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Top 50 Americanisms from BBC News Magazine

The BBC recently solicited its viewers on what phrases of American (or seemingly American) origin they found the most frustrating, irritating, irrational, and annoying. It’s funny to me, as a linguist, to see these grievances aired in such a manner. Such a vast distance between America and England, as well as different social and political climates, creates different needs in which the languages adapt in order to facilitate. Even knowing this, some, if not most of us, will cringe when we hear something in our mother tongue that isn’t what we expect.

I, an American, have never heard quite a few on their top fifty list. America is so large and diverse, it goes without saying that it is a rich treasure trove of linguistic variation. Most of the items on the list are minor differences whose meaning you can pick out through context, while,  to many, the selections seem nit-picky. Why so much fuss over language?

It has to do with language and identity. American English is becoming the preferred choice of the English variations, as most see America as the world leader in business, commerce, education and technology. As such, communicating with Americans and American corporations takes priority in the eyes of many language learners. With this linguistic dominance comes resistance from other native English speaking circles. Enter the United Kingdom.

They resist these “Americanisms” because they may perceive them as encroaching on their English identity. They don’t want to speak to a second language learner and hear American English, because the language carriers great cultural baggage with it. Imperialism, war, political corruption, arrogance; all the negative American stereotypes and bad foreign policy rears its ugly head in a very roundabout manner. When they hear American English trying to be emulated by learners it may worry them, because with it may come emulation of American thought and philosophy: The American world view, if you will.

This all applies to what I would guess is their view of American Standard English. Either way, this report by the BBC News Magazine is an interesting delving into an area of study known as Folk Linguistics. To put is rather simply, it is how normal, non-linguists view language and language use. While no hard -hitting questions were posed or answered, it’s interesting to see what variations cause irritation among foreign nationals visiting the United States.

You can view the original BBC News Magazine article that set this all off. It was written by contributor Matthew Engel.

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