Thursday, October 04, 2012

British American English

Last week, Jeremy missed a spinning class because he was sick. When I got home, I told him, "Elina (the spinning instructor) asked after you today." Jeremy looked at me a little weird, and replied, "you mean she asked about me?" Yeah...I guess.

Yesterday, Miriam had a homework assignment where she had to survey everyone in the house re: their favorite sports, then draw it up in a graph. Jeremy told her his favorite sport was soccer, but when I checked her homework later, she had written his answer as "football." When we asked her why she changed it, she said, "well,  that's what they call it here."

With all the Britishisms creeping into our speech here, it was with great interest that I read this article (written by someone named Cordelia Hebblethwaite!!!!!). Those of you who are in the US, have you noticed this supposed increased British influence on American English? I was surprised by some of the terms mentioned in the article - I have never had the sense that "will do" was anything but American. Same with "sell-by date" and "go missing." Am I just out of touch?

On the other hand, I absolutely use the word "university" instead of "college." It takes a little effort, because (at least in my dialect) most casual references to that period of my life I would instinctively phrase as "in college," or "when I graduated from college." In front of my students and other acquaintances not familiar with the US, I always use "university," even though it sounds unnatural. It's at least clear.

I also use the word "ginger" to describe red hair. That's what everyone calls it here, so I fell in line. Do people really say "ginger" in the US now, too?

Anyway. Here is a response to the article from one of the professors quoted in it, Geoffrey Nunberg. And here is a blog about Britishisms spotted in the US. Finally, here is a list of the changes that were made in the first four UK Harry Potter books, for an American audience. Stuff like "jumper" and "revision" I get, but I think maybe we could have handled "lavatory" and "wonky"? Maybe?


Jessie said...

I'm the same - I never realized some of those are distinctly British.

I keep hoping for nappies to catch on in America.

AmandaStretch said...

I did my study abroad in London and have been a confirmed Anglophile ever since. A college boyfriend and I even read the first Harry Potter book (before we broke up)aloud together, me with my British edition, he with an American edition, and enjoyed comparing the differences. Maybe I just watch a lot of British shows or read a lot of British authors, but almost none of the popular British words seem all that out of place to me. And yes, I hear ginger frequently in these parts, but not as much as it's said outside of the US.

Merkley Jiating said...

Ginger has been increasing in usage but I've noticed it usually seems negative. Like, "Ew, he's a ginger."

Susanne said...

I just read an article about the words "fall" and "autumn" and how "fall" fell out of favor in Britain and is now seen primarily as an "Americanism."

The last paragraph was rather cute though.

Susanne said...

And I see "the fall" was mentioned in the article you posted by Ms. Hebblethwaite. Interesting article.

Oddly enough because what are the odds that this same topic is both in my book *and* on your blog, I am reading a book by an Italian who lived in D.C. for a year, and the chapter I read this morning talked about the differences in British and American English.

He'd learned British English so he was constantly having to get used to things like cart (trolley), gas (petrol) and truck (lorry.) As he put it "Old English in the United States is the name of a furniture wax."

BTW, what do the British call candy?

"He also wanted to change "women" to "wimmen" and "tongue" to "tung", but neither was adopted" -- hmmm!

"In the UK, the use of Americanisms is seen as a sign that culture is going to hell." -- ha...poor things!

Anonymous said...

I live in Bend, Oregon and have red hair and I get called ginger all the time - it used to have a more negative connotation years ago, but I find it used in a more endearing way these days.


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