The English language is endlessly fascinating to me. In an early post on this blog I mentioned my intention to write about the English origins of many American dialect expressions. Obviously the English and other British Isles colonists of this country brought over certain usages that persisted here while they died out, in some cases, in the mother country. (That is a subject I’ll return to later).
However it’s observably true that many current British usages and idioms have crossed the Atlantic, and have become more noticeably common in the United States.
Examples: the term ‘aggro.’ Millennial acquaintances of mine use it, and I know it was a colloquial or slang term decades ago in England. Then it was (according to the Oxford Dictionary) an abbreviation for aggravation or aggression. Now, that same source defines it as meaning aggressive, violent behavior, or problems and difficulties.
However, the American-oriented Urban Dictionary probably reflects the slightly mutated meaning as used by American millennials.
Many of the British expressions change meaning slightly when introduced into our country.
Other terms that have come into usage in the States which were once unknown here include terms like ‘arse’, now increasingly used, but sounding somewhat artificial here, ‘bespoke‘, meaning custom-made, made-to-order, usually high quality goods vs. the increasingly low-quality mass-produced goods we are now accustomed to.
More examples: ‘ginger,‘ for red-haired individuals, or ‘red-headed’ as the usual Southern idiom refers to them. The term ‘ginger‘ for a redhead was once unheard of in America, in my experience.
‘Going on‘ about something, meaning ranting, talking at length, harping or nagging on a subject ad nauseum. This is newly popular among some people in the U.S. Also ‘banging on‘ about something.
‘Going off’ something or someone: cooling to a person or thing or idea. ‘Going off on’‘ someone — losing one’s temper; ‘blowing up’ at someone.
‘Going missing‘ – used where we Americans used to simply say ‘disappearing’. However the term ‘disappear’ might imply something supernatural whereas ‘going missing’ is more descriptive.
‘Queue’ for ‘line’, or ‘queueing up‘ where once Americans would say ‘lining up.’
‘Wait for it…‘ – it’s hard to describe the usage of this one if you haven’t heard it used. It’s meant to create suspense in the listener as we are about to say something surprising (or not, if the phrase is used ironically).
The word ‘smarmy‘ and its transatlantic voyage is a pet peeve of mine, because its original meaning is not understood by most of its American adopters. Most Americans take it to mean ‘sleazy’, ‘slimy’, ‘lowlife’, or dishonest. It originally meant something more specific. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as meaning, loosely, insincerely helpful or charming. I think it originally meant unctuous, oily, and obsequious. That’s a little different than just sleazy and slimy, as in the American popular usage.
I believe that some of the earliest American users of ‘smarmy‘ were movie critics who had picked it up from English friends, and they may have used it correctly but their readers misunderstood it, while using it in an effort to sound cosmopolitan.
Which brings me to my next point: on a recent thread on a blog I read, some people were venting their bile about English idioms infiltrating American English. They particularly seemed annoyed about expressions like ‘at the end of the day…’, which we often hear TV pundits and other media personalities use. I agree, it can sound pompous, but I don’t know why it’s considered objectionable any more so than any number of other turns of phrase that the media often foist on us. For instance, usages like ‘…not so much‘ which suddenly was ubiquitous some years back. Or ‘my bad‘, which always grated on me. The commenters who complained about the encroachment of English idioms mentioned those, with some even positing that ‘my bad‘ came from England. I had read that it had originated with one of those African or Brazilian soccer players. This article looks into the story that it was Manute Bol who originated it. Ultimately they cast doubt on it, but it seems to me that it must originate from a non-native English-speaker at least, including possibly an Ebonics speaker. Not an Englishman, in my opinion.
Generally these adoptions of British idioms and terms is among the younger generations, many of whom have been to the other side of the Atlantic, or even attended colleges there, or worked there. The world is much more cosmopolitan now, and this is by design, as national cultures and local customs and speech are being deliberately subverted and destroyed by the globalists.
This is fostered by the media, and by the exposure of people everywhere to differing ways of life. The fact that ‘Harry Potter’ became such a phenomenon has introduced more young people to all things British.
Looking at the opposite phenomenon, that is, American English infiltrating British speech, I see much, much more of that taking place in recent decades, thanks to the global nature of the ubiquitous ‘mass media.’ Examples: the word ‘guy‘, which once meant either a dummy, (such as the effigies burned in Guy Fawkes’ bonfire-night ceremonies) or a ridiculous-looking figure. Now, the Oxford Dictionary gives the primary meaning as ‘a man.’
One often hears English people address a group of men, or even a mixed group of both sexes, collectively, as ‘guys’, much as do Americans, or Northern Americans, with their collective ‘You guys’ address.
I suspect that many British people are not pleased at the incursions of our mass media and our dialect of English, but it seems there are more peevish Americans complaining about ‘those Brits’ and their weird expressions. At least I see more of it online, with many people saying that any British turn of phrase is ‘pretentious’, even though the origins may well not be the hated British ‘upper class.’ Really, what was once called ‘upper-class British English’ in America seems to have all but vanished from the media, at least. The English newsreaders, who used to have impeccable diction, have been replaced by non-English minorities who speak with odd accents, or by people with strong regional dialects. Someone online (British) mentioned the old days of the Dr. Who series, back when the actors all spoke ‘RP’, or ‘Received Pronunciation.’
Today anything ‘posh’ or upper-class and educated is seemingly in disfavor, what with the celebration of the underclass and the ‘downtrodden’ Other.
So is it always affectation and pretentiousness to use a British idiom? Hardly. For people who have spent considerable time on that side of the Atlantic, it can become second-nature; ‘pretentiousness’ implies a self-conscious effort, when it may well be absorbed unconsciously by frequent exposure.
Languages do change, and though I am not a fan, like most post-modern linguists who proclaim that ‘change is unavoidable; we have to be descriptive, following current usage, not prescriptive, which is rigidly enforcing standards.’ No, we should try to maintain standards and rules; language should not be allowed to mutate willy-nilly, especially as education is dumbed down, and IQs apparently on the decline. And now, in America, we have much more underclass influence on our language, with young people in particular eagerly copying slang that originates in the ghetto, and silly adults follow suit. Examples: expressions like ‘woke’ and ‘based’, among myriad others, but those are rife among the young right, who are supposed to be racially conscious.
If we have to be linguistically colonized, far better to accept influences from our kinsmen on the other side of the pond (incidentally, some Americans say they ‘hate that expression’) than from non-kinsmen on the other side of the tracks, to use an old American term.