Thursday 17 May 2012

Americanisms IV

British people are picking up Americanisms – clearly the world is about to end. (Americans panic about picking up "Britishisms".) The Economist blog explains away the melodrama. It's just:

1) selective hyper-literalism: refusal to understand idioms as such
2) amnesia, or else the “ recency illusion“: A belief that something quite old is new
3) simple anti-Americanism: the belief that if something is ugly, it must have come from the States

And 4) belief that we mustn’t use any Americanisms because Americans are interfering imperialists who have far too much influence. (I said that.)

The verb gotten (I suppose we have to call it a verb?) Jeanette Winterson Times Aug 6 11 (Some Americans avoid it because they think it isn't good English.)

I caught myself saying "shopping cart" instead of shopping trolley today and was thoroughly disgusted with myself. Email to BBC online

On holiday (not “vacation”) recently, my husband’s face froze in horror when one of his children used the word “elevator”, not lift. Carol Midgley Times March 12, 2011

Here are some we've picked up and nobody seems to mind. But they should! Shall we start a scare?

aside from = apart from
A&E = Casualty
headed for bankruptcy = heading for
heads up = alert
How did they get to be so powerful? = become
hunker down = what did we say before? Hole up? That sounds rather American too.
lawmaker = MP
specialism = special subject
stomping ground = stamping ground
tomato, coyote, avocado, chocolate – all Aztec words

Americanisms we haven't picked up - yet.
accommodations = accommodation
around = round
expiration date = expiry date
leaf litter = leaf mould
panicked = panicky or panicking
= power
The pronunciation "ommahge" for homage
they add “a” to words (run afoul of, I enjoy working afield with live animals)
They say “it’s not” rather than “it hasn’t” etc
They stop people from doing things, ditto forbid (we forbid them to do things)
tight-knit = tightly knit
wood-panel walls for wood-panelled walls

Matthew Engel sounds off
The poet Coleridge denounced "talented" as a barbarous word in 1832, though a few years later it was being used by William Gladstone. A letter-writer to the Times, in 1857, described "reliable" as vile… I listen to people who know nothing of [baseball] talk about ideas coming out of "left field". They speak about "three strikes and you're out" or "stepping up to the plate" without the foggiest idea what these phrases mean. … We no longer watch a film, we go to the movies. We increasingly have trucks not lorries. A hike is now a wage or price rise not a walk in the country.

Ugly and pointless new usages appear in the media and drift into everyday conversation:
•    Faze, as in "it doesn't faze me"
•    Hospitalize, which really is a vile word
•    Wrench for spanner
•    Elevator for lift
•    Rookies for newcomers, who seem to have flown here via the sports pages.
•    Guy, less and less the centrepiece of the ancient British festival of 5 November – or, as it will soon be known, 11/5. Now someone of either gender.
•    And, starting to creep in, such horrors as ouster, the process of firing someone, and outage, meaning a power cut. I always read that as outrage. And it is just that.

I am all for a living, breathing language that evolves with the times. I accept that estate agents prefer to sell apartments rather than flats - they sound more enticing. I accept that we now have freight trains rather than goods trains – that's more accurate... [But] we are letting British English wither.  Matthew Engel on Americanisms, BBC Online July 2011

More at Americanisms and Americanisms II.
And Americanisms III.


  1. It would be nice if the traffic was going in both directions, but I don't see any evidence of Americans adopting British words (and wouldn't they be better off with tap, lift and torch?).

    I think Americanisms appeal for two main reasons. First, the colloqialisms like 'guy' don't have the cultural baggage of British words like 'chap' or 'bloke'. Guy is classless (I absolutely hate guy and when a mother at the school gates says "Come on guys!" to her children, my blood pressure shoots up).

    Second, Americanisms often have a verbose, latinate quality that appeals to people who want to impress others or obfuscate the truth. The bald, often monosyllabic British alternatives don't leave any room for politicians or businesspeople to hide.

    1. Try following the Britishisms link above - this week they're complaining about trousers, fortnight and sorry. ;-)

  2. More on the great divide from Ruth Margolis: