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25 October 2017

The New Yorker thinks “puppet” is a British term of endearment

When American journalists write British dialogue, or try to.

By media mole

Your mole’s whiskers twitched with amusement during its weekly browse (/terrified glance at) the New Yorker today.

In an article entitled “When British Authors Write American Dialogue, or Try To”, it couldn’t help noticing the journalist quoting a piece of dialogue from US author Lionel Shriver’s most recent novel The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 rather undermining the premise of his piece:

A woman signs off a telephone conversation with her sister by deploying a British term of endearment: “Bye, puppet.”

And this isn’t a typo – it’s in the book:

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The piece also quotes Shriver herself declaring both her confidence and uncertainty about using authentic British dialogue. “In truth, I am one of the better sources for what is and is not British or American usage,” she tells the reporter. “However, I do sometimes become uncertain.”

Shriver probably meant “poppet”, used so widely in England as a term of endearment that it even made its waytwice – into Pirates of the Caribbean. But this mole hopes she actually meant its personal favourite affectionate term of abuse, “muppet”.