Americanisms Killing British English?

The BBC has an article on Americanisms killing the English language, which considers the arguments of a new book by Matthew Engel, That’s the Way it Crumbles: The American Conquest of English. Because by English, I mean British English.

Speaking on the wireless in 1935, Alistair Cooke declared that “Every Englishman listening to me now unconsciously uses 30 or 40 Americanisms a day”. In 2017, that number is likely closer to three or four hundred, Engel hazards – more for a teenager, “if they use that many words in a day”.

It’s often pointed out that plenty of these Americanisms were British English to begin with – we exported them, then imported them back. A commonly made case in point is ‘I guess’, which crops up in Chaucer. When Dr Johnson compiled his seminal 1755 dictionary, ‘gotten’ was still in use as a past participle of ‘get’. But as Engel points out, good old English is not good new English. Moreover, his beef isn’t really to do with authenticity; it’s more to do with our unthinking complicity. Because it’s not just the cookies and the closets, or even the garbage, it’s the insidiousness of it all. We’ve already reached the point where most of us can no longer tell whether a word is an Americanism or not. By 2120, he suggests, American English will have absorbed the British version entirely. As he puts it, “The child will have eaten its mother, but only because the mother insisted”.

None of this would matter if these imported words were augmenting our existing vocabulary….Engel quotes researchers behind 2014’s Spoken British National Corpus, who found that the word ‘awesome’ is now used in conversation 72 times per million words. Marvellous, meanwhile, is used just twice per million – down from 155 times a mere 20 years earlier. ‘Cheerio’ and, yes, ‘fortnight’, are apparently staring at the same fate.

Fortnight is an interesting word–which I didn’t learn the exact meaning of for years after I first read it in novels and basically figured it meant “a specific length of time.” Once I realized it was fourteen-nights shortened, it was way easier to remember what it meant, two weeks.

10 Things About the English Language

An article on the blog for Oxford Dictionaries entitled “Ten Things You Might Not Have Known about the English Language” caught my attention. It’s several years old, but it contains interesting information. The only ones I didn’t know were that -ize was British and not American and how many people are in process of learning English.

During classes that I teach, I often talk about the lack of a language academy that has the ability to decide what is “good” English. While I might have been more in favor of the idea in the past, after I heard that Brazilian Portuguese became the official standard for the Portuguese language, I was much less interested. (Can’t find the source I read that in.)

Only recently (say in the three years) have I learned that Noah Webster decided to Americanize English in order to make it better.

Bartleby quotes Mencken’s The American Language from 1921, saying,

Grounding his [Webster’s] wholesale reforms upon a saying by Franklin, that “those people spell best who do not know how to spell”—i. e., who spell phonetically and logically—he [Webster] made an almost complete sweep of whole classes of silent letters…
A good many of these new spellings, of course, were not actually Webster’s inventions. For example, the change from -our to -or in words of the honor class was a mere echo of an earlier English uncertainty. In the first three folios of Shakespeare, 1623, 1632 and 1663-6, honor and honour were used indiscriminately and in almost equal proportions; English spelling was still fluid, and the -our-form was not consistently adopted until the fourth folio of 1685.

A great many of his innovations, of course, failed to take root, and in the course of time he abandoned some of them himself.

Devil’s Advocate

huge file Old_book_with_gilded_page_edges by Anonimski WC CC3

For nearly four centuries, the Roman Catholic Church relied on the Advocatus Diaboli, or devil’s advocate, to investigate and to present to the Church all the negative aspects of the life and work of a candidate for sainthood. In what might be referred to as a form of saintly due diligence, the ideas was that if there were a thorough investigation that uncovered all the unfavorable information concerning the candidate and presented it to the Church leadership, the decision-making process would be more informed and would profit considerably from the diversity of ideas, perspectives, and sources of information.

Goldstein, Noah J., Steve J. Martin, and Robert B. Cialdini. Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. Simon & Schuster, 2008.

