Saturday, March 05, 2011

In defence of Americanisms.

USA_Jan_2009_01192009ASL_2886I'm occasionally accused of using too many 'Americanisms' in conversation and in my writing, but having grown up in rural Suffolk between two huge cold war USAF bases, with American servicemen's  families as neighbours, and having done work experience on USAF Woodbridge as a teen, and considering that I worked as the only employee of an American, and that I also worked on USAF Lakenheath I 'think' the occasional Americanism might be excusable.

Although 'explanatory' might be a better word to use than 'excusable', because I don't feel I need an excuse to talk however I wish to.  The English language (and all language) is a living, breathing, snarling and ever developing beast, and anyone who believes that we should speak 'the Queens English' is grossly confused about the way sentient beings communicate.

Language isn't something that should be placed in a vault under lock and key for its own preservation, the way we communicate is as much a part of social evolution as fashion and trends in beliefs.

I won't labour the point (because wiser men than I have written great books on the subject) but there is no English language.  There's certainly no English language that we can claim was born in, and belongs to this soggy little island we call the UK.  The words and phrases we use were started out German/ Scandinavian then got mixed up with French and Norman (yes they're two different things) and then nicked bits and bobs from almost all other European languages.  So why is it so frowned upon for a Englishman to use American words?  The 'foreign' words that we have assimilated into the English language are a part of the reason that English is so damn fun to write with!

In conclusion surely Americanisms (along with slang, hyperbole and colloquialisms) are irrelevant as long as we're understood ?

P.S Accents are another matter entirely (I know), but if you'd like to hear a proper old Suffolk accent then watch this short video my dad posted on YouTube; the man you can hear speaking has one of the best examples of a rural Suffolk accent that I've ever heard!  Can you tell what he's saying?  Suggestions in the comments box please!

This blog post was partly inspired by a Twitter chat I had with Talli Roland, go and buy her brilliant book right away!  That's an order!


  1. Yes, sir! Oh wait, I already have it. Ha! Thank you for the shout-out.

    And what a great post. Funny that you, as a native Brit, run into the same issues as me. I constantly find myself 'test driving' phrases, asking if someone British would say such a thing and vice versa.

  2. Well the Suffolk clip was about teabags & SUGAR! ;) I expect my own Cambridgeshire Fen ancestors spoke in a similar way

  3. I'm a twitter friend of Talli Roland and found my way here. Yikes! Didn't understand the gentleman with Suffolk accent, though I believe he was speaking about tea/coffee and sugar?

    Funny thing is that whenever Americans use words that are considered "British" they are teased and told they're putting on airs.

    Agree with all you've said about language.

  4. Anonymous5:04 pm

    As an Americna, I was stuck in a car on tour with 5 Brits across America. It was super fun and lots of these conversation came up. good times!

  5. Fantastic post. As a dual Brit-US citizen, I run into this all the time. My first book is set in San Francisco and the characters are all American, so I used Americanisms. My second book is set in Scotland with all Scottish characters, so I used Scottishisms. It's a very tricky line to walk!

    As for me, well, my accent AND my vocabulary are completely confused.

    India Drummond

  6. Thanks for all the comments, it's really nice to have input from zine friends and writer friends.

    I agree about some of the phrases being tricky, but mucking about with language is half the fun of being a writer.

    Your comments also prove that by being open minded to language we're keeping it vibrant and exciting,at the risk of sounding patronising I'd like to say 'good work everyone'.

  7. Fun post Andrew. You have some interesting observations. I love the point about English being a conglomeration of languages.

    Personally, I love seeing all sorts of *foreign* phrases in what I read. It adds a richness to writing much like spices do a dish. It may be basic dish that many can make but the spices and the proportions can change it.

    Funny you being gigged about using Americanisms (thats a new term for me)when the UK has as many country dialects as ours does. Not all comprehensible unless you listen very carefully but it's grand to run across them. And many of those expressions hark back to old times :-) Plus, with the internet, TV, and being countries that many move to or visit, new expressions are a given. We're going to not only hear them but become fascinated by the differences and use them. I think those expressions then become international rather than belonging to one country or the other. :-)

    Yes, "being open minded to language we're keeping it vibrant..." It's a joy to see.