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Culturebox: The Britishism Invasion

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The Britishism Invasion
Language corruption is a two-way street.
By Ben Yagoda
Posted Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011, at 12:57 PM ET

Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand. This summer, journalist Matthew Engel took to the BBC website to bemoan the corrupting influence of U.S. words on British English. Readers were invited to weigh in with their picks for the worst of the worst, and within a day, nearly 1,300 had responded, with nominations including Can I get a ...?, 24/7, and deplane. ("Johnson"--the Economist's language blogger--pointed out that most of the entries weren't Americanisms at all, but rather cliches, neologisms, or merely expressions that happened to annoy the complainer.)

This narrative should sound familiar. In fact, the language historian Dennis Baron pointed out recently that Brits have been whining about "Americanisms" at least since 1781, when John Witherspoon coined the term. So it may shock you to learn that British words and expressions have, of late, been worming their way into the American lexicon as much as the other way around.

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Ben Yagoda is a professor of English at the University of Delaware and the author most recently of Memoir: A History. He contributes to the Chronicle of Higher Education's new blog about language and writing, Lingua Franca, and is working on a book called How To Not Write Bad.

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