Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Incomplete and Inconcise English-English Dictionary of Bicycle Terms

Some like to tease about my inconsistent use of UK/US spelling and terminology, especially when it comes to cycling jargon. In my defense, I have a reasonable explanation. When I first learned English as a child, it was British English - which I then spent my teenage years in the US school system trying to unlearn in a hopeless struggle to speak Americun damn it!

Following that I went to England for university, and afterward worked in both the US and continental Europe through my early thirties - at which point, just to make matters more confusing still, I moved to Ireland. So... My use of UK vs US spelling, terms, and phraseology mostly depends on when a particular word or turn of phrase was introduced into my life, or where I've had more experience using it. When it comes to cycling jargon, I learned most of that in Boston - which accounts for inconsistencies such as "I did not realise my tire was flat," "What colour are your fenders?", et cetera. So please don't be too hard on me if my hybrid English drives you up the wall. For, in my opinion, this flaw of mine is much less interesting than the fact there are essentially two separate sets of velo-vocabulaires in the English language.


I had not realised (heh) the extent of this until I did move to Ireland and befriended the local cycling folk. But linguistically and historically it makes sense. By the time the bicycle entered into widespread use, the US and the "Atlantic Isles" had long been separate entities. Also, there was no internet. So when each side of the pond began to invent words for various bicycle components and aspects of the cycling experience, two separate sets of jargon developed. There is, of course, much overlap. But if you're an American who's ever tried to converse with a UK/IRL framebuilder or bike mechanic - or vise versa - you will soon know there are quite a few differences. In an attempt to document them, I present to you...


The Incomplete and Inconcise English-English Dictionary of Bicycle Terms

Components, Parts
(US > UK/IRL)

aluminum > aluminium
bike > push-bike; cycle (this is changing now, but until recently "bike" would imply motorcycle)
"Campy" > Campag
carbon fiber > carbon fibre
cassette > block
cog > sprocket
crankset > chainset
derailleur > mech (i.e. front mech, rear mech)
drops > bends
fenders > mudguards
fixed gear > fixed wheel
flat tire > puncture; flat wheel (this one drives me nuts, as it's inaccurate!)
fork > forks (plural!)
headlight > headlamp
rack > carrier (i.e. front carrier, rear carrier)
roadbike > racer (can refer to any aggressive bike with drop bars, not just a racing bike)
saddle > seat
seat post > seat stem; seat pin; seat pillar
side pull brakes > allen key brakes
SRAM > pronounced "Shram"
steerer > fork column
tail light > rear light
tire > tyre
threadless (headset/steerer) > a-head
top tube > cross bar
U-Lock > D-Lock


Activities, Actions
(US > UK/IRL)

biking > cycling
brevet > audax
bonking > blowing the box
club ride > club run
crash (verb) > to come off
cycling clothes > kit
cycling vest > gillet (a "vest" is a sleeveless undershirt)
cycling knickers > 3/4 tights ("knickers" are underpants)
going for a ride > going out for a run
organized ride/ charity event > sportif (pronounced "SPORTiv")
paceline > bunch (i.e. "cycling in a bunch")
passing > overtaking
putting the hammer down > putting the power down (or "purr" if you're in Northern Ireland)
riding > cycling
shifting  > changing gears
signaling > indicating


---

What am I missing? I am sure there is lots. Help me make this incomplete dictionary less incomplete with your linguistic expertise, kind readers, and perhaps this document might one day be useful as a resource for English-speaking cyclists who venture across the pond in either direction. As for Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, and other English speakers in far flung lands... well, I'm afraid I can't help them at all! But would be interested to know where their linguistic habits fall.



69 comments:

  1. I suspect there are a few regional differences within the British English camp too. "Oil up!" anyone? Let me suggest:

    Components:

    seat post > seat pin
    top tube > cross bar

    It's funny, but I would have put the "saddle" pair the other way around:

    seat > saddle

    Activities:

    Car back! > Car up! [Twentyish years later, and I still can't cope!]
    Car up! > Car down!


