Jumping Jumpers!

This week I’m doing something a little different.

A Jumper and A Book

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.

16 Responses to “Jumping Jumpers!”

  1. Paul Dellinger Says:

    A friend of mine has trouble reading British novels, even the James Bonds that aren’t Americanized with punctuation, because ‘Whenever someone speaks, they only get half a quote mark,’ like this. She prefers our way of doing it, “Wherein we use the double quote marks.” I had to remind her that the British way probably came first, and then we messed it up over here.

  2. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    The sleeveless article of clothing usually worn under a shirt or blouse is called an undershirt here in the states. It’s usually (actually, always, as far as I know) a pullover sort of thing.

    And for the record, I like British English. I never did see what the big deal was about having to rewrite books to suit American usage. It’s not that hard to learn a few different words. As for confusing children, well, why not take it a step further and never introduce them to any new ideas at all, so they’ll never be confused? (Pardon my sarcasm.)

  3. Patrick Doris Says:

    I was reminding of that gap in an article about the British TV star who did not get to be judge on the American version of the X-Factor. The actress said she missed her soaps and the American news media persons were confused . it seemed so obvious to me.

  4. Heteromeles Says:

    Oh, I don’t know.
    –Do you drink soda or pop?
    –Is it a drinking fountain or bubbler?
    –Is that multi-leveled thing a parking garage, a parking structure, or a ramp?
    American English has its own little regional peculiarities. Compared to English dialects, American English amazingly uniform (why do we drive on the blacktop instead of the tarmac or the macadam), but that just goes to show that English was invented in England, after all. We just, erm, super-sized it. Made our humor more…economical, too.

  5. Rowan Says:

    When I was a kid, I got my spelling marked wrong in school papers occasionally because I used British spellings rather than American ones, due to growing up on a steady diet of British fiction, much of it actually imported and therefore not “translated” into American. I’d slip and write “colour” and “flavour” and such.

    Heteromeles, I have never heard it referred to as a bubbler – where do they do that?

  6. Dominique Says:

    Hahaha. Rowan, I used to do the same thing! In fact I sometimes still slip up and write colour!

  7. Barbara Joan Says:

    I have a friend who is a WWII war bride from England. She says when she goes back home, she is constantly teased about no longer speaking the King’s English.

    Of course we all think she sounds very elegant with her accent.

  8. Heteromeles Says:

    @Barbara: why should she speak the King’s English, anyway? There’s a Queen, last time I checked.

    @Rowan: As for the bubbler, that’s from the upper Midwest.

  9. Ann M Nalley Says:

    My favorite English word from when I went to “university” for a year in Lancancaster is “aubergine.” Nothing like an “eggplant,” hmmm?

  10. janelindskold Says:

    Ann… Or learning that those weird “vegetable marrows” Poroit retires to grow are what we’d call “squash.”

    I could go crazy with this, but instead I will Make An Announcement.

    Alan and I are going to continue doing these bits at least for a while. They won’t replace my usual wanderings on Wednesday, but will instead appear on Thursday.

    Tune in next Wednesday then for something random and then on Thursday for a venture into the Lore of Underwear…

  11. Ann M Nalley Says:

    Can this get any crazier or more fun! Thank you, Jane!

  12. heteromeles Says:

    Yay Jane!

    While we’re talking about plants, how about the linguistic AND scientific mess with grapes, currants, gooseberries, cape gooseberries, chinese gooseberries, raisins, and sultanas? Which is which?

  13. CBI Says:

    The differences in English dialects and usage can lead to lots of humorous situations. Back in the ’80s we were stationed in Italy and friends with a couple, she was English (Yorkshire?) and he American (South Carolina?). There were a number of good stories of miscommunication. For example, when he mentioned to his wife that his own parents weren’t big on overt displays of affection: maybe his dad would give his mom a one-armed hug around the shoulders, or “pat her on the fanny.” (Yes, our distaff-side friend turned beet red.)

    An interesting reference dictionary, with its own dry humor/humour: http://septicscompanion.com/

  14. jk Says:

    I think it is also interesting to note the differences between generations. For me, an undershirt has to have sleeves. If there are no sleeves it is either a tanktop or a wifebeater. Tanktops are nicer ones while wifebeaters are those cheap ones that are usually ribbed that you get in multipacks.

  15. Eric Says:

    I remember that when I was younger, I think before Goblet of Fire came out, I used to find it exceptionally aggravating that the American title of the first novel was not the same as the original UK title. I’ve always been a stickler for things being kept the way they were intended. I know that is slightly tangential to the conversation here, but the discussion reminded me of that.

  16. janelindskold Says:

    Neat additions… Heteromeles, Alan and I were talking about some of that just the other day… I think we’re going to discuss it down the road.

    Eric, What annoyed me about that is the assumption that “Philosopher’s Stone” would be a turn-off to American kids. What an insult!

    Why not give American kids a chance to learn that philosophers are rather fascinating?

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