Apr 062010
Many thanks to Jeremy over at Specific English for his great post about English for nursing that reminded me of this one:

endo5.JPG by Greencolander.

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’.

 Posted by at 6:56 am

  10 Responses to “Pop”

  1. Hi Vicki

    Thought I’d just “pop” in to say hi and also mention how much I enjoy reading your posts. I liked the one on British Understatement you wrote recently and I refered to it on a previous posting on my blog, when I had a “spot of bother” :).

    All the best


  2. Hi Vicki

    Thanks for the mention! I just popped over to have a look around my favourite parts of the blogosphere (it beats planning lessons) and found this very nice surprise.

    There a few examples of popping in our nursing books, although I don’t think we focused on it as a strategy for putting patients at ease. I’m glad we didn’t now I know about the American interpretation. I might mention your story in my nursing presentation in Harrogate this week.



  3. Interesting. When I saw the title, I thought you were going to discuss the difference between soda and pop, which is something I learned when I left the pacific northwest for the first time and ventured down to California. They call ‘soda pop’ soda where I had always called it pop. Now that I’m back ‘home’, I’m hearing pop again and it sounds weird after all these years…

    I had never thought about ‘pop’ being used in violence because we do ‘pop in’ and see people as well. You always notice a lot of great differences in our ‘languages’. *grin*

  4. “Pop goes the weasel” Very old song
    “Bojan takes a pop instead, the ball sailing wide left.” very recent football commentary.

  5. Jeremy, have a great time in Harrogate! Look forward to your report.

    Hi Holly and Chris and many thanks for your comments. According to this site(http://www.clover.okstate.edu/fourh/aitc/lessons/extras/words/sheep.html) a weasel was a device used for measuring lengths of yarn and after a given number of turns of a spinning wheel it would make a popping noise. Presumably pop’s onomatopoeic qualities led to the pop you drink in the mid west, Holly, – quick short sounds – and there’s pop corn, of course. Think that quote about Bojan might be reference to the ‘quick’ too Chris.
    I think we might have referred to fizzy drinks as pop sometimes when I was growing up in England too, but maybe I’m imagining it. We certainly didn’t call them ‘soda’ which is what they’d be called in Philly. Soda was something that came from a syphon – straight water with C02 bubbles – no sugar or aspartame.

  6. I call my father “Pops” – this seemed much more adult than “Daddy” which I said until I was in my late 20s. My father loves this reference. I guess it is because we are Americans who prefer to avoid deference.

  7. Yo, yo, what’s poppin’? 🙂

    Funny how many different meanings you can give to three letters (or two really, with one repeated).

    In “my” AmE, you can “pop in” or “pop out” of a place (the post office, the convenience store). You can also “pop” a little kid when they’re misbehaving, usually on the arm or very occasionally the cheek, but it’s not really something to get the authorities involved in!

    For something more violent or malicious, I think “smack” is more what I would go for. But I guess that’s a strictly open-handed slapping motion, not with a fist.

    Although…now that I think about it, if you “pop someone in the eye” for example, you’re giving a nice straight punch that will probably leave someone with a black eye.

    If you’ve got a few extra hours, urbandictionary.com has a huge list of definitions and related terms. Pop your collar, pop the trunk, pop that coochie…the list goes on and on…

  8. Yo what’s popping Nick!

    What I should have said in this post is that ‘pop’ CAN be used to indicate violence with intent to inflict harm in AmE, because of course it could be used to indicate a playful mock punch, or all those other fun uses.

    I don’t know if I explained the BrE “it’s an inconsequential matter of routine” use too well either. Ah well, too late now.

    Thanks for all those gems Nick – I’ve got one for you from BrE – to pop your clogs.

  9. Janet, Hi! So sorry it took me so long to approve your comment – Duh! – just didn’t see it lurking there. System now knows who you are so hopefully it can’t happen again.
    Trust your ‘spot of bother’ has passed and it was great to be with you “virtually” at the IATEFL conference. Loved your write up of the excellent Tessa Woodward talk – folks it’s over at:

  10. Hi Vicki

    No probs! Thank you very much for the backlink! It’s been really hectic the past few days with IATEFL and keeping up with all the exciting events there. I’ve enjoyed the “buzz” of being present virtually and it was lovely to “see” you as well.

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