Thursday, September 07, 2017

Americanisms - Frustrating but Unexciting

There was an interesting piece on the BBC website the other day:

How Americanisms are Killing the English Language

A book released this year claims that Americanisms will have completely absorbed the English language by 2120. Hephzibah Anderson takes a look.
The piece begins:
So it turns out I can no longer speak English. This was the alarming realisation foisted upon me by Matthew Engel’s witty, cantankerous yet nonetheless persuasive polemic That’s the Way it Crumbles: The American Conquest of English. Because by English, I mean British English.

Despite having been born, raised and educated on British shores, it seems my mother tongue has been irreparably corrupted by the linguistic equivalent of the grey squirrel. And I’m not alone. Whether you’re a lover or a loather of phrases like “Can I get a decaf soy latte to go?”, chances are your vocabulary has been similarly colonised.

As a British ex-pat myself, living in the USA since 2004, I've been through the scratchy phases of having to accept, without question, what has been done to The Queen's English over here. I refuse to change my written English, continue to use 's' rather than 'z' in certain words, and insert the 'u' in colour, flavour etc. I will never, ever, while there's breath in my body utter "gotten"; and yet, and yet, as is told later in the linked piece, "When Dr Johnson compiled his seminal 1755 dictionary, ‘gotten’ was still in use as a past participle of ‘get’. But as Engel points out, good old English is not good new English."

I was mildly amused to note that Ms Anderson had slipped into what I see as an Americanism herself, and possibly without realising it. Here:
I was excited to find out how it would read after it had been ‘Americanized’, but I’ve noticed it’s fast becoming the norm for American works to make it into print over here without so much as having a ‘z’ switched for an ‘s’ or a ‘u’ tacked on to an ‘o’.
Americans use "excited to" in this way, I notice it a lot, and I do believe that a British English speaker would not be likely to use "excited" in that context - unless, of course, what they were looking forward to was something actually capable of bringing forth excitement: the flushed cheeks, the sweaty palms, the speeded-up heartbeat. What people mean in the American use, translated, is really just: "I'm looking forward to..." As in so many instances, in this star spangled, oft thought to be exceptional, nation, hyperbole rules.

Let us all, though, whether American or British, devoutly hope that the current American President's Americanisms will never find their way into widely accepted English: "bigly" is a case in point, or that fumble-fingered f-up: "covfefe".


Anonymous said...

Doner kebab followed by a fairie cake after a good pisser...yum.

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~ (Archly): That's Urban Chav, not English, nor even American English. ;-/

A Casual Reader said...

Sir Ray Davies addressed this troubling trend 48 years ago - and it doesn't stop with spelling or vocabulary. In the first verse of the title track of what many believe to be the best album of The Kinks 32-year career, Ray writes: "We are the Village Green Preservation Society/God save Donald Duck, vaudeville and variety"

The joke being that American culture and its artifacts have so dominated British culture to the point that the British are no longer able to identify what is and what isn't British.

I'll agree with you that there may be too many 'z's' being used for its own good, but I'll draw the line with the use of 'u'. It's just a little too 'continental' and affected-looking to survive without getting a black eye.

Twilight said...

A Casual Reader ~ Oh my - yes I remember that song by The Kinks - and the line
God save Mrs Mopp & good old Mother Riley...showing my advanced age now, but I remember Mrs Mopp from Tommy Handley's "Itma" on the radio - I'd listen whenever I was home from school, sick in bed. Mrs Mopp was the one, I think, whose famous line was "Can I do ya now sir?" LOL!

Oh - go on, risk a black eye here and there - the 'u' is so very classy don't ya know!

R J Adams said...

The use of 'excited by' is just an example of the perpetually over-exaggerated form of speech in use in America. Everything has to be bigger, and to their blinkered thinking, better than any other society can produce. Hence, while an American might 'be excited' at the prospect of a latte with breakfast, we English would rightly show a mere hint of approval if the teacup arrived with hot, rather than merely tepid, beverage within.
And, Oh God! How I hate the bloody invasion of their acronyms. They're used everywhere these days and we're supposed to know just what they mean, as though we'd been taught them in school. Maybe they are these days? Apparently the longest acronym in official use is from the US Navy (biggest and best?) - it's ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC, and means: "Administrative Command, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet Subordinate Command," though not necessarily in that order, it seems. Next time you receive a letter stamped, "ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC" you'll know where it's come from. ;-)

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ Yes, agreed! :-D It might be interesting to try to discover when the ubiquitous over-exaggerated USA style emerged. I doubt the Puritans and pilgrims used it, and it can't have been a relic of Native American style because the tribes all had their own languages, not easily picked up by incomers. So...let's see, who can we blame? Media, movies, Walt Disney, John Wayne, wildly gesticulating Italian immigrants...hmmm.

Acronyms are a pain, and some have several different meanings too which muddies the water further. I bet there's even an alternative meaning for your example: ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC - but I'm too lazy to look it up. ;-)

Wisewebwoman said...

I've come to believe in following a few grammatical blogs and tweets that The English,as we speak it, is ever evolving and not stagnant.

Mind you, it took a while for this fuddy-geezer to come around to this way of thinking but I have. I am particularly fond of Hiberno-English and of course the enormous Dictionary of Newfoundland English which has pride of place on my dining room table for my guests.


Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~ I suppose that's the wise way to approach it, because we surely will not stem the tide of change, in this or in anything else. I shall remain on the border of tomorrow - watching! ;-)

Anonymous said...

This is a trend that has been going on for almost a hundred and fifty years. Mark Twain perhaps put it best when he said that "English is a joint stock company and the Americans own most of the shares!"



Twilight said...

Anonymous/"D" ~ :-) Yes, that'd be one way of putting it. Brits are (or were?) famously bloody-minded and obstinate though. There's hope yet that British English will survive, at least partially intact!