The End of the British/American Debate–Forever!

A couple of weeks ago I published Barbaric Americanisms, a response to the BBC article about the adoption of certain Americanisms by people from Great Britain. In that article I expressed my feeling that the reason there aren’t more British expressions being used in the United States is simply because British culture isn’t producing anything terribly exciting for us Americans.

Not that Americans are producing anything much better! Most of the big films of summer 2011 are based off comic books, or are prequels or sequels to other movies that were nothing incredible or groundbreaking to begin with. See Rise of Planet of the Apes, Green Lantern, Thor, yet another X-Men film, etc etc etc. We can also go see Mr Popper’s Penguins, in which a struggling real estate agent recieves several penguins in the mail. Hilarity, of course, ensues. Clearly the bar is not too high. A few creative British people have only to outdo Jim Carrey and his houseful of penguins to bring some of those Britishisms across the pond to an American audience.

The BBC later continued its article with a list of 50 Americanisms that their readers are particularly irritated by. I was going to respond myself, but The Economist has done it for me. Thanks!

I’d just like to note a couple of things from the article in The Economist.

For one thing, not everything on the list is actually an Americanism. Gotten, was in fact used by Shakespeare: “Jack Cade hath gotten London bridge: The citizens fly and forsake their houses." –Henry VI, Part II, Act IV. The conjugation get-got-gotten is derived from Old Norse, apparently, and predates the British get-got-got.

Many of the other Americanisms with which the British find fault are simply different ways of saying the same thing. If someone can give me a good reason why Chinese food in boxes should be called takeaway instead of takeout, I’d love to hear it. Ditto for railway stations and train stations. They both seem to be equally valid expressions.

And finally, some of the outrage of British people seems to come from a refusal to understand idioms: what the author calls Selective Hyper-Literalism. Idioms, of course, enrich the language. If we are not allowed to call someone a "bad apple” without our interlocutor responding, “oh, you mean he’s a nutritious red or green tree fruit that’s gone rotten?” then we are certainly in linguistic dire straits. 

So once again, I’d like to be the guy who says: Both British and American English can sound equally ridiculous to people from the other side of the Atlantic! So get over yourselves!

P.S. If we’re on the topic, have you ever heard British rap music? There’s nothing as absurd as a pasty white private school lad from Oxfordshire trying to be the next Jay-Z. British politeness just doesn’t go well with rap music. I’m just saying.

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