I am, for what is in desperate need of another word, a Grammar Nazi. I annoy countless people with my ‘You mean “could have”’s, and my ‘Where are your glasses’es, and the less said about my pronunciation of ‘waistcoat’ the better.
And for this, I am sorry. Being pedantic is one of my most antisocial of middle-class habits.
But here’s something: I love an Americanism. Not just because, in the right circles, it makes you seem travelled and/or cosmopolitan, but because they usually sound more graceful. Although, honestly it began with pedantry as well.
Someone at sixth form asked me about the -ise/ize confusion in some words. I explained to them that, traditionally in English, we should use a ‘z’, bar a list of [I can’t remember how many] exceptions. That’s what Oxford do. You don’t get much more technically correct (the best kind of correct) than Oxford. However, recently, the British use an ‘s’ for all cases*, whereas the Americans (and I’m guessing, Canadians, Australians, Kiwis, South Africans…) still know where the ‘z’ should go. That ‘someone at sixth form’ told me that I’d just lost all credibility by citing the American standard use, and that he would defiantly not use it. Ugh. Sorry, but I can’t tell that story in a way that makes them sound reasonable, that’s just straight-up racism, no?
So that grace I alluded to earlier? Well, Americanisms usually show they’re working, from the words’ Greek or Latin roots we get ‘center’, ‘color’, ‘defense’ and our good friend ‘organize’. Maybe it just comes down to taste but they look nicer, don’t they?
Maybe I just prefer exceptions to rules, but I think that’s true generally of people. Have you ever seen a list of the most beautiful English words? Lots of ‘languor’, ‘denouement’, ‘onomatopoeia’, and don’t get me started on the mess that is the spelling of ‘pyrrhic’. Yet they are considered beautiful, and I think that this is because they stand out, and cause the eye to inspect an unusual combination of letters making familiar vowel sounds. Everyone loves vowel sounds. My poetry lecturer recently described them as speech’s lubricant.
The mileage in brilliance, if not exactly grace, in Americanisms is limited not only to spelling conventions. For example, the pronunciation of ‘stupid’ without the iotated ‘u’ (i.e. stoo-pid) will always sound onomatopoeically** truer to its meaning, and need not be reflective to the person speaking. Unless they do the deep=dumb voice.
Furthermore, exclaiming that something ‘sucks’ really helps get one’s point across effectively, and will only be a dumbing-down of the conversation if you let it. The same goes for referring to someone as a ‘jerk’. They’re just better at mild insults than us Brits.
I think it’s because we spend so much time being polite, that when we do insult, it’s either so subtle that you have to be aware of a centuries-old etiquette and class system to be aware that we’re being insulting at all, or we fly off the handle using the most vulgar of terms. Honestly, look at distinctively British swear words: ‘wanker’, ‘bollocks’, ‘bellend’. God, I hate this island sometimes. We’re all jerks, and I mean that sincerely.
*Dan’s grammar and spelling tip: ‘all cases’ rules are in all cases, not true.
**Yeah, that’s right.