Gimme your unexpected Americanisms!
September 28, 2017 8:03 AM   Subscribe

A few years ago I discovered a brilliant article about Americanisms that have stealthily entered British English, including words like influential, reliable, tremendous, talented and lengthy. However, upon researching more deeply I have discovered that the American origin of these words is disputed (I know etymology can be a fuzzy science at best) and in some cases I can find no evidence that they are American other than the original article.

I am looking for words that are common in British English, but which have a provable American origin.

What I'm not looking for:
*Words like 'diaper' and 'elevator' aren't suitable as they are not commonly used in Britain, though most British people would understand the meaning;
*Words like 'color', 'liter', 'recognize' that are essentially the same word but with a different spelling;
* Words like 'jelly' for 'jam' that are familiar words that are used differently.

Ideally, I would like to find words like 'talented' that would be assumed by most Britons to be British in origin, but are in fact American imports. Words that have been extended from existent English words (talent>>>talented, length>>>lengthy) are OK.
posted by matthew.alexander to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The blog Separated By A Common Language discusses this often. She's an American linguist living and working in the UK.

For example, she addresses some claimed-but-not-really Britishisms here.
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:24 AM on September 28 [5 favorites]


I don't know if the 'talented' thing is right. I see that Coleridge condemned it as an Americanism in 1832, but the earliest citation in the OED is from 1827 by the British Bulwer-Lytton:
1827 E. Bulwer-Lytton Falkland i. 16 I smiled at the kindness of the fathers who, hearing I was talented..looked to my support.
I could imagine 19th century Brits condemning words they don't like as 'Americanisms' without there being any actual truth to the claim.

More broadly I don't know of an authoritative source on the topic.
posted by crazy with stars at 8:30 AM on September 28


A few years ago I discovered a brilliant article about Americanisms that have stealthily entered British English, including words like influential, reliable, tremendous, talented and lengthy.

Since those words are not Americanisms, I gently suggest it was not that brilliant. But Separated By A Common Language is indeed excellent, and I second the recommendation.

> I could imagine 19th century Brits condemning words they don't like as 'Americanisms' without there being any actual truth to the claim.

Happened all the time. People have, and have always had, weird attitudes about language that have no relation to objective facts.
posted by languagehat at 8:46 AM on September 28 [6 favorites]


Are you looking for words that have indigenous origins? Miigwetch is very common in my area but I doubt someone from the UK would understand it. Otherwise, a lot of animal, geographic, and food words tend to be regional - poutine, moose, pablum, skookum, freezies, powwow, chinook, bayou, pemmican, chipmunk, potato, toboggan, poncho, moccasin, skunk, muskeg, etc

In addition I believe lineup (vs queue) is one, not sure if the public toilet wording or bathroom vs toilets is another? Mickey (alcohol vs "taking the..."), or Two-Four (a measure of beer, not wood). Pencil Crayons versus Coloured Pencils is more of a phrase than word.
posted by saucysault at 5:10 AM on September 29


Are you looking for words/usages once considered 'Americanisms' but that are now common? 'Guys' (for a general group of any gender), 'eew' (instead of 'yuk') and 'can I get' (rather than 'can I have/may I have'), as well as 'douche/douchebag' as an insult, are all words/phrases which seem to be accepted British English now.
posted by mippy at 10:05 AM on October 4


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