"the" Americanization of English?

from the Guardian
Today the Guardian reported on a new study by Bruno Gonçalves, Lucía Loureiro-Porto, José J. Ramasco, and David Sánchez (you can get the pdf here) entitled The End of Empire: the Americanization of English. There are interesting things to find in this study, but I'm taken back to a panel that Sandra Jansen, Mario Saraceni and I presented on 'problems in predicting the linguistic future' last week in Newcastle. The focus of our talks was how the media present change in the English language and how linguists  sometimes contribute to skewed presentations of past, present and future—taking part in the very linguistic ideologies that academic linguists should be regarding with a critical eye. We're now working on making our panel contributions into an article, and I think it'll be a good one.

It's perfectly clear that many originally-American words and spelling standards have spread elsewhere. It would be surprising if they hadn't, since the US has a large population that mostly (and mostly only) speaks English, as well as a very big and very international economy. For me, the problem comes
  • (a) when "Americanization" becomes the whole story (because life and language are more complex than that),
  • (b) when the story depends upon informational/logical fallacies, and
  • (c) when that story is pitched as a story of winners and losers (because language doesn't have to be a competition, and because that winner-loser narrative is often heavily dependent on the simplifications of (a)).
Though I've label(l)ed those points as a/b/c, part of the task I have in writing up the paper is that it's hard to pick apart and label those points—they're very interrelated and also they hide a lot of detail. Here was my first draft—a slide from my talk last week. It's called "panic tools" because I am considering how Americani{s/z}ation* news stories might sit within "moral panic" about language change in Britain—a panic that Deborah Cameron wrote about in her 1995 book Verbal Hygiene.
Slide from Is the future American? (Murphy 2017)

Anyhow, I was heartened to see that the Guardian article is by a data scientist, Mona Chalabi, and therefore it did something that popular news articles rarely do when talking about linguistic research—it sounded a note of caution concerning the data sources for the research: Google books data and Twitter.

Both are problematic resources in terms of making sure the data is what you think it is (here's one of many Language Log posts about Google Books metadata). This is not a criticism of the paper—we linguists use what we can to find out about language. But then we give caveats about the data, as we should.

But that note of caution is about where they've looked. There's also what you look for. Neither the Guardian article nor the paper give many caveats about that. The Google Books data was used to see what's happening in the US and UK over time, and the Twitter data to see what English is like across the world, and they searched for a specific list of "American" and "British" spellings and vocabulary.

To give just some examples that deserved more caution (from the paper's appendix of the British and American vocabulary that the authors searched for).
  • AmE bell pepper is matched to "BrE" capsicum. But the usual term in British (as in AmE, really) is just pepper or a colo(u)r+pepper (green pepper, etc.) or sweet pepper. Capsicum is primarily Australian English.

Capsicum the GloWBE corpus
  • AmE drug store and drug stores are matched to BrE chemist's. Why just the singular possessive? Why no plural? Looking at the same data set as they used (Google Books), it's clear that it's more common to get things from the chemist than from the chemist's. And often (maybe even usually) in contexts in which Americans would say drug store rather than pharmacist—e.g. The boy from the chemist is here to see you. But then, that leads us to another problem: does chemist's really match with drug store, when it also means pharmacist's and pharmacy?
Click here to be taken to the interactive version

And then there are the problems of polysemy (many-meaninged-ness) and variation, for example (but there are many examples):
  • The polysemy problem: in comparing BrE draughts and AmE checkers, are we sure that they're all about games? Some of the draughts will be AmE drafts (for beers or breezes). Some of the checkers could be checking things. If the frequency of use of any of these meanings changes across time, then that can interfere with answering the question of what people call the game. Elastic band is given as the BrE for AmE rubber band, but in my AmE, elastic band can be a name for the covered kind you make ponytails with (and then in the US there are also regional terms for both the stationery kind and the hair kind).
  • The variation problem: BrE plasterboard is given as equivalent of AmE wallboard, which I can't say I've ever used. It's drywall or Sheetrock to me in AmE. BrE spring onions is compared with AmE green onions (which, since that's the title of a song, might provide a fair amount of data "noise"), but AmE scallions is not included. BrE mobile phones is searched for, but not mobilesbut it looks to me (using GloWBE corpus) that about 1/3 of mentions of such phones have the shorter term. In the US, calling the phone by the shortened name cell looks to be less common than the equivalent shortened British form. So if you compare mobile phones to (AmE) cell phones, you might be missing a lot of BrE. (Then there's the problem of the not-uncommon spelling cellphones, which they didn't search for either.)
  • The vocabulary–spelling problem: AmE license plate v BrE number plate. If BrE or another English borrows license plate, they may very well adapt the spelling to their standard, so why not look for licence plate? What does it mean if that's found? Is it an Americanism or not?
All of this is to say: comparing such things is hard to do well. If it's possible at all.

(If the authors read this and want to correct me on any points in the comments, please do. I may have misread something in my haste.) 

I'd also like to sound a note of discomfort and caution regarding talking about AmE and BrE  "around the world". This involves a leap of thinking that bothers me: that AmE and BrE are used outside the US and UK. To be fair, the authors mostly talk about BrE or AmE forms being used. But for us to claim national ownership of those forms is to take a particular nationalist-political stand on English, I think.

It's a common way to talk about English. People in, say, India or Korea might say "I/we speak British English" or "I/we speak American English". But what people generally mean is "I/we use the British (or American) spelling conventions."

If you're learning English as a foreign language (e.g. in Korea), you may well use learning materials that are from the US or the UK. (Your teacher may well be from somewhere else.) You may aim for a particular kind of accent (though a number of studies show that learners are often not very good at telling the difference between the accent they're aiming for and others). What you speak will be English, but it won't particularly be "American English" or "British English".  You may aim for a certain pronunciation convention, you may get certain vocabulary. But your English has not developed in Britain or America. It's developing right now where you are. It's absolutely related to British and American English. But it is neither of those. (Glenn Hadikin's your linguist if you want to know about Korean English.)

