Russian Stance Verbs.

Michele A. Berdy of the Moscow Times, occasionally seen around here as mab, writes a column called “The Word’s Worth,” and she’s outdone herself with A Guide to Russian Stance Verbs:

Russian stance verbs – стоять (to stand), лежать (to lie), сидеть (to sit) and висеть (to hang) – are particularly problematic for English speakers.

At first glance, they don’t seem much different than their English equivalents. Стоять describes a vertical position, лежать – a horizontal position, and сидеть is a kind of in-between position. Some things stand and lie just like their English counterparts. If you lean a painting against a wall, you could say in Russian: Картина стоит у стены (the painting is standing up against the wall). But if you lay the painting down on a table, you could say: Картина лежит на столе (the painting is lying on the table). Books placed flat on a desk лежат (lie), while books placed upright on a shelf стоят (stand). Simple, right?

So what’s the problem?

The problem is when you are talking in Russian about inanimate objects or creatures other than humans and pets. In everyday English, we generally just use a form of “to be” to describe location and position: The plate is on the table. The boots were in the hall.

Once when I was getting ready for a party, my friend asked where the plates were. Since plates are flat, I answered: –Тарелки уже лежат на столе (The plates are already on the table). She made a rude noise. I asked what was so funny, and she explained, as if to a child, that in Russian, тарелки стоят (plates stand). It got worse. If little mice were standing on the table, I’d say: Мышки стоят (The mice are standing). More laughter. Мышки сидят (mice sit) even if they are standing. This sounds “logical” to Russian-speakers and totally “illogical” to non-native speakers of Russian.

She goes into detail about which nouns take which verbs in which circumstances, and it’s worth reading even if you’re not a student of Russian; she ends with this intriguing paragraph:

Usage of stance verbs in Russian seems to be acquired by native speakers at an early age. One informant noted that her eight-year-old daughter, who grew up abroad and only spoke Russian at home, used verbs exactly like her parents did – even with animate and inanimate objects she had never described before. There appears to be some internal logic that has not yet been fully described. Discovering that logic – that internal picture of the way objects and creatures are immobile in Russian – would make it possible to develop a more complete and cogent set of usage rules for non-native speakers.

Thanks go to J.W. Brewer for linking to it here and suggesting it deserved a post.

Comments

  1. That is a useful article. I wonder if someone has ever done a similar analysis for German, a language that creates similar difficulties for English speakers. German plates, cups and bowls also “stand”. “Die Teller stehen auf dem Tisch”, at least if you are answering the question “Wo sind die Teller?”. I don’t find it as odd to say “Die Teller liegen auf dem Tisch” as mab’s Russian friend does – but it implies you are trying to highlight the fact that the plates are physically flat on the surface of the table. Small animals also generally “sitzen” in German, and clothes sit on people, just like in Russian.

  2. It’s odd that so much attention has been paid to verbs of motion (there are entire books on the subject), but this has been neglected.

  3. The expansive use of stance verbs most certainly doesn’t appear to be Slavic-specific. Like Latin sedentary “population which sits” ~ Russian оседлый. What is surprising the English speaker may ultimately be a contrast between pervasive use of “to be” in English vs. lack of its use in Russian?

  4. No, to an English speaker (and probably others) it seems absurd to say a plate “stands” on a table. It’s not the use of stance verbs in general, it’s the particulars, as discussed in the linked article.

  5. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hat, dp
    For me a plate standing on the table would be on its (the plate’s) edge and would not stay there long ☺. This makes me think that sitting in English seems to imply a broader or more durable contact than standing.

  6. For me a plate standing on the table would be on its (the plate’s) edge and would not stay there long

    Yes, that is the natural reaction of an English-speaker (and I suspect most non-Russians, or non-Slavs, depending on how pan-Slavic these usages are).

  7. SFReader says:

    Russian uses verb “stand” for items which have a support, base, stand.

    Plates have a base (underside), therefore they “stand”.

    If you put a plate upside down on the table, a Russian would now say “a plate is lying on the table”.

  8. В огороде бузина, а в Киеве — дядька
    Russian has no problem with not indicating a verb at all. What exactly elderberry is doing in a veggie patch and uncle is doing in Kiev is beyond the point. For the most part, I don’t find this stance verbs perplexing. Things for which vertical dimension is most relevant or which are ready to move “stay” and objects for which horizontality is the most important thing or which are deliberately inactive in some sense “lie”. Obviously there are lots of shades of meaning and some strange exceptions, as you can expect from a language who was ordered to stay at home due to C19 and play word games for entertainment.

    It would be a fun experiment to create pictures of flat objects supported at various angles and check when Russians switch from calling them “lying” to “standing”. For that matter, English speakers can participate as well. Undergraduates of the world, term project awaits you!

  9. An 8 years old investigation of “edges” and “verticality” (with predictably perplexing results) can be found here
    https://rus.stackexchange.com/questions/1521/%D0%A0%D1%83%D1%81%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%B9-%D1%8F%D0%B7%D1%8B%D0%BA-%D0%B8-%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B0

  10. SFReader, I think Michele Berdy got it right (she’s got almost everything right, IMHO). The explanation for the strange behavior of plates on a table is that they are ready to be filled with food.

    Plates have no problem “lying” (as well as “standing”) in a cabinet no matter each side they are on. When they are “lying” they were moved there to save space and make the room tidier, when they are “standing” they are temporarily deactivated, but are ready to go and do their plate duty. [Just in case it’s not obvious, it’s a joke. Most Russians could care less what plates are doing in a cabinet and why]

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    This is fascinating.
    It also makes me realise that it’s a whole semantic area that I know too little about in Kusaal; but for what it’s worth:

    As with many African languages, stance verbs are very much a thing in Kusaal, with their own distinct morphosyntax, and there are a lot of them, some with surprisingly specific meanings from a SAE point of view, like gɔl “have one’s neck extended”, lab “be crouched behind something, eavesdropping”; a lot of these basically wouldn’t make sense with inanimate subjects (or even non-human subjects) and don’t occur in such use. “Leaning” is conceptualised as a different thing for animate and inanimate things and there are accordingly two separate verbs for “be leaning”, dɛl and ti’i. As far as I know, inanimates don’t “sit” (zin’i); presumably that is because they have no buttocks (they can’t vab “be lying prone” either, presumably as having no bellies.)

    Inanimates do zi’e “stand” and digi “lie”; the matter is slightly complicated by the fact that zi’e implies stopping, “stand still” (Jesus commands the storm to zi’e “stand” in the Gospels.) I don’t know if the standing or lying is conditioned by the nature of the object: I never thought about it before. More research is needed …

    When I lived in Ghana, I once accommodated for a week or so a very odd German anthropologist (I say “very odd” but he may well have been within cultural norms for German anthropologists, or indeed anthropologists in general; my data are insufficient.) He had a hobby in any new cultural zone he happened to be in, of asking the locals to name the various parts of a bottle or a hill, seeing which human body-part terms got applied metaphorically. Mountains, for example, have “bottoms” in some cultures, but “feet” in others. I imagine that this correlates in general with whether they sit or stand, though it doesn’t seem to work like that in Kusaal, where only “bottoms” seem to be metaphorical, and “feet” are generally pretty literal (apart from the fact that cars have them, and also tread on things with them.)

  12. David Eddyshaw says:

    Athapaskan languages must be the world champions for this sort of thing:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Athabascan_grammar#Classificatory_verbs

  13. “The English verb give is expressed by 11 different verbs in Navajo, depending on the characteristics of the given object.”

  14. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    I might say myszy siedzą na stole in Polish but it’s talerze leżą na stole, not *stoją for me. So even closely related languages aren’t identical in this respect, and even geographical position between German and Russian hasn’t enforced ‘standing plates’…

    (A search on wikisource indicates that both ‘lie’ and ‘stand’ have occurred in Polish with plates.)

  15. talerze leżą na stole, not *stoją for me.
    but what verb do you use when you put the plate there?

  16. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Danish plates stand on the table, and so do glasses, bottles, bowls and even the meal itself: Maden står på bordet! is a common way of saying that dinner is served. Glasses and bottles can be knocked over, of course, and then they ligger. Flatware always lies, placemats likewise.

    You can either stille or sætte such things on the table, but sætte has been bleached to ‘place’ except when it’s in a (semi-)permanent way: You can sætte a poster on the wall and then it sits there, but the food doesn’t sit on the table even if you have sat it there.

    As always there’s a grey area. Boxes generally stand and most boxes are shortest in the vertical dimension when they stand as designed, but matchboxes lie if they don’t stand on one of the smaller sides. If you do that to another box, it has been stillet på højkant.

  17. AJP Crown says:

    The English verb give is expressed by 11 different verbs in Navajo
    Is there any connection to the American pejorative ‘Indian giver’ here?

  18. John Cowan says:
  19. Trond Engen says:

    Lars was there before me, but the most interesting thing about this in Norwegian is the fact that nothing sits, but everything that stands was set there.

    Hvor satte du boka?< “Where did you put the book”
    Jeg trur den står i øverste hylle? “I think it’s standing on the uppermost shelf”

    But sette means “place in a standing position”, not “put”, so you may instead (and more realistically) answer:

    Ingen steder. Den ligger nok i avishaugen på bordet “Nowhere. It’s probably lying in the pile of papers on the table.”

    If you want emphasise the standing, you may use stille: Jeg stilte den på øverste hylle “I placed it carefully/for display/with some effort” on the uppermost shelf”. I setter the dishes in the dishwasher or in the cupboard, and my bike in the basement for winter, and my skis for summer, and my car in the garage (if I had one), but when I’m done they står there.

    Legge “lay” is simpler. Hvor la du boka? I avishaugen på bordet.. But it’s still complicated. Anything I tuck into a bag or a rucksack is lagt, and it ligger there no matter which direction it actually has. A plastic bag with four milk bottles and nothing else may stå in the trunk of the car, so that the milk bottles lying in the bag are in an upright position. I think… No that’s not right. If I was asked about the milk bottles, I might say De står i posen if the upright position was important.

    I don’t think I can sette anything on the side of a wall. I henger opp bilder, and when I’m finished they henger there until they fall dawn..

    But this isn’t that odd. These choices are essentially arbitrary and the rules are convention all the way down, just as prepositions.

  20. Trond, if you take a spider, caterpillar etc. and put them on the wall is it going to be sette, henger, or something else entirely?

  21. Trond Engen says:

    Ehh… sette, I think. And not only a wall but also the ceiling. Though I might prefer Jeg satte den fra meg “I left it standing”. Surely not henge That would be a spider hanging by its thread.

