I hit a wall today, when someone introduced a blatant anti-American comment on Twitter and I was not amused. This is one of those things that I was not at all prepared for when I moved to England nearly five years ago (gasp!). After living for many (30) years in an America full of Anglophilia, I sort of assumed that the former monarchist leaders of our state shared the same sort of historical affection for us that we had for them. The last few weeks have demonstrated the fact, more clearly than ever, that I was wrong.
We all have witnessed the great Anglophilia that took place in the form of the Americans' obsession with the royal wedding a few weeks ago. Although a few arguments tried to logically argue against an American being obsessed with the wedding of Prince William and future princess Kate, this seems to have fallen largely on deaf ears. I am, through the expat community, very much aware of a number of blatantly Anglophile blogs (here, and here, for example).
So in this general framework of Anglophilia, it still comes as a surprise to me that, while Americans can be classed as generally England-loving, here in England it is politically sound to be America-hating. Or, at very least, America-resenting.
Here is the example of the tweet that sent me over the edge today, in terms of Anti-American sentiment and frustration. I note now that it was only the latest in a series of such things. I do not harbor any long-standing or particular bad feelings to this particular tweeter. But it did put me into the place where my blood was boiling and I was flat-out angry, after nearly five years of living abroad.
My response is as follows: we live in a world where globalization reigns. Changes to language will take place, and they will be influenced by many sources. Americans, desperately in love with England, will pick up on English words. English folk, in return, should not be so violently against supposed Americanisms (although with “staycation” I’d challenge the locals to prove, that even if the word was American in origin, it was not picked up in the British press far more than in the American one!) We are a group of people who happen to share a language, and in many cases, who happen to share the same values. Emphasizing the differences, as opposed to the many similarities, is just an annoying bit of xenophobia. (The brilliant show “Gavin and Stacey” had a great bit on the difference between “racism” and xenophobia, and I want to quote this over and over because it was accurate and much-misunderstood in modern British usage!)
We, as English-speakers, have to adapt to the fact that this is a language based in other languages and one that evolves quickly. I think this is really cool. I love that my language has no problems with invention of words to address new technology, because I am a scientist and sometimes I really need those new words. I’m unclear as to what is to be gained by “blaming” any English-speaking country for new words or compounds that happen to make it into general usage. Words only become popular because people are seeking a short-hand term to describe a concept that is in need of expression.
More importantly, I think, it is detrimental to the language as a whole to demonize words as being “American” in origin, when that distinction is being seen as “ultimately bad” without context. If a word gains traction in the larger English language, that language being spoken across many institutions including science, why can’t we live with it, no matter the origin, if it expresses the concept that we wish to express? And in that vein, why should we care if there are differences in the words used in British and American English for the same concept, when we are most likely next to deal with the important translation effects that result in trying to convert between English and Chinese? Neither “English” nor “Chinese” is a single dialogue, so we have years of mis-communication to ensue. Can’t we at least stop arguing within our own ranks, of supposedly “English” speakers, and try for a degree of communication instead of petty disagreements?
Isn’t language supposed to be dynamic anyway? Adding a unique context to a word doesn’t “kill another culture”, but rather enriches it if anything. And if the slang does not apply or appeal to you, then don’t use it. To insinuate that just because a word is “americanized” it derogates the English language/culture is not fair. I share in your observation that the tendency towards affinity between the US and UK is generally a one-sided affair. I often tell the British hubby that it is probably easier for a British person to adapt to life in the US, than the other way around.
> I often tell the British hubby that it is probably easier for a British person to adapt to life in the US, than the other way around.
That is very true, in my experience anyway, having lived in LA for a short while back in the early 70s. Even going back to New York City for work for a few weeks, I quickly get used to the place and people like they’re my own.
Now, I’m in Hong Kong, and I see the same aspect happening. It is often (relatively speaking, not absolutely speaking) the Americans who find it a tad hard to adapt to Hong Kong life, rather than the British. Of Britons themselves in Hong Kong, the Scots, Welsh and the Irish are (relatively speaking again) much better at living the Hong Kong life than Englishmen.
Your post is spot on. If there’s anyone out there who thinks it’s bad enough for (say) the British to demonise americanisms/Americanisms, then it gets pretty scaaaary to encounter British and Americans who are Chinese-language lovers (who are usually linguists and translators) who demonise the whole English language and quite a degree of refusal to recognise that English, rightly or wrong, is or has become a world language in practical terms.
Try to remember that England is the size of Louisiana. It is TINY, and its tiny micro-culture has been, is, and will always be in danger of being engulfed in the global trend of Americanization, especially bc we speak the same language! Try to have some empathy for a culture trying to hold onto itself. America is enormous, rich, and powerful – it doesn’t need you to defend its culture because it’s already the dominant one in the world. BTW, I’m an American living in London.
