Sunday 10 April 2011

Americanisms II

Continued from Americanisms.

I know someone who thinks we shouldn't use the word "revisit" because it's an Americanism. He wants to remove them all from the language. Going back to Jamestown? I asked. Yes, the lot. And how are you going to do that? He was strangely silent.

But he's not alone.

H.W. Fowler (1858–1933) in The King’s English, 1908 says:
"Americanisms are foreign words, and should be so treated... A very firm stand ought to be made against placate, transpire and antagonize." He condemns Kipling for using the words shrimp-pink and honey-coloured.

And according to the wonderful and crowd-sourced Urban Dictionary, Americanisms are:

"garbled English masquerading as the correct way to speak in today's global village"


"ridiculous mispellings and mispronunciations of the beautiful English language by the Yanks. This often involves missing vitally important letters from such words as 'herbs' (in American ''erbs'); maths ('math'); through (thru) and bizarre pronunciations of words such as basil ('baysill'); mirror ('meeyor')and aluminium (alloominum). We invented it, albeit it with a little help from Ancient Romans, Celts and French so stop messing around with it!"

And the Economist Style Guide says:

"Vilest of all is the habit of throwing together several nouns into one ghastly adjectival reticule: Texas millionaire real-estate developer and failed thrift entrepreneur Hiram Turnipseed..."

Educated Americans go to great lengths to avoid compound adjectives like this – preferring to break up sentences with endless qualifying clauses, separated by commas. Yanks, eh?

American and British English began to diverge in 1607. Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828, and Americans follow the modern version.

Sometimes we pick up words from them, sometimes they borrow from us.
Get over it! (As they would say.)


  1. Interesting post!

    It's a shame that people should behave so pompously over the divergences between British and American English - as though British English ought to be a static language - when the very thing that has led to English becoming a near-Global language is its history of the assimilation of other tongues, such as German, Latin, and French.

    Surely it would be better to adopt Americanisms on a basis of pure taste - spelling and grammar differences can be innocently ignored, but if there is a word unique to the U.S.A which either has a useful or funny definition, as well as being phonologically pleasant, then we might as well take it on ourselves!

  2. Too right! (Oh, that's Australian.)