English - why I hate Americans

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Juddbert
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Sun Oct 11, 2009 10:52 am Post

It's all getting too much. Looking back on my school days, I do recall having a genuine interest in words and how best to construct them in order to communicate clearly; though I doubt I'd have defined my interest in those terms at the time. At secondary school, while English Literature and English Grammar were still two separate subjects, they weren't given the priority of, say, Maths or Physics. To have made the most of my interest, to have nurtured it, I really needed a grammar school but my Eleven-plus exam failure effectively put an end to that avenue of possibility and consigned me to a secondary, and indeed second-rate, education. It's true I could have taken steps to remedy that situation but I was, as I now realise, a grazer, one of the crowd, a lemming. So I did nothing and my interest waned. I did nothing and my capacity to record structured, organised and concise thought slowing diminished. I did nothing and so let a precious, precious gift slip from my grasp. I did nothing, and one of the few latin expressions I know now seems eminently appropriate: Mea Culpa.

But all these years on I'm surprised to find my interest rekindled. I want to write, actually feel a compulsion to write, though I now realise that the act of constructing a simple sentence that makes clear sense is far from a simple matter. It takes effort, scrutiny and purpose. And there are rules – rules to be observed. Rules to be either followed or broken, but only within a deliberate framework – that's another rule then. Structure and precision are becoming an obsession. Meanwhile, and this is so infuriating, even my ability to spell is being systematically undermined by f**king American spellcheckers querying and *correcting* perfectly good English; sorry, 'British English'. Perfectly good English is now by default 'American English', plagued as it is by a dearth of U's and a plethora of Zs. This is not intended as a general criticism of my cousins across the Atlantic, but the language that separates us is even more a 'common' barrier than G B Shaw alluded. I love English, but it's the English of my country. I love the way it constantly adapts and evolves, I love it's vibrancy. I'm happy to see new words, new meanings and, yes, new spellings evolve. What I don't want is a host of vapid americanisms foisted on me as a perpetual default by arrogant ill-informed dictionaries and spell checkers.

Look at it this way: let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that the father of modern computing was a Brit. Ah, wait – Alan Turing. Okay, bad example. Alright then, let's say that the acknowledged inventor of the World Wide Web was a Brit. Oh. Tim Berners-Lee; another bad example and, yes; I know I’m irritating. Wait…got it! Let's say Messrs Jobs and Wozniak had founded Apple, not in California, but in Bristol. How would YOU react to having color corrected to colour, labor to labour, realize to realise, etcetera etcetera, ad nauseum? It's true that many well constructed programmes have excellent country-specific versions or 'localisations', sorry – 'localizations', but many more don't, and I find that an appalling omission given how far the rest of computing technology has advanced over, say, the last fifteen years.

Note: I’ve corrected 'localisations' as it is now underlined with red dashes, indicating, of course, a spelling error. ARGGGGGH!

*Rant over - cathartic but otherwise completely ineffective*
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vic-k
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Sun Oct 11, 2009 11:23 am Post

I`d be careful what you say...
Juddbert wrote:It's all getting too much. Looking back on my school days, I do recall having a genuine interest in words and how best to construct them in order to communicate clearly; though I doubt I'd have defined my interest in those terms at the time. At secondary school, while English Literature and English Grammar were still two separate subjects, they weren't given the priority of, say, Maths or Physics. To have made the most of my interest, to have nurtured it, I really needed a grammar school but my Eleven-plus exam failure effectively put an end to that avenue of possibility and consigned me to a secondary, and indeed second-rate, education. It's true I could have taken steps to remedy that situation but I was, as I now realise, a grazer, one of the crowd, a lemming. So I did nothing and my interest waned. I did nothing and my capacity to record structured, organised and concise thought slowing diminished. I did nothing and so let a precious, precious gift slip from my grasp. I did nothing, and one of the few latin expressions I know now seems eminently appropriate: Mea Culpa.

