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Risk: Reason and Reality

Britishisms in America, Americanisms In Britain. Suggested Swaps Across the Pond

     Dear England,

      The British press has had its knickers in a twist over Americans appropriating Britishisms for some time, whingeing about it in The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Beeb, and even that font of high British cultural observation, The Sun, which noted the phenomenon in its own colorful bespoke style.

          But it has now been officially recognized on this side of the…ocean (sorry, ‘pond’ is just too trite)… in no less than The New York Times, in a wonderfully snarky piece by Alex Williams, who suggests that many Americans trying to sound hip and clever in fact are sounding too clever by half. The Britishization of English in America has also been officially recognized with its own website, Not One-Off Britishisms , the wonderfully entertaining work of English (the language, not the country) professor Ben Yagoda. A phenomenon sanctioned with its own website is sort of the Information Age equivalent of the OED officially sanctioning a word.

     I’m not sure what the whole kerfuffle is about. Lord knows there are plenty of Americanisms bandied about on the high and low streets of the U.K. Indeed our partnership has been passing all sorts of things back and forth since the beginning. You’ve given us The Beatles and scones and London Bridge (now in Arizona). We’ve given you Elvis and McDonald’s and roller blades. In the spirit of furthering these exchanges may I suggest some other swaps Across The Pond.

         There is certainly room for expanding the linguistic exchange. You could give us your civil greeting “Good day” and we could give that uniquely American salutation “Yo, whatever.” We’ll gladly offer you such expressive American epithets as ‘scumball’ or ‘dirt bag’, in exchange for your far more elegant invectives like ‘whindger’ (an obnoxiously persistent complainer) or ‘toe rag’ (which none of my British friends seems to know the precise meaning of, but who would want to be called one?) In exchange for your vernacular version of the Water Closet…the loo…we can give your ours, “The Can”, which needs only the slightest visual imagination to discern its derivation.

         Beyond whole words, you can have some of the extra vowels we have floating around in Hawaii, land of Aiea and Puuanahulu and Laupahoehoe, in exchange for some extra consonants from Wales, where one can visit Trawsfynydd or Yspytty Ystwyth.

         Of course we’ll offer you any number of guttural American accents, e.g. Baltimore, Brooklyn, twangy Texan, for just five minutes of being able to talk like anybody on Downton Abbey.

         But language is only one area where a spot of transatlantic trading might benefit both cultures. Another is food. You can send us favorites like Bubble and Squeak (mushed-up left-over potatoes and vegetables, which, after you’ve tried to digest them, produce just the sounds the name evokes…nothing like onomotopaeic dining), or Toad in the Hole or Spotted Dick, which, give that these are meant to put in the mouth, are cursed with two decidedly less than royal titles. We might offer you our Rocky Mountain Oysters - also known as Montana tendergroins, cowboy caviar, or winging beef -  which are, in fact, bull testes. Or Squirrel Heart (best in a Port Wine reduction, of course), or that favorite of the Iowa State Fair, an entire stick of butter, deep fried in batter, drizzled in liquid cinnamon and sugar icing, served on a stick. (I absolutely DEFY you to watch the video without the urge to honk up your last meal.) 

         Sports. Lots we could do here. We are trying to impose upon you our football, while  gratefully accepting yours (The Premiership, of course, not your national team). You could give us future Olympic events like Sheep Dog herding, (the nationals are on TV, and while the viewing is, shall we say, a tad slow, what the dogs can do really takes the biscuit.) And we won’t sue you for expropriating maggot racing, invented at Barney’s Bar and Cafe in Seeley Lake, Montana and now providing yet one more reason to get bladdered on large quantities of tepid beer at British pubs (Note what the guy has for a bar snack at 1:53 of the video.)

       Or we might give you baseball, so thick in arcane detail that only the most rabid fans know everything that’s going on all the time (warning; watching baseball can make Sheep Dog Herding competitions seem positively lively), in exchange for Lawn Bowling, a sort of bocce-cum-shuffleboard-cum curling where you don’t want the Jack to get Wicked Off by a Toucher (or something like that). We could simply trade the names of positions in some of our popular sports; our ‘tight end’ from American football in exchange for a few ‘silly mid-ons’ or ‘silly mid-offs’ from cricket.

        Our maps might each improve if, perchance, we sent you exciting American community names like Toad Suck, Arkansas, or Weed, California, or any of our numerous hormonally-related villages like Climax (Michigan), Intercourse (Pennsylvania), or Conception (Missouri). In exchange you can give us elegant British place names like Yetts of Muckart, Blubberhouses, or Porthmadog. (No thanks, mate, but you’ll have to porth your own dog.)

         Of course, nowhere might both great nations benefit more than from some serious swapping when it comes to driving. First off, we give you the right side of the road, as in THE CORRECT side of the road, so the British can JOIN MOST OF THE REST OF THE MOTORISTS ON THE PLANET. We would also gladly share with you the concept that local roadways ought to have two full lanes, one for traffic in each direction. After all, the narrow cow paths you paved into roads aren’t used for cows anymore...though your narrow streets do preselect for tiny cars, which is handy given that the cost of a litre of petrol runs you just short of a bespoke Burberry trench coat

     In exchange, you might give us your system of notation on road maps, which tell the map reader not only where the road is, but how wide it is. British highways all start with M, which ingeniously stands for Motorway. The smaller roads start with A (which stands for “AAAAIIIGH, I’m driving on the WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD in a car big enough for me and three medium-sized cockroaches and there’s only one lane and a giant truck is speeding toward my windshield!) An A road with two numbers, like the A 12, is bigger (may actually have TWO whole lanes for traffic) than a three-numbered road, the A 123, on which you will be frequently screeching off into a ditch to avoid being hit head on. You even have some four-numbered roads that begin with B, which probably stands for BAAAAHH, since these lanes are barely wide enough for sheep, and only if they’re marching single file.

         Anyway, I think our great nations have a lot more we could offer each other. Don’t you think our American lawyers would look cute in wigs?  Wouldn’t your pretty English country roads look a little better with a few more billboards and litter? Westminster Abbey for Graceland, straight up.

         Pip-Pip, Cheerio. Thank You I’m sure. Quite. Lovely. Thank you very much indeed.

         Yeah, right. Whatever. Don’t let the door hit ya’ where the Good Lord split ya’.

 

                                                                                              Sincerely,

                                                                                               America

 

 

 

 

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