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I'm playing a game on a forum that involves guessing who posted. An American English speaker said that because the poster wrote "in one go" (meaning "in one sitting"), they were probably British or European as that's not an American expression.

But the Oxford Learners Dictionaries' definition does not mention "in one go" being British English despite saying that several of the other expressions on that page are British.

Here's the context:

If there is a book I'm desperate to read then when I eventually do I have to read it in one go. Sometimes this means staying up all night.

And here is the argument the poster made:

However, you Europeans don't seem to realize it, but "in one go" is not an American expression, unless anyone has picked that up from being online, but it's not native to here. I only heard the term "on the go" (as in, "how many games you have on the go") within about the last year, and it was Brits using the term. I use the term "on the go" meaning on the run, like busy, busy.

Is this true? Is it an unusual expression in American English? If so, what phrase would you use instead?

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    It may be more commonplace in BrE than AmE, but I don't like the way that poster made that remark. I wouldn't say that it sounds "foreign" – at least not to this American. – J.R. May 18 '14 at 2:10
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    @J.R. I was also confused by the way they mentioned "on the go". I can't see any connection between the two phrases (other than the fact they both end with "go"). – starsplusplus May 18 '14 at 13:32
  • It's probably a safer move in your guessing game, to guess that the writer is British (or from a Commonwealth country.) – Brian Hitchcock Mar 25 '15 at 7:36
  • A connection between the two phrases is that they both use "go" as a noun. FWIW, I'm a native AmE speaker, and "in one go" doesn't sound odd or regional to me. Also, it sounds perfectly appropriate in writing, which tends to exclude region-specific words and expressions. – Ben Kovitz Mar 25 '15 at 20:10
9

Is “in one go” British English or just English?

I've wrestled with this one, mostly because of the way you've titled your question.

Take, for example, nappies (which we call diapers in the U.S.). I would consider nappies to be UK English; I rarely hear the word, and, more importantly, when I do, I almost have to translate it in my mind.

As for in one go, I looked at a lot of blogs and message boards, and, indeed, when I managed to find this expression on the internet, it was almost invariably traced to a U.K. speaker1. But, for some reason, it doesn't sound chiefly British to me. It's immediately understandable. I got this done in one go doesn't sound like something I would never say, (unlike, I need to go change a nappy).

So, getting back to your title, I find myself wondering: What makes something "British English" vs. "just English"?

If I had to make a ruling, I'd say, no, "in one go" is not "British English", and I'll count on Macmillan to back me up.

Here is the definition of nappy in the American version of Macmillan:

enter image description here

Now here is the definition of the noun go in the same edition:

enter image description here

So, the Macmillan editors, at least, don't seem to think the phrase is British enough to be tagged BRITISH.

That absence of a BRITISH tag doesn't appear to be an oversight, either; that same entry also reveals:

enter image description here

In short, Macmillan would categorize

I'll have a go at answering this question

as British English, but

I typed this whole answer in just one go

would be what you called "just English."

Based on my usage searches, though, I think it's a borderline call, so I wouldn't vehemently argue against Codeswitcher's stance.


1Like this one, from an electrician:

In the latter case, then you'd be doing yourself a favour to have the whole lot done in one go.

The speaker is a self-identified electrician from Thornbury, which I assume is a U.K. Thornbury, judging by the way favour is spelled.

  • Even "whose go is it" sounds American enough to me. "Whose turn" would be more common, sure, but I think I've said both over the years. – Mark Foskey Oct 4 '16 at 16:55
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I don't agree that this is a UK-English expression. I've heard this expression as an American. Here is an example of it being used in the New York Times:

SO patients like me are looking to neuroscience research to lend nature a helping hand. And remarkably, some researchers foresee the possibility that one day in the not too distant future they may be able to develop drugs to target these rogue proteins, potentially combating several neurological diseases in one go.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/opinion/sunday/the-bright-side-of-parkinsons.html?_r=0

Edit: So maybe the author of that particular article was educated in the UK. It was the first of thousands of hits on the New York Times website alone.

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    If you actually search the web to find the biography of the author of that New York Times article, he got a bachelors, a masters, and a PhD at three universities in the U.K. (although he now is at the University of Oregon). This article is more evidence that it's a British phrase. It's instantly understandable to Americans, though, so the NYT is not going to change it. – Peter Shor Mar 24 '15 at 20:02
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    Per my edit, that was the first of multiple thousands hits at the New York Times alone. I don't see a reason to doubt Macmillan here. What is the evidence that this is primarily UK English? If certain Americans think it's unusual it makes me think it's more of a regional or class issue. But perhaps I've been exposed to more UK English than I thought even though I've never lived in the UK. – CarbonandH20 Mar 24 '15 at 23:31
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    In that case it still seems like you have to distinguish "more popular" with something being exclusively UK English. I think "nappies" qualifies as UK English, but "in one go" seems to apply to all major variants of English. – CarbonandH20 Mar 24 '15 at 23:37
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    And in the first six hits on the NYT website, exactly one of the people using it is an American (from the Midwest). So it is used here, but it seems to be more common in other countries. I think this also shows that relying on the NYT to check whether something is an Americanism isn't a good test (although it seems to have worked in this case). – Peter Shor Mar 24 '15 at 23:47
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    Based on Peter Shor's ngram link, it appears that it is more popular in UK English but also fully part of US English. To my ear, it's a valid option in US English even if some other terms like "at once" might be more common. I don't think this is a case where the only people saying/writing it in the US are British expatriates. But maybe I'm wrong and it can be used to identify UK English speaker. I will certainly be on the lookout for it in the future. – CarbonandH20 Mar 25 '15 at 15:04
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Yes, I consider it unusual in American English, though perfectly intelligible and not unheard of. Instead, I would say "all at once", or as in your example, "in one sitting".

  • "Perfectly intelligible and not unheard of," yet "unusual." I think maybe I'd describe it as "uncommon" more than "unusual." – J.R. May 18 '14 at 2:09
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    I agree that our experiences may differ. I'm not really comfortable with the assertion that “‘in one go’ is not an American expression.” What's an American expression? Perhaps wicked pissah isn't an American expression, but people say it all the time in Boston. A person in Boston may not recognize y'all come back now as an American expression, until they take their first trip south of the Mason-Dixon line. I agree that it sounds more British than English, but the way someone wrote "you Europeans don't seem to realize it, but ‘in one go’ is not an American expression" rubs me the wrong way. – J.R. May 18 '14 at 2:29
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    After doing some searches and reading through more blogs than I cared to, I'd probably deem it more UK English than Br English (it was hard to find an American using it, but it wasn't too hard to find Canadians using it). I did manage to find one restaurant reviewer from New Jersey who wrote "Proportions were appropriately sized so that we finished in one go." That said, I still don't like the condescending tone of the quote copied by the O.P. – but maybe that's just me getting tired and grumpy. :^) – J.R. May 18 '14 at 2:53
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    @J.R. Ah! It was maybe more the "you Europeans" address? That doesn't mean he's wrong, it means he's a twit. :) – Codeswitcher May 18 '14 at 2:56
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    @J.R. I'd probably deem it more UK English than Br English I don't understand the distinction you're making here. Can you explain? – starsplusplus May 18 '14 at 13:31
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"In one go" is British English that has crossed the pond (Atlantic Ocean) to become part of some American English speakers repository of expressions.

  • I thought the missing apostrophe was a typo. Why do you want no apostrophe after "speakers"? – Ben Kovitz Mar 27 '15 at 10:24

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