31 October, 2011

Divided by the same language

On the weekend my sister-in-law's Facebook status said "Hot hot hot". I think they were expecting 34 degrees yesterday where they live in Central Queensland. 

However, temperatures here have cooled at night-time. So on Saturday we changed to warmer sheets and heavier bed coverings. I quickly discovered that the names for these things vary considerably across the globe when I wrote this on Facebook:
What Aussies call a doona and doona cover.
Doonas (US=duvet) and flannelette sheets on the beds again as of today. Looking forward to some cosy nights.
I should have done better research (or any at all). Because an American friend immediately objected, saying he had not a clue what I was talking about. Doonas, duvets and flannelette sheets were a total mystery to him. This preceeded a flurry of comments explaning that the duvet is a European thing, from French actually. Many Americans call them "comforters", but not all. Some non-Europeans also call them "Continental Quilts". Doona is a brand name in Australia, but it seems it comes from Swedish.
As for the slightly fluffy winter sheets us Aussies call "flannelette", Americans call "flannel", or most of them do. I do not know what British or Europeans call them. I did meet an American yesterday who only would call them flannel if they had a crossed-type pattern on them. I didn't confuse the conversation by telling him that we call shirts and pyjamas made of this material, "Flannies"!
Last night David and I reflected on this interesting Facebook exchange that spilled out into an after church discussion yesterday. His feeling was that it was a little bit sad, that we had nothing better to do than talk about bedding! I countered that with, "No, people are fascinated by language and are usually keen to tell you what they call something where they come from." 
 As an Australian writer/editor in an English-speaking environment that comprises of people from a large variety of backgrounds I get more opportunities than most to interact on this front. It is enjoyable, as long as people are graceful in asking, "What on earth do you mean when you say or write . . . ? "


April said...

I think Dusty didn't want to call the sheets flannel because those kinds of sheets are often labeled "jersey" sheets in the US, like at Walmart. But outside of those instances, I've heard jersey to mean t-shirt fabric, not this softer fabric.

I guess there isn't even a standard in the US!

Wendy said...

Yes, no standard! Someone also quietly wondered whether some of the differences were a male/female difference.

Gary and Barbara said...

I'm sure women are much more versed in fabric terminology. We tend to associate words with our experience of them. I realize that I associate the word flannel with a plaid pattern because my father wore "flannel" shirts his whole life, and they were always this soft fabric with a plaid pattern. I thought it was strange when Barbara switched the sheets for winter and called them "flannel" even when they didn't have a plaid pattern, but I didn't argue about it. Now I know I had tied flannel and plaid together in my mind without realizing it.