anti-Americanismism, part 1

In my last post, I refrained from saying much about the BBC Magazine piece by Matthew Engel on 'Why do some Americanisms annoy people?', pointing readers instead to Mark Liberman/Language Log's analysis of the so-called Americanisms that annoy at least identified by Matthew Engel. Today the BBC website followed up with '50 of your noted Americanisms', and already Geoff Pullum/Language Log, Johnson, Americans Living in London--and others I've yet to hear about, I'm sure--have posted reasoned replies to this offensive piece.

Why am I offended by this piece? I'll tell you why. Because I've paid for it.

The piece is driving a huge number of people to the BBC News website (as Stan Carey has noted on Twitter). As I type this, it is the 'most shared' piece on the site and the seventh most read (on a very big news day). But it is the journalistic equivalent of (orig. & mostly BrE) piss-poor reality television: let's get people to say things that might be controversial, and then we'll edit it into something that will get people arguing about which words to throw off the island. Two American views are printed as sidebars to the article; both, like the material in the article itself, are from readers who sent in comments. If we can call this journalism, it is completely passive journalism. Perhaps next we can have viewers' thoughts about whether it's going to rain tomorrow, rather than paying all those expensive weather forecasters. (Not to say that viewers' thoughts---or their photos of tornadoes---are never welcome on news program(me)s. That's why we have (mostly BrE) vox pops/(AmE) man-on-the-street interviews** and letters to the editor. But putting up a lightly-moderated forum of people's gripes about language does not constitute news or journalism. We get those for free on the web already. We don't need our public broadcaster for that.)

One could understand commercial television or newspapers doing such things--the more viewers they recruit, the more their advertisers pay them. But this is the BBC. This is what I pay a television licen{s/c}e fee for.* I want its online publications to live up to the organi{s/z}ation's charter to 'inform, educate and entertain'. And when they say 'entertain', I'd like it not to be throwing Christians to the lions or dwarf bowling or just letting people air their prejudices and ignorance with no (orig. AmE) reality check.  As Mark Liberman has demonstrated, many of Engel's pet American peeves were not, in fact, Americanisms. Guess what? Some of the contributors to this piece are not much better at distinguishing things that they don't like and things that are American. Geoff Pullum's piece on Language Log makes the case that this outpouring of anti-Americanismism is also anti-Americanism, and I think that you should read his take on that, since he makes some interesting points from an interesting perspective. But I do want to say something about the title.

It's odd, isn't it? Your most noted Americanisms. Does this sound odd to anyone else? It means, according to the introduction to the piece that they are the fifty that were most mentioned in emails to the BBC in reply to Engel's article. Now first, I'd have liked something more than one person's mention of each. Are they presented in order?  Most noted Americanisms. Sounds odd, odd, odd. But it does bear a certain phonic resemblance to a phrase that doesn't sound odd. Lo and behold, if one searches "50 most hated Americanisms", one finds that that's how some people, at least, have remembered the title.

So, a quick tour of the fifty, starting with the first twenty-five and a (orig. & cheifly AmE) rain check on the rest.  Where I've blogged about them, there's a link. (If you want to comment on the previously blogged topics, please could you do it at the original post? They continue to be read and linked to. I'd like for your comment to be where it can do the most good for people who want to know more about that particular expression.)

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
This definitely sounds American to those old enough to remember when it wasn't said in the UK. But this battle is lost--it's pervasive.  Back here I did some wondering about why it sounds odd to BrE ears and not to AmE ones.

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
I liked Guardian columnist (and British expat in Brooklyn) Oliver Burkeman's response to this on Twitter: 

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
This is originally AmE, but noted by the OED in the Guardian as early as 1960. But are double and triple really equivalent to two-time and three-time? Couldn't the double Wimbledon champion mean that they won two prizes (say, in singles and doubles) in the same year? Double means 'twice as much'; two-time means 'at two times'. Grammatically it makes perfect sense, as it is identical to one-time champion, which seems to be originally BrE.

4. Using 24/7 rather than "24 hours, 7 days a week" or even just plain "all day, every day". Simon Ball, Worcester
I'm sure this one annoys some Americans too. Slang does that. I'm more annoyed that the so-called 24-hour stores here (Asda, the UK arm of Walmart) close late-ish on Saturday, re-open for a few hours on Sunday, close again, then open (on) Monday morning (see example opening times here). Does the phrase 24/7 actually crop up in BrE? (she asked, mischievously).

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
This is an airlineism. No one says this but flight attendants and pilots, and then only to annoy you. Yes, you.

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
Johnson's covered this one, and says:
Yes, to "wait on" also means to be a waiter, but writers from Chaucer to Milton to George Eliot used "to wait on" in various senses including "to observe", "to lie in wait for", "to await" and more.

7. "It is what it is". Pity us. Michael Knapp, Chicago, US
Apparently we're supposed/meant to pity people in Chicago who have to hear American English. Six of the fifty people whose 'noted' Americanisms the BBC has noted are in the US. Another four are in countries other than the UK (two of those are in non-Anglophone countries). One can only imagine that the US ones are expatriates from the UK or elsewhere. Engel and others claim that Americanisms are fine in their place (America), but the problem is when they invade British English. But apparently they're not OK in the US either.

8. Dare I even mention the fanny pack? Lisa, Red Deer, Canada
Tisha at Americans Living in London notes (my link added):
Um, fanny doesn't mean the same in the US as it does in the UK.  After all this is a country that uses the term faggot to describe a pork dish.  A Brit could never get away with saying that in the States!
Not to mention bumming a fag.

9. "Touch base" - it makes me cringe no end. Chris, UK
Yeah, that annoyed a lot of us too.  Google "pet peeve" "touch base", if you'd like a show-and-tell.  Is it a baseball metaphor? That'll be especially peevable in the UK.

10. Is "physicality" a real word? Curtis, US
Johnson again (emphasis added for that obnoxious American effect): "Yes, first noted in a book published in London in 1827."

11. Transportation. What's wrong with transport? Greg Porter, Hercules, CA, US
What's wrong with transport in California is that it would be a foreign word. And a newfangled Briticism at that.  To quote the OED, transportation was "Much used in 17th c. down to c1660; afterwards gradually given up for transport, prob. to avoid association with penal transportation".

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
The pronunciation difference, with BrE preferring 'ee' where AmE prefers the "short vowel" is found in a range of words, including evolution. I haven't noticed the meaning change Mr Wilkins claims (though value added might need translation for AmE readers: 'something extra included in the price'). It is used a lot in business jargon, and 90% of any country's population hates business jargon. [Need a made-up statistic? I got'em right here!]

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
Really, obliterated?  It means something different from celebrate, certainly. Glad you like it. 

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
Hey, give our word back!!  (Here's my cart/trolley post.)

15. What kind of word is "gotten"? It makes me shudder. Julie Marrs, Warrington
It's the kind of word that's been in English probably as long as it's been English. (First OED citation, ca. 1380.)  Here's an old post. As I've been heard to say before, if you object to gotten, then it's your duty to object to  forgotten, misbegotten and ill-gotten too.

16. "I'm good" for "I'm well". That'll do for a start. Mike, Bridgend, Wales
I used to take this as an ironic misuse--i.e. being 'incorrect' to give your response a down-home flavo(u)r. If you ever hear me say it, it's ironic. But it's general informal AmE now. (Emphasis on the informal.) An old [and not-quite-relevant! ed.] post on adjectives-as-adverbs.

17. "Bangs" for a fringe of the hair. Philip Hall, Nottingham
Here's an old post.  In AmE bangs and fringe would be somewhat different styles. (Nuance!)

