -ese gentilics) falls into the first set, along with “young” or “poor”: “The Japanese are…” is possible, “I saw a Japanese” sounds wrong. “Korean” (like other -an gentilics) falls into the second, along with “black” or “blond”: “*The Korean are…” is wrong, “I saw a Korean” is fine. Nothing to do with ideology, just morphology. For other English speakers, such as Bathrobe, the distribution is evidently rather different; I wonder if that’s true for adjectives like “young” as well?

  187. Trond Engen says:

    It must be relevant that there was a time not long ago when English derived singulars by adding one > un: young-un, li’l-un, hard-un. Those singulars could be re-pluralized to contrast with the collective sense of the zero derivation: the young-uns vs. the young.

  188. “A gay” is generally a shibboleth for people who are utterly unfamiliar with gay people, and likely unsympathetic to them.

  189. Really strange is to model Glaswegian after Norwegian.

    I think Mr or Ms Speedwell was talking about Galway, in Connaught, with “Galwegian”. But Galwegian is also the name for, as you say, someone from Galloway and that’s in Scotland pretty close to Glasgow. So it’s possible the -weg in Glaswegian is taken from the example of Galloway close by. There’s also a similarity in pronouncing norge & Glasgæ, but that seems (to me) irrelevant.

    JC, that’s so interesting about Kent. I wonder if it was mostly Men & Maids of Kent who took part in the Peasants’ Revolt. That was later, 1382ish, but I think the revolting members were in the eastern part of the county including Canterbury. There is by the way a 19C Dictionary of the Kentish Dialect that may or may not be very accurate but it does have an entry on p.5 – undated but looking pretty old – ax for ask, as in “Where of the seyde acomptantis ax alowance as hereafter foloyth” (Accounts of the Churchwardens at St Dunstan’s Canterbury.)

  190. Trond Engen says:

    I think the “Jutes” of Anglo-Saxon England may have been closer kin with the Frisians on the continent than with the Scandinavians. The settlement pattern of the Jutes along the southern coast resembles that of the Frisians along the North Sea coast of continental Germania. The Frisians were a seafaring people trading on the edge of the Roman Empire, and organizing themselves through leagues of polities ruled by assemblies rather than under kings. The earliest bonds between Scandinavia and England — in legend as well as in the archaeology of Sutton Hoo — were with the Anglian parts — which would also become the core of the Danelaw.

  191. This might be my now-obsolete 90s political correctness talking, from back when we naively thought diversity was good, politeness was not a sign of weakness, and fascism was bad (/sarcasm)… but I was taught that it’s always possibly offensive to refer to a human being by just an adjective.

    So, instead of “Polack”, or “Pole”, wouldn’t any style guide from the past few decades encourage the use of “Polish person” or “Polish citizen” or “Polish man” or whatever? Same with any other kind of adjective, particularly ones which might be seen as disabilities or reasons for prejudice – “Mute”, etc.

  192. Tiro is a character in the series of ancient Roman mystery novels written by Steven Saylor. In the first book, Tiro is one of the most important characters, but his appearances wane over the course of the series.

    I have tried reading at least three different series of ancient Roman mystery novels, but none of them seemed entirely satisfactory. There are a couple common problems. One is that giving the protagonist(s) typical ancient Roman values tends to make them extremely unsympathetic; the result is that the detectives tend to be extremely anachronistic characters. There is also the issue that we do not really know how lower-class Romans addressed one another in day-to-day interactions, so any author writing in this setting is forced to invent a consistent system of address and nomenclature, which is hard to do without, again, making it unrealistically modern.

  193. @ Lameen

    Yes, that is the collective use, which is uncontroversial. Talking about “the Japanese” (as a collective group) is different from talking about “three Japanese” (individual people) or “a Japanese” (an individual person).

