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Dear Brits, You’re Embarrassing Me

April 14, 2012

Language is one of the most impressive human inventions. It communicates abstract ideas, it varies from place to place (and even person to person) and it, arguably, allows us to think imaginatively and creatively.

Another important feature, though, is that it changes.

I use British English. I mostly prefer it. ‘Whilst’ instead of ‘while’; ‘torch’ instead of ‘flashlight’; basic stuff.

That doesn’t mean I can’t use American English, and it doesn’t mean it’s wrong (!). I know what a sidewalk is; I can throw something in the trash.

But for some reason, these words are supposed to upset people. I’m politely reminded (and sometimes not so politely) that ‘awesome’ should be reserved for the divine power of God; ‘epic’ should only be applied to long forms of poetry; and ‘memes’ are part of genetic mutation and have nothing to do with cats or cheeseburgers.

And they say this with an air of never using an Americanism or ‘Internetism’ in their lives, and that if they ever saw one sneaking up on them they’d boot it off old Blighty in a jiffy.

Please, as if people don’t use lift and elevator interchangeably. As if this matters. As if they can tell other people how to speak.

That might sound odd out of the mouth of a wannabe-editor – surely my job is to correct everything into ‘proper’ English. Yes and no. Editing is to make work make sense. Language is for communication, and I do think putting commas in the right place or rewriting a clunky sentence makes communication clearer.

But I don’t wail about split infinitives, or deplore the use of the singular ‘they’, or any other of the long list of outdated grammar rules. Those were invented by snobs and do nothing to aid communication. It was an upper class attempt to make English sound more refined by using Latin grammar. And, pro tip: English is not like Latin. Even a little bit. It’s all this business that made English so convoluted to begin with. It’s not cute, it’s archaic*.

When you insist on these rules, you do a disservice to the language you apparently have so much pride in. If you loved English, you’d let it do its thing. End a sentence on a preposition. Start a sentence with ‘and’. Go nuts.

And it is down to snobbery. Because if these rules were decided upon here in Dorset, ‘lover’ would be a standard mode of address, and ending a question without a preposition would be a sin. It may sound ridiculous, but no more so than insisting we talk like Oxford university professors.

But people do lost sleep over it. They exclaim that ‘All our children will talk like Americans!’ Oh, so what, it’s hardly the Apocalypse. I was brought up on American TV and the Internet, I turned out fine. Fine-ish. You only have to look at the heated debates held in fan fiction circles (I mean, fan fiction, people) to see that British English isn’t dying out anytime soon.


*All right, it’s a little bit cute.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2012 3:41 pm

    Next step – TO MERGE BOTH THE LANGUAGES! Bwaha, one day I’ll be allowed to say ‘mom’ and ‘mum’ depending on how I’m feeling, or ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ within the same chapter. And perhaps, one day, my mother will stop chatising me for sounding vaguely American. Run rampant, little wordbits! Speak – but make sense – and use the words you want!

    …Maybe one day.

    • April 14, 2012 5:13 pm

      Yeah… for some reason lack of consistency still makes me go D= but whatever you want.
      But being told off for sounding American is stupid. My dad tells me off for using cutlery like an American, for God’s sake.

      But yes – rampant wordbits can only be a good thing.

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