18. Take-out rather than takeaway! Simon Ball, Worcester
Are the Scots still allowed to say carry-out? Old post--the comments are very informative about the regional variations. 

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
Oh, Bob! Thank you, Bob! This takes us back to a post called "Language play -- not getting it".

20. "A half hour" instead of "half an hour". EJB, Devon
The OED has citations back to 1420. Needless to say, they're not American.

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
Neither am I, in the way Haworth has related it.  To give someone a heads up is to give them a warning. It's informal, figurative. Looking at do a heads up on the web, there's a lot of do a heads up tournament. No idea what that means either. Jargon, or is my AmE too out-of-date?

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
A number of BrE speakers commented at an earlier post that they find train station very natural in their dialects. This battle is lost, and one can see why--since BrE has coach station (AmE (long-distance only) bus station--e.g. a Greyhound station) and train station (but not railway station) works on analogy with it.

23. To put a list into alphabetical order is to "alphabetize it" - horrid! Chris Fackrell, York
Do you care to explain this, C Fackrell?  This seems similar to Engel's complaint about 'hospitalize', in that there is some general opposition to using one of English's lovely productive derivational suffixes. Why is this one so bad? And if it's so bad, why do BrE speakers pressuri{z/s}e people to do things where AmE speakers would pressure them?

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
Annoys me too. See point about slang, at number 4.  But I don't see how it's any lazier than saying my fault.

25. "Normalcy" instead of "normality" really irritates me. Tom Gabbutt, Huddersfield
 An oldie but a goodie. Here's what the Maven's Word of the Day said about it. For a long time, it was considered non-standard in AmE too, but we've overcome that and it's now nearly twice as common as normality.

Part 2....can now be seen here.

* You probably smell a rat too. The BBC has had its budgets slashed. The people in charge of such things are all co{s/z}y with the people who run a very sleazy news organi{s/z}ation. I wouldn't be surprised if the BBC website puts things up to meet readership targets or some such thing, in hopes that their budgets and services won't be further attacked.

** Thanks to reader 'jb' for noticing/suggesting this difference. In AmE man-on-the-street is about three times more common than man-in-the-street, which is the BrE form.


  1. Thank you, Lynne, for your services to sanity and scholarship. This is a lazy, lamentable turn by the BBC. Even if they couldn't afford to pay someone (i.e., a linguist) to critically compere the orgy of peeving they invited, I imagine many would have done it for free, if only to encourage people to do a moment's research before indulging in this wildly popular hobby of phrase-hating, with its unsavoury side of casual anti-Americanism.

  2. Re: "heads up," I'm in southern California and am often around professionals and MBA students (some of the worst jargon offenders), but this sense of "heads up" (to refer to a meeting) is new to me. Perhaps it's a certain kind of meeting, like a briefing?

    In any case, I don't care for it. I do, however, appreciate your rousing defense of AmE. :)

  3. Steven Capsuto21 July, 2011 01:23

    Regarding hospitalize, alphabetize, et al.: yes, there are people who have a bee in their bonnet about the suffix "-ize" (or "-ise," if you insist).

    I gave away my copy of Strunk & White's "Elements of Style" after reading their irrational ban on the verb "finalize."

  4. Nobody celebrates birthdays anymore because past 21 there's nothing to celebrate except the inexorable approach of death.

  5. The truth here, I think, is that Americanism has been redefined as 'expression that British people think comes from America' rather than 'expression actually used in America'.

    #3: You'd hardly refer to a two-time loser (someone who has been in prison, or some comparably bad situation, twice) as a double loser.

    #6: It was British peevologists who pushed wait on 'wait for' out of BrE and formal AmE. When I was growing up in the 1960s and '70s, it was a Southern or black expression. Now it's spread to other Americans again.

    #7: Nothing inconsistent about someone in Chicago complaining about Americanisms: there are Brits in Chicago as elsewhere.

    #12: Does Gareth Wilkins either pronounce or hear leverage ending in "ig" rather than "idge"? I doubt it.

    #16: I'm good has a different nuance from I'm well; the latter refers to you general health, the former to your immediate state, physical or often psychological.

    #21: I think that heads-up in these contexts means 'face to face' (in person) or 'head to head' (in direct competition).

  6. When I turn 50, I will celebrate my birthday. Not before. And by then, I'll no longer be offended at the crassness of all this. I hoped you would do a rebuttal, knew it would be wonderful. It is. Thank you very, very much. (Am/Can/E)

    The one I saw, That'll Learn You, is one I grew up with, and I think of as wordplay, like saying mercy buckets and donkey shines (for 'thanks' in French and German.) I have not been able to find anything definitive online on that'll learn you, so I do home you do Part 2 soon.

  7. As "piss-poor" as the original article is, what I find most revealing about this whole situation is that my fellow Americans think anti-Americanism is in any way equivalent to the bigotry, xenophobia and racism faced by those who are not white or who are from Eastern Europe. "You wouldn't see a article about the horrible affect Indians have had on their culture!", "What next, an article about how the Polish mangle the English language??", e.t.c, when those are completely different. You probably would see articles even from the BBC about little more than "What's wrong with the French?", "Why the Germans are so crap.", e.t.c, and that's what this is equivalent to, because we are not some persecuted minority. I never realized how many of us are stuck in the 18th century.

    That said, there are a lot of things in American English that annoy me, and there seem to be a lot of things in British English that annoy the British. The only difference really is that they shift all their blame for things they don't like in British English on to American English influence. Sometimes they're right. But as they're stealing some of our awesome words as well that they all seem to enjoy - looking at you, "canoodle," "sundae," "pre-empt" - they should grow up and get over it.

    Can ya tell I'm happy to not live in either country anymore?

  8. Well said! I've found it very interesting here in Korea to listen to the amalgamation of BE and AE as well as slang that is taught and used here. I saw a TV English class that was teaching the word 'ride' for 'car,' teaching the phrase, "Your ride or mine?" More of that evil AE slang, I guess....

    One addition to the other comments: #16 is most definitely slang and has now additionally come to mean (at least among teens in America) "No thanks, none for me right now" as in, "Would you like a glass of water?" "(No)I'm good."
    Looking forward to the next 25!

  9. I read through the entire article, and I have to say that while some of those phrases annoy me too, I don't really associate many of them with particularly with American English. Some of them are just short-cuts, some of them are slang, none of them really deserve to be pilloried in this fashion. Except for "it is what it is", which is the new "at the end of the day" as far as I'm concerned ;)

    There's a lot of language snobs out there who cringe at some phrases, but as has been pointed out many times, English (in all its varieties) is a work in progress - and it's probably just a case of "I don't understand" or "that's not how I was brought up to say it". I like the fact language evolves.

  10. Brit in America for almost 19 years. For the moment I'd like to make a couple of general observations:

    First, the BBC item was (I think) in the Magazine section of the site, which is a less formal and more gossipy section than the more impartial 'news' pages. I wouldn't tend to take those articles too seriously.

    Second, I would have expected that the objections were less to do with so-called Americanisms, than with commonly used American phrases being spoken by British people who actually don't know their origins or meanings. It's clear there is also ignorance of what is and is not actually American to begin with. (I've been reading this blog and Lynne's Twitter links long and often enough now not to jump to any conclusions or make sweeping generalisations!) '24/7' is no more American than British if British people are saying it. However, ask a British person, in Britain who says 'three strikes you're out' what it means and there's a good chance most won't really know or understand the basball reference, they just like how it sounds. British people enjoy language and word play. Using 'in' words, jargon, slang, made-up words and clever, witty language is common in British parlance (like saying 'parlance' instead of 'speech'), but there are always those that don't like it.

