This week I’m doing something a little different.
I frequently discuss the differences between American and British English with my friend Alan Robson. Those of you who have been reading not only my entry, but also the comments are probably already familiar with him as “Alan from New Zealand.”
Alan currently resides in New Zealand, but he was born in Yorkshire, England. He’s also a well-known reviewer in New Zealand, author of the books Trimmings From the Triffid’s Beard, Volumes One and Two. (Alan’s nickname among his Science Fiction friends is The Bearded Triffid). His current project is the often funny, but also quite thoughtful column: “wot I red on my hols.”
I thought I’d share on of our chats with you. Here we go….
JANE: Hey, Alan. I’d always figured that the British and American editions of the Harry Potter novels were about the same. After all, we speak the same language.
Then I learned that – at least early on, before the novels were rushed out as fast as possible – an effort was make to “Americanize” some of the language so that young American readers wouldn’t get confused.
That got me thinking about the often repeated statement: “England and America are two countries separated by the same language.” (By the way, a version of this statement is usually attributed to Winston Churchill, but apparently he didn’t originate it. The closest agreed upon source I could come up with was this phrasing, credited to George Bernard Shaw.)
One example of a change that was made is that in the American editions of the Harry Potter novels Mrs. Weasley makes “Weasley sweaters” for her family (and Harry, too). I understand that in the British edition these are “Weasley jumpers.”
Here in the United States – at least as a form of attire, not a reference to a suicide or an athlete – a “jumper” is nothing like a sweater. I wore a jumper for years as a part of my school uniform. It’s a sort of sleeveless dress that’s worn over a long or short-sleeved blouse. According to the dictionary, the American “jumper” can also be worn over a sweater, which would be really confusing, if you were British.
I believe there’s a form of baby clothing called a “jumper,” too. It also is unrelated to a sweater.
So, are jumpers and sweaters really the same thing?
ALAN: Yes. A jumper is a knitted garment (sometimes called a woolly jumper). It’s synonymous with “pullover.” It is generally knitted by fond grandparents or aunties and is often too large so the child will “grow into it.”
You can buy them in shops as well, of course. The sleeves are handy things for wiping snotty noses, much to the parents’ displeasure since the garment generally has to be washed by hand.
There’s a joke beloved of small children.
Q: I say. I say, what do you get when you cross a kangaroo with a sheep?
A: A woolly jumper!
JANE (aside): I told Jim that joke and his answer was “A sweater with pockets.” I think that’s pretty good!
ALAN: Of course, jumpers are not restricted to young children. My wife, Robin, knitted me a jumper a few months ago. It’s much too large (as traditionally it should be, though I doubt I will grow into it unless I eat far too much dinner) and I love it to bits because she knitted a cat into it. On the front is a cat’s face, the body sprawls over my shoulder, and the tail hangs down the back.
Robin and I got to thinking about related words, like “cardigan” and “pullover.” Do you have those there?
JANE: Yes, we do. A cardigan is a sweater that buttons up the front. A pullover is what the word implies, a garment you pull over your head.
How about “jersey”? Here a jersey is something sports players wear, but I think that in British English that’s another word for “sweater.”
ALAN: A jersey is a special kind of jumper. It’s knitted with a special pattern that was commonly used on the island of Jersey (one of the Channel Islands). Hence the name.
One of the other Channel Islands is called Guernsey and it, too, has a distinctive pattern for jumpers. I remember when I was a small child my grandmother would talk about both Jerseys and Guernseys, but I haven’t heard the word in years, so probably it’s fallen out of use.
These days, I think, jersey and jumper are synonymous for all practical purposes.
JANE: Both of which are synonymous with “pullover.” Got it!
I should warn you. I’m planning to re-read the Harry Potter novels on of these days. You may find more questions coming your way. In fact, I can already think of a couple. Or maybe you have a question for me?
ALAN: I do, actually. Something that’s always stood out for me when I watch American movies is how what we call a “waistcoat” you call (I think, correct me if I’m wrong) a “vest.” We use the word “vest” to refer to a sleeveless item worn next to the skin, underneath a shirt or blouse. I have absolutely no idea what you call that.
I always get very strange pictures in my head when an actor dressed up to the nines by putting on a vest….
JANE: I can answer that one and actually have a few funny (to me, anyhow) stories to tell. However, that will have to wait until another time.