Damn these Americans and their screwed up English!

Notice how I couldn’t avoid two Americanisms in my title complaining about Americanisms! ;-)

This is the root of the problem, some Americanisms are darn fine ones but others just drive me completely bonkers crazy. Take the word “guess” for example. The way I use it it is a fine complement to the English version of “suppose”. I can say “I suppose you will be holidaying in Tuscany again this year?” meaning I don’t know for sure but there has been at least an element of deduction or calculation involved (say because the person has been to Tuscany the last five years in a row). I can also say “I guess not.” when I’m asked whether Obama will win the next election, giving the impression that whilst I still have an opinion, I really am guessing. Damn is a good, more widely known, alternative to sod in a similar way that screwed up works well instead of buggered up and there are many more Americanisms that I am happy to embrace and use. Should be said I’ve worked with Americans for a lot of my career so am more tolerant than others.

Where it goes horribly wrong is with phrases like “reach out” or the current favourite, “space”. I was listening to a podcast, I think Harvard Business Review, and the lady being interviewed was using space so often it was genuinely hard to follow what she was saying. I forget the details but she would say something like “We were testing atheletes who were operating in the basketball space.” instead of saying “We were testing basketball players.” and as the interview went on it was clear that the word space, in its new role, had almost unlimited applications. I might have let this go as a one-off nutty professor moment but it has been cropping up with annoying regularity so it would be great to head this one off at the pass!

The other example, “reach out” has been around for a while now and because of that has started to cross borders. What was purely an Amercian thing has now invaded the UK and shows no signs of stopping, hence the need to raise emerging dangers such as space at an early stage in the hope they don’t cross the Atlantic. Essentially, reach out is used to signify an attempt to communicate with someone but without being specific as to what method will be used. “I will reach out to him next week.” or “He reached out to me to discuss the situation in the Eurozone space.”. Saints preserve us!

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11 thoughts on “Damn these Americans and their screwed up English!

  1. Anonymous says:

    AYA! Don’t even get me started.
    My personal hate of the day is “go ahead”. Trying to learn from online resources provided by reputable academic sources, go ahead and… appears in every second sentence. It drives me bonkers, makes me want to scream: get off of it!!!
    I’ve read an interesting article about ise vs ize. Apparently ize is the correct form, but after the USAerers adopted it, the rest of the world assumed it must be wrong and switched to ise…
    You may have noticed I refered to the citizens of the land of the free as USAerers not Americans. Having many Canadian and Mexican friends I will not use the word Americans, as I don’t want to offend the undeserving.

  2. The above came as Anonymous, my WordPress doesn’t like me much today. I hope this comes through OK.
    Vrais.

  3. Bonkers says:

    It’s Polish phrases and words that imitate English ones that drive me up the wall. Perhaps the worst of the lot is ‘dopingować’ – apparently something supporters do to a football team, but which doesn’t involve drugs. Horrible word that grates like chalk scratching a black board.

  4. I gave up all hope when I read in a Polish magazine, in a language advice from a professor who said that “Polscy menadżerowie używają za dużo słów obcego pochodzenia.”
    (Polish managers – menadżerowie being a Polglish word – use too many foreign words).
    Obviously “menadżerowie” is a traditional polish word mentioned by Kochanowski in Treny.

  5. Bonkers says:

    I don’t have a problem with loanwords, English is built on them, especially loans from Norman French. Polish would be a very poor language indeed without borrowings from other tongues. It already takes Poles about 20-40% more syllables to express the same concept as an English speaker. And I can’t imagine what monstrosities an Academie Polonaise would dream up!
    It’s just when Poles change the meaning unnecessarily that bugs me. Another example – “folder”, which in Polish means, brochure; yet there’s a perfectly good equivalent – broszura.

  6. Agreed, to a point. After living and speaking and teaching in English I realised how beautiful and expressive Polish language can be. The endless possibilities to create diminutives to express feelings… The forms of adjectives, bialy, bielutki, bielusienki etc. maybe it’s not as efficient as English, but translate bielusienki for me please.
    Replacing kierownik with manager is just wanky. Why on earth is the word design used instead of projektownie, lub projekt? Beats me. The only reason I can think of is trying desperately to appear more worldly, something we, as a nation, have been guilty of for centuries.

  7. Bob says:

    One of the reasons I do all my contracts in plain English – it is precise and can be made to be black & white and fully understandable. Most contract issues in Poland are a result of disagreements over what a word or phrase means.

  8. scatts says:

    Vrais,

    I’m sure it is possible to express in English the same underlying meaning that is delivered by all the Polish diminutives but it would for sure require some kombinować and more words. In this respect, Polish is way ahead of English in terms of efficiency.

    This might explain why there is a tendency for Poles to throw far too many words into their English sentences, because they are trying in vain to make up for the very efficient Polish version. That’s even after you have removed all the redundant “the”s and “a”s.

    Of course there are many cases where it works the other way around.

  9. scatts says:

    Bob,

    To be fair, most contract disputes in English are a result of the same thing. For example, the meaning of the word “reasonable” in “reasonable endeavours” or a hundred other similar cases. The problem with the majority of contracts is that they are written badly in whatever language. Primarily because they are written in a hurry using expensive (but largely useless) lawyers at a time when everyone just wants to get on with it and are full of hope that it will be a success.

    :-)

  10. Actually, the efficiency of the language is measured in time, word count, to convey a message. You are puting an interesting twist on it. The actual research concentrated on business language and found that English was the most efficient of european languages, with German ending lowest on the scale.
    Your look at the other end of the spectrum, call it language of emotion, may make polish more efficient than English, interesting.

  11. wychodźca says:

    Reblogged this on Polander and commented:
    Klub trzeciego miejsca

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