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Across the piece, across the piste

Discussion in 'English Only' started by panjandrum, Dec 18, 2007.

  1. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I have often heard across the piece used as a bit of business jargon - you know, one of those expressions that makes me squirm. Across the piece means across the board, widely, generally, in all cases.
    I have a colleague who very deliberately says across the piste instead.
    Is there a right and wrong?
    Has he got this right, or wrong?
    Which sounds more irritating?
    Is there a way to suppress the expression completely?
    Will I go mad if I hear it again?

    Feel free to ignore questions (4) and (5), but I'm curious about (1), (2) and (3) and whether anyone knows about the origin of the phrase. Google suggests that there is no source and most links are to forums disputing this. I don't see anything in WR.
  2. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    AE notes: "Piste" is not in the least bit common in AE in my experience. Neither of the two versions is an AE idiom (again, in my experience). It'll be up to BE speakers--AusE, NZE, IE?--to answer this.

    (Is this considered chat?)
  3. Gwan Senior Member

    Indre et Loire, France
    New Zealand, English
    I haven't heard either, but all such business jargon makes me squirm too. I would rate 'across the piste' as slightly more irritating as it adds a bit of 'I'm glancingly acquainted with French and/or wealthy/leisured enough to go skiing' smugness to the whole affair.
  4. tepatria Senior Member

    Onondaga, Ontario
    Canadian English
    I am not familiar with either term, but my experience outside the sheltered walls of education is very limited. I agree with Gwan's remarks, it does sound self-aggrandizing (is that even a word?). When people use annoying expressions I, annoyingly, correct them or ask them where it comes from and what it means. I do not win a lot of friends that way, but it saves me from homocide charges.
  5. Pedro y La Torre

    Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Paris, France
    English (Ireland)
    I've never heard either of these expressions.
  6. Porteño Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    British English
    I haven't been a part of the business world for a while now, but I can't recall ever having heard either of those convoluted phrases used, thank God! If I had, I would be going round the bend like you, panjandrum.
  7. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Both are unknown to me, both sound as uninformative and pretentious as most business jargon. The 'piste' version makes me think of someone on a soccer/football field, but I guess that's the Spanish bouncing round the inside of my head. I like tepatria's approach to such verbicide.

    Interesting and inconclusi
    ve (no known etymology, UK usage, etc.) meanderings here.
  8. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    I dislike them both equally. "Piece" because it makes no sense whatsoever (to me), and "piste" because it sounds poncey (if you will pardon the expression, but I mean the same as Gwan). At least "piste" might make some sense, though. It suggests to me a ski slope with skiers of all standards and levels skiing on it, thus meaning widely applicable. The skiing meaning of "piste" is I think the only one that the British general public would be likely to understand (I include myself in that).

    The phrase (in either form) seems notable for its use by British politicians, who are using it across the piste.
  9. Porteño Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    British English
    Would you like to enlarge on your last comment, sounds interesting?
  10. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Panj, I suspect that in "across the piece", piece has the OED's meaning 3:

    3. An area of land which is enclosed, marked off by boundaries, or otherwise viewed as distinct, esp. in terms of ownership.

    If I'm right, this would make "across the piece" no more odd or alarming than "across the board".

    I also suspect that "across the piste" has been invented because few people these days recognise "piece" in this sense.*

    Personally, I don't have any difficulty with "across the piece". But "across the piste" does tend to make me giggle.

    I have no evidence for any of these assertions (except the one regarding my giggling).


    *EDIT: it might be more common in Scotland. I've just asked my husband about "across the piece" and the first thing he said was "piece means a chunk of land". Not sure if this helps!
  11. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    A few odds and ends:

    1) The site I linked earlier suggests, without presenting much in the way of evidence, that the piste form came first.
    2. Per Online Etymology Dictionary, "Phrase across the board originally from horse-racing, in reference to a bet of the same amount of money on a horse to win, place, or show."
    3. #2, above, seems unrelated to the etymology of either the piste or piece forms.

    Off to give the numbers a haircut...
  12. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    Do you mean in respect to its use by politicians?

    Snippets all taken from Hansard transcripts, or from UK government websites:

    [SIZE=-1]We ought to raise standards across the piece[/SIZE][SIZE=-1]...[/SIZE][SIZE=-1]
    ...[/SIZE][SIZE=-1]to make sure that that can be replicated across the piece[/SIZE][SIZE=-1]...[/SIZE]
    [SIZE=-1]...[/SIZE][SIZE=-1]can be improved across the piece to bring the performance...
    [/SIZE][SIZE=-1]...[/SIZE][SIZE=-1]right across the piece, to give succour and support to children and vulnerable[/SIZE][SIZE=-1]...[/SIZE]
    [SIZE=-1]It was hoped that that process would lead to opinion across the piece[/SIZE][SIZE=-1]...[/SIZE][SIZE=-1]
    ...[/SIZE][SIZE=-1]coming together behind one option[/SIZE] [SIZE=-1]by reductions in administration costs right across the piece[/SIZE][SIZE=-1]...[/SIZE]
    [SIZE=-1]...[/SIZE][SIZE=-1]education programmes that will impact across the piece[/SIZE][SIZE=-1]...[/SIZE]
    [SIZE=-1]For more details across the piece on social exclusion[/SIZE][SIZE=-1]...

    I could go on :). The "piste" version works, too, but "piece" is much more common, across the piste ;)

    If you can get BBC streaming audio to work for you, you might find these recorded broadcasts from BBC Radio 4 interesting. Our favourite phrase is discussed in part 2 at about 9:30.


    One of the pundits interviewed in the programme thinks the "piste" version is a mis-hearing, but doesn't give a satisfactory explanation for "across the piece", saying merely that it means "all over the place".

  13. Porteño Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    British English
    Fascinating, thanks a lot! That's exactly what I wanted. I'd never heard the expression before seeing it on this thread. One learns something new every day, especially on WR.:)
  14. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Thanks everyone.
    Seems like both are used and it's not just this individual who goes for piste.
    I'll try to conceal my distaste for both, indiscriminately.
  15. Suspishio

    Suspishio Senior Member

    Berkshire, UK
    English - England
    I have always used the term "Across the piste" and that's going back more than 40 years.

    The OED (Oxford English) defines the term "piste" (as well as the tract of snow) to be: "The beaten track of a horse or other animal; the track of a race-course or training-ground. Also in extended use."

    This tells me two things that cut across cuchuflete's assertions:
    1. "Across the piste" came first because there is definite rationale for the expression (see cuchuflet's #2)
    2. "Across the piece" is the misheard version of somebody back when and which has now come into common use.
    That should just about wrap this one up.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2009
  16. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Perhaps the wrapping is a bit premature.

    What "assertions" are you asserting?

    I have suggested that across the board is a reference to wagering, while piste has a distinct origin. They may have an equine smell in common, but that's not etymology at its best.

    The link in post #7 provided the same assumption as that in "2" in post #15. The same linked page provided the OED definition of piste (Post #2 at the linked page), so should we conclude that it hasn't been read, or that the later posting of the same information is adding something new?

    Would this be a case of pre-wrapping?
  17. Suspishio

    Suspishio Senior Member

    Berkshire, UK
    English - England
    I see your point but I then jumped ahead to the common meaning now of 'Across the board', which is similar to 'Across the piste'. Indeed, going to the 'meanderings' to which you linked (and which I have now checked out), post #8 does confirm what I have said.

    What I added as new was the equine connexion of the English word piste.

    I have also pointed out that the expression previously "unknown" to you but sounding "uninformative and pretentious" is in common English use.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2009
  18. Æsop Senior Member

    Suburb of Washington, D.C.
    English--American (upstate NY)
    Wikipedia: "In modern fencing, the piste or strip is the playing area. Regulations[1][2] require the piste to be 14 meters long and between 1.8 and 2 meters wide."

    I had to look this up from a vague recollection (I must have heard it during the Olympics broadcasts this past summer), but I'm surprised none of the previous commentators knew this. Two fencers about to compete face each other across the piste. I don't know what any particular user has in mind—I'm not familiar with any other uses of "piste"—but the phrase outside of its technical use in fencing suggests two opponents ready to do battle
  19. Suspishio

    Suspishio Senior Member

    Berkshire, UK
    English - England
    Brilliant! I hope you don't mean cuchflete and myself!

