"Roundheads and Ramblings"
The BBC Magazine's recent piece on Americanisms entering the language in the UK prompted thousands of people to e-mail examples.
1. When people ask for something, I often hear: "Can I get a..." It infuriates me. It's not New York. It's not the 90s. You're not in Central Perk with the rest of the Friends. Really." Steve, Rossendale, Lancashire
2. 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
3. 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
4. Using 24/7 rather than "24 hours, 7 days a week" or even just plain "all day, every day". Simon Ball, Worcester
5. The one I can't stand is "deplane", meaning to disembark an aircraft, used in the phrase "you will be able to deplane momentarily". TykeIntheHague, Den Haag, Holland
6. To "wait on" instead of "wait for" when
you're not a waiter - once read a friend's comment about being in a
station waiting on a train. For him, the train had yet to arrive - I
would have thought rather that it had got stuck at the station with the
friend on board. T Balinski, Raglan, New Zealand
7. "It is what it is". Pity us. Michael Knapp, Chicago, US
8. Dare I even mention the fanny pack? Lisa, Red Deer, Canada
9. "Touch base" - it makes me cringe no end. Chris, UK
10. Is "physicality" a real word? Curtis, US
11. Transportation. What's wrong with transport? Greg Porter, Hercules, CA, US
12. The word I hate to hear is "leverage".
Pronounced lev-er-ig rather than lee-ver -ig. It seems to pop up in all
aspects of work. And its meaning seems to have changed to "value added".
Gareth Wilkins, Leicester
13. Does nobody celebrate a birthday anymore, must we all "turn"
12 or 21 or 40? Even the Duke of Edinburgh was universally described as
"turning" 90 last month. When did this begin? I quite like the phrase
in itself, but it seems to have obliterated all other ways of speaking
about birthdays. Michael McAndrew, Swindon
14. I caught myself saying "shopping cart" instead of shopping trolley today and was thoroughly disgusted with myself. I've never lived nor been to the US either. Graham Nicholson, Glasgow
15. What kind of word is "gotten"? It makes me shudder. Julie Marrs, Warrington
The BBC News Magazine has been running an ongoing discussion
of the differences between British and American English. Ite’s an amusing
discussion, but an important one for American writers who set their stories on
England. We might call the discussion, “How Not to Sound like a Bloody
American!” Here’s an introduction to the problem, written by Matthew Engel last
July. I’ll follow it up with some readers’
additions in the coming days.
culture is ubiquitous in Britain on TV and the web. As our computers talk to us
in American, I keep having to agree to a license spelt with an s. I am invited
to print something in color without the u. I am told "you ghat mail".
It is, of course, always e-mail - never our own more natural usage, e-post.
an ex-American resident, I remain a big fan of baseball. But I sit over here
and listen to people who know nothing of the games talk about ideas coming out
of "left field". They speak about "three strikes and you're
out" or "stepping up to the plate" without the foggiest idea
what these phrases mean. I think the country has started to lose its own sense
many respects, English and American are not coming together. When it comes to
new technology, we often go our separate ways. They have cellphones - we have
mobiles. We go to cash points or cash machines - they use ATMs. We have still
never linked hands on motoring terminology - petrol, the boot, the bonnet,
known in the US as gas, the trunk, the hood.
in the course of my own lifetime, countless routine British usages have either
been superseded or are being challenged by their American equivalents. We no
longer watch a film, we go to the movies. We increasingly have trucks
not lorries. A hike is now a wage or price rise not a walk in the
and pointless new usages appear in the media and drift into everyday
- Faze, as in "it doesn't faze
- Hospitalize, which really is a vile word
- Wrench for spanner
- Elevator for lift
- Rookies for newcomers, who seem to have
flown here via the sports pages.
- Guy, less and less the centrepiece of
the ancient British festival of 5 November - or, as it will soon be known,
11/5. Now someone of either gender.
- And, starting to creep in, such horrors as ouster,
the process of firing someone, and outage, meaning a power cut. I
always read that as outrage. And it is just that.
am all for a living, breathing language that evolves with the times. I accept
that estate agents prefer to sell apartments rather than flats - they
sound more enticing. I accept that we now have freight trains rather
than goods trains - that's more accurate.
Many British people
step up to the plate and have ideas out of left field.
accept that sometimes American phrases have a vigour and vivacity. A relative
of mine told me recently he went to a business meeting chaired by a Californian
woman who wanted everyone to speak frankly. It was "open kimono".
How's that for a vivid expression?
what I hate is the sloppy loss of our own distinctive phraseology through sheer
idleness, lack of self-awareness and our attitude of cultural cringe. We
encourage the diversity offered by Welsh and Gaelic - even Cornish is making a
comeback. But we are letting British English wither.
is a very distinct country from the US. Not better, not worse, different. And
long live that difference. That means maintaining the integrity of our own
gloriously nuanced, subtle and supple version - the original version - of the
is an edited version of Matthew Engel's Four Thought broadcast.