In a place with longstanding English usage, like India, the language has been going in its own direction for some time. The fashions for UK or US spellings may change, and the language will take in new English words from the US and other places, but it also makes up its own, has its grammatical idiosyncrasies, etc. If you look at whether people in India use off-licence or liquor store (as this study did), then you're missing the fact that the Indian English liquor shop is more common than either the American or the British term. (And, interestingly, it looks like a mash-up between American liquor store and the British use of shop for retail places.) I don't know what the alcohol-selling laws in India are, but if they're not like Britain's then the British term off-licence would make no particular sense in India. Instead, Indian English has a nice descriptive phrase that works for India. But what a study like this will find is that there are a few more uses of liquor store in their Indian data than off-licence —who knows, maybe because they're talking to Americans on Twitter or because they're talking about American films in which people rob liquor stores. (Spare thought: are there UK films where people rob off-licences?) The study then completely misses the point that, for this particular word meaning, Indian English is Indianized, not Americanized.

The most interesting thing about the study (for me), but not one that gets a mention, is what happens to their data in the Internet age. After 1990, we see the gap narrowing. This does not come as a surprise to me—this is also the point at which Britain falls out of love with the -ize spelling and starts preferring the -ise one (having allowed them co-mingle for centuries). In the internet age, we also are seeing grammatical changes that set British and American on different paths (you're just going to have to wait some months for my book for those details).

From Gonçalves et al. 2017

This graph is based on Google Books data from the US and UK (or at least, that's what Google Books thinks). The yellow line is BrE vocabulary and the black line is BrE spelling (of the particular vocabulary and spellings they were looking for—which include no words with -ise/-ize). Those lines are fairly steady--though you can see that the two world wars did no favo(u)rs to British book publishing. You can also see dips in the American lines after WWII. The authors attribute this to European migration to the US after World War II.  I'd also wonder about American contact with Britain during the war.

But after 1990, those British lines are going up—the spelling one quite sharply. In the paper I gave last week, I talked about (what I've decided to call) contra-Americanization—British English changing or losing old forms because they look like they might be American. There seems to be a backlash to (perceived and real) Americanization.

I've  congratulated the Guardian author on the note of caution. I don't want to congratulate the headline writer, though. Nor the researchers' title for their paper.

The paper's title, setting the end of Empire against Americanization, implicitly feeds into that "it's a two-way competition" story.

The Guardian headline 'Do you want fries with that? Data shows Americanization of English is rising' includes an Americanism that wasn't part of the study. The implication that Americanization means de-Briticization (which falls out from the competition story) doesn't work for fries. British English now has fries, but it has very Britishly made it mean something different from what it means in America, since in Britain it contrasts with (rather than replaces) chips. But the bigger problem in the headline is that "is rising". Given what we've seen in the post-1990 graph line, is that true?

These kinds of things also raise the question: what is meant by Americanization? Apparently it means non-Americans having the words fries and cookies in their vocabulary. But if those words don't mean the same thing to them that they mean to Americans, what does Americanization mean here?

The moral of this story: talking about "the Americanization" of English makes a lot of assumptions—including that "Americanization" and "English" are each one thing. They ain't.

*I'm too tired to keep up the marking of the s/z contrast here, so I'm going with the z because it's Oxford spelling, good in Britain and America. Don't let any contra-Americanizer tell you otherwise!
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(to) each (to) their own

Today's post, I'm happy to say, is a guest post by Maddy Argy, an A-level student who's doing (BrE) work experience with me at the University of Sussex. I've asked her to find American-British differences that she could research and have introduced her to some of the tools we linguists use. I'm happy to introduce her first post! 

To Each His Own 1946
When reading a blog post written by an American English speaker, I noticed she used the phrase to each their own which didn't sound natural to me. Previously, having lived in Britain all my life, I have primarily used and heard only each to their own.

The phrase is used in both American and British English, however most likely originated from Latin.

In the Corpus of Global Web-Based Englishto each their own is heavily used in American English, with a total of 418 in all its forms. In British English however there is a total of only 105.

Meanwhile here it's clear that each to their own is more commonly used in British English with a much larger total of 365, and only 68 of this form in American English.

So why is there such a significant difference?

In the table above from the Corpus of Historical American English we're looking at 'each to their own', which is most heavily used by speakers of British English. At a stretch it could go back as far as the 1820s, but only seems to be in popular use around the 1860s.

When looking at the American English version, it comes into scarce usage around the 1880s, but seems to gain popularity around the 1940s. After looking into where the phrase was actually used, it was all down to the release of the (BrE) film/ (AmE) movie,  'To Each His Own' in 1946 which might be able to explain the later difference considering this is how the phrase was brought to attention in America early on. 

The older British English version seems to be in most popular use in the US until around the 1980s, at which point it becomes less used and the American English version becomes more common, so this would explain why to each sounded so foreign to me.


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Review: That's the way it crumbles, by M. Engel

Those who follow the blog may remember that in February I was on BBC Radio 4's Word of Mouth, where fellow guest Matthew Engel and I debated the effect of American English on British English. Engel had written many newspaper columns on the topic, but at that point his book, That’s the way it crumbles: the American conquest of English, was yet to appear. What struck me in that radio conversation was how little Engel appeared to have to say about a topic he’d just written a book about. While he had some examples, he mostly seemed to repeat his claim that American English is "taking over" British English while offering little more than the experience-based perceptions of an Englishman in his seventh decade. He does have much more to say in the book, but he hasn't changed my mind about the topic. (You're not surprised, right?) I'm writing this on my way back from giving a conference paper on the research gaps and logical problems in British arguments that "American English is taking over". While I didn't discuss Engel's book there (my focus was on work by linguists—and media representation of that work), I wouldn't have had to change my argument if I had discussed it.

