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genning up

Reading through an article on Bath in Homes and Antiques this weekend, a phrase caught my eye. It was along the lines of "Go to the Thermae Bath Spa to gen up on life in Roman Bath." Learning English being a long and slow process, I'd never encountered "to gen up on something" as a phrase before. From context it was obvious, a synonym for the (North?) American "to bone up on something".

I asked C. about it. "You'd never use 'to bone up' in British", he said, quite reasonably. His mother disagreed, suggesting too that they don't mean the same thing. She thought that "to gen up" involves gathering general information on something. "Boning up" involves a more detailed study of something, becoming a bit more of a an expert on a particular topic.

So, in honor of International Post-a-Poll Day (singlehandedly declared by easterbunny), here is a poll on the subject.

Poll #862112 To gen up on something

To gen up?

I'm British, and "to gen up" is a normal phrase for me.
I'm British, and "to gen up" is NOT a normal phrase for me.
I'm not British, and "to gen up" is a normal phrase for me.
I'm not British, and "to gen up" is NOT a normal phrase for me.

To bone up?

I'm British, and "to bone up" is a normal phrase for me.
I'm British, and "to bone up" is NOT a normal phrase for me.
I'm not British, and "to bone up" is a normal phrase for me.
I'm not British, and "to bone up" is NOT a normal phrase for me.

And do they have different meanings, for those of you familiar with both phrases?


( 32 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 7th, 2006 11:52 am (UTC)
The difference in meaning is a subtle one, but the colouring I'd put on it is in line with what C's mother said.
Nov. 7th, 2006 12:41 pm (UTC)
hehe you changed the quote just now
Nov. 7th, 2006 01:15 pm (UTC)
I realized I had it wrong. British doesn't tend towards "got" as much as American does.

You pay close attention!
(no subject) - ex_humanfema327 - Nov. 7th, 2006 01:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - Nov. 7th, 2006 02:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ex_humanfema327 - Nov. 7th, 2006 02:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - Nov. 7th, 2006 02:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ex_humanfema327 - Nov. 7th, 2006 11:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 7th, 2006 12:58 pm (UTC)
Hmmm: I've come across 'gen up' probably more than 'bone up' in British written contexts, but I'm not sure I'd use it, unless I was being consciously a bit retro. 'Have you got the gen?' strikes a WWII-ish note to me.
Nov. 7th, 2006 01:29 pm (UTC)
'Have you got the gen?' strikes a WWII-ish note to me.

Natural enough. It's originally military slang. "gen' being short for 'intelligence'.
(no subject) - owlfish - Nov. 7th, 2006 01:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 7th, 2006 01:16 pm (UTC)
"To Gen Up" - not so much, "To Get the Gen", definitely. Means to get the lowdown, to be briefed about something.

"To Bone Up" - not since I did my exams. That's to study something because there will be a test (of some sort).
Nov. 7th, 2006 01:36 pm (UTC)
"To get the gen" would usually be a situation where someone else is giving you the information? Or does it not matter from where the information comes?

As opposed to the very similar construction, "to get the gist", where one normally does the deductive acquisition of knowledge internally.
(no subject) - cynicaloptimist - Nov. 7th, 2006 04:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - m31andy - Nov. 8th, 2006 02:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 7th, 2006 01:37 pm (UTC)
I don't use - and have never heard - bone up, so I'm in agreement with C. on that count; and I would agree with his mum on the difference between the two.

I suppose it comes down to whether you visit the spa to finding out about Roman Bath or whether you find out about Roman Bath while visiting the spa.
Nov. 7th, 2006 01:44 pm (UTC)
Actually, looking at the website for the Thermae Bath Spa, I'm not sure it really is a good place to find out about Roman Baths. Now I wish I had copied the magazine text down verbatim instead of trusting to memory! The complex only opened this summer, so no wonder it's in the news.
(no subject) - targaff - Nov. 7th, 2006 02:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 7th, 2006 03:31 pm (UTC)
I've never heard "gen up," but then again, I've spent very little time in England. I have heard "bone up," but rarely, and I've never used it. Then again I don't notice or pick up slang too often, except for the damnable California "like," which I seem unable to get rid of.

I love your language polls/posts ;-)
Nov. 7th, 2006 04:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Nov. 7th, 2006 03:48 pm (UTC)
I am familiar with "bone up", but my version of "gen up" is actually "gin up" which means "to get ready for" in Southern parts of the US. :) I've actually never seen the British "gen up" before.
Nov. 7th, 2006 04:35 pm (UTC)
Is "to get ready" exactly what "gin up" means? Does it mean any particular kind of getting ready? (i.e. Does it encompass just changing clothing before going out? Just need to put on my shoes and I'll be out the door?, Days' worth of pre-Thanksgiving preparation? Months worth of wedding preparations? Five minutes before the play begins?)
(no subject) - gravities - Nov. 8th, 2006 02:36 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 7th, 2006 04:32 pm (UTC)
I'd suspect that 'to gen' is a regional phrase; I'd know what it meant if I heard it. Personally, I think I'd use 'to swot up' in preference to either of those.
Nov. 7th, 2006 04:42 pm (UTC)
"To swot up"! That's entirely new to me. Does it mean the same thing, as far as you can tell?

Hmm. Looking through results so far, every single Brit who said they do NOT think of "gen up" as a normal phrase are people in their teens through to thirties who currently live in the greater London area. Off the top of my head, I can't tell you if they're all originally from the south-east or not, but I don't know that any of them are, say, northerners. (I don't know, if I ever knew, where in the UK you're from, but you spent at least some time in the south if you went to Cambridge.)
(no subject) - the_lady_lily - Nov. 7th, 2006 04:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 7th, 2006 04:33 pm (UTC)
I'd agree with C's mum too.

And yes, we do use 'get the gen on', but it is old-fashioned and not used so much these days, as it is old military slang. I've just read far too many old books for it not to be standard usage for me.

As far as 'have got' vs 'have' - both are in common use, but as American slang infiltrates, the latter is becoming more common.
Nov. 7th, 2006 04:44 pm (UTC)
What period of old books do you associate "get the gen on" with?

In American, "having" something isn't slang at all. It's perfectly formal speech. In fact, I'd say that "have got" sounds slangy and informal to my ears.
(no subject) - cynicaloptimist - Nov. 9th, 2006 11:03 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 7th, 2006 06:25 pm (UTC)
I'd never heard of "to gen up" until this poll. As for boning up, I haven't used it since high school and haven't heard much since then, either. It was a good linguistic excuse for the jocks to giggle over the use of the word "bone." @_@;;
Nov. 7th, 2006 06:35 pm (UTC)
I would never use "to gen up on something" because the original construction is "to be genned up" - someone else has genned you up.
Nov. 7th, 2006 07:33 pm (UTC)
'Gen up' sounds a bit old-fashioned to me, although I know the phrase. 'Bone up' sounds somewhat American, though, again, I recognise it.

'Swot up' is more familiar to me, but to me both 'swot up' and 'bone up' suggest intensive, detailed study, such as one might do before an exam. I wouldn't use them to describe absorbing information in a leisurely manner. I don't hear 'gen up' enough to know whether it's the right phrase to use in that context, though.

I'm originally from the Midlands and have spent the last few years in the south-west and south-east, if that helps.
( 32 comments — Leave a comment )