Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fun with dialect: Pot heds

I expect everyone knows exactly what the hed ("'Stunted' pot plants cannot grow" on the homepage, where space is tighter) means, so ...

1) What does the hed mean?
2) Where are you from?
I have no trouble getting "pot plants" at a glance:

York authorities find 8-foot pot plant

Pot plants found in North Laurel basement of ex-crime lab worker

But somehow I managed to stagger through several decades of adult life, including a turn in the HEADSUP-L London bureau, without knowing that a "pot plant" is also a plant in a pot:

Hove residents told to remove pot plants from balconies (BBC, 8/17/2011)

Bay trees and pot plants the latest household target for thieves (Torygraph, 5/6/2012)

They transport brass instruments, pot plants and small children, safe in the knowledge that a double-decker bus isn't going to swerve into their path (Guardian, 5/4/2012, referring to the bicycles of Copenhagen)

Today's example lacks some of the social context that the others can have. When I read "residents told to remove pot plants from balconies," I don't necessarily envision John Cleese telling the townswomen's guild to haul their marijuana crop indoors;* I'm inclined to fish around for a different meaning. But "pot plants cannot grow" sounds like a study about marijuana.

I'm left with a couple questions for our British readers, though: What do you do when you have to fit "cannabis" into a one-column hed? Does anyone use "pot" as shorthand in speech or writing? Would it get through the slot?

For the record, the pot plants in today's Beeb story are sugar beet and barley.

* Appealing though that might be.

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Anonymous Ed Latham said...

I innocently thought this was a story about aspidistras until you explained! I'd never use 'pot plants' to mean 'cannabis crop' over here, as I'm sure it would be misunderstood as a gardening advice story.

I'm not actually even sure you'd say 'pot' at all in a UK broadsheet hed, although there's obvious potential for a tabloid pun. I'd just bite the bullet and hope 'cannabis' fitted (our columns are quite wide, thankfully).

5:03 PM, June 30, 2012  
Blogger Brian Cubbison said...

Is this a British treatment of adjectives similar to "drink driving" instead of "drunken driving"? Do the British have a fondness for nouns as modifiers?

12:57 PM, July 01, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's called "container gardening" in the US for a reason. --
Barbara Phillips Long

3:14 PM, July 01, 2012  
Blogger fev said...

I've been thinking back on the "I'm not a potted plant" comment from the Iran-contra hearings. The commonness of that got me to wondering if there are similar pairs to pot plant/potted plant in American dialects. Anybody grow up saying "can tuna" or "can salmon"?

7:07 PM, July 01, 2012  
Anonymous Ed Latham said...

@Brian: Well, thinking about it, I suppose it's quite common in gardening, where modifiers relating to environment are often nouns rather than adjectives: houseplant, border plant, hothouse flower, wallflower. But some of those terms are the same in the US, I guess?

5:03 AM, July 02, 2012  
Blogger Brian Cubbison said...

@Ed I suppose the difference I see is that when there's a possible adjective, such as "drunken," the British are more likely to choose a noun, such as "drink." We're not so much talking about a housed plant or a bordered plant.

However, now that I think about it, we do have "box lunch," so maybe we're not so different after all.

11:54 AM, July 02, 2012  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

My father used to joke about "potted plants" being drunk, but "pot plants" really can't mean anything but good old Mary Jane.

At least, not to me. I couldn't get the right meaning at all.

5:47 PM, July 08, 2012  

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