Many thanks to Jeremy over at Specific English for his great post about English for nursing that reminded me of this one:
Visits to doctors surgeries and hospitals can involve all kinds of indignities. People weigh, prod and poke me and ask all manner of embarrassing questions about my personal habits and bodily functions.
Nurses are skilled at dealing with embarrassment, and in the UK they might say things like ‘Get undressed and pop up onto the bed’, and the word ‘pop’ conveys the idea that the process of stripping off and submitting to examination is normal and routine. So it’s ‘Pop your hand here’ while they clamp one of my breasts between the equivalent of two cold bricks and twist it around to xray it. Worst of all is the pap smear, of course – ‘Just pop your feet in these stirrups’. Argh! But somehow in the UK, the word ‘pop’ helps to minimize the indignity of it all.
In ‘merican ‘pop’ means something different. It signifies violence and if you ‘pop’ someone, there’s intent to harm and you hit them hard. The term popped up in an interesting court case in 1997 when an English nanny called Louise Woodward was accused of killing a baby in her charge. Louise denied the charge but was found guilty of involuntary manslaugher. She’d told the Massachusetts police she just ‘popped the baby on the bed’.