Thursday, October 11, 2012

Briticisms in AmE

...or Britishisms in AmE, if you prefer.

The past few weeks have seen a lot of interest in the movement of words from the UK to the US. It all started with a BBC Magazine (web) article 'Britishisms and the Britishisation of American English'. Of course, we've been looking at that trend for a few years here, haven't we, with the annual BrE-to-AmE Word of the Year, and Ben Yagoda's been keeping track of it in his blog, Not One-Off Britishisms (which I reviewed here, with more commentary on whether BrE is invading AmE).The issue is covered today in the New York Times and Atlantic Wire, with references to this blog. There will be more press interest in it before we get back to the usual business of worrying about new words in dictionaries or whether text messaging is ruining literacy.

The press is seeking commentary on this from linguists. YAY! I am particularly celebrating that in regard(s) to the British press, which has a reputation [among linguists] for calling on television presenters and creative writers for commentary on language and not the accomplished academic linguists and lexicographers of this country. The American press doesn't seem to have this habit.

But, of course, there's a lot more to say about these things than can go in a quote in a news article--or even in a whole news article. So, here are some more rambling ramblings. My perception of British words in American English is definitely flavo(u)red these days with the experience of living for nearly 13 years in the UK and getting to know those words better in their native environs. But from this vantage point, I have a few observations:

First, not everyone in the US is using all these current Briticisms. I suspect they're entering the language by different routes. The route that's most clear in the examples that Yagoda gives in his blog is northeastern media/publishing. When writing about Yagoda's blog, I said:

...some of the BrEisms that Yagoda picks out as "widely adopted" strike me as not so. For one thing, some of them are things that Americans have sent me puzzled emails about. For another, the sources Yagoda cites are very often New Yorkers, if not The New Yorker, and most come from the NY-DC corridor. [...]  I'm having a hard time finding out how many of the 685,000 British expats in the US are in New York, but many commentators seem to agree with  A.A. Gill that "The British have colonized Manhattan". And an awful lot of them seem to be in publishing. So, it could be a trend in a certain milieu. [...]  I'm not saying that all the BrEisms are coming from UK expats; I have no trouble believing that Americans in their milieu are easily influenced by chic-sounding British words. And if that continues, those words may make their way into general American English. But my impression from non-NYCers is that these words are far from "widely adopted."
Another route seems to be British-origin fiction. Particularly Harry Potter, but also Doctor Who, Downton Abbey. (And other entertainments, like Top Gear on BBC America--which, it must be said, is not available everywhere and is only available to those paying for a cable/satellite package that includes it.)  While the Harry Potter books (especially the first one) are highly Americani{z/s}ed for the audience, their Britishness makes them very attractive--it's another world of boarding schools, 'houses' and headmasters that seems very romantic, and some Briticisms, where they will not interfere with understanding, are let through.  The US rise of ginger, as a hair colo(u)r term, seems very associated with Potter.

When these words are adopted by Americans, it might be for one of several reasons:
  1. They fill a gap.
  2. They sound 'cool' to someone for some reason (e.g. they sound intelligent, exotic)
  3. Most people aren't really aware of the origins of the new word, and so don't care that they've adopted a Briticism. It's just a new word to them.
One can swap (or BrE alternative spelling: swop) the words 'American' and 'British' there and have reasons for Americanisms coming into BrE.

Fewer people negatively judge the borrowing of words in situations (1) and (3). Some of the past BrE-to-AmE WotYs are in situation (3), for example go missing and to vet. While Americans are often bad at knowing which words are Britishisms (many Americans seem to believe that bumbershoot is an English way of saying 'umbrella'), the British are probably worse at knowing which are Americanisms.*

But in case (2) the judg(e)ments come swift and hard. The US press is referring to it as Anglocreep. The UK press mostly just calls it [insert pejorative adjective here] Americanisation.

People find situation (2) threatening for a number of reasons--all to do with our sense of language as a marker of identity. If you're using words from a different place that you don't have 'birth rights' to, you're seen as 'inauthentic' in the use of those words. You can also be seen as rejecting the language, and therefore the identity, of the people and place that you come from. Taking on those new words also marks you as aspiring to be associated with a group of people who may not always be positively stereotyped in the culture you're in--and those stereotypes rub off on your word usage in convoluted ways. So, taking on American words is seen as 'sloppy' and 'lazy' in the UK. Taking on British words is seen as 'snobby' and 'pretentious' in the US.

Another reason why people complain when their words are borrowed by others is that they're rarely used in the new place just as they were in the old place. The pronunciations, of course, are adapted to the local accent, but the meanings of the words often change also. This is true of all borrowings. We don't use the word spaghetti like Italians do (for them, it's plural) nor douche in the way the French do. But the differences are more glaring when it's borrowing within the same language and we're all trying to use the language to communicate with one another, which involves assuming that we're using the words in the same way.  The social significance of words (particularly how offensive they might be considered to be) changes a lot--and sometimes nuances of meaning are missed. Some examples:

Americans are notorious for using and not understanding the connotations of wanker (see the comments in that post for some stories). Americans imported wanker without necessarily knowing wank (to masturbate), and so it sounds like a fun, silly thing to call people. But calling someone a wanker is less like calling them a jerk, and more like calling them a jerk-off. In the other direction, we've noticed British students coming back from a year abroad in the US and using the youthy use of douche as an insult, but in social contexts in which my brothers/nephew would avoid it in the US (the family dinner table, with grandma. OK, ok, I'm talking about my brother-in-law).

Newcastle Brown Ale's No Bollocks ad campaign is specific to America and it's not clear that such a campaign would be allowed in mass media in the UK. The Advertising Standards Authority's 'Deleting Expletives' [link is pdf] report of 2000 put bollocks as the 8th most offensive word according to the British public. (Wanker was 4th, before nigger or bastard.) Words lower in the 'severity of offence' list than bollocks include arsehole, twat and shit. Having typed these words, I have now guaranteed that my blog will not be readable from any school computer anywhere. But anyhow, the facts that (a) you can use this word on a billboard in the US and (b) someone has done so pretty much guarantees that the word is being used in the US in ways that it wouldn't be used in its native country.

I've noted before examples of Americans using BrE expressions with distinctly non-BrE meanings, for instance snog and chat up. One I came across yesterday was an AmE speaker using BrE starkers (which means AmE barenaked) to mean 'crazy', having been misled by another BrE phrase, stark raving mad. There's more potential for that in the BrE-to-AmE direction, I think, because the pathways the words are travel(l)ing are narrower than the ones that go AmE-to-BrE. But there are still BrE uses of AmE words that are unlike the original meaning. I've talked about this before with reference to shotgun and I've known a few BrE speakers who've assumed that a raincheck is a refund.

I'm looking forward to whatever else is to come in the media discussion of BrE words in AmE places--and I'll try to remember to link to them here. Till then, (BrE-to-AmE, not without controversy) cheers!


* I have lots of examples of this in a talk I've been giving a lot lately: 'How Americans Saved the English Language'. If you'd like to hear it, all you have to do is have your local speaking club invite me at a convenient time and pay my expenses to get there. At this point, the next one is Lewes, East Sussex in December. I'll give details closer to the date.

75 comments:

Expat mum said...

I've been following this and phew - everyone's really getting their knickers in a twist aren't they? It doesn't really bother me either way, except when someone is either trying to be cool (because that's just embarrassing) or trying to imitate me (which gets a little "old".)
I have noticed however, that some words cause fewer chuckles than they used to - loo, and knackered, for example. I agree though, 99% of the country just isn't using British English.
I remember when I first came here (1990) driving behind a guy in Texas who had "Bollox" as his license plate. He could see me laughing my head off and I just know he loved the fact that he was getting away with it.

lekkermeisje said...

I do tend to use some Britishisms, though it's generally unconscious and comes from 25 years of British media and UK friends. For the most part I just pick whatever words come into my head first.

The only time I really do it consciously is when I'm trying to get away with something that I know people won't take as offensively as it might otherwise be. I admit to having used 'wanker' for years in this way.

I used to really enjoy watching Tim Roth in Lie to Me, because he got away with saying some really quite offensive things on US network TV, like 'wanker' and 'tosser'.

Stuart Carter said...

I am continually astonished by the linguistic snobbery some people show. The English language isn't pure: it's what happens when horny French nobles want to get off with Anglo-Saxon wenches. It's as pure as the driven slush!

mollymooly said...

The degree of sexual conquest implied by the verbs "score" and "hook up" seems to me to vary widely; though braggadocio and wishful thinking are confounding variables.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Whoops, made a nonsense in previous post.

I do think one of the joys of the English language is how different countries have taken and run with it, producing their own particular turns of phrase, and then these spread about the English-speaking world.

