The annoyance of Americanisms


It’s something that can happen to all of us. We’ll be happily typing away on Word or on our web browser, when all of a sudden… that dreaded red squiggle. What have we misspelled? On closer inspection it seems correct, but then of course! You’ve used an s instead of a zee, or inconsiderately used a u in the word colour. How irritating, our computers’ native language is American English. This onslaught of misplaced corrections is a minor annoyance, but it is something we could stop if we wanted. All it takes is a simple settings change.

By Annie Gouk


However, this encroaching of the American on what is British is not just confined to computers, it is involved in our very language. Little things that you might not notice, like people saying ‘truck’ instead of ‘lorry’, or ‘apartment’ instead of ‘flat’, mark a wave of words and phrases we have adopted from the states. In this case, it’s no longer a matter of pressing the right button to get rid of the annoyance. It’s clear why these ‘isms’ from across the pond are being incorporated into our language, considering the dominance America holds in the media, specifically TV and film (note: even saying you’re going to see a ’movie’ instead of ‘film’ is a betrayal to your national language). With TV shows like ‘Friends’ constantly on our screens, and only a few British films like Harry Potter to rival Hollywood productions, it’s no wonder the media is helping Americanisms trickle into our society.

This is not a new phenomenon, however, nor has it only been happening since the advent of TV and cinema. American words making their way over the Atlantic have been irritating advocates of ‘pure’ English since the young country’s establishment. Originally, words such as ‘lengthy’, ‘reliable’ and ‘influential’ were not part of the English language, and their arrival on our shores caused fury and outrage. The poet Coleridge even described the word ‘talented’ as a ‘barbarous word’. These days these words are commonplace, and hold a useful place in our vocabulary.

What this helps demonstrate is that English is a very flexible language, one that is always changing and evolving. This is not just shown through our use of Americanisms, but also in youth slang arising (primarily in London) from the diverse and numerous cultural backgrounds of our country. Other cultures and languages are constantly influencing our language, and Americanisms are no exception. But does this mean we should accept all these changes without batting an eyelid? Some naysayers turn to the examples of Welsh and Celtic, pointing out the attempts to preserve them in their original forms. Why should English be any different? This is a difficult comparison to make, as English is hardly an endangered language. However, an important point we can take away from this example is that language is an important part of cultural identity, and as such we should respect it.

We should try and preserve our own way of speaking, as language is a huge part of how we define ourselves – it would be a mistake to succumb to complete AmericaniZation. This doesn’t mean we should be going around speaking the Queen’s English all the time, but you could make the effort to say ‘Father Christmas’ rather than ‘Santa’ and ‘trousers’ instead of ‘pants’.

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  1. Hold on to your features, I’m going to give you a big etymological slap round the chops!

    Words ending in -ize were a common occurrence in English from the 15th Century, way before we set our eyes on the new world, and most -ise endings only came into being in the 17th century. And the only reason -ise spelling took off in England is that we were too lazy to remember the differences between -words ending in -ize (often words that came from Greek) and words ending in -ise (usually from French)!

    And apartment has been around in English since the 1600s (originally a French word), pants has been around for even longer in English (coming from the best word ever, pantaloons), and trousers is originally an Irish word. Truck is the only one you mention that seems to have come into popular use from America, but even then you can trace its roots back to Greece.

    And anyway, we gave America an entire language – I don’t really mind that a tiny handful few of their changed spellings are making their way back.

  2. I understand that many of these words actually come from languages other than American English, and that they may have been used in English before now. But I’m referring to what is more commonly used in England today compared to what is more commonly used in America, and you can’t deny that we tend to spell things ‘-ise’ rather than ‘-ize’ and put u’s in words like colour and flavour. These were simply examples used to make a point, and if we were to unravel the English language as a whole I know that there are all kinds of influences involved, as I have said in the article. That doesn’t counter the fact that words and phrases which are more commonly used in America, that we see as ‘American’, have been increasingly more popular in England, and that this is largely to do with the media. However, of course it’s ok for you to not mind that some changed spellings are coming back (though my focus in the article was more on words and phrases). I know a lot of people don’t really mind or care.

