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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Something Borrowed, Something British: A Mini Rant on Pretentiousness

Something Borrowed, Something British

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Alex Williams of The New York Times thinks America Is on a slippery slope to sounding like the Brits.

Though my daughter loves the language spouted by her mentor at UCLA and I have been amused  by some idioms and colloquialisms I've run into over the decades (like "ladder" for a "run" in one's nylons), I can't say I've much noticed.

As proof of this dangerous tendency to copy language that's not understood by any but Americans immersed in our language from the Brits (or worse!, language that shouldn't be adopted), Alex cites:

·        Daniel Gross, an American journalist, who calls Mitt Romney a "bumbling toff."

·        American sci-fi author John Calzi who calls the iPad "a lovely piece of kit.

·        And the use of "fortnight," which I never consider British other than that almost all of the "American" language came from those islands over there near the English Channel.

Williams, in fact, blames New Yorkers for most of these Britishisms and then proceeds to use a whole lot of them—tongue-in-cheek in the British fashion, I'm supposing. They include relatively obnoxious ones like "crikey." But words like "flat" for apartment and "mobile" for cell phone and "holiday" for vacation are hardly new. A "flat" was a "flat" when I lived in New York in something like…oh, forget it. You don't need to know. And though rarely used these ways, we have used "mobile" for "cell phone" and "holiday" for a little vacation for at least a few decades. There are some advantages to being old. It's easy for us to place things in their appropriate decade.

Williams quotes one American editor of the Oxford Dictionary as saying using Britishisms are only "suitable" when there is no American English equivalent, like the word "'twee" for stuff that smacks of Britishness like Laura Ashley dresses. He cautions against using it on the way to the "loo," because he thinks that is "just being pretentious."

Crikey, I'm thinking. Does one have to use a word that most Americans couldn't interpret before being considered "pretentious?" And isn't it awfully British to consider one darn fun word "suitable" when another is just plain "annoying."

I've been speaking English so long I can't be anything but grateful that we "borrowed" it or that they "lent" it to us back in the early days of Plymouth and Jamestown. Besides,I think "'twee" sounds very Alice-in-Wonderlandish. And I'm wondering where we'd be—how much poorer Disney would be—if we hadn't borrowed that masterpiece along with Peter Pan and Alice's literary cousins.
I think most Americans would say, "the cat has been out of the bag for some time and it's way too late to coax it back in."

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the multi award-winning author of The Frugal Editor ( and Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips for Writers: The Ultimate Frugal Booklet for Avoiding Word Trippers and Crafting Gatekeeper-Perfect Copy ( ). Learn more about her fiction, poetry, and HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and retailers at Reprints are available by sending an e-mail for permission to HoJoNews (at) AOL (dot) com.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults. and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success (How To Do It Frugally series of book for writers). Learn more about her other authors' aids at , where writers will find lists and other helps including Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog. She tweets writers' resources at . Please tweet this post to your followers. We all need a little help with editing. (-:

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