Friday, March 22, 2013

The afghan and the woobie

It was cold yesterday, so Daughter 1 dressed up Granddaughter as a Arctic teddy bear ...

... and we went off to the museum.

Grandson knows where he's going now.

The trains! Come on, you two, he urges.

It's such a serious thing: you have to press the buttons...

... and watch...

... the wheels go round. And then press them again and again and again and again.

I wondered the other day, as I wrote that I could "reach the catch fine", whether "fine" in this sentence was a particularly Scottish usage. Probably. I thought about language again today at the supermarket when I passed the frozen aisle which was offering "jackets": potatoes baked in their skins (and frozen - though I can't quite see why anyone would buy these - it's not exactly difficult to bake a potato). This "jackets" expression is not one we'd use here - the potatoes were packaged by an English firm. In fact we realise that we're in England when we get down the motorway to a service station where these delicacies referred to by the staff as "jackets" rather than what we'd say, which is "baked potatoes". Since I'm a vegetarian, a baked potato is often what I'll choose in such an establishment and I'm always amused by being asked, "Do you want cheese on your jacket?"

Daughter 2, in London, was surprised recently to find that English people don't use the phrase "the back of (eg) nine", as in "I'll be there the back of nine". She conducted a minor Twitter survey as to her friends' interpretation of this. As any Scot would know, it means "just after nine o'clock" - aiming for nine but probably arriving a few minutes after.

One word that I don't use myself, but my granny often did, is "forenoon" - for the morning. I wonder why that's died out in even Scottish standard English, when "afternoon" remains? I wonder this too about "sennight" (week), which you find in Shakespeare but I've never heard in modern use, though British people say "fortnight" all the time. I believe Americans don't, though. Do Australians?

And then there's "woobie". Dianne of "A Month of Sundays"  has extremely kindly made a woobie for Granddaughter and it's on its way to me. I had to ask for a translation. (Is it just me?) Meanwhile, Granddaughter is snuggled under, in the top picture here, the afghan (again, not what we'd call it) that Dianne equally kindly sent to Grandson - and she also sent a lovely green and blue cot quilt (not shown).

Ah, the mysteries of language. It's amazing how any of us manages to learn it. But we do!


  1. Oh, that baby is so cute. I love it when you can rug them up and they don't complain! Is that an Australian expression? To rug up? It's very useful. Australians use fortnight, and talk about jacket potatoes. Not without the word "potato" though, which avoids ambiguity. A New Zealander would call the blanket an afghan, but when I had an Australian baby I had to learn to call it a bunny rug! Which is cute. New Zealanders also call babies "bonny" which Australians don't, and anything small is "wee" in NZ, which I had to stop using in Australia. I got funny looks.

  2. I find the intricacies of the various UK dialects so fascinating. I speak with a Yorkshire dialect and would refer to them as Jacket Potatoes. I have a Scottish friend who says some very strange (to me)things though. Makes life interesting. Enjoy those little'uns! xCathy

  3. Mm, I get *huh? When I say fortnight here, I remember my grandmother saying forenoon and sonsie as in she was a sonsie lassie! Wish sennight had stuck though.

  4. South-eastern English, and we usually said 'baked potatoes', sometimes referring to them as, in full, 'potatoes in their jackets', then maybe 'jacket potatoes', never just 'jackets', that must be a later development. Here they are 'dans leurs robes de champs', but that tends to be boiled in their skins (which I seem to remember reading as Scottish practise in a Neil Gunn novel), generally not peeling one's potatoes is a bit outré.

    I wish we still said 'sennight'. ?French rarely say 'two weeks' but usually 'fifteen days', sometimes 'eight days' rather than a week - une semaine, which must be related to seven.

    I used to be puzzled about American afghans, as the word used to suggest to me a hairy sheepskin coat, sometimes embroidered, or an even hairier dog. I can't think what rugged mountain tribesmen would want with dainty crochet blankets, but I suppose it's anything to keep one warm in the Tora Bora region.

    I shall wait with baited breath to learn what a woobie is.

    Nice baby, btw.

  5. Anonymous10:31 pm

    Cathy is from the north of England, Lucy from the south, and I am from the middle, and I agree with both of them that "jacket potato" is an edible starchy tuber but "jacket" on its own is not. Sounds to me like one of those silly made-up non-expressions ("sides" on a restaurant menu, supposedly indicating "side orders" or "side dishes", being a particularly infuriating example).

