The Britishisms Are Coming

I recently read an article on the BBC that talks about Britishisms creeping into American English. I found it interesting considering that for years all the attention has been on all the Americanisms used by Brits.

[Side note: my spell check knows the word Americanisms but puts a squiggly red line under Britishisms.]

What I loved most in the article, was that the influence of some of the words came from a book. A children’s book no less. Of course, the book is Harry Potter:

“There has also been “a huge up-tick”, says Stamper, in the use of ginger as a way of describing someone with red hair. She sees this as clearly tied to the publication in the US of the first Harry Potter book. Dozens of words and phrases were changed for the American market, but ginger slipped through, as did snog (meaning “to kiss amorously”) – though that has not proved so popular.

I never got why it was necessary to take any of the Britishisms out of it in the first place. (Did they also do this to Roald Dahl stories, I wonder? Does anyone know?)

But mostly I think that books should introduce you to new worlds. And not just the magical world of wizards and muggles, but also real worlds of unknown cultures. The Britishisms make Harry Potter more authentic considering the story takes place in England. So I’m all for leaving the Britishims in. If readers don’t know a word, they’ll usually get it from the context. (Anyone who’s read A Cloackwork Orange will know that.) And children are even better at picking up a ‘new’ language. I think the American publisher simply didn’t give their young audience enough credit.


Read the entire article on BBC: Britishisms and the Britishisation of American English

There is little that irks British defenders of the English language more than Americanisms, which they see creeping insidiously into newspaper columns and everyday conversation. But bit by bit British English is invading America too.

Read more


13 thoughts on “The Britishisms Are Coming

  1. I must agree with you, Vanessa as to leaving the original text/sound. This is a ridiculous decision – British or American – they both are English, for goodness’ sake!
    There has always been a tendency in the USA to actually admire the British manner of speaking – they even call it Kings’ English. And usually they understood the British equivalents.
    Only some people – I would call them not very imaginative – had a hard time with differing pronunciation. That will happen forever, just as in the case of other languages, too, I’m pretty sure.
    For me, it was an enigma to see that the Americans loved/tolerated the British manner whereas the Brits generally disapproved of Americanisms, the Economist even had an article in their language-learning section on Americanisms. So what, I say… 🙂
    Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. The difference is, that the British never quite forgave that minor unpleasantness of 1776, and feel, even to this day, that British English, being the original, is the only correct form of the language. Regrettable, but true. Mind, I can’t help wondering, if we are to talk of ‘original’, we don’t still use Old English. To answer that, here is a sample:
      Ic wæs wæpenwiga; nu mec wlonc þeceð,
      geong hagostealdmon golde and sylfore,
      woum wirbogum.

      Beautiful, I would say, but not likely to attract many readers.

      1. All I can do is agree with you. History leaves such a permanent mark in our DNA that we subconsciously act on it. And there is nothing we can do about it. Our brothers the English are no different I reckon. Perhaps conscious effort could help us restrain that instinctive reactions of ours…
        And I really loved your Old English sample though sadly I must admit I comprehended little of it.

  2. I prefer leaving unfamiliar words in if it adds to the flavor of the book–just as long as the meaning is clear to the reader.

  3. When I teach English to my French students I have to be careful about who they work with. If the work mainly with the British the vocabulary they use and even some grammar is different.

  4. Wow, that list of differences were eye-opening! I had somehow never realised there were so many differences in American and British English. We had a funny incident recently when my children were talking to a little American friend about a motorbike and the American lad was completely blank, as if he had never seen or heard of such a vehicle in his life. So my kids start describing it and his face finally lit up: ‘Oh, you mean moddacycle!’ And he made them repeat it slowly, to make sure that they learnt the proper word.

    1. I never new there were so many either. I realise that so many words that I use I don’t even know that I’m using a British or America word. I use motorcycle and motorbike interchangeably, although I think I do use motorcycle a bit more often.

  5. Describing someone with red hair as “ginger” isn’t British English it’s just incorrect terminology. Red is the generic term; which can be divided into ginger and auburn as appropriate.

    1. But Brits don’t use the term “ginger” for auburn hair, only for lighter reds (like the famous Weasleys mentioned in the article). Likewise, until recently, Americans never used the term “ginger”, regardless of the shade of red, so the use of “ginger” in reference to hair colour at all is British English.

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