    It's funny, I would have

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    1. How could I forget cross bar!

      Thank you; will add these.

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    2. {PS: what on earth is "oil up"??}

      Also, the car up/down/front/back thing has always confused me. So I just shout "car!"

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    3. A female friend of mine has a rather rude(for this forum) sexual aide memoire for this oft confusing phrase.

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    4. "Oil up!" is the northern English (IIRC) equivalent of "Car up!". Here are a few on-line references (which also contain other phrases that might be worth of inclusion here):

      http://www.timetriallingforum.co.uk/index.php?showtopic=30285
      http://forum.ctc.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2510
      http://davesbikeblog.squarespace.com/blog/2012/8/1/tuggos-in-top.html

      And yes, at this point, I can only get "Car!" out too, as I have to think too hard about the appropriate ending to the phrase.

      As a young 'un, though, the logic I was taught was:

      Car UP - the car is UP your [polite mode] derrière (i.e. approaching from the rear)
      Car DOWN - the car is DOWN your throat (i.e. approaching from the front)

      Or, there is the fact that you spend most of your time going uphill!



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    5. Oil up - lorry or other heavy vehicle (=US truck?) coming through.

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  2. Maybe it's the Internet, but about 50% of your US terms are the terms I hear in the south of England. Some of the UK terms you list I've never heard at all ('blowing the box'? 'allen key brakes'?). To be specific : cassette, cog, derailleur, flat tyre, rack, saddle, seat post, side pull brakes, threadless, bonking, sportive, paceline are all the regular terms around here (just north of London)

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    1. Probably it is to some extent regional, and I suspect more UK/IRL cyclists will be familiar with the American terms than the other way around. But if you look at the US vs UK cycling mags, and even online shops, you can definitely see a difference in the wording used.

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  3. Hmmm, just a few come to mind:Flat(tire)>puncture; Derailleur(F or R)>changer; repaint>respray; passing>overhauling;seat post>seat pin,seat pillar; crash>fall off, come off; Campagnolo>Campag (never "Campy"...);bonking>blowing up; bonked>shattered.

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  4. US: signaling - UK: indicating

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. Despite having spent almost all my cycling life in the UK and Ireland, I'd never heard of terms like "block" and "seat stem" before and would use the "US" terms (or should this be North American rather than US in case there are Canadians reading..?)

    For other terms (derailleur > mech, crankset > chainset) i wasn't aware there was a transatlantic distinction while of course using "fender" would instantly mark someone as N American.

    However on saddle > seat, Brooks tagline is "Saddles Bags etc." and Carradice refer to their products as saddlebags.. or maybe they are going after the N American export market?

    Another one to add to the list is bicyclist > cyclist. When I see the term "bicyclist" used it is almost invariably by N Americans whereas it would be hardly ever used in the UK and Ireland.

    And in addition to terminology, there is also how bikes are set up by shops and if the rear brake is on the left or right...

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    1. When in the US, I had assumed that "saddle" was an English term which the US had slowly embraced. However, in practice most cyclists I know in the US say "saddle" whereas I have never heard anyone in the UK or Ireland use it, including older, experienced cyclists. UK cycling magazines, I've noticed, also use "seat." Not sure about that one exactly.

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    2. Not sure about the brake setup is a distinction... Yes, U.S. left-to-front is most common, but judging from pics i've seen, that's pretty universal. i've been right-to-front for decades, but i'm an exception here (US). Though i often thought R-to-front is more an Italian thing.

      Oh, sew-up rims/tires>sprints, tubs; (drop)handlebars> Bends.

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    3. UK regulations say that a bike must be sold with brakes set up as right - front and left - rear. US regulations say right - rear and left - front (unless a customer specifies otherwise)

      http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010/198/regulation/4/made
      http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Business--Manufacturing/Business-Education/Business-Guidance/Bicycle-Requirements/

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    4. Any European country I have cycled in, both UK/IRL and continental, including Eastern Europe, the right=front setup seems to be standard. Not sure what the standard is elsewhere, but I *suspect* the US might be the only place that's left=front.

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    5. I believe the Canadians follow the US pattern. Right front is easier if you are cycling one-handed as for most people their right hand would be the one steering, thus your more effective brake is the one to hand.

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    6. I've found the distinction between 'seat'<'saddle' to be more of an experience level usage. Someone new or a very casual rider refers to it as a 'seat' and the enthusiasts call it a 'saddle'. With that comes the understanding of the difference between a seat and a saddle, you sit on a seat, you can lift up your feet and kick back. You straddle a saddle, your feet are engaged in the support of your weight, like a horse or a bicycle.

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  7. Fun! In my formative year I spent a good deal of time Reading Face and other British music magazines and found the English spellings of certain words creeping into my written correspondence. Words like Colour, and labour, etc. Much to the dismay of the people reading anything I'd written. I do go back in forth and it depend somewhat on what I am writing about. Embarrassingly I have also segued into misspelling things intentionally, not sure why? maybe to keep people on their toes? I use Anywayz a lot. LOL
    This said Typically I prefer the UK descriptions of things, but here I have to say, that the American terms seem far better and more concise.

    What would really help me more is a list of Cracker, baked goods comparison

    US UK
    Chip Crisp
    Fries Chips
    Cracker Biscuit
    Biscuit Cake (small cake I believe)
    it goes on to the point that one can get quite confused!

    LOL - Mas


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    1. Just don't ask anyone in Ireland to give you a ride (ask for a lift instead).

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  8. So can you imagine my frustration when I enter a local bikeshop and only remember the English/US name of the component I want? I am in Scandinavia so nobody expect a local to speak English in a local shop. I can not discuss bikes with anybody locally so it is all happening on the net so I simply forget the words. I bet every now and then peopel think I am trying to make myself interesting..
    bm

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    1. When I lived in Austria as an adult I quickly discovered that my childhood knowledge of German (it was one of my first languages) completely excluded bicycle terms. It was fun to learn them all though - "vollkettenschutz" perhaps being my fave.

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    2. I appreciate that they dispense with most loanwords like "pannier" or "derailleur". Fahrradtasche and Kettenwechsler make much more sense and are easier to pronounce. Vollkettenschutz sind auch sehr wichtig.

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  9. Could really care less about how something is labelled. Interesting and fun on some level but when cycling through many cultures I relied on the point and grunt method when in need of help with the bike. It brought smiles and understanding. Type away and no worries.

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    1. USA/Rest of the world
      Could care less / Couldn't care less

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  10. I recently read an amusing and defensive(?) proclamation that aluminium is "the correct and internationally accepted spelling" in a Cycling Weekly article.

    aluminum > aluminium

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  11. In Australia we have our own slang for some words:
    Helmet - skid lid, stack hat.
    Bicycle - pushie (short for push bike i.e. not a motor bike), treadly (deadly treadly). Older generations sometimes call a bike a grid.

    For technical terms:
    Freewheel with multiple sprockets - cluster or block. When the sprockets only vary by 1 tooth (e.g.13,14,15,16,17) - straight block.
    We say cassette for a group of sprockets that mount to a hub with built in freewheel.
    Presta valve - french valve.
    Schraeder valve - car valve.
    Woods valve - bike valve.
    Chainset consists of chain wheels and crank arms. The arm that carries the chain wheels has a spider to connect them.
    Tubs - singles.

    We generally follow UK spellings, but we have our own Australian English dictionary (https://www.macquariedictionary.com.au/).
    The internet and software defaults are generally set to US English - you have to manually change to Australian English. This is slowly killing off our local vernacular.

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  12. When I first started cycling in the USA 30 + years ago I remember commenting on a strangers Brooks saddle saying " That's a beautiful seat!" I was quickly and sternly corrected by the proud owner who said" That's a saddle!Seats are on tractors,in movie theaters, and in schools!
    Funny.I have never again called a bike saddle a "seat" since that day.
    JD.

