Whisper it among native English speakers, but America’s greatest influence on the world is perhaps its most widely-spoken language.
Creeping Americanism are the scourge of the British pedant, but the country’s impact on English is undeniable.
In his book Mother Tongue, the author Bill Bryson noted that the influence of English on the world would be similar in scale to that of Portuguese if it wasn’t for its use in America, but that doesn’t stop some phrases from across the pond grating.
But how much of what we believe to be Americanisms are in fact long-forgotten words from Old English, and how much of our distaste is down to our own patronising attitudes?
To mark this 4th of July, we’re taking a look at some of the examples of the States’ influence on British English – the truly irksome, the undeniably useful, and some of the most common misconceptions about Americanisms.
With American television and shops so prominent in our lives, American English increasingly filters through to British parlance. A problem? Many of you think so. Here are the Americanisms you find most exasperating:
1: ‘Can I get a…’
When BBC readers were asked to contribute towards a list of the most aggravating Americanisms, this came out on top. The request, straight out of an old Friends episode, is now as ubiquitous as Starbucks on the High Street.
2: 'I could care less'
A strange and increasingly common phrase used instead of ‘I couldn’t care less’. Of course, it means the opposite of what the user is actually trying to say.
3: Going forward
An Americanism undoubtedly, and a bad one, but its prevalence within business circles makes this one close to insufferable. The Americans can shoulder the blame here, but it is ‘management speak’ which is truly the enemy of the English language wherever it is spoken.
Meaning to disembark from an aeroplane. While we imagine few outside of the cabin crew use this verb too regularly, it’s undeniably an ugly word.
Although ‘you do the math’ is perfectly grammatical, it is regularly cited as an irritation when used instead of ‘mathematics’ or ‘maths’ here in Britain.
Mistakes and misconceptions
Before embarking on any anti-American rant, it’s always best to check a word’s etymology. Many Americanisms are in fact words that were used in 17th and 18th century Britain and whose use continued in America while they fell out of practice over here:
Commonly considered to be the result of pesky autocorrect and spellcheck systems, the use of ‘maximize’, for example, instead of ‘maximise’, isn’t exactly an Americanism, despite being incorrect according to most British styleguides.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) actually lists ‘-ize’ first with ‘-ise’ as an acceptable alternative. It is the Cambridge dictionary that decrees the opposite.
The age-old extra ‘u’ debate (labour, humour) isn’t as clear-cut either – there was a time in Britain when dropping it was in vogue (note how humorist and laborious go without).
Meaning someone in their first year of a sport, or training elsewhere, ‘rookie’ is commonly used as an example of baseball’s slow world domination.
It may not be a sport played or watched widely outside of America but its terminology (‘three strikes…’, ‘out of left field’, ‘take a rain check’, ‘step up to the plate’) is very much commonplace.
Rookie, however, was used by Englishman Rudyard Kipling in ‘Barrack-Room Ballads’ back in 1892.
This is yet another example of a terribly vulgar Americanism which began life on these very shores.
The OED explains that while ‘transport’ is now the commonly accepted noun, ‘transportation’ was widely used in 17th century England, before gradually being given up.
Undoubtedly an Americanism, but ‘gotten’ is neither ignorant nor incorrect as many would have you believe.
The word was in usage well before Christopher Columbus was even born, with the OED placing its origin somewhere around 1380.
It is now obsolete this side of the Atlantic outside of phrases like ‘ill-gotten gains’.
5: ‘Wait on’ instead of ‘wait for’
Another phrase given a prominent place on the BBC’s list of irksome Americanisms, ‘wait on’ (as t he colomnist Johnson notes in The Economist) was used by the Father of the England Language, Chaucer himself, and later Milton, to mean ‘to observe’ and ‘to lie in wait for’..
What are your personal bugbears? Do the math and phone it forward below!