Reader (though he might not be a reader anymore, since it's taken me so long to get to his request) Jon wrote to ask:
I wondered if you could explain why Americans use the phrase "at this time", where a Brit would say "now", or nothing at all.I have to say, Jon, that it's not something I think of as particularly American. (But tannoy, that's British--originally a trade name. AmE would be loudspeaker or more formally public address system--which would work very formally in BrE too.)
I recently returned from the US. While on a Washington State Ferry I heard over the tannoy, "Vehicle owners should return to their vehicles at this time."
It seems strange to me, but working for a US company with Americans in the
office, I hear it a lot.
That's as far as the draft got. I've just checked some UK and US newspaper sites and found that the Guardian (UK) website had 277,000 instances of at this time, mostly repeats of "Sorry, commenting is not available at this time. Please try again later." That seems like exactly the type of 'empty' at this time Jon was asking about. The Boston Globe (US) and the Times (UK) both had around 5000 hits for the phrase, the Chicago Tribune 12,000. Now, searching these, there's no way to know (a) how many of the examples are the use of the phrase that Jon was talking about, (b) how many are quoted American speech.
So, let's try government sites--and let's limit it to orders of the form "please * at this time" (* being the wildcard in a Google search). The.gov.uk sites immediately examples where a now (or nothing) would have sufficed:
There is currently a suspect bag in Park Place W1. Cordons are at Arlington st and Park Place please avoid at this timeNow, of course, one could say 'Look at all that creeping Americanism in British English'. Or you could say 'Look at all that officialese where they try to use more words to sound more formal'. Or you could say that at this time sounds less 'at this very second' than now does, and therefore sounds less bossy than now.
Thank you for your patience and please accept our apologies at this time.
Can you please send us at this time the form of wording your officers are considering so that we can review it at an early stage
So I would be much obliged if you could please freeze the application at this time till I gather required specifications to help you assess the planning
At any rate, I'd need more evidence of a comparative and historical nature in order to conclude that the origin of this is American--since, as we've seen many times before, just because something strikes you as new and annoying doesn't mean it's not native to your country's dialect. So, I'm putting this in the 'project ideas' file--if one of our students would like to research this using corpus data next year, they're welcome to a neat little project.
In other news...the voting is now on at the Lexiophiles site for the top 100 language blogs. Last year I made it to a respectable number 40, but this year they've added categories and a voting process--the outcome will be 50% based on readers' votes. So, if you'd like to support SbaCL this year, please click on the button!