'Let's Touch Base' On The Americanisms Brits Love To Hate
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And now a story that Ari Shapiro, who is hosting our program in Washington all week, has brought us from London where he's based. Hey there, Ari.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Hi, Audie. OK, so this surprise I've brought for you starts with a quiz. I'm going to play a list of words for you...
SHAPIRO: ...And I want you to see if you can guess what they have in common. Here goes.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Let's touch base. Twenty-four-seven - hey, you guys.
SHAPIRO: And I've got one more.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: My bad.
CORNISH: They're like Americanisms.
SHAPIRO: Very good.
SHAPIRO: They're all Americanisms that have crept into British English.
CORNISH: Oh, people are saying my bad?
SHAPIRO: People in the U.K. are saying my bad. And as you can imagine, this has made some traditionalists a bit, you might say miffed.
CORNISH: OK. (Laughter).
SHAPIRO: So back in London we spoke with the host of the show that is the equivalent to Morning Edition over there. It's called the "Today Programme." This is a gentleman named John Humphrys who is not thrilled about this development.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "TODAY PROGRAMME")
JOHN HUMPHRYS: I would not like to see the day when we walked on sidewalks. And I do like lorries, although it's pretty much lost to trucks, isn't it? I don't want my wardrobe to become a closet. I suppose what bugs me more than the actual vocabulary is the sound of language. Could I be any more excited? This is so not an exaggeration. I really dislike that stuff, and I hate it when my own kids - my youngest is 14. He does it. It's going to happen.
CORNISH: Well, that makes sense 'cause, I mean, BBC English is a thing.
SHAPIRO: Very proper.
SHAPIRO: To my favorite conscientious objector is a gentleman named Charles Lamb who runs an organization called the Queen's English Society, which I should add is basically a defunct organization. But I visited him at his home. You have to picture somebody dressed like the late Mr. Rogers, but a lot more British. So I asked him this question.
Are there any Americanisms that you really enjoy - that you think are a welcome addition to language here?
CHARLES LAMB: No. (Laughter) I can't think of any.
SHAPIRO: You're not, as the Americans would say, down with that?
LAMB: No, I don't know that expression. No.
SHAPIRO: Down with that means - how would I put it?
CORNISH: All right. (Laughter).
SHAPIRO: How would you define down with that to a prim and proper British man?
CORNISH: We were all down with that in 2006, but this is not new, right? This is not a new issue for Brits. They've been fretting - nay, whinging about the Americanization...
SHAPIRO: Whinging - ooh, nice.
CORNISH: ...Of English for a very long time.
SHAPIRO: Yes, but the pace appears to be increasing. We should say that a lot of the time when they whinge about these Americanisms they're actually wrong.
SHAPIRO: So, like, Charles Lamb, that guy I spoke to, complained about the word gotten, as in it's gotten hot in here.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. But it turns out Shakespeare used gotten.
CORNISH: So we're kind of right?
SHAPIRO: Yeah, we're right. And another one - Americans say tidbit. Brits say titbit. And Charles Lamb and other purists believe that Americans have it wrong because we're afraid of saying the word tit. It turns they are actually using the later form of the word, and we are going with the original.
CORNISH: All right, so in all of your travels, did you meet anybody who actually defended the creeping Americanization of English? (Laughter).
SHAPIRO: I met a delightful English lexicographer named Susie Dent who is very enthusiastic about the Americanisms entering her beloved language.
SUSIE DENT: The main reason that I love Americanisms is just their sheer verve and vitality. Some of my favorites would be joyride, hoodlum, deadbeat, frazzled, bluff, and probably my favorite of all would be skedaddle and highfalutin. I love that one.
SHAPIRO: I was sure she was going to say highfaluting - put a G on it.
CORNISH: I didn't know, like, hoodlum - I didn't know that was us.
SHAPIRO: Oh, that's totally us. OK, so here's my question for you, Audie. What are your favorite Britishisms that have entered the American vocabulary?
CORNISH: Are there really that many?
SHAPIRO: Of course there are.
CORNISH: I don't - I've been trying to call the elevator the lift for the longest time but it just won't stick.
SHAPIRO: OK, I have to tell you my favorite, which has not yet come over to America. I'm trying to make it happen - sozzles.
CORNISH: Well, Ari, it's been great having you this week.
SHAPIRO: It means sorry, but I should warn you that apparently, at least as of now, only teenage girls use it in the U.K.
CORNISH: I understand that.
SHAPIRO: But I'm going to try to make it a thing here.
CORNISH: Well, Ari, thanks so much for that dispatch.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter). Cheers, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.