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Useful Wiki page - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Useful Wiki page
There are pages for American words not heard in British English and British words not used in American English, but the most common confusion, I think, comes from words that have different meanings in British and American English. Of particular interest might be "blow off" and "bang." Though I have to admit, I've lived in America all my life and have never heard of something with a mirror referred as a "dresser." That was the dressing table (which they refer to as a UK use) or a vanity. A dresser was just a chest of drawers. Must be regional.
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ladyelaine From: ladyelaine Date: December 10th, 2006 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
That might be regional. Every "dresser" that I've ever owned has been a chest of drawers that included a wall mirror.
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: December 10th, 2006 08:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've run into it pretty regularly as both, myself.
eir_de_scania From: eir_de_scania Date: December 10th, 2006 08:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Great links! Thanks!
hermia7 From: hermia7 Date: December 10th, 2006 08:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, a dresser has always meant any chest of drawers to me, but generally the tall narrow kind, not the wide lower ones with a mirror on top.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 10th, 2006 08:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm. Come to think of it, Buffalo has another use that is considered primarily U.K.--apartments that are the full upper floor or the full lower floor of a house are called flats (upper flat and lower flat, respectively). Maybe it's some weird holdover. But I definitely remember "dressing table" and "dresser" as two very separate things--the latter was a chest of drawers (chestadrors, natch ;)), while the former usually had a little bench, wicker or metal, with a cushion, where you were supposed to keep your brushes and hand mirrors and so on, where you did your daily grooming.
hermia7 From: hermia7 Date: December 10th, 2006 09:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am dumb. I misread your intitial post and thought you were saying that you always called what I think of as dressers, chests of drawers, and didn't use dresser at all. Except in dressing table. I just re-read what you wrote and I am silly. Yes, a dressing table is the little thing with frills and a stool and a mirror. I never had one though!
chickadilly From: chickadilly Date: December 10th, 2006 08:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it is regional - I've always thought of a dresser as a chest of drawers - with or without a mirror .
dramaturgy From: dramaturgy Date: December 10th, 2006 09:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it is. I've lived in the Midwest my entire life, and generally a dresser is anything with drawers for storing clothes and other fun things, regardless of a mirror.
dalf From: dalf Date: December 10th, 2006 09:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
That is one of my favorite wikipedia pages and I have posted about it a few times. There use to be a seocnd page that has probably been merged into this one with similar content as well as one for words with opposite meanings. I will see if I can find either of them now.
dalf From: dalf Date: December 10th, 2006 09:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh and I grew up in missouri and we woudl call anything a dresser that was made of wood and had drawers for keeping clothing, regardless of the presence or a mirrior or not. What would it be if not a dresser? A vanity perhaps? Though I would usually think of that as something that stored makeup and was more of a desk.
sunsethill From: sunsethill Date: December 10th, 2006 10:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
No,no,no. The dresser is the woman's chest of drawers with attached mirror and the man's chest of drawers is the taller companion piece just with drawers. My parents were midwesteners, but I am now an adopted Southerner. A vanity is a little table with attached mirror and a few small drawers that a woman sits at to do her makeup and hair. I have never seen them included anymore with bedroom sets. ;-)
keestone From: keestone Date: December 11th, 2006 12:55 am (UTC) (Link)
That's pretty much the distinction I'm used to as well, except without genders attached. I grew up in California.
jadedmara From: jadedmara Date: December 14th, 2006 03:35 am (UTC) (Link)
I've always thought a dresser was the longer table with drawers and a mirror on top. A vanity was smaller and had the mirror attached. A chest of drawers was the taller thing without a mirror, and an armoire had doors one can open.

