Bêtes Noires

Let me add two bits about the now-famous list of 50 egregious Americanisms submitted by BBC News Magazine readers. Or, rather, let me rearrange the list into groups, according to my feelings about each expression. I won’t address the linguistic question of whether these are genuine Americanisms, or the social question of what this list says about anti-Americanism in Britain.

For more commentary, see these posts from the Economist and the New Yorker.

My own seven bêtes noires

Going forward? If I do I shall collide with my keyboard. Ric Allen, Matlock

I was shocked and disappointed to find that Johnson, the Economist’s language blogger doesn’t seem to mind this pompous phrase. (Johnson wrote: “If you cannot understand metaphorical language, colliding with your keyboard is the least of your worries.  A visit to the neurologist may be in order.”)

And I was not alone. On the Economist website, under the post, Alec Ryrie commented:

I never thought I’d see anyone defend ‘going forward’, let alone The Economist.

It’s not an Americanism: it’s just a barbarism, an extended form of the word ‘um’, used to fill a gap in speech with meaninglessness.

“Reach out to” when the correct word is “ask”. For example: “I will reach out to Kevin and let you know if that timing is convenient”. Reach out? Is Kevin stuck in quicksand? Is he teetering on the edge of a cliff? Can’t we just ask him? Nerina, London

Having an “issue” instead of a “problem”. John, Leicester

Pity about this, but issue seems to be one of the great winners of the first years of the new century.

The word I hate to hear is “leverage”. Pronounced lev-er-ig rather than lee-ver -ig. It seems to pop up in all aspects of work. And its meaning seems to have changed to “value added”. Gareth Wilkins, Leicester

Leverage, of course, is only an obscenity when used as a verb.

“Touch base” – it makes me cringe no end. Chris, UK

A “heads up”. For example, as in a business meeting. Lets do a “heads up” on this issue. I have never been sure of the meaning. R Haworth, Marlborough

I hate the word “deliverable”. Used by management consultants for something that they will “deliver” instead of a report. Joseph Wall, Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire

Expressions that bother me when I hear them, but not quite as much as the bêtes noires do (5/50)

I really hate the phrase: “Where’s it at?” This is not more efficient or informative than “where is it?” It just sounds grotesque and is immensely irritating. Adam, London

Where it’s at is atrocious, but no objection to Where It’s At.

When people ask for something, I often hear: “Can I get a…” It infuriates me. It’s not New York. It’s not the 90s. You’re not in Central Perk with the rest of the Friends. Really.” Steve, Rossendale, Lancashire

“Oftentimes” just makes me shiver with annoyance. Fortunately I’ve not noticed it over here yet. John, London

“Normalcy” instead of “normality” really irritates me. Tom Gabbutt, Huddersfield

The one I can’t stand is “deplane”, meaning to disembark an aircraft, used in the phrase “you will be able to deplane momentarily”. TykeIntheHague, Den Haag, Holland

Gulliver, the Economist’s business travel blog, has a great post on airplane jargon.

Expressions that may make the speaker sound like a boob but don’t bother me (14/50)

“I could care less” instead of “I couldn’t care less” has to be the worst. Opposite meaning of what they’re trying to say. Jonathan, Birmingham

“Turn that off already”. Oh dear. Darren, Munich

The next time someone tells you something is the “least worst option”, tell them that their most best option is learning grammar. Mike Ayres, Bodmin, Cornwall

To “medal” instead of to win a medal. Sets my teeth on edge with a vengeance. Helen, Martock, Somerset

I admit that this one would probably bother me if I watched sports. But not as much as the advertisements would.

Using 24/7 rather than “24 hours, 7 days a week” or even just plain “all day, every day”. Simon Ball, Worcester

My pet hate is “winningest”, used in the context “Michael Schumacher is the winningest driver of all time”. I can feel the rage rising even using it here. Gayle, Nottingham

The phrase I’ve watched seep into the language (especially with broadcasters) is “two-time” and “three-time”. Have the words double, triple etc, been totally lost? Grammatically it makes no sense, and is even worse when spoken. My pulse rises every time I hear or see it. Which is not healthy as it’s almost every day now. Argh! D Rochelle, Bath

People that say “my bad” after a mistake. I don’t know how anything could be as annoying or lazy as that. Simon Williamson, Lymington, Hampshire

I’ll never forget how fond my mother (a retired schoolteacher) was of this phrase. She liked it because it allowed her pupils to admit fault without being uncool.

Eaterie. To use a prevalent phrase, oh my gaad! Alastair