But all these years on I'm surprised to find my interest rekindled. I want to write, actually feel a compulsion to write, though I now realise that the act of constructing a simple sentence that makes clear sense is far from a simple matter. It takes effort, scrutiny and purpose. And there are rules – rules to be observed. Rules to be either followed or broken, but only within a deliberate framework – that's another rule then
...because that`s a perfect description of me (albeit, put far more eloquently than I ever could). :oops:
vic
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xiamenese
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Sun Oct 11, 2009 2:57 pm Post

I was in Beijing over the National Day holiday recently, and while there found myself sharing meal tables with a number of people from various other English-speaking countries, particularly several from the US, one from Canada and a couple from New Zealand.
Inevitably, my British English came largely under scrutiny, and, to a certain extent, attack. Interestingly, the prime mover was an American scientist, who said that, the first time he went to the UK as a visiting scholar, he was astonished and impressed by how much richer the language of his British counterparts was in terms of vocabulary, structure and range of expression. That said, he later went on to tell me that I should modify and simplify my English and speak slowly and carefully like American teachers do, so that it would be easy for my students to understand what I say.
The Canadian said that at high school he had always been given very good marks for his written English, but that he went to university in the States and there he had always been marked down for writing over-complex sentences and using too wide a vocabulary. At this another American pointed out that academia in the US has basically settled for a linguistic competence fixed at that of the average 13 year-old.
Sorry, guys ... I'm going to defend my language, it's richness of vocabulary, structure and expressiveness until my dying day! My students are going to have to learn to understand the way I and many other Brits speak it and write it.
The really sour note came from a German who waxed wroth, and fulminated over the "dreadful and incorrect pronunciation and incompetent English" of the one person on CCTV9, the national English language TV channel, who is able to get away with not using "Chinglish"; a young man who is immediately recognisable as having been educated at Eton I think, or, if you're my wife, possibly Westminster or Marlborough. You may not like that very upper class and very distinctive accent, but you can't describe it as incorrect pronunciation, and his English is far from incompetent. He did his BA at Oxford, apparently ... not ill-educated then. He is apparently an arrogant so-and-so, but that's an entirely different matter!
On CCTV9, even the native English speakers, apart from him and he is obviously at least half-Chinese in parentage, have to use Chinglish expressions, as "that is the way we say it in China". A Dutch artist here, who has been here for many years and who speaks English with a thick Dutch accent, once told me — I was still working for Xiamen TV at the time — that Chinese TV should not have foreigners speaking or presenting programmes as there are so many Chinese "who speak perfect English"! I didn't care to respond, but she has never spoken to me again anyway, so that's alright.
Ah well, Juddbert, that's my rant for the night over.
Mark
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druid
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Sun Oct 11, 2009 4:30 pm Post

Juddbert wrote:I love English, but it's the English of my country. I love the way it constantly adapts and evolves, I love it's vibrancy. I'm happy to see new words, new meanings and, yes, new spellings evolve. What I don't want is a host of vapid americanisms foisted on me as a perpetual default by arrogant ill-informed dictionaries and spell checkers.


Oh boy, here we go again. We've hashed this issue over often, and it's getting far less interesting. First, let me point out that your English ain't so hot. "I love it's vibrancy." You mean the possessive (its), not a contraction (it's = it is). Sorry to be a vapid American (cap-A), but correctness counts. Basically, you are defending parochialism, the English you learned. Yes it does evolve, not at the rate of American English, but you Brits also can't build decent toilets or stoves, so why quibble?

As for vapid, just visit an American slang dictionary if you want to see a truly vigorous, vibrant, energetic language. An example: "You've dribbled a bibful, baby." Or, in my neck of NJ, "Jeat jet?" for "Did you eat yet?" And then we have the colorful language of Merlin (Maryland). So, I'm not sure who's ill-informed here, but it's not the dictionaries or spell checkers. See System Preferences if you want to choose British English, or several other varieties.

How would YOU react to having color corrected to colour, labor to labour, realize to realise, etcetera etcetera, ad nauseum? It's true that many well constructed programmes have excellent country-specific versions or 'localisations', sorry – 'localizations', but many more don't, and I find that an appalling omission given how far the rest of computing technology has advanced over, say, the last fifteen years.


It's pitiful that you Limeys always bring up the "colour" fetish as something sacredly British. Know who gave you that? The Normans, those frogs who whipped your sorry butts and killed off Old English. The spelling differences you cite do not affect pronunciation, and some (programmes) are silly (we make fun of it as "pro-grammys"). Again, if you don't like those red lines, go to System Preferences: Text: Spelling and adjust.

