Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Trainers, sneakers, plimsolls and tackies


One of the perennial topics of discussion in the alt.usage.english newsgroup is the different versions of books published in the USA and in Britain, and the kinds of things that are changed by publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the most frequently-discussed examples is the Harry Potter books, and someone recently gave this example:

I purchased one of the HP books in England and had to deal with the British terminology, much of which I knew, but I had to ask my daughter, who was living there at the time what “trainers” and “a jumper” are. (For those who don’t know, they are “sneakers” and “a sweater”, pull-over I think.)

When I went to the UK to study in 1966 I faced a somewhat different problem: what I knew as “tackies”, “sand shoes” or “tennis shoes” were apparently called “plimsolls” in England. I visited a family I knew who had moved to England a few months before I went there, and their children, who had been to school in Pietermaritzburg, spoke of their consternation are being asked by a teacher at their English school to put their “plimsolls” on. They simply had no idea what he was talking about. And I wouldn’t have either. I knew plimsolls as lines painted on the sides of ships to show how much they could be loaded, depending on the temperature and salinity of the water.

It seems that in the UK they now talk about “trainers”, but trainers are posher than “plimsolls”. In South Africa, however, “tackies” covers the whole range, from basic to posh, and here is a shop in a local mall that sells the whole range, which rejoices in the name “Tekkie Town” — the spelling is phonetic, since “tekkie” is the way most South Africans pronounce “tackie”, but also the non-standard spelling can probably be registered as a trade name.

And the wares they display range from the basic rubber soles and canvas top verson seen below


to the much more fancy (and expensive) versions seen here


the more expensive ones seem to have their brand labels on the outside, as if to proclaim to the world, “Look what I can afford.” But in South Africa they are all called “tackies”, as are wide-tread car tyres, which are popularly known as “fat tackies”.

I wonder if there will be a South African version of the Harry Potter books that, instead of “trainers” and a “jumper”, have “tackies” and a “jersey”.

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