bits and pieces

I'll put the little bits before the big piece, just so they don't get lost. Here are a couple of things I've meant to tell you about and another waste of space on a certain journalist's take on Americanisms.

Introduction to British small talk, for Americans
I've done a guest post at the Macmillan Dictionary blog on this topic. Please have a look and share your experiences! 

Find me on Facebook
I now have a Facebook page as 'Lynneguist', which serves as a mirror for my Twitter feed, on which I post the Difference of the Day, links to things of AmE/BrE interest, and commentary on my day-to-day experiences as a linguist-emigrant-immigrant. (And you can leave comments too.) So, if you like that kind of thing, come and "like" me

Anti-Americanismism, part 3
I see (thank you readers!) that Matthew Engel is at it again complaining about Americanisms in BrE (and using some in order to do so), this time in the Financial Times.  His main point, that BrE is special and that Britons should care about keeping it distinct from AmE, is not without merit.  But since his focus is on vocabulary, he's missing the fact that there's no evidence of BrE and AmE becoming closer in more systematic ways--i.e. grammar and pronunciation.  In fact, the English (in both senses) dialectologist Peter Trudgill has written (in a paper I cited back here) that the two nations are actively diverging in pronunciation and that there is very little evidence of any grammatical changes.  BrE is by its nature a lexical magpie, and that's something worth acknowledging and celebrating too. (Just look at all the Australianisms in it, Mr Engel!)

Engel wisely keeps his FT article at the general-polemical level, since he's (I hope) discovered that getting into details gets him into trouble. But here's his reaction to the linguists reacting to his post:
What did surprise me was the angry reaction to my talk from American bloggers and blowhards – that’s an Americanism, but a useful one – some calling themselves lexicographers, all of whom seem able to study dictionaries but with no sense of the spoken language, certainly not here in Britain. I once got mailbombed over a column by the National Rifle Association, but their members were actually far more civil and sensible than this lot. 
In the aftermath of my programme I am now being regularly abused as anti-American, or worse. Rubbish (or trash). I lived there, have many friends there; I adore baseball.
Wow, we've got it all here.  The hypocrisy: Americanisms in BrE are OK if they're useful (but I get to decide which are useful). The passive-aggressive taunt: "some calling themselves lexicographers". The downgrading of academic research and the failure to acknowledge that some of the critics are British, living in the UK. The "some of my best friends are... and I love their culture" defen{s/c}e". And, best of all, we seem to have here a parallel to Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies: claiming your critics are worse than the NRA.

But the unforgivable sin in Blogland is not to link to or at least mention the alleged lexicographers (like editor-of-at-least-five-dictionaries, Grant Barrett or Oxford dictionaries/Visual Thesaurus editor Ben Zimmer, or, you know, moi, who's more of a lexicologist, but who has lexicographed every once in a while). And here I am giving Mr Engel more free publicity. What a (orig. AmE) sucker I am.


  1. Some folk do quote dictionary-entries, citing obscure instances from 1783, as though that were a guide to mainstream modern usage.

  2. To be fair, I think he was using the "some of my best friends... and I love their culture" defence as a rebut to being "regularly abused as anti-American", not to avoid criticism for his complaining about Americanisms.

  3. I don't think I said he wasn't using it for that reason. It's still a faulty defen{s/c}e.

  4. As the person who was responsible for giving you the problematic link to the FT/Engel piece, I should repeat here that it's easier to access the article (assuming you're not an FT subscriber) via Google News.

  5. Um, I use Rubbish. Or Baloney. If I'm politely avoiding Bull***t. Even garbage. But not 'trash.'

    As a non-patriotic American, I can see through the "I love baseball" comment to sense a seething disregard for any variation that he doesn't like. Don't like our word for something? Don't use it. But don't sneer at an entire country for coming up with it.

    And quit using all those words from India, you thieving colonial imperialist!

  6. Paul Danon

    There is no 'mainstream modern usage' for denoting the people who migrated from Scotland to Ulster and from there to America. The stream has divided into three distinct channels.

    1. Those left in Scotland have over the centuries taken exception to being called 'Scotch'.

    2. Those left in the island of Ireland have merged their identity with other Protestants; if Irish is used for them, it is in the phrase Northern Irish Protestants. When describing their ancestors, I believe the term is 'Ulster Scots'.

    3.Those who went to America chose — or at least accepted — the term 'Scotch-Irish'.

    Historical dictionary entries do two things:

    a. They confirm and explain the three different modern uses.

    b. They demolish the myth that Scotch is in any way mistaken or unacceptable as half of the term that describse the American stream.

  7. What a silly defense, and only serves to weaken his whole article. Engel really should have known better.

    That said, I can easily imagine the kind of overly-aggressive email that being thrust into the public eye of the internet can generate, and that is probably enough to make anyone a little jumpy with their defenses.

    But that's just the typical result of suddenly getting thrust briefly into one of the Internet's spotlights.

  8. As Zhoen notes, "trash" is not an AmE equivalent for BrE "rubbish" in the sense that Engel uses it; a detail which you'd think a language fulminator (or at least an editor) would be interested in getting right. "Bullshit," or one of its many variants, would be the appropriate colloquialism.

    Of course, some AmE dialetcs (I associate it with the South) do use "trash" to mean "lying or slanderous utterance" -- there are a lot of ways people can "talk trash" in AmE -- but it's not a recognized single-word sentence the way "rubbish" or "bullshit" (or, equally acceptable in both dialects, "nonsense") would be. (Is there a lexical term for such a rhetorical device?)

  9. @Lynne I like your phrase "passive-aggressive taunt" for Engel's jibe "some calling themselves lexicographers". It's useful.

    He can't win, can he. To rebut accusations that he dislikes all Americanisms regardless, he says that he likes some of them, which makes him a hypocrite. And if his defence of American culture (made to rebut accusations that his dislike of some Americanisms extends to American culture) is faulty, how should he have defended it?

  10. NorthernTeacher01 August, 2011 18:10

    Hi Lynne
    I've only recently found your blog. I love it. Language is so so interesting. Having spent many years teaching EFL (here and abroad), I've always loved finding out the alternatives to British English. Lots of international students are 'brought up on' American English, so I've always had to be very flexible myself!

    We now have more choice in how we express ourselves in English and that can only be good!

  11. racism : anti-americanism :: "some of my best friends are black" : "i adore baseball"

  12. When I lived in Massachusetts (1975-1981) I heard "rubbish" used to mean discarded material but not including things that would go rotten, such as food. Discarded food was garbage. These distinctions don't agree with the American dictionary definitions, but that's how I heard them used. "Rubbish" was somewhat akin to junk, but junk would tend to be mainly scrap wood or metal, whereas rubbish might be those as well as, for example, cardboard or plastic.


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