I respectfully disagree; my point is exactly this: America welcomes change. Melting pot, land of immigrants, and all of that. America doesn’t need to be “defended” against change and I don’t understand why Britain or Britons feel/feels the need to be defended against change. Times change, flexible institutions change with them, just as with language. Desperately clinging to a distant past (as with the former British empire) is the problem.
Do I think everything about America is good? Not even close. There are, of course, reasons that I live abroad! But I do think an attitude of general resentment towards the world in the post-empire decline of Britain is a serious problem in need of an attitude adjustment in order for the country to flourish in the 21st century…
In my experience, America does not welcome change. See: the horrific anti-immigration laws being passed in the Southwest, religious conservatives having enough political clout to get terrifying laws passed (no federal funding for abortion just passed 2 weeks ago), and the general air of “everything was better in the 50s” that pervades the whole culture (notwithstanding the blatant anti-black and anti-women realities of that era!).
England has been forced to change much more than America. As the Empire collapsed and England lived through the privations of the post-war era and especially the 70s, England adapted to an entirely new way of life, one that didn’t include being a world superpower. America has never had to worry about not being on top, therefore it’s resistant to change. England’s choice was: change or die.
I strongly disagree that England has a resentment against the world. England (and quite a lot of the rest of the world) has a (justified, in my view) resentment against America, for being arrogant, inflexible, and alpha-dog dominant in world politics and economics. Americans grow up being taught unironically that the US is the best country in the world, and most quite sincerely believe that. When Britons say they are “proud to be British”, it’s with a bit of “taking the piss of yourself” understanding that the British culture is weird, repressed, and for the most part sidelined on the world stage…and they love it anyway, or perhaps BECAUSE of that.
America welcomes change to language?
http://britishisms.wordpress.com is an popular blog by a respected and well-known American professor of English, entirely devoted to ‘defending’ America against the stealthy takeover of British expressions and grammar.
Gobsmacked to discover it!
As far as I’m concerned, it’s a fascinating anomaly in a sea of Anglophilia…
I’d be surprised if “staycation” or any of those “holiday at home” neologisms were American because vacationing abroad isn’t the norm for Americans anyway. The US is so big and diverse that you can see something wildly different from what you’re used to — and travel a long way — without leaving the country, and if I’m not mistaken, that’s what most people in the US do.
Full disclosure: I’m an American living in England.
I did some research on the web yesterday and sources (via the font of all knowledge, wikipedia) did attribute the first use of “staycation” to a US-based newspaper. But I spend plenty of time in America and have never heard the word there, whereas it’s quite common here in England.
“staycation” doesn’t refer to “not going abroad”; it means taking vacation time from work but staying at home, in your own house, usually because you can’t afford to go away.
It is definitely of American origin, most simply proved by the fact that English and Europeans don’t use the word “vacation” – they say holidays. And we moved to England from America 3 years ago and the term was in wide use (at least on the East Coast) then. I heard it a lot.
I’m not convinced (and anecedotally, I also moved here from the East Coast three years ago and never heard “staycation” once, so I’m not sure that adds to your argument).
Your being convinced or unconvinced is not really my concern. Why on earth would I make something like that up? I’m from Philadelphia, and the term was definitely in wide use in the media, online, and in general conversation before we moved. I used it myself. It seems unlikely that it was a linguistic micro-trend limited to the Philadelphia metro area. Perhaps you can avail yourself of Google and convince yourself – presumably you have access to the Internet as you are posting here on a blog – and then you won’t have to take the world of a no-doubt prevaricating poster on a random blog? Because convincing people of etymological trends that I’ve made up is my sole purpose for living, of course.
I wonder if by “staycation” in the US they generally mean stay in your own house in the US, whereas here it’s more often used to mean stay in the UK. Interesting (and I agree with you about the wild and often offensive anti-Americanism in the UK — the casualness and the virulence surprised me too).
Detailed and thoroughly researched discussion of the origin, and difference in meanings, of staycation is available here:
Thanks, Shaun. I had been reminded of that link by Lynne herself but still managed to forget to link to it when I wrote the post, as I got distracted by the bigger picture!
Very interesting link, love the idea of a Holistay made me think of the holodeck in Star Trek as a vactioning destination.
Language is ever evolving and often borrows words and phrases from other languages, ‘agent provocateur’, ‘Noel’, ‘kindergarten’ or ‘doppelganger’ anyone? Personally I am both guilty of and dislike intensely the Anti-Americanism you get in Britain, go figure!
For the record I am British, born in England, living in Britain to a Welsh Father and half Welsh, half French Mother.
I think comments on language are among the most heated and stupid on the Web. It’s just as bad in German. I try to ignore them now.
