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Thursday, 3 July , 2008 / Iperione

That’s so British…

Riporto un paragrafo della “BBC News Styleguide” che è possibile trovare da qualche parte sul sito dell’emittente britannica. Riguarda il perenne ed irrisolvibile conflitto fra l’unico, l’originale British English ed il suo clone, chiassoso (e meraviglioso…) American English. Buon Divertimento.


We have really everything
in common with America
nowadays, except, of
course, language.

Oscar Wilde,
The Canterville Ghost

One of the things which most exercises our listeners and viewers is our use of words and constructions
which we are accused of slavishly copying from the United States. American English is virtually
everywhere. It is the language of international agencies such as the United Nations and the World
Bank; American films, music and television programmes bring it into our homes; magazines and
wire services are dominated by it, as is the internet. Is it any surprise, then, that journalists adopt new
usages, vocabulary and pronunciation?

It is not, but we are not broadcasting for ourselves. Very many people dislike what they see as the
Americanisation of Britain, and they look to the BBC to defend ‘Britishness’ in its broadest sense. In
particular, they demand standard English from us, and we should acknowledge their concerns. At the very
least, we should be conscious of what we are doing when we write our scripts.

We should thank North America for adding greatly to our vocabulary. Some Americanisms are so
embedded in our language that their origin has long been forgotten, for example editorial, peanut,
commuter, nervous, teenager, gatecrasher and babysitter. But new words are constantly queuing at language
immigration control, hoping to be allowed in.

Lambs can be euthanised, he says, but who would care for damaged human children?

This sentence was written by a news correspondent in Washington, and illustrates the American enthusiasm for turning nouns into verbs. English is not averse to the practice, but we should not risk alienating our audience by rushing to adopt new words before their general acceptance at large. Euthanise is not a verb you will find in any dictionary and it has no place in our output. (But who can say what will happen in the future?)

Think about the words you use.Are you happy with authored as in Tony Benn has authored a book? Or
guested as in Sir Michael Caine guested on the Michael Parkinson Show? Would you welcome diarise (enter
into a diary), civilianise (replace military or police staff), or casualise (replace permanent staff)? Standard
English has accepted verbs such as finalise, editorialise, publicise and miniaturise, but will it be so receptive
to others? Our listeners and viewers must not be offended or have their attention diverted by the
words we use.

American speech patterns on the BBC drive some people to distraction.Adding unnecessary prepositions to verbs is guaranteed to cause apoplexy in some households. Problems which were once faced are now faced up to. In North America, people meet with other people. Everywhere else they meet them. British people keep a promise rather than deliver on it. Expressions such as deliver on, head up, check out, free up, consult with, win out, check up on, divide up and outside of are not yet standard English, and they all take more time to say. Even so, these extended forms seem to have great vitality and are rapidly becoming the norm. We have to make a judgement about their acceptability to our listeners and viewers.

There are thousands of differences between British English and American English, in spelling, grammar and
vocabulary. British people use car parks not parking lots, having bought petrol rather than gasoline, and
worry about transport issues rather than transportation.We throw stones, not rocks, because in standard English a rock is too large to pick up. Our lawyers appear in court; their attorneys appear in courtrooms.We take bodies to a mortuary;American dead are taken to a morgue. Our workers get pay rises not hikes.

Many American words and expressions have impact and vigour, but use them with discrimination or your
audience may become a tad irritated.


Leave a Comment
  1. Etta Add / Jul 3 2008 7:51 PM

    “Adding unnecessary prepositions to verbs is guaranteed to cause apoplexy in some households…”

    (Ehm… so, I must believe you don’t know Giovanno Masotto!)

  2. ermes / Oct 8 2008 1:16 PM

    «What would be a good word for things like ATMs or drugstores “that seem ubiquitous when you aren’t looking for them but that are nowhere to be found when you are”?»

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