So, I consider myself an Anglophile. I've taught English and American literature for decades. I've traveled often in the UK and especially love its rural landscapes and small villages. I love its language and its quaint, olde-fashioned spellings. (I think the monarchy is an archaic absurdity, but then so is our Electoral College.) I'm sorry that you think American English is some kind of hideous fascistic conspiracy, but I suggest that you check out System Preferences and change them, in order to revel in the impurities of your native tongue.

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druid
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Sun Oct 11, 2009 5:03 pm Post

xiamenese wrote: Interestingly, the prime mover was an American scientist, who said that, the first time he went to the UK as a visiting scholar, he was astonished and impressed by how much richer the language of his British counterparts was in terms of vocabulary, structure and range of expression.


Your anecdotes are all quite personal, but at the same time they make large claims. So, here's one from me: scientists are not articulate. They prefer numbers to words and dislike the fuzzy, nuanced quality of meanings always present in language. So I'd take his judgement of "how much richer" British seemed to him with a large bushel of salt.

That said, he later went on to tell me that I should modify and simplify my English and speak slowly and carefully like American teachers do, so that it would be easy for my students to understand what I say.


This guy is a brilliant guest. First he praises your language, then insults you as one of its speakers. I say that your students should hear a variety of English speakers, and that you should never talk down to them. Implicitly, he doesn't have a high opinion of students; always the sign of a poor teacher.

The Canadian said that at high school he had always been given very good marks for his written English, but that he went to university in the States and there he had always been marked down for writing over-complex sentences and using too wide a vocabulary. At this another American pointed out that academia in the US has basically settled for a linguistic competence fixed at that of the average 13 year-old.


I gather this was bar talk, and I wonder how many drinks were now down the hatch. If the Canadian was praised for writing baroque gibberish, he had some poor teachers, eh? It's true that simplicity and clarity are hallmarks of American style. The man who said "academia in the US has basically settled" for 13-year old competence is heaving wet cow chips. He has no evidence for such a ridiculous statement. I would have told him that he's a liar.

You go right ahead and defend your English and ignore the German and Dutch nay-sayers, who don't give the Chinese enough credit for attempting to know a language so hideously unlike theirs. Alas, we cannot the same of English speakers, and that ignorance may one day exact a price.

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Juddbert
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Sun Oct 11, 2009 5:09 pm Post

druid wrote:...but you Brits also can't build decent toilets or stoves, so why quibble?

As for vapid, just visit an American slang dictionary if you want to see a truly vigorous, vibrant, energetic language. An example: "You've dribbled a bibful, baby." Or, in my neck of NJ, "Jeat jet?" for "Did you eat yet?" And then we have the colorful language of Merlin (Maryland). So, I'm not sure who's ill-informed here, but it's not the dictionaries or spell checkers. See System Preferences if you want to choose British English, or several other varieties.

It's pitiful that you Limeys always bring up the "colour" fetish as something sacredly British. Know who gave you that? The Normans, those frogs who whipped your sorry butts and killed off Old English. The spelling differences you cite do not affect pronunciation, and some (programmes) are silly (we make fun of it as "pro-grammys"). Again, if you don't like those red lines, go to System Preferences: Text: Spelling and adjust...

...(I think the monarchy is an archaic absurdity, but then so is our Electoral College.) I'm sorry that you think American English is some kind of hideous fascistic conspiracy, but I suggest that you check out System Preferences and change them, in order to revel in the impurities of your native tongue.


I'd suspected a retaliatory diatribe, though I confess that 'hideous fascistic conspiracy' left me somewhat bemused. You disparage my predictability regarding *colour*, then promptly unleash an even more predictable sideswipe at our monarchy.

Incidentally, my rant was partly induced by the fact choosing British English in System Preferences DOESN'T deliver the expected result.

First, let me point out that your English ain't so hot. "I love it's vibrancy." You mean the possessive (its), not a contraction (it's = it is).

Do I mean that? Well, thanks for pointing it out - I hadn't realised.

Sorry to be a vapid American (cap-A), but correctness counts. Basically, you are defending parochialism, the English you learned.

I agree. It does, and I am. I make no apology for that. My criticism stems from wanting to defend my parochialism, the English I learned. Oh, and I don't (contraction, not possessive) recall referring to any vapid American. But I'll cede the point on the capital A.


xiamenese wrote: At this another American pointed out that academia in the US has basically settled for a linguistic competence fixed at that of the average 13 year-old.