It's certainly not just a two-way transfer between Britain and the USA - there are loads of Australian words ("uni" for university springs to mind) that get used here, and maybe some that are originally from New Zealand or South Africa or somewhere else where, years ago, the sun never set....

It's why we have such a wide and varied language in the first place - we borrowed from all sorts of languages!

Culturally Discombobulated said...

South Park also has a lot to do with popularizing ginger in the US, too.

I come across few examples of Britishisms in my everyday life, and what I do hear are usually being made specifically for my benefit. It's really only online that I've been noticing it, and specifically on more hipster-friendly, snarky-toned fora. Wondering if the rise of Britishisms is perhaps linked with the rise of snark-ish language online?

Richard Gadsden said...

I suspect that part of the reason that Briticisms are now crossing to the US more easily than in the past is simply the internet.

American films and TV have always carried many American words and phrases to Britain, but Americans have never watched much British TV or film, and much of what they did watch was costume drama ("Masterpiece Theater") and had very little in the way of modern slang.

In the last few years, a lot more British TV and film has arrived in the US, thanks to BBC America and Harry Potter - and a lot more of that has modern, casual speech in it.

But, much more than that, Americans are encountering British writing on the internet. Practically any forum or blog - even ones dealing with specifically American topics like US politics, or baseball - will have some Brits on it, and anything with appeal on both sides of the Atlantic will have many Brits on it. The result, of course, is that casual British writing - full of slang, colloquialisms and not avoiding terms that Americans will struggle to understand - is now something that many more Americans encounter on a routine basis. Of course the words seep into their vocabulary.

rushingtoread said...

I've picked up some Briticisms by reading old Topsy and Tim books to my four-year-old and some from things like the James Herriot books and other relatively modern British literature. I typically only use them with my daughter or in inside jokes (employing quotes from the books, for instance) with other people who have shared those reading experiences with me so I'm not seen as a poser...

Autolycus said...

Pedantic footnote to a footnote:

"Starkers" to mean crazy isn't totally un-British. There is or was a vogue in branches of the upper middle-class to add "-ers" to a name or part of it to make a nickname (particularly for some reason in cricket teams), or to add it to a shortened word or phrase, sometimes also preceded by "Harry" (a sort of variant on rhyming slang, since the change leaves the listener having to do a bit of working out). "Starkers" meaning "stark naked" has spread into general usage, but I can well believe some such people used it or "harry starkers" to mean "stark raving mad". On the other hand, by now the common usage might tend to discourage people from ambiguity in their choice of word, and we're not short of alternative sland words and phrases for bonkers, off their trolley, going off on one, etc., etc.

Picky said...

Many of the borrowings either way are slang or jargon, and this may be one of the clues to the thing. It seems to me just very pleasant and amusing to play with new and unusual and exotic bits of slang, wherever they come from, just as it can be pleasant and amusing to use dialect. Or is this an example of pretentiousness wrapped up, perhaps?

Unknown said...

Copy-editing: "pejoritive"

Marc Leavitt said...

Lynne:
The Internet enhances cross-fertilization. I watch a lot of British TV, and it would be unusual if I did not pick up some Briticisms. Examples: "He keeps himself to himself," instead of "he keeps to himself";"I'm coming straight away," instead of "I'm coming in a minute."

TV annonuncers (presenters) routinely report that "Mr. X was sacked," ionstead of "fired."

Some Briticisms definitely fill a gap. Are they ubiquitous? No. Are they entering Standard American? Absolutely.

Rebecca said...

I live in New York City, am an attorney, and work with both attorneys and C-Level management in some of the nation's largest law firms. To date, I have never heard anyone in the course of business say "cheers" (outside the context of a toast) unless they were British. Nor have any non-Brits used "cheers" as the close to their emails.

While there are, perhaps, more Briticisms used in the U.S. than there used to be, I agree with other commenters that this is likely due to British media. In addition to the increasing popularity of wholly-British television programming (Downton Abbey is truly a phenomenon here), there are also quite a few British celebrities on American tv, from chefs (e.g., Gordon Ramsay & Jamie Oliver) to comedians (e.g., John Oliver). Naturally, as the cadences of their accents become more familiar to the American ear, certain words may slip into the vernacular. However, it is most certainly not the norm.

Anonymous said...

As an American, I'd say that "bollocks" to me has a similar meaning and connotation as "balderdash" or another British borrowed word, "rubbish". Something nonsensical and stupid.