    But in the following short passage, “the Japanese” (three individuals) must also be distinguished from the collective use:

    “Seven people were injured in the crash, three Japanese and four Albanians. The Japanese suffered light injuries, but the Albanians, who were sitting at the front of the bus, were hospitalised for several days.”

    @ AG

    but I was taught that it’s always possibly offensive to refer to a human being by just an adjective.

    That is where my feeling about “a Nigerian” came from. My feeling was that calling anyone “a Nigerian” was just as bad as calling them “a Japanese” because it’s not nice to refer to people that way. From the examples given, though, that will obviously depend on the circumstances.

    Unfortunately grammaticality and offensiveness became hopelessly entangled in the discussion and are only now being sorted out.

  194. Stu Clayton says:

    Ungrammatical inoffensiveness seems to upset no one except for peevers. This may be a clue to eternal happiness for all.

  195. David Eddyshaw says:

    it’s always possibly offensive to refer to a human being by just an adjective

    From a purely linguistic point of view, this is simply a silly made-up pretend rule, like the “rule” about split infinitives, or the one about stranding prepositions, or the American obsession with “which.”

    Unfortunately it is self-fulfilling, in the sense that if members of a group who can tell the difference between an English noun and adjective (unlike most L1 speakers of English) actually are thereby offended, the term is offensive, and it’s arsehole behaviour to go on using it just because the rationale of the objections is fundamentally mistaken. It’s parallel to the myths that “Eskimo” means “eater of raw flesh” and “squaw” means “vagina”; it’s deeply annoying to any right-minded lover of Language that people ever bought into the myths in the first place, but if people genuinely find the terms offensive because they have, offensive is what they are, and there’s no help for it.

    The “-(i)an” terms don’t actually seem to upset anybody: I’ve never met a Ghanaian or Nigerian who had any problem with being called a Ghanaian or a Nigerian; nor an American, for that matter. It seems to be the “-ese” ones that cause un-ese.

  196. David Eddyshaw says:

    This may have something to do with the tendency for “-ese” forms to cluster predominantly around “exotic, from a European (or at least British) perspective.” (I seem to remember a Language Log thread about this some time ago.) This might have led to a feeling that the “-ese” forms have a penumbra of prejudice about them, which is neutralised to the level of acceptability in polite circles only if they are not used as in-yer-face noun phrase heads but as mere deniable dependents.

  197. David Eddyshaw says:

    Francophone Hatters: is “un congolais” or “un sénégalais” more objectionable than e.g. “un nigérien”? Or is this just an English thing?

  198. I think you’re right about this, and that the usage of “a Japanese / a Chinese / etc.” as a singular noun is probably declining, not getting more prevalent.

    Actually I wonder if they might be on the rise in recent years (particularly in an online context), as Western contact with East Asian people and media has increased. A matter-of-fact usage like “there were two Chinese there” strikes me as something that I might read from a Western expat or a fluent Chinese speaker of English. (Although I’m basing this on very little, so who knows.)

  199. David E – I get your points, I think you are definitely onto something with the “-ese” unease, and I’m glad you (begrudgingly) agree that calling people things they perceive as insults is probably not good.

    Where do we stand on “Jew”, “Chinaman”, “Black”, “Gypsy”, “Mongoloid”, “Pygmy”, etc.? Grammatically speaking I guess we could call anyone anything, but we don’t, do we?

    On the other hand, I myself am not as “politically correct” as my earlier post and my current high-horsedness might seem; I always say “Bombay”, “Burma”, “Rangoon”, and “LaoS”, for example (Did you all know that expats in SE Asia only ever say “Lao”, with no hint of an “S”, and that it’s a weird smug thing that drives me nuts?) Not sure why I stick with some of these old names but not others, just a random stew of personal preferences and atavistic colonial sympathies, I guess.

  200. An ethnic adjective, an ethnic adjective, and an ethnic adjective walk into a bar…

    (Nigerian/Chinese/German work here. English/French/Jewish don’t: for those there are nouns.)

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