Monday, June 7, 2010

War on Americanisms???

The Twitter world is abuzz with retweets of articles by UK journalist Mathew Engel who has published a few rants railing against the degradation of The Queen's English (see HERE for retweets; Engle's rants can be found HERE and HERE). Consisting mostly of whiny British self-pity (the Empire is dead, get over it!), Engel and his readers whimper about the bully Americans and our "useless", "infuriating", "ugly", and "witless" sayings.

Some choice samples of Engle's whimpers:
  • The battle is almost uncertainly unwinnable but I am convinced there are millions of intelligent Britons out there who wince as often as I do every time they hear a witless Americanism introduced into British discourse.
  • British English is being overwhelmed by a tidal wave of mindless Americanisms
  • Americans rarely hear any of our words, let alone adopt them.
  • But we are so overwhelmed by everything American that the British have lost their grasp on the difference between our form of English and theirs. This is the reality of cultural imperialism.
  • ‘Speciality’ (with the i) is a lovely word, full of rolling syllables. His version is the kind of usage that comes out of the mid-Atlantic and needs to be dropped back there, from a great height.
  • And there is widespread loathing of the verbalisation of nouns: incentivizing and all that rot.

Cheers mate.


Lexicographic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lexicographic said...

1 This man is writing for the Daily Mail, which is one of the most despicable publications on Earth and imbued with patriotic b-s
2 I've never heard a single English person say 'specialty'
3 Since when has verbing nouns been an exclusively American thing?

I particularly like one of the commenter's objections to 'Santa Claus' (which is definitely neither American nor British English!) and 'hi' instead of 'hello'. Some people (especially Daily Mail readers) are weird.

Harry Campbell said...

"Whiny British self-pity"?? That sounds at least as snide and xenophobic as anything in Engel's article. Yes, obviously, the Daily Mail is a nasty little rag and there's plenty of ignorant nonsense talked about this subject, but if you get over your outrage and think about it for a moment, can you actually disagree with his first four points? If so, why not tell us why he's wrong, rather than just listing them as if they were self-evident nonsense -- which the last two are, I grant you.

FOOTNOTE: For the record, I don't think he's talking about "verbing" nouns, i.e. using nouns as verbs ("to friend someone"), which is indeed an age-old practice, but rather putting invented verb endings on nouns, like "burglarize", which he happens to find annoying for some reason -- that's allowed, surely? We already have a verb "to burgle", though other coinages are (IMO) useful, like incentivise -- never understood why that one is so particularly hated.

I'd have though the misuse of baseball terms (like raincheck) by Brits trying to look cool might seem just as ridiculous and annoying to Americans as to other Brits.

Anyway, wouldn't it be more illuminating to rise above the level of the Daily Mail and consider the issues on their merits? After all, any fool is capable of speaking some truth among the nonsense. Most rants like this don't make ANY sense, but he actually makes some valid and interesting points. For example, why is it that some American terms catch on so rapidly in the UK (eg, no-one now says they were "brought up" somewhere, it's always "raised" -- why??), while others remain completely obscure. Even the trendiest Brits don't say gas for petrol or sidewalk for pavement or hood/trunk for bonnnet/boot (of a car), and have never heard of a faucet (tap). Surely that's more interesting than a mutual exchange of insults.

Chris said...

Harry, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. You are of course correct. I allowed myself to succumb to the Achilles heal of bloggers: invective. For that I apologize (although I do feel "xenophobic" is a bit unfair).

Chris said...

Lexicographic: for that matter, I've never head an American say 'specialty shop' either. Weird stuff.

Harry Campbell said...

Chris, it's your blog, you can invect if you want, no apologies needed!

I withdraw "xenophobic" -- it's just that I don't feel it's anything to do with losing an empire if people feel sore about losing their linguistic individuality to imports that don't seem to add anything. Actually I don't feel even the most Daily-Mail-reading Brits think or care much about having "lost their empire", however tediously often that jibe is thrown at Brits with unfashionable views. You might as well ascribe the views of linguistically conservative Americans to the abolition of slavery, or tell the Académie française to "get over" the Louisiana Purchase.

What such people are actually steamed up about, it seems to me, is the fact that the world changes and feels less "theirs". They tend to disapprove of any linguistic change that post-dates their own adolescence, perhaps because being able to remember when things were different makes you feel old and jaded. The Golden Age myth, in short.

Anyway, that's enough out of me.

Harry Campbell said...

...except to say that I've just heard the very British TV presenter Ben Fogle use the word "specialty" on a BBC documentary ("Make Me a New Face: Hope for Africa's Hidden Children").

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