Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Americanisms: 50 of your most noted examples

The Magazine's recent piece on Americanisms entering the language in the UK prompted thousands of you to e-mail examples.

Some are useful, while some seem truly unnecessary, argued Matthew Engel in the article. Here are 50 of the most e-mailed.

1. When people ask for something, I often hear: "Can I get a..." It infuriates me. It's not New York. It's not the 90s. You're not in Central Perk with the rest of the Friends. Really." Steve, Rossendale, Lancashire

2. The next time someone tells you something is the "least worst option", tell them that their most best option is learning grammar. Mike Ayres, Bodmin, Cornwall

3. The phrase I've watched seep into the language (especially with broadcasters) is "two-time" and "three-time". Have the words double, triple etc, been totally lost? Grammatically it makes no sense, and is even worse when spoken. My pulse rises every time I hear or see it. Which is not healthy as it's almost every day now. Argh! D Rochelle, Bath

4. Using 24/7 rather than "24 hours, 7 days a week" or even just plain "all day, every day". Simon Ball, Worcester

5. The one I can't stand is "deplane", meaning to disembark an aircraft, used in the phrase "you will be able to deplane momentarily". TykeIntheHague, Den Haag, Holland

6. To "wait on" instead of "wait for" when you're not a waiter - once read a friend's comment about being in a station waiting on a train. For him, the train had yet to arrive - I would have thought rather that it had got stuck at the station with the friend on board. T Balinski, Raglan, New Zealand

7. "It is what it is". Pity us. Michael Knapp, Chicago, US

8. Dare I even mention the fanny pack? Lisa, Red Deer, Canada

9. "Touch base" - it makes me cringe no end. Chris, UK

10. Is "physicality" a real word? Curtis, US

11. Transportation. What's wrong with transport? Greg Porter, Hercules, CA, US

12. The word I hate to hear is "leverage". Pronounced lev-er-ig rather than lee-ver -ig. It seems to pop up in all aspects of work. And its meaning seems to have changed to "value added". Gareth Wilkins, Leicester

13. Does nobody celebrate a birthday anymore, must we all "turn" 12 or 21 or 40? Even the Duke of Edinburgh was universally described as "turning" 90 last month. When did this begin? I quite like the phrase in itself, but it seems to have obliterated all other ways of speaking about birthdays. Michael McAndrew, Swindon

14. I caught myself saying "shopping cart" instead of shopping trolley today and was thoroughly disgusted with myself. I've never lived nor been to the US either. Graham Nicholson, Glasgow

15. What kind of word is "gotten"? It makes me shudder. Julie Marrs, Warrington

16. "I'm good" for "I'm well". That'll do for a start. Mike, Bridgend, Wales

17. "Bangs" for a fringe of the hair. Philip Hall, Nottingham

18. Take-out rather than takeaway! Simon Ball, Worcester

19. I enjoy Americanisms. I suspect even some Americans use them in a tongue-in-cheek manner? "That statement was the height of ridiculosity". Bob, Edinburgh

20. "A half hour" instead of "half an hour". EJB, Devon

21. A "heads up". For example, as in a business meeting. Lets do a "heads up" on this issue. I have never been sure of the meaning. R Haworth, Marlborough

22. Train station. My teeth are on edge every time I hear it. Who started it? Have they been punished? Chris Capewell, Queens Park, London

23. To put a list into alphabetical order is to "alphabetize it" - horrid! Chris Fackrell, York

24. People that say "my bad" after a mistake. I don't know how anything could be as annoying or lazy as that. Simon Williamson, Lymington, Hampshire

25. "Normalcy" instead of "normality" really irritates me. Tom Gabbutt, Huddersfield

26. As an expat living in New Orleans, it is a very long list but "burglarize" is currently the word that I most dislike. Simon, New Orleans

27. "Oftentimes" just makes me shiver with annoyance. Fortunately I've not noticed it over here yet. John, London

28. Eaterie. To use a prevalent phrase, oh my gaad! Alastair, Maidstone (now in Athens, Ohio)

29. I'm a Brit living in New York. The one that always gets me is the American need to use the word bi-weekly when fortnightly would suffice just fine. Ami Grewal, New York

30. I hate "alternate" for "alternative". I don't like this as they are two distinct words, both have distinct meanings and it's useful to have both. Using alternate for alternative deprives us of a word. Catherine, London

31. "Hike" a price. Does that mean people who do that are hikers? No, hikers are ramblers! M Holloway, Accrington