  3. It’s perfectly grammatically correct in British English to use either -ise or -ize (apart for certain words that do have to end in -ise – the French derived words) as long as you’re consistent. And as for colour/color and such – well, if you used them in an essay here you could be sure to be knocked down a mark or two.

    So yeah, badly configured spellcheckers are hardly the worst of American cultural imperialism.

  4. As I said, the example of the spellchecker was to make a general point. Considering I am writing a 500 or so word article on the annoyance of Americanisms in our everyday language, I don’t really have the opportunity to go into detail about American cultural imperialism as a whole.
    The issue I take with your comments is that to say these words, phrases and spellings are ‘correct’, grammatically or otherwise, is to completely miss the point. Let me us another example. Over here we say ‘football’, while in America they say ‘soccer’. Now, originally ‘soccer’ was what we said in England as well (soccer football as opposed to rugby football). But now, however ‘correct’ it would be to say soccer, we would still dispute its use in this country. I’m talking about what is considered the norm in our current culture.
    You may see this as trivial, but I know it’s something that gets on the nerves of quite a few people in this country, and as such I feel it is a perfectly legitimate article subject.

  5. Joe- Article subjects are not chosen by the writer, which I’m sure you know, so stop arguing a ridiculous case because it just makes you seem like a typical student who thinks they know absolutely everything about a certain topic. Lancaster appears to attract big headed people whose insecurities are overcome by snobbish comments on a university newspaper article… I’m sure you kind find bigger problems to debate on in the Daily Mail.

  6. “Article subjects are not chosen by the writer” – yes they are. I wouldn’t choose to do an article I know nothing about.

    “so stop arguing a ridiculous case” – he’s debating. It’s what the comment section is for, my dear.

    “Lancaster appears to attract big headed people whose insecurities are overcome by snobbish comments on a university newspaper article” – and your pre-suppositions of people who comment on newspaper articles aren’t snobby at all.

    “I?m sure you kind find bigger problems to debate on in the Daily Mail.” – I looked. I kindn’t.

  7. Well all I have to say is, see insecurity quote.
    And don’t call anyone “my dear” if you don’t want to be compared to David Cameron.

  8. “Well all I have to say is, see insecurity quote” – issue taken with a friend’s article = insecurity. How conceited.

    Do it, my political leaning is hefty enough to cancel out any comparison you try to make.

  9. I commented out of my own free will.
    Now go back to the drama club.

  10. English is evolving, and always has. I’m sure those who died before the 1700s would be turning in their graves at all of this ‘would you’, ‘could you’ and ‘will you’ qualifier nonsense. And I can see why – it’s a total lack of respect for their glorious language.

  11. “I commented out of my own free will” – No-one suggested that you did it under duress.

    “Now go back to the drama club” – Oh no, you know that I’m an actor and critic. You sure got me by the gonads there.

  12. I know what I’ve said so stop quoting me and no, I sort of guessed really. Now, I don’t want to continue this discussion in a comment box, I’ve got some conceited looking in the mirror to do.

  13. Maybe best if you don’t come diving arse first with all guns blazing into a comment section to belittle someone for debating reasonably then, eh?

  14. You’re so right.

  15. “I’ve said my piece, realized I am a complete moron, and am now going to leave, hiding my utter ridiculousness behind a poorly linked sarcastic closing line.”

  16. australian and american english is actually closer to 17th century english than current british english

  17. “argumentative vengeance taker for SCAN”
    – you’re clearly bored. (God it feels good to quote people.)
    I felt the writer was being belittled so there you go. I’m certainly not a moron, I never comment on this stuff. Just got personal, I hope you can understand that. I really do.

  18. Wow! The mass breakout of violence that’s occurred as a result of my comments comes as something of a surprise.

    Emily, I was in no way trying to belittle the writer (although I feel like you’ve done your best to belittle me – still, I hold no grudges). Annie wrote an interesting article, but I disagreed with some of it, and I felt impelled to comment. And as a section editor for SCAN who works closely alongside the Features Editor, I can be fairly confident in saying that this was a subject Annie chose for herself.

