Thursday 21 July 2011

English and Americanisms

I don’t have a lot of time for nationalists or patriots. They are indeed scoundrels. I’m not even sure I subscribe to the notion of land ownership or territory. Obviously in terms of governance a defined area or jurisdiction is pretty essential but I do think that the majority of people who reside in these islands are far too hung up on national identity. I suppose I consider myself English. I have a great love of the English language (despite my often poor use of it as this blog testifies) and our culture, even though in reality both are so nebulous that they prove near impossible to quantify. But that is the great thing about Englishness it doesn’t really exist. English people and their culture is a dynamic cocktail, an ever changing melting pot of culture and ethnicity. This is not a new phenomena, it’s been like that for centuries, if not millennia. There can never be a pure pedigree English person, it is a genetic impossibility. There is no measurement of Englishness. Over the centuries the land mass known as England has been populated by people from across the world. With them has come language and culture which we’ve absorbed. England’s motto should be ‘adopt, adapt and improve’ and I think that’s what makes this such a good place to live. We are not rigid; we are open to new ideas. This helps us to prosper both financially and culturally. Being open minded and accommodating has brought us tremendous benefits over the years. I hope we never lose it. In evolutionary terms the key to survival is to constantly widen the gene pool.

I like Americans, I like aspects of their culture and I’ve very much enjoyed the small amount of the USA that I’ve seen. I don’t much care for their foreign policy, their cultural imperialism, their gun-control laws, the way they treat many of their citizens at the lower end of the economic scale and the fact that they still have the death penalty is totally despicable. I work for an American owned company, who as capitalist organisations go is an okay employer. My American colleagues tend to be very nice people if not always worldly-wise, and so very few of them seem to have passports. Many have trouble accepting that we (in the UK) don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or have the 4th of July off. I know it’s wrong to make generalisations but much of the time Americans are very culturally insular. Why is it that when books, films, records etc travel from the UK to the USA deference to their version of English needs to be observed but when the traffic is in the other direction it doesn’t matter a jot. It is presumed that American-English will do. I think that it is the pure arrogance of it that irritates me. The attitude that their ways are right and everybody else’s ways are wrong. This BBC News article about how Americanisms (is that an Americanism?) irritate many of us was quite interesting. With plenty I could identify with. I’m sure there are very many reasons why Americanisms irritate so many of us. Some of it will be misguided nationalism, some of it will be racist, and some will believe that anything other than the fictitious ‘Queens English’ is a travesty, but as far as I’m concerned it’s about reducing our capacity to communicate. I have already acknowledged that English is forever evolving. I like the fact that we have regional language differences as well as the international differences (which include African, Antipodean, Canadian and US - apologies for those I’ve missed out). It makes for interesting listening and reading when we have all these variations. What really concerns me is that instead of absorbing new words from various sources we just adopt American-English wholesale, so that we end up with one homogenised language. A language based on inaccuracies. After all American-English does have the tendency to be rather Neanderthal, relying as it does on the lowest common denominator approach. If it works for them that’s fine, but I think it’s very lazy when the English adopt these neo-words and phrases. My fear is that if the change from English to American carries on exponentially we will end up just grunting at each other in a return to our prehistoric past. Some people have commented on Twitter in a rather pompous fashion that they think it’s rude of us to be irritated by Americanisms. Others just don’t understand what the fuss is about and that we should just embrace their language like ‘loving Big Brother’. I fear these sorts of people are quite shallow and really haven’t thought things through. Having vented my spleen I do accept that inevitably we will end up all speaking American-English but that’s no reason to give in quietly. The longer we can retain at least a modicum of sophistication in our language the more enjoyable life will be.

Going back to the BBC article, two Americanisms that really irritate are ‘can I get’ and ‘9/11’. This is because their technical inaccuracies offend my pedantry. I’ve ranted about ‘can I get’ before so I won’t repeat myself. I feel a rant coming on about ‘9/11’ so watch this space.


  1. I believe that a mid-Atlantic compromise will reign supreme, although we should not ignore that India probably has more English speakers than the USA.

    My pet hate - the preference for 'jail' over 'gaol'.

  2. A compromise would be good up highly unlikely. I suspect we will be swamped.