Americanisms: What’s The Big Issue?
Do “Americanisms” bastardize our fair Queen’s English?
Sitting in a ‘Math’ class on my first day of American high school in the Fall of 2007, I leaned over and asked a neighbour “Excuse me, do you have a rubber?”. I didn’t understand the joke, I didn’t even ‘get it’, but apparently I’d demanded a condom. Americanized language 1. Apparently slutty British chick 0. Not that any of my classmates knew what a slut was.
But beyond such social misunderstandings, I see no problem with the Americanization of language. Having spent my last two years of school in Portland, Oregon, I have heard everyone from Chaucer to Woolf declaimed in nasal, rounded tones.
In fact, the Royal Shakespeare Company set its latest production of The Merchant of Venice in Las Vegas, meaning Patrick Stewart’s Shylock schemed like a CSI detective. It appears almost needless to say how much of our film and television is either American or influenced by our friends across the pond. Our visual cultures have become irrevocably blurred.
How about American assaults on our oh-so British literary heritage though? As The Telegraph recently noted, a new edition of Winnie the Pooh is to be released in American bookshops that alters A.A. Milne’s original work so as to be more understandable for Yankee readers. Pooh and friends will now play ‘chequers’, not ‘draughts’ for example.
And what is the problem with this? Cultural snobbery will merely prevent a new generation of readers from accessing one of the funniest children’s books ever written. We’re fine with cafés, croissants and European nonchalance, so why do we sneer at sidewalks, restrooms and fanny packs?
I do have one condition for Winnie the Pooh’s big trip west though. On the front cover of every edition should be printed TRANSLATION FROM ORIGINAL ENGLISH. Just because both the original and the new edition are written in ‘English’, doesn’t mean that substituting the author’s original words is not a translation.
Americanisms cannot be prevented from informing our daily speech. The English language is already an interesting mish-mash of Latin, Saxon and Norman and frankly the more influences the merrier in creative terms. A text written in 1928 deserves to be respected by publishers everywhere as a complete representation of its author’s and its era’s language. I’m good with Americanisms for the foreseeable future, but not respecting literature past.