Do the Americans speak English?

uncle-samAmerica and Britain are divided by a common language – Oscar Wilde (?)

In the early 60’s I went to a school that was run by a strict Irish nun. Mother Patrick tried sincerely to teach us Queen’s English and nearly succeeded; all my life I have been trying to master this foreign language by her standards.
Suddenly, nobody understands Queen’s English anymore; in fact the Queen doesn’t even own English nowadays! It appears that the Americans, the “crony capitalists” (Thanks Kejriwal, for popularising that expression) have made a hostile take-over of English Inc.! You don’t believe me? Here’s proof.

  • In our days, an oversight was an unintended error. If you said, “by oversight I left my ticket at home, so the conductor threw me out” you might elicit sympathy. But the Americans have made it a virtue, because they are talking of governance. When someone says “Mr. P Chidambaram’s responsibility included complete oversight of Fiscal policy”, I am not sure whether I ought to agree.
  • So what if in the US, you were guilty of an oversight that cannot be remedied? No problem, you remediate it. (Perhaps that is a more complex process?). And if someone helped you in the remediation, would you be obliged to him? Most probably not, since you would like to be obligated to him; that is a richer expression that he would be entitled to, after the more complex remediation.
  • When someone addressed the public, we said “Mr. Archimedes delivered a speech titled ‘Displacement Principle’”. That did not entitle Mr. Archimedes to anything else. Entitling someone would mean vesting him with a right; like “the tax-payer is entitled to a logical explanation”. Not anymore! If Archimedes made a Microsoft Power-point presentation, (that wonderful tool by which you can say less with more slides) it would be entitled ‘Displacement Principle’. Entitled to what, I wonder.
  • I am completely confused by the positioning of adjectives. For example, the use of the word better: When my mother told me “You better eat the spinach”, it was delivered with authority, and punitive provisions for failure. But when Mr. Obama invites Mr. Modi for a meeting so that “Modi could better understand US Policy”, Modi is not offended by this threat at all. Is it because he already understands Foreign Policy better? Or is it because he has full oversight of Foreign Policy? Could he have got this oversight without diving deep into the subject? Apparently he could, because he already deep-dived into it. Now, deep-dive is exactly the kind of verb that would have had Mother Patrick all at sea. (Those who split the infinitive had no place in her Heaven).
  •  Then there is this deplorable word – frickin. Microsoft Spell-check diplomatically ignores this word, which is the bowdlerised version of the more forthright f***ing. But the intent of both the f-words in Americanese is not to describe that delightful human activity, but to punctuate the sentence. Now when the English language already has 14 punctuation marks, why the frickin hell do you need the 15th?

American English is different than English English — why all the fuss, ask the Americans. I say, American English is different from English English, not than English English. Than indicates a comparative degree, whereas from indicates complete departure. Since American English does not have anything to do with English English or anything remotely resembling English, from is the right preposition. I rest my case.

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One thought on “Do the Americans speak English?

  1. Oh – there are too many ‘Englishes’ nowadays. Sometimes I read stuff that leaves me wondering if my English has gone bad! Thank God for blog posts like these that makes me feel sane once more 🙂

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