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Americanisms In The UK: No Way Or No Biggie?

03/03/2017 16:13

I recently listened to a great talk on BBC Radio 4 about the Americanisation of English (in the UK). British writer Matthew Engel and American-in-the-UK linguist, Dr. Lynne Murphy, discussed the impact and importance of the American influence on British English. (Dr. Murphy expanded on the subject on her popular blog Separated By a Common Language.)

As a Brit in America, I'm obviously surrounded by American English and it really only bothers me when they take a perfectly adequate word and make it more complicated. "Burglarize" instead of plain old "burgle", and "anesthesiologist" instead of the less of a mouthful "aneasthetist". (They actually do have "anesthetist" but it's not as common as the longer version among lay folk.) I should really examine my reasons for this irritation but instead I remind myself that Brits have "orientate" while Americans plump for the simpler "orient". I also confess to a wry smile at "winningest", used to describe sports players who have won more matches or medals in their sports, and I can almost hear the derision from my friends in the UK.

In the radio spot, Dr. Murphy pointed out that the major American culprits seem to be the use of "Can I get a....." when buying a coffee or a cheeky Nandos, and the introduction of concepts like Black Friday. (By the way, it's interesting to me that there can be a Black Friday in the UK when there is no Thanksgiving, which falls on the day before.) Engel however, decried the "huge torrent", nay "freighter loads", of American words pouring into the UK and was firmly of the opinion that it is a yooge problem, which threatens Britain's language and culture. To be fair, he has also acknowledged in the past, that this importing and resulting outrage has been going on for quite some time - "The Americans imported English wholesale, forged it to meet their own needs, then exported their own words back across the Atlantic to be incorporated in the way we speak over here. Those seemingly innocuous words caused fury at the time."

Speaking of furious Brits, one shopper in the High Wycombe Morrisons was so outraged to find a sign for "cookies" on the biscuit shelves, he took to the local newspaper to publicly accuse the company of "bastardising" the English language. Some Brits take it even further by relocating to the USA then rolling their eyes at Americanisms and continuing to use very British phrases even though no one understands them. Apparently, it's the fault of the uneducated Americans that "nappy" and "fortnight" are lost on them.

The Economist, (Dec. 20, 2014) had an interesting take on the subject with this little zinger - "To be snooty about Americans, while slavishly admiring them; this is another crucial characteristic of being British." Not sure about slavishly admiring them but Brits do seem to love the USA. The US Office of Travel and Tourism's figures show that Great Britain is routinely the third "tourist-generating" country behind Canada and Mexico. Perhaps Brits like to visit the US but aren't so keen when its culture creeps over to the green and sceptered isle?

Personally, I find language development fascinating. Even within British English, things change all the time. To state the obvious, we no longer say "thee" and "thou", and new words appear in English every year. There's a reason the Oxford English Dictionary and others update their contents several times a year and announce, with increasing fanfare, their new additions. In 2016 the OED added over a thousand new words, including bathroom stall, cheerlead, team-oriented and yoga pants - all of which sound decidedly American.

So perhaps we all need to sit back, enjoy the changes.........and chill? Or no?

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