    I do have my dislikes when it comes to certain American sayings, but I live in America so I've got used to tthem and I should add that I have NEVER had anyone but my own children complain about me using my British words, but I get torn off a strip by the Brits if I use 'Americanisms'. However, the lines are becoming blurred and I forget which is which. (I learnt about computer routers in America so I pronounce router the American way and it never occurred to me to say "rooter".)

    Finally, I might venture to suggest that there are probably as many Americans who dislike the current buzz-word phrases as there are Brits that use them. The person who referred to 'two-time' winners suggested using 'double' instead, but I think that 'twice' would work better. But that's just my opinion and I'm going to mind my own language.

  11. The whole thing about English is -what a sponge it is - Latin, Greek, Norman-French, Spanish, Italian, Hindi, Tagalog, etc. The joy of the language is in its versatility. I welcome the addition of words and turns of speech from other dialects and languages. My only peeve is with the peevologists.(N.B. - I dropped the final e in peeve and didn't use a hyphen).

  12. FANTASTIC! I was wanting to comment on his 'article' since the first one came out then I forgot about it until the follow up and everyone's inaccurate moanings really riled me. I didn't even know how inaccurate they all were so thank you very much. I may still do a more pedestrian version of what you've done here and I shall link back to you. Wonderful post. My favourite: 'piss poor reality television.' Perfect :)

  13. I work for the European branch of a Silicon Valley company. Our US colleagues use "heads up" all the time, with the meaning of "latest news" on a given "issue".

  14. When people refer to the "power of words", it's typically in the context of political oratory, poetry, storytelling, self-affirmation, or taboo terms.

    Pet peeves are overlooked in this regard, I think: the intensity of irritation reserved for, say, variant prepositions is truly impressive.

    There are plenty of expressions I've not especially fond of, but I don't think it's worthwhile to nurse the aversion into a wild kind of "word rage".

  15. I've learned English as a foreign language – my mothertongue is German. At one point I decided that I'll learn BrE and not AmE because I have more contact with BrE, so I'd like to keep my English clean of Americanisms – not out of anti-Americanism but because the results of mixing both varieties can be ...funny sometimes. But that BBC article is just horrible and not helping. It's almost as bad as any statement by the Gesellschaft zur Rettung der deutschen Sprache (Society to save the German language, although they seem to be renamed Society German language - sounds stupid in both languages) about anglicisms. It helps nobody, it won't change the language and it makes these people look ridiculous.
    PS: Do the British really don't understand "cookie"? Because I met people who refused to understand that.

  16. I agree in part with the author's assertion that a number of these linguistic differences reflect a difference in substance - though not all.
    Like the author of the comment regarding the friend at the train station, I too would be rather confused if a friend told me he was waiting on a train - in this case i think it would be better to use "wait for" and "wait on" distinctly so as to avoid such confusion.

  17. According to Webster Ninth Collegiate, "heads up" is dated to ca. 1941 and is "used as a warning to look out for danger esp. overhead or to clear a passageway."

    I (Midwestern American) must have known the phrase in that context the first time I heard it used in its complained-of modern way (about ten years ago), because it made perfect sense. At the time I thought, "Well, that's certainly silly new jargon," and I don't think I've ever used it myself (and if I have, then only ironically). But I don't look (too) askance at my colleagues who say it.

    There are enough things in life to worry about without indulging in language peeves.

  18. This whole conversation makes me want to become a linguist when I grow up.

    @Semidetbrit and @Allison both hint at something I've been wondering: Do American magazines / the American general public have the same perceptions about "invasions" of other languages into AmE? (Thinking more along the lines of basic Spanish here instead of BrE.) I've never seen or heard anything before, but perhaps we Amis are just too insular or don't care enough to notice.

    Thanks Lynne for this fantastic commentary and rebuttal, and I'm eagerly awaiting Part 2!

    — Kansan in London

  19. I meant to mention this in the post, but I wrote a few months ago about the blog of an American objecting to Briticisms (or Britishisms, if you prefer!) coming into AmE. The peeving in that direction is much more rare, but it does exist.

  20. I agree with you and the Language Loggers that these kinds of peeves are generally silly and ill-informed.

    One comment, though: I think Oliver Burkeman has missed the point of the peeve against "least worst". It's not that "best" would be preferred (indeed, "least worst" has a different nuance); it's that "least worst" doesn't follow a standard grammatical pattern. We usually say "least ADJECTIVE", not "least SUPERLATIVE". That's what Mike Ayres is getting at with his ironic "most best" in his comment, but Burkeman seems to have missed that.

  21. Mostly I agree - just one point though. To my (British) ears a 'One Time Champion' is not someone who was a champion just once but someone who was a Champion at 'one time in the past'. They could have won half a dozen times but still be a 'One Time Champion'. (As in 'once upon a time' I guess?)

  22. Stan: "I imagine many would have done it for free".
    Better than that, I would have done it for nothing.

    "Leverage": I have only heard the short E when the word referred to something to do with finance (which I did not understand). If the two pronunciations go with different meanings, that might be a useful refinement.

  23. Latest Anonymous: I agree with your analysis, but I wasn't trying to say that 'one-time champion' was semantically the same thing as 'two-time'. Instead, I was arguing that if one is grammatically correct, than the other one has to be too. That is, it's perfectly acceptable to make a compound adjective out of a number and a noun. See also 'one-horse town', 'three-martini lunch', etc.

  24. Attagirl, lynneguist, way to go! I love that you took the time to refute and comment item by item instead of just thinking "Typical" and shrugging.
    As a French woman, I know all about anti-americanism and am quite adept myself but I think there is a special variety of British anti-americanism: it's properly xenophobic in the proud tradition of insular cultures all around the world but it focuses on subjects that concern your mother tongue so no need to make the effort to learn a bl**dy foreign language to be a twat! Genius! And, since the Americans won't go away anytime soon, you have a virtually inexhaustible source of self-righteous outrage. So if you get tired of moaning about the dreadful weather, you are safe in the knowledge that you will always have something to talk about.

  25. Couple of brief comments on whatever strikes me (Australian, if you're keeping notes):

    12 - I know that "lever" (no suffix) with a short "e" is distinctly American, and I always use an "ee", but "leverage"? Pretty sure I'd use a short "e" in that. Wouldn't be the first time a vowel got substituted for a shorter one when a suffix is added.

    23 - The only thing that looks odd to me about "alphabetise" is that I would expect "alphabeticalise".

    (Incidentally, I'll be in England in early September, mostly London/Southampton based. Recommendations welcome. Is not my first visit.)

  26. The amount of effort that has been put into an silly article or info about this silly article is clearly why we are all idiots on the internet. Seriously? arguing about some shitty fill-in piece of writing on a news site and then reacting to it. FIRSTWORLD PROBLEMS, some people need to get a grip on reality and stop dwelling on this shit and focus on things that are important not just snipe at each other on the internet!

  27. A few thoughts here (native AmE speaker, child of a BrE(ScE) speaking ex-pat):

    "Least Worst Option" is one of those new terms that a lot of people here find grating. For me, I find the double superlative problematic; "least bad option" wouldn't have me gritting my teeth. I would also swear that I heard it first from a British person, in reference to the Iraq war or some other major news event where the internal decision-making of the UK made it onto American news.

    "Half(-)hour" falls in with the habit of using half(-)(unit of measure) as a single hyphenated noun or noun phrase (I tend to vary depending on context.) I've used it in a somewhat sarcastic plural in the past, as in "he said he would be done in a half hour, but it has been three half-hours now."