    As for your accusation of being a typical, big headed student? Well, if you know of any other ‘typical students’ who read books about etymology in their spare time and are having a great and successful time studying social and cultural history for their degree, then put us in touch, as I would very much like to marry them. So hopefully you can see that this was an article where I felt I could make a reasonable comment – after all, it’s what those comment boxes are for. So I don’t really understand your original complaint. But like I said, I hold no grudges, and I hope we can both wade out of this quagmire of commentary with our heads held high.

  19. “you?re clearly bored.” – of you? Never. You’re a goose, shitting golden eggs full of funnies instead of yolk. You’re floundering like a pigeon in the gulf oil spill and it’s amusing.

    The writer was not belittled, the writer’s points were addressed and argued coherently. You’re the person who started churning out personal insults along with your golden eggs.

    “Just got personal” – Is there currently a cockney stood behind you, shouting ‘leave it aahhhhht Emily, ‘ee ain’t worf it!’

  20. Ronnie- I meant it got personal when my friend was involved… I’m not planning to arrange a time to have a fist fight, don’t worry!
    Joe- I get very defensive (the mancunian that I am) it wasn’t aimed at you, personally, more about how sick I am of meeting certain people who think they’re better than others if they study a particular subject (especially, over the internet- the reason why I wanted to stop the arguing with the lovely Ronnie about 15 comments ago).
    I found out this year that most students have gone to private high schools and 6th forms before coming here and I’m so scared that Lancaster will turn into a university of snobbery. I’m not implying that you have but it’s that sort of attitude I can’t stand.
    Anyway, next time a debate occurs, for me, I hope it’s in a seminar!

  21. Ok, I was going to stay out of this since it has nothing to do with the article. But really this is getting a bit out of hand. I’m not saying this is your fault or anything Ronnie, but emily has clearly been trying to end this ridiculous argument, yet you seem intent on having the last word. If we could leave the throwing of insults aside and have an intelligent debate which your so adamant on defending, that would be great.
    Joe, I appreciate your knowledge on the matter, but as I have said in my previous argument I’m not looking at a historically or grammatically correct version of language, but instead a culturally accepted version of it. I hope my counter argument has made you read my article differently and you can see why I thought you were missing the point.
    This applies to your point as well Paul, as while American and Australian English is closer to 17th century English, that doesn’t mean we should use it over here. While I accept that English is forever changing and evolving (in fact Ronnie, I used those exact words in my article, so I am not disputing the fact), at the minute most Americanism are seen as more annoying than acceptable. Perhaps they will become an inherent part of our language, and that is fine. I am not advocating an unchanging and ‘pure’ English in any sense, merely commenting on something that irritates quite a few people.

  22. “more about how sick I am of meeting certain people who think they?re better than others” – so you took it out on someone who did nothing but deliver a rejoinder?

    “it?s that sort of attitude I can?t stand.” – why didn’t the article’s elitist prescriptivism elicit the same reaction from you?

  23. Seriously Ronnie can you just leave it? There is no need to keep responding, you are clearly just going to provoke and antagonise her further. As an editor for SCAN I would expect more maturity from you.

  24. Annie sums it up better than me!

  25. I’m merely fighting immaturity, which I will do if I am an editor or not. But for the record, I have absolutely no editorial control over SCAN or any of its sections whatsoever. What gave you that idea?

  26. *fighting immaturity with immaturity

  27. Editor or no there is no need to respond in this way, fighting immaturity with immaturity is absolutely ridiculous. If you look at Joe’s comment, who has far more reason to contend what Emily was saying, you can see how this situation could have been handled without causing all this.

  28. “there is no need to respond in this way” – yes there is. I wouldn’t back away from a slot machine when it was paying out, so I’ll keep at this until your friend stops being silly.

    “Joe… has far more reason to contend what Emily was saying” – actually, Joe is my friend. This struck a chord, and made it deeply personal to me. It was like watching my own brother being repeatedly kneed in the face by a pack of bullies, and I just couldn’t stand by and allow him to be so mercilessly trampled upon by largely inconsequential words. I get very defensive, the North Walian that I am.

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