Divided by a common language – Part 2
Dawn, from the Brighton Plot Bunnies writers’ group, took to Twitter to express her annoyance about the transition in British English that has led to “shops” becoming “stores”. This would seem to be an American influence, since store tends to be the US preference for describing retail emporia, so I responded by blaming Kristina, who is an American member of Brighton Plot Bunnies. The topic had actually come up in a discussion with Kristina a day or so previously when she mentioned that her sister-in-law’s car was “in the shop”. In British English, a car would only be in a shop as the result of a serious collision with a plate glass window.
Americans use “shop” for a place where work is carried out – a workshop – whilst the English use it to mean a place where you can buy goods. In the USA, you buy things in a store. It is conceivable that Americans would shop in a store but store things in a shop. In both countries, the act of going out with the intention of purchasing goods is called shopping.
I suspect that shops came first. Think of it this way: in the days of local production, the tailor’s workshop was where he made clothes and sold them to you. The baker made bread and cakes in his shop. For artisans, the workshop was also the retail outlet.
Now consider the grocer. He doesn’t make any of his goods. Instead, he stores them on his shelves ready for the customer to walk-in and buy. The more you go towards a ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’ model, the more logical the name store becomes: a tailor’s shop, but a clothing store. Indeed, though shop is the more common coin in England, store has been used for over a hundred years. From the late nineteenth century, the Co-op group referred to its retail outlets as stores. (In the common parlance of its Manchester heartland, my grandmother always referred to the Co-op as The Stores.)
Does that mean that shop is wrong for a grocer’s premises? Certainly not. Take a descriptivist view of language: if your peers use shop to describe a retail outlet, then that’s the meaning of shop in your culture, and personally, I’m with Dawn in wanting to hang on to that meaning; I would be uncomfortable saying “I’m going to the store”.
Storing-up trouble – the shopping glossary
This is another of my Californian glossaries…
Building Society [English], mutually owned financial institution, originally formed to support members building or buying houses by (in effect) borrowing money from savers. Now a more general financial institution.
Charity shop [E], a shop selling second-hand goods, usually in support of a charitable cause.
Credit Union [American], mutually owned not-for-profit financial institution (see the more general meaning of Building Society)
Corner shop [E], small retail outlet, usually family owned, usually selling a wide variety of goods to a small local market.
Garage [A, E], private room built to house a car, but actually containing a freezer, three bicycles, a spare bicycle wheel, a surfboard, a Workmate bench, a collection of broken power tools, several folding chairs, a half-built rocking horse, a set of exercise weights, two tents (each with a broken pole), an unstable pile of wood and a deflated basketball.
Garage [E], a car repair workshop.
Mom and Pop Store [A], (rarely, but more sonorously, Mom and Pop Shop) a family-owned small retail business see Corner Shop
Repair Shop see garage [E].
Savings & Loan (S&L) [A], see Building Society (very much aligned to the original purpose).
Shop [A], place where goods are made or repaired.
Shop [E], place where goods may be purchased (or at least looked at avariciously).
Shopping [A,E], visiting retailers for the purpose of acquiring goods. Performed by English people in shops, but by Americans in stores.
Shopping cart [A], wire basket mounted on independent-minded wheels. This is used to clear space in supermarkets by crushing the ankles of the shoppers ahead of you.
Shopping trolley [E], see shopping cart.
Store [A], see shop [E].
Store [E], stock room at the back of a shop, not accessible to customers.
Take-out [A] a meal, generally hot, eaten away from the premises where it was purchased.
Take-away [E] see take-out
Thrift shop [A], see charity shop
Workshop [E] see shop [A]