    The poker world uses "heads up" to describe play with only two competitors (hence "heads up tournament"), so I would assume that a "heads up meeting" is referring to a one-on-one meeting when the "warning" sense of "heads up" doesn't apply. I'm not sure which meaning evolved from the other.

    As commented here, "I'm good" is a short term thing, especially as a shorthand for "I have enough of whatever consumable you just offered me" (particularly for food and drink, but I've also used it when asked if I needed anything on the latest office supply order.) It's probably more equatable to "I'm fine" than "I'm well."

  28. "One can only imagine that the US ones are expatriates from the UK or elsewhere."

    You think the US doesn't have a healthy supply of Anglophile native citizens with linguistic inferiority complexes? You've clearly been away from home too long...

  29. Oh, I know the Anglophiles. Very well. But as an AmE speaker, I also know that it's pretty hard to recognize the things that are particular to your own dialect, especially where there's no obvious equivalent--unless they've been pointed out to you.

    The fact that the BBC put Americans' viewpoints in the sidebars is another hint that they considered the list items with US addresses to be British English speakers.

  30. PS: The "turning 21" comment baffles me. The only way one could possibly fail to see the difference between "turning 21" and "celebrating your 21st birthday" is pig-headed obstinacy. One describes having a party, and
    implies enjoyment of the event; the other describes an undeniable fact of biology, and I refuse to believe it didn't exist in BrE in some form (e.g. 'become 21') for centuries. You can even use them in the same sentence to describe different events, for god's sake - "I turned 21 on Thursday, but didn't get to celebrate my birthday until Saturday". The longer-winded form is by no stretch of the imagination "obliterated", it's simply used far less because it's so much more unwieldy, what with being five syllables longer.

    In short, and to use an undoubtedly infuriating netticism out of sheer spite: WTF?

  31. Nice review of a rubbish excercise, but I'm so disappointed that you missed commenting on the fact that number 5 'deplane' is first attested in Blackwood's Magazine:
    b. trans. To remove from an aeroplane.
    1923 Blackwood's Mag. July 11/2 Dudley left me, saying‥that he was to ‘deplane’ [sc. by parachute] now.
    1948 in Amer. Speech (1952) 27 72 A passenger under influence of liquor will be deplaned

  32. This is more about anti-Americanismism than anti-Americanism. Also, it's part of freedom of expression that folk can say that some phrases irritate them. Such irritation is worth study; is it sheer race-hate or something else? A more serious point is that some folk who write for an international readership use national expressions; examples might be slam-dunk and sticky wicket. It's not prejudice to say that such uses obstruct understanding by a global English readership.

  33. The way he described the usage of "heads up" made me think maybe they were playing the children's game "Seven Up" in their hot shot business meeting. I don't blame them though...that was pretty fun in 3rd grade.

  34. Thank you for this post. I registered on the BBC website to register my discontent and point out that the article sounded like a Basil Fawlty rant. But it was already closed for comments.

  35. Thanks for writing this!

    Just wanted to make a comment about wait on/for. In my dialect (from central Texas), 'wait on' can imply a certain amount of inconvenience/impatience. I was waiting *for* the bus/my friend/my dinner=i was waiting, patiently, nothing was wrong. I was waiting *on* the bus/my friend/my dinner (for a long time)=They were late. Not everyone uses it that way all the time, but that's my feeling about it.

    When someone bitches about 'wait on', I also like to point out that there's nothing inherently illogical about it--several languages use the same construction, cf. Dutch (wachten op), German (warten auf), Czech (cekat na).

  36. Deplane is a standard military term, along with detrain and debus

  37. Personally, for me, reading the list, "wait on" immediately put into my mind the Rolling Stones song "Waiting on a Friend" -- British.

  38. "Heads up" means "look up, pay attention"

  39. This did make me chuckle, but now that you mention it, it does remind me of those terrible syndicated stories that pops up on the yahoo page for a few hours.

  40. re "least worst option" - on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, I take it to be a short-hand version of this kind of thing from Churchill*: "it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time".

    *In Hansard.

  41. I’m not sure what I find more annoying: ‘deplane’ or ‘airlineism’!! There is nothing wrong with British English adopting American English words - borrowing has gone on since the birth of language. However, deplane is not a real word in American and must be resisted at all costs. In order to ‘deplane’ you must first ‘plane’. Plane is not a verb. No airline has yet put out a tannoy message: “Passengers are invited to plane at gate number 26” so neither should they invite us to deplane. You don’t deboat or decar or deshuttle.

  42. Meg the American22 July, 2011 01:54

    @recent David:

    That may be, but as David Crosbie said, it is possible to detrain and debus. And anyway, people turn nouns into verbs all the time. And I like made-up words; they're fun, both to use and to invent. Where would we be if JK Rowling hadn't made up the word "muggle"? If The Simpsons hadn't given us "embiggen"? Shakespeare made up a bunch of words! Anyone can do it; it's easy and fun. I'll do it right now: lexigrump, n., one who grumbles and moans about new or unusual words and phrases. Many of the people quoted in the BBC's article, "Americanisms: 50 of your most noted examples," are also probably lexigrumps. ;)

    On an unrelated note, am I the only one who thinks of that guy from Fantasy Island yelling "the plane, the plane!" when reading the word "deplane"?

  43. I've read all three of the posts you've cited on this subject, the original Language Log post and both BBC articles, and I completely agree about a) the ignorance of commenters who believe x and y words are Americanisms when they aren't, b) the strange logic behind people's decisions that certain words are "ugly" or "worse" than other words, and c) the surprising (for the BBC) poor standard of "journalism" on display by the Beeb.

    I also agree that many of the comments reek of anti-Americanism. However, nobody has mentioned the point that in theory, and in practice for some of them, the commenters are talking about American words used by British people in Britain. In these cases the comments can be seen more as an attack on people who are pretending to be something they are not, and/or complaining about the possibly imminent death of the British English dialect.

    You could easily find French articles complaining about the intrusion of English (AmE and BrE) into their language - nobody likes to feel that their language is being taken over or lost.
    And I'd be willing to bet that if the journalist had asked "what are your most hated/noted French words?", there would've been a torrent of comments about French words being used when there were perfectly good English ones. (And for 'French', insert foreign language of choice.)

    I honestly think the commenters for the most part are just standing up for their own language, however misguided they may be in this. Their confused viewpoints are not the BBC's problem.

    What is the BBC's problem is that they had the idea to run such an article in the first place, given how incoherently it was written, and their insistence on printing comments that are blatantly anti-American, which does make them seem like they are inciting a dangerous level of prejudice.

  44. Meg: No, you're not the only one.

    David: I can appreciate the appeal of your rule about the right and wrong way to form verbs in de-, but I think you made this rule up.

    I personally find the word "deplane" irritating, and a love of order may sometimes lead me to wish that people would say "disemplane" instead; but on the other hand I don't much like the word "emplane", either.

    But the fact that we don't like them doesn't mean that they're not words.

  45. @semidetbrit and @Lauren Keith, regarding Americans complaining about use of Britishisms, I think it comes down to the fact that the American dialect is a lot more far-reaching in the UK (and globally) than the British dialect is in the US. So it's not that Brits hate Americans, and Americans are fine with Brits, but that American words pose a much more real threat to BrE than British words do to AmE, purely because of the ratio of speakers in each dialect and the relative popularity of each country's culture.

    As to the invasion of Spanish in the US, that's an interesting one. I haven't studied it and only have a passing knowledge of the issues, but from what I have seen, it seems as though the invasion of Spanish words is much more accepted in the US that Americanisms are in Britain. But this may be because there are so many more Spanish-speakers living in the US than Americans living in Britain?

  46. "Heads up" is another baseball term. Funny how many of those end up in BrE. It is common courtesy to yell "Heads up!" if you hit/throw an errant ball which could potentially land on any unsuspecting person. In a game, if the outfielders keep their eyes peeled (another baseball phrase) they won't need to be warned if the batter hits a fly ball.

    'Heads up' outside of sport means a quick little warning. Usually, the situation isn't that dire. You won't hear, "Give me a heads up if this catches fire." But you might hear, "Give me a heads up when the tickets go on sale."

  47. David

    However, deplane is not a real word in American and must be resisted at all costs.

    Remarks first attributed to King Canute with regard to the tide.

    Deplane is a word. I presume it was formed on the analogy of detrain. This word in turn may well have been a coined as analogous to decamp or defenestrate. The British Armed Forces use detrain, deplane and even debus; I presume the same is true of the US military, and that airlines carried the term over from the USAF.

  48. David

    In order to ‘deplane’ you must first ‘plane’.

    Not so. What you must first do is emplane.

    Similarly you encamp before decamping, embus before debussing, entrain before detraining.

    All real words — check the OED.

  49. Ø

    a love of order may sometimes lead me to wish that people would say "disemplane" instead; but on the other hand I don't much like the word "emplane", either.

    Consider the word embark we took from French. For the reverse action French had desbarquer (now débarquer) but also desembarquer. For a time there were three English options: debark, debark, disembark.

    I'm not sure about the other words, but the OED quotes a reference to a 1915 British Army order that established bus and debus as the official choices. i.e. not disbus or disembus. Not doubt there were other orders for the other terms.

  50. @ Meg. I have no problems with made up words at all. My father claims to have invented the word guching to describe the sound made by my mother when she blubbers all the way through a weepy film! Generally, we are able to distinguish between real and fictitious words.

    New words have to be invented/created all the time to describe things that did not exist previously. There is, after all, a very good reason why Shakespeare refrained from using the word ‘computer’ in any of his plays!

    @David Crosbie. Language evolves and usage changes - ‘wicked’ being an obvious example. But that does not mean we should accept every change foisted upon us as a fait accompli. If someone wants to use a new or different word to describe a particular action, fair enough, provided that there is a genuine need for change. However, there are many existing words which clearly and succinctly describe the act of disembarking from a plane. The world was not crying out for a new variation and ‘deplane’ is, in my view, a bastardisation of the English language.

  51. I don't see what's so American about "train station". It's so normal in spoken language in Ireland and I would go out on a limb and say it probably was common long before US TV programmes became so popular.

    Apart from "I'm good" and deviant pronunciation of certain words (eye-rak, anyone?), I sometimes get annoyed at the American tendency to make verbs out of everything.

    On the plus side, the use of the word "ride" always makes me smirk. Anyone who doesn't know what I mean should read the chapter about Disneyland in Joseph O'Connor's "Irish Male at Home and Abroad".

  52. Correction to my post: "The Secret World of the Irish Male".

  53. @Gray - re "heads up" being a baseball term.

    It might be because I watch softball rather than baseball, but I understand it slightly differently. In my experience, it's more often called to warn people in the bleachers (those watching the game) that a ball is headed toward them. Recently I'm increasingly likely to just hear a call of "Heads!"

  54. @David:

    But that does not mean we should accept every change foisted upon us as a fait accompli. If someone wants to use a new or different word to describe a particular action, fair enough, provided that there is a genuine need for change. However, there are many existing words which clearly and succinctly describe the act of disembarking from a plane. The world was not crying out for a new variation and ‘deplane’ is, in my view, a bastardisation of the English language.

    I presume that you will therefore reject "burgle", since there was already a perfectly adequequate word with the same meaning -- namely "burglarize"?

  55. "The world was not crying out for a new variation and ‘deplane’ is, in my view, a bastardisation of the English language. "

    The world plainly WAS crying out for a "new variation", or else "deplane" would never have been coined, nor caught on.

    As far as "bastardisation", I find it hard to see how you can bastardize a language that has new quotes being made every day about how messed-up the language is. It has so many that I can't decide between the one that talks about English "pickpocketing other languages" or the one that talks about how English was "cobbled together by three blind dudes and a German dictionary" or the one about how English is essentially "several languages locked in a small room".

    In short, you can't bastardize English any more than it already has been just by its very nature.

  56. Can some American write something about our least favorite British-isms? Eh, probably not because I think most Americans tend to like the differences.

    Even within the United States there are differences in our language. I live in the Pittsburgh area. Those around here with heavy "Pittsburghese" say strange things that are completely different from other parts of the country.

    Here are some examples (Pgh-ese first):

    Pop = Soda
    Buggy = Shopping Cart
    Spigot = Faucet
    Jaggers = Any thorny bush
    Yinz = You (plural)
    Jimmies = Sprinkles
    Red up = Clean
    Nebby = Nosy
    Chilly = Cold

    And there are more! But we love our Pittsburghese. We don't hate anyone that uses a different term. It's just different. I'm guessing the British would really hate Pittsburghers just because of the way we speak, even though we are often touted as a very friendly city.

  57. This comment has been removed by the author.

  58. @conuly

    Whilst I do not know who first coined the word ‘deplane’, the fact that is now in use does not mean that there was a need for it. As Lynne states above, it is an ‘airlineism’. Has it really caught on? I fly regularly but have only ever heard it used by American cabin crew.

    Many years ago I worked for the British division of an American advertising agency. One of their accounts was American Airlines, whose slogan at the time was “We’re American Airlines. Doing what we do best.”

    Personally, I thought that was a great line, but the creative director of the UK company decided that it was terrible and had to go. It was a typical case of ‘not invented here’ syndrome which was endemic in the advertising industry. The world is full of very clever advertising and marketing people who come up with new slogans simply to justify their existence. I am yet to be convinced that the existing choice of words to invite passengers to get off the plane are inadequate for the task.

  59. @Lynne "As Mark Liberman has demonstrated, many of Engel's pet American peeves were not, in fact, Americanisms." Those weren't Engel's pet American peeves, they were words that Engel cited to demonstrate that some words he thought came from the USA, which some people disliked, are now accepted. As Engel put it, "some [Americanisms] are worse than others": his attitude is not anti-Americanismism.

    Engel also wrote "American usages no longer swim to our shores as single spies, as "reliable" and "talented" did. They come in battalions." What he objects to is not the fact that AmE influences BrE, but the scale of this influence.

    @Katherine "the commenters are talking about American words used by British people in Britain" Quite. Many people in Britain dislike elements of American culture here, and Americanisms in language in particular, though where you get the idea that anyone fears "the imminent death of the British English dialect" I don't know.

    "I'd be willing to bet that if the journalist had asked "what are your most hated/noted French words?", there would've been a torrent of comments about French words being used when there were perfectly good English ones." I'm not so sure. The fact is that the influence of American culture on the British is more apparent than that from France or any other single country, so America tends to get the flak.

  60. David

    However, there are many existing words which clearly and succinctly describe the act of disembarking from a plane.

    Deplane has the advantage over them in that it can also denote bailing out by parachute. I believe that it can also be used transitively.

    As far as I can tell, the expression 'disembark from a plane' would not be allowed in military orders. By all means argue that the word is being used in an inappropriate context, but that is not to deny that it is a perfectly valid, authentically constructed word — one for which there is no appropriate alternative in certain contexts.