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  13. Thanks for putting this together. I'm forever mixing up my cockets and sprogs...

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  14. In Canada we tend to use the US terms more frequently with a few exceptions (e.g. crossbar). However the truly Canadian forms end in "eh!". As in, "What do you think of my new fenders, eh!".

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  15. My question is, what do the British say, or yell, when a jerk in a car cuts you off on a turn? I know what American say.

    Let's start with the anodyne "jerk." What is the British equivalent?

    We can ramp it up from there. Compare hand gestures, too.

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    1. I have heard "arse/ arsehole" in GB.
      Never heard verbal altercations between cyclists and drivers in Ireland, north or south.

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    2. A word beginning in "W" and rhyming with "anchor".

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    3. Ah of course.

      Come to think of it there is also the one rhyming with "tick bed."

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  16. In Australia we tend to favour the American terms on the whole (which is strange, as on the whole we tend much more toward British English). However there's a few of the British terms we use just to make thing extra confusing (such as mudguards instead of fenders.

    And we have a few of our own. "Stacked" for crashed, for example.

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    Replies
    1. Clipstack - a crash caused by not unclipping your foot and getting it to the ground on time.

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  17. Here in central Illinois...we call a straight block cogset>Corn cob cluster. I personally use the tyre spelling. I like the way it looks, and maybe I like to be a bit contrary... just to keep people on their toes.
    Brifter>Brake/shifter

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  18. Don't forget 'murican: a form of "english" found in lower-tier news rags like the NY Post. Examples:
    Peddle (instead of pedal)
    Breaks (instead of brakes)
    Spandex shorts (instead of Lycra)
    Racing bike (any bike with drop bars, regardless of style or purpose)
    a lance arm strong (anyone wearing spandex shorts on a racing bike)

    A lance arm strong was peddling his racing bike in his spandex shorts and he didn't break at the stop sine.

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    1. ooh which reminds me that an aggressive roadbike is referred to as a "racer" here

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    2. Which would make him a lycra loony in Australia and a Lycra lout in the UK

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    3. However would one translate the US/UK acronym "MAMIL" into, say, Irish?
      It might sound *hilarious* in German, come to think of it.

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  19. Let's hope the Brits and Irish have a unique and easily searched name for the racks/stands/whatever you want to call the devices usually found on sidewalks for securing a parked bicycle.

    Last year getting ready to replace the sidewalk in front of a small commercial building I own - which was about to be leased to a local coffee shop - I thought it would be nice to accommodate bike parking.

    There was a particular rack I wanted. Googling for the darn think wound up taking me the better part of the morning. No matter which combination of words I used I had to scroll through hundreds of rack/carriers, work stands, and in home storage products.

    First world English speaking problem for sure.

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    1. The simple metal loop shaped like a "D" on its side is often called a "Sheffield stand" in the UK. Why? I don't know. Maybe it was invented in Sheffield. Or, more likely, it is made out of steel and Sheffield (used to be...) a major centre for steel production.

      In Britain, of course, one of these stands would be sunk into a pavement, not a sidewalk, while pavement means the road in the US, I think...

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    2. Yes.

      While it is not uncommon for someone to say paved sidewalk (which one hopes in the 21st century is redundant), if one says pavement alone, the connotation is usually a street or road.

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  20. Vest>gilet

    When i was a shoprat back during the70's bike boom, i particularly enjoyed learning the French and Italian and occasionally German nomenclature for componentry, learnt from the packaging and the odd untranslated users' guide.

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    1. Got that under "cycling vest."

      Yeah, you wouldn't want to be out riding in your vest and knickers.

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    2. Oh, and back in the day, 3/4 length shorts/tights were referred to as "plusses," the short-form of "plus twos" or "plus fours."

      https://www.spencers-trousers.com/faqs.php

      The cycling versions were probably thoughts of as plus twos.

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  21. And then there are the words borrowed from French, such as: derailleur, cassette?, brevet, gillet :)

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  22. Testing for time trialing isn't common round here, but tester is pretty universal. Chainring rather than chainwheel. Oil up is the same as car up, presumably from the days when cars were a bit more temperamental and no I never got the up/down/back stuff straight. Never heard anyone say Brifter ever. Rack and saddle are the common usage. Never heard Allen Key brakes, side pull brakes are just brakes, every other type is qualified, centre pull, v, disc etc.

    If you want to see regional variation ask people what they call a bread roll - bap/barm/batch/bottom cake/bun/cob/stottie/teacake/oven bottom

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  23. I think a lot of the vocabulary is converging, not least because of the influence of the internet; I certainly recognise pretty much all of the US terms, even if I wouldn't use them myself. Though in other ways the net can preserve or at least record local differences; I'm not sure I'd have been aware of the top tube/crossbar distinction were it not for discussions of the issue on the CTC forums.

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    1. I think many terms are merging due to the Internet and cycling books/magazines. I just realized I've been using the term stem instead of seat post and I'm in the US. I probably got it from cycling books or the Internet. I go back and forth on some terms.

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  24. From Australia we have doubling, which is carrying a passenger on your bike. Usually without a special seat for them, and done on the cross bar or the rear rack. I think the US equivalent is dinking?

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    1. It's a backie in the UK, as in, giving someone a backie.

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    2. Dinking is also Australian, I think there might be a north-south divide on the terms.

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    3. I'm from the US and have never heard the term "dinking." I'm not sure we have a specific term for that, actually -- when I was a kid in the '80s, we'd usually say "handlebar ride" (and usually that's how we did it, on the bars of single-speed/coaster-brake beach cruisers or BMX bikes -- often with a pad on the handlebars). The other possibility would be to "ride the pegs," if you had rear axle pegs on a BMX.

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    4. In Texas, we refer to it as a pump.

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  25. 'Paceline' is not at all a synonym for 'bunch'. The current American usage is very recent, probably less than ten years, and is being pushed by those who do not and cannot participate in either activity.

    I've done thousands of group rides the past half century, almost all of them in the States. No one participating in those rides thought of them as paceline rides. Perhaps 2% of accumulated mileage on those rides was in actual pace lines. Pacelines form for reasons. Small group facing a big headwind or small group riding completely on the rivet would be obvious occasions for a pace line. Pacelines are always fragile, slightly difficult, and temporary.

    In recent years I've witnessed a handful of dedicated fulltime paceline rides. They look like torture. They look like some obscure form of penance. Using 'paceline' to describe what has always been the backbone of the sport serves to keep riders away from discovering the sport.

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  26. Your very own index:

    Portage : In the UK portage is manually moving a boat between waterways.

    Unpaved : Offroad

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  27. As a US student bike racer in Lancashire (northern England) in the 80's I heard a lot of your Brit terms. One I don't see is "chain gang" to refer to what we would call in the U.S. "through and off." This was the practice of riding down the road double-column with a constant circulation of riders from the head of the faster column to the head of the slower column, and then on to the back of the faster column. I also remember a training camp in the Lake District where one of the (Scottish?) riders asked me from something that sounded like "scran." It was food he wanted, presumably to stave off a bonk, but even my English teammates had no idea what he was saying.

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  28. And how about "brake blocks" in the UK in place of "brake shoes"?

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  29. "We really have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language"
    -Oscar Wilde

    I was a little alarmed at first when a Brit once said he would come knock me up so we could go riding together the next day.

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  30. As a US teenager I spent quite a bit of time wondering about Morrissey's use of "crashed down on the crossbar" and "punctured bicycle on a hillside desolate." Can't say the man didn't broaden my horizons.

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  31. I just heard "hubbard." I take it that it means, largely, what Americans mean by "Fred?"

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