The Worldwide Weblog of Donald Pincher

by Joshua Gaskell

Tag: American English

Thursday, 16th July 2015

Moracy, n.

Pronunciation: U.S. /ˈmɔrəsi/
Etymology: < blend of the name Morrissey, English singer and songwriter + oracy n.

Competence in melic language; the ability to express oneself fluently and grammatically in song.


Sunday, 17th May 2015

If customers in coffee shops are going to persist with their Can I get a ——? formulation, maybe bariste should start anticipating the ass-backwards illogic by asking, ‘What can I have you?’

Monday, 4th May 2015

The businessese phrase going forward is criticised for being a modish, redundant and irritating example of groupspeak. The new edition of Fowler’s, for example, calls it ‘much maligned’, and the OxfordWords blog laments the fact that it ‘now seems to be tacked on unthinkingly to every utterance’.

I wonder whether it offends the ear as it does on account of being American not only in origin but also in grammar. Adverbially speaking, forward is fast gaining ground over forwards, with British and Irish English the remaining strongholds of the latter. So let’s keep it that way; and, if we must jargonise, do so in our native tongue – going forwards.

Sunday, 26th April 2015

The cover of this week’s New Statesman asks, ‘What does England want?’ and the leader inside notes that, ‘For many, a sense of Englishness has long been interchangeable or coterminous with that of Britishness, with all its old associations of empire and great-power status.’* For a linguistic perspective on how deep this sense runs, I search OED definitions for the phrase English or British; that is, for instances of when the dictionary itself treats the two conterminously. The results support the link to Empire, but not with examples of the English (or British) puffing up their status. In fact, apart from the Angle and Anglo- words, all the results are mildly derogatory Antipodean or American terms for their former colonial masters:

  • choom, ‘An English or British person; (originally) spec. an English or British soldier.’ (1916)
  • homie, ‘An immigrant (usually a recent one) to New Zealand from Britain; any English (or British) person.’ (1926)
  • Limey, ‘an English (or British) sailor; hence gen., an Englishman, a Briton.’ (1918)
  • woodbine, ‘An English or British person; (originally) spec. an English or British soldier.’ (1918)

* ‘Britain: non-U for U England (“[With the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity] The country which had been lost to view as Britain re-appears as England.” Lord Macaulay.)’

Saturday, 21st March 2015

I noted last month the American-influenced tendency uniambically to stress unstressed syllables. I wonder now whether this observation would be true if the word American were replaced with a more specific reference to America’s greatest and most influential cultural achievement: pop music.

My reasoning is that pop lyrics are, almost by definition, composed in everyday language, with all it’s truncations, apostrophes, schwas and short vowels; yet it is difficult, again by definition, to hold a note on a short sound. I’m suggesting that the need to adapt popular speech for the purposes of popular song has (along with spelling pronunciations) contributed to the increased stressing of conventionally unstressed syllables in popular speech. For examples, the two greatest English bands to play American pop music: when John Lennon sings ‘A soap impression of his wife, | Which he ate [/eɪt/] and donated to the National Trust’, and Mick Jagger sings ‘I have no expectations | To pass through here again [/əˈɡeɪn/]’, they’re both replacing the conventional short vowel /ɛ/ with the diphthong /eɪ/ in order to hold the note on it.

In sum, just as ‘You can’t dance to Beethoven’, you can’t croon a schwa – which, prior to the 1960s, I presume was pronounced /ʃwə/.

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