Wordwatch Towers

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Ambient sausage rolls

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Sausage rolls
Image via Wikipedia

Ambient sausage rolls are off the menu at the Co-op supermarket, I’m afraid.

As reported in the Telegraph, this culinary neologism has already died a death, apparently thanks to the Plain English Campaign.

Ambient? Wouldn’t you have loved to have been at the meeting where that decision was made? What did they say, we want our sausage rolls to be kind of atmospheric and perhaps suggestive of a certain type of mood-inducing music? (See Oxford Dictionaries’ definition of ‘ambient’.)

More neologisms (newly coined words or phrases)


Written by Wordwatch

02/02/2010 at 8:27 am

21 Responses

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  1. Not sure why Co-op are blaming a labelling “error”. Ambient food just means it’s to be stored and served at room temperature. Of course that’s not such a good tabloid story.

    Duncan Hill

    02/02/2010 at 10:52 am

    • Aaah, I did not know that! A new one on me. Thanks for that, Duncan. Perhaps the Co-op should have stuck to its guns then, instead of backing down? Or perhaps ‘serve at room temperature’ would be clearer? Thanks for taking the time to comment.


      02/02/2010 at 11:11 am

  2. Deborah, you should do a piece on the differences between UK and US treatment of groups, esply impliedly collective nouns. You treat “Co-op” as plural; we would treat it (if we had one) as singular. Even those US markets that sound plural (but maybe are only distorted possessives), like Ralphs or Pavilions, we’d still treat as singular. We’d most likely say, “The Who is playing at the Super Bowl,” too. (We’d only treat a band as plural when the name itself was, such as The Beatles.)

    Michael Farrell

    02/02/2010 at 4:09 pm

    • Hi, Michael — that’s an interesting point about singular and plural. When writing formally I am very careful to ensure that I don’t refer to, for example, ‘the Co-op’ as plural, but you have caught me out as I don’t always stick to these strict rules when writing informally. So I consider myself rightly told off (post now amended).


      02/02/2010 at 4:15 pm

  3. Duncan did it, as well. I’m not saying it’s wrong; it makes sense to capture the collective sense of the noun. I see many Brits and Commonwealth folks (i.e., Commonwealthians) doing the same thing.

    Michael Farrell

    02/02/2010 at 4:30 pm

    • Phew — got out of that one.


      02/02/2010 at 4:35 pm

    • I agree with Michael on this one. I have noted this difference in the Irish Voice with reference to sports teams…

      Maggie Manning

      02/02/2010 at 5:49 pm

      • Thanks, Maggie. Sports teams are always plural here; here’s a typical example from the BBC sports site:

        Playing away finally proved positive for Chelsea at the weekend as they dispatched Burnley for a first win at top-flight opposition since November.


        02/02/2010 at 6:22 pm

        • Are they the Chelsea plural-something-or-others? The Chelsea Lambs, say? Sports teams are best named with a plural anyway: the Boston Patriots (ha! colonial dig there…). The Stanford University mascot is the “Cardinal” (after the team’s color). What the heck is a single “cardinal,” other than a showy bird or a high priest? Don’t get me started on the “Miami Heat” and such.

          Michael Farrell

          02/02/2010 at 7:14 pm

          • No, just ‘Chelsea’. Lots of sports teams here have a singular name, but would still be referred to as plural. Even ‘England’ when referring to the cricket team is referred to as plural: “…while it is heartening that England have grown a backbone, they will need more than guts to match their oldest enemy next winter.”


            02/02/2010 at 7:19 pm

            • “England have grown a backbone” doesn’t sound odd to you? (Grammatically only, of course.) You’d say, “The Who are old,” right? (Grammatically only, of course.)

              Michael Farrell

              02/02/2010 at 9:25 pm

              • I think I’m used to sports writing pluralising in this way. Yes, pop groups and bands, too.


                03/02/2010 at 6:13 am

  4. Well, it’s akin to the numberless/genderless pronoun issue. Technically, a co-op would be an “it,” but you have to force yourself to see it that way. It’s oh-so-natural to use “their” instead. It’s even harder with something like a co-op, since it’s inherently a collective — it’s right there in the name! IBM, on the other hand, sounds more it-ish.

    Michael Farrell

    02/02/2010 at 4:58 pm

    • Double phew — even more off the hook.


      02/02/2010 at 5:02 pm

  5. I read reviews in two US papers of The Who’s Super Bowl halftime show. They switched back and forth between treating the band as singular or plural.

    San Francisco Chronicle:

    “Yet the Who was certainly a more fitting booking than some recent choices”

    “the Who have not been on the promotional circuit in a couple years — the Who were a relatively safe one.”

    “the Who weren’t heading into the halftime show for Super Bowl XLIV as a band of surprises.”

    L.A. Times:

    “but The Who lives in the spirit of its two intrepid front men”

    “The original Who were British lads who early on forged a timeless up-yours message” [possibly a plural verb used due to the inversion of “British lads”]

    Michael Farrell

    08/02/2010 at 5:00 am

    • That’s very messy (and lazy). When it comes to pop bands (and sports teams) the best advice is to choose one and stick to it. Thanks for that interesting example, Michael.


      08/02/2010 at 7:11 am

      • One headline also read “The Who Plays…” but headline writers are cordoned off in a special part of grammar hell.

        Last night, I read some more on such collective nouns in Bryan Garner’s US style book. He agrees that either can be right but you need to be consistent. Still, I’ll never get used to seeing “Chelsea were….”

        Michael Farrell

        08/02/2010 at 3:39 pm

        • Oh, you’d soon get used to it if you lived in the UK for a couple of weeks.

          Speaking of headline writers: some are incredibly clever. My favourite headline of all time is ‘Book lack in Ongar’. (Ongar is a town in the UK.) It referred to a reduction in funding for public libraries and was, of course, a play on words based on ‘Look Back in Anger’, the famous 1950s John Osborne play.


          08/02/2010 at 3:47 pm

          • Wow, classic pun. How about that pun (too lazy to look up) about not putting all Basques in one exit?

            Michael Farrell

            08/02/2010 at 4:17 pm

            • Here’s a bit of discussion on the ‘Basques’ thing.

              I’m not sure I get it …


              08/02/2010 at 4:25 pm

              • Still too lazy to look up but I’m sure it’s an intentional pun from some years back. Another such classic is “One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian” (Geo. Kaufman).

                Michael Farrell

                08/02/2010 at 4:43 pm

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