Sun 4 Nov 2012
I write historical and contemporary romance. Like many romance authors, most of my historicals to date have focused on Regency England. The period catches the fancy and populating books with handsome British Dukes and Earls is nigh irresistible. So, it surprises me not a’tall to discover that romance readers adore all things British. I was surprised at a recent NY Times story pointing out that as a nation, we’ve all gone barmy over “Britishisms.”
Alex Williams wrote the piece and I’ll bet he’s not even a romance fan. He pointed to a recent article in the “Daily Beast” written by an American who called the iPad “a lovely piece of kit.” He also referenced an earlier piece from “The Daily Herald” saying that the Chicago Bulls were mired in uncertainty “less than a fortnight” after a player went down with a knee injury.
Williams says that bits of Brit-speak have crept into the American vernacular. People are now saying “cheers” instead of ”thank you,” and “brilliant” instead of “yes,” or “I will,” or “I agree.” More and more Americans aren’t going to the bathroom or the restroom – they’re going to the “loo.” Williams suggests:
The next time an American “mate” asks you to “ring” her on her “mobile” about renting your “flat” during your “holiday,” it’s fair to ask, have we all become Madonna?
Williams refers the readers to a site maintained by Ben Yagoda an English Professor from the University of Delaware, who last year started the blog “Not One-Off Britishisms” or NOOB. Yagoda says, “The 21st-century ‘chattering classes’ — which is itself a Britishism — are the most significant perpetrators of this trend.”
Williams wonders if perhaps TV and the Internet may be responsible for the trend. He points to British Blockbuster shows like ‘Dr. Who” and British stars who’ve virtually seized American television – like Gordon Ramsay. I’d add Simon Cowell to that list – Cowell’s X-Factor, American Idol, and So You Think You Can Dance are practically their own genre and they’ve inspired so many others like Dancing With The Stars and The Voice.
Williams points out that people who traffic in trends for a living are, perhaps, most susceptible to them.
“Fashion people live to sound British, the same way they over-pronounce French and Italian words because of those country’s fashion weeks,” said Peter Davis, the American-born editor of Scene, a New York society magazine. In an industry in which British-born editors like Anna Wintour, Glenda Bailey and Joanna Coles set the tone, ambitious underlings trying to sound front row “use Brit-speak to sound, well, more ‘posh.’ ”
“I have heard people who grew up far from London uttering that a runway collection was ‘brilliant’ or just ‘bril,’ ” he added.
And, Mr. Davis said, “Fashion editors worry they will get ‘sacked’ if their next issue or story is ‘rubbish’ and not ‘clever’ enough.”
Some fairly recent Britishisms have already become part of our lives – like “no worries” for “no problems”, “queue” for “line” and “wonky” to describe electronic devices on the fritz. And the Brits have noticed the trend as well.
This outburst of Brit-envy has not gone unnoticed in Britain. The Guardian, TheTelegraph and the BBC Web site have all weighed in in recent weeks to poke fun at such linguistic shoplifting, as did the tabloid Sun, known for its Page 3 girls, which included aYank-baiting photo showing a stereotypical ugly American with a gold chain and a Hawaiian shirt, slurping a can of lager, otherwise known as “beer.”
The articles cited examples from Not One-Off Britishisms, where Mr. Yagoda (a New York Times contributor) often charts the popularity of terms using Google’s Ngram Viewer, which tracks the appearance of words or phrases year by year in millions of books. When rendered in graph form, certain British phrases, like “have a look” instead of the standard American “take a look,” look like the Nasdaq charts for a hot Internet stock.
Yagoda isn’t the only linguist to track the trend. Across the pond, Lynne Murphy of the University of Sussex nominates a British to American “word of the year.” Some of the recent winners include “kettling” for corralling a crowd and “ginger” for a redhead. Murphy notes that sometimes we Americans take a British expression and twist its meaning – like the newly popular phrase “chat up.” In England it means flirting with the intent to have sex and here it means talking. I’m from South Carolina – so I know all about Americans and Brits saying the same thing and meaning very different things.
In South Carolina the state dance is “the shag” which has its life’s blood here in my home area of Myrtle Beach. There are conventions of shaggers and clubs devoted exclusively to shagging. But if you’re in a club and walk up to a Brit and ask if they’d like to shag with you – the Brit is apt to raise both brows while his jaw drops. Why? In England “to shag” means “to have sex.”
While we’re importing Brit-speak, the romance world has some wonderful phrases that I think should become part of our vernacular. One I love is “good at the game” meaning – the game of sex. I love the term “befogged” meaning confused because it’s so much more descriptive. When I’m confused – you know how I generally feel? That’s right – “befogged.” One I think would be quite useful to describe political shenanigans is “havey-cavey business” because it means suspicious goings on. A term that describes my – and many American households these days is “in quite deep” – it means “in debt” which too many of us are these days because we’re “purse pinched.”
Another term I’ve used in my books and would adore hearing around the watercolor is “dicked in the nob.” It means crazy, so fans of the blog might say – “The duck lady is dicked in the nob.” They’d be right too.
So the next time you “bandy words” or talk with someone, throw in a British expression or two that you’d like to see us adopt. And if you need more grist for that mill – pick up a Regency Romance novel. Romance writers have been going to the Brits for a long time!
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