Monday, June 13, 2022

Word Play: Americanisms

 Annamaria on Monday

In conversation this past week I used the word "lollygagging."  After that phone call, I stopped to wonder about the word itself. It fell into my speech, but where did it come from.  It certainly felt like an Americanism, but I wanted to know for sure.  One thing led to another, as it often happens with my research.  Here is where the curiosity drew me and what I learned.


It is sometimes spelled "lallygagging." And like a lot of the Americanisms that I discovered, it emerged in the Midwest in the mid-19th-century. These days it means dawdling, but when it first emerged it meant "screwing around" – in the naughty sense of that phrase.  Of course, dillydallying and screwing around can carry all kinds of connotations these days. And there are many lovely words to describe whatever fooling around you have in mind.

Kit and caboodle

This mid-Western invention, sometimes spelled "kit and kaboodle," started out with just the word "boodle," which meant a large crowd of people. It evolved into meaning a lot of ill-gotten money, and eventually arrived at its current meaning.  Most of the time it is stated "the whole kit and caboodle." This is probably the whole shebang of you wanted to know about "kit and caboodle."

I know I can count on Michael to understand
what this image has to do with "druthers." 


The word entered the language as a verb, a mashup of the phrase "would rather." Most of the time now however it is used as a noun in the phrase "If I had my druthers."


This one is really interesting: it started as the name of a craft that Boy Scouts at camp did in the 1930s. They braided leather and cloth strips into bracelets, neckerchief slides, and lanyards.  The name eventually evolved into its current meaning - any complex project that turns out to be a waste of time.



The odd thing about this word is that nobody really knows how it came into the language.  It sounded and looked like another Americanism to me, but evidently it is not. Some scholars think it emerged in the middle ages in Britain. It is, like many of its cousins on my list today, wondrously onomatopoetic. As are so many of its synonyms: crusty, grouchy, grumpy, and ornery. It doesn't surprise me that we need a lot of words that mean annoyingly bad humored.  In fact, I wish we didn't need so many.


This is also not an Americanism.   Not that there aren't snobs in the USA, but in the time I spent in this amusing rabbit hole, I ran into a number of Brits bemoaning the takeover of their language by Americanisms.  They vilified journalists who use American phrases.  For example, they despise the use of "24/7" as a corruption of "proper English."  The author of book a detailing the ruination of the British language by Americans insists that true Brits should never say "24/7.”  A true Brit would eschew the offensive Americanism and say "all day, everyday."  Far be it from me to insist, but doesn't "24/7" say it more clearly and emphatically?  A great deal of the vitriol I encountered sounded awfully hoity-toity to me.


  1. I'druther have that bottle than most other white wines!

  2. It's back in the cooler, Michael. Come on over! We'll have it with my signature sea scallops in brandy cream and capers. Bring Chocolate!

  3. Scallops in brandy cream sounds good to me, Annamaria (Zoë here again -- Blogspot still blanking me)

    The only new words that really get to me -- regardless of their country of origin -- are medal and panel when used as verbs. As in, "The British team are medalling at the Olympics." Or when people ask me at crime writing conventions if I'm panelling, or have panelled. It sounds more like DIY.

  4. There are gobs of interesting words out there. That's what makes dictionaries so interesting. I particularly like fubsy - fortunately it can't be used to describe me.

  5. Just the other day I used 24/7/365 in a sentence when it hit me I likely sounded redundant. But since I said it to a Brit, redundant is likely the kindest word to describe his view of my word/phrase/idiom choice.