Re Britspeak

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Wed May 3 19:30:26 UTC 2006

On 5/3/06, Jonathon Green <slang at> wrote:
> Herewith some material in the context of 'reckon', meaning to esteem or
> value (rather than 'to consider, to think, to suppose, to be of the
> opinion'). As will be seen, it is generally used in the negative, e.g.
> 'I don't reckon that lot.' Wright has it in the Eng. Dialect Dict. vol. V.
[snip cites]

And OED2 has, under sense 5d:

colloq. To rate highly, to esteem. Usu. in negative phrases.
1957 Evening News 12 Nov. 6/4 East Ender wants to say that he
does not consider the character of another to be worth while he says
'I don't reckon him'.
1977 Sunday Times 52/3, I don't reckon the chances of Young Scientists
of the Year..against Just William.

Reminds me of the British usage of "rate" to mean 'to value highly',
which invariably puzzles Americans (as when Simon Cowell uses it on
"American Idol"). OED cites:

1973 Times 10 Feb. 7/7 You can never be sure of Brazil, of course, but
I don't rate the South Americans next time. I believe 1974 will be
dominated by the Europeans.
1973 New Society 12 Apr. 64/2 He would like to play cricket for
Surrey, but he doesn't rate his chances.
1976 E. DUNPHY Only a Game? iv. 104 He's a good honest pro, but
somehow Benny doesn't rate him.
1977 World of Cricket Monthly June 85/1, I must say we rated our
chances going up to Headingley.

With both "rate" and "reckon", a neutral term of valuation gets
reanalyzed in colloquial usage as a positive one. Perhaps the semantic
shift is modeled on the double sense of the verb "value".

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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