The trouble with homonyms is NOT that you don't know the difference between these pairs or triplets. Of course you do. The problem is that your fingertips don't understand, particularly if you are a touch typist. When your thoughts are rapid-firing and your fingers are flying to keep up, typos creep in without warning. What's worse -- your spell-checker will not catch these errors because all of the words are spelled correctly. They are just not the words you meant to use.
It does help me to go over these kinds of lists periodically, so that when I'm proof-reading, I'm more likely to spot the mistakes. So here's another list to keep you on your toes -- or more accurately, your fingertips.
• Desert (waterless region, to abandon), Dessert (last course of a meal)
• Dew (moisture), Do (perform), Due (owed)
• Gait (manner of walking, Gate (door)
• Grate (iron frame), Great (large, magnificent)
• Haul (pull, carry, transport), Hall (passageway, large room)
• Here (in this place), Hear (to perceive sound, to sit in judgment)
• Idol (image, object of adoration), Idle (not busy), Idyl (poem)
• Leak (hole, to drain out of), Leek (vegetable)
• Made (created), Maid (domestic servant, unmarried woman)
• Meat (animal flesh food), Meet (a gathering, to encounter, to convene)
• Morning (before noon), Mourning (grieving, to grieve)
• Pair (a couple), Pare (to peel), Pear (fruit)
Want to take a sneak peek at a website without actually reading it? Curious about the topics your favorite blogger uses most often? Here's a neat little tool you can use to form a word cloud from any text you choose. Jonathan Feinberg's Wordle pag
e is easy to use and produces beautiful images, whose colors, shapes, and styles you can play with to your heart's content. I had used this a year or so ago, but I'm grateful to Anne Wainscott-Sargent for reminding me of it this morning.
The images are also informative. I created the one that appears above by typing in the URL of my blog, "Roundheads and Ramablings." The application takes all the words at that location, picks out the ones the author uses most often, and then arranges them in a pattern, with the most-used words in the largest print. This result is a snapshot of what I blog about.
So what can I learn from it?
Well, I suppose I should be pleased to see that my posts center around words and the English language. That is my intent, so I'm relieved to know that I haven't strayed too far off content. The next largest word, however, is "Just", which makes me cringe. One of the worst habits I have when I write is throwing in that unnecessary word -- just. It's a kind of verbal twitch--similar, I suppose, to that awful teenage habit of adding "like" before every other word.
I'm aware of this habit and consciously try to eliminate it from my books. I always run a "find and replace" search on a manuscript to be sure that every "just" refers to something that has to do with justice. But here in the blog? Obviously I've JUST been throwing the word around JUST as i always do. I guess I'll JUST have to make JUST a bit more effort JUST to get rid of the pesky word.
If you want to create your own cloud, go to http://www.wordle.net/ and click on the word "create". The page will give you a couple of options. I did mine by typing in my URL: http://www.katzenhausbooks.com/blog. The blog has an RSS feed, so everything from here on happens automatically. You can also choose a passage from one of your writing projects if you prefer. You can't really make a mistake, the service is free, and if you don't like the results, nobody else has to see them.
I did learn one important lesson as I experimented. You can save your word cloud as a PDF file, but it won't print as an image in many other programs. To put mine here, I had to open the PDF, and then save it as a JPG. Simple, once you figure that out.
Here's this week's list of Old English words that still have some life in them. In fact, I think all of them apply to my current occupation, which is, has been, and will continue to be, proof-reading!
Noun – A 17th-century word meaning “continual writing” – Matadorians taking part in this year’s National Novel Writing Month are getting good practice at scriptitation!
Noun – “A state of mental disturbance or confusion” – I can start using this obsolete Scottish word right away: “While working on writing my thesis, I find I am in widdendream.”
Adj. – An Old English and Middle English word meaning “careless, heedless, negligent” – Pronounced as “yeem-lis,” this is another word that could prove useful for teachers around the world: “Handing in messy and incomplete work just shows me you are being yemeles, and I won’t hesitate to give you a zero for the assignment.”
Noun – “Twilight” – Used in the early 17th century, “twitter-light” sounds like a romantic way to refer to the hours as the sun goes down.
Adj. – “Alluring, enticing, attractive” – Alright, so at first this word kind of sounds a way to describe something diseased, but if you put the stress on the second syllable for emphasis, it does sound like a compliment: “That girl was so illecebrous; I’ve got to figure out how to see her again.”
Yes, indeed, I've been working overtime this week, sitting at the keyboard well into the hours of twitter-light, which for me, I think, should be the time when I usually put away the stuff I HAVE to do and substitute a few rounds of twittering about why I'm not doing it. I've been in a state of widdendream for days, wondering if these chapters make sense or if they're sheer blathering. I'd love to think that my next book will bee illecebrous to my readers, but I've engaged in its scriptitation for so long now that it feels as though it was composed by a yemeles writer.
HMMM. that sounds so gloomy, I think I'd better head back to an earlier list and find a way to deliciate over a brannigan or have a good kench at my own expense.