Юлия Гофри (jgofri) wrote in linguaphiles,

American vs. British idiom meaning

Something that was mentioned to me before but I never thought to check the truth of this statement, until now.

To those who speak British English: is it true that the idiom "to knock someone up" only means "to get somebody pregnant" when used in American English?
In support of that, neither Merriam-Webster nor Oxford dictionary mention that meaning, at least not their online versions.  The Oxford dictionary, in fact, mentions a completely different meaning, something to do with the sports.
Can someone answer that?
I was also kind of curious as to what other idioms exist in one but not the other.
Tags: english, idioms
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  • 69 comments

meepettemu

April 13 2014, 14:12:14 UTC 8 months ago

Nope. Br eng here and completely familiar with that. In the north (I believe) that's an idiom for going to someone's house and it always makes me splutter.

meepettemu

April 13 2014, 14:15:08 UTC 8 months ago

As for other idioms - an American friend said to me this morning 'it is not her first time at this particular rodeo', which I'd never heard before.

jgofri

8 months ago

meepettemu

8 months ago

jgofri

8 months ago

tenshinrtaiga

8 months ago

jgofri

8 months ago

tenshinrtaiga

8 months ago

jgofri

April 13 2014, 15:40:42 UTC 8 months ago

Is this an expression you (or people you know) would actually use, or just something you recognize?

I was actually doubtful about this whole thing mainly because this expression is used quite a bit on TV, and at least some of that was bound to make it's way across the ocean.

meepettemu

8 months ago

jgofri

8 months ago

rirakkumiru

8 months ago

meepettemu

April 13 2014, 15:49:23 UTC 8 months ago

'They're knackered'

Either tired, or broken. Or 'going to the knacker's yard' (generally an animal - often horse - to be put to sleep)

jgofri

8 months ago

whswhs

April 13 2014, 14:21:33 UTC 8 months ago

The American idiom "fag" means a homosexual man, especially one who is perceived as "effeminate" or "not a real man." The British idiom apparently means "cigarette." (For example, I've been reading about a British movement that advocates limiting access to health care for smokers and people who weigh too much; the popular nickname for the idea is "fat and fags.")

The American idiom "pecker" means a penis. In the British phrase "keep your pecker up," it apparently means "courage" or "spirits." I originally took it that British English used the penis to symbolize courage, but if so, my Oxford doesn't mention it; it just defines it as "courage."

iddewes

April 13 2014, 15:04:48 UTC 8 months ago

Don't actually use the word "fag" in North America though unless you are visiting the Westboro Baptists. It's an extremely pejorative word. In Britain though as you say it just means cigarette.

meepettemu

8 months ago

meepettemu

8 months ago

iddewes

8 months ago

meepettemu

8 months ago

iddewes

8 months ago

jgofri

April 13 2014, 17:02:02 UTC 8 months ago

The "pecker" one is actually hilarious :)

thekumquat

April 13 2014, 14:50:55 UTC 8 months ago

Yes, it's true - so if you go on a business trip with Americans and stay in the same hotel, don't offer to knock them up in the morning.

And MW does say that too: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/knock%20up
"Definition of KNOCK UP
1
British : rouse, summon
2
sometimes vulgar : to make pregnant
Examples of KNOCK UP
[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<i [...] a.m.>') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]

Yes, it's true - so if you go on a business trip with Americans and stay in the same hotel, don't offer to knock them up in the morning.

And MW does say that too: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/knock%20up
"Definition of KNOCK UP
1
British : rouse, summon
2
sometimes vulgar : to make pregnant
Examples of KNOCK UP
<I asked the clerk at the hotel to knock me up at 7:00 a.m.>"

jgofri

April 13 2014, 15:53:44 UTC 8 months ago

I definitely wouldn't :), thought in my case I am pretty sure they would know I didn't mean that.

Just to verify, then: you would actually use that expression meaning to wake someone up in the morning?

sollersuk

8 months ago

jgofri

8 months ago

thekumquat

8 months ago

jgofri

8 months ago

teaoli

8 months ago

frenchroast

April 13 2014, 16:37:25 UTC 8 months ago

I know some of my brit friends (from London) have used it to mean "to get in touch" specifically in regards to coming by for a visit. Examples: "Knock me up when you're in town." "I'll have to knock him up when I'm in *name of city*." But they were also aware of the American usage.


And rodeos exist all over the US, not just in the south. They're more common in rural areas, obviously, but the south is definitely not the only part of the US with rural areas--hell, the midwest is a lot more rural than the south in a lot of ways.

jgofri

April 13 2014, 17:00:22 UTC 8 months ago

Thank you!
So it looks that British English speakers would know both meanings, but Am Eng would mostly know the colloquial one.

As for the rodeo, I never heard of them anywhere besides Texas, but then, I wasn't looking for them. Interesting to know they might be around. In a country fair, perhaps? The one I saw in Texas was an obvious and well-known tourist attraction. You have to agree, though, when you think of cowboys, you think Texas, not Illinois.

frenchroast

8 months ago

paulistano

8 months ago

jgofri

8 months ago

teaoli

8 months ago

laura_anne

April 13 2014, 17:16:13 UTC 8 months ago

Knocking someone up would be pretty widely understood to mean pregnant, IME, although it does have the other meaning others have discussed.

The only sporty thing that would be related that I can think of would be 'having a knock up' which is usually used in racket sports to describe a warm up or maybe a casual game where you're just hitting the ball back and forwards but not keeping score or anything.

jgofri

April 13 2014, 17:32:06 UTC 8 months ago

That's the definition from the Oxford dictionary, actually:
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/english/knock-up

lareinemisere

April 13 2014, 17:17:36 UTC 8 months ago

I'm British, and would recognise 'knocked up' as meaning pregnant, without thinking of it as particularly American. However, I'm a lot more familiar with 'knocking up', the couple of minutes you spend hitting the shuttle or ball deliberately towards each other before starting to actually play a game of badminton or tennis.