It's easy to suspect that the conquest in the book's subtitle was the work of his publisher's marketing
department, since Engel states in the preface "Let’s get two things straight right now: this crisis is not the Americans' fault; and this book is not anti-American." (Some of his best friends are American…) Instead, the "crisis", as Engel has it, is mostly the fault of the British, and their "current self-imposed verbal enslavement" (p. 3). Chapter by chapter, the book takes a chronological tour of Britain's alleged "long journey towards subservience" (p. 109). I've written about this slavery trope in an earlier blog post. It seems a peculiarly post-imperialist way of understanding global relationships—if you are no longer the master, you must be the slave.

If Engel is not anti-American (and we do have to ask: is he the best judge of that?), we can still conclude he’s somewhat anti-linguist. A few linguists are cited in the book (mostly for popular-audience works), listed in the references list under the 19th-century-feeling heading "Philology, etc.". In recalling the path to the book (more on this below), he complains that his work
reached the ears of the online lexicographical community, some of whom have not quite learned the niceties of civil disagreement and disputed my right to offer an opinion at all. One American said it was none of my business because I was not a 'qualified lexicographer'.
This is one quotation whose source Engel doesn't cite, and which I’ve been unable to find in the "online lexicographical community". (I don't know what they'd think a "qualified lexicographer" is. Lexicographers generally have experience rather than qualifications—see the last book I reviewed.)
As for whether linguists and Americans (or, indeed, American linguists) have been civil in their conversations, well, if you start with fighting words, you get fighting conversations. For Engel, there is a contest between American and British words, and it is "no longer a fair one" (p. 66). Americanisms aren’t just words, they're culprits, invaders, garbage. And if you say that about my words, it feels like you're saying it about me.

The lexicographers were loud not just because of Engel’s opinions, but because the "facts" in his newspaper columns often misjudged what was actually British or American English. He has learn{ed/t} his lesson on that point and so starts the book with a "note on the text" in which he admits that there will be "honest errors" of categori{s/z}ation and that he's willing to receive "politely worded suggestions for amendments" (p. viii). Since I suspect that Engel and I do not share a common view of what "polite wording" is (maybe I'm the "online lexicographical community" to which he refers), I won't burden him with my (few) (orig. AmE) nitpicks about word origin in the book.

The issue for debate here is not whether Engel is entitled to an opinion; rather it's whether people are entitled to go unchallenged when they express opinions that show only partial understanding of the issues at hand. Engel has the opinion that Britons should fight against American English. But this opinion is based on various claims or assumptions 
  • about what English is in the US and UK. For example, though he's not southern in origin, the English he talks about is very much the south-eastern standard—take, for instance, the claim that pants meaning 'trousers' is American and trousers is British—a common oversimplification, but an oversimplification all the same
  • about the nature of the "Britishness" that he wants to protect.
  • about how language changes, and how it is or is not changing in the UK and US. For example, what's the role of regional identity or social class [in bold because it's heavy] in how English changes in Britain?
  • about the relationship between language and culture. 
This last point is important. Engel's real enemy is not American words, but changes to British culture. Thatcherism, Blairism, loss of interest in the countryside, all are blamed on "Americani{s/z}ation". The extent of that can be debated, but Engel wants to situate the problem in words. The words came over, and they brought ideas with them, and as if in some Whorfian horror story, the ideas have eaten British brains. One problem with blaming the words is that in several chapters Engel has to stop after discussing word-culprits and admit "None of these can actually be counted as Americanisms" (p. 110)--they are relatively fresh Britishisms. But they feel American in tone or meaning to Engel, so they go on the slag heap.

Engel’s book provides lots of interesting cultural history, rich with entertaining facts, quotations and stories of the famous and not-so-famous. It’s also very well written, with a sly sense of humo[u]r. But the claim for “loss of the British language” (p. 235) feels, at best, a case of selective attention leading to a grumpy nostalgia for olden times (or vice versa). At worst, it comes off as disingenuous. Engel  knows very well (as evidenced in the book) that British English has always been undergoing change and that exciting linguistic things are happening in Britain that have nothing to do with America. (He has a bit on Multicultural London English, which is not very American at all.) But he's got himself into an argumentative corner where he has to rely on hyperbole. "It would be totally impossible to write a coherent book in English without words imported from the United States" (p. 11). (Writers! The gauntlet has been thrown!) It also has irony. "I’m not prescriptive", he writes on page 13.

In the end, Engel proposes that Brits try to stop Americanisms with pressure groups, for instance emailing and Twitter-shaming the BBC whenever they hear life vest instead of life jacket. The thing that worries me is that when I analy{s/z}ed a list of complaints to the BBC about Americanisms, only half of them were Americanisms. But if you're going to base your linguistic crusades on nationalism, maybe you don't care about facts. Engel also proposes that "Ridicule can work wonders" (p. 238). Ah, so that's how "civil disagreement" works.

One gets the feeling in the book that Engel is not fully committed to the topic. That he’s got himself in a (BrE) one-way system and is having a hard time getting out. It’s not really the language he wants to complain about, it's modern life—and who doesn’t want to complain about that? In the acknowledg(e)ments, Engel recounts that the publisher had called to tell Engel he wanted his book. Engel replied "What book?". "I had already decided I did not want to write a book about Americanisms", Engel tells us (p 259). But he has written it.

Thank you to Profile Books for providing a review copy of this book. In fact, they sent me two. If you'd like my spare copy, please write a comment on the Americanism you're most grateful for in British English in which you indicate a word/phrase of American origin that has been usefully (to your mind) been borrowed into British English.
I'll put those responses into a hat on 31 July and draw one.  If you win it, you can then tell me if you think this was a fair review! (Anonymous entries may have to be discounted if I can't find a way to contact you.)

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Barbados & the Caribbean

The scene behind the KFC near my Barbadian hotel
is rather unlike the scene behind the KFC near my Brighton home
As I mentioned in the last post, and as I have been wont to mention at any opportunity, I got to go to Barbados recently. It was my first time in the West Indies and it was fabulous—even if I did spend much of it in a windowless conference room.