    Your usage of "fine" just sounds like standard British English to me. What made you think it was Scottish?

  6. An afghan would be a crocheted or knitted throw (or blanket) that generally has multicoloured stripes, or other geometric designs. Quite often they are more garish than the one granddaughter is wrapped in!

    I used to get so confused with "back of nine" and thought it meant just before nine (as in the big hand was still back of the nine o'clock position). In canada we would say "a quarter to nine" whereas in the States, it would be "a quarter of nine". These minor variations do fascinate me at times!

  7. I love the mysteries of language.
    In my seventies youth an "afghan" was a pretty horrible sheepskin coat with a frilly sheepskin edge and hood.

    My father (born 1905, so actually old enough to have been my grandfather), was an old Navy seaman, and always spoke of the "forenoon", so I assumed it was a seafaring term.

    I loved hearing him say it - just writing the word now brings it back.

  8. I just love the photos of the grandson at the museum...the body language is wonderful!
    One of my sons posted a poem on Facebook are 2 lines and you can get the gist....
    "You may find a lone mouse or a houseful of mice, but the plural of house is houses not hice. "
    I am from the Midlands, and would always talk of a jacket anon said.... " jacket" is just made up for silly menus!

  9. I wouldn't call baked potatoes jackets, or even jacket potatoes. I'm from the English midlands, but I suspect this has more to do with my age, which is close to yours.

    Interesting, isn't it, how some linguistic variations and adoptions are enriching and lovely, while others are annoying and feel like 'dumbing down'?

    Interesting too that, because I'm so soaked in US novels, films and television, I know a lot more American expressions than Scottish ones.

  10. I'd say baked potatoes but would recognise what was meant by "potatoes in their jackets". I didn't know Americans didn't say fortnight, I just assumed everyone said it! Comes of living at the other end of the world I suppose! I'm a big fan of Georgette Heyer novels which are full of sennights, but I suppose week is easier!

    I'm interested in the difference of names for swimming attire in different states of Australia. Some say "togs", others "swimmers", then there's "bathers" and "cossies" short for swimming costume. I've never quite got it straight which state says what though, because I grew up in Canberra where we had a hybrid of Victorian and New South Welsh linguistics.

    Love the shots of grandson knowing his way in the museum. Must push the buttons. My own boys were exactly the same at that age.

  11. I've only encountered "woobie" as part of the internet vocabulary for discussing genre fiction/TV/films, in which case it means "a sympathetic character who is consistently unlucky". Not sure whether this could possibly have derived from the thing Diane is making. Maybe a woobie needs a woobie to provide some comfort?

  12. there are pictures of Super Man and his woobie on my blog today ... i was beginning to think that perhaps i had made up the term ... i might have first heard it while watching Mr. Mom (the movie - which is dated 1983) ... no, we have been calling them woobies for a much longer time than that ... hmmm ... i dunno!

    "thong" is the word that gets me into the most trouble - thongs were flip flops (although we also called them "zorries") when i was a young warthog, but now it's underwear ... i called out to my oldest granddaughter, "Put on your thongs!!! Do NOT go outside with bare feet!" and she was mortified...

  13. So according to an afghan is defined as follows: a soft woolen blanket, crocheted or knitted, usually in a geometric pattern. A woobie is a slang term for any comfort type blanket a baby/child would carry around. We, in the US, don't generally use the word "cot" opting instead for the word "crib". I work in a research lab at a major university and we have a lot of people from all over the world come to work with us. It is very interesting the variations of language.
    I think that no matter the language, you are one lucky woman to have been the recepient of not one but 3 beautiful projects from the fabulous Dianne!! I would kill to be on that list!!!

  14. The oddest phrasing that we found which seems to be particularly Scottish is "my bed" as in: "I am away to my bed". Apparently, people south of the border would just say "I'm off to bed". I discovered this when staying with English friends and they seemed to think it odd I felt the need to specify precisely which bed I was going to.

  15. As an American, this post reminded me of two jokes....The one I heard (or really,read) long ago was in the very much published The Joy of Cooking cookbook. The author wrote of a young bride who went to the grocery store and asked to buy jackets for potatoes because the recipe she was following said they should be baked "in their jackets" but she had no idea what this meant.

    Secondly, soon after 9/11 someone asked me if I had heard that a nice old lady was not allowed to bring her knitting needles on board a plane. They were afraid she would knit an afghan.

    In our D.E. Stevenson discussion group just these past few days we've been talking about the use of Scottish dialect in her work.