32. Going forward? If I do I shall collide with my keyboard. Ric Allen, Matlock

33. I hate the word "deliverable". Used by management consultants for something that they will "deliver" instead of a report. Joseph Wall, Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire

34. The most annoying Americanism is "a million and a half" when it is clearly one and a half million! A million and a half is 1,000,000.5 where one and a half million is 1,500,000. Gordon Brown, Coventry

35. "Reach out to" when the correct word is "ask". For example: "I will reach out to Kevin and let you know if that timing is convenient". Reach out? Is Kevin stuck in quicksand? Is he teetering on the edge of a cliff? Can't we just ask him? Nerina, London

36. Surely the most irritating is: "You do the Math." Math? It's MATHS. Michael Zealey, London

37. I hate the fact I now have to order a "regular Americano". What ever happened to a medium sized coffee? Marcus Edwards, Hurst Green

38. My worst horror is expiration, as in "expiration date". Whatever happened to expiry? Christina Vakomies, London

39. My favourite one was where Americans claimed their family were "Scotch-Irish". This of course it totally inaccurate, as even if it were possible, it would be "Scots" not "Scotch", which as I pointed out is a drink. James, Somerset

40.I am increasingly hearing the phrase "that'll learn you" - when the English (and more correct) version was always "that'll teach you". What a ridiculous phrase! Tabitha, London

41. I really hate the phrase: "Where's it at?" This is not more efficient or informative than "where is it?" It just sounds grotesque and is immensely irritating. Adam, London

42. Period instead of full stop. Stuart Oliver, Sunderland

43. My pet hate is "winningest", used in the context "Michael Schumacher is the winningest driver of all time". I can feel the rage rising even using it here. Gayle, Nottingham

44. My brother now uses the term "season" for a TV series. Hideous. D Henderson, Edinburgh

45. Having an "issue" instead of a "problem". John, Leicester

46. I hear more and more people pronouncing the letter Z as "zee". Not happy about it! Ross, London

47. To "medal" instead of to win a medal. Sets my teeth on edge with a vengeance. Helen, Martock, Somerset

48. "I got it for free" is a pet hate. You got it "free" not "for free". You don't get something cheap and say you got it "for cheap" do you? Mark Jones, Plymouth

49. "Turn that off already". Oh dear. Darren, Munich

50. "I could care less" instead of "I couldn't care less" has to be the worst. Opposite meaning of what they're trying to say. Jonathan, Birmingham

Continue reading the main story
A US reader writes...

JP Spore believes there is nothing wrong with English evolving

Languages are, by their very nature, shifting, malleable things that morph according to the needs and desires of those who speak them.

Mr Engel suggests that British English should be preserved, but it seems to me this both lacks a historical perspective of the language, as well as an ignorance of why it is happening.

English itself is a rather complicated, interesting blend of Germanic, French and Latin (among other things). It has arrived at this point through the long and torturous process of assimilation and modification. The story of the English language is the story of an unstoppable train of consecutive changes - and for someone to put their hand up and say "wait - the train stops here and should go no further" is not only futile, but ludicrously arbitrary.

Why here? Why not stop it 20 years ago? Or 20 years hence? If we're going to just set an arbitrary limit on language change, why not choose the year 1066 AD? The Saxons had some cool words, right?

Mr Engel - and all language Luddites on both sides of the Atlantic, including more than a few here in the States - really need to get over it when their countrymen find more value in non-native words than in their native lexicon.

I understand the argument about loss of cultural identity, but if so many people are so willing to give up traditional forms and phrases maybe we should consider that they didn't have as much value as we previously imagined.

Continue reading the main story
A US reader writes...

Melanie Johnson - MA student in Applied Linguistics, now in the UK

The idea that there once existed a "pure" form of English is simply untrue. The English spoken in the UK today has been influenced by a number of languages, including Dutch, French and German. Speakers from the time of William the Conqueror would not recognise what we speak in Britain as English. This is because language variation shifts are constantly changing.

Five years ago you might have found it odd if someone asked you to "friend" them, but today many of us know this means to add them on Facebook. The increased use of technology, in combination with the rise of a globalised society, means language changes are happening faster than ever, especially in places with highly diverse populations like London. Young people are usually at the vanguard of this, so it's no surprise to find London teenagers increasingly speaking what's been termed "multicultural ethnic English".

Changes in word use are normal and not unique to any language. But English does enjoy a privileged status as the world's lingua franca. That began with the British, but has been maintained by the Americans. It's difficult to predict how English will next evolve, but the one certainty is it will.


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