  22. Kenneth Haynes says:

    Of interest? Ekaterina V. Rakhilina, “Семантика русских «позиционных» предикатов: СТОЯТЬ, ЛЕЖАТЬ, СИДЕТЬ и ВИСЕТЬ,” Вопросы языкознания (1998) 6, 69–80. English, German, and Russian posture verbs compared in Doris Schönefeld, “From Conceptualization to Linguistic Expression: Where Languages Diversify” in Stefan Th. Gries and Anatol Stefanowitsch, ed., Corpora in Cognitive Linguistics: Corpus-Based Approaches to Syntax and Lexis (2007). Lots of other comparanda in John Newman, ed. The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying (2002).

  23. Definitely of interest — thanks!

  24. The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying

    A mere $203.00! (And not even a preview.)

  25. However, it sounds as if it focuses on humans, not the objects they put in various stances:

    This volume explores properties of ‘sit’, ‘stand’, and ‘lie’ verbs, reflecting three of the most salient postures associated with humans. An introductory chapter by the Editor provides an overview of directions for research into posture verbs. These directions are then explored in detail in a number of languages: Dutch; Korean; Japanese; Lao; Chantyal, Magar (Tibeto-Burman); Chipewyan (Athapaskan); Trumai (spoken in Brazil); Kxoe (Khoisan); Mbay (Nilo-Saharan); Oceanic; Enga, Ku Waru (Papuan); Arrernte, Pitjantjatjara, Ngan’gityemerri (Australian). The contributors discuss data relevant to many fields of linguistic inquiry, including patterns of lexicalization (e.g., simplex or complex verb forms), morphology (e.g., state vs. action formations), grammaticalization (e.g., extension to locational predicates, aspect markers, auxiliaries, copulas, classifiers), and figurative extension. A final chapter reports on an experimental methodology designed to establish the relevant cognitive parameters underlying speakers’ judgements on the polysemy of English stand. Taken together, the chapters provide a wealth of cross-linguistic data on posture verbs.

  26. “From Conceptualization to Linguistic Expression: Where Languages Diversify”:

    The study presented here reports on a corpus-based analysis of English, German and Russian expressions of posture scenes focussing on the conceptualizations they reflect. With the focus being on the verbal elements habitually and regularly realizing the trajector of a posture scene and the location at which a person or object is positioned, it can be shown that even for the verbalization of such commonly experienced scenes as posture scenes, different speech communities may conventionalize different routes or diverging construals, and thus cause language-specific “idiosyncrasies” in the form of particular collocations. The languages at issue are found to exhibit such differences for scenes in which the trajectory of a posture scene is construed relative to a location that is independent of the posture, and they turn out to be mainly due to the variation in the salience attributed to imageschematic aspects involved in the construal of the respective scenes. Keywords: corpus analysis; cross-linguistic; collocations; construal; image schemas.

  27. I also went on a search of linguistic papers on all this stay/lie/sit/hang jamboree and it is surprising how little there is besides what an untrained, but attentive speaker can write from her experience. All of them read like “wow, what a mess!”

  28. We ran into the same issue in Dutch class where it sometimes felt like a crapshoot whether objects staan, zitten, liggen, hangen, lopen, or just zijn.

    This website captures the basic rules:

    https://zichtbaarnederlands.nl/zn/werkwoord-positiewerkwoorden.php?taal=en

  29. Willem Vermeer says:

    My wife is bilingual French/Danish, I’m Dutch, we live in Amsterdam. Although her Dutch is as close to perfection as a non-native can possibly get (to the extent that she often finds ways of saying things that are more appropriate than what I’m doing) the whole thing with standing/sitting etc. often causes misunderstandings.

    One source is the conditions for using “zijn” ‘be’. Ordinarily, “be” is impossible, but it is appropriate If you’re looking for a specific object or person, although the stand/sit paradigm sounds OK most of the time. So if you’re looking for the key of your bike, it is OK for your partner to say “die is op de keukentafel”, whereas ordinarily “die ligt op de keukentafel” would be the only option.

    This gets unpleasant is situations where no location is intended, but, say, membership of a group or the cast of a movie. That’s “zitten”. In that case “zijn” is completely excluded, and I often get lost looking for what she means when she uses “zijn” all the same. “Ze zit in Carmen” means ‘She is part of the cast of Carmen’, but “She is in Carmen” tells me where to look for her. Which is impossible, because Carmen is no place.

    If both parties are in a hurry, unpleasantness may result …

  30. AJP Crown says:

    So would that be Ze is in a hurry or Ze zit in a hurry?

  31. Probably depends on whether the hurry has wheels and can carry you somewhere or is relatively fixed, like a chair or a bathtub.

  32. In Croatian, plates can be on a table (tanjuri su na stolu), especially in response to a question “gdje SU tanjuri?” (where ARE the plates).

    However, the cutlery and serviettes LIE (leže) on the table next to the plates.

  33. Willem, how would you say that she is in one of the roles in a play? Like, “are you crazy, why are you looking for Desdemona in King Lear, she is in Othello

  34. He’s already answered that:

    “Ze zit in Carmen” means ‘She is part of the cast of Carmen’

  35. PlasticPaddy says:

    Re hurrying in Dutch the verb is have, not be, i.e., ik heb haast. German speakers use have and a direct impersonal object, I. e., ich habe es eilig.

  36. AJP Crown says:

    That was Carmen. He’s asking about Othello.

  37. No, I don’t know how to say it elegantly, it’s not a part of the cast, it’s a role itself. The part of Desdemona is in Othello, not any particular actress.

    OMG, who put Carmen into Othello, get her back to Barber of Seville

  38. David Marjanović says:

    …Of course dinnerplates stand, they’re not literal plates after all. But mice sit? Like perching birds? So this isn’t an SAE thing, then, where only English is the odd one out.

    I don’t find it as odd to say “Die Teller liegen auf dem Tisch” as mab’s Russian friend does –

    I find it totally wrong. Maybe not if they’re upside-down! (…and now I see SFReader had the same reaction. …And now I see it’s in the article, too, together with lying on the floor, perhaps in pieces, as opposed to having been put there deliberately.)

    Anyway, German uses all three causatives: setzen, legen, stellen. And on top of that, geben and tun (both with the full set of spatial prefixes) offer yet more ways to say “put”.

    and clothes sit on people, just like in Russian.

    Only in the meaning “fit”, and even then not in my active vocabulary.

  39. I was amazed when I first learnt the English word “put”. Such a useful thing, not to have to decide between set / stand / lay. Beautiful!

    In informal Swedish, we have the verb “he”, which is similar to put. Jag her mjölken i kylen. – Jag ställer mjölken i kylen (standard Swedish) – I’m putting the milk in the fridge.

    My plates would probably also be standing. Tallrikarna står på bordet. Although the other verbs don’t feel very wrong either. There is a special verb for “There are” or here: “They are”, finnas. Att finnas means to be found. Var är tallrikarna? De finns i skåpet. — Where are the plates? They are in the cabinet. I know that in German it’s Es gibt, but I can’t get the cabinet into the German sentence. A sign of my limited German, I suppose.

  40. Lars Mathiesen says:

    all three causatives: setzen, legen, stellen — I’ve been wondering where those l’s in the last one come from and finally got around to looking it up. Wikt claims it’s a different PIE root, *stel- = ‘put, place’, found in [st]locus and stola among others, in Germanic giving adj still = ‘staying in place’ then v still = ‘stop, place’ then another adj still = ‘stopped/quiet’ and v still = ‘satisfy’. The last one is still(!) in English even though stand has taken over as its own causative.

    Well, stehen/standen is suppletive already, easier to supply a causative from a different root than figuring out which of those to base it on. A bit like L fio supplying the passive of facio.

    But then I wonder, *steh₂- and *stel-, are we looking at some pre-PIE derivation? *steh₂- formed an athematic root aorist, so is underlyingly perfective — something stands because it was stood — but I can’t find if *stel- formed an underived stem (στέλλω is a *-ye- present). If it was a present / imperfective, that would hint at something — a causative relation preserved since God knows when.

  41. PlasticPaddy says:

    @Lars
    If you want to make this work, you probably need to have Ablaut in laryngeals
    Deh2-, delh1
    Gweh1-, GwelH-

    Possibly
    Gheh1-, ghelh3-
    Key-, kel-

  42. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Those are certainly suggestive. And maybe add *deh₃- to the first set, give and share and split are closely related.

    But do we have any reason to believe that the laryngeals could interchange with each other more easily than with other phonemes? They are lumped together because they had similar effects on the outcome of ‘classical’ Ablaut when they disappeared (de Saussure’s coefficients sonantiques).

  43. The moon hung above the cathedral.

    I’m reminded of:

    The sun’s gone to hell,
    The moon is riding high

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wu4oy1IRTh8

  44. The night was clear
    And the moon was yellow
    And the leaves came tumbling down

  45. An interesting way to approach this question would be to ask not “why do mice sit and plates stand” but to look at objects which can be said to do more than one of them, and to ask under what circumstances, as D.O. does. So, could a Russian ever say that a mouse lies (or stands)? And when?

    I am not sure that an English speaker would refer to a mouse standing somewhere either. Maybe you’d say the mouse was standing still if you wanted to make the point that it wasn’t moving. But “the mouse is standing on the table” doesn’t sound right either. And a mouse lying somewhere is probably dead.

    A cat can stand on a table, definitely. A bird. A dog. A giraffe.

    Maybe it’s because mice don’t have very visible legs?

    No, a penguin could stand on a table.

    But I don’t think a mouse could. Or a beetle, or a centipede. They don’t sit or lie on tables either; they just are on tables.

  46. I wonder what planes can do besides flying and sitting:

    As a result, a lot of planes are just sitting on the tarmac, waiting to be called upon for service.

  47. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    but what verb do you use when you put the plate there?

    Neither postawić nor położyć sounds wrong to me. Postawić is probably better when the dish is named specifically. Postawić can also mean ‘to buy, to treat’.

  48. A mouse can stand on its hind legs if it’s trying to climb up the side of a bowl containing goodies. I can just about imagine a beetle — a large one, anyway — standing on the ground trying to climb up a plant stem.

    Not a centipede, though. It is a creepy-crawly so it can only creep or crawl.

  49. AJP Crown says:

    Hickery dickery dock
    The mouse ran up the clock
    The clock struck one
    The mouse ran down

    ‘Pooh! There’s something climbing up your back.’
    ‘I thought there was’ said Pooh.
    ‘It’s Small’ cried Piglet.

    (Small is a very small beetle.)

  50. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    In BCS you’d normally use “stajati” (to stand) when you want to ask someone where they keep X in their home.

    Where do you keep the sugar?

    Gd(j)e ti stoji šećer?

  51. Russian mice also can stand on their hind legs and lie on their side or their back, but I’m not sure whether one should inquire whether it is ok, or medical help is needed. In it’s normal sitting position, not showing legs seems precisely the correct reason, as the original article stated. I guess, if a mouse is about to run and puts itself in an alert position, it would be standing then. But I’ve skipped mouseology in school and not sure whether common mice even have a special alert position, but other similar animals do and then they are standing.

  52. AJP Crown says:

    Mice do many of the same things as humans.
    https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01002-7

  53. @ajay: A stargazer mouse could “lie” on the table, if it was experiencing an absence seizure.

    Interestingly, the OED makes no mention of the fact that it is standard for this medical sense of absence to be pronounced as if it were French. That fact surprised me, when I first learned it through spoken communication, as opposed to reading. I had researched the topic a fair amount, since my father suffers occasional absence seizures; we called it his “Neanderthal face” when he would suddenly freeze up, with his face rigid, oblivious to stimuli. Yet despite being a medical doctor and The Idiot being his favorite novel, he refuses to acknowledge or discuss the fact that he has mild epilepsy, so I had to learn about the subject essentially on my own.

  54. Interestingly, the OED makes no mention of the fact that it is standard for this medical sense of absence to be pronounced as if it were French.

    Thanks for that; I’ve added the information to my dictionaries.

    Yet despite being a medical doctor and The Idiot being his favorite novel, he refuses to acknowledge or discuss the fact that he has mild epilepsy

    Ah, humanity…

  55. John Cowan says:

    Doctors also pronounce centi- half-Frenchly, I notice: /sɒntɪmitər/ and probably the same for centigram. NYC lawyers, on the other hand, say defendant and juror with unreduced vowels.

  56. NYC lawyers, on the other hand, say defendant and juror with unreduced vowels.

    Yes, that was one of the interesting things I learned during my jury service a few decades ago.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    There is a special verb for “There are” or here: “They are”, finnas. Att finnas means to be found. Var är tallrikarna? De finns i skåpet. — Where are the plates? They are in the cabinet. I know that in German it’s Es gibt, but I can’t get the cabinet into the German sentence.

    Die Teller befinden sich im Kasten.

    But that’s bureaucratic, nobody talks like that; it’s like “are located in”. I’d normally use sind, “are”.

    standen

    That’s just the 1/3pl past of stehen. And the past participle is gestanden (shared with gestehen, “confess”).

    But do we have any reason to believe that the laryngeals could interchange with each other more easily than with other phonemes?

    No.

    There is some evidence that *-h₂ was sometimes some kind of root extension, but so far none for the others.

  58. David Eddyshaw says:

    Doctors also pronounce centi- half-Frenchly

    Not here in Boristan. (Unless they’re half French, I suppose.)

  59. Stu Clayton says:

    Which half of centi- ?

  60. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Swedish and Danish det finns/der findes with dummy subject is like Spanish hay, but Danish mostly uses it abstractly/universally (der findes gode mennesker). Swedish also has sockret finns i pentryt = ‘you’ll find the sugar in the larder.” That would be unbearably formal in spoken Danish, we’d probably go for sukkeret er/står i spisekammeret.

    (Da/Sw also have befinde sig/befinna sig, most commonly with human subjects, not really colloquial but not high register either, sort of police report formal).

  61. Die Teller befinden sich im Kasten.
    For me, that would mean they are in a box. Kasten meaning “cupboard” is a Southern thing, in the North we say (Geschirr-/Küchen-)Schrank.

  62. Trond Engen says:

    Lars M.: Danish mostly uses it abstractly/universally (der findes gode mennesker)

    Or existencially. A friend of mine in university used the signature tagline There’s no such thing as strong coffee, only weak people. I stole it and used it in Norwegian as Det fins ikke sterk kaffe, bare svake mennesker,

  63. David Marjanović says:

    Oh yes, Kasten for “cupboard” (also for clothes) is definitely southern. Schrank doesn’t exist up south, except for the import Kühlschrank “fridge”, which still hasn’t made it to Vienna (Eiskasten).

    A box is Kiste in those places (or Schachtel if made of cardboard, but I think that’s more widespread).

  64. For me, Kiste and Kasten are mostly synonyms, and the former is the word I mostly use. A Schachtel is always closed or closable, while a Kiste can be open at one side, and it’s normally made out of paper or cardboard, while a Kiste is made out of wood, plastic or metal. A big box made of cardboard is a Karton.

  65. Between young people, immigrants from other parts of Austria, immigrants from Germany and immigrants speaking German as a second language, I would be surprised if anything close to a significant minority of Viennese still use “Eiskasten” in daily life. I will try however.

    For what it’s worth, Wikipedia claims an Eisschrank/kasten properly refers to the non-mechanical refrigerators still used around the turn of the 20th century.

  66. Stu Clayton says:

    For me, Kiste and Kasten are mostly synonyms, and the former is the word I mostly use.

    As in Kiste Bier, Kasten Bier.

    A Schachtel is always closed or closable

    Notable exception: ‘ne alte Schachtel, which can be hard to shut (up).

  67. But Satchmo is a different jazzman.

  68. Indeed, in spite of the name, Satchmo did not actually have the “satchel mouth” condition, although Dizzy did. Not the best nomenclature, to be sure.

  69. Re pronunciation of “centi-“:

    In Croatian, it is as spelled. Eg. centimetar, centigram.
    In Serbian, it is frechified: santimetar, santigram. Inidentally, when they first metricated in the 1870s, the serbian “hecto-” also had a silent H: ektolitar.

  70. David Marjanović says:

    I would be surprised if anything close to a significant minority of Viennese still use “Eiskasten” in daily life.

    Everyone around me did lo these onescore years ago, except of course my family (we had moved there in 1993). Elsewhere, the word was forgotten with the thing (a box with ice taken from a pond in winter), but in Vienna it was transferred to the modern fridges.

    Kiste Bier, Kasten Bier

    Sechsertragerl – “sixpack”. 🙂

    (Diminutive noun made directly from the verb, without going through a full-sized noun.)

  71. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    In Croatian, it is as spelled. Eg. centimetar, centigram.
    In Serbian, it is frechified: santimetar, santigram

    Both are used in Serbian; what’s more, I’d say centimetar is more common (with other words, santi- is not used at all, so santigram is out of the question).

    I’ve seen this pattern before: people saying Croatian X, Serbian Y, whereas Y is really a less common, perhaps even regional, variant in Serbian (e.g. I saw people say Croatian ulje, Serbian zejtin, whereas zejtin is regional in Serbian).

  72. PlasticPaddy says:

    @dm
    https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sechsertr%C3%A4ger
    For me the Träger part is a noun, similarly as in Briefträger or Hosenträger. Do/did the sixpacks in Germany or Austria have a strap for carrying them?
    https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/Tr%C3%A4ger

  73. Stu Clayton says:
  74. David Marjanović says:

    Träger

    Heh, that’s what I get for commenting at 5 in the morning. (I had just finished correcting proofs.)

    Yes, tragen > Träger > what would be *Trägelein in a projection of Standard German.

  75. Trond Engen says:

    The kind of Träger I know.

    Under-translated into Norwegian as drager, which is not an official term of art in engineering science but certainly is omnipresent in the business as a synonym for bjelke, especially in steel or laminated timber. The English cognate term would be drawer.

  76. John Cowan says:

    Stu: the first half.

  77. *Trägelein
    Why did you drop the second “r” there? Or is that just a typo?
    Anyway, for me, -lein is literary / not-my-dialect; I would say Trägerchen.

  78. @Trond Engen: Drawer is an interesting word in English, on its own. The pronunciation varies, depending on whether it means “a sliding box or receptacle opened by pulling out and closed by pushing in” (one syllable) or the older and more elementary “one who draws” (two syllables). The much more common one-syllable version tends to block use of the two-syllable meaning (I would never refer to someone drawing a pencil sketch as a “drawer,” for example), except when the latter is a term of art. This occurs in finance, where the writer of a check is known as the “drawer,” since they are drawing on a “demand deposit” account. As I learned in Consumer Economics*, “A cancelled check is returned to the drawer,” although nowadays you only get a scan, not the physical check, as it was of old.

    * Okay, I never took Consumer Economics. I passed out of the course with a challenge test, but I had to study the whole semester’s material, and the textbook I was able to borrow included that particular detail about processed checks. There was also some useless stuff in the book (and on the test), like the “Rule of 78’s,” which had already disappeared (and may, in fact, have been banned by federal law) by the time I took the exam in 1992.

  79. “A cancelled check is returned to the drawer”

    The following joke normally comes with an ethnic flavor, add according to taste
    — Where does your money come from?
    — My wife gives it to me.
    — And where does she take it from?
    — From the drawer.
    — And how does it get there.
    — I put it in.
    — But where do you get it?
    — Wife gives it to me etc.

  80. David Marjanović says:

    Does monosyllabic drawer (or prayer) occur in any non-rhotic accents? (I know about the contractions of PRICE + r and MOUTH + r in strictly defined RP, firepower as ‘fahpah’, but that’s not the same thing.)

    Why did you drop the second “r” there? Or is that just a typo?

    It’s deliberate. I was trying to calque the whole thing by Standard German morphemes, and the -[ɐl] that ends up spelled -erl doesn’t contain any etymological /r/; it’s cognate not to -lein (marginal in Standard German), but the older form -elein (found in old songs anymore, and then only for the sake of the meter: Bäumelein and Träumelein in one, Kindelein in another, and I think that’s it). In the few cases where my dialect has reduced a vowel without dropping it completely, the outcome is almost always [ɐ]; another example is the second vowel in denen.

    Of course it’s possible that the word is actually a haplology of trag-er-elein. That didn’t occur to me this morning.

    Anyway, for me, -lein is literary / not-my-dialect; I would say Trägerchen.

    Yes, for me it’s the other way around: -chen is Standard only and gets an invariant spelling-pronunciation*, my dialect exclusively has -[ɐl] and syllabic -[l] (…which have split, in that they’re no longer perceived as quite the same thing, with consequences for semantics and morphophonemics, but that’s another story – I’ll bring it up the next time we talk about consonant mutation).

    * [çɛn] with no allophony on the /x/ and no reduction of the /ɛ/ no matter what word it is attached to.

