I picked up the paperback of “So Much for That,” Lionel Shriver’s latest novel, for a recent plane ride, and I found that along with a good story, it offered readers a little Separated by a Common Language game to play.
Shriver is American-born but has lived abroad a lot, and in London since 1999. This novel, unlike her last one, is set in New York, with American characters. The vocabulary, however, has some locutions that sounded more Brit than Yank to me.
Most striking is the name of a hand-forged kitchen utensil – a work of art that’s important in the book – that is called, from start to finish, a fish slice. I’d never heard the term – even during a stint as a food section copy editor – but of course it was easy to ask Mr. Google, who said it was essentially a spatula.
The other suspicious words were all ones I knew, but thought of as more or less distinctly British. Do you -- whatever your vantage point -- share that impression? Or am I imagining things? Here are the terms that caught my eye (in context), with definitions following:
“Freeloaders and Fall Guys. Saps and Spongers. Slaves and Skivers” (p. 76). Skiver: One who avoids work; a shirker; a truant. (OED).
“A sip of pineapple juice, the Tuesday blancmange with strawberry sauce …” (p 134). Blancmange: In cookery, a name of different preparations of the consistency of jelly, variously composed of dissolved isinglass, arrowroot, corn-starch, etc., with milk and flavoring substances. (Century Dictionary, at Wordnik.com)
“They just wanted to collect their whacking fees for bedside phones” (p. 141). Whacking: Very large; huge. (American Heritage, via Wordnik)
“Maybe the best in me, to me, is hateful, vindictive, and ill-wishing” (p. 147). Ill-wish: To bring misfortune upon, or bewitch, by wishing evil, according to a popular belief in some rural districts. (OED) I’ve mentioned this before, and Lynneguist offered some support (see the comments) for my impression that it was mostly BrE.
“Flicka was deliberately winding her mother up, pushing her to cross a line” (p. 175). Wind up: to annoy, to provoke deliberately (colloq.). (OED)
“He was largely unaware of the pong of paper mills that fugged his hometown” (p. 203). Pong: A strong smell, usually unpleasant; a stink. (OED)
(I wondered about fug, too, but since I knew the noun – “A heavy, stale atmosphere, especially the musty air of an overcrowded or poorly ventilated room” (AHD) – I didn't think I'd have noticed the verb if I hadn't been looking for oddities. But it may be more frequent in BrE.)
Notes, dissents, and further elaborations welcome.