Amy said...

Great post on the BrE - AmE overlap! Proof that living languages are always changing.

vp said...

"Bollocks" is sufficiently unknown in the US (at least in Northern California), that whenever I have uttered the word it has been misinterpreted as "bullocks".

You might think that this is due to my accent. However, it doesn't happen to other, better-known, words with the "LOT" vowel. My "god", for example, is not interpreted as "good".

Joe said...

@Anonymous

In British English, "Bollocks" is in generally used in the figurative sense that you describe to mean "Rubbish" or "Nonsense" (I don't think I have ever heard anyone say "Balderdash" in real life!) The difference is in the intensity conveyed by "Bollocks" as against "Rubbish" or "Nonsense".

If I were to tell my Mother she was "talking rubbish" she would be hurt, but if I told her she was "talking bollocks" she would be absolutely mortified (and likely think that it was so out of character that I must have taken leave of my senses).

If I were to tell a drunken friend in a bar that he was "talking nonsense", it would be entirely unremarkable, and if I were to tell a drunken friend in a bar that he was "talking bollocks" it would be treated as mates joking around, but if I were to say the same thing to a drunken stranger there would be a high likelihood of starting a fight.

The difference isn't in the meaning; it's in the intensity with which the meaning is expressed.

Joe said...

One use of a "Wanker" derived word that I (as a Brit) find thoroughly confusing is when the character Santana Lopez (as played by Naya Rivera) in the TV Show Glee uses the word "Wanky". As best as I can tell she is using it as a synonym of "lame".

Does anyone else have a take on this?

Dru said...

If Downton Abbey is popular in the US, are people over there aware it is portraying a particular milieu of English life set 90 years ago? Although those of us who can remember people from that era know that the dialogue contains solecisms, it isn't supposed to represent English as it is now spoken.

Ted said...

Lynne: The link to the "Deleting Expletives" report is broken, but it's not hard to find (thanks, Google!).

It is, however, full of abbreviations that are used as if they should be trivially easy to decipher, but which are incomprehensible to this American. First, something called the NOP seems to have been involved in performing and/or analyzing the study. Second, every time they quote a participant, there's what appears to be a descriptive abbreviation such as "C1C2" or "C2D." Am I misinterpreting the context -- e.g., might they just be technical references to identify aspects of the study protocol, such as which observation group the speakers participated in? Or would a BrE speaker know what they're supposed to mean?

Jordana said...

I'm an American (from Boston) married to a Brit (from the Midlands). I find that I cannot emulate his accent (according to him, my English accent is either Cockney or posh, with no other options), but I do enjoy picking up his vocabulary. For example, I prefer saying "take out the bins" to "take out the trash".

I'm actually very uncomfortable using English insults, precisely because I'm aware that I don't fully grasp their relative shock value. I knew "bloody" was a bad word, but I was still surprised when my husband asked if they could really say it on American TV.

But I like to think that because I'm married to a Brit, I'm given more leeway to borrow the language. I also think that when we move to England, the same people who are irritated when Americans use Briticisms will probably appreciate my efforts to do so. I learned the hard way not to ask where the restrooms were in pubs!

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Yes, I'm married to a man from Northern Ireland, and over the past 30-mumble years have picked up a very great many of his expressions, but can't begin to emulate his family's accent.

And I was amused when Visiting American Boss carefully asked me where the loos were, obviously feeling himself very clever to have remembered the word!

fangsandclause said...

It might be possible that I used the word "starkers" thinking that it meant "stark raving mad."

I am an American copyeditor, raised in the South, living north of the Mason Dixon line.

I acquired the word "starkers" the way I acquired most of my vocabulary as a kid: by reading. I probably picked up "starkers" somewhere among (amongst) Dorothy Sayers, Pat Barker, Ian Rankin, and Charles Todd. And, as I did as a kid, I did not quite know what it meant, but sure didn't let mere ignorance stop me from using it. And, see, what a fruitful mistake it was!

Most of my American friends who use Britishism (and I run in copyediting/writerly/academic circles) studied abroad in the U.K. at some point. Or they have read too much Jane Austen (if such a thing is possible).

ek said...

My experience with bollocks/bollox is with it being used specifically as an Irish word.

Mick said...

@ Joe
"the TV Show Glee uses the word "Wanky". As best as I can tell she is using it as a synonym of "lame"."