  61. @Beth: At least three of your Pittsburghisms are commonly used here in Scotland (Red up, although that one is less common nowadays, nebby and chilly, which is common throughout Britain). Nebby is used here in perhaps an uncommon way, meaning cheeky or forward; what does it mean in Pittsburgh?

    There often seems to be a bit of a highway from AmE to ScE, formerly at least due to immense popularity of cinema here, specifically in Glasgow.

  62. The model for deplane was noted as a Britishism in 1882 — not by that term, of course. From the OED:

    1882 W. Chester (Pa.) Republican V. No. 142,
    The English are using a new word. Soldiers going out of railway cars ‘detrain’.

  63. Beth

    When I was a boy in Nottingham, England, we spoke of 'pop'. I think it was quite general in England. In writing we would see the longer 'fizzy pop', perhaps the usage of an older generation. Pretentious cafés and pubs used the term minerals.

    I don't think the term soda has ever been used for drinks here except in variations of the name cream soda (alleged to taste like lemonade with ice cream diluted in it) and soda water, the unsweetened unflavoured mixer. The tag and soda means 'with soda water'.

  64. @Cameron
    Since many in Pittsburgh are of Scottish origin (including myself), that would probably explain some of the similarities. Nebby means nosy or eavesdropping here.


    Glad to know the Brits use pop, too. We joke with people outside Pgh. about their use of soda instead of pop. Pittsburghers, though, will tell you that soda is something with ice cream in it, like an ice-cream float. It's kind of a strange usage.

  65. >> A number of BrE speakers commented at an earlier post that they find train station very natural in their dialects. This battle is lost... <<

    Mais non! La lutte continue!

    I've never really thought of "train station" as an Americanism (Americans, after all, have so few such installations in their own country that whatever they choose to call them is bound to be a very minor part of the linguistic corpus -- and I seem to remember, from the evidence of films at least, that in the days when most American towns were still served by passenger trains people boarded them at the "depot").

    No, not so much an Americanism as an infantilism (always makes me think of sentences like: "let's go down to the train station and watch the choo-choos"). I very strongly suspect that the "number of BrE speakers [who] find train station very natural in their dialects" are all under 25-30.

    John Major's privatization of Britain's railways had a lot to do with it too, in my estimation. After the breaking up of the unified railway into track ("infrastructure") owners, rolling-stock leasing companies, and "train operating companies", the organizations with which passengers (now rebranded as "customers") principally had dealings became known as "(X, Y, and Z) Trains".

    By the way, Lynne, one or two famous locations (such as London Victoria) apart, "coach stations" are pretty few-and-far between in the UK these days. Although better-appointed, long-distance, limited-stop buses are often still referred to as "coaches" they generally call nowadays at common-or-garden bus stations (where these still exist) or, in most towns, just drop off and pick up at a simple stop in the street.

  66. @Richard Sabey: You're right. I'm making a correction in the post.

  67. Lynn:

    I was listening to the July 22 podcast from PRI's the World in Words. You and Separated by a Common Language were mentioned favo(u)rably in their story about the Annoying Americanisms. The blog may receive a bump in its traffic this week.

  68. @DetailBear: Thanks for letting me know. I've been interviewed for their podcast--hope it'll be available soon.

  69. From New England. Sorry if restating the obvious, but in day-to-day use at work or school, we say we're giving a heads up when we have an announcement of some importance and we want people to literally raise their heads (and eyes) away from their work long enough to listen and acknowledge the information. So what Gray says about the phrase originating in baseball makes sense to me. Never heard of a heads up meeting.

  70. Heads up seems to have been reinvented more than once. I'm only familiar with heads up display. This is a projection of instrument readings a pilot can see without having to look down — and by extension a sort of status display across a computer screen.

  71. "Heads up" means advance warning.

  72. You know, after so many people saying what I said, I had to go back and check that I'd said it!

    Yes, a heads-up is a warning--in _one_ meaning of 'heads-up'. But that is not the meaning in 'do a heads-up meeting', which was the context that was cited in the article.

  73. I've never (until now, of course) come across heads up either as a warning or as a sort of meeting.

    I have a hunch that this is a British thing. Yes, it does sound like a command, but the command of a teacher to a class of very young children. In any adult (or older-childer) context it sounds wrong to me — and perhaps to other Brits.

  74. Such things always annoy me. Language is an ever-evolving thing and the surest way to guarantee a change is by having speakers of a common language live in different places across the globe. Differences happen and they are beautiful.

  75. It was a disappointingly poor article to see on the Beeb. Thanks for skewering it so deftly, and I look forward to part two.

  76. (more on the everyday AmE sense of "heads-up" that has nothing to do with the post)

    to literally raise their heads (and eyes) away from their work long enough to listen and acknowledge the information.

    Also from New England. A heads-up is a "look out, here it comes" announcement. If I give such an announcement, I don't need the hearer to raise their heads to hear the announcement; I need them to figuratively look up and see what's coming, when it comes. I never thought of it as originating with baseball, but that is certainly plausible.

  77. A riddle while waiting for Part 2.

    Q - How does the Queen get her salary?

    A - They give her a reign cheque.

  78. I've always assumed "touch base" to be a baseball metaphor. There is a frequent situation in that game where, when a ball is hit in a particular way, a runner who has taken a few steps toward the next base must return and actually touch the last base again before they can run on to the next base. To me, the phrase suggests a requirement to reconnect and re-confirm fundamental position following resolution of a situation where something (originally the ball) is "up in the air", "in play" or otherwise unresolved.

    Even though I find it a rich term that conjures up images of summer days at the ballpark, this American does find it overused, particularly in business-speak. I imagine it would be worse if you didn't even have the fond association with the game.

  79. Here's a fun site on Pittsburghese:

    From central PA comes "Coalspeak", which is a bit different from Pittsburghese. You can see the German & Polish influence here, as well as Italian.

    Here's a fun way to test someone's dialect: see how well he can pronounce "Schuylkill" (School-kill, more or less). The anti-American crowd can enjoy commenting on how we're so violent we even put the word "kill" in our place names (it's Dutch for stream or river).

  80. GiuseppeSignori25 July, 2011 19:43

    I think Katherine is spot on (BrE) that much of the reaction has to do with unease over people adopting a foreign vernacular in order to feign outsider status and the cachet that accompanies the exotic.

    There's a long-standing divergence in the besieged American soccer enthusiast community whether to adopt Britishisms for common soccer terms, e.g., "football" for "soccer", "pitch" vs. "field", "strip" vs. "uniform", "table" vs. "standings" and many more.

    Those who adopt the BrE terms are often described as pose(u)rs by the more nationalistic soccer supporters, while those who endorse such phrases are reacting, to some extent, to being (sports) outcasts within their own country and thus gravitate to using the terminology of the place where their sport is exalted and revered.

  81. Regarding #16: "Good" is an adjective, yes. So is "happy", "healthy", etc. You wouldn't use an adverb to describe your state of being -- you wouldn't say "I'm happily" or "I'm healthily". An adjective is exactly what is called for.
    I don't correct people who say "I'm well" because "well" can also be an adjective (a synonym for "healthy"), and as such is it perfectly acceptable in this circumstance. I prefer to say "I'm good", however, because it is vague enough to encompass both my good health and my good mood if I happen to be experiencing both of those blessings, and "I'm good" is still true if I am only experiencing one or the other.

  82. Kim, you're absolutely right, and I'm embarrassed by my error and surprised no one pointed it out before this! Am going to put in some corrections...