Many of the words that are considered “Americanisms” were actually used in Britain first over 200 to 300 year ago! The early settlers brought them to American and we still use them today. The Brits have changed the words they use. So technically Americans are using many of the proper words for items such as diaper, apartment, frying pan, jelly, cookie, pillow sham, eggplant, secretary, crib, pacifier, nightstand, baby carriage, baby carriage, shopping cart, store, a bunch of, Doctor’s Office, I reckon (which is very Southern, but originated in England), you all (another Southern term that originated in early England). There are many more but the list is too long. I have been studying on dialect and language for awhile now and found it interesting how much America has actually kept the original English and the British English has actually evolved.
I’d never heard that about words, but I had heard it about accents… that it is the modern British accent that has changed. I remember that every time I hear or read of a Brit calling some aspect of American pronunciation “horrible”
I’d say that both American Anglophilia and English US Xenophobia are rooted in complete misapprehensions of each other’s cultures, brought about by media depiction. The real modern Britain is not effortlessly cool groovy music, fashion, Hugh Grantesque men, cucumber sandwiches, castles and quaintness. The real modern America is not all mindless gun-totin’, bible-bashin’, obese, ignorant, jingoistic and arrogant. But, scour the media regularly and it’s highly easy to get either picture and be influenced by them, leading to the differences observed. I’m sorry that such a negativity has been aimed in your direction, particularly as you’re in a position to know what modern Britain is really like as opposed to media portrayal. I’m ashamed of my countrymen and their enthusiasm for tabloid viewpoints, such as those espoused by the Daily Mail and likewise proud to know more of real America by dint of regular visits and a plethora of friends from the multifarious cultures that make up the US.
The thing is, the language influence drifts both ways. The one I’ve noticed recently in US media, even the New York Times, is “take a decision”, which has pretty much replaced American English “make a decision”. (Where exactly are you taking the decision? Out to lunch? To church? For a stroll in the park? To a bar for a drink? Home for dinner?)
It’s irksome , but I’d rather be irked than lose the opportunity to hear from Canadian and British reporters and commenters as well as Americans.
Phew. Great discussion. Few things to add-
– staycation is alive and well as a term in the US mid-west, meaning to stay at home when you have time off
– the great book (from the PBS series) “The Story of English” talks a lot about the changes to the English language and claims that more changes take place at the root (UK) than elsewhere, so that as Sunni mentioned above, a lot of American words are old, old English words.
– one thing that hasn’t been mentioned, and may be slightly off topic, is that although I agree about the anti-Americanism you often find in the UK, Americans themselves are generally unaware of the sentiments they arouse across the globe. As has been said, they are raised to think that the USA and everything America does, is the best in the world. Given that most Americans don’t travel far, and many don’t bother to find out what’s going on in other countries, it probably contributes to the animosity.
I think the concept of ‘Americansims’ is an overreaction when British English is so obviously a fluid language – you only have to think that the south’s “y’all” is “ye all” to realize that British English is the one that changed most rapidly. It’s not just ‘Americanisms’ that get people’s knickers in a twist though – think of how horrified English teachers are over the rise of ‘Estuary English’ and the whole country sounding like they’re from Essex.
Not that it doesn’t stop me trying to curb my American daughter saying ‘like’ twice in every sentence though.
— A Brit living in California —
Catherine – I think you should write a blog! You’ve got interesting opinions, and you express them well.
I think I have expat fatigue. I don’t know what to say to all this.
True, there are some virulent anti-Americans in this country, but in my 66 years of living here (from birth I might add) and having lived and worked in many diverse places and situations, I have rarely come across such attitudes. Many of us look in awe of America and recognise there’s a lot that is good that comes from it – including the Americans themselves. Most of us would love the chance to go to the USA even once in our lives. True, we do bleat on about ‘Americanisation’, but we have fallen in love with Coke, McDonalds, Ford cars, film stars and even some of your Presidents! My parents, who lived through many blitzes during WWII, were so grateful for the Americans joining us and recognised the huge contribution they made to the war effort not to mention the very generous nature of the servicemen who were encamped alongside them. Long live the stars and stripes!
A further comment. Often, people outside the UK accuse us of looking back to the days of the Empire when we ‘ruled the world’ and somehow continuing in attitude to display ourselves as colonial masters. This is simply untrue. Most of the Empire was rightly given back to the indigenous people by the end of the 50s and early 60s so the vast majority of Britons have little or no knowledge of us as a colonial power – it just doesn’t enter their thoughts or their psyche. We have much to be proud of in this country and much to be thankful for, but no desire to press our ways onto other lands. The British Empire has been relegated to the past as far as those under 60s are concerned, considered more-or-less to be on a par with the Roman Empire – the stuff of history books!