In an Australian context "wanky" is sort of "drawing attention to yourself to boost your own ego lame." From wank being to masturbate.

Starkers (naked and mad) has both usages in Australia.

There is a lot of cross fertilisation of slang between the main Englishes - particularly through the 'creative classes'.

Andrew Tyndall said...

The American use of bollocks is influenced by the verb "to bollix" (to bungle, not used in England) so when the noun is used in the US to mean nonsense (messed up) it is less vulgar than in Britain since it lacks the genital reference (a bunch of balls).

Anonymous said...

"If Downton Abbey is popular in the US, are people over there aware it is portraying a particular milieu of English life set 90 years ago?"

I don't think so. The tendency in America is to see modern Britain as Victorian England plus cars and cell phones.

lynneguist said...

To answer Ted's question: I haven't gone back and read it, but I believe the C-whatever abbreviations are just identifiers for individual respondents--what one has to do for participants in an anonymous survey. And NOP = National Opinion Poll, I think (but I had to look it up). So, no, not well-known abbreviations.

Sadie said...

@Ted I suspect the C1C2 and similar abbreviations are denoting the respondents' social class - for statistical purposes classes are ranked from A to E. A is upper class, B upper-middle and professional, C1 lower-middle and clerical, C2 lower-middle but manual work, D working class and E state benefits only.

lynneguist said...

Oh, Sadie, you're right! Went right past me.

Anonymous said...

I think that what you have interpreted as "wanky" on Glee is actually "wonky," which Urban Dictionary defines as "weird, whacked out, messed up, not working for no definable reason." That's pretty much the same definition I would have given, as a 30-something Californian. However, if the word existed, an American would pronounce "wanky" with a long "a"--not the same as wonky.

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

think one of the joys of the English language is the way in which we managed to rob and pillage the vocabulary of every country we once colonised. (To exemplify: I write this while sitting on the verandah of my bungalow.) America, being the dominant power, at least for the next two weeks when China will take over, should strip us of every expression we possess while they can. And good luck to all you who sail in her. Cripes!

Ken Brown said...

@Ted - those "C1C2" and so on are an occupational classification - estimates of economic class by job (or husband's or fathers job - its a bit old-fashioned) Goes from A (basically bosses) to E (unemployed, homeless, hourly-paid labourers, migrant workers - bottom of the heap) C, "skilled workers" is split into two subcategories along what Americans might call bluecollar/whitecollar lines - C1 is supervisors, junior managers and so on, C2 is skilled manual workers and what we used to call "trades" (not at all the same as "trade")

Anonymous said...

Marc Leavitt -
But "straight away" doesn't mean the same as "in a minute"! It means "immediately", whereas if you say "I'm coming in a minute" you imply that you have to finish what you're doing first.

Kate (Derby, UK)

Mindy said...

I read the artical refrenced in this post. I have a problem with the idea that Americans did not use the term Sell by date. This is not true for my area. We use it all the time, although sell by date and expiration date are NOT THE SAME! The expiration date is the date that the item is considered not good anymore or you should not eat it anymore. Then Sell by date is the last day that the grocery store can sell that item.

lynneguist said...

That's indication that it's become entrenched in the US, but not that it wasn't originally British. It's in the BBC article because it's discussed on Ben Yagoda's blog.

Marc Leavitt said...

Kate:
I was suffering from a brain freeze when I made that comment. The more common AmE expression is "right away."

David Crosbie said...

Mindy

sell by date and expiration date are NOT THE SAME!

The same is true in Britain, although we say use by date for the latter.

There's a problem, though, that many of us confuse the two dates — along with a third best before date.

Some believe that this confusion leads to many consumers throwing out perfectly safe food. They propose that the sell by date label should be discontinued.

Against this, the expression X has reached/passed his/her/its sell by date is well entrenched in popular speech.

Steve Hayes said...

I find it interesting how some new words spread rapidly and are widely accepted within a short time, while others seem to remain regional or local.

"Gobsmacked", which originated in BrE, spread rapidly in the 1990s. Similarly "hassle", which originated in AmE, spread rapidly about 25 years earlier.

Some words that are common in one area are regarded as offensive in others. I gather that in AmE "niggardly" has become a taboo word, and Americans are sometimes surprised and a little shocked to learn that in South Africa a word like "darkies" appears on "billboards" (which 50 years ago would have been called "hoardings").

DemonHellfish said...