I'm from the South, but I've lived all over the country. Although I've heard people call them different things, I didn't know "dresser" wasn't standard.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 14th, 2006 04:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I never had one with a mirror on it--always the tall, narrow ones. They were always dressers. I never thought about what the name of a low dresser with a mirror was, because it just wasn't part of daily experience; when I hear "thing with a mirror," I think of a dressing table.
jetamors From: jetamors Date: December 10th, 2006 10:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ohhhhh, it's 'chest of drawers'. I always thought it was 'chester drawers' for some reason; guess I've never seen it written out before.

Anyway, to me, as with sunsethill, the dresser is the smaller (and often wider) one which often has a mirror attached, the chest of drawers is the taller (usually narrower) one, and a vanity is just a table with a mirror attached, and maybe some small drawers for jewelry and makeup. The only difference is that I was never exposed to the women's drawer/men's drawer thing.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 11th, 2006 04:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Ohhhhh, it's 'chest of drawers'. I always thought it was 'chester drawers' for some reason; guess I've never seen it written out before.


Yeah, it's one of those things that no one really pays attention to, and the fact that it's pronounced like "Chester drawers" (or Chess T'Doors) doesn't help.
tdu000 From: tdu000 Date: December 10th, 2006 10:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's odd how different the languages are at times. I remember the first time I read "bangs" in fanfiction, I didn't have a clue what the writer meant. I realised it had something to do with appearance but decided it was a fashionable style of trousers that I was too old to know about! It must be difficult for Americans to write dialogue for British characters with all these pitfalls. How can you get it right when you aren't aware that the words even have a different meanining? I love the list - it's really rather entertaining.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 10th, 2006 10:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I finally found out the name of the item of clothing that we call a "jumper"--a pinafore dress or pinny. I've always supported making that change between the editions, because we know wizards dress weird, and, while it would be an odd image, one could certainly imagine Molly diligently knitting pinafore-style robes for everyone. Better to just say sweater and avoid the inadvertantly hilarious image of Ron in a maroon pinafore!
tdu000 From: tdu000 Date: December 10th, 2006 10:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think that "translating" the books really is just a matter of common sense. When jumper means a completely different garment in US English then leaving it in would be just plain stupid. It isn't even as if sweater is unknown in the UK. I hope they still allow some differences to remain. I wouldn't like to think that they made the Weasley children call Molly "Mom" as they are English and it's not as if "Mum" would be difficult for American children to understand in context (any more than I would expect an English edition of an American book to translate to "Mum"). I haven't looked at the US editions so I have no idea what word they have used there. I would guess they used "Mum" as the better US fanfic writers use it. The change I never understood was with the title of the first book. It isn't as if British children would see the word "Philosopher's" and automatically think "This book must be a magical adventure story!"

Of course when you get to regional differences it gets even harder. I'd hate to be an American trying to write about Snape's childhood in a working class Yorkshire or Lancashire mill town! The chances of the writer getting the dialogue right must be very slim.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 10th, 2006 11:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it was "Mom" in the first book, but after outrage, it was changed to "Mum." On the title, I think they were (a) yes, assuming that British children would have all sorts of exposure to this term that we didn't, then (b) deciding that since we didn't know it anyway, they may as well change it to something alliterative that called up (exciting!!!!) magicians instead of (dreary!) old men sitting around on Greek hilltops talking.

I think where the context makes something obvious, there's no need to "translate"--we have enough different ways of addressing our mothers (Mom, Mama, Mother, Ma, and any number of random individual family practices) that "Mum" in context should be absolutely evident. There's no reason that it would mean "silent" when used as it's used. "Trainers" takes a little more attention, but it's doable, as it's obviously in the context of footwear and not people who work in a gym and show you how to use equipment, and you might not get exactly what Harry has on his feet, but you'd know it was some sort of informal laced shoe, and "train" has athletic connotations, so it's workable. But because "jumper" is still an item of clothing and we know that wizarding clothes aren't standard, there's a real disconnect.

