My latest New York Times Magazine columnlet draws on a passage from H.L. Mencken’s The American Language (1921) about the word “bug.”
“An Englishman,” he says, restricts its use “very rigidly to the Cimex lectularius, or common bed-bug, and hence the word has highly impolite connotations. All other crawling things he calls insects. An American of my acquaintance once greatly offended an English friend by using bug for insect. The two were playing billiards one summer evening in the Englishman’s house, and various flying things came through the window and alighted on the cloth. The American, essaying a shot, remarked that he had killed a bug with his cue. To the Englishman this seemed a slanderous reflection upon the cleanliness of his house.”
In a footnote, Mencken elaborates: “Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Gold Bug’ is called ‘The Golden Beetle’ in England. Twenty-five years ago an Englishman named Buggey, laboring under the odium attached to the name, had it changed to Norfolk-Howard, a compound made up of the title and family name of the Duke of Norfolk. The wits of London at once doubled his misery by adopting Norfolk-Howard as a euphemism for bed-bug.”
Even today, slang guru Jonathon Green confirmed when I asked him on Twitter, the UK “does use ‘bedbug’ but otherwise, I would say UK still mainly [uses] ‘insect.’” A British friend of mine agrees, but says of the Mencken passage, “nowadays bug has no connotations of uncleanliness, it’s just not used. The only time an English person says bug to mean insect is ‘don’t let the bedbugs bite’ and no modern British person’s ever had bedbugs, so it’s just a saying, not an insult! We know that it’s a general American term for insect, but we tend to call insects by their species, generally — fly, beetle, ladybird, etc — or, if we need a catch-all euphemism, we’ll say ‘creepy-crawly’ or in Scotland ‘beastie’ (or ‘wee beastie’).”
As the plague spreads, visitors to the UK may wish to make linguistic adjustments.
posted by Neil
I'm happy to say that I've not won any more awards in the last 24 hours, or done anything particularly noteworthy. I've walked the dog. Written things. Listened to things on headphones. Eaten a bit. (I've lost weight in the last year. I'm about twenty pounds lighter than I was this time last year, without having done much more than eating smaller portions and a lot more sensibly. This makes me happy.) I spiced three different chilis (the Hot, the Mild and the Vegetarian) for the weekend visitors. (Lorraine, my assistant, traditionally makes the chili, and I come in at the end and spice them. Thus it has always been.) During any down moments I've read comics, for a project I don't know if I can talk about yet. Some astonishingly good ones, some not so good.
Maddy and I watched the antepenultimate Doctor Who
special, The Water of Mars
, which we both liked a lot more than the Bus-in-the-desert episode. Good, scary classic, monstery Doctor Who which felt predictable (in a good way - almost inevitable) until suddenly it wasn't, and it got interesting in different ways. I liked the plot and performances, and feel comfortably certain that David Tennant's Doctor is going to have a better exit from the stage than any of the other nine. (Do not write and tell me that Colin Baker never even got to regenerate, and neither did Paul McGann, so really that should have been seven, because I will not be properly sympathetic.)
Let's close some tabs:
I am so excited that you are coming to my city, Winnipeg, for a book signing! I do have a tiny question though, how many books are you able to sign? Please write back! I'm looking forward to the book signing on December 15 2009!
From your biggest fan, Shivani Hunter
It's going to depend on the numbers of people who turn up. Assuming that it's around a thousand people in each location (Winnipeg and Decatur) I'll probably pre-sign a load of books, so people who just want to hear me read or answer questions and don't want to stand in a long line can get a signed book and go home, and we'll do something along the lines of I'll sign one thing, but if you buy a book of mine from the store I'll sign two things, which allows people to get the Thing They Love Most signed, and get something signed for someone (as we're heading into the holidays then) or for themselves.
Shaun Tan's story of Eric, the Foreign Exchange Student, from the Guardian
, makes me toe-curlingly happy. It went up a while ago, and I've meant to post it here many times. Click on it, then click through the story, and you will not regret the time spent, I promise. Delicate, clever, gentle, strange and odd, in all the good ways. (It's possible I may have actually posted it here at some point. If so, smile indulgently, and read it again.)
Naperville, near Chicago, will be having its ninth annual "Naperville Reads" program this year, when everyone in the city is encouraged to read something by the same author. I'll be in Naperville toward the end of February, and "citywide events are planned". I do not know what they are either. Details at http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=338299
I started getting somewhat premature congratulations from people today