I second the suggestion that Glee must be using the term "wonky", not "wanky", though a cursory attempt to confirm this has failed. In my own vocabulary, "wonky" two unrelated things.

One is being like "a wonk", which is something like a career bureaucrat who works on the fine details of policy and administration (e.g. "We were trying to discuss the ethics of funding birth control but devolved into a wonky debate about definitions of the poverty line.")

The other meaning is close to "messed up", but I would say doesn't overlap with "whacked out". It means to be malfunctioning in an erratic fashion. If my computer has crashed and given me the Blue Screen of Death, it's definitely "messed up", but it's not "wonky". For my computer to be "wonky" it has to be doing surprisingly wrong things ("After the bios update, the mouse twitches in a wonky way.") And actually, in my profession, I would say that something can be wonky even if it's fully understood. ("That program crashes 1% of the time because of memory corruption on some inputs; it makes for a wonky test.")

Mindy said...

Dave, Agreed. My point was that we do use it in America, and it means the same thing. used in the terms of an athlete or actor has passed their sell by date means that they are unsellable. Which would mean the same thing as to my ears.

Picky said...

David Crosbie: And, just to add to the confusion, the "Display until" date.

Anonymous said...

DemonHellfish - personally, I think I'd use "wonkish" for the political debates, and understand wonky as erratically malfunctioning first.

DemonHellfish said...

Hm, good point about "wonkish". I'll have to listen for that distinction in my own speech community, but I think you might be right.

DemonHellfish said...

Quite accidentally, I've just stumbled across a use of "wonky", where the Anon above suggest "wonkish" would be better: http://www.mahablog.com/2012/10/19/reality-and-its-detractors/

Bill said...

The BrE to AmE thing that has surprised me most isn't the word "Ginger" it is that apparently the "negative" associations with being a redhead have made their way here as well.

We always had the phrase "Red Headed Stepchild" to mean something akin to "unwanted" or the "Black Sheep" but that was the extent of it really.

Now I was raised in Massachusetts amongst a great number of Irish Americans, so that may have something to do with it. But to my knowledge, being a Redhead was never associated so negatively as it is starting to be now.

Anonymous said...

I like the British ownership of their language. I don't mind pronouncing "valet" as "valeT" (instead of "valEY" as in US); I draw the line at (as I heard in Britain) "Callus" for "Calais".

I only mind those that are the result of pretension: "in line" is the American version, but now New Yorkers say "on line" (thinking they sound more British, I suppose?). Also, "have a meeting" in US, "take a meeting" in Britain. (You neither have nor take a meeting; perhaps you "hold" or "convene" or "schedule" one?)

Anonymous said...

One thing I've noticed recently is that some Americans seem to be adopting the British "take a decision" vs. American "make a decision." That strikes me as odd, because deciding is an active process, so who would you "take" a decision from? It doesn't bother me, it just sounds funny.

enitharmon said...

Erm, Anonymous, the first time I ever entered the United States was from St Stephen, New Brunswick to Calais (pronounced "callous"), Maine by way of a bridge across the St Croix (let's not go there, hey!) River. I've never encountered the "callous" pronunciation outside [of] "1066 And All That" in which Queen Mary I is said to have died with "callous" written on her heart.

Anonymous said...

@Other Anonymous:

"I only mind those that are the result of pretension: "in line" is the American version, but now New Yorkers say "on line" (thinking they sound more British, I suppose?)."

New Yorkers saying "on line" rather than "in line" is a regionalism that's been around as long as I have been alive (that's more years that than I care to own); it has nothing to do with wanting to sound more British.

An Older NYCer

Shaun Clarkson said...

" I don't mind pronouncing "valet" as "valeT" (instead of "valEY" as in US); "

That's the influence of Downton Abbey. Widespread UK pronunciation of valet was similar to the US one, but with a more even stress. The film Gosford Park (written by Julian Fellows, creator of Downton) makes a point of sending up some middle class assumptions of upper class behaviour, one of them being a character trying to be right by saying 'valey' and being corrected. The people who had, or were, valets pronounced the t.

The film probably had limited impact, but the tv series has had much more.

Joe said...

As a Brit, I am completely at home with the word "Wonky" (erratically malfunctioning), to the point that I had always asumed it to be BRE, not AME, and I watch enough US TV to be familiar with "Wonkish" (pertaining to a [policy] Wonk), but I still think the word Naya Reviera is using is "Wanky" (and a quick Google of "Naya Rivera Wanky" - try it for yourself, watch the video - would seem to confirm my suspicions).

