Good old Razia Iqbal. This morning on the BBC’s Newshour program she said, “you can’t do worse” than to listen to Lyse Doucette’s coverage of the UN General Assembly. I’d think you could do a lot worse, but Ms. Iqbal should know.
I pick on the BBC now and then, as part of my series on How the English Are Ruining Our Language, mainly because I like to listen to the BBC World Service’s News Hour in the morning, and Razia Iqbal is a constant source of entertainment to me. It turns out, though, that somebody at the BBC thinks we Americans are ruining their language. Today I came across this article from last September on the BBC’s web site. A person with the surprising name of Hephzibah Anderson, writing about a book by one Matthew Engel, asserts that “Americanisms are killing the English language,” by which she seems to mean the Southern-English dialect of the written English language. (She says, “Because by English, I mean British English;” but she obviously doesn’t mean Scottish English or Liverpudlian English or Welsh English or Yorkish English, or any dialect of English as it is spoken outside of English public schools.)
What she is worried about seems chiefly to be vocabulary, rather than grammar. I think she doesn’t need to fret so much. The vocabulary is changing on this side of the Atlantic, too, mostly because of computerese and commercial speech, as I never tire of pointing out. But vocabulary changes constantly, and, at the end of the day, England is probably giving as good (and as bad) as it gets in that game. Don’t get me wrong: it annoys me, just as it annoys—and rather depresses—me to see advertisements all over Europe in English, rather than in the native languages. But most of the Americanisms Ms. Anderson deplores are neologisms here, too, or were at some point.
Take apartment. Americans used to live in flats, just like the English (when we didn’t live in tenements), but in the mid-Nineteenth Century American real-estate marketeers imported (and Anglicized) the French word, appartement, as a sexier alternative. (Apartments already existed in English, referring to a separate suite of rooms within a large house, as in “the state apartments at Duke’s Denver”, but as an alternative to flats it’s an import from Paris.)
She remarks on elevator, not as a noun (as opposed to the good old English lift), but as a verb:
As in, Ahmed was ‘elevatoring’ towards the top of his profession in Manhattan.
Why would a Brit object to that? It’s the English, after all, who insist that a house could use “a good clean”, and who enjoy “a bathe” now and then. If they can noun verbs, why can’t we verb nouns? Anyway, plenty of nouns get used as verbs in “British English”, and nobody objects: dog, track, sound, race, hand, head—the list is endless.
If I were Ms. Anderson, I’d be more worried about the British elimination of the subjunctive and prepositions, and the bizarre pluralization of pronouns (so as to avoid gender), all of which are happening here, too, but which are happening much faster in England because of the unified school system and the national press.
By the way, one of the words Ms. Anderson particularly deplores, cookies, isn’t really an Americanism at all—that is, it did come to England from America, but it doesn’t come from American English originally. It’s Dutch, just like boss, coleslaw, and Santa Claus. Maybe that will be some comfort to her.
This morning on the BBC’s “Newshour” program, Razia Iqbal spoke of efforts’ being “under foot” to do something—I think to rescue the boys from the cave in Thailand. (I was getting ready for work and didn’t make a note.) Good old Razia Iqbal. Always good for a malapropism or two.
The metaphor under foot (or underfoot) means “in the way”, “presenting an impediment”. What Ms. Iqbal probably meant was either “on foot” (or “afoot”), an obvious metaphor, or “under way“, a metaphor borrowed from navigation, meaning “moving forward”. (In Two Years Before the Mast, if I remember right, Dana writes “under weigh”, presumably thinking that it has something to do with weighing anchor. I suspect he’s wrong.)
A headline on Google News today, attributed to the BBC, reads,
Grenfell Tower fire: Minute’s silence marks one-year anniversary
Apparently somebody got to the BBC, though, because the web site now shows this headline:
Grenfell Tower fire: Silent walk marks first anniversary
The word anniversary already includes the concept of a year. It comes from Latin annus (= a year) and versus, past participle of verto (= to turn), and means [the day] of the turning of a year. To add “year” to it is like saying “your birthday day”.
I keep reading, though, of “one-year” and “ten-year” anniversaries. Maybe people have started adding “year” to anniversary because of the even stupider practice of celebrating “one-month” and “six-month” and suchlike “anniversaries”.
The phrase “stand down” used to refer to a person or group that had taken an aggressive stance and was being instructed to abandon that stance. Soldiers prepared to attack would be ordered to stand down when a conflict was resolved diplomatically. In the movies, a trigger-happy lawman or military man would be told, “Stand down! That’s an order!”
In those days, an office-holder who retired or resigned was said to have stepped down. Thanks to our paid praters, however, those two phrases have been merged, and aged or disgraced politicians are routinely said (or invited) to stand down from office.
I heard this morning on the BBC World Service that Raoul Castro was about to stand down as leader of Cuba, and the Washington Post today reports demands in Japan that Prime Minister Abe stand down. As neither politician is reported to have barricaded himself in his office with a rifle, or otherwise taken up an aggressive stance, I assume that the action in question, in both cases, is stepping down.
Another metaphor bites the dust!
Part of what will probably be a very long series.
On the BBC World Service Newshour this morning, a reporter interviewed a Turkish official about the condition of Syrian refugees in Turkey. “Are they being cared?” he asked.
I had already seen the recent British monstrosity, “carer”, which has apparently replaced the almost-as-silly “caregiver” in Blighty; but one could still imagine that a “carer” would care about or for somebody—refugees, or disabled people, or the elderly, or what have you. One didn’t expect to hear that he or she just cared them.
Of course, this is consistent with modern British treatment of the formerly-intransitive verb, agree. I fully expect to learn, any day now, that Britishers can belong one another, that they reply one another’s e-mail, that British children depend their parents, that BBC reporters inquire Turkish officials. Who needs prepositions, anyway?
Razia Iqbal of BBC World Service interviews Tom Bird of the Globe Theatre, London, Wednesday, 23 April 2014:
Iqbal: Wot, wot, wot, wot, wot, wot, wot, wot, wot . . . ?
Bird: Y’know, y’know, y’know, y’know, y’know, y’know.
Iqbal: And, and, and, and, and, and, and, wot, wot, wot, wot, wot, wot, wot, wot, wot, wot, wot . . . ?
Bird: Y’know, y’know, y’know, y’know, y’know, y’know, y’know, y’know.
I think there were some other words thrown in there, but that’s the gist of it.