Of course, it's possible that H/D slash was formed when an American writer, meaning to say that Harry ignored Draco, casually said that he blew him off... ;p
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 10th, 2006 11:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
(And yeah, the language difference is a real bitch. The things you know about are things you pay attention to, but mostly, until someone is called on it. In other words, it's one thing to say, "Hmm, I know that instead of 'vacation,' it's 'holiday.'" It something else entirely to think that "holiday" as we use it in general to refer to all specifically designated days of celebration is apparently obsolete!)
tdu000 From: tdu000 Date: December 11th, 2006 02:22 am (UTC) (Link)
So that's where all the H/D slash came from! I suppose the problem the "translaters" have is deciding what cross-Atlantic terms are too different to use and which are healthy exposure to a diferent use of the English language, especially taking into account that the books are marketed to an 8 to 12 year old audience.
in_a_tizzy From: in_a_tizzy Date: December 10th, 2006 11:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Perhaps it's regional but I decided that list was useless once I got down tot he Ds. I've lived in the US all my life and there are so many "American" terms that I've either never heard or would never say. For example, I would never call anything a dresser. I would say bureau or chest of drawers. And there are several terms classified as "British" that are used around here.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 11th, 2006 04:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, it's more useful for slang stuff than actual names of things, unless there are actual distinctly British uses, because very few things are "American" when there's more than one word. I'm equally comfortable with bureau and chest of drawers as I am with dresser (dresser is more common where I'm from, but I've heard both, my grandmother being especially prone to "chest of drawers")--it's just the mixing it up with "dressing table" that would throw me. If someone told me "Oh, I left my keys on the dresser; could you get them for me?" I'd be looking all over the dresser/bureau/chest of drawers and ignore the thing with the bench and mirror altogether!

Of course, it turns out that "dresser" isn't a technically correct name for a thing we had in the house, which is apparently a "blanket chest." ?? An antiques guy looked at it (it was one of those things that had been kicking around in a closet for a couple hundred years until my great-grandmother asked my mom if she wanted "that ratty old dresser"), and he was going crazy over the workmanship--he dated it in the late 1700s--and couldn't understand why it was called a dresser. (The g-grandmother who called it a dresser was from rural south-central Pennsylvania.)
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: December 10th, 2006 11:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Of course a dresser comes with a mirror. Otherwise, it would be a chest of drawers.

Of course I'm from the midwest.
harriet_wimsey From: harriet_wimsey Date: December 11th, 2006 04:33 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm from the Midwest, too (Kansas), but I've never actually heard of any sort of chest of drawers with a mirror. A vanity has a mirror, but I've never seen anything else with one. I suppose I'd just call it a dresser (or chest of drawers, I use them interchangeably) with a mirror attached.
tdu000 From: tdu000 Date: December 11th, 2006 02:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Does it confuse things to say that I would put plates and other crockery in a dresser?
verdenia From: verdenia Date: December 11th, 2006 03:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, dressers needn't have mirrors for me. ;P

We do use the term "flat" to refer to whole-floor apartments here in SF, too.
sea_thoughts From: sea_thoughts Date: December 11th, 2006 11:08 am (UTC) (Link)
Very interesting. I didn't realise that 'waffle' was also a verb in the US. The meanings are related but different. Thanks!
cheddartrek From: cheddartrek Date: December 12th, 2006 03:24 am (UTC) (Link)

Dressers and Pants

Hrmmm, honestly I've always used the term "dresser" to refer a set of drawers that come up to about waist height and have a mirror across the top. As for a "chest of drawers," I think I was around 18 before I finally figured out that everyone was saying CHEST of drawers, as opposed to Chester Drawers. Gotta love the southern accent.

Interesting link to the British/American meanings. Two that come immediately to mind are "bird" and "pants." I found out the British meanings of both the hard way. It was pretty funny though.

gabrielladusult From: gabrielladusult Date: December 15th, 2006 01:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
According to my mother, a "chest of drawers" is vertical and a "dresser" (with or without mirror) is more horizontal.
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