Thank you Mark. Your response is an eloquent example of the English I adore, and I appreciate the support. I wish I’d managed to work ‘wroth’ and ‘fulminate’ in to my rant though; two words so evocative they can make you positively purr.
I’d disagree with your statement above though. My (admittedly limited) experience of Americans would suggest quite the opposite. I’ve always been struck by how articulate most Americans are, particularly when compared to their UK cousins. I’ve found most Americans to be cogent communicators, albeit that their phraseology can sometimes sound rather odd to my British ear. No, my beef is predominately about spelling, and how to rescue English from the all pervasive and criminally unsympathetic scrutiny of the American spell checker.

Off beat, not not irrelevant: “It's an adverb. It's a lazy tool of a weak mind.” So says Kevin Spacey during an exchange with Dustin Hoffman in the film Outbreak. I fear that, in my case, that statement is all too accurate.
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ce
cece
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Sun Oct 11, 2009 5:34 pm Post

I wouldn't mind if a program suggested renderings other than those employed on my particular & parochial native heath...it's a mildly interesting exercise in variants of English as global tongue, that's all. Change 'em back: good practice in copyediting. No need to get all Cavafy.

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Juddbert
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Sun Oct 11, 2009 6:08 pm Post

I'd like to be as relaxed about the issue as you appear to be cece. Had my standard of education been higher and my spelling capability more robust, then I might take a sanguine view. But my foundation in English grammar is decidedly weak, and I find the variant spellings confusing and undermining. It's a matter of confidence or, to be precise, the lack of it. Besides, I rather think I'd like to get all Cavafy. After all, the pursuit of perfection must surely bring it's own reward.
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pink
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Sun Oct 11, 2009 7:50 pm Post

My children ask me what I mean by this word or that word all the time, and I tell them. I don't use words that I know that they will understand, as I think their vocabulary will be all the richer for it in the long run.

Although it's always slightly offputting to have done a stern telling off, at the end of which some blank faces stare up at me before one of them finally says "What's 'odious' ?"

And I was fairly amused to learn that "Trash" is an old english word that died out of usage here, but lived on in the USA. It's one of those words that some English people often get really twisted out of shape over!
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vic-k
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Sun Oct 11, 2009 7:54 pm Post

As a professional, you, are your one and only asset. Without integrity you are worthless, but with it, you are priceless.

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vic-k
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Sun Oct 11, 2009 7:56 pm Post

pink wrote: "Trash"
shades of Red Lion :(
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Sun Oct 11, 2009 8:39 pm Post

Not just trash, but also fall for autumn, loan as a verb, gotten, and frame-up, amongst others. You guys have stolen Shakespeare's English*...

H

*And possibly also his accent. But where does that leave the English of us Brits...?
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vic-k
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Sun Oct 11, 2009 8:52 pm Post

Let`s face it. We English speak English...the Americans...talk American. Leave `em to it...lerrem gerron wi` it. There`s no placating spoilt children.
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Mon Oct 12, 2009 1:21 am Post

First, I would like to request a cessation of this debate so that the parties could combine in righteous wrath and demolish for ever and ever the popular ignorance of the difference between compliment and complement. (Aaaarrrgggghhh!) Surely this is more important than a little spelling spat between friends?

Second, to improve your humor I offer:
http://septicscompanion.com/
A splendid and sometimes sidesplitting explication of British vocabulary for benighted Americans.

Also, thinking of Mark who I'm sure already knows about it but would like to be reminded:
http://www.engrish.com/
A, now decades-long, census of the bizarre, nay, incredible delights of Japanese and Chinese views of correct English.

Dave

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gr
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Mon Oct 12, 2009 1:50 am Post

Juddbert wrote:Incidentally, my rant was partly induced by the fact choosing British English in System Preferences DOESN'T deliver the expected result.


That is disappointing. One would expect that choosing 'British English' for the Language setting would make something like TextEdit check spelling against the corresponding dictionary, but it doesn't. You still have to open the Spelling menu item and tell that application to use that dictionary -- ditto for Scrivener and Safari.

--Greg

P.S. Inspired by this vicious thread I went right to my System Preferences and put both the American English and British English choices on my language list. Somehow I expected that this would put me in the blissful condition of being able to spell words whichever way without warning. No such luck.

 

 

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