Jake Tupman: Today on The Big Question we're discussing Americanisms in the British language. After the show I'm going to go throw on my sneakers, head to a bar, order some fries and watch the soccer game. Roughly translated, that means I'm going to the pub later to watch the footie. Now, if you're bamboozled by that perhaps you shouldn't be. It seems that more and more Americanisms are making their way into the English language. In a minute, I'm going to be speaking to American author Allyson Stewart-Allen. But first, earlier today we asked some of the Atlanta Falcons, who were playing American football at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, what they thought of the British dialect.
Man 1: You guys have a good accent and you can kind of pick it out. I think there's some key words maybe that I won't understand. You guys say 'chap', don't you? I've heard 'chap' and I've heard, what's another, 'cheers, I've heard 'cheers'. That's a good one. It's just kind of slang, I would say, but you understand. It's good.
Man 2: There's a couple slang terms that you don't really pick up on in the middle of a sentence but overall it's not too hard to understand.
Man 3: I just feel like you all speak proper English. U.S. got a lot of slang in they English, which is we cut our words off a little shorter, stuff like that. But I feel like you guys speak proper English. A different accent, though, but that's everywhere all over the world. Nobody going to talk the same. U.S. people, we got people in U.S. that talk like Jamaican people.
Jake: Now my guest tonight is Allyson Stewart-Allen, author of the book "Working with Americans". Allyson, thank you so much for joining us.
Jake: Having seen those people talk there, are those words that you find yourself using? Mate, cheers? Things like that?
Allyson: Yeah, I think so. I've been here 26 years. So, for me, this is now part of my daily vocabulary, but at first it didn't feel totally comfortable.
Jake: Obviously, there has definitely been a rise in American words in the British language. What do you think has led to that?
Allyson: Well, the music, the TV, the films, and part of it is the culture. I mean I'm a West Coaster and, as a Californian, a lot of the words I was using in the '70s growing up there are now very cool words to use here. So I think there's an element of, maybe, trying to have that lifestyle or perception that that's the lifestyle and therefore the vocabulary also comes with that.
Jake: Interesting you said that. Do you kind of feel that the words are filtering down over the years? Is that kind of what's happening?
Allyson: Yeah, I think it is. And there's a certain dialect from a part of L.A. that maybe some of your viewers will have been to called the Valley, which was made famous by Frank Zappa in a song called The Valley Girl. Many of those words from the '70s in that song is really how a lot of people in L.A. talk. So, awesome, cool, gnarly, rad, all those words that I was using in the '70s are now here and you just think, "Oh, it sounds a bit weird with the British accent, some of these," you know?
Jake: It's interesting you used those four words there because things that gnarly and rad I wouldn't say I hear often, but things like cool, of course, and awesome, you do hear a lot. Why is it that some of these words, you think, catch on over here and others maybe not so much?
Allyson: Maybe it's the frequency of use in film and on TV programming and on radio. There's also an element of surf culture in those words. So, if you know that that's where they come from and you know that a lot of surfers use those words, certainly they do in Southern Cal, then you probably want to have that kind of edgy surf vibe, I guess. It's trendy.
Jake: So, I guess what you're saying is that some of these words that come over from America are cool.
Allyson: They are.
Jake: So the idea is that these are cool words that come over from America.
Jake: But why do you think... Often when you look at social media and you read sort of various articles you see there's been a lot of complaint about it from the Brits. Why do you think that they find it annoying that these Americanisms are creeping into the British language?
Allyson: I think, to a certain extent, it's about respecting your own home culture and I completely understand it and, to some extent, agree with it. And I think there's a lot of fantastic words that are in the British vocabulary that you don't need to turn to the United States for more vocabulary words that are just as expressive and just as emotive as the words that are being imported from the U.S. So I completely understand it and I'm pretty sympathetic to it, to be honest.
Jake: It's interesting that there's a lot of things that have come over so frequently from America now are very much part of the British culture here. But these words are still one thing that seems to grate on us.
Allyson: Yes, and I think there's an element, rightly, of wondering why are we surrendering part of our culture to a culture that isn't our own? Part of it also is generational. I do think that, thinking about my own 17-year-old daughter who uses certain words that I would never use that are American trendy words, for her generation and her peer group, that's the right thing to do. For people maybe my age, 40s plus, I'm not sure that we think necessarily that we want to give up the best of Britishness. And I say we because I'm a dual citizen now after, this much time here, so I have to be clear which hat I'm wearing when I say that.
Jake: I see. Am I right in saying you've been here for 26 years? Is that right?
Jake: Yeah, 26 years is a long time, Allyson. So, I felt that it only right that maybe I test out your Britishness. So I'm going to read you a lot of American phrases and I want to see if you can translate them to British. So here we go.
Allyson: Oh God, okay.
Jake: We'll start with, could you put the diapers in the trunk?
Allyson: Could you put the nappies in the boot?
Jake: Excellent. Very good. One point. Let's try this one: these fries need some more oregano.
Allyson: Right. These chips need some more oregano.
Jake: Two points. That was absolutely perfect, really. Phase three, shall we go for a ride in the elevator?
Allyson: Right. Shall we take the lift?
Jake: Yes, excellent. We don't have a word for a ride. The next one, I was charging my cell phone on the way to get gas from the gas station.
Allyson: Right. I was charging my mobile on the way to the petrol station to get petrol.
Jake: Excellent. That's four out of four and we've got one more. Let's see if we get five out of five.
Allyson: Oh no, oh no.
Jake: This is the hardest one. This fall I'm going on a vacation on an aluminum airplane.
Allyson: Right. This autumn, I'm going on holiday on an aluminium plane.
Jake: Allyson, five out of five. Absolutely perfect. Give her a round of applause. Brilliant.
Allyson: Thank you. Thank you.
Jake: Thank you very much, Allyson. Now, we have been asking people what they think and what Americanism really drive them up the wall and Darren Jaundrill says, "It's got to be 'you do the math.' Last time I checked it was mathematics so surely the shortened term is maths'. Grrr." Shamrock Steve says. "'Awesome', 'moving forward', 'shoot you an email,'" another grrr. Allan Hailstone says, "Stopping me in London and asking 'Can you tell me the way to Oxford?' when actually they mean Oxford Street." Yeah, that can be quite irritating, actually. And lastly, Tati Ivanova says, "'I was like' and 'omg', often used together and 'you guys are awesome'." So, what do you think about that Allyson? Are those all phrases that you think that are slightly irritating or can you understand or do you think those are the kind of phrases that you might use, say, yourself?
Allyson: Oh certainly I don't use them myself. I can see why they're irritating. I find them irritating. But with the American accent, somehow, those phrases are about enthusiasm and what isn't coming across and doesn't come across in print is the enthusiasm behind those words. So, omg, said by an American, is an enthusiastic, emphatic expression. Written as 'omg ' you lose all of that meaning and emotion. So, I tend to agree with some of your viewers that these words, just in writing, don't convey the same meaning, really.
Jake: Allyson, brilliant. Thank you so much for coming in today.
Allyson: Thank you.