On the topic generally, rather than those particular words, I think more and more words and phrases which used only to be American are making their way into British English, because there are so many more American programmes on TV than there used to be. (A little over thirty years ago, we had three TV channels. Now most people will have dozens even without pay TV, and hundreds if they have satellite.) As far as I'm aware, British usages aren't making their way across the pond in the other direction at the same rate.

Writing that reminds me that an example I've seen discussed a number of times elsewhere re US vs UK English is the British swearwords used by the character Spike in the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. American audiences were apparently fine with 'bollocks', 'wanker', 'bugger' etc, since they were sufficiently unusual that they were seen to be quaint rather than offensive. In a similar vein, although I struggle to imagine a Brit under the age of, say, fifty or sixty not understanding the (insulting American) meaning of the word 'jerk', I'm pretty sure I've never heard any Brit use it to describe a person, because it's such a wussy insult and we have better ones. Hmm - are 'wuss' and 'wussy' British only, too?

jgofri

April 13 2014, 17:29:34 UTC 8 months ago

>>American audiences were apparently fine with 'bollocks', 'wanker', 'bugger' etc, since they were sufficiently unusual that they were seen to be quaint rather than offensive.
This. The same applies to the (originally) Yiddish word "putz", apparently considered family-safe on TV.
I've heard the word "wuss" used, but not very often. I live in the Midwest.
The word "jerk" does seem kind of safe now, but not "jerk-off".

beesandbrews

8 months ago

jgofri

8 months ago

thekumquat

8 months ago

beesandbrews

8 months ago

jgofri

8 months ago

lareinemisere

8 months ago

sollersuk

8 months ago

lareinemisere

8 months ago

jgofri

8 months ago

beesandbrews

8 months ago

beesandbrews

April 13 2014, 17:54:57 UTC 8 months ago


Rodeo is a popular professional sport. Visit one near you! (If you're in the US or Canada, that is.)

http://www.prorodeo.com/prorodeo/find-a-rodeo

As for the expression, it's not just used for pregnancy but for other physically and mentally exhausting tasks. A variation is 'I've ridden that merry-go-round before'.

jgofri

April 13 2014, 19:36:50 UTC 8 months ago

Thanks for that rodeo link!
Curiously enough, none were in Indiana :)

scfrankles

April 13 2014, 19:22:45 UTC 8 months ago

I'm in my 40s and from North West England. I first became aware of "knocked up" meaning "pregnant" from US sitcoms (think the first time I noticed it was in "The Golden Girls"). I can't recall ever hearing anyone using it that way in contemporary speech. But it is a British expression - I have a Collins dictionary from 1982, which lists that usage as "slang". It doesn't refer to it as being solely American. There is an example of it being used in "Carry On Cleo" , a film that came out in 1964 (and which is a British film in every sense of the word ^^) - a character says that when it comes to being "knocked down" at a slave auction, it's better than being "knocked up". I have no idea which side of the pond the expression originated on though.

Another meaning that I don't think has come up yet: my late father would worry about my younger brother and say that he looked "knocked up". I realise that sounds hilarious to American ears but it meant that my brother looked exhausted. (The usage sounds old-fashioned to me.)

jgofri

April 13 2014, 19:38:25 UTC 8 months ago

Interesting. Thank you!
The TV is why I was feeling a bit dubious about the whole "they don't know what it means" statement. Using it is the other matter.

houseboatonstyx

April 13 2014, 22:06:20 UTC 8 months ago

This American would say 'I/he was really knocked out by that job/illness/sleep deprivation', etc. Meaning exhausted, thoroughly lacking stamina, unable to undertake any new task. Or more generallly, 'unable to function till repaired' like 'The storm knocked out power all over the county'.

I think of it as connected with the boxing expression 'knocked out' meaning unconscious.

scfrankles

April 14 2014, 21:57:32 UTC 8 months ago

Oddly what comes immediately to mind for "knocked out" in Britain is a positive meaning:

"What did you think of the film?" "Oh, it was brilliant - I was knocked out by it."

Though like you, I would associate the expression with boxing.

houseboatonstyx

8 months ago

scfrankles

8 months ago

houseboatonstyx

8 months ago

scfrankles

8 months ago

demarafis

8 months ago

jgofri

8 months ago

scfrankles

8 months ago

demarafis

8 months ago

demarafis

April 14 2014, 14:37:30 UTC 8 months ago

'my late father would worry about my younger brother and say that he looked "knocked up"... but it meant that my brother looked exhausted.'

Oh! That's funny! Was your brother was looking disheveled, too, like he was freshly woken up by knocker-uppers? Or was it an exhaustion caused by a rumple in the sack/haystack? I'm going use it on my bff sometime lol. ;)

scfrankles

April 14 2014, 22:06:17 UTC 8 months ago

^__^ (Btw, my brother was a teenager, and working part time while studying ^^)

I do remember from "Frasier", an exchange between Frasier and Daphne - she mentioned that his father had "knocked me up" that morning when she was fast asleep. On seeing Frasier's reaction she had asked what it meant in the US, and Frasier had said it was something that she would need to be awake for. Highly amusing but completely unlikely she wouldn't have known about the other meaning already ^^

jgofri

8 months ago

scfrankles

8 months ago

jgofri

April 16 2014, 14:24:28 UTC 8 months ago

>> my late father would worry about my younger brother and say that he looked "knocked up".

Just thought of how that would sound if you had a younger sister, instead.

scfrankles

April 16 2014, 23:37:05 UTC 8 months ago

Yes, indeed ^^"