Monday 7 February 2011

Whats Wrong with the Words You Already Know (Pt. two)

I've mentioned before that one of my biggest pet peeves is when Americans move to the UK and on day two are already injecting British vocabulary into their everyday speech.  One does not wake up from jetlag with an entirely new vocabulary.  We agree on this, yes? 

Ok, lets move on to something more important -

If we believe Delaware University professor, Ben Yagoda, it appears there is an even more cringe worthy group of Americans adopting Britishisms... non-expat Americans.   There are apparently people in America using British vocabulary in place of their perfectly reasonable "American" counterparts.

Professor Yagoda, a man after my own heart, has set up a website* which tracks British words making their way into American speech.  He's grading words on a "pretentiousness level", with advert (instead of commercial or ad) earning a speaker three points, and saying someone "got the sack" when they were really fired hopefully earning the full four points.  

Yagoda seems to object mostly to words which have "perfectly good American equivalents, like 'bits' for 'parts' and 'on holiday' instead of 'on vacation', saying that they are "purely pretentious".  (here here!)

Not surprisingly, the author of the the article which brought this to my attention doesn't really understand why Yagoda is irked by this, claiming that "Americans are angry with us for polluting their language" and even writing "After mangling our language for years, Americans are complaining about their own dialect being polluted by 'Britishisms'".   In typical British fashion, the news is being presented in a way which puts the emphasis on the British side of things and becomes slightly competitive without realizing that Professor Yagoda is not accusing the Brits of brainwashing Americans to use their lingo, he's actually attacking Americans with this website, not Brits or their vocabulary.  He's saying that Americans who are adopting the vocabulary are pretentious twits making a concerted effort to sound "cool" and they are who he is angry with, not the British people.

Keep Calm and Carry On. 

*Sadly, I do have work to do today and have not yet been able to find the website.  I would be incredibly grateful if someone can pass the link if they are able to uncover it.


  1. So you would be irritated if I told you that I said to my daughter's English friends yesterday, 'We'll stop by the petrol station to grab a bag of crisps'. Are you saying I sounded like a dork, instead of cool?! That's crazy :)

  2. No no, Laura. It's different in your situation as you have lived here for a longer period of time and were addressing an English person. That makes perfect sense for you. But if you were living in New York City, had always lived in America and were speaking to other Americans and said "petrol" and "crisps", then you would be a dork :)

  3. The only thing I was able to find was an article he wrote title: American Idioms Have Gone Missing, and is on his web site.
    I must say, this fella does sound right up our sarcasm alley! :)

  4. Is this the article?
    American Idioms Have Gone Missing - The run-up in Britishisms

    Very entertaining, even if it isn't the one you were after. I always thought "sell-by date" was an Americanism!

  5. Also annoying is moving here well past the age of developing the accent and faking it!

  6. Hearing other Americans here with a "british-y" accent used to be my serious pet peeve. That is until I realised that after nearly 6 years here, I was developing one myself, and I couldn't stop it! Don't get me wrong, no one is confused as to the fact that I'm American- but everyone back home thinks I say things sometimes with an accent, and I forget the Ami words for things. Example: was with my mom last year at a bridal shower. The bride to be was opening the gifts, and she had received several kitchen utensils: spatula, whisk, etc. After her saying that she couldn't cook, I suggested that she could "use them for the take away". Silence. Horrified that I couldn't remember what else it could be called, we sat there for like 30 seconds until someone realised I meant "take-out"! Haha! Guess having a 7 & 4 year old here as well as lots of brit friends hasn't helped. We also lived in Germany for 3 years, so really I've been away about 9 years. Funny blog, I'm going to bookmark it!

  7. Thanks Claire - that is the article, but I still cant find the website that supposedly ranks the words by pretention level. :(

    Buffie - after 6 years you are no longer included in my rants about this subject :) My family accuses me of having a British accent too, and its only been two years for me. Must do something about that.