  81. Bathrobe says:

    ‘Set’ in English seems to have got short shrift here.

    But ‘set’ is, I’m guessing, historically the causative of ‘sit’. The two seem to have drifted apart.

    In English, ‘to set the table’ means to put the crockery and cutlery where they belong before a meal (some people might say ‘lay the table’).

    You might set something on a table or shelf, too, or you might set it on its side, but for me that is a somewhat old-fashioned usage. I would just say ‘put’.

    For planes, ‘set’ (causative) might form a pair with ‘sit’ — ‘We set the helicopter down on a broad ledge’, ‘The helicopter was sitting on a broad ledge’, but it appears to have been detransitivised (‘We set down on a broad ledge’.)

  82. I know what is required of native speakers is direct testimony, not folk rationalization, so with all due humility: the logic would be less convoluted (or perhaps more so), if we admit that the Russian stance verbs have many senses and are used in a different sense for different objects in the same context. It is the sense required by the circumstances, in turn defining the actual verb, that is habitually learned. We “stand” (ставим) the plates on the table like we “stand” the car in the parking lot, because it’s “stand” in the sense “put in the right position, where it belongs, as it should be, thank you”, and this is what you are supposed to do with plates, cars, boxes and cups, etc. – so the objects, ever obedient, “stand” (стоят), or are properly put. Turn them upside down, and now they are “lying”, or “are thrown”, even. “Sitting” is either pose or perch, depending on wether it’s a bird or a mouse. With animals, it’s got a lot to do with how they are typically represented. Birds “sit” because they are imagined perched (a different sense), even when they are pigeons on the ground. Mice, like rabbits and hares, are always imagined with their hind legs bent under them, hence they “sit”, even if they actually “stand”; horses and elephants, on the other hand, always “stand”, for obvious reasons. Now there are also prisoners who always “sit” – in the sense of languishing – in prisons, even if they are not sitting down, because that is the sense of the verb that conveys immobility, not pose; this is why the joke “when a policeman asks you to sit down…” – is funny.

  83. horses and elephants, on the other hand, always “stand”

    I beg to differ:

    http://konovod.com/index.php?id=1251

  84. Lars Mathiesen says:

    FWIW, to lay the table in Danish is dække bordet, i.e., cover it. I think it’s from the times when you put the tablecloth on for dinner only.

    A citation to corroborate: Bordet er dækket, forsaavidt det kan være dækket uden Dug, med Brød, Smør i en Krukke, Ost, samt Brændeviin i en Medicinsflaske. (Anton Nielsen, Fra Landet II, 1862(?), p 52; basically excusing the extended use of dække bord when there is no tablecloth).

  85. In English also, you “sit” in prison. Sit connotes stationarity much more strongly than other stance verbs.

  86. PlasticPaddy says:

    Deck seems to have a strange history in English. The native reflex of the PIE root is “thatch”. Deck apparently was borrowed from Dutch for the (upper) deck of a ship. But there is also “deck the halls” and even “deck the table”. Were these verbs separate borrowings or just the “same” semantic extensions made in Scandinavian and German with native words?

  87. Ben Tolley says:

    (I’ve been reading Language Hat for years, and never commented before. Thanks to the Hat himself, and everyone else, for much entertainment and edification.)

    @David M.

    In my West Midlands-influenced near-RP, they’re both ordinarily monosyllabic: [dɹɔː] and [pɹɛː]. Disyllabic drawer is right out, it would need an intrusive r, which sounds Very Wrong, though it’s how I’d pronounce the one-who-draws meaning if I had to. Disyllabic prayer sounds all right, if not what I’d ordinarily use. layer on the other hand, is always two syllables.

  88. AJP Crown says:

    Träger. Under-translated into Norwegian as drager, as a synonym for bjelke, especially in steel or laminated timber.

    This is girder in English.

  89. @juha: horses sitting in stables, dishes lying upside down on tables, and birds standing on branches don’t make it a nice tidy world, or do they? Maybe, after another month of sitting at home…

  90. Thanks Andrej for letting me know about contemporary Serbian usage.

    The traditional Serbian usage has been “santi-“. “Santi-” was used in the metrication law of the Serbian principality. I am not aware of any pre-WW2 Serbian source using “centi-“. I even have a rokovnik from the 1980s which consistently uses “santi-” for all measures.

    It sounds like the use of “centi-” in contemporary Serbian could be a result of Croatian influence. A rare thing indeed

  91. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    Come to think of it, I associate santimetar primarily with my Bosnian mother.

  92. In English also, you “sit” in prison.

    Huh? I’ve rarely if ever heard anyone say “He’s sitting in prison” and certainly never “They sat him in prison”; the normal usage is “He’s in prison.” You can, of course, use the verb, as in “He sat shivering in his unheated prison cell,” but that’s a different matter. Perhaps you’re not aware of how fixed and ubiquitous the Russian usage is; simply saying “He’s sitting” or “They sat him” can imply prison without even using the word.

  93. In my West Midlands-influenced near-RP, they’re both ordinarily monosyllabic: [dɹɔː] and [pɹɛː]. Disyllabic drawer is right out, it would need an intrusive r, which sounds Very Wrong, though it’s how I’d pronounce the one-who-draws meaning if I had to.

    Thanks for that; I was wondering myself!

  94. simply saying “He’s sitting” or “They sat him” can imply prison without even using the word.

    As in this immortal episode:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIyw-83rrbg

  95. Bathrobe says:

    Same in Australian. ‘Drawer’ is pronounced the same as ‘draw’. ‘Prayer’ rhymes with ‘fair’ and ‘mayor’.

    In Chinese ‘be in prison’ is 坐牢 zuò láo ‘sit prison’.

  96. In Chinese ‘be in prison’ is 坐牢 zuò láo ‘sit prison’.

    Interesting! How old is that usage?

  97. Anonymous Coward says:

    Interesting! How old is that usage?

    The Hànyǔ Dà Cídiǎn cites Water Margin (14th-century novel based on oral tradition from 11th century). Modern Chinese also has 蹲(牢房/监狱) “to squat in a prison”, which isn’t in dictionaries yet, and hence probably mid 20th century.

  98. A propos of sitting monuments.

    One of the first stories a Russian hears in her life is Turnip. Technically speaking, turnips are being sown, but the story uses causative “sit”. Then, when it grows up, it is being dragged out of the ground… sorry, got carried away, a Russian learns a joke “Granddad `sat` turnip; turnip got out and killed granddaddy”. I knew all of it for almost 30 years and it only occurred to me today that “sit” for “sow” is remarkable as well.

  99. Stu Clayton says:

    I’ve rarely if ever heard anyone say “He’s sitting in prison”

    German slang: Er sitzt [wieder / für 6 Monate / …] = “He’s in prison [again / for 6 months / …]”. Of course this is only when it’s clear from the context what is meant – the guy is known for going in and out of prison, say, or comes up against the law regularly.

  100. The Hànyǔ Dà Cídiǎn cites Water Margin (14th-century novel based on oral tradition from 11th century).

    Thanks!

  101. David Marjanović says:

    ‘set’ is, I’m guessing, historically the causative of ‘sit’.

    Yes.

    dække bordet

    den Tisch decken, or just aufdecken without mentioning the table.

    it would need an intrusive r

    Oh. That makes sense, I forgot about that. Thanks and welcome!

    “sit” for “sow”

    Never used in German – but “set” is used for planting, which is interesting because plants never “sit”, not even as a direct result.

  102. Trond Engen says:

    Norwegian sitte inne “be in prison, do time”. Han satt inne i tre år for ran “He did three years for armed robbery”. I think you can use sette inn for “put behind bars”, but I’m not sure. Sette i fengsel “put in prison” and sitte i fengsel “be in prison” are perfectly standard.

    Sette “plant”: We setter poteter and other roots and tubes. In autumn we setter løk for next years tulips. We can sette frø if we insert the seeds one by one into the soil rather than spreading them randomly. We also setter fisk if we “plant” fish in a river. “Brood stock” in English, I’m informed.

  103. John Cowan says:

    The non-rhotics in NYC also make drawer and draw homonyms (and write draw for both if they are bad spellers), and drawing gets a very noticeable intrusive /r/ that makes it rhyme with snoring.

  104. ktschwarz says:

    Previous discussion of “sitting in prison”: In Stir (2018).

  105. Thanks, I’d forgotten that thread (after only a year and a half!). Piotr Gąsiorowski wrote there:

    While we’re at it, sittan in prisoun can be found in Middle English, and the causative variant with settan (‘set’ = ’cause [a person] to sit’) was pretty common at that time (as was the practice of incarceration):

    Þe kyng tok þe principalis of London, and sette hem in prison at Wyndesore.

    The OED has examples of this use of set up to the mid-16th c.

  106. heteroclitejumble says:

    Seems restrictive. Of course, that usually ends up not being the case. I would be very interested in reading a survey of how Russian literary writers have produced a variety of contextual effects by faithfully keeping to these grammatical conventions, or have produced other effects by flouting them: and how rare is it to do so?

  107. Seems restrictive.

    All grammar is “restrictive”; you can’t just say whatever you feel like, it has to fit into the grammatical restrictions, but they don’t feel like restrictions because you’ve internalized them. Does it feel like a restriction not to be able to say “I have gone to the store five minutes ago” or “I have one brothers”? Why is it any more restrictive to use certain verbs in certain situations?

  108. David Marjanović says:

    I didn’t even know there was intrusive r in NYC!

  109. John Cowan says:

    Oh yes. The only non-rhotic variety of English that doesn’t have intrusive /r/, as far as I know, is AAVE, which is remarkably tolerant of hiatus (the basilect also has invariant a as the indefinite article, as in a apple. Even though BrE and AmE split around 1700, before non-rhoticity was a thing, the cities of the Eastern Seaboard continued to have enough interchange with the English ports to become non-rhotic, always excepting Philadelphia. (Baltimore is rhotic but has intrusive /r/ in warsh, Warshington, and both Bawlmer and Fuluffya have the oddball merry-Murray merger.)

    Like most non-rhotic parts of North America, non-rhoticity is disappearing in NYC, though non-rhotic NURSE continues to hold on, as rhotic NURSE is the first to vanish in rhotic-to-non-rhotic transitions across the Pond.

  110. Bathrobe says:

    Previous discussion of “sitting in prison”: In Stir (2018).

    And I mentioned Chinese there, too. (It seemed vaguely familiar as I was typing it.)

  111. Re avian postures:
    Birds can stand in Russian if:
    1) they are waders/shorebirds standing in the water, as in Цапля стоит в воде (на одной ноге).
    2) only one leg/foot is used as a support, as in sleeping or preening/scratching itself/feeding (parrots, raptors(?)).

  112. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    though non-rhotic NURSE continues to hold on, as rhotic NURSE is the first to vanish in rhotic-to-non-rhotic transitions across the Pond.

    Surely, it’s the other way round? (Both in terms of being the last to appear in semi-rhotic speakers in e.g. southwestern England, and in terms of being the first to disappear in mostly non-rhotic Deep South/NYC around the middle of the 20th c.)

    Of course, if by non-rhotic NURSE you mean NURSE with no trace of r-coloring whatsoever.

  113. SFReader says:

    Chinese there, too.

    Mongolian as well. Could be Russian or Chinese influence or native development.

    Mongolian verb “to sit” is often interchangeable with verb “to be in”.

    Ter hotod suudag.

    He lives in the city (literally, he sits in the city).

  114. Bathrobe says:

    Also нойл суух noil suukh ‘go to the toilet’.

    ‘To live’: Хүнтэй суух khun-tei suukh ‘live with a person = get married’.

    Be in a place: БНХАУ-аас Монгол улсад суух элчин сайдын яам BNKhaU-aas Mongol ulsad suukh elchin saidin yaam ‘Embassy of the PRC [sitting] in Mongolia’.

    It can also be used to represent little more than a continuing state:

    Таныг сахиж суух хүн хэрэгтэй Tanig sakhij suukh khün kheregtei ‘Need a person who (sits and) protects you’. The protector does not need to be sitting down.

  115. Stu Clayton says:

    ‘Embassy of the PRC [sitting] in Mongolia’

    Unremarkable in German: Botschaft des VRC mit Sitz in Ulaanbaatar. [Not in der Mongolei, because obviously]

    Hauptsitz = headquarters. Where the head sits, and the penny drops (a quarter nowadays, due to inflation).

  116. PlasticPaddy says:

    @stu
    This is strange because companies use Standort for branch/site. Maybe private sector workers stand and government employees sit☺

  117. Stu Clayton says:

    @PlasticP

    So true of govt ! They also serve who only sit and wait. At least that’s what they’d like you to think.

  118. Bathrobe says:

    Should have been нуль суух nul’ suukh. Apologies.

    It’s the almost universal word for toilet in Mongolia but you seldom see it written because it’s a ‘foreign word’.

  119. SFReader says:

    нойл суух noil suukh ‘go to the toilet’.

    OK, this one is well worth LH comment.

    You see, noil with the meaning “toilet” is a borrowing from Russian numeral nol’ (zero, null).

    Why Mongolian toilet is called zero?

    Because that’s how toilets used to be numbered in the Soviet Union, Germany and some other European countries – room 00.

    Public toilets had a sign 00, for example.

    If anybody knows the reason for this convention, please share with us.

  120. Stu Clayton says:

    # Hinweisschilder an Toiletten tragen oft die Aufschrift 00 oder 0. Das ergab sich, weil in Hotels im 19. Jahrhundert die Toilettenräume üblicherweise in der Nähe des Aufzugs oder des Treppenhauses lagen. Da dort meist die Nummerierung der Zimmer begann, trugen die Toilettenräume die Zimmernummer 0 oder auch zweistellig 00. #

    Signs on toilets often have the inscription 00 or 0. This happened because in hotels in the 19th century the toilet rooms were usually close to the elevator or the stairwell. Since the numbering of the rooms usually started there, the toilet rooms had the room number 0 or two-digit 00.

  121. The things you learn around here!

  122. John Cowan says:

    [NURSE:] Surely, it’s the other way round?

    Of course: post in haste, repent at leisure.

    where the penny drops

    I think you mean where the buck stops ‘location of final responsibility’. The penny drops means ‘enlightenment’ (ordinary, not Buddhist), and is a metaphor form coin telephones: the penny drops when the call is connected.

    The buck in question is thought to have been originally a knife (with a buckskin handle) used to show whose turn it is to deal, and passed to the next player (hence pass the buck ‘shift responsibility’) at the end of a round. The person on whose desk the buck stops cannot shift responsibility further.

    Hinweisschilder an Toiletten tragen oft die Aufschrift 00 oder 0

    Hence Finnegans Wake pp. 8687:

    Remarkable evidence was given, anon, by an eye, ear, nose and throat witness, whom Wesleyan chapelgoers suspected of being a plain clothes priest W.P., situate at Nullnull, Medical Square, who, upon letting down his rice and peacegreen coverdisk and having been sullenly cautioned against yawning while being grilled, smiled […]

    As usual, the allusions come thick and fast:

    eye, ear, nose and throat witness: obviously superior to a mere eyewitness!

    Wesleyan chapelgoers: Methodists (before disestablishment any non-Anglican place of worship was legally a chapel in Ireland, however large); also Wesleyan chapel (less offensively wayside chapel) is a joking expansion of W.C. ‘water closet, toilet’.

    W.P.: warming pan ‘slang for locum tenens’.

    letting down his rice and peasegreen coverdisk: his pea-green overalls (to expose himself); rice and peas (a covered dish); peas and rice ‘Jesus Christ’.

    The links above lead to hypertext versions of the two pages so that you can read the context if you want and click to get annotations (not all of which are to be trusted, however; just because some phrase or idea seems connected doesn’t mean it is, as my father taught me).

  123. Stu Clayton says:

    I think you mean where the buck stops ‘location of final responsibility’. The penny drops means ‘enlightenment’ (ordinary, not Buddhist), and is a metaphor form coin telephones: the penny drops when the call is connected.

    Nope. I mean “the penny drops”, as in the door mechanism of toilet booths the way they were in NRW decades ago. There was a coin slot in which the coin tended to get jammed – but only if it dropped could the handle be depressed to open the door.

    The outcome is not enlightenment, but relief. The head rejects final responsibility. Well, mine does, I don’t know about yours.

    I suppose the common metaphor is putting through a call to Mother Nature.

  124. Hence the British slang phrase “spend a penny.” Nice old photo there, as well as a timeline: such locks first introduced in the 1850s, first recorded citation of phrase 1945; “The writing was on the wall for this phrase, so to speak, from 1977, when the Daily Telegraph printed an article headed ‘2p to spend a penny’.”

  125. John Cowan says:

    My head will accept final responsibility, but sometimes a bit of plungering is required, and sometimes more than a bit, as the air pipe’s diameter is too small (nothing to be done about it).

  126. @juha: So the famous one-legged ducks of Akshehir would definitely be “standing.”

  127. Bathrobe says:

    Since Britain decimalised its currency in 1971, that really would have been 2p rather than tuppence.

  128. heteroclitejumble says:

    “All grammar is “restrictive”; you can’t just say whatever you feel like, it has to fit into the grammatical restrictions, but they don’t feel like restrictions because you’ve internalized them. Does it feel like a restriction not to be able to say “I have gone to the store five minutes ago” or “I have one brothers”? Why is it any more restrictive to use certain verbs in certain situations?”

    I totally agree, and I understand the linguistic truth here, sorry that wasn’t clear. I still would like to see if anyone flouted it in experimental writing.

  129. Oh! Sorry, I completely misunderstood your point.

  130. “sit” for “sow”

    Never used in German – but “set” is used for planting, which is interesting because plants never “sit”, not even as a direct result.
    D.O. said “causative sit”, meaning сажать, i.e. the Russian equivalent to setzen.
    This is strange because companies use Standort for branch/site. Maybe private sector workers stand and government employees sit
    But the official address of a company is that of the Firmensitz. And the armed forces have Standorte. So your clever joke doesn’t really work…

  131. David Marjanović says:

    I hear your monosyllabic drawer and raise you disyllabic foil. (Foierl?)

    des VRC

    der VR China rather. I’ve never seen Volksrepublik China abbreviated further than that, and of course a republic is a she straight out of Latin.

    companies use Standort for branch/site

    Yes, but Sitz (Firmensitz, Hauptsitz) for HQ.

    I was surprised, and not in a good way, to find supermarket cashiers standing in the US. That’s cruel, why isn’t it unusual? Over here they sit.

    (…Apparently, I learned recently, “sitting on the job” is considered impolite in the US.)

  132. @heteroclitejumble, asking about these conventions being flouted:

    I think I understand where you are coming from. I honestly don’t know a single example. If there’s a reason for that beyond my ignorance, then it’s that conventions on this particular level are just not fun to break; it doesn’t come across as deliberate. These rules, when you start to think of them as rules, are very dull. Even jokes that turn on stance verbs being wrong are not funny just because of following or breakng rules. If you stop short at just using the wrong verb, you’d most likely come across as saying a different dull thing, or not being clear, or not saying anything at all, not as a cool fella whomstve floutes rules.

  133. Michael says:

    ‘set’

    Scenery and props in theatre and film studios or locations are still ‘set’ and reset, also ‘struck’ or ‘struck out’, which happens a lot in filming so the words get plenty of use. ‘Set’ or ‘strike’ can apply to anything from a matchbox to heavy runs of flattage. If part of a room is reset it will also be redressed, meaning furniture and props are put back exactly as they were.

    Moving things on sets even minutely is risky, because their exact position matters for continuity, or just because they’re there to tell the story, so ‘set’ also gets used as an adjective to describe anything that mustn’t be touched by the wrong person. You can ‘lose’ or ‘dead’ things that are unwanted temporarily or permanently. In London I’ve also heard ‘spanish’ as a one word question or instruction about whether something specific can be elbowed.

    As you can also set and strike sails, it may be right to connect ‘set’ and ‘strike’ (and ‘dress’?) with sailors, who had the skills to hang and fly scenery in Victorian theatres.

  134. There is a naval term to “dress ship” but it refers to rigging the ship for a celebration – so, signal flags flying from every available staff and stay, that kind of thing. Also there is the military term “dress” which is the procedure of making sure that the soldiers are formed up properly in straight lines at regular intervals – nowadays for smartness, 200 years ago for combat effectiveness – which sounds closer to the set-dressing sense.

  135. John Cowan says:

    I was surprised, and not in a good way, to find supermarket cashiers standing in the US.

    In the supermarkets I frequent (but NYC supermarkets are much smaller than those monstrosities the rest of the U.S. patronizes), cashiers also bag groceries except when the line is extremely backed up or the customer volunteers to do it. (My wife used to do her own bagging, as too many workers tended to put the bananas underneath the canned goods or such). So they are constantly moving from the register to the bagging area at the end of the second conveyor belt, making sitting down impracticable.

  136. In most American supermarkets the cashiers sit and the bag boys stand. Is having cashiers bag an NYC phenomenon or a recent Private Equity led attempt to cut overhead?

    In Austria customers are forced to bag their own groceries, and have been brainwashed into thinking that is a good idea.

  137. ajay,
    thanks, yes, the military sense sounds right.
    I thought I recalled some naval phrase like ‘dressing to starboard’, which would have been Patrick O’Brian, but googling words like sailors/dressing/sails gets you nowhere.

  138. Are you sure you’re not thinking of “dressing left“?

  139. I’m going to have to reread O’Brian.

  140. Or was that about bagging your own groceries?

  141. In most American supermarkets the cashiers sit and the bag boys stand.

    Well! You must live in some fancy-schmancy part of the country where they have chairs and bag boys in the supermarkets. In the DC area we force our cashiers to stand, and bag boys only materialize if there is someone around who has nothing better to do.

  142. AJP Crown says:

    In Austria customers are forced to bag their own groceries, and have been brainwashed into thinking that is a good idea.
    It’s the same in Norway and they’re also doing away with the cashier, the customer is supposed to ring everything up themself. So now we buy everything online and it is delivered in cardboard boxes. That’s real progress.

  143. Stu Clayton says:

    In Germany, for the last 50 years, supermarket customers have bagged their own groceries. It has not occurred to anyone to complain. What a thing to hold “views” on ! Next, y’all will be expecting a bag boy to crawl beneath your skirt and hold a Pißpott for you.

  144. AJP Crown says:

    My views:
    1. When we bag our own groceries, I’m pretty sure it slows the line down.
    2. While there are some wonderful things about Germany, supermarkets is not one of them.
    3. There’s nothing wrong with trying to reduce the time spent doing something trivial and or boring even if it means holding views.

  145. Stu Clayton says:

    My un-views:

  146. SFReader says:

    I hold a view that bagging your own groceries will reduce chances of catching Coronavirus infection.

  147. Stu Clayton says:

    Is it too late to rescind my views on having views ? If not, then I will agree with SFReader: “Bag your own carrots and save a life! As you stand in line, know thyself.”

  148. SFReader says:

    I noticed that ever since I discovered the Internet quarter century ago, the number of topics I hold strong views on has dramatically increased.

  149. Stu Clayton says:

    That’s odd, it has had just the opposite effect on me. I regard views as clay pigeons – I hold them only in order to toss them up and shoot them down.

  150. ə de vivre says:

    All the cashiers have stopped bagging groceries here in Montreal ever since the arrival of coronavirus. But standing cashiers has been the norm in every part of North America I’ve lived. That said, leg and lower back injuries are pretty common for cashiers, so it’s not a norm without cost.

    The thing that surprised me most about Montreal grocery stores (maybe all of Canada?) was the the almost complete lack of self-checkout stations (though the pharmacies have started putting them in).

  151. David L says:

    In my experience, grocery self-checkout is a way for the store to throw additional aggravation at the customers AND save money on staff.

  152. John Cowan says:

    NYC is just beginning with self-checkout. The American supermarket industry has an operating margin (operating profit divided by revenue) of just 1.5%, so technological innovation is often unaffordable. This is doubly so here: I have two supermarkets in easy walking distance and one a bit further away, and the nearest one, New Yorkers Foodmarket, is very wobbly right now. I hope it won’t have to close, as if it does, it will quite possibly not reopen. The owner/manager, who also when necessary does checkout or runs the deli counter, and in a pinch delivers groceries himself, is an amazing fella, but even he has limits.

    To give you a sense of scale, there are four aisles plus the back aisle and two checkout registers. What makes it a supermarket and not a bodega? It’s licensed to sell fresh meat and fish. It’s also somewhat bigger than my local bodega, which is also a pretty amazing place, now on delivery only. (However, I call when I need bulk stuff and they put it just inside the store door (there are two in quick succession) so I can pick it up myself.

    In general, NYCers have a completely different shopping pattern: we shop every few days rather than once a week or less. That’s because either we carry our own groceries or have them delivered, but neither group has (normally) cars or other means of carrying large amounts of stuff.

  153. Hey, do you ever go up to East Village Books? I used to hang out there a lot.

  154. AJP Crown says:

    Whoever it is that rents out scaffolding in Manhattan must have done pretty well during the past 40 years. My favorite supermarket was always Fairway on B’way and W70 or 80 something, because of their vegetables, but I can see it’s a bit far from the E. Village. I remember that and Murray’s cheese shop on Bleecker St. And the covered market on Grand Street.

  155. David Marjanović says:

    In Austria customers are forced to bag their own groceries, and have been brainwashed into thinking that is a good idea.

    All over Europe customers are forced to bag their own groceries. No special brainwashing has been necessary, because only people who’ve been to the US know that this isn’t the only thinkable option worldwide.

    The real reason seems obvious enough: it’s simply not so cheap over here to hire twice as many people. Wal*Mart doesn’t pay its employees enough to live on, and expects them to be on welfare. They couldn’t get away with that over here. I don’t know if they actually tried that particular trick, but they tried several things they always do in the US when they tried to set foot in Germany, and that caused two or three scandals large enough that they left.

    And so, the cashiers scan the items at professional speed and dump them in a tiny area, where the customers are expected (in vain) to bag them at professional speed so the cashier can move on to the next customer in the line. Deliberately, the lines are always long, so the supermarket can save money on staff and so that one out of a hundred customers might consider impulse-buying something from next to the conveyor belt.

    Self-checkout exists in some of the bigger supermarkets in Paris. I haven’t seen it in Germany or Austria.

  156. One of the supermarkets in my area (to remain anonymous) freed its shoppers even from putting their purchases on a conveyor belt. You leave your cart at a checkout, swipe the card (ok, nowadays its in and out) and are left with absolutely nothing to do.

    ADDENDUM: David, people should team up for shopping. One person keeps place in the line, another scours the store for goodies. Then they swap.

  157. Trond Engen says:

    John C.: The American supermarket industry has an operating margin (operating profit divided by revenue) of just 1.5%, so technological innovation is often unaffordable. This is doubly so here:

    David M.: All over Europe customers are forced to bag their own groceries. No special brainwashing has been necessary, because only people who’ve been to the US know that this isn’t the only thinkable option worldwide.

    The real reason seems obvious enough: it’s simply not so cheap over here to hire twice as many people.

    There are self-checkout counters at some big supermarkets in Norway, but they are (still) not very efficient compared to the speed of the professional cashier, so they are rarely used except by customers with only a handful of groceries. Self-checkout could still be efficient from the supermarket’s point of view, and I expect the supermarkets to start experimenting with different prices in the two counters.

    The big supermarkets have packers on big shopping days (like the run-up to Christmas), to increase efficiency in the checkout area. They are mostly students working part-time to earn some extra money or build a CV, or maybe to gain a foothold and get one of the better paid jobs at the checkout when they turn 18. Like Mrs. Cowan, I usually prefer to pack the bags it myself — not only for the vegetables but because I bag cold things together.

    The supermarket industry runs on the same margin everywhere. The American economy is in a low productivity trap. When wages are kept artificially low by subsidies on exploitative practice, companies have little incentive to innovate, and as technology elsewhere keeps developing, the need for wage suppression and subsidies keeps increasing. In economies with higher wages for low-skill jobs, some of those jobs are being cut, but strangely, they are replaced by better paid jobs elsewhere in the economy, as the surplus purchasing power leads to increased demand for (public and private) services.

    In one of my parallel lives, I’m a union representative (for the Union of Masters of Engineering and Science (or whatever it’s rendered as in English), it’s a strange country). At last year’s national conference there was a guest speaker from a more traditional union representing shop clerks and service workers. The overall theme of the conference was robotization, and I would have expected her to be a strong voice against the general positive attitude to new technology among us engineers. Not at all. She stated up front that investments in productivity are always good for the worker, who can be freed from repetitive, unappreciated and physically debilitating tasks and become a specialist, e.g. in systems operations or in guiding customers. Of course, this view supposes that there’s really no such thing as low skill jobs, only low-threshold jobs where skills are developed in the job. The difference is rather between low- and high-maintenance skills, and innovative economies have more of the latter on every height of the threshold.

  158. I usually prefer to pack the bags it myself — not only for the vegetables but because I bag cold things together

    Most, but not all, professional baggers (bagmen?) I encounter are doing very reasonable job of putting like items with the like.

    When wages are kept artificially low by subsidies on exploitative practice, companies have little incentive to innovate, and as technology elsewhere keeps developing, the need for wage suppression and subsidies keeps increasing.

    What are you talking about?

  159. I haven’t seen it in Germany or Austria.

    Self checkout already exists at a number of Merkurs (a high end Rewe brand) in Vienna.

    The real reason seems obvious enough: it’s simply not so cheap over here to hire twice as many people.

    Of course, I was being facetious about „brainwashing.“. It is just that Europeans seem to get defensive when Americans complain about how unpleasant and unfriendly the European supermarket experience is, particularly in Vienna.

    A lot of Americans, at least us older ones, don’t think of grocery bagging as an exploitative job. At least in olden times (the 1980s) it was a common summer/after school job for high school students and was often the only available job in my community for mentally challenged individuals. Of course that was before Wal Mart, when the cashiers were still paid a living wage and knew the customers by name.

  160. Lars Mathiesen says:

    First time I met self-scan was in Waitrose in England in 99 or 00, using hand scanners. You got four nice sturdy green canvas bags (matching the racing green of your Jag) when you joined the program and were allowed to pack your purchases in those before checking out. (Of course there were spot checks).

    Self-scan terminals came in later in Sweden, and I’m pretty sure the Coop stores got hand scanners first there as well. There are terminals in Denmark as well now, but very recently and they have been set in a horribly paranoid mode — you must put each item in a bag on a sensor plate before scanning the next (no putting the candy bar in your pocket after scanning it) and you need a cashier to approve packing in your own bags because they weigh more than the tolerance (and we’re supposed to use fewer plastic bags innit). I usually just pile up things on the bagging plate and put them in my pockets and backpack afterwards; it still ends up taking longer than the regular checkout.

    But now the Coop chain (Danish, different one from Sweden) has jumped to the front of the tech race and I can scan stuff with their phone app and put it in my own carrier bag / backpack (or pockets), then checkout from the app (paying with the credit card I registered) and wave the confirmation screen at the cashier. No queueing, no bagging after checkout, the receipt is saved on your phone. Ideal in these virus times, but they rolled it out six months ago so that was just luck. (Even the scan codes on the “expires today” discount labels work when I scan them, they never did in Sweden).

  161. Trond Engen says:

    Yes, the Coop chain is in the front here too. Also a little counter-intuitive.

    What are you talking about?

    Yes, I didn’t do a very good job of explaining. Too late at night, I hope.

    One reason behind the innovation rate of the Northern European economies is high marginal labour cost. When the cost of labour increases even without innovation, employers have no choice but innovating to keep costs down. Labour accepts that, since a safety net independent of the employer makes the risk and the transition cost for the individual worker acceptable.

    In the American system, at least retails and restaurants, and at least as seen from here, labour costs are suppressed by lack of negotiating power and choice. Employers have little incentive to innovate, and individual employees, tied to their current employer by health insurance and pensions, have too much to risk to challenge the status quo. This extends to the political realm. Where Northern European lobbying by labour and industry organizations generally focuses on support for reeducation and measures for support in transition between jobs, and on extending benefits like childcare and m/paternity leave across the economy, American politics tend to focus on government support for those living at minimum wage SLASH work requirements for those dependent on government support, or on avoiding or removing health and environmental regulations that would force innovation. In the long run this turns a large part of the economy into a technological dead end, increasingly dependent on continued government interference in the market to produce cheap labour. Industry in the welfare trap.

    I don’t think this is a black-and-white left-and-right issue. The demise of the traditional labour movement is part of it, but strong unions opposing technological and regulatory innovation is part of the history of the demise. This has played out very differently in different countries. The dead industrial regions of Britain, France and Belgium are also testimonies of innovation that didn’t happen and of mighty unions that lobbied to preserve the status quo for too long. But it’s interesting that in some economies (or in some eras) unions become eager participants in innovation while elsewhere they fight it. This surely has more to do with the overall rules of the political game and how the surplus is distributed than with actual political differences.

  162. David Eddyshaw says:

    This is a left/right issue: it’s a measure of how neoliberalism has corrupted our public discourse (especially in Anglophonia) that perfectly sensible people can no longer see it as such.

    Move that Overton window!

  163. Well said, comrade!

  164. AJP Crown says:

    The self-checkout counters are enjoyable and a bit of an adventure, rather like playing bus conductor when you’re five years old. And they’re faster than queuing. What I don’t like are the signs that say (roughly)

    Warning: We’re watching you, you shifty bastard. You’ll be in BIG trouble with the police. We’ll tell your boss, your colleagues, your children, the vicar and all your friends that you’re a petty thief. Just pay for your groceries quietly and leave.

    The signs make me feel I should give myself up before I’ve even done anything. The reason they’re so jumpy is that 20% of their customers are nicking stuff.
    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/03/stealing-from-self-checkout/550940/

  165. Indeed, in the US at least, major political parties are neither pro or anti innovation in labor intensive industries. Repubs are notionally pro-innovation, but they really dislike minimum wage and there are (at least superficially) pro-innovation labor policies (minimum wage, occupational licensing, weak to nonexistent unions) and anti-innovation (wage support in form of EITC). Health insurance is an unbelievable mess and I don’t understand which way it cuts. Northern European countries are of course leading the way, but the rest of us will get there. Eventually.

  166. The apparently low profit margin for supermarkets can be misleading, because of the higher rates of churn for food products, compared with other commodities. Consider this example—from, I believe, John Allen Paulos (author, and coiner of the term, Innumeracy): If a supermarket buys a kiwi every day for $1.00 and sells it for $1.01, that is a 1% profit on sales revenue, but over the course of a year a 365% profit on investment. Supermarketeers use their low margin on individuals sales to cry poverty, but the fact that food products remain on the shelves for much shorter periods than most retail products distorts any comparison with other commodities.

  167. SFReader says:

    In Japan, I learned that innovation in service industries in a sense of doing more with less people is not really necessary, but actually harmful for the quality of service.

    I’ve never seen more people (and extremely highly paid at that if we convert their salaries to USD at current exchange rates) serving a single customer.

    In one department store I started counting salespeople who bowed to me. Lost count at twenty after half an hour.

    It is easy to dismiss this as inefficiency. But it seems to me that Japanese retail is no more inefficient than the rest of the economy. They are still there, not going bankrupt and employing tons of people.

    Maybe that’s the model for the future we all should adopt.

  168. AJP Crown says:

    I’ve never seen more people serving a single customer.
    Making me buy stuff? I’d run a mile.

  169. Christopher Culver says:

    “I’ve never seen more people serving a single customer.”

    South Africa struck me for that reason. There seemed to be far more people working at businesses than necessary. At a bureau de change that in Europe would have a single person working there, there were usually three in SA: one person would take the money from you, and hand it over to another person. That second person would take 2–3 steps and then hand it over to a third person who would actually exchange it with local banknotes. A similar situation in restaurants. I assumed that such overhiring was just a way of keeping the peace in a society with enormous unemployment.

  170. David Marjanović says:

    It is just that Europeans seem to get defensive when Americans complain about how unpleasant and unfriendly the European supermarket experience is, particularly in Vienna.

    Ah, part of that is cultural. Even urban Europeans don’t expect an interaction with strangers to be downright unpleasant, but there’s no expectation that it’ll be friendly, while in the US there is. “What did you expect?!?” is of course the basic question of culture shock.

  171. David L says:

    I’ve never seen more people serving a single customer.

    You can get a similar experience dealing with health care in the US. Some years ago I went to the radiology dept of a large hospital to get an X-ray. First window: present the scrip from my doctor, show picture ID to prove that I’m not a faker trying to get an X-ray just for the heck of it. Second window: present insurance card and picture ID again to prove that someone will pay for the X-ray. Third window: present scrip from doctor again so they can tell one of the radiologists what kind of X-ray I need. At that point I was given a pager (the kind they hand out at restaurants when you’re waiting for a table) and told to wait.

    So I waited, as one does at medical facilities worldwide. Eventually my pager beeped and a young woman emerged to guide me from the waiting area to the radiology room. It was at least a ten-yard journey so I could easily have got lost.

    And people wonder why American healthcare is so expensive.

  172. John Cowan says:

    David M.: NYCers are quite European in this respect: our “polite” is other Americans’ “rude”, because ignoring people is the main way to provide them with privacy.

    Indeed, at the old Second Avenue Deli, you were seated (or seated yourself, depending on the time of day) at a table with menus on it. Eventually a waiter would come to the table and say “What do you want?” If you didn’t reply, he would walk away again. God help you if you had a question.

    “Kasha, the dictionary says, are rolled buckwheat groats. The problem is: what the fuck are ‘rolled buckwheat groats’? I know, of course; they’re kasha. But that doesn’t help you any.” —Arthur Naiman, Every Goy’s Guide to Common Jewish Expressions

    David L.: Every step of that is a defense against either fraud or medical error. Xkcd.

  173. David L says:

    JC: Even more years ago, when I was in England and needed an X-ray, my doctor sent a note electronically to the nearest radiology place. I showed up and presented my NHS card to the single receptionist, who checked that I was on the list and asked me to take a seat. After a while the radiologist his own self opened the door to the exam room and called me in. And that was that.

  174. Trond Engen says:

    I don’t mean to say that innovation and increased productivity don’t happen in the U.S. The U.S: was and continues to be among the richest countries in the world, so the question is rather why sectors of the economy that employ so much of the people are caught in this low productivity trap.

    SFReader: In Japan, I learned that innovation in service industries in a sense of doing more with less people is not really necessary, but actually harmful for the quality of service.

    Yes, and this is part of the game. Productivity is added value per head. If the Japanese as consumers assign that kind of monetary value to personal service, it adds to productivity per definition. When we produce necessities in a way that frees a worker from production to add value by providing service elsewhere, that’s increased output per head and hence increased productivity. As the basic provisions from agriculture and manifacturing more and more are made and distributed by automatized processes, we will increasingly earn our living by providing human services for society and eachother. The riddle is why, in some economies, those being shed off from manifacturing are being transferred to work that is valued so little, in sectors that seem to be insulated from the general development of society into higher added value per capita.

    Per David L., healthcare is a business where Americans culturally assign the kind of value to personal service as the Japanese do in retail, so why aren’t American shop clerks and waiters being redeployed to add personal service in healthcare? This sounds like a massive market failure.

    D.O.: Repubs are notionally pro-innovation, but they really dislike minimum wage and there are (at least superficially) pro-innovation labor policies (minimum wage, occupational licensing, weak to nonexistent unions) and anti-innovation (wage support in form of EITC).

    I don’t think any of these are clear cases. They depend on the situation.

    Weakening unions is not in itself pro-innovation. Nordic unions are generally pro-innovation, and negotiated wages also drives innovation. But where unions are left to play zero sum games or turf wars over what sort of personnel can be used where, or where they are forced to defend benefits from being lost in the restructuring of companies, they are anti-innovation. This has to do with the overall framework that the unions operate within, and I suppose it’s usually not one or the other, but one side might become more dominant in some economies than others.

    The minimum wage is also ambiguous. Within the common European labour market, Northern European unions are generally strongly opposed to a minimum wage. The principled argument is that it interferes with the right to negotiate wages, the practical consequence that it sets a political floor that will not be raised and will become a de facto politically imposed wage level for parts of the economy — a driver of the low-productivity trap. But this is in a sense an argument from power. In a world without negotiated wages, it might work the other way, since there’s no other way to raise the floor and force investments in productivity.

    I’ll give you the removal of occupational licensing, but that’s not so much a productivity driver as a cost reducer. Or it is in businesses where the stakes are small enough and the general consumer can be assumed to have enough information to create a functioning market of services. Plumbers rather than doctors.

    Health insurance is an unbelievable mess and I don’t understand which way it cuts.

    Health insurance and pensions tied to the employer are (depending of the closeness of the tie) anti-innovation by keeping workers from seeking better use of their skills (= higher productivity jobs) elsewhere, by giving an employer a believable threat that can be used to hold down wages rather than investing in productivity, and by forcing unions and workers in general to resist reorganization of businesses. A messy structure will work the same way if people are anxious of making moves that can violate some obscure or unknown clause in the insurance policy.

  175. Bathrobe says:

    Maybe that’s the model for the future we all should adopt.

    Maybe not. From a book I’ve (partly) read, when a Chinese company took over a Japanese money-losing hot-spring hotel they made short shrift of the Japanese model. Chinese tourists were bussed in en masse. Everything was super streamlined and cut back (including air conditioning at night), and old-style Japanese customs (such as stocking local products at the hotel shop) were jettisoned (the shop was stocked with Japanese products that Chinese wanted to take back home). Staff were run off their feet and the head of the staff, who went to management with the threat of resignation if things didn’t change (a traditional demonstration of sincerity), was simply let go.