  83. Yes, "good" is an adjective. But to me "I'm good" as an answer to "how are you?" is odd and perhaps a little ironic (outside of specific contexts such as the serving of drinks, or maybe betting games, where it may be idiomatic). Although the intended meaning is clear, it is hard not to think of other interpretations, given the usual meanings of "good person", "good man", "good teacher", and so on.

    Of course, if someone asks "how are you?" and you don't want to say "I'm good" because it's too goofy, and you don't want to say "I'm well" because it's not all about your health, you can say "I'm doing all right" or "I'm fine" or "I'm OK" or any of a number of things.

  84. The situation is skewed by the fact that "well" has somehow become the adverb of the adjective "good" (as in: to do something well) in addition to being an adjective in its own right with a different meaning (healthy, sound).

    It's funny when that happens. Was there ever an adverb "goodly" in the sense "in a good way"? Think of "went" becoming the past tense of "go", and "near" and "next" ceasing to be the comparative and superlative of "nigh".

    Note that in two senses "ill" is the opposite of "well". As adjective, it is the opposite of healthy; and also somewhat archaically it means "badly". (Jane Austen could write "Jane had written the direction remarkably ill". Could one also have written "badly" at that period of history?)

  85. Egad!

    In response to all this rational and grown up rebuttal and discourse I am going to unhelpfully interject that I cannot bear it when Brits use 'bunch' as a collective term for anything that doesn't naturally occur in bunches. They're almost always adopting the [I say de facto] Americanism to try and sound cool, but it just makes them sound stupid.

    So there.

    P.S. The USA is a social and cultural avalanche, breaking across the globe, is it not our duty to offer token resistance in the form of the beloved national art of moaning (in this instance by means of xenophobia)?

  86. No, Solo, that's a big help! It frees us all up to be less rational and grown-up, too, if we want.

    But what do you mean by "[I say de facto] Americanism"? Something like "Americanism, assuming it is, but anyway I say it should count as one even it isn't"? Or "Americanism, which it obviously is because I say so"?

    Anyway, your own "try and" strikes me as another AmE tic. And who taught you to make sentences like that last one (the P.S.). You're making a comma do a ton of work there!

  87. Actually, Ø, 'try and' is considered less-than-standard in AmE, but is not frowned upon in BrE, as I discovered when I tried to 'correct' my boss's writing after I first moved to the UK.

  88. This morning on the radio there was an exchange something like

    How are you?

    I don't think many of the people objecting to I'm good would make the same objection. Even I'm great generally goes unnoticed. And I'm fine is what we actually teach to foreigners.

    The problem (when it is felt to be one) is that the adjective does not really describe an attribute of the subject I. If you say I'm good you mean that things are good for you.

    As an attribute good still means 'virtuous', but probably more often combines with a preposition to signify expertise (at), suitability (for or effortless mastery (with). Ø said "well" has somehow become the adverb of the adjective "good". I would add that "good" has somehow become the adjective of the adverb "well".

    Brits of my generation do use good as an attribute of outside considerations, but it's in remarks like I'm good for a fiver meaning that my finances and/or my inclinations are strong enough to incline me to pay or contribute five pounds.

    A contrasting case of 'external attribution' is the response You're all right use for politely declining an offer. Presumably we mean 'It's all right for you to leave things as they are. I think this is British, perhaps even regional English of England, but I may be wrong.

  89. Lynne

    I've encountered the odd Brit who fulminated against 'try and. One was incandescent.

    It seems to come from a mindset in which the word and is identical with the mathematical function +.

  90. @ Lynne and @David:

    'try and' [...] is not frowned upon in BrE

    the odd Brit who fulminated against 'try and'

    It's good to know that some things are the same on both sides of the great divide.

  91. On the flip side of the same mindset is the use of the word "plus" as a synonym for "and".

    "It's a great value. Plus, if you buy now you'll get a second one free!"

  92. Ø- The first one.

    As for 'try and', it has never occurred to me until this minute that it might not be standard. Teachers were forver saying it to us when we were whippersnappers:
    "Try and pay attention" "Try and get through a whole day without sending someone to hospital" and suchlike.

    As for my sentence construction- I was taught by no less than the mighty Lynneguist and her colleagues! (well I had already got the basic gist by then, but I attentively honed my style under her guidance.) The comma is a hardy, versatile and heavyweight punctuation mark, the metaphorical Pole of the typographical construction industry if you will, and as such can withstand my linguistic convolutions with little or no ill effect.

    I firmly believe subordinate clauses may abound with abandon so long as one can read the whole sentence aloud without drawing another breath. But I find AmE far more comma-heavy than BrE, is that partly why my sentence struck you as overly chewy?

  93. I'm not confident that abound works as a verb. I just wanted to try.

  94. Solo, I think you were messing with us (feigning opinions that are not your own), and I was messing with you (trying to hoist you on petards that I was guessing you would see as your own).

    Of course abound is a verb, what else could it be?

    I don't get the Pole metaphor. Is this a Polish person?

  95. Richard, re the death of the BrE dialect; I wouldn't have thought this was a likely fear either, but it was the only alternative argument I could think of. But perhaps rather it is a fear of the death of their (the complainers) own way of speaking, on an individual level.

    Kevin's and Richard's comments also made me wonder if maybe the presence of new words and usages, whether from younger generations or different regional dialects mingling or something else, disturbs more traditional speakers, and, because of the widespread influence of Americanisms, they make assumptions and falsely attribute such words to Americans.

    Anyway, while the comments may bring out some anti-American feelings, I still don't think Brits (collectively) are any more against Americans than they are against other foreigners, maybe even less so, but it may seem that way because, as Richard pointed out, American language and customs are encountered so much more frequently than those of other countries.

  96. @Ø, Solo et al.

    "Try and" sounds incredibly BrE to me. I would be very surprised to encounter it in AmE edited prose.

    (I'm a Brit exile in the US).


    But I find AmE far more comma-heavy than BrE, is that partly why my sentence struck you as overly chewy?

    Are you trying to make a joke with your use of a comma in that sentence? It feels extremely non-standard to these ears.

  97. Katherine

    Anyway, while the comments may bring out some anti-American feelings, I still don't think Brits (collectively) are any more against Americans than they are against other foreigners, maybe even less so,

    I think the vehemence of the 'peeves' argues against you, Katherine. When foreigners come out with unfamiliar English, we find it quaint. At worst, we may dismiss variants as childish or silly. That's certainly found in attitudes to forms from other dialects — nonstandard or in another of the 'home nations' of Britain and Ireland.

    But there's all too often a hint of hostility in the peeves — largely unconscious, I would say. We fool ourselves that we're defending the language. And only the Americans are seen as posing any threat.

    When I was a schoolboy, I used to frequent a specialist record shop, manned either by the owner or by the young woman who was his one assistant. One day she came out with something outrageous like Oh I can't stand Americans! I pointed out that all the people on the records were American. (Almost true. A minority of the wrists were British, Caribbean or West African, but performing in American or American-influenced musical styles.) 'Oh no!' she said I don't mean those Americans.

    Much anti-Americanism in Britain is similarly selective. There are stereotypes that a significant number of Brits object to. From time to time we decide that some individual actually is like that — George W Bush being the most recent victim. Many people find it easy to combine hostility to Americans as an idea with easy tolerance — even affection — for Americans as living breathing human beings.

  98. "Try and" sounds incredibly BrE to me.

    Not to me. It sounds like something you might encounter in spoken AmE, but not from all speakers.

  99. @Solo: I don't know whether AmE uses more commas than BrE. I often find myself hesitating about whether to put a comma in a given spot. But to use a comma to join two independent clauses is not just chewy, it's highly provocative. Except maybe in a sentence like the one I just wrote.