In the weeks before I went there, I was wont to mention at any opportunity that I was going to Barbados soon. And this is when my (obviously jealous) English friends started pointing out (or was it mocking?) that I didn't say Barbados like they say Barbados. I (in my American way) say the last syllable as if it is the word dose. Theirs sounds like (BrE) doss  or the acronym for 'disk operating system': DOS. In saying it they use the 'rounded short o' vowel that Americans like me don't have.

I was gratified to learn, in the welcoming speeches at the conference, that Barbadians pronounce the last vowel in Barbados like I do, more like the Spanish number dos than like doss. I tweeted about this discovery, and one of my longtime blog correspondents emailed to note (as others had) that in olden times it was often Barbadoes in English, suggesting the "long", or more accurately "tense" o pronunciation that I use. She added "the modern spelling suggests the '-oss' ending".

To which I had to respond—well, the modern ending might suggest '-oss' for you, but not for me. Barbados is part of a partial pattern of difference between BrE and AmE. For my American English, I see the -os in kudos or pathos and I say it with the tense /o/. They rhyme with dose, not doss. But the standard pronunciation of these in Britain is with the -oss sound. And that kind of pronunciation has bled into Barbados. The name Barbados comes from either Portuguese or Spanish for 'bearded ones' (probably because of a tree with beard-like foliage). It's not related to the Greek-derived words pathos and kudos, but the spelling leads us to treat them similarly.

This varies in the US, though. Merriam-Webster gives the doss-type pronunciation first for kudos and pathos (though, of course, with the kind of short-o that Americans use, see link above). American Heritage's first choice for kudos rhymes with doze. But my kudos rhymes with dose. That pronunciation is in both dictionaries, but further down their lists. They both give the dose-type first for Barbados, though. (And they don't give a 'doss' type, but do give a schwa pronunciation more like "Barbaduss".) I suspect that the dose pronunciation for Barbados is preserved in the US because it looks like Spanish, and Americans are used to pronouncing the Spanish o in the tense/long way. (For more on AmE/BrE approaches to Spanish words, see this old post & its comments.)

Thanks to previous UK comment on/mockery of my pronunciation, I went to Barbados also nervous about saying Caribbean. Natural-me says caRIBbean. English people (and now me-when-I'm-speaking-to-English-people-and-wanting-to-avoid-mockery) say caribBEan.  I again heard "my" pronunciation during the opening speeches of the conference. Professor Jeannette Allsopp, co-namesake of the Richard and Jeannette Allsopp Centre for Caribbean Lexicography, put her stress on the -rib-. I thought: if she does it, I can do it too. Then I noticed other staff and students from the University of the West Indies (UWI) putting their stress on the -be-. This is what Oxford Dictionaries says on the matter:
There are two possible pronunciations of the word Caribbean. The first, more common in British English, puts the stress on the -be-, while the second, found in the US and the Caribbean itself, stresses the -rib-
The 'first' in this quotation is made especially weird by the fact that it's the rib-stressed pronunciation that is listed first in their entry for the word. Phonetician (and frequent travel[l]er to the Caribbean) John Wells tells me that indeed the rib-stressing pronunciation is traditionally the more common in the area. The fact that I heard a lot of younger UWI folk using the more BrE pronunciation is an interesting counterexample to the oft-heard claims that English is being Americanized all over the world. In this case, decades after Barbadian independence, a British pronunciation seems to be making inroads.

The competition between these pronounciations comes from the fact that Caribbean has two possible etymologies. It's either Carib(b)+ean or Caribbee+an. Both Carib and Caribbee are apparent anglici{s/z}ations of the Spanish Caribe (which is probably an adaptation of an Arawak word). Caribbee has pretty much died out now, but it and Carib are both found in the earliest days of European reporting on "the New World". 

So, I'm happy now to say Barbados and Caribbean in my natural way even with British friends who might mock me because (a) they're not wrong, and (b) I GOT TO GO TO BARBADOS AND THEY DIDN'T. 😎
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Review: Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper

I'm just back from a FABULOUS time at the Dictionary Society of North America conference. Fabulous not just because it was hosted by the University of the West Indies in Barbados (wheeeeee!), but because dictionary people are just the best people. No offen{c/s}e academic linguists, cognitive scientists, parents of 9-year-olds, Scrabblers, Murphys, and other folk I'm apt to hang out with, but lexicographers (orig. AmE) have the edge.

I have (for a couple of years, part-time) been an actual English-dictionary lexicographer, for the Encarta World English Dictionary. (Among my job titles were "Americanizer", "Compiler", and "Specialist Lexicographer: Languages and linguistics".) I loved it. (I also loved that the publisher, Bloomsbury, sent me some random book with each payche{ck/que}. I got my best soup [orig. AmE] cookbook that way.)

But the job I REALLY wanted, the one that would have kept me out of academia, was a job with Merriam-Webster of Springfield, Massachusetts. Having finished my BA in Linguistics and Philosophy at a just-up-the-road university, I wrote to them in 1987 to ask if they might be hiring. They weren't. And so I had to go get two more degrees and (BrE-ish) move continents three times in order to follow my second-best option after lexicographer: becoming a lexicologist.

Kory Stamper was lucky. She came along a few years later when Merriam was hiring—and she got the job. And now she has written a wonderful, detailed,  funny book about life as a Merriam-Webster lexicographer: Word by Word: the secret life of dictionaries. The kind people at Pantheon sent me a review copy a few months ago, but I wasn't able to read the whole thing during term time/before my own book deadline had passed/before I had written my paper for the Dictionary Society.* So, I read it on the beach in Barbados. Maybe that can be something that makes Kory a tiny bit envious of me as a counter to my incredible envy of her job, since she wasn't at the conference this year. But getting to know her a bit from the book, I kind of suspect that Kory's not the lounging-in-the-hot-sun type.

