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A bit of a poll

Over drinks and nibbles the other night, a newly-met woman looked at me in astonishment after hearing me talk for a few minutes. "A bit of...? You really have been spending time in England. What's the opposite of it?" The answer is, of course, "a lot of..." which is one of those phrases which sounds quintessentially American to my ears. But what do I know - my ears are often confused.

Poll #791132 A bit of...

Where is "a bit of" standard English?

I can vouch for the phrase being normal in the UK.
27(46.6%)
I can vouch for the phrase being normal in the US.
10(17.2%)
I can vouch for the phrase being normal in the Canada.
6(10.3%)
It's definitely not usually used in the UK.
0(0.0%)
It's definitely not usually used in the US.
1(1.7%)
It's definitely not usually used in the Canada.
0(0.0%)


For any needing context - "I've seen a bit of Canada." "I ate a bit of the steak, but there was too much."

Yes, there are many other places on earth which speak English in all its myriad varieties - but I'm not likely to get many responses from them, knowing my usual readers.

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( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
tsutanai
Aug. 12th, 2006 02:49 am (UTC)
Qualification: for two east-coast dialect areas, or so goes my impression (since my major exposures are to upstate NY, south of the Rochestor nasalization; and upcountry-but-not-quite-Appalachia Maryland/Virginia corridor). (Midwest really does have different word-choice sometimes, so.)
owlfish
Aug. 12th, 2006 02:51 am (UTC)
Good point - it's too late now to add region to the poll, but I'll keep in mind what I know about respondants' backgrounds. I've spent enough time on the east coast, so that could throw me too.
whatifoundthere
Aug. 12th, 2006 02:55 am (UTC)
Now if you'd said "a spot of..." then you'd definitely sound English. :)
owlfish
Aug. 14th, 2006 04:56 am (UTC)
If I start saying that, then I'll know I've really lost track of which language is which.
larkvi
Aug. 15th, 2006 11:48 pm (UTC)
But 'a spot of' is also idiomatic regardless of regions: "a spot of trouble" "a spot of clouds/rain" etc.
a_d_medievalist
Aug. 12th, 2006 03:46 am (UTC)
Left coast and south here. I have relatives who say, "a tad" and "a tad bit"! But to be fair, my English is so mangled from living with a Brit for 12 or so years, and watching/listening to loads of BBC shows, so I may not know anything from normal US Engish anymore!
(Deleted comment)
a_d_medievalist
Aug. 12th, 2006 08:04 pm (UTC)
Re: You want Hans Kurath
How funny -- I forget that that is also Yiddish! It's Bayerisch, as well, and not unknown to my family -- but who knows how. My great-grandmother spoke 7 languages, including Yiddish (interesting for a woman educated in convent schools and who taught for a while in one), and so there are all kinds of little non-US phrases that stick. In fact, I've just remembered that part of the family says "wee bit" (lots of Scots).
owlfish
Aug. 14th, 2006 04:57 am (UTC)
This is a perennial problem in doing any language polls among people I know about what's American and what's English - so many of them have spent so much time in both, they won't necessary know any more than I do! It all sounds normal after a while.
dsgood
Aug. 12th, 2006 05:10 am (UTC)
Native dialect: Hudson Valley. (Same as Rod Serling, who to me has no accent. Hamminess, yes; but no accent.) To me, Montreal English sounds more "normal" than the New York Metropolitan Dialect.

I've lived in New York City, the Los Angeles Area, a couple of brief periods in San Francisco, now in Minneapolis.

Note: "the UK," "the US," "the Canada" -- that last is a bit unusual. I suspect your mind went through the same process which affects reporters who write about the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia.
owlfish
Aug. 14th, 2006 04:59 am (UTC)
"the Canada" - it reads like a bad translation, doesn't it...

Yes, I thoughtlessly copy/pasted the sentences and just replaced the country for each following line.

Thank you for your background information - I knew you were in Minneapolis, but didn't know where from before that.
oursin
Aug. 12th, 2006 08:35 am (UTC)
'A bit of' in Britglish is often litotes: 'I've done a bit of climbing' meaning several ascents of Everest, i.e. classic English understatement.

If I remember I will try and ascertain whether it is Australian usage.
owlfish
Aug. 14th, 2006 05:00 am (UTC)
So true! But I don't think I usually use it that way. Perhaps sometimes. But I'm certain I hadn't used it that way in the conversation for which I was being questioned on my use of "a bit".
larkvi
Aug. 15th, 2006 11:51 pm (UTC)
I must agree that 'a bit' is generally used un an undderstatement in Britain but literally in the US/Canada--at least in my experience.
(Deleted comment)
daisho
Aug. 12th, 2006 01:23 pm (UTC)
British English uses understatement rather more than certain other variants of the language, I'd say. One could therefore present a case for the opposite of "a bit of" being "quite a bit of". :)
owlfish
Aug. 14th, 2006 05:01 am (UTC)
Good observation! Perhaps that how to tell a Brit from an American - how they'd classify the opposite of "a bit". (Since obviously there are no other ways to tell them apart.)
juniperus
Aug. 14th, 2006 03:30 pm (UTC)
That's how I'd classify it as well, I think, and I'm 100% upper midwest...

I use 'a lot', don't get me wrong, but for me sometimes the question is opposite of denotation or connotation...
daisho
Aug. 21st, 2006 12:02 am (UTC)
I have another observation, this time relating to context; in the UK, "a bit of" is frequently (perhaps even usually) pertinent to quality rather than quantity. "A bit of a party" implies a low-key affair; while there might be fewer invitees than in a straight "party", that's not as relevant as the amount of effort put into preparation and the likely maximum level of debauchery. :)
tammabanana
Aug. 12th, 2006 02:01 pm (UTC)
I can vouch for Pennsylvania/New York; there it's often said as "a little bit of", with "a bit of" and "a little of" separately being the alternatives.
ewtikins
Aug. 12th, 2006 02:32 pm (UTC)
I can't vouch for it being normal anywhere as I don't know where I got it, but I say it too...
owlfish
Aug. 14th, 2006 05:03 am (UTC)
I have pretty popcorn for you from the land of popcorn! It really should be a legal import to Britain - no dirt, innocuous seeds designed for eating, not planting.
rhube
Aug. 12th, 2006 03:20 pm (UTC)
It sounds perfectly usual to me, and I've lived both in the UK and the US.
kashmera
Aug. 12th, 2006 08:42 pm (UTC)
I'm unable to imagine my friends over here using it in normal conversation. I'm going to ask PK though as he's very interested in these sorts of discussions.
owlfish
Aug. 14th, 2006 05:04 am (UTC)
Please do! Two people have said so far it doesn't sound usual to them - both my age, of Jewish descent, both currently living on the east coast of the US. I'm curious if it sounds alien to anyone else.
kashmera
Aug. 14th, 2006 07:03 pm (UTC)
PK thinks its normal in Canada (well, BC at least). I changed my vote to add one for Canada.
He learned his English here and in Hong Kong, but he's been here for quite a while.
austengirl
Aug. 13th, 2006 03:44 pm (UTC)
Voted for "normal in the UK", though it wouldn't be out of the question to use it in the parts of the east coast where I've lived the most, ie southwestern PA and western MA.
lazyknight
Aug. 14th, 2006 09:06 am (UTC)
I'd've thought the opposite of "a bit of" would be "none of" or somesuch phrase... a bit of a difference from "lots of"!
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )