Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Americanisms that drive the British nuts!

I was highly amused to read a list of 50 words and phrases that readers of the BBC submitted as prime examples of 'Americanisms'. Being of British and colonial extraction myself, I've found many of the same words and phrases to be distinctly un-English; but, of course, living in America now, I've grown accustomed to them, so that I no longer think about them much.

A few examples from the list:

  • The next time someone tells you something is the "least worst option", tell them that their most best option is learning grammar. Mike Ayres, Bodmin, Cornwall
  • The phrase I've watched seep into the language (especially with broadcasters) is "two-time" and "three-time". Have the words double, triple etc, been totally lost? Grammatically it makes no sense, and is even worse when spoken. My pulse rises every time I hear or see it. Which is not healthy as it's almost every day now. Argh! D Rochelle, Bath
  • Using 24/7 rather than "24 hours, 7 days a week" or even just plain "all day, every day". Simon Ball, Worcester
  • Dare I even mention the fanny pack? Lisa, Red Deer, Canada
  • Train station. My teeth are on edge every time I hear it. Who started it? Have they been punished? Chris Capewell, Queens Park, London
  • "Hike" a price. Does that mean people who do that are hikers? No, hikers are ramblers! M Holloway, Accrington
  • The most annoying Americanism is "a million and a half" when it is clearly one and a half million! A million and a half is 1,000,000.5 where one and a half million is 1,500,000. Gordon Brown, Coventry
  • "Reach out to" when the correct word is "ask". For example: "I will reach out to Kevin and let you know if that timing is convenient". Reach out? Is Kevin stuck in quicksand? Is he teetering on the edge of a cliff? Can't we just ask him? Nerina, London
  • My pet hate is "winningest", used in the context "Michael Schumacher is the winningest driver of all time". I can feel the rage rising even using it here. Gayle, Nottingham
  • "I could care less" instead of "I couldn't care less" has to be the worst. Opposite meaning of what they're trying to say. Jonathan, Birmingham

There are many more at the link.

That last one ("I could care less" instead of "I couldn't care less") has puzzled me ever since I first heard it. As 'Jonathan' points out, it means the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say! I've always used "I couldn't care less", but I've found some Americans ask whether I meant "could" instead of "couldn't". Oh, well . . . as George Bernard Shaw allegedly pointed out, "England and America are two nations separated by a common language"!



KurtP said...

I'm out of communication with the British wife because of internet (voip) problems,,but- if the building that a train stops at is called a station ...What is the problem with calling it a train station?

...Or is it called something else in polite society?

Peter said...

The British would simply call it a 'station' - adding 'train' would be superfluous. In English-English, there are no other varieties of 'station' (there are 'bus stops' or 'airport terminals', but none of them are 'stations').

trailbee said...

American English is just that. It is just delicious to hear all those words and weird sentences roll off our tongues; just like the Brits would say: " ...if there be dragons ..." :)

Anonymous said...

I don't go "to hospital". I go "to the hospital".

I don't go to the "Dental surgery". I go to the dentist's office.

I don't see Manchester United as plural (Manchester United ARE playing a friendly today.) I see the TEAM as a unit singular (Manchester United is playing a friendly today.

I especially love it when I go into an Irish shop and the person (usually a young girl) greets me with: "Ya OK?" instead of: "May I help you?"

My reply is to snarl, drool and reply: "Not according to my psychiatrist, but as long as I'm taking my medication I'm not dangerous!"

That usually sends them into a panic.

I've got a lot more but my time is short. I have to go to the Post Office and pay for my Television Licence.

I'm a yank in looney land.

John Peddie (Toronto) said...

Any country which produced Shakespeare and the King James Bible should probably be accorded pride of place in these matters, even if they insist that cars have boots and bonnets.

Watching the annual Super Bowl broadcast would send my high school English teachers spinning in their graves.

Luckily, they were spared by death.

Dave H said...

Having spoken a regional dialect of American English (i.e. talked like a hillbilly) for most of my life, I can't say that I've heard some of these so-called Americanisms. Could it be that someone is spreading lies about our use of the language?

I confess I have used "I could care less" on occasion, but (I hope) only with obvious sarcasm.


Anonymous said...

Some of these just seem nit picky to me.

#3 : I've never heard two-time or three-time. I have heard two-times or three-times, but that makes grammatical sense.

#4 : I bet when they say 9/8 Central it pisses him off too.

#7 : C'est la vie.

#18 : Eat in / Take out, seems to make sense to me

#24 : To be fair, plenty of americans hate this too.

#29 : The american version seems more descriptive to me.

#34 : Technically, the correct phrase is "one million, five hundred thousand". "One and a half million" is 1 + 500,000 or 500,001. "And" denotes addition.

#37 : Is not an americanism, it's a starbucksism

#48 : This would be an interesting one for the language buffs. You may not say you got something for cheap, but you will often say you got it for $5, which is a specific price. Similarly, "free" is a specific price (namely $0), where as "cheap" is a relative term.

#50 : Is supposed to be spoken sarcastically.

To be fair, a lot of those that people were annoyed with are also corporate / sales weasel terms that most of the american public hates too.

Anonymous said...

I guess my issue is when people in other countries imply ALL Americans use some phrase or do something they hate just because they have heard a few say or do it. I could care less, but I cared enough to post a comment. My bad.


DanG said...

I butcher the language regularly just to be funny, but it makes my teeth itch to hear a Network news broadcaster use the phrase, "one of the only."

I don't know why the Brits worry about how we speak. After all, we won the war. ;-)