Because I'm a bit late, you language-loving readers of mine may well have read other reviews of this book. They all said it was fantastic, right? Well, I'm not going to deviate from that line, because I honestly cannot. This is a great book for anyone who is interested in dictionaries and the people that make them. (And since I've already established that they're the best people, why wouldn't you be interested?)

Kory (I'm using her first name because we're Twitter-acquaintances) covers all aspects of being a lexicographer—from the mysterious coffee in orange foil to the threatening emails. But most importantly, and most richly, she covers what it is to define a word. How you capture the difference between a (orig. AmE) sex pot and a (orig. BrE?) sex kitten. How you define the (AmE) pantyhose/(BrE) tights sense of nude without sounding racist. And why it took one lexicographer nine months to revise the Oxford English Dictionary entry for run.

The lexicographer (and also the lexicologist's!) secret weapon is Sprachgefühl: an intuitive feeling for the nuances of language. This is something that comes more naturally to some than to others, but I think it can be grown in a person—to some extent, at least. Kory tells the story of her training in defining and shares the stories of other lexicographers who agree that experience counts in lexicography. She gives so many engaging examples of definitions-gone-wrong and definitions-gone-right that some of that experience will probably (orig. AmE) rub off on you.

I hope it does rub off, because I plan on assigning the chapter on defining (which cent{er/re}s on the example of surfboard) to my first-year students next year. Undoubtedly, there will be a few in need of a bit more Sprachgefühl.

The book gives insight into the history of dictionary publishing generally and American dictionary publishing (which is its own beast) particularly, the role dictionaries play in (American especially) society, and a sense of what it is like to be a working lexicographer (right down to the fear of [AmE] layoffs/[BrE] redundancies). It also makes you feel like you're in the presence of an extremely likeable person. So, I thank Kory for this book, and I encourage you to read it and buy it for the dictionary-lovers in your lives.

It seems to be published in North America only, but of course these days one can order anything anywhere. The ££ prices don't look bad. If you're more (or also) interested in the British lexicography scene, you might want to get your hands on another book, published a few months before Kory's: former OED editor John Simpson's The Word Detective. I've only read a few pages of it so far, but it seems very good too. Since I didn't get a review copy of that one (actual money was spent!), I will probably not (orig. AmE) get around to writing a formal review of it.

* If you're wondering what I talked about at the DSNA conference, it all got started with a blog post I wrote for Oxford Dictionaries a few years ago.  That was the start of me thinking about differences in the "dictionary cultures" of the UK and the US. My DSNA paper was about the differences in content and tone I found in historical advertising for Merriam-Webster and Oxford. When that becomes a published paper (or papers), I'll be sure to let you know. I cover aspects of it in chapter 8 of my book-to-be, which will be published next spring. You can be sure that I'll let you know about that (a. lot.) as the publication date nears. In the meantime, I want to thank the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Grant program(me) for allowing me to travel to dictionary archives in the past year, and to the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funded the book project.
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in/with hindsight

Before our irregularly scheduled blogpost, a couple of announcements:
First, I'm on a (BrE) one-off Radio 4 program(me) tomorrow morning (10:30): Americanize! Why the Americanisation of English is a good thing, presented by Susie Dent. It should be available on iPlayer Radio after that.

    Top Language Lovers 2017
Second, this blog has been nominated for the annual bab.la Top Language Lovers award 2017. If you'd like to support it (or even if you wouldn't) you can click on the logo and vote:

 And now on to the show. What preposition goes before hindsight?

This was a recent Twitter Difference of the Day, and a conveniently simple thing to blog about during (BrE academic) marking season. I'd asked an American lexicographer to (BrE) have/(AmE) take a look at the chapter about (among other things) lexicography in my book manuscript. I had written with hindsight in my book manuscript and he queried whether I'd "gone native" with my preposition. Indeed, it seems I had. As you can see in the screenshot, the GloWBE corpus shows that AmE prefers in hindsight.

I'd say that BrE prefers in too, since with 929 hits, in is the 'winning' preposition before hindsight in BrE. But add of and with together, and they've got 952 hits. I'd say they probably should be added together because the of number actually stands for the longer with-ful phrase: with the benefit of hindsight.

Using hindsight in this kind of prepositional phrase meaning 'in retrospect', seems to be a mid-20th-century thing. No preposition here is the 'original', as far as I can tell, but the in is probably affected by the expression in retrospect. There's less hindsight used in this way in AmE, but AmE has more in retrospect (about 1.5x more).
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squint, cross-eyed

If you have any interest in the doctor-patient relationship, I very much recommend Dariusz Galasiński's blog. He writes thought-provokingly about various things that he and I have in common: being immigrant linguist patients or linguist immigrant patients or immigrant patient linguists. But probably not patient linguistic immigrants. Anyhow, we're rather different in how we are/do all those things, but I am really enjoying the commonalities and the thought-provocations.

He wrote recently about a term that's always struck me when I've heard it in BrE. Here's a snippet from the relevant blog post, On 'medical language':
...I was asked about ‘the history’ and told about my strabismus. The optometrist (or doctor) responded with something like:
OK, so you had a squint.
I didn’t react the first time, but after a second time, I politely but firmly said I hadn’t – it was strabismus, to which she said, it was one and the same thing. And I somewhat more firmly said it wasn’t and that I would rather she used medical language. She looked at me with a sort of ‘What’s your problem, man?’ look. I so didn’t care.
You see, there is nothing ‘squinty’ about my strabismus. It’s not a squint, it’s not ‘strab’. No, it’s strabismus. For me (and I only speak for myself) when you use colloquial language to refer to my eyes, you make light of all the sh…I had to take when I was a boy....
In AmE, it's said that a person with strabismus is cross-eyed or more rarely that they have a crossed eye. I was told when I was young that cross-eyed means the eye (or eyes) points toward(s) the nose and wall-eyed means it/they point away from the nose. That wasn't the original meaning of wall-eye (no, that was having a very light iris). I imagine that the strabismus meaning came from folk-etymology: the eye is looking at the wall. (Also, there's a fish called a wall-eye and fish generally do look to the side.) But in everyday US usage, cross-eyed seemed to be applied indiscriminately for any off-target eye.