Avoid Passive Voice

“[A]n official from the General Services Administration presented Franklin Roosevelt with a copy of a notice that would be placed in every room of every government office across the land. The bureaucrat read this aloud to the president: IT IS OBLIGATORY THAT ALL ILLUMINATION BE EXTINGUISHED BEFORE THE PREMISES ARE VACATED” (Humes 155).

“Roosevelt, known for his clear communication, wryly replied, Why the hell can’t you say “Put out the lights when you leave”? [sic]” (Humes 157).


“The acronym ‘WHAB’ can help you find words that sound a warning bell for potential overuse of the passive” (Humes 158).

Humes, James C. Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln. Three Rivers Press.

Revision or Editing

Rebecka Scott, Abilene Christian U
“Holistic Revision Instead of Afterthought Editing”

connecting rhetoric, composition, and WC theories to editing and publishing

incorporation of scaffolding and peer review, becoming increasingly aware of writing process

would not recognize term re-writing
instead revision and editing separated in classroom
useful for helping explain: re-envision

creates inconsistencies
also we ignore editing as a recursive process

many comp students do not understand rewriting as a complex stage of writing

initial steps of evaluation

writing considered linear. Writing still linear. Comp studies, though, it is recursive.

Rhetoric for Writing Teachers, Lindemann
Not separate stages. Instead, the writers are prewriting, writing, and editing during the experience.
Defines rewriting as including revising and editing. These tasks are separate but equally relevant for rewriting. (RS includes proofreading)
Wants to draw rewriting back into the end. Revision isn’t the last stage of composing.

Lack of connection between revision and editing. More space given to revision than editing.
Revision supersedes term rewriting.
Editing = final check for formatting

Looked at various freshman composition textbooks on topic.

Rewriting is part of the writing process.

Books don’t show how they are cyclical. Books don’t even use language consistency.

Emphasis of one over the other in classroom can influence students.
Students are most concerned with grammar.
Organization and syntax matter.
Essentially the same act with a different focus.
Limited research on best way to teach these.

Initial steps:
Realign by evaluating language we use
Engage in discussion of recursive
Editing as a purposeful task of rewriting

Evaluate the purpose of rewriting as presented in textbook
Rewriting may be one element of the text that can be supplemented

Being aware of what may be lacking in our textbooks is essential for success.

Have language discussion even if confusing for students.
Part of the recursive writing.

Students are not receiving consistent presentation.

Many profs avoid. Students are unfamiliar with terms and have negative experiences.
These discussions can lead to better understanding.

Give adequate time to editing, revision, and rewriting.
This re-enforces that revising, editing, and proofreading are unimportant and part of the end-process only.

Notes from CCTE 2016: Teaching Strategies

Re-Envisioning Revision

Amy Clements, St. Edward’s U
“Re-envisioning Revision”

Art of Prestige, UMass Press

4 decades since Peter Elbow proposed a teacher-less writing class
to remedy the fact that teacher = “only one person and not very typical”

re-enforcing validity of voice

peer review is a quandary because different recommendations
How heavily as instructors should we intervene?
My solution came from publishing word. Teach classes in revising and editing and an advanced editing class.
Rhetorically sound argument to defend edits.

Should not be reserved for English majors.
Be willing to accept ambiguity.
Versatility to adapt to varying audiences including varying instructors.

As motivations of editors are discussed, students develop.
Writing prof job =/= various styles
Instead 1. Language is a revolving reflection of users.
2. Those who can easily access multiple styles have more access to audiences.

Word choice.
Send students to dictionary. Which ones?

Equip them to debate use in language.

Brian Henderson corrected “comprised of” in more than 40,000 wikipedia articles.

Grammar Girl on LinkedIn:
When you have a colon, do you capitalize what comes after?
Issue of style. Doesn’t want a style guide preference. What’s the rule?
What is the “I learned in school” style called?

Demystifying motivations and processes of editors (and writers), we can extend community of editors well beyond class rosters

Notes from CCTE 2016: Teaching Strategies

When Talking about Sentence Length

Here is a demonstration of the effect of sentence length, which I usually do in my FYC classes just talking. I found it at themetapicture.


This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length.

And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it’s important.