Everything is Changing! Where Do I Get Off?

It seems that some language snob at the BBC created a kerfuffle among American ex-pats living in Britain. The problem was an article he wrote complaining about Americanisms creeping into use in Britain, many of which he termed ‘ugly and unnecessary.’ For a detailed rundown of the flare-up, check out this post at Not From Around Here.

I’ve never had any sympathy for people who get precious about language – really they’re just getting precious about the language as it is at one moment in time, and language being language, it changes constantly as we breathe new life into it. And frankly, any nation that introduced the word “pants” to mean “rubbish” doesn’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to proper use of language. As far as I’m concerned, language is something that belongs to all of us and I like that it changes all the time. And American English often makes a lot more sense than British English. For example, “the fire department” is straightforward and easy to understand whereas the “fire brigade” is quite frankly ludicrous. “Flash light” is far more descriptive than “torch” and “truck” make a lot more sense than “lorry.” (Although, Americans, if you wouldn’t mind not writing ‘purdy’ during online chats instead of ‘pretty’ I would really appreciate it. Even I have my limits.)

But I think Mike over on Pond Parley’s really gets to the bottom of the issue when he writes this:

Linguistic rage springs from the same root as the uneasy feeling you get (but often don’t admit to) when you see the pastureland outside of town being bulldozed to make way for a warehouse-sized ASDA, or when that new-age hippy family moves in next door, or when you notice an increase of foreign accents on the high street. The core question is not, “What is happening to my language?” or even, “What is happening to my country/county/village/home?” It is “What is happening to the things I find familiar?”

And this resistance to change is not only a British thing. Here in America, the rise of the ‘tea party’ is little more than a collective expression of older white peoples’ fears that America is changing. The rallies and misspelled signs and barely repressed racism are really all just expressions of Mike’s question: “What is happening to the things I find familiar?”

What’s happening, of course, is globalization. A process that has been set to warp speed by the Internet. Now we are all global citizens whether we like it or not and over time, those boundaries between countries and cultures will become increasingly blurred. It’s an inevitable change but one that people will fight to the death anyway. Well, that’s if the earth survives long enough.

I figure change is the only constant and resisting it is a recipe for high blood pressure and an unhappy life. If the people who get angry about things like language changes just stopped trying to roll back time and embraced the new, I feel sure they’d be happier. And the rest of us wouldn’t have to read their complaints on the BBC website.

Here’s David Mitchell on the one Americanism he really can’t stand. Well, OK, the two Americanisms he really can’t stand. But that’s it – honest!


5 thoughts on “Everything is Changing! Where Do I Get Off?

  1. I was surprised by how strongly American’s reacted. Linguists were way more fun as they pointed out that actually most of the words began as British usage. I know longer know which idiom I’m speaking in.

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