Talk Like a Word Pirate

Alex Williams must be on the verge of clapping both hands over his ears, going by his lengthy complaint about American use of Britishisms in the New York Times:

MITT ROMNEY is not the “bumbling toff” he’s made out to be, wrote Daniel Gross, an American journalist, in a recent Daily Beast article. The latest iPad is a “lovely piece of kit,” in the words of John Scalzi, an American science-fiction author writing in his blog, Whatever. The Chicago Bulls were mired in uncertainty less than a “fortnight” after their star player Derrick Rose went down with a knee injury, according to an article in The Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago newspaper, last spring.

Crikey, Britishisms are everywhere. Call it Anglocreep. Call it annoying.

Call it traditional. If a 19th-century American could afford to own two books, they most likely were the works of Shakespeare and the King James Bible. The way things are said in England is assumed to be high culture and worthy of imitation – a bias that holds true even if the speaker is Liza Doolittle or Ringo Starr.

Also, as James Nicoll says, English is the language that rifles others’ pockets for vocabulary. The American branch of the family has maintained the habit and sometimes the English branch is its prey. Nor are these newfound idioms taken to be locked a vault, they’re to be used.

The article’s citation of John Scalzi reminds those of us in the science fiction field that no one surpasses our admiration for English as it is used by the English. Start with the 25 Best Fan Writer Hugos won by Brits. Then proceed to the long list of fiction Hugos voted to them: Eric Frank Russell, Arthur C. Clarke, Brian W. Aldiss, John Brunner, J. K. Rowling, David Langford, Susanna Clarke, Charles Stross, Ian McDonald, and China Miéville. (Possibly even Jo Walton — surely no less British than Henry V?)

[Thanks to David Klaus for the story.]

7 thoughts on “Talk Like a Word Pirate

  1. I’m Canadian. I used to be British. I left.

    I feel really resistant to being identified as a British writer. Britain has never been welcoming to me as a writer. I’m about to be published there for the first time, twelve years and nine books after being first published.

    It’s true that Henry V, Dave Langford, and I were all born in Wales.

  2. Reminding me of Eric Frank Russell, who for the most part, wrtote his material in American Idiom.

    Bad enough that editors often blue pencil the spellings of British writers, but they shouldn’t start tampering with the lingo. If Amercan writers begin using it, it is to express themselves differently. Some cliched material is tired, and flexability in expression isn’t damni. I suppose there wasn’t anything else for this man to write about.

    Bloody critic.

  3. @Jo Walton: Point taken. For a people as fond of Britishisms as Americans, we’re not very exact about who the British are and we’re constantly in need of correction. Even our favorite performer of the role of Henry V is actually from Northern Ireland — Kenneth Branagh.

  4. My favourite Henry V is Robert Hardy, but that’s largely because the play is different when you come to it fhrough Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and Robert Hardy has the advantage of doing that in _Age of Kings_, which is all the history plays with the same actors playing the same characters.

    _Henry V_ on its own is like _Second Foundation_ on its own — it works, but it’s a fundamentally different thing.

    When I saw _Henry V_ live, Henry was played by a Canadian, Aaron Turner, who was excellent. I think I’d put him ahead of Branagh (though I generally like Branagh, and love his _Much Ado_) because I didn’t find the “naturalistic” staging of the play as a film very effective at all. If yoyu’re going to say you need a muse of fire to imagine this cockpit is the fields of France and then show the literal fields of France there’s something off.

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