    But it made a profit, which the original owners failed to do.

  176. In Australia we have a (practically) duopoly in the supermarket industry. The checkout staff stand, and they also bag the items for the customer. In the last two weeks, customers have been required to bag the products themselves. This noticeably slowed the shopping process last time I shopped.

    All the duopoly supermarkets (and most of the independents) have self-checkouts. These are good if you have only a handful of items, but otherwise I them a bit cumbersome, as you have to place each scanned item in a bagging area where they are weighed by a computer to check that you have bought the right thing. If you have more than a bagful of items you will fast run out of room in the bagging area.

    There are also express checkouts, where you can go if you have less than 12 items. I generally prefer using these to the self-checkouts.

  177. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Defending against fraud has its own cost, of course. The subway system in Stockholm is heavily guarded, with automatic gates and security guards at the larger stations, but you still get people crowding up behind you to come through without a ticket of their own and the whole situation is pretty unpleasant even for fare-paying passengers. The whole system costs millions to run. There are spot checks on the trains, so they know that about 7 percent of passengers still travel without paying.

    In Copenhagen there are no turnstiles and no guards, just (slightly more frequent) spot checks, so they know that about 7 percent of passengers travel without paying. But it’s much more pleasant.

    I don’t know what the numbers would be in Stockholm if they took away the gates and guards, however — Swedes have less solidarity than Danes.

    When I worked in England, I had to go to the doctor once. Basically the receptionist just asked my name — not even proof that I was somehow contributing to the NHS. (Which I wasn’t, in a sense, because I was working for an international organization and didn’t pay GB taxes. But my employer paid a lump sum per employee to the government). And I was told that if I had needed a prescription it would have been filled for free. I think it worked the same way for tourists. (This was 20 years ago, though, from what I see I suspect there are more checks now).

    I think free public transport and healthcare would actually improve the productivity of a society, fraud protection and insurance and so on are net losses. (Except for the companies running it, of course).

  178. Lars Mathiesen says:

    About the checkouts, I didn’t realize it was as much 20%, but that’s another reason I don’t like them: they have to treat you as guilty until proven innocent. My local Coop in Sweden actually closed the self-scan checkouts but kept for the function that allowed you to pay for things you scanned with those hand scanners. I think the point is that you had to swipe your membership card to get a scanner so they knew who you were; the checkouts were anonymous. (The new phone apps know who you are too, of course; except once it asked me to have a cashier enter a code so I could buy beer, of course when there were 20 people queueing. Maybe teens lend their phones to younger kids instead of buying the stuff themselves and handing it over outside the store like we had to do).

    And the few spot checks I’ve experienced have been when I had scanned 1 to 3 items, presumably because that’s correlated with filling your bags with more stuff.

  179. Trond Engen says:

    I think free public transport and healthcare would actually improve the productivity of a society,

    Yes. Though I understand that there’s some issue with clogging. Buses and doctors’ offices are filled up with people who don’t really need to be there. The transport planners I know believe it would be more efficient with a fare just high enough to make people think twice about taking the bus for two blocks.

    The point about solidarity or mutual trust is important. In high trust societies, all sorts of services can be run without frequent controls, including e.g. self-checkout at supermarkets. This enhances productivity. For those able to follow Norwegian, the comedian Harald Eia (of Kamelåså fame around here) recently made a documentary series of eight short episodes about the peculiarities of Norwegian society, Sånn er Norge, and trust was a theme in several episodes (esp. no. 6). Apparently experiments show that people in high trust societies are as likely to err to the cautious side and pay for more than they should as they are to cheat at checkout.

    He does not go into non-economic reasons for trust (except shooting down ethnic homogeneity by pointing out that measured trust has increased in recent decades while Norway has become increasingly diverse), but I’m pretty sure there’s a strong feedback mechanism. Visible signs of distrust (like enforced controls in public transport or armed policemen on streetcorners) make each of us conjure up a model of society and our fellow citizen that explains the measures. If so, the Danish approach is preferable to the Swedish not only because it saves money but because it contributes to the virtuous cycle of trust.

    Also the point about a high wage floor and innovation is made in the series (esp. episode no. 4), as an explanation of how Northern European economies can afford maintaining a wage level that enhances measured happiness and “human development”.

  180. AJP Crown says:

    Actually, here in English is Harald Eia to reassure you (after 9:30) that Norwegian automated supermarket checkouts work fine.

  181. John Cowan says:

    Even in the U.S., doctor’s offices are clogged with people who don’t need to be there, because of the information imbalance between doctors and patients.

    The high-wage-floor theory could be called “lifting the sill out of the mud”, with reference to mudsill theory. Or as Henry George put it, capital does not employ labor (that is feudalism, not capitalism): it is labor that employs capital.

  182. Trond Engen says:

    That adds a nuance which I forgot. It’s not so much (or not only) the level of the floor but that it keeps raising at pace with productivity.

  183. I can add that there are self check-outs at local REWE and Kaufland supermarkets here in Bonn. And like others in this thread I tend to use them only when I buy a small number of items, because the area where you have to place them is so small.
    Whenever I am in countries where they bag your purchases (it’s also a thing in South-East Asia and in some supermarkets in Kazakhstan), I feel a bit infantilised at first. But I don’t resist, when in Rome, do as the Romans do and all that.

  184. John Cowan says:

    The supermarket near me (not the closest, the next one) has self-checkout. I find that when the bagging area gets full (about 3-4 bags), the system doesn’t object if I take the bags off and put them elsewhere, such as on the floor. One disadvantage is that you need to use a human cashier if you want to arrange for delivery, as only they can add it to your bill. Most people come with their own carts if they get that much stuff (mostly they don’t).

    NYC buses are divided between local and interborough, which are pay-at-the-front, and ordinary express buses, which are pay-before-you-get-on, with ticket machines and ticket inspectors. (All buses are free for the duration.) I mention this in order to wedge in this delightful description of American cops from a UK (or, I suppose, European) perspective: “They are what ticket inspectors would be like if they had guns.”

    Our subways have turnstiles, either the horizontal kind you could jump over or duck under (and some people do) or the vertical kind (known as “iron maidens”) that you cannot. Commuter trains have ticket collectors, as distinct from inspectors, complete with punches: you can pay on the train at an extra charge of about $6.

  185. spend a penny

    I am watching now Death of Stalin on Netflix and at the most dramatic moment Molotov (in case you didn’t watch it, portrayed as a coward) says that he needs “to spend a kopeck” and rushes out of the room. I don’t remember that from the first viewing, but I guess in a fast-pacing comedy there is no time to pause and think whether a particular string of words makes sense (I didn’t know the English expression before).

  186. David Marjanović says:

    It probably isn’t an English expression, but it’s immediately understandable in context: public toilets must have cost that much at some point.

  187. It *is* an English expression (it’s certainly not a Russian one!) — it’s just substituting “kopeck” for “penny” for comic effect.

  188. And I’m pretty sure they didn’t have pay toilets in the Homeland of Socialism. (Hard to make people pay for a hole in the ground and no toilet paper.)

  189. (Source: used public bathrooms in USSR, did not have to insert coins.)

  190. AJP Crown says:

    DoS was written by Armando Iannucci who made The Thick of It on BBC and who’s Scot-ish (it’s a while since he lived there, I think). Born 1963, he’d remember the “Spend a 1d” expression, so of course ‘kopeck’ is just a wee joke.

  191. Heh.

  192. For enthusiastic recommendations of the movie, see this 2018 post.

  193. And since we’re on the subject of Stalin, I just got to this bit in Norwood:

    They drank some more beer and ate boiled eggs and pickles. Edmund showed Norwood some clippings, a couple of them in laminated plastic, and some photographs. There was a picture of him and the beloved Curly surrounded by dogs, and one of him and a midget woman, both in fur hats, standing in front of the Kremlin. “I hated Russia,” he said. “Such a dreary place! I’m bound to say though, in all fairness, that midgets are exempt from taxes there. Don’t ask me why. One of Stalin’s whims, I suppose.”

  194. David Marjanović says:

    I see…!

    My dad visited the USSR in the 1960s. There was toilet paper at the university in Kiev, except it was Українська правда…

  195. One of the most disgusting toilets I’ve ever seen was in a student dorm in Moscow Oblast in 1992. Toilet paper was whatever paper you would bring with you. And that was supposedly one of the better dorms, with only three students to a room.

  196. Yes, the most disgusting toilets I’ve ever seen were in the USSR, and I’ve traveled quite widely (though, to be fair, not to any truly third-world countries).

  197. Trond Engen says:

    The legendary Norwegian speedskating commentator Knut Bjørnsen told a story from an international championship in the late seventies, early eighties. As I remember it, the championship was held at this giant, brand new, stadium in Moscow. It was freezing cold — this must have been before they set health limits on temperatures for winter sports. He and his even more legendary co-commentator Per Jorsett were taken through long, cold, empty concrete corridors and installed in an unheated concrete box far up behind one of the grandstands. Then he got diarrhea from food poisoning. And he couldn’t find a single toilet on the whole stadium. So what could he do? He finished the commenting job.

  198. Speakers of Tzeltal, a Mayan language, can also use body-part
    metaphors to locate a figure with respect to a ground if they want to be
    precise about the region of the ground involved. However, the ground is
    more typically introduced only with a general preposition ta (‘at, in, on,
    to, from,’ etc.), and spatial relationships are mostly expressed with
    closed-class “positional” verbs that subdivide spatial relationships on the
    basis of the properties of the FIGURE (P. Brown, 1994; Levinson 1990).

    The objects on a table in figure 6.6B, for example, fall into seven different
    spatial categories: (a) pachal ‘to be located’ (said of a bowl-shaped figure
    in upright, canonical position); (b) waxai (said of a narrow-mouthed
    container in upright position); (c) pakal (said of an inverted object with
    fiat surface down); (d) wolol (said of a small sphere); (e) k’olol (said of a
    large sphere); (f) leche! (said of a smallish flat thing); and (g) chepel (said
    of things sitting bulging in a bag). Again, this classification cross-cuts that
    of English: these descriptions are indifferent to whether a figure is ‘on’ a
    table or ‘in’ some container, as long as it has the relevant shape and
    orientation.

    https://pure.mpg.de/rest/items/item_1456711_2/component/file_3003827/content

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