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I like reading the BBC News. Their reporting is clearly just as biased as that of the American press, but because it’s a slightly different bias, it gives me access to ideas and even information that aren’t available in American news.

Every so often, though. they seem really inept. Like in their recent piece listing 50 Americanisms creeping into British speech.

The main problem with their article is that many of the so-called Americanisms that the editors chose to include in their list are not Americanisms at all — many are not generally used in American English many are (or have long been) used outside American English.

Expressions on the list too narrow in use (whether socially or geographically) to be considered true Americanisms include: “can I get…” used to place an order at a restaurant; “24/7” for “all day, every day”; “my bad” as a sort of calque for “mea culpa”; &c. All of these phrases seem like foreign invaders to me from some alien culture. I feel annoyed that they’re creeping into American English. Calling them Americanisms stretches the truth a bit.

Other expressions in the list were certainly once (and maybe, in some areas, still) used in Britain just as much as they are in America: “gotten” as the past participle of “get” (current in British writing through the 19th century); “period” instead of “full stop” for the dot at the end of a sentence (the former is by far the older term for the idea, going back to the year 1025); “learn” for “teach” (as in Shakespeare’s Tempest and the Coverdale Bible; but it isn’t in general American use anyway); &c. Calling the British usages in such pairs Britishisms would be far more honest than calling the American ones Americanisms.

Perhaps the worst thing about this piece is that it places a false division between Americans and Britons. The phrases on this list tend to show our common heritage rather than any distinction between us; but the messages printed in the piece are couched in the language of antagonism. Why create barriers where none exist? Wouldn’t it be better to foster and develop our shared community?

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