In young children, who were treated with an eye patch, the term lazy eye was used, and though there seems to be a technical difference between that and strabismus, I don't think anyone in my circle was observing the difference. This term seems to be used in both countries.

But I had never heard of squint to refer to strabismus till I came to the UK.

In AmE squint generally means narrowing your eyelids, as you do when the sun's in your eye. This meaning is only a bit more than a century old (three hundred years younger than the strabismus sense). Despite its newness, it's a widespread meaning, which has definitely arrived in the UK. This is what you get if you google "Squint emoji":

The scrunched-eyelid meaning is mostly used as a verb (she squinted in the sun), whereas the  strabismus meaning is mostly used as a noun, following the verb to have: he had a squint.

While US dictionaries have the older meaning (though maybe not listed first), squint does not seem to be used much in the US in this way. There are nine British examples of ha* a squint in the GloWBE corpus, and though it initially looks like there are three "American" examples, one is the narrow-eyed meaning and the other two aren't by Americans.
Why did the strabismus meaning die out in the US? Probably because of the success of the narrowing-your-eyes meaning, connected to the fact that cross-eyed had come along (late 18th c) to do the strabismus job.

Back to Dariusz's post, the tendency of UK medical folk to use colloquialisms--some of which I might classify as 'baby talk' or 'euphemism' is something that's come up here before. (Here's a link to the medicine/disease tag, where related things come up.) It depends on the ailment, but by my tally, the UK does more colloquial terms, the US more medical jargon. Whether BrE medical personnel perceive squint as colloquialism or just "the normal (non-medical) word" for the condition, I don't know.

The point of Dariusz's post (as I read it) is not "people shouldn't use this word", but more "medical personnel shouldn't assume that colloquialisms are the best way to talk to all patients" and "using colloquialisms with some patients may make them feel talked-down-to"—particularly in this case where the patient had used one kind of word and the practitioner had "dumbed-down" the patient's language—that seems dismissive. This is an issue I've had trouble with in dealing with a few UK doctors (and different medical issues) myself--simplifications that are oversimplifications or insistent use of euphemism where I'm using medical terminology.

But I don't want to end on a sour note about UK doctors. (I love the NHS!) American doctors have their own communication problems with patients. A major theme of Dariusz's blog is that doctor-patient/patient-doctor communication should be human-human communication. The problem with that wonderful idea, of course, is that some people on both sides of the pond are trying to make medicine profit-driven. Human relationships hardly stand a chance in those conditions. But let's not stop trying.

[Late addition] A Twitter correspondent offers boss-eyed. Oxford Dictionaries lists it as 'British informal', and the not-updated-since-1933 OED entry lists it as 'dialect slang' and referring to just one eye out of alignment. 

By the way, I'm happy to report that I have submitted the manuscript for the book that this blog inspired. I will let you know publication details when they are available (you know I will)--but the book won't be out till some point Spring 2018. Yay! And thank you to the (US) National Endowment for the Humanities for making it possible.
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We've been having some problems with people starting to (jocular Linguist English) peeve about unrelated topics in the comments section. This has upset some readers (and also me, but I'm hardened by 11 years of blogging). More importantly it is against the comments policy, so I've had to resume being a police-y person about it. If you'd like to request a topic for the blog, please feel free to email me (see contact page). If you'd like to just let off opinion-steam, there are lots of places on the web for that. Here, we're trying to get away from the opinions and into the facts.

So, in the interest of the comments policy, I've just deleted a comment on a previous post. Having already checked out whether the assumptions in the comment were fact or fiction, I might as well make it into a blog post. I know that this is a bad idea. I don't want to set up the precedent that topic-changing comments will get immediate blog-treatment. But, it's Saturday morning and my resistance is low.

So, Rob commented on the last blog post:
It's My first time on this blog and as an amateur aficionado of grammar, I love what you've done to the place. I just wanted to share my biggest AmE-BrE bugbear:

My teeth are set a-grinding when I hear the words "tenaciousness", "ferociousness" or any word where there is an "ousness" added, largely by North Americans (to include Canada to a certain extent). I find myself shouting at the screen when I heard it for the first time.

It's not even that "ferociousness" gives a deeper description of the property. You can BE ferocious but should you exhibit ferociousness or display ferocity? I know which one I would rather hear. The same for tenacity. It suggests a certain rawness (I know. Ironic, right?) that "tenaciousness" just detracts from, yet I know the "ousness" phenomenon is grammatically legal. It just sounds lazy to me.

At the risk of inciting a blaze - what does everyone else think?

First, thanks for the compliment, Rob, and I hope we'll see more of you around here. But now I'm a-gonna get grumpy. What people think about language doesn't tell us much about language. It does tell us a lot about identity (and the role of language in forging it) and about cognitive biases in thinking about language and people. This is the theme of the book I'm sending off to the publishers at the end of April (which is not planned for publication till 2018, so [orig. AmE] don't hold your breath!).

As Rob notes, -ness is a productive suffix in English. which means it's legal to put with adjectives, even those Latin/French-derived ones that might be associated with other suffixed noun forms. Plenty of -ous adjectives are mainly nominalized (made into nouns) with -ness -- for example, consciousness, callousness, and righteousness (though that one isn't French/Latin in origin, just French-affected). Then there's suspiciousness--which generally means something different from the related noun suspicion. Those nouns are normal in British and American English, so there's nothing bad about ousness in itself.

In other cases, as Rob notes, there are other, usually French/Latin-derived, nouns that don't use -ness and that often are quite (BrE) different in form to the -ous adjective. But contrary to Rob's presumption, adding -ness to these things does not seem to be a particularly American activity. In the GloWBE corpus, we find similar rates in BrE and AmE for anxiousness (rather than anxiety) and pretentiousness (rather than pretension), for instance.

So what about Rob's examples of tenaciousness and ferociousness? For each of these, GloWBE has a statistically insignificant difference between the two national dialects--5 and 7 in AmE, 6 and 8 in BrE, respectively (raw numbers, from a collection of about 450 million words from each of those countries). These--in both countries--are outnumbered at least 100-fold by their counterparts tenacity and ferocity. In the News on the Web (NoW) corpus, there are 0.4 ferociousnesses per million words (pmw) in AmE, 0.3 in BrE (but .15 in Pakistan, by far the most). For tenaciousness it's 0.2 in AmE and 0.1 in BrE. (Sri Lanka "wins" with 0.4.)

Image from here
What's a bit interesting is that all of the related words (tenacious, tenacity, tenacously, ferocious, etc.) are found (sometimes significantly) more in the British data than the American. For example in NoW, ferocity occurs 1.05 pmw in AmE and 1.71 in BrE, and ferocious 2.29 in AmE and 4.62 in BrE. Americans use the words a fair amount, but Brits use them much more. Lower numbers set up a situation where using a more transparent morphological (i.e. suffixation) process is more likely to happen. (We see that even more strongly in newer Englishes as in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.) But the UK/US differences in occurrence in ferocity and tenacity are very small, if they're there at all.

The -ity forms sound more "learnéd" because they are generally learn{ed/t} through exposure, rather than derived (orig. BrE slang) on the fly. People like those -ity nouns because they are a sign of a big vocabulary. But they're also a bit of a (BrE) faff. That is to say, they come at a cognitive cost. You have to keep them in your mental dictionary and understand that they are related to the adjective forms even though they have different vowels (compare the a and o in tenacious/tenacity, ferocious/ferocity). The -ness forms can be derived at the spur of the moment. Anyone has access to them. They are, I'd say, a bit more democratic.
The low, low numbers for the -ousness versions of these nouns mean that you'll hear the -ity versions more in any accent. The similar numbers of -ousness versions probably mean that if you regularly hear one accent more, you're more likely to have heard the -ousness form in that accent. But when we hear something unusual in an accent that isn't ours (and especially in a variety of English that's regularly accused of [AmE] messing with English), we notice it more. There's a lot of confirmation bias going on in people's (orig. AmE) peeves or bugbears about other people's language.

On a final note (oh, I can't believe I've spent the hour I was supposed to spend on something else this morning!), I was surprised to learn that US and UK use precocity at similar rates and much more than precociousness. I always feel like I'm using a joke-word [like the AmE ridiculosity] when I say it.

(P.S. for Rob:  I haven't preserved the link to your Google page from the original comment--but if you want to be identified, let me know and I'll stick a link in.)
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submitting slavishly...

 Please reserve the comments section for topics related to this post. 

Lately, I've been super-aware of people saying that British English "slavishly" copies American English. Like this:
 the UK slavishly adopts Americanisms !! (from an email to me this week)
“To be snooty about Americans, while slavishly admiring them; this is another crucial characteristic of being British.”  (From the Economist, but quoted this week in Toni Hargis's reflection on the recent Word of Mouth on English)
It's an interesting choice of words, and I was reminded of it this morning when I read the television critic Mark Lawson writing about BBC4 (my emphasis added):
The original 2002 mission statement also included “international cinema”, and this was expanded to include foreign television, which could be regarded as BBC4’s most lasting legacy. Its screening of Mad Men was formative in changing the UK’s attitude to US drama from dismissiveness to submissiveness.
Why slavishly? Why submissive? Lawson was probably pleased with his rhyme, but why not dismissiveness to enjoyment or appreciation? In this case, it's not even that it's a torrent of US drama that the viewer cannot avoid, as BBC4 doesn't broadcast very much American drama. The paragraph goes on:
Its imported Swedish and Danish hits – including The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen – established that subtitled stories could find a British audience, encouraging other channels to shop from Scandinavian suppliers, and also to adopt the slower rhythms of Scandi-drama in homegrown series such as Broadchurch and The Missing.
What, the homegrown series didn't submit to the Scandinavian rhythms, but adopted them? Don't you mean they slavishly copied them? 

Now, of course, slavish isn't the same thing as enslaved. The relevant OED sense is defined  as

Servilely imitative; lacking originality or independence.

Available here
But it's an interesting word and image. The adjective slavish is used to similar degrees in AmE and BrE.  Most often it's followed by the noun devotion in both countries, but in the UK it's about as likely to be followed by adherence while in the US, the next most frequent noun is fear. Slavish fear involves a very different interpretation of slavish than slavish devotion does. It calls more directly on literal slavery, with the existence of a fear-inspiring master.

The adverb slavishly is found nearly twice as much in BrE (in the GloWBE and NOW corpora). Google Books corpus shows that the two countries used to use it at similar rates, but it's been falling off in the US since the 1960s. Perhaps Americans find it a bit more distasteful since the civil rights movement. (Maybe that accounts for my reaction to it.)

For me, the weird thing about the use of slavishly in the 'copying American English' context is that you can't have a slave without a master. And being a master has to be intentional. But American English isn't trying to have a slave.

Yes, Americans want to export stuff. But they don't care a lot about exporting American English--at least, not as much as the British establishment cares about exporting (and enforcing?) British English. (The reasons for this American lack of interest are complex, but contributing factors are that the British are already doing the work and the feelings that any English is good enough and that British might even be superior.)  Exporting the language is a bigger industry in the UK-- most of the dictionaries for learners of English as a foreign language come from the UK (in fact, that's the only kind of dictionary that some UK publishers work on). The government funds the British Council (which also makes a lot of its own money through the IELTS language test). The US has been much later to that parade--and half(-)hearted about joining it.

The language continues to be Britain's empire--and imperialism seems to be the frame through which many Britons frame relationships with "bigger players", like the US and the European Union. Once the British were the imperialists, and now other relationships of interaction and dependency are framed as if they are the coloni{s/z}ed. There is often a disconnect between the complaint that American English is "taking over" and fact that it all started when Britain took over. Not to mention that Britain has benefited hugely from American English's role in keeping their language relevant to the rest of the world.

