A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief terror that we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness

August 16, 2013 § Leave a comment


Matthew Engel is a British journalist who doesn’t like Americanisms. The Financial Times columnist told BBC listeners that American English is an unstoppable force whose vile, ugly, and pointless new usages are invading England “in battalions.” He warned readers of his regular FT column that American imports like truck, apartment, and movies are well on their way to ousting native lorries, flats, and films…

It should surprise no one that the Brits have been complaining about Americanisms since they first came to America. The word Americanism was actually coined in 1781 by John Witherspoon, a Scot who relocated to New Jersey and became the first president of Princeton.

Witherspoon intended his new word to be neutral: an Americanism was simply “an use of phrases or terms, or a construction of sentences” that differed from British usage. He coined it on the analogy of Scotticism, a term of insult that goes back to the 17th century. Witherspoon tried to treat Scotticism as a neutral term as well, though as he did so he acknowledged that “the Scottish manner of speaking came to be considered as provincial barbarism; which, therefore, all scholars are now at the utmost pains to avoid.”

Some of Witherspoon’s best friends were Americans, and he saw that in light of American independence, and in the course of time, American English could be expected to diverge from the language of England and develop its own standards. But while he waited for this to happen, Witherspoon found many American errors and improprieties to complain about.

Witherspoon, like Engel, objected to a number of so-called Americanisms that turned out to be British…  read more


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