I’ve been interested to see a flurry of debate on the BBC website recently about Americanisms entering British English. They asked people which Americanisms annoyed them most. Some of the answers were very funny. The top two most e-mailed were:
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
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
Many of the Americanisms are phrases that have come into being since I left the States 19 years ago. 24/7, deplane, “I’m good,” heads up… none of these existed in my own American language and I would never use them today (I don’t think!). Two of the more recent Americanisms that grate on me are: “I’m loving it” and “it’s my go-to [fill in the noun]” (“It’s my go-to scarf” meaning when I want a scarf, I reach for that one). I’m also deeply suspicious of the use of “issue” instead of “problem”.
So I, too, find some Americanisms annoying. However, I thought some of the responses betrayed a British sense of linguistic superiority over American English that I must say I have never encountered in Scotland, but have often been met with in England. For example:
My worst horror is expiration, as in “expiration date”. Whatever happened to expiry?
Surely the most irritating is: “You do the Math.” Math? It’s MATHS.
Train station. My teeth are on edge every time I hear it. Who started it? Have they been punished?
These are all examples of differences between American and British English. They are equivalents: expiration date (US) = expiry date (UK) and so on. You could make pages of lists of such things. There’s no need for cultural supremacy. The “have they been punished?” attitude displayed by some of the BBC respondents reminded me of something that happened long ago in Illinois, when Michael and I were both in our first teaching (US) / lecturing (UK) jobs(US) / posts (UK). One of his students wrote on the end-of-term evaluation form: “Good teacher but GET RID OF THAT ACCENT!”
In my job helping university students with writing, I’ve learned a great deal about British English, for that’s the language we work in. However, I love American English and am happy to use it in my non-essay-writing life. I’ve made a concerted effort (failed, say some) to retain my American accent. I like being multi-lingual and having both American and British English to draw on. The Dafter has been annoyed with me, as I’ve written here, for my mid-Atlantic English (“how was I supposed to know it was ‘dressing gown’ and not ‘bathrobe’?!). But generally I consider we have a wealth and a richness. No one in our house will be punished for saying ‘train station’.