Ask The Boffin – Apologies and Medical Advice


The Beat Company wrote:

Is the OVERUSE of the word «sorry» in its provenience rather British or American? (This question particularly arises as the phenomenon lately sloshed the Channel/ the Big Pond and, in the very case, reached the Continent/Germany as a frequent loan word.)

Dear Beat Company, I am sorry that the overuse of the word “sorry” has invaded mainland Europe. I am sorry to say that the source of the sorry issues lies squarely in Britain. People seem to be sorry for everything. This frequently includes breathing, which confuses me as this is the one thing to not be sorry about. The sorry state of affairs there is that almost every conversation includes at least one usage of this apology. I am sorry that I do not know the origin of this continuous need to atone for even the slightest of reasons. I hope that this answers your question. If not, I am sorry.


Dana wrote:

Hi, Boffin! Do you give medical advice? My right lung has been hurting for almost a month, now, and last week, the whole right side of my torso started feeling very sore. The pain isn’t going away, what do you think is the problem?

Dana, it sounds like everything is working well on the right hand side. Signals are correctly being sent from your nerves to your brain where they are being registered as pain. The fact that you have no signals coming from your left hand side is much more worrisome. I recommend that you quickly see a doctor about these non-responsive pain receptors. This could be symptomatic of undiagnosed nerve or brain damage.

Remember, you can get your questions answered or great advice like Dana just did by emailing The Boffin at or going to the Contact page.

Ask the Boffin #1 – Hot Dogs and Informality

Thank you for responding so quickly with questions, and The Boffin got right on the case.  I have had no input into these answers.


A Political Science Graduate Student Originally from the Philadelphia Area Asked:

Is a hot dog a sandwich?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a sandwich as “An item of food consisting of two pieces of bread with a filling between them, eaten as a light meal.”

However, a hot dog is defined as: “A frankfurter, especially one served in a long, soft roll and topped with various condiments.”

Therefore, a hot dog exists in two states, either with or without a bun. In both cases, two pieces of bread are not required in order for it to constitute a hot dog. Therefore, a sandwich, it isn’t.

Knowing the background of the person who asked a question and the use of hot dogs in their hometown American football stadium, I would also like to question whether ‘projectile’ is a closer way to define the item?

Hitting Swoop gives you a Triple Bonus score.
Hitting Swoop gives you a Triple Bonus score. “Philadelphia Eagles Mascot Swoop” by Kevin Burkett from Philadelphia, Pa., USA – Originally posted to Flickr as Philadelphia Eagles Swoop. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons


Shadowseye Asked:

Is American society or are Americans, in general, more informal than Brits? Or vice versa?

Dictionary time!!! Formality is defined as: “The rigid observance of rules of convention or etiquette.

The stiffness of behavior or style.”

Therefore, it comes down to who defines the rules of convention and etiquette.  Guess what? In 1776, the US wrote a little document which basically lanced the part of society that defined the rules. People sitting in diners in New Jersey are rarely seen as purveyors of etiquette. However, guess what, in the U.S., they are! The U.K. is held hostage, meanwhile, by a small group of people who hold the keys to the mythical ‘Upper Class’. This is the group who set convention and etiquette. They know how to hold a fork (guess what Americans…. you have no clue). How to drink soup. How to have polite conversation. How to have affairs with married women called Camilla. In the U.K., formality (and therefore informality) is driven by this group of people, who really should have no greater say in how we should act as a people than Bob in the diner who is on his third stack of pancakes.

However, if you remove the cream of society (rich, thick and full of clots), then you actually discover that society can make up its own mind over what is acceptable. We still have our rules in the U.S., but they are always in flux. Our definition of formality is not set by someone who’s great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather once let the King borrow some troops to help bash down a few monasteries. Instead, we make group decisions. There is less stiffness, but we are still bound by rules of convention. However, as there is no single set of rules, you get to pick the one that best suits you. As a result, the U.S. is more informal because we really can’t agree on what being formal is.

So to all the Brits who come over to the U.S., either as tourists or expats, I say enjoy the freedom of U.S. informality and stare at somebody else’s shoes for a change.