  100. Western Pennsylvania, like much of the South and what may be called the Old Frontier, was settled by the people called Ulster Scots in Ireland and the Scotch-Irish in the U.S. It's hardly surprising that the region is full of inherited Scotticisms.

    My wife and I like to read books to one another. Currently we're working on Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, written in 1886 but set in 1761. As I read it, I explain the Scotticisms, and occasionally a look of "Of course I know that" flashes across my wife's face as I realize too late that this particular Scotticism is also a Southernism: she's from North Carolina, though not herself Scotch-Irish.

  101. John

    Earlier today there existed a Part 2, including the quote of an uninformed peeve about the term 'Scotch-Irish'.

    Blogger tells me that the page does not now exist. I hope it's just being revised by Lynne.

  102. Earlier today there were the first few lines of part 2, accidentally posted instead of saved. That people thought it was a post and started leaving comments on it amazed me, considering that I'd only commented on the first of the 25 items!

  103. @ Ø:

    Google Ngrams, which I believe uses printed works, says that "try and" is twice as common in BrE as AmE. To be honest, I'm surprised the difference isn't greater.

  104. Lynne

    It's because you listed the 25. Even with 24 comments missing that was a lengthy post. And you did — technically — publish.

  105. I'm going to dissent from most of the views expressed here. I think this response to the original article is being unnecessarily thin-skinned and touchy.

    It might be wiser to take note of the fact that some people are getting offended. Even one thinks they aren't entitled to be, tact makes it both more prudent and more considerate not to tread on their toes.

    Nor do I think the argument has any sound basis that because one has paid ones licence fee, one is entitled to insist that the BBC only publishes things one agrees with. Even if one doesn't agree with people whose nerves jangle when they hear particular expressions, it's better to know that, than to insist on their views being censored out.

    The fact is, such prejudices do exist, and some British people do feel threatened by the incursion of the speech habits of people from a larger Anglophone speech area. One may say they shouldn't, but they do. It's better to be aware of this than to pretend it doesn't exist. By reacting so strongly to the original article one is being as touchy as those one is criticising, and in the very same way.

  106. I did not protest against the BBC publishing things I don't agree with. I protested against them taking a cheap route to publishing something to ensure great traffic, rather than publishing fact-checked journalism. It's tabloid publishing, and that's not what I'd expect of a public broadcaster that has informing and educating among(st) its central principles. The BBC chronically treats language as an opinion-based matter rather than involving researchers, as if it's not an important thing--but they cover language a lot, as if it is an important thing.

    Prejudices do exist. But let's examine the prejudice, rather than fuel(l)ing it for the sake of web traffic. Here, I am examining whether the prejudices are based in fact. The Language Log article I link to examines the more social/political aspect of the prejudices.

  107. As an American approaching age 60 (at which point I will undoubtedly turn) I can assure you that I first encountered 'heads up' when playing baseball as a boy and it defintely meant, "Look up - a small, hard and fast-moving object is about to drop on you from above." And by extension it continues to mean any sort of warning. I've never encountered the alternative meaning of a face-to-face encounter between two people though I trust all the respondents who cited examples. BTW, in current business jargon, that sort of a meeting is universally abbreviated "1:1", short for 'one-on-one".

    And I believe Paul nailed it with his explanation of 'touch base' and its baseball origins. I've always assumed that is where the expression came from and so its extension to mean reconnecting with affected people before embarking on something new is perfectly logical.

  108. "How does the Queen get her salary?" reminded me of this:
    Q. Why is the Queen's head on the coinage?
    A. So that you can't counterfeit.

  109. It took me quite a while to get that last joke because in my accent it's pronounced 'counterFIT.'

    I didn't mean that abound isn't a verb (I know I said I did, but that wasn't what I was trying to say), I just meant that after I'd published it, I suddenly felt I migt have used it wrong and was trying to pre-empt the usual censure. Fail.

    Yes, a Pole is a Polish national and the metaphor refers to all the Polish bulders who migrated to the UK after Poland joined the EU and have subsequently become renowned for being much harder working and more effcient than their British and Australian counterparts.

    P.S. vp- I take umbrage at the implication of "trying to make a joke" ;)

  110. British people are not 100% perfect in their diction. Some people affect a sloppy pronunciation. For example: one, two, free, four, five. Some people substitute a glottal stop for the letter t: mobili-y scoo-er.

  111. I delight in idioms, colloquial usage and wordplay. The BBC article, rather than enraging me with stabbity (a little netticism that I do believe will one day spread far and wide), made me chortle a good long time. Maybe even guffaw once or twice . . . or thrice. (Fragments are my friends, too.)

    Thanks for this response and the space for all the comments. It's been a joy to read.

    Re: It is What it Is
    You know, that's never bothered me in the least. For some reason, I've always had it in my head that it was a somewhat profane play on Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, perhaps by way of Popeye's "I yam what I yam." (Not to be confused with Descartes' gourmand brother's Cogito ergo spud - I think, therefore I yam.) No? It isn't? Too bad.

    The one thing that does drive me absolutely batty: use of "Anyways." Can you make people stop saying that? I would be much obliged.

  112. '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'

    The use of "to wait on" in sense of "to wait for" is also derided in the U.S., although it's probably a lost battle. It is very common in Southern and Black English. Also, the King James Version of the Bible uses "to wait on" in this sense quite frequently, so it must be a holdover from an older form of English that was at some point widely accepted. Personally, I use "to wait on" much more frequently in spontaneous speech since it just rolls off my tongue; "to wait for" is what I'd used I'm trying to show that I care about how I sound.

  113. The problem with 'hospitalize', 'burglarize' and 'alphabetize' is not the use of the -ize suffix. It is the transformation of the verb into a noun. It may very well be accepted usage in the States, and dare say there are usages in the UK that would look very odd and unwelcome in the States. However, since the debate is about Americanisms sneaking into British usage, then it is perfectly valid to object to these verb-nouns, just as it is perfectly valid to object to the resurrection of forms that have long disappeared from British English (such as gotten). We have perfectly good words of our own. Like instead of 'hospitalized', you could say 'admitted to hospital'; instead of 'burglarized', how about 'burgled', instead of 'alphabetized', how about 'put into alphabetical order' and, finally, instead of 'gotten', how about plain old 'has got'?

  114. Stewart, no verb has been turned into a noun in any of these examples--and some of your examples don't match the noun+ize pattern anyhow.

    It's a common myth among the British that Americans have somehow invented making verbs out of nouns. In the case of hospitalize, the first instances of it in the Oxford English Dictionary are British (London Chronicle, 1901 & 1904--though they spelt it with the -ise). Alphabetize goes back to the 17th century (London, again). Authorize, humanize, magnetize all go far back into British English. And it's the British, not the Americans, who stick an -ize in 'acclimatize'.

    We make verbs with -ize because (a) English is strongly influenced by French (and Latin) and (b) English has a very productive suffixing system.

    Why not enjoy the creativity of our language?

    And if you have something against 'gotten', I hope you have given up on 'forgotten', 'misbegotten' and 'ill-gotten' as well.

  115. About the "I'm Good" / "I'm Well" thing... Why on earth would you BE an ADVERB? Well is actually (prescriptively speaking) the incorrect word. You can't do that with any other adverb. "I'm quickly" "I'm undoubtedly"

  116. Have a look in a dictionary, Luke. It's also an adjective. (Not to mention a noun, a verb and an interjection.)

    It's not uncommon for words to have more than one part of speech. Other adjectives that are also adverbs include 'fast', 'better'/'best'/'worse'/'worst', and 'hard'.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)