    Other than that, I do assure you that 'Across the piste' is a valid English expression akin to 'across the board'.
  20. Æsop Senior Member

    Suburb of Washington, D.C.
    English--American (upstate NY)
    OK. I don't think I had ever heard of it before last summer's Olympics, and I am sure that it is not used in the U.S. for a ski slope, cross-country ski run, or anything else. I presume that it is known to American fencers (i.e., the wielders of saber, foil, and epee, not builders of outdoor barriers) in its technical sense in their sport. The other uses must be British.
  21. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    The resurrection of this thread has provided one BE speaker who doesn't either giggle or wrinkle his nose at across the piste. The AE speakers are unaware of it, other than through this thread. NZE and CanE representatives are, shall we say, less than enthusiastic about it.

    I'm not sure what, if any conclusions we might draw. I suffered enough AE business jargon over decades to be reluctant to embrace still more, of whatever lineage, on a go-forward basis. Our sample size is small, and representative only of the universe of those who have participated in this thread, plus the political types quoted by Mr. M. Mole.
  22. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It is interesting to note that my colleague who uses "across the piste" is not unique and could possibly be more authentic than the many "across the piece" users.

    Unfortunately, despite Suspishio's personal experience and references to the definitions of piste, there is as yet no evidence that "across the piste" in the very general current sense of "across the board" has any longer pedigree or widespread use than "across the piece".

    It is difficult to check this with corpora because both phrases are extensively used with their literal meaning.

    Whatever its source, I have to say that "across the piece/piste" remains, for me, a tired, over-worked cliché. It has as much impact and intrigue as "hit the ground running".

    I can't find anything in my own experience of this, or in other examples of the figurative use of "across the piste", that is consistent with Aesop's combative suggestion.
  23. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    Oh right, okay, if you say so, Suspishio.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2009
  24. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    To weigh in on numbers - I'm another BE speaker who is not aware of ever coming across either expression at all.
  25. Suspishio

    Suspishio Senior Member

    Berkshire, UK
    English - England
    I'm so glad I resurrected this thread!

    Panjandrum started it off with the very same story that I've seen many a time in various UK offices.

    We've then seen a number of non-Brit/UKs (and indeed some Brits) who have never come across the idiom. The non-Brits no doubt have expressions in their own that are not known in the UK; the Brits who haven't heard the expression are possibly not keen on politics (where the expression is widely used on television) and may not be in the IT profession (which I am) and where this term, albeit "piece", is widely used).

    So thanks for bearing with me. I did learn a thing or two from this.
  26. broglet

    broglet Senior Member

    England - English
    It seems to me that suspishio has it the wrong way round and 'across the piste' is a malapropism for 'across the piece'. The latter makes perfect sense since, as loob pointed out, 'piece' can mean an area (pièce means 'room' in French, interestingly). Since a piste is usually a track (or runway in French) - ie a linear thing - 'along the piste' would make more sense than 'across the piste'.

    Until recently I have only ever heard 'across the piece' but suddenly 'across the piste' seems to be popping up all over the place - especially from that well known cornucopia of linguistic blunders called the BBC. It is a mistake that seems to be highly infectious.
  27. Hermione Golightly Senior Member

    SW London
    British English
    That's interesting. I have never heard either term but had been thinking as I read through the thread that across the piste makes no sense since one does not ski across a piste. I wondered at first if it was being used to mean to do something dangerous or pointless or the opposite of everybody else, thinking of ski-ing off-piste too.

    I will open my ears and concentrate on the political shows we often watch and listen to (Daily Politics on TV right now) and will doubtless hear it several times today as so often happens with a 'new' word. Usually I listen as background and would simply filter out anything except the really interesting or dramatic.

    I just asked my husband, who moved in different professional circles from me. He says he has definitely heard 'across the piece' used occasionally, never across the piste' and he would say it's wrong. He vaguely associates the term with management talk.

    Last edited: Jul 15, 2014
  28. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    This thread was started 5 years ago and I said then that I had never heard either phrase. I have still heard neither phrase (outside of this thread).
  29. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    It was started 7 years ago and revived 5 years ago, and I also have not heard either version. It sounds like a very minor echo of the "If you think that, you've got another piste coming":D
  30. Suspishio

    Suspishio Senior Member

    Berkshire, UK
    English - England

    I've been using the expression "across the piste" for around 45 years. I hadn't misheard "across the piece" because that would have been an unnatural transposition. But the other way round is quite natural.
  31. broglet

    broglet Senior Member

    England - English
    maybe it's a Berkshire speciality

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