Is Americanization speeding up?

Today I got to hear myself on BBC Radio 4's Word of Mouth talking with host Michael Rosen and anti-Americanism-ist Matthew Engel.

This is just a picture. Click HERE for the program(me)!
Biggest regret: that I completely blanked on the fact that sidewalk is originally a British word. Had to go home and read about it in my own book manuscript. I also regret that they cut a bit I said about British music artists singing in their own accents. (So please read this instead. I think the producer/editor might have thought that the reference to grime music would be too much for the Radio 4 [orig. AmE] listenership.)

But listening now to Engel repeatedly saying that American English influence on British is constantly increasing, I wish I'd pointed out this:

The 20th Century is often called "The American Century". The 21st Century is looking a lot less American. To be sure, it's not looking like the British century either. That came the century before.

American culture (and words) could easily spread in the 20th century because it was hard to produce and distribute recorded entertainment, but the US had the capacity and the economy and the marketing savvy to do so [And I mustn't forget the Marshall Plan, which my colleague just mentioned to me.] America was inventing and manufacturing all sorts of things and putting names on them and selling them everywhere. Two world wars and the cold war had Americans stationed all over the world using their slang in the presence of young recruits from other countries. The 21st century is looking rather different.

The 20th century brought us talking pictures and television. Radio, the most affordable form of broadcast, remained a more local proposition--though the recorded music could be imported. (Though the word radio, well that's an Americanism.) The 21st century is the time of the internet and of personali{s/z}ed entertainment. The popular songs are less universally popular, because people have more access to more different kinds of music on download. Instead of two or three or four choices on television, there are hundreds. And if you don't like what you're seeing you can go on YouTube or SoundCloud (or other things I'm too old and [orig. AmE] uncool to know about) and find all sorts of people doing all sorts of things. People go on the internet and meet each other and talk to each other, meaning that there's more opportunity than ever for there to be exchange of words between people, rather than just reception of words from the media. The slangs that young people use are sometimes local to their school or area and sometimes particular to an international online gaming community or music fandom. The notion of community, for many people, has internationali{s/z}ed. Language is moving in different ways now than it ever had the chance to move in the 20th century.

In the meantime, all indications are that the US is becoming politically more isolationist and more of an international pariah. Are its words going to flow so freely abroad? Will there be a taste for them?

The American century has happened. I don't know whose century this will be (please, please not Putin's), if indeed it will be any nation's century. (Better a nation's century than a virus's century, though.) American words will continue to spread to other parts of the world, but I can't see the evidence of Engel's strong claim that the imbalance between US and UK word-travel is increasing faster than ever.

At the start of the 21st century, British words seem to be entering America in greater numbers than they were a few decades ago. Much of this has to do with journalism and how international that's become. The online versions of the Daily Mail and the Guardian are extremely popular in the US. There are more US fans of Doctor Who now than in its Tom Baker days. Harry Potter is the single most important thing that's happened to children's publishing in the English-speaking world in my lifetime, and though the editions sold in the US are translated into American to some extent, it's actually only a small extent. Americans are reading and hearing more British English than they have in a long time.

The scale(s) is/are still tipped in American vocabulary's favo(u)r. But as far as I can see, there's not a lot of reason to believe that the degree of the imbalance is rapidly increasing. Yes, the number of American words in British English constantly increases, but there's more westward traffic now, more UK coining of managementspeak, and new local youth cultures making their own words in Britain. The tide hasn't turned, but there is (mixed metaphor alert) (orig. AmE) pushback.

And if English continues to be popular as a global lingua franca (due to its momentum, rather than the foreign and cultural policies of the UK and US), then more words may be coming from other places altogether.


  1. In support of your periodizing points above, we can also note that the US made opening European markets to US products, including Hollywood films (which in turn sold an image of an American way of life), a condition of the Marshall Plan. (This runs contrary to the way I remember the Marshall Plan being represented to me in AP US History circa 1998, i.e. as an absolutely free gift born of American generosity.) I think I first encountered the Hollywood film factoid in Nancy Green's book The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880-1941 (University of Chicago Press, 2014), but it's in my office so I can't check at the moment.

    On Americanization in the French context, this is a classic:

    Richard F. Kuisel. Seducing the French: The Dilemma of Americanization. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University Of California Press, 1993. [Free U of California P ebook, no lie!]

    A more recent work spanning a wider period and scope is

    Victoria De Grazia. Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.

    And on Cold War cultural diplomacy (i.e. spreading American culture as an explicit component of US foreign policy), see, among others,

    Greg Barnhisel. Cold War Modernists: Art, Literature, and American Cultural Diplomacy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.

    Obviously I'm aware of these things because during the Cold War the CIA started an academic field called "American Studies," which, like many fields, has become quite self-reflective, and which can be studied at a fine UK university near you.

  2. (That said, it's not likely that cultural diplomacy and linguistic influence are one-to-one. Status matters, and I notice that Engel tended to assume that popular/lowbrow = American.

    Also, a student once told me that her little brother learned language from a Furby, so linguistic influence can be unpredictable....)

  3. I listen to the show yesterday. I could be biased because I know you (through the blog) and Michael Rosen (through the show) but you sounded reasonable, he sounded like someone with an axe to grind who was cherry picking his data.

    But it was a fun listen.

    1. Thanks. I do think we all engage in a fair bit of cherry-picking (which is an interesting AmE-BrE hybrid). It's really hard to get informative numbers on these things. You can look at loss of 'fortnight', but can't know without a lot of other looking whether it's part of a general trend toward transparent time terms, or if it's that fewer things happen on a two-week basis these days, or what. But I was disappointed he didn't bring more in the way of numbers, considering his argument.

    2. This is not my field so I have no idea how big a task it is (or if the tools directly exist to do it). But you should be able search and sort dictionaries (UK and US) for "originally American" and "originally British" or similar and if you do that through historical editions you get a measure of the number of words moving each way historically.

      If your various corpus databases can be limited by dates, you could do a sort of census after that. Look at usage of those identified words (and yes, I know there are different phrases, like we don't use visit with in BrE) on a decade by decade basis so you can track the patterns of how the transplanted words (and where appropriate what they're replacing) are changing. I've seen you do that on usage in the printed word somewhere, which won't get everything but would give you a start?

      It's a big data problem, there's probably not a single clear pattern, and the tools might not really exist. It's also dead easy for me to say "just do that" but I don't know in practise how quick each of those tasks are - it could be anything from a final year student's project to a PhD or two or three (you might find it works more sensibly if you divide into subject areas for example to give clear topics).

      But the data ought to be extractable I think?

    3. It's really a lot more complicated than that. For one thing, the only dictionary that gives the 'originally US' info is the OED, really, and it is very conservative about doing so. It is also very bad at noticing British words that are not used in American and marking them as such. So, the info is very imbalanced. It's also irregularly updated--that is to say, some entries haven't really been reviewed since the late 19th century, others were updated last week.

      The problem for comparing using corpora is that they don't exist. I can tell you from one corpus what's used on the web these days, but that doesn't tell you anything about what was used in 1950. There are no built corpora to compare US and UK for then. There are some very small corpora from the 60s, 90s, and 10s that are "comparable" but they have almost no speech and an overrepresentation of academic writing. They're good for comparing high-frequency phenomena like spelling and major grammatical patterns, but bad for anything but the most common vocabulary.

      And then there's the problem that many of the changes are changes to existing words, rather than new words with one meaning that can be tracked. Tracking meanings is hard...

      I review some of the studies that try to do this in the book-to-be. There was one that was able to look at some things by pre-identifying word pairs (e.g. 'computer' v 'PC' or 'curtains' v 'drapes') and looking in those comparable corpora. They could look at something like 100 sets of words that way, and showed that the British and American word differences were smaller than genre-by-genre word differences (i.e. British newspapers sound more like American newspapers than they sound like British romance novels), but bigger than difference across time. That is to say, British in the 90s wasn't much closer to American than it was in the 60s. But that was just with a certain set of words. Doesn't account for the lexical creativity that goes on. (And hard to compare that across countries because American tends to close compound nouns, and British tends not to, so if you looked for 'new words' it's biased to show more for American.

      That's way more than you wanted to know, I bet!

    4. No, it's interesting although frustrating. I read your blog and listen to Word of Mouth and the like because I'm interested in these things. Definitely interested as a lay person, which is why I don't know how badly meta-tagged the datasets are (someone should really look at getting on with improving that).

      100 pairs of words is all, really? Ouch.

    5. I don't understand the "'computer' v 'PC'" comment. They are both used in the UK, "PC" is used to differentiate the descendants of the original 1980's IBM PC from Apple Macs, tablets, Raspberry Pi's etc (which are all computers). Are you suggesting that one is British and the other is American? I think it's more like "tablet v Ipad" - a generic versus a brand.

    6. It's not that one is BrE & one is AmE (things are rarely that absolute), it's that there are different patterns of usage. 'PC' was used much more in Britain than in the US in the data sets studied (though it's a US-original word).

      The data is from the 60s and 90s, so Raspberry Pi and tablets and such don't come into it.

  4. I listened to the podcast version of the programme last evening. I thought that Matthew Engel came across as an old curmudgeon going on about the word "awesome". Although the current "awesome" vogue may have started in the US, I think that it may be a "generational" thing, rather than a "geographical" thing, and may go the way of groovy, rad, boss, crazy etc.

    This was the first time that I heard your voice, and I found that you didn't have much of an accent (i.e. you sounded Canadian). Except for the use of "America" to indicate the United States. B-)

    1. Is that British? As an American, I say America all the time, which South Americans object to.

    2. I think that Canadians and South Americans are in agreement on the use of America for the United States.

    3. There's a post about that (kind of). Well, it's really about how the naming of continents is culture-specific and this has (orig. BrE) knock-on effects for what offends people.

    4. Forgot the link:

  5. Lynne, I thought you and Mayhem Engel were at cross purposes, while Michael Rosen maybe had a third agenda.

    Matthew just took it as established fact that there's an invasion of American words and expressions into British English. From that starting point he was trying to argue the nature, purpose and potential effect. You got sidetracked into questioning the 'fact'. Michael just wanted to have fun, and to celebrate the enrichment your dialect lends to ours.

    I'm afraid the 'fact' doesn't grab me. Yes it can be interesting that words start here or there at an earlier earlier or later date than we've been assuming. Interesting, but no more — I draw no conclusions from such findings, and generally disagree with those who do. Neither the sidewalk example nor the poop are more than quite interesting bits of knowledge.

    I started writing last night, but my computer seized up and dispersed the uncompleted post to the winds. I'd started thinking about what constitutes the history of a word (or expression) and have been mulling it since. I think I conclude that what matters is

    the history of a word use — for particular speakers
    the history of a word 's uses — observed at a distance

    For me, poop has a short history. When I was young I neither heard not read it, not even from older speakers and older texts. In this personal history of use the words is an import from American English — an 'Americanism' for those who choose to use the term,

    But there's also a family history — a history of connected and disconnected uses by different individuals and groups at different times. Just as thirteenth cousins may cost the Atlantic and reconstruct the history from when great great great grandparents emigrated down to the present, so lexicographers may trace links between historical uses here, continuous uses there, and current re-introduction of uses here again.

    Sidewalk, it seems, has a similar family history. Any historical use in British English has no connection with my history of use. Indeed, I'm not sure I have a personal history of sidewalk. It's always been a foreign word used by foreigners — albeit foreigners who speak English. Hardly different in principle from words I know in actual foreign languages.

    I'm off to the supermarket, but what I want to write next is rather a different topic ...

  6. David, was that use of Mayhem (for Matthew) a freudian slip or an officious spellchecker?!

  7. "In the meantime, all indications are that the US is becoming politically more isolationist and more of an international pariah."

    I really rather loathe the term "the American Century" to refer to the 20th, because most American history took place prior to the 20th century, history which apparently doesn't matter because ... surprise... America was diplomatically and economically isolationist. I mean, the more one thinks about it the more 19th century America seems like a pretty closed off country. The 20th century is when the US internationalized/open, certainly economically.

    As Mencken noted in 1919 in "The American Language", it was in that period, the 19th century, that people thought AmE and BrE would drift into mutual unintelligibility.

    Looks like the American people are just reverting to their actual type now, really.

  8. Just listened to the show and have a few random observations:

    1) I have to disagree with Lynne about her claim that "vet" was all but unknown in American English until 2008 when Obama was elected and members of his administration had to be "vetted". I certainly knew the word long before that, and according to Merriam-Webster online "By the early 20th century, this word took on the figurative meaning that is now most familiar: 'to subject a person or thing to scrutiny; to examine for flaws.'"

    2) While Matthew Engel was decrying the paucity of newly minted Britishisms against the torrent of manufactured Americanisms he pushed the metaphor by allowing there were only a few "bespoke" factories in Britain making things. My ears pricked up at "bespoke" because the word has for the last several years enjoyed a vogue in American advertising as a means of gussying up the pedestrian term "custom-made" by imbuing it with snooty British prestige.

    3) I was mystified by "YTP" and its relationship to YouTube mashups and poop until I looked it up and discovered it's an abbreviation for "YouTube Poop". Until this moment I was completely unaware of this acronym *or* expression. What's more, I just checked with my 19-year-old daughter, who not only didn't know it but, when I explained what "YTP" stood for her, texted the reply "Wtf". (I assume everyone knows what *that* acronym stands for.)

    4) Amused that the host, Michael Rosen, was unaware that "fortnight" isn't known to Americans. Here's a man who seems keenly aware of the influx of Americanisms -- I'd never before considered whether "riled" was one of them, but equally amused when Rosen declared "I love it so I'm going to carry on using it" -- but seems unaware of what does or doesn't go the other way.

    5) In the brouhaha over "sidewalk" and "pavement", I feel compelled to point out that, unlike "fortnight", "pavement" is not a word unknown in American English. It's simply used to describe any surface that's paved. That means I could say something like this: "In SoHo, where I live, there are stretches of sidewalk where the pavement, instead of poured concrete, consists literally of rectangular slabs of stone set side by side." (This observation happens to be true, by the way.)

    1. As to point 2 -- I agree. In fact, I have seen the word "bespoke" twice today in the sense of "custom".

    2. I have discussed the difference in 'pavement'--there's a link in this post if you'd like to read it.

    3. I've worked and socialised with Americans for short and long periods over a long stretch of time. This has made me aware of odd things that you Americans do say, but it would take a special conversation to discover what you don't say. Even if I spent time in America, I'm not sure I'd notice the absence of the word fortnight.

      I suspect that both Michael and I have now and then used the word in the hearing of Americans, but among the sort of Americans who don't find it difficult to understand. No feedback, no enlightenment.

    4. I wish I could remember when I learned the meaning of fortnight. However, I feel almost certain that after learning the meaning ("two weeks") I still needed an explanation, i.e., that fortnight is short for "fourteen nights." And even now I don't really understand why it's fortnight and not fortday -- though I suppose it's for the same reason that advertisements use a phrase like two days and three nights to explain how long some travel deal entitles you to stay at a hotel. Rather than "two weeks", then, I suppose fortnight really means "fourteen full days and nights" -- assuming anyone still uses it with that kind of precision.

    5. I rather wish that 'sennight' was still with us. I've seen it in Thomas Hardy and pretty sure I heard my grandmother's generation use it in the South West of England in the 1970s. However it does have to be said that 'week' is more concise.

      As for why it and fortnight count nights and not days, I assume it's because it means it starts and ends on the same day of the week. If you counted days then maybe it would have ended up as a 'fifday'?

    6. The OED believes that sennight is 'still with us'. It displays

      Frequency (in current use): followed by three red circles (of a possible eight). Moving the cursor over this brings up:

      This word belongs in Frequency Band 3. Band 3 contains words which occur between 0.01 and 0.1 times per million words in typical modern English usage. These words are not commonly found in general text types like novels and newspapers, but at the same they are not overly opaque or obscure. Nouns include ebullition and merengue, and examples of adjectives are amortizable, prelapsarian, contumacious, agglutinative, quantized, argentiferous...

  9. I was under the impression that Mr Engel was a young curmudgeon but Wikipedia tells me he is a few years older than me. That makes me surprised that he thinks the Americanization of English is a hot topic -- people griped about (with the same lack of data and/or knowledge) when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s.

    Now that I'm in the US, I see the other side of the coin. Voguish Briticisms are making some inroads over here, as Ben Yagoda points out in his blog. At the same time, US English is as lively as ever, full of new coinages that may or may not survive (I think 'awesome' is already starting to sound stale).

    The idea that British English is being destroyed or defiled by US English is a lot of hooey, is what I'm saying.

  10. Isn't this century predicted to be the Chinese century? (maybe with a bit of Indian)

    1. Lee I heard the other day it may be the African century because the Chinese population is aging and there is no additional baby boom there. This was noted in a conversation that the new 'lingua franca' will revert to French instead of moving to Chinese, given the vast numbers of French speakers in Africa.

  11. After almost 50 years in the U.S., I'm no longer sure what's BrE or AmE any more. These days I glean most of my examples of suspected cross-pollination from British police procedurals such as Inspector Lewis and Endeavour Morse. Since they're set in the 60s, (and I in the 40s and 50s), I *think* I've detected a few anachronisms.

    Somehow I don't think they'd have said "I'll get it" when the doorbell or the phone rings. Surely they'd have said "I haven't got any" rather than "I don't have any". (I first came across "I'll get it" on a 50s radio show called "Life with the Lyons").

    And I swear I saw Inspector Hathaway tucking a pack of Park Drive into his pocket after lighting up. Not bloody likely! (For the uninitiated, Park Drive and Woodbines were tiny smokes often sold in packs of five to young teens. Hathaway looks to me like a Capstan Full Strength man).

    On another tack, I now find it difficult to follow British accents in shows such as Call the Midwife (as well as the police procedurals). Sometimes I miss as much as half the dialog(ue), and often throw in the towel.

    1. How interesting!

      It feels to me in my seventies that I've always heard and said I'll get it (when a bell rings, that is). But the OED confirms

      .trans. orig. U.S. To respond to, to answer (a telephone, door-bell, etc.).

      Five quotes, starting with Life magazine in 1927, all by North American authors.

      You have a special insight denied to those of us who have lived continually in Britain. Our memories are slowly corroded and rewritten by what we hear every day; your memory for the dialect was frozen when you left us.

    2. "Lewis" is set in the present day, so I'm surprised Hathaway would be allowed to smoke anything at all! And if he did, it would have to be in a plain box.

    3. About your sad problem following British accents: I believe this difficulty points both ways. My wife and I have a British friend who used to visit us frequently while on business, and inevitably we'd talk about movies we'd all seen -- most of them American. Our British friend would often note how bad the sound was in the cinema where she'd seen these movies, and it took me a while to conclude that it wasn't the sound system that was bad -- it was her difficulty managing the accents. A propos of nothing, I once traveled the deep South (Mississippi and Louisiana) with a French friend whose English was quite good but who was flummoxed by the accents. There were times, oddly, when I was essentially her English-to-English interpreter.

    4. My understanding of this is probably flawed, but I believe that as a baby ones brain learns to filter-out the sounds that don't belong in the language in which one is immersed. My experience - travelling a few times in the US with Belgian colleagues - is that most people in the US have an extremely narrow filter (possibly because of the homogeneity of the US accent) and I would spend my time in restaurants repeating the things that my friends had said in order for the wait-staff to understand them; much to my friends' frustration.

      It would seem that your British friend has a similar problem.

      It's not that the listener can't understand what is said; it is that the listener actually doesn't hear anything at all - hence the comment about the sound systems being bad.

  12. Still pushing the distinction between word and word use, I think my objection to Matthew Engel's argument is that he seems to care about the former while I favour the latter.

    Word uses travel, many though not all from American speech communities to British. The vehicles that carry them are generally cultural but I can't agree that it's done by one great big all-encompassing culture. Rather the carriers are tastes for certain manifestations of culture — Hollywood films and TV, journalism, successive idioms of popular music, comics, genre fiction etc. This may sound like a broad swathe, but it's nothing like as broad as 'American culture'. Moreover, they're vehicles driven by markets — only marginally assisted by cultural diplomacy.

    Yes, certain words may enter British dictionaries, and they may then occupy more and more space. But this is after — often long after — word uses have migrated and crossed a threshold of popularity.

    One generality I will subscribe to is that American demotic speech is often preferred over British idioms that feel too place-specific or too class-specific. British literature has a long history of reserving regional speech for comic or low-life characters. Serious or admirable dialect-speaking characters are too realistic, too particular. You may sympathise with them, but it's hard to identify with them if you don't share that dialect. So we've taken American words and expressions which we perceive (perhaps wrongly) to be casual, and not too slangy, and not dismissible as yokel or vulgar, and used them to express a casualness that British lexis just didn't seem up to.

    Although most of the lexis I can think of arrived on popular cultural vehicles, there are examples of technical vocabulary where specialists have agreed on standardising there majority use — which, of course, means the American. In linguistics I can think of several terms, and I'm sure this is true of other disciplines. One technical term which has 'escaped' into popular use is billion. When I was a boy, there was a generally agreed distinction between a US billion of 1,000,000,000 and a British billion of 1,000,000,000,000. In my experience at least, the British billion is no more.

    All three vehicle — popular culture, decrease in formality, academic standardisation — represent choices by the users. And the users are not driven by any rejection of British cultural identity or enthralment with American. The imports are just words and phrases which express what we want to say in the style and manner that we want to say it.

    I worked for many years on British Council contracts, and I've seen British and American cultural diplomacy in action many times. When it works best is when they display cultural artefacts to people in places where the market would never take them. But all that does is to (hopefully) create a taste. If that taste becomes a demand, and if that demand grows sufficiently to attract a supply — only then will the culture flow widely enough to carry word uses into the speech community.

    (Cultural diplomacy also seeks to invite admiration, but that aspect isn't really relevant to word-borrowing.)

  13. Mayhem likes us separated by a common language: sees language enrichment as impoverishment, US culture imposing itself on poor Britain. SAD!

  14. I really liked your contribution to the programme, Lynne.

    As you pointed out, slang is largely generational and euphemisms are time-limited, but Engel seemed to draw many of his peeves from informal language. He is wrong about the British not coming up with their own new words: as is always the case, young people create their own slang. I'm out of touch with the current crop, but ten years ago I was listening to my then mid-teenager and his friends using words like butters, hench, blud, random, sick, bare, fit and buff (last five all with non-dictionary meanings). Youth slang moves too fast to wait for transatlantic imports, and by the time the odd few terms reach the mainstream their original users are ready to move on - or have already moved on, as with 'awesome'.

    Most noticeable in the programme for me was Engel's lack of support for his claims, such as the British use of 'fortnight' lessening as it is ousted by that dreadful Americanism two weeks! Also talking about BrE experiencing "an incredible loss of biodiversity" was surely a metaphor too far.

    I am aware that I have my own language peeves, and many of those seem to be of American origin. The difference for me is that I recognise them as peeves, annoyance at changes that are jarringly unfamiliar to me but will annoy less and often pass given time, whereas Engel seems to believe his grievances have genuine substance independent of his own response to them.

    The saddest thing is that, even if Engel were talking about a real problem, there is no solution other than isolation.

    1. Apologies for the mangled subjunctive. While I'm about it I should probably also apologise for the Trump-inspired 140 characters I posted at 07:55 on 2 March.

    2. Thanks. It came naturally when I wrote it, but it just looked weird, wrong-ish, when I read it. I've never had any instruction in the technical aspects of language, so I have only my instinct to go on.

      (Late reply because the new Nintendo Zelda game came out on Friday 3rd and I've been "busy".)

  15. Trinovante39 is confused about the timescale of those TV dramas. Only 'Endeavour' is set in the '60s; it is a prequel to 'Inspector Morse' (1987-2000, based on a series of novels begun in 1975). 'Lewis' (2006-15) is a spin-off about Morse's former sergeant, now promoted to Inspector. The character Hathaway appeared only in this series which was set in the present day.

  16. Thanks for the correction, Kate. There have been so many BBC series set in the 60s (and earlier), one gets the feeling (obviously wrong) that most of them must be so. I forgot to mention George Gently, which I have just ascertained *is* set in the 60s, in Newcastle, though the books were set in Norfolk, (a mind-bending translocation).

  17. '..they cut a bit I said about British music artists singing in their own accents'
    The most significant rock genre of the past 50 years featured British accents - Progressive Rock, which was kick-started by the Beatles in 1967.
    Even if you include blues-influenced bands like Led Zeppelin but exclude e.g.the proggier folk-rockers like the Strawbs, a clear majority of UK bands sang in British or neutral accents, till the playful mixing of British and American vowels by Bowie, Roxy Music and Queen(from 1972ish).
    You'll have heard of big names like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Genesis, Soft Machine, but there were dozens of lesser-known exemplars like VDGG and Caravan. Regional or public school accents could often be detected.
    Lyrics drew on a wider vocab than any other form of popular music; new words were coined (Lohengrinic, VDGG)

  18. Just listened to the WoM episode and it was very interesting. You sounded so reasonable, Lynne!

    When I was standing in a supermarket queue recently, a young man came up and asked me, in a perfectly normal accent for the SE England location: "Is this the line?" I just said "Yeh", but inside I was, like*: "Certainly not, young man; it's the queue!". I don't know if it was an affectation on his part, or if it's just what young people here say now.

    *Damn! My brain's been colonised, innit?

  19. Btw, I'm not sure that your remarks about domestic vocabulary made much of a dent in Engels' thesis: I think it's true to say that the Normans had little influence on such words either, but in the political and cultural spheres their mark is still apparent. We debate our laws in a Parliament after all, not a Thing.

  20. Years ago, my (American) consulting firm held its 25th anniversary celebration in Barcelona. We were addressed in the capitol dome of the old Generalitat building in the Old City by Jordi Pujol, president of the autonomous province of Catalonia.

    He greeted us in halting English, then paused. He said, "I must apologize for my English – I realize English is the language of the future."

    "But," he added "--you must realize that the English of the future is MY English – not yours."

    In which he was quite right.

  21. As an English major and an American (living in the UK for 15 yrs). I am appreciation of the eloquence of the English language. However, their limitation in the realm of the world and incorporation of multiculturalism has limited their incorporation of terminology and introduction of new words to their 'dialect' has significantly minimalized their participation in social cohesion. Americans are much more accepting as they are first and second generation immigrants and thus are less likely to judge as to whether or not a specific rule of grammar is relevant as to context.

  22. Dear Anonymous, I am not sure whether you consider that AmE is your native language, but it seems that you may be writing from an American perspective. You seem to be suggesting that 'they' (the British?) have some limitations with respect to multiculturalism - are you kidding? British English - the language is named after the land of the English people - is a mongrel tongue because of our incorporation of words and grammar from German, French, Viking invaders and a number of Old English tongues over the last 2-3 thousand years, so it has a very large vocabulary. Later, many new terms were incorporated from the languages spoken in the British Empire in India, Africa, Australia and North America. The American language reflects the comparatively recent meeting of mature European languages as the continent was colonised. As a scientist, I know that in the 1970s and 1980s US scientists used grammatical constructions that seemed to be direct translations from the German language, and we can still see distinctive AmE use of verb tenses in everyday speech.

    British 'language purists' and others like Matthew Engel, who participated in the Radio 4 programme with Lynne, object to 'Americanisms' partly because these new terms and idioms arrive uninvited, and partly because they suggest that our famously large vocabulary is still not big enough to say everything!

    One cannot object to new words for new things, such as verandah, bungalow, cigar, gaucho, moccasin, boomerang and the numerous foods that arrive from around the world, but one can feel peeved that some new terms directly replace perfectly good BrE words: 'this moment in time'/now; counterintuitive/unexpected; fight/argument; Ok/yes .... which have been adopted in Britain and may indeed remain, or may fade away as slang terms do. Time will tell.


  23. Sorry, but counterintuitive is not a synonym for unexpected; nor, in most contexts is fight a synonym for argument!

    You cannot, for instance, talk about someone's counterintuitive death; the word implies something that feels illogical or goes against common sense. As for fight, does that not imply physical involvement, whereas bicker or squabble would be better synonyms for argument?

    1. It's true for Brits - but I have heard dozens of American scientists tell me that their results were counterintuitive when they meant it was not what they expected, and I've never heard the word used in any other situation.
      As for 'fight' - one hears it in TV dramas whenever marital arguments are referred to, and this definitely is originally a US usage. I agree that in BrE it has a physical implication, and in everyday speech we probably retain the distinction.

    2. AmE speaker. I agree with Mrs. Redboots. Counterintuitive and unexpected are not synonyms. I think you were misunderstanding what the American scientists were saying.

  24. @biochemist (using Chrome I can't reply within a thread; sorry) I tend to agree. However a counterintuitive result ought to mean a result that intuition says should not to have occurred because it goes against current understanding. Of course it would not have been expected, but it is a different thing from a simply unexpected result, which may cause surprise but is understandable. If you know scientists who are describing surprising but perfectly understandable results as counterintuitive then I understand why you would feel peeved.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)