Creeping Britishisms ruining American students' essays, says professor
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It's been pretty sleepy down here in Pedants' Corner for a while. Maybe this will wake us up a bit:
But in both cases the rules, animated by a general urge to make writing smooth and efficient, allow us and in fact compel us to punctuate in an illogical and counterintuitive way.
I completely reject this rule. This is one case where I hope the British system will prevail; it's just crazy to put punctuation within quotation marks when it's not part of the quotation. I'd say I'm generally a prescriptivist, but not at the cost of sense and clarity.
Hah is all I can say. English english is almost hard to define over here anymore - vast numbers of americanizms have crept in. I'm never a prescriptivist, so I don't much care - as long as the reader/listener can understand without having to parse possible conjectures.
I agree with Zoe about the punctuation in quotation marks. I can't imagine that Yagoda would follow his own rule there if he were writing a scholarly article where it's important to know precisely what is part of the quotation.
I notice that despite the alleged wave of Britishisms, he still uses "movie" and not "film" in his example. But I'm a bit puzzled in what situation an American student would need to specify that Iron Man 2 was a movie? I suppose it could be an endurance sport or an exhibition of sculpture, but it seems unlikely that there could be any confusion.
Good article (though I would dispute the chosen headline as it's not just about Britishisms. But along with _Zoe_ and reading_fox I have reservations.
'But, the Weather Channel just changed their forecast...' The professor says that 'There should be no comma after "But."' British English would agree with this diktat, but the common UK usage would be to place the full stop (does US usage still use the term 'period'?) after the final quotation mark (pace _Zoe_). The priniciple is that words or phrases do not include the final full stop within inverted commas whereas complete sentences do include the full stop when they (the sentences) are placed at the end.
'No comma is needed after "movie,"' writes the professor. I think this would be standard practice in the UK too.
"Its," not "their," is needed with "Weather Channel." -- I'm guessing here but I think that the perception may be that the Weather Channel is staffed by a number of people who collectively decide the forecast and that the Channel is not a single impersonal machine. (Or is it?)
"Whomever" should be "whoever." -- Self-selected pedants (such as me) would go with 'whomever', but 'whoever' would probably be the overwhelmingly popular usage in the UK.
'For our one year anniversary, my girlfriend and myself are going...' 'Myself' in this context feels extremely clunky. I suppose we should be grateful that it's not 'me and my girlfriend'...
"Girl that" should be "girl who" -- agreed.
'Grey' and 'amongst' are certainly Britishisms. (Is Britishism a neologism? I've not come across it before.)
'One-year anniversary' is what I would use if pushed, but 'first anniversary' is certainly preferable.
'It's a "Yankee," not "Yankees," game.' Can't comment on this, really, but in football/soccer in the UK we would say 'the Spurs game' if we were talking about a match involving Tottenham Hotspurs, or the Rovers game etc.
Anyway, thanks, thorold, for waking us up here in sleepy Pedants' Corner!
Oh, and all this time I thought the Brits were thoroughly sensible! Ah, shattered illusions.
Oh no, the purity of the American English language will be ruined!
I know several Briticisms that have become increasingly cemented into my vocabulary (grey, maths, the Oxford comma), ones that are creeping in (amongst), and others that depend on the situation (theater for movies, theatre for live performances). But, honestly, who cares? With increasing exchanges between American and British English, perhaps one day we'll have a "standard" mesh-mash à la Canadian English.
Language purity is too...French for my taste.
"Whomever" should be "whoever." -- Self-selected pedants (such as me) would go with 'whomever', but 'whoever' would probably be the overwhelmingly popular usage in the UK.
I don't think this is an issue between AE and BE, but a situation in which one is correct. I was taught the standard substitute (whom/him, who/he) to remember which one is chosen.
>8 Phocion: Whoever and whomever are slightly more complicated than that, though. There are two words being replaced here rather than just one ("with the people who", one object and one subject). But I think I'd still go with "whoever" in this case. Random google hit suggests the rule that him + he = whoever and him + him = whomever, which seems reasonable.
"Whomever" should be "whoever."
It's possible I should have clarified this by referring to context; I was taught 'whom' or 'whomever' if used as object, 'who' or 'whoever' if used as subject, but, yes, it always more bloody complicated, isn't it!
Perhaps this should go under Pet Peeves, but I used to get a little narked when North American texts published in the UK left in Americanisms such as spellings and idioms, but British publications re-published in NA often seem to be americanised in respect of spelling and idiom, as though readers across the Atlantic were liable to be confused/offended/disrespected by quaint/wayward/offensive British usage. Am/was I being too sensitive?
1. There should be no comma after "But."
I think the professor is failing to see the trees for the wood, there. The inclusion or absence of the comma give different nuances. 'But the Weather Channel just changed their forecast ...' reads to me as an emotionally neutral statement of fact. 'But, the Weather Channel just changed their forecast ...' reads to me as carrying suggestions of irony and exasperation.
Nobody is ever going to put together a set of rules comprehensive enough to encompass the subtleties of the English language. For one thing, it wouldn't stand still long enough to let them do it.
Regarding the word "grey": I might be strange in this, but when I see the word "gray", it looks like someone's name to me. "Gray" = name, "grey" = color.
Also, I sort of laughed at the professor blaming these errors on the students not being well-read at one point. Wouldn't a well-read student who reads from all sorts of English-language traditions be more likely to have a mish-mash of British/American/Canadian/Australian/Indian/&c quirks to their writing, such as he describes?
For a while, I then when I was ten or eleven years old, I was reading mostly children's books and classics from English and maybe Scottish writers, and it was really obvious from the way my spelling and grammar shifted. When I started conversing more often with non-USA people on Internet, my written language became even more muddled.
Ah, but what British writing are his students most likely to have encountered of late? Methinks this prof wouldn't include Harry Potter on the list of things that contribute to being "well-read." (Sorry, but I prefer that punctuational order for æsthetic reasons.)
(Oh, and I think the later HP books were much less Americanized than the early ones. Just thought I'd clear that up now.)
Also, I fully agree with you on "grey." That spelling looks, in my mind's eye, greyer than "gray."
I used to get a little narked when North American texts published in the UK left in Americanisms such as spellings and idioms, but British publications re-published in NA often seem to be americanised in respect of spelling and idiom
You really should make a distinction between Canadians and Americans. Canadian children were assumed from the outset to understand the word "philosopher".
Oh, and I think the later HP books were much less Americanized than the early ones. Just thought I'd clear that up now.
Of course, the later HP books also seemed to be much less edited in general ;). Once Rowling was super-famous, no one wanted to interfere with her words one way or another, even when some of them really should have been cut.
What exactly is it about putting the period inside the quotation marks that makes writing smooth and efficient?
The inclusion or absence of the comma give different nuances. 'But the Weather Channel just changed their forecast ...' reads to me as an emotionally neutral statement of fact. 'But, the Weather Channel just changed their forecast ...' reads to me as carrying suggestions of irony and exasperation.
You could indicate that with an ellipsis, or maybe even a dash, but a comma? No.
I couldn't help wondering whether the author of the article has ever actually read or heard any genuine 'english' English. I'd certainly have to go back to around 1880 to find an example of 'oftentimes' in either writing or speech!
>11 alaudacorax: The comma after "But" is simply wrong. If it is intended to indicate a rhetorical pause, a stronger mark is needed: the best ones in such a colloquial context are probably either the long dash or the ellipsis (three dots).
I haven't decided which I think is more horrible: the illogical American use of quotation marks, or their wacky inside-out presentation of dates in numerals with the month first. :-)
>5 ed.pendragon: and 7
For info, the sainted Oxford English Dictionary includes both 'Britishism' and 'Briticism', the latter being specifically etymological, but the former all-encompassing.
(Spelling corrected - ouch!)
At least our apostrophes don't get mistaken for closing the quite! ;)
Bearing in mind how utterly wrong this writer is about many of what he calls 'Britishisms', I can't help feeling this illustrates perfectly how we simply all blame each other for the ruination of the language. Almost any phrase or usage we haven't heard over here before gets put down to Americanisms (whether that is the fact or not) while doubtless the opposite happens in the States. I guess we all need someone to blame! Too bad the professor can't also acknowledge how much this interchange enriches both languages too.
Yes, we should
Personally I've always thought Beowulf ruined the lovely language of the stone-age man. Uppity little parvenu!
#17, #20 - You are no doubt right that a long dash or ellipsis would be more correct than a comma.
My point was that the professor doesn't seem to allow for the possibility that his students might be trying to express something extra when they put in the offending comma. His 'default' stance, to me, seemed to be to assume the worst of them.
But I haven't read their stuff, of course.
I think the Professor needs to check on team names before correcting an instance such as that.
The New York Yankees is the name of the team. They are not the New York Yankee.
"Tottenham Hotspur"? Would that be cricket or soccer*?
*Do not insist on making me call it "football" -- we already have one of those.
>35 dtw42:: You've made me doubt myself over Tottenham HotspurS; "Spurs" definitely.
>36 AnnaClaire:: A quick check online has suggested that formalised American Football developed from Rugby Football (where handling the ball is allowed, despite the name). Ultimately, all modern regulated "football" games (Soccer, American Football, Rugby) derive from unregulated attack and defence games from all over Europe where the objective was to get an object (pig's bladder or similar) into the opponents' territory (village, wall, goalmouth, net, whatever).
The fact is, Football (that's soccer to you) is played by more people and countries around the world (mostly under names related to British English "football") than play American Football (so yah boo). And then there's Australian Rules football...
36: *Do not insist on making me call it "football" -- we already have one of those.
Take a guess which country is responsible for the name "soccer."
It wasn't a country that was responsible for the name "soccer", but it was an Englishman, Charles Wreford-Brown, who tried to popularise it in the late 19th century when he started playing competitively. However, the term has never become popular in the UK. But what do I know, I can't stand the game.
I learned English about sixty years ago when my parents were already middle-aged. One thing that strikes me about the British is their fondness for the word 'got.' For some reason I learned to say use the word 'have' rather than the common British 'have got', usually condensed to 'you've got', he's got' or 'we've got.' This always strikes me as odd.
Hence such characteristically British expressions as "I got rhythm" :-)
The "amongst" comment reminds me of a document that I edited recently. This document had "whereas" in two different places within a two paragraph introduction to a form. In ordinary documents, the use of "whereas" rather than the more prosaic "while" would be annoying, but this was part of the instruction for using the form. The whole tone of the document left me wondering if the intent of the author was to intimidate the reader into not using the form at all.
Probably a lawyer - in some types of document every sentence in the preamble starts with "Whereas..."
#43 I can see a definite, if subtle, difference between 'whereas' and 'while'. 'Whereas' would suggest to me that the two actions being described are opposing, even mutually exclusive, whereas 'while' suggests a comparison of much more closely related events. "I play the guitar, whereas Rob plays the trumpet" suggests two unrelated alternatives. "I play the guitar while Rob plays the trumpet" surely suggests that both events are taking place at once?
Got/Have: I may have missed the point here, but thinking about their respective usage in questions "Have you got...?" sounds everyday whereas (sic) "Do you have...?" sounds a little more formal. The statement "I've got..." feels natural whereas "I have..." seems a little more oratorical.
For example, "I have a dream...", "I have NO idea" both have a sense of import, of an emphasis missing in "I've got a dream" and "I haven't got an idea". I'm still mulling this over, and haven't yet had a Eureka moment (eureka = "I have it!" Or, if you prefer, "I've GOT it!")
Fowler says "Have got for possess or have is good colloquial but not good literary English." (*)
I think that's more-or-less what I was taught as a child (in England in the 60s). When I first heard Americans using "have" by itself for possession in ordinary speech it struck me as a bit affected. But I think that this is one of those alleged US/UK differences that was never that clear to start with, and has become a lot less firm over the years.
ETA> (*) Writing in 1926
"We got it!" seems to be a fairly constant catchphrase on American children's TV.
Haven't read the article yet and only a few comments.
This subject is always good for a laugh . . . try this article:
Meanwhile I'll go and read the American Prof's take.
After over thirty years in this (USA) country the word football still brings to my mind images of soggy winter Saturday afternoons watching the local village team trying to kick a spherical leather ball into the net of the opposing team's goal . . . ninety minutes of muddy ballet, that does actually last about ninety minutes.
And when Major Grey's Chutney becomes Gray I shall despair!
Oh and my preference is for Briticism. That's how it's pronounced. Thank you #7 Phocion
"You've Got Mail", anybody? If American, why not "You Have Mail"? (Sorry, perhaps that should be If American, why not "You Have Mail?" note the subtle difference, LOL.)
...Which of course over here (UK) would be "You've Got Post"...
I would rather set my computer to say politely "Some post has arrived, Sir".
45> #43 I can see a definite, if subtle, difference between 'whereas' and 'while'. 'Whereas' would suggest to me that the two actions being described are opposing, even mutually exclusive, whereas 'while' suggests a comparison of much more closely related events. "I play the guitar, whereas Rob plays the trumpet" suggests two unrelated alternatives. "I play the guitar while Rob plays the trumpet" surely suggests that both events are taking place at once?
Is that a different meaning to the word 'whereas' than in the preamble to a bill, for example, it would say something like "Whereas we're all hungry, and whereas there's no food in the fridge, therefore be it proposed that we go out for pizza." In that case the whereas clauses support the action, not be opposed to it.
Only if it could be adjusted for the user's gender. I am not a Sir.
#52 Maybe that is an example of where the two forms of English differ so much. Over here that would just be considered plain wrong. To make sense here it would need to read 'Assuming we're all hungry' or 'If we're all hungry', or 'It being the case that we're all hungry' or even (though nobody , I'm sure, would expect a bill to use simple straightforward English) simply 'As we're all hungry'.
Of course, if we're talking legal terminology, I doubt if anyone would claim that the wording of this kind of thing ever demonstrates either good or mellifluous use of the English language. That's because a) in a legal document, wording has to be precise in order to stand up in court and context cannot be relied upon the way it can in ordinary speech or writing, and b) because lawyers were once paid by the word and it was to their advantage to make their wording as convoluted as possible and the habit has stuck. Neither of those things is conducive to good writing.
The OED treats the legal "in view of the fact that..." and the more usual "while on the contrary...." as two separate senses, the first going back to the 15th and the second to the 16th century.
Coincidentally, I changed a "whereas" into a "while" in a colleague's letter just this morning...
I think you might be surprised by the way legal language is going, Booksloth - the Plain English Campaign seems to be a force to be reckoned with these days. I looked at three or four recent UK acts of parliament and couldn't find a single "whereas" - I think the situation in the US is similar.
#55 You're right there, thorold, there's a definite improvement just lately (and I hold a very warm spot in my heart for the PEC). When I acted as executor of my mother's will nearly two years ago I was amazed to find all sorts of people in the 'business' offering to help me decipher documents and laws that were already perfectly plain and readable. What we need now is for someone to go back and translate all the old legal documents that could just as well be in Latin for all the sense they make to most of us. I guess that's just as bad whichever language they're in.
What we need now is for someone to go back and translate all the old legal documents that could just as well be in Latin for all the sense they make to most of us.
They'd better send a canary down first.
I don't think that all 'legalisms' were useless and worthy only of the dustbin. For instance, 'heretofore' used to fulfil a very useful role, but these days it is hardly seen.
Incidentally, although I'd like to praise the PEC for reforming legalese, I have a nagging feeling that the reform is more the result of the same 'dumbing down' that seems to affect all professions these days.
Incident upon incident, I see that the alliteratively charming 'dumbing down' hasn't (yet) made it to the OED.
The Law Commission has the job of canary in the British system.
Are there really places where you can't replace "heretofore" by "previous" or "previously"?
I agree that some of the cumbersome jargon words are actually great timesavers when you use them in a technical context (the same applies to business or IT jargon, of course). For instance, I find things like "therein" and "therefor" handy occasionally for translating German without too much reordering of the sentence. You can always avoid using them if the text is intended for general readers, though. "Therefor" is a menace, anyway, because people confuse it with "therefore".
"Are there really places where you can't replace "heretofore" by "previous" or "previously"? "
Possibly here? "Clarity in language was considered important heretofore." I suppose 'until now' would usually suffice.
I admit I'd not encountered 'therefor' before, and as you say, it's so dominated by 'therefore' that its usage might be dismissed as a perverse nicety!
And now for another perspective: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-14201796
The problem with such lists is that they inevitably stray from the initial proposition, "x is American usage, but we are British, so we should be using y instead" to "x is a stupid non-word and nobody should use it". Both arguments may have validity for specific words, but it's not helpful to conflate them into a single topic, IMHO.
And of course anyone who brings up "gotten" is just asking to be shot down in flames...
About half of the expressions they object to seem to be business or marketing jargon, which is probably an American-dominated area, but it isn't American English.
Many of the others aren't Americanisms at all. Among the ones I noticed:
"wait on" = await is Scottish or Northern English.
Wordsworth and the A.V. are among the OED citations for "oftentimes".
"Learn" = "teach" has a very distinguished list of citation authors in the OED, none of them American: Bunyan, Coverdale, Shakespeare, Coleridge, Disraeli, Defoe, Richardson, Wm. Morris, etc.
Interesting that they use "e-mailed" when they mean "hated" in the introductory paragraph...
Looking at the list, I think the poor old Yanks are being unfairly blamed for a lot of stuff.
For instance, on the word 'Scotch', I'm sure I remember it being fairly common usage in the UK forty or fifty years ago.
I also remember AJP Taylor, in one of his television lectures, use it and immediately correct himself with 'Scots'. Then he paused a moment, then changed his mind again, saying something to the effect that the Scots call themselves 'Scots' but the English had the perfectly legitimate usage 'Scotch', with - as I remember it, anyway - the strong implication that, as it was an English usage, it was really none of the Scots' business.
My memory is a bit shaky - it was a long time ago - so I googled the whole thing and found this - http://www.tongs.org.uk/wiki.pl?AJP_Taylor - look at the third section.
Kent, AD 1067
I really hate these creeping Normanisms. You know, like 'pork' when we're eating pig. And 'parliament', what's that about? What's wrong with Witanagemot?
* Edited to correct misspelling.
I know I don't belong here among such erudite company, but I thought one should never begin a sentence with "but". Here I have tried to follow this rule for more than 30 years and all of you, including the author of the article, completely ignored it.
The rule is to avoid starting a sentence with a conjunction among which is 'but.' There is also a rule prohibiting long, run-on sentences. Life, however, is run-on, conjunct and disjunct in turn, so an accurate verbal representation of it is tricky. A roughly whole new idea that is disjunct nevertheless may demand an initial 'But.' Kids can't handle that, but in college one should begin to see its necessity.
My freshman English professor, later my Shakespeare professor, told the class never to start a sentence with 'however.' I have been unable to do it since.
My college thesis advisor (biology) told me never to begin a sentence with the subject, it. It has been difficult for me to write ever since.
My mother told me never to start a sentence with 'And'. 'But the Bible does, and William Blake did...' 'Well, they're wrong. And don't forget it!'
IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
It is another truth, less universally acknowledged, that when a teacher tells you "never" to use a certain construction, they're talking out of their hat.
(Yes, I used a singular they. So sue me) :^P
Hmmm, a boy named Sue. That might just... no, wait, prior art.
A girl named Dave. That's not been done before, has it?
Everytime I hear the name Dave I hear the voice of the HAL computer in 2001: a Space Odyssey.
For a while back in the day I had an audio clip of HAL saying "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that" assigned to the "error" event on my PC. Got a bit tiresome after a while though! :^)
Let's get this straight, it's called 'English'; it's ours. What we say is correct; what you say is just sheer wrong (ducks . . . ).
Incidentally, linguists have acknowledged since way before I did the courses that 'American' English is, in many respects, much closer to archaic English than is modern English. Where the hell does that leave us?
'And of course anyone who brings up "gotten" is just asking to be shot down in flames...'
Riposte to link in #61: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-14285853
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