A linguistic oddity. American vs English, or just personal?

Started by Gyppo, December 30, 2017, 02:55:22 PM

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   I am well aware that English and American writers use language differently.  The passage below comes from a book I'm currently reading, and enjoying, but one word in it struck me as slightly off-beat.  I was already a couple of thumb flicks past it on the Kindle before I felt called to backtrack and check what I'd just read.

   I don't even think it's particularly wrong, just different from the way I'd use the word.  I wonder if Americans just see it differently.

   Here's the passage...

   Two County Sheriff's Department  Ford Explorer SUV's waited in the lot at the top, and there was a deputy milling around, focusing on the ground near the trailhead.

   It's the word 'milling'.  To me an individual can't mill around.  It's a collective verb.  A crowd or group of people, or perhaps even just a pair of boys which can create the impression of a much larger area of chaos.

   Maybe it's because I associate the word with the leaping and tangled waters of a millrace, true aquatic chaos which fascinates me.

   What do you think?


From the Wiktionary, I got:

(usually of a group of people) To move or circulate in a confused or disorderly manner within a limited area.

So, a group is usual, but not required.

Two County Sheriff's Department  Ford Explorer SUVs waited in the lot at the top, and there was a deputy milled around, focusing on the ground near the trailhead.

I agree, Simple Things. The double gerund sounds a bit awkward. I think focussing is also a bad choice of word, since it sounds somewhat contradictory, but it may not be in this case. I took it to mean:

The deputy was walking around in a chaotic pattern while looking at the ground.

Jo Bannister

To me (English) milling requires at least a small crowd. 

I wouldn't put an apostrophe after SUV either.


This has been fun.  Jo and I see it from an English viewpoint, the others from an American one.  Pretty much as I suspected, but good to have it confirmed.

I'm still enjoying the book ;-)

Spell Chick

As an American of long standing, I thought milling was a group effort as well. Although I could understand the idea of him wandering in circles or something, I don't think it is a word I would have chosen there.
Imperfect Reason My thoughts, such as they are.



Quote from: Don on December 31, 2017, 01:20:47 AM
Isn't Ford Explorer and SUV redundant? Just sayin'.

I didn't write it ;-)  Maybe the writer, an American, was trying to cover the global market where not everyone would recognise the style of vehicle from the name.  I think I would have settled for just SUV, although that's a fairly new term in my own lexicon.  I like off-road vehicle as a catch-all term, it covers everything with fat tyres, mud or dust all over it, and probably a winch on there somewhere.

Maybe it's 'product placement', because in the rest of the book nearly every vehicle is referred to by make and model ;-)


I don't have any issue with this use of the word milling. In fact, I expected Gypoo's issue to be with the long string of possession/adjectives/whatever they are grammar-wise for the SUV. That is what hangs me up on the sentence:

Quote from: Gyppo on December 30, 2017, 02:55:22 PM
Two County Sheriff's Department  Ford Explorer SUV's waited in the lot at the top,  

Is all that necessary?

Motivation for Life


I may not be the best person to express my opinion here, seeing that English isn't my native tongue, but I'm with Gyppo and Jo on the milling around. Of course, I was taught British English in school (and only the Queen's English at that), and haven never been to the States, but have spent a fair amount of time in the UK.

As for the SUV issue... I do think the author's a bit wordy there.
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I agree that the Ford Explorer SUV thing is needlessly specific, and by being so specific it actually makes the writers sound less knowledgeable about what they speak. We get the maker, model, and style just in case there's any doubt? No engine size or 0-60 time as well?

I think on both sides of the Atlantic, milling is thought to be a team effort.


A note from Africa:

Milling to me is a plural activity.

I would not put an apostrophe on SUVs.

That whole sentence is really clunky, and I got hung up on the vehicle description.

And to bring Gyppo into the 21st century, not all SUVs are 4x4s, some are merely large and chunky soccer mom's taxis, 4x2 or AWD.
Although in this context that one probably would have been, sporting roof spot lights, bull bar with bull horns, winch and all.
Work - The eraser of the writing class


In the way I've heard the phrase used and have used the same phrase myself, milling around, to me means, encircling, wandering about, encompassing a space, to circumduct or revolve around, or circulate in an area.

It sounds natural to me and have heard it used all over the United States from the East Coast to the West Coast, in the Southern US and Northern US. The phrase will not likely land on your ears the same way.

I envisioned the officer combing over the same area, looking for clues.
How does, "Combing over" sound? ;)

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'Combing the ground' would be fine, no spurious image jumps from my subconscious.  'Combing over' creates a vision of a half-bald deputy desperately trying to disguise this fact.

Jo Bannister

Or how about "casting around" - like a hound searching for a scent?


This is the point where I sympathize with my publisher. We speak and write English but it is neither British nor American. Our English is peculiarly Nigerian, and I have to learn English your way. Quite interesting reading this, I used to be worried when some of my foreign friends say I am exotic, now I know why.