Irony of Americanisms

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THE BBC has recently compiled a list of the 50 most-hated Americanisms. Most hated by the British, that is. The Americans themselves are probably rather fond of expressions such as “heads up”, “eaterie” and “you do the math”.

At number 15 in the list is “gotten”, which is perhaps the ultimate Americanism, because no British English speaker ever uses it, surely.

If you do hear someone use it on this side of the pond, then you are fully entitled to whup their ass… so to speak.

But there is an irony. An American could complain quite legitimately that “gotten”, far from being as American as mom’s blueberry pie on July 4, is actually a Briticism.

“Gotten” is actually an old English word – and it sounds it too – which lingered into the nineteenth century on this side of the Atlantic.

We till say “ill-gotten gains” and I’m pretty sure I’ve come across “gotten” in Jane Austen, as in “I’ve gotten myself a new bonnet, Mr Darcy”, or words to that effect.

Jane Austen’s generation certainly used the word “wrote” in a way that we now associate with Americans, as in “I wrote Mr Darcy to ask him to bring me a new bonnet”.

That is to say, not inserting the preposition “to” after “wrote”, as we invariably do, to avoid ambiguity.

The other side of the coin is that many words and phrases which we think of as quintessentially English are in fact American by origin. Famously, “stiff upper lip” was coined in the USA.

We need to be more relaxed about Americanisms, and accept that we can’t have more than 300 million people using our language across the Atlantic and not allow them to chip in a few words and phrases now and then.

In the words of Shakespeare, “Just chill, guys. It’s no big deal!”