EmmaK said...

I live in the USA (but am born in Britain) and am usually puzzled by the wierd sort of hybrid British-American adverts they have here that would mean nothing to an English person but seem to hit home here. One puzzling one is the use of a Scot to sell grass seed http://www.youtube.com/user/ScottsMiracleGro
He uses an expression 'that's dandy rot' which may or may not be a Scottish expression (do you know)

Anyway at first I thought the use of the Scot didn't make any sense especially in a country that frequently adds subtitles on the news when anyone other than an american is speaking, which I find pretty consescending but then I realized that the ad people said:

The concept of a Scotsman promoting Scotts to his neighbors in middle America may seem silly or corny, but “there’s so much noise out there,” he adds. “You need a little something to break through the clutter.”

So they use the Scot just to make an impact amongst so many american voices on the tv when people are channel hopping.

Heather said...

Can you please talk about why the word lieutenant has 2 different pronunciations? :)

lynneguist said...

Not here, I can't. (See my comments policy.) But Google 'lieutenant pronunciation' and you'll do well...

Dru said...

It would never have been 'valeT' with the emphasis on the second syllable, more like 'val't'. It is, though, more upper class to pronounce the 't'. Shifting the stress forward to the second syllable of a word originally of French origin is totally west of the Atlantic Ocean, as in 'b'lay' for English 'ballé' (spelt I think by everyone 'ballet'). The same difference exists for 'beret' as in 'Green B'ray', and for 'plateau'.

Garage is more complicated with two pronunciations in the UK, slightly socially self-identificative, both with the stress on the first syllable and both different from what I think is the normal US one.

What are people in New York using 'on line' as distinct from 'in line' to mean? If it means to queue, nobody here says 'on line'. 'On line' means 'connected to the internet'. So it cannot have been around as long as most of us have been alive. Doesn't it mean that everywhere?

It can also be used, and this is older, to mean 'with hope of' as in 'in line for promotion'.

Nice to think that a wandering Scotsman can earn a bit of pocket money taking off his own accent in a far away country. Did everyone notice the set of pipes hanging on the wall to give colour? It's surprising he doesn't wear the kilt to do the gardening.

ella said...

@Dru

'on line' to mean 'in a queue' is a N.AmE regionalism. I think it's mostly associated with the US North East.

Totally anecdotal, but somewhat related to your comment - my pronunciation of 'ballet' with the stress on the first syllable has prompted NAmE people to comment that that's how they 'know' that I've been trained in ballet (I have, in fact) though in my case it's mostly my childhood BrE interfering with when I speak NAmE (I am bi-dialetal)

*NAmE = North American English - I live in Canada, so AmE is inappropriate.

Vashbul said...

@Steve Haynes
"I gather that in AmE "niggardly" has become a taboo word,"

Not commonly used, but not taboo as far as I know.

Anonymous said...

"Anyway at first I thought the use of the Scot didn't make any sense especially in a country that frequently adds subtitles on the news when anyone other than an american is speaking, which I find pretty consescending but then I realized that the ad people said:

The concept of a Scotsman promoting Scotts to his neighbors in middle America may seem silly or corny, but “there’s so much noise out there,” he adds. “You need a little something to break through the clutter.”

It's just a play on words. The company was founded by a guy whose last name was Scott. The pun was probably the ad company's inspiration to use the Scottish guy.

Anonymous said...

Fanny Pack in the USA makes me laugh every time I hear it. Fanny in the UK refers to a womans private parts, whereas in the US it refers to the butt (or bum in the UK). That is why in the UK, it is known as the Bum Bag, and most definitely not known as the much more crude "fanny pack"!

Anonymous said...

@Shaun Clarkson, the pronunciation of "valet" also comes up in Laurie and Fry's Jeeves and Wooster TV series, although Jeeves prefers the term "gentleman's gentleman".

Bill said...

I once came up with a phrase involving Fanny that is completely and 100% innocent, if not cute, to American ears, but is so unbelievably crude and inappropriate to BrE ears that I won't even write it here.

Mindy said...

@ Anon

Its funny that you said a gentleman's gentleman for valet.(which it is) But to AmE if you say valet, we mean like in Valet Parking! I would not even think of it in the other way unless I was reading a novel set in the past!

Sean Mitchell said...

As a Brit, I've always understood and used 'wonky' for something not in line, not straight, facing a different direction. As in 'that painting's a bit wonky' or 'he's got a wonky eye'. Didn't know it had evolved so much that nobody here mentioned that meaning.

Sean Mitchell said...

In some ways it's a shame that we understand each other better now. Confusion can be frustrating but it can also be fun. Visiting the States for the first time in 1982 I had arranged to meet someone in a bar. When she didn't turn up I phoned her and she said 'Sorry, I couldn't make it, are you pissed?' to which I replied 'No, I've only had a beer' and she said 'What? But are you pissed?' and I said 'No, just one beer, why are you asking?' etc., etc. I suspect that we couldn't have that confused conversation today, where she didn't know that pissed could possibly mean drunk and I didn't know that pissed could possibly mean angry.

Krista said...

Since moving back to the US from the UK, I have noticed that Americans use "spot on" a lot, as well as ginger. (Although I've yet to hear an American use the more derogatory pronunciation that rhymes with wringer.) And I swear this was all before the BBC and NY Times articles, which I did enjoy quite a bit given my experiences on both sides of the pond! (Hah. I said "quite.")

nina-in-technicolor said...

24-year-old American geek here, and I'd like to offer up a possible reason that "bollocks" means something different here than in Britain: the graphic novel/movie V for Vendetta, with the little girl in glasses announcing that television propaganda is "bollocks." When the movie came out, many of my friends had only ever heard the word in that context, and assumed it meant the same as "what a load!" or "bullshit!" The sexual meaning has traveled a little bit because of the Internet, but when I hear it (not often and usually among geeks), it's in the sense of "BS-ing somebody" (e.g. "He said she had the hots for him, but that's a load of bollocks--she's a lesbian").

Anonymous said...

I'm an American who recently naturalised in the UK, and it was with some rather startling horror that I realized six years too late how strong a word "bastard" is over here. I'd never really internalized the fact that it always gets asterisked-out as "B*STARD" in headlines, and it was always a real C-list insult to me as a child.

But one day a friend of mine who'd made the opposite life path (she's British, now living in America) heard the word used on Spongebob Squarepants in the after-school timeslot, and thought she was going crazy. She directed me to Figure 1 of this ofcom document, which ranks terms by perceived "severity".

So it's not just the newer derogatory terms that have a strong Atlantic gradient. I kind of grimace now when I recall some situations in which I'd used a mild derogatory term that must have come across as far more vulgar.

steve said...

American's say picky and don't understand me when I say fussy. This annoys me.

Mindy said...

Steve, that is because to my AmE (and Mothers) ears, fussy is when a baby/child and sometimes adult is whinny or crabby.

Anonymous said...

My late father (b. 1907) used "fussy" to mean "attentive" as in "making a fuss of someone", but I've never heard anyone else use it that way.
In the Mr. Men cartoons, Mr. Pernickety's name was changed to Mr. Fussy, presumably because children didn't understand the old name.
Kate (Derby, UK)

MirrorGirl said...

I am an American female who co-opted "bloody" and "bleeding" back in High School (70s) when I absolutely meant "f***ing" (don't know the policy for using such words here) but couldn't possibly get away with it. It was a great relief to be able to be so emphatic without anyone quite realizing how strongly I felt. After a while it just became habit, but still comes in handy for the same reason. There are lots of expressions from British English that are colorful and fun to use, and vice versa, I imagine. Saying someone is a "one-off" is less formal than using the word "unique", for example. But my main point is that after so many years of English Literature and especially watching British television, particularly comedy (which is full of current slang), many words or phrases simply pop into my head without my even knowing where they've originated. I've said, "Crikey!" for as long as I can remember, but had no idea it was a British-ism until recently when I heard it on "Green Wing" (where they say EVERYTHING!). Because they watch "The Simpsons" in England and we watch "Coupling" here now, it seems that the two versions of English will naturally bleed together, without anyone deliberately adopting words and phrases to try to sound exotic or cool. Having friends from around the world influences me, too, as I imagine it does others, just as world travel does. English is a living language, bound to change in many ways as the world shrinks.

Albert Welch said...

Massachusetts age 25-

Slightly off topic here,RE: using foreign swears to substitute for overused and shocking native ones, I'm rather fond of using entirely made up swears like Frell, or (I think) D'arvit.

I also enjoy creative insults, the more poetic or nonsensical the better. "thou art more vile than the apostrophe of catas'rophe"