Culture Magazine

‘Britishisms’ Corrupting American English

By Periscope @periscopepost


The Oxford English Dictionary The Oxford English Dictionary

Every couple of months or so, someone publishes an article in Britain about the woeful state of British English, corrupted as it is by its brash cousin, American English, or how Americans have cruelly bastardised the Queen’s tongue. This week, however, BBC Magazine is taking a different route: Britishisms that are corrupting American English.

According to the article, words like “ginger”, “snog” and “spot on” are creeping into American speech, fueled in part by the popularity of Harry Potter and other British imports. Some, like Professor Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley, hate it: “Spot on – it’s just ludicrous!” he snapped (sounding suspiciously British,Periscope’s American editor thinks). “You are just impersonating an Englishman when you say spot on.” Others, however, like Ben Yagoda, professor of English at the University of Delaware, are more than happy to welcome these British linguistic interlopers into the American fold. “I enjoy seeing them,” he told the magazine. “It’s like a birdwatcher. If I find an American saying one, it makes my day!”

These days, the “balance of payments” language-wise is very much skewed the other way – with Americanisms used far more in Britain than the other way round, says Nunberg.

And though a few people do take umbrage at the use of British words in American English, they are in the minority, says [Jesse] Sheidlower [American editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary].

“In the UK, the use of Americanisms is seen as a sign that culture is going to hell.”

“But Americans think all British people are posh, so – aside from things that are fairly pretentious – no-one would mind.”

Just wait until the Americans start saying “innit”.

Have you heard any Britishisms creeping into your American English? Do you say “spot on”, “twee”, “keen on” or “chat up”? Leave a comment!

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