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Friday, December 12, 2014

North America vs UK: Stuffers or Fillers?


Today we are going to take a break from the 12 Days of Wordlady for our regular Friday posting, but fear not, the Four Calling Birds will be arriving in a couple of days.

Today's topic is an interesting difference between British and North American English: on this side of the pond we stuff our Christmas stockings, and over there, they fill them.

Both expressions seem to date from the early 1940s (much earlier than the OED's current earliest quotations) and both seem to originate in the US.The custom of having Christmas stockings goes back at least a century earlier.

Harper's Bazaar - Page 23

1939 - ‎Snippet view - ‎More editions
B16- • Five precision instruments on a pilot wheel • An amusing stocking-filler for a bachelor and to enhance his desk: clock, calendar, barometer, an infallible gift for an epicure is a can of Cafe hygrometer, thermometer. $75. B55. Rico for ...

Consumer Reports - Page 29

1940 - ‎Snippet view - ‎More editions
For the little gifts — the stocking filler, or just remembrance gifts — the giver with a lean purse should seek out the five-and-ten: Here the little girl playing "mama" can be fitted out with all sorts of domestic trappings. Here the little boy playing ...

Hardware Age - Volume 146, Issues 7-13 - Page 42

1940 - ‎Snippet view - ‎More editions
We have everything from the smallest stocking stuffer to big toys that you will want to buy now and have us store for you until just before Christmas. But no matter what you have in mind for your youngsters, get here today while our stock is ...

The idea didn't seem to catch on in the UK till the late fifties. Goodness knows why the alliterative "stocking stuffer" lost out there to the (in my opinion) lamer "stocking filler". If you have any theories based on our different personalities (or perhaps our different stockings), please share them.

And don't forget, whatever you call them, either of my books makes a great one! You can order Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to do with Pigs and Only in Canada You Say from me and
Only in Canada You Say from amazon: 

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.