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In a forgotten corner of England’s green and (mostly) pleasant land — sure as the sun rises over the cricket pitch and the flies buzz around the damp thatch atop the old Post Office — some retired Colonel in the home counties will always be writing a grammatically perfect letter to his chosen newspaper, complaining about the “needless Americaniszation” of the English language.
This, despite healthy lexicographical traffic across the pond in both directions for centuries, is something we’re never going to be quite rid of, so here, in the interests of getting along, is a heartfelt thank you for some of the linguistic gifts America has given to the world.
It has recently become a thing among certain types of writer to disparage people who would use the word awesome to describe a milkshake or the fact that you didn’t have to wait too long at the bus stop, when really it should be used to describe a genuinely awe-inspiring experience, like the birth of a child, or end of a war. “Back off the superlatives!” they moan, “or there won’t be any left when something amazing happens.” The problem is, to those writers nothing is ever quite awesome enough. And they’d have been the people moaning about beatniks calling everything cool, even the things that were of above average temperature. So, stuff it. Current linguistic convention beats cynical prissiness every time.
Speaking of youth slang from the past, the hippy favorite dude has become incredibly common among people of a certain age. Hipsters, gamers, overgrown kids, manbabies, that lot. As with all slang, it always gets taken up first by people being ironic, and using it in invisible airquotes, and then eventually without. Suffice to say you can use dude incredibly tenderly, given the right circumstances, and not sound like a total arse.
It is surprising how often you find yourself having to claim that you do something or like something or are available for something all of the time, so it’s very useful to have an expression that not only expresses time as a continuous sweep, but also adds emphasis to every hour and day of, well, every hour and day. I mean it’s not as accurate as 60/60/24/7/12/365, but it’s a lot more concise, and that’s always important in communication.
It’s what people who collect records do to their collection. Until relatively recently, British people would have just called that putting the records in alphabetical order, or having a tidy-up, but now we’ve a better expression for it, even if it does come with that troublesome z on the end. Plus it looks a little like a spell, and that’s always fun.
From circus attraction to rulers of the world in just a few short decades. That’s the American Dream, right there.
On the other hand, British teenagers used to go to discos and balls, and now they go to proms. This is your fault, America.
A far more attractive name for an adjustable spanner than adjustable spanner. However, spanner is a far more attractive word for a wrench than wrench. Can I suggest we all adopt monkey spanner in future? It would please me.
Before the advent of American films and TV, taking sporting language and using it in the workplace, the only definition that could have fit the word rookie would have been to describe how much like a blackbird or crow something is. Or the castle in chess. Now the more basic the error, the more of a rookie mistake it is.
From The Get-Go
Another controversial one, in that some people like this expression for being colorful and pleasing on the tongue, and others want to kill those people for being idiots. Me, I’m ambivalent. On a scale of irritation, from 1 to 10, where 1 is hello and 10 is the eternally annoying could care less, from the get-go scores a steady 4, alongside such hardy perennials as you do the math or putting period at the end of a firmly expressed thought.
I have to admit to loving this particular vocal tic. There is no sentence that cannot be improved (or, more to the point, rendered more juvenile and bratty, which is always an improvement in my book) without the inclusion of the classic teenspeak like…SO….
Here are some examples:
“To be or not to be: that is, like, SO the question”
“Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will, like, SO have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
“Ich bin, like, SO a Berliner”
Why not, like, SO write some of your own?
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic