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The Scrivener: Candy, Sweets And Lollies

Candy, cute, faucet, gerrymander… Wordsmith Brian Barratt turns an inquiring eye on another batch of Americanisms.

This is the second in a series of three articles.

For lots more intellectual fun do please cisit Brian’s Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

Let’s weigh up a few more ‘Americanisms’. Are they Americanisms because they were invented, or preferred, in the USA? It’s a matter of definition.


Australians talk about lollies. The British say sweets. Americans have candy. This word has a history of about 700 years, coming originally from an ancient Indian word meaning sugar. Shakespeare uses it in Henry IV, Part I:

...one poor pennyworth of sugar candy.

In Britain, sweet meaning a candy or lolly did not come into use until the 19th century. It is a shortened version of sweetmeat. Americans chose a word which had been in English for much longer: candy. In Australia we seem to prefer lolly, which elsewhere is short for ‘lollipop’, a specific type of candy on a stick which came into vogue in the 1920s. Whatever you call them, they rot your teeth, don’t they?


It seems to me that the original meaning is disappearing in the stream of cute kids we see in films (movies). Are they cute because they are pretty or because they are clever? Originally a shortened version of acute, this word appeared in Britain in the mid-1700s, meaning clever or shrewd. About 100 years later, it was used with the meaning of attractive, pretty in a dainty way. An example of the shortening of acute appears in Silas Marner, by George Eliot (1861):

For, says I, you talk o' Master Marner making out a tale— why, it's nonsense, that is: it 'ud take a 'cute man to make a tale like that; and, says I, he looked as scared as a rabbit.


A tap, in Old English, was the bung or stopper of a barrel. It later came to mean the tube, with a stopper, through which liquid could be taken from the barrel. Later, in the 14th century, when French words were welcomed into English, fausset meant the same thing. As the sort of word used by ‘educated’ folk, it was considered appropriate to use in one of the early translations of the Bible. Faucet was not invented in the USA — it is simply the English word, adapted from French, preferred by the people who settled in that country.


This is an Americanism we have become familiar with, thanks to certain politicians and their schemes. It means to change the borders of a political constituency in such a way as to give one party an unfair advantage. This is an eponym: a word created from a person's name. The person was an American politician, Elbridge Gerry (1744–1814). During his term as Governor of Massachusetts, he re-arranged electoral boundaries to give himself and his party the advantage. Someone noticed that a map of the new district looked like the shape of a salamander. The word gerrymander was coined by combining Gerry and the second part of salamander.


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