Friday, July 22, 2011

In Defense of Our American Language

Auntie Beeb reports that a "recent piece on Americanisms entering the language in the UK prompted thousands of you to e-mail examples" — Americanisms: 50 of your most noted examples. "Some are useful, while some seem truly unnecessary," rightly says the article. Some of the criticisms, however, are puzzling, like the following.

One reader complains of "'wait on' instead of 'wait for' when you're not a waiter." I, too, find this strange, and all the stranger since I first heard it three decades ago from a bunch of Brits — The Rolling Stones - Waiting on a Friend.

Another reader asks, "What kind of word is 'gotten'? It makes me shudder." The reader's ignorance of historical linguistics makes me shudder. I'll tell you what kind of word it is: it is the older form of the past participle of the verb "to get." Americans have retained many of the older forms of the English language, much to our credit I'd say.

"Pity us," says a self-hating American complaining of this perfectly profound expression: "It is what it is." Try to express the idea that five-word phrase conveys in as many words or less and get back to us. And no, ''tis what 'tis" doesn't count.

"Touch base" makes one reader "cringe [to] no end" (I had to correct his grammar) and another feels the same way about "heads up." Don't you Brits have your own idioms from cricket? Why blame us Yanks for your borrowing of idioms from our country's pastime?

Others complain of "leverage" when "[p]ronounced lev-er-ig rather than lee-ver-ig" and "shopping cart" instead of "shopping trolley." Don't these readers understand that there exist regional varieties in pronunciation and lexicon, even within a country? When I go to other parts of America, I have to hear "soda" instead of "pop" or "sack" instead of "bag."

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reminds me. My high school English teacher once told my class that a very remote village was found in the South back during the Depression that still spoke Colonial English. Do you know of this?

12:04 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

I've heard that some black folks on the Sea Island of Georgia retained 17th Century English for quite a long time.

8:26 AM  

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