I compare this to thinking about British English and French. About how in the 19th century the British added the -me on programme in imitation of the French spelling.* How the British couldn't sell zucchini (the particular hybrid was originally Italian), but ate up courgettes. How they're partial to French-inspired spellings like colour and centre. British English is often deferential to French--after all, for a long time the aristocracy spoke French. But although French speakers were, at points in English history, literally the overlords (and then they had two centuries' worth of wars with them) I don't hear complaints that English has slavishly copied French. (Well, I do hear them from myself sometimes. Those [heavily tongue-in-cheek] complaints were recorded for a podcast that'll be released in July.)

All of this is related to the themes from two posts ago. These things are at the forefront of my mind as I write the conclusion for my book, so I'm testing out ideas here. But the slavishly/submissiveness wordings also resounded particularly this week after Ben Carson's comments about "involuntary immigrants" and also reading about another "unpopular invader" from America, the gr{a/e}y squirrel. Not comparing these things, you understand, just hyper-aware of how 'migration' and 'slave'-related words are being used these days.

So, are the British brainwashed by American English into slavish submission? Have you other thoughts on these metaphors and their use?

* The earlier spelling program has come back from the US and is now used in Britain as computing jargon. The Americanness of computer jargon spelling (program, dialog box, disk) is taken by some as an unwelcome American incursion. But in my experience British computer types use these spellings as (more AmE?) shibboleths. Those who know not to use the general-purpose British spellings for the computer-related meanings are accepted as reasonably knowledgeable. Those who don't might be in for some instruction on the topic.
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sure, affirmative

This is one of those posts where I'm going to let someone else do most of the writing. I got this message from Justin a couple of weeks ago:

I’m from Malaysia, where BrE dominates in schools but AmE is prominent in pop culture (so too CanE and AusE). I was British educated there, before moving to the UK for boarding school and my undergrad. So I’d like to think of myself as pretty much a BrE speaker.

My girlfriend is American. A born-and-bred Wisconsinite. I’m currently living with her in Illinois as I pursue my Masters. This is partly the reason we so enjoy your blog, as it has helped clear up a number of differences we’ve come across.

One difference that gets me every time is the use of the word sure as an affirmative. When I use sure as an agreement, it is usually in response to a suggestion. I feel I am deferring to that suggestion, as if I am saying ‘I’ll go along with what is invariably your point’.

My girlfriend, however, uses sure as a simple ‘yes’ - whether or not it is in response to suggestion or a more general yes/no question.

So a typical interaction might go:

GF: ‘I’m feeling like having Chinese food tonight.’

*time passes*

Me: ‘So do you still want to have Chinese food tonight?’

GF: ‘Sure.’

To her, she is just saying 'yes' to the question. But, no matter how much I am reminded of her usage of the word, I am still thrown off every time because it seems as if she has turned her own suggestion into mine. It feels as if she’s deferring the responsibility of the suggestion to me. I don’t mean to say that I accuse her of this - she knows how this throws me, and we laugh about it - that's just my gut reaction based on my own usage of the word.

So my question - and I do apologise for the wall of text - is whether this is a BrE / AmE difference? What scant sources I can find online - due to all the context I need to unload before asking the question - seem to hint this. However, could it be that my own usage of the word is limited through my strange background? Is this a uniquely Midwestern AmE trait (my girlfriend’s family all so seem to use ‘sure’ in this way)? Or is it a case-by-case notion, where one’s personal circumstances lead to one usage or the other?

I have to thank Justin for typing that all out because it is a scenario that plays out in my house on a weekly basis. Spouse suggests something to do, somewhere to go, something to eat, and I say Sure and he (at this point, one feels, just to be difficult, because we've been through this many times) says "That means no, then." 

I don't think it's just Midwestern. I've lived in the Midwest, New England, Texas, and upstate New York, and my Sures never caused a discernible problem till I moved to England.

This a hard thing to look up in a (orig. AmE) run-of-the-mill corpus, because so much about a Sure  depends on how it's said. There are 198 Yea(h), sure in the AmE part of the GloWBE corpus and 91 in the British, but that's an internet corpus, not spoken interaction, and it's far more likely there that the Yeah, sure is a sarcastic expression of doubt than a casual agreement to a suggestion. While I have access to some corpora with spoken language, they're pretty bad for this kind of thing (as I discovered when I tried to use them to study please). The transcripts in those corpora are overloaded with people having conversations about topics, but in real life we spend much less time debating the issues of the day or recounting a childhood memory and more on negotiations about what to eat or veiled accusations that the dishwasher has been loaded wrong.

There are some discussions of affirmative sure online, often from English learners who have noted it as something Americans do. This Huffington Post blog has a Connecticut mother of (orig. AmE) teenagers (so, probably close to my age) noting that people are now taking her sures as unenthusiastic. But her sures were delivered by text or social media, so the intonations weren't available for the readers to hear--making it a riskier place to use sure. So was it the medium, or do younger Americans use sure less? The trend might be toward(s) more exaggerated responses needed to show enthusiasm--e.g. great, awesome, or the  less (BrE) OTT cool. And we might be pretty far down the road of that trend.

(I've done a brief search for academic papers on sure, but had no luck finding much on this affirmative usage. If anyone knows of any, please let me know.)

In our house, as in Justin's relationship, sure miscommunications remain a problem we're aware of, but haven't managed to fix. The spouse thinks I should say something else, while I wonder why he can't just mentally translate it when he hears it from me, as he would for any other Americanism that slips out. If it sounds unenthusiastic, can't an Englishman just interpret it as a case of understatement (which Brits seem so eager to claim for their own)?

But sure is harder than a problem like sidewalk/pavement or tomayto/tomahto, since it's not a referential word (one that stands for things in the world), but more context- and relationship-dependent. The differences are less obvious and the usage/interpretation is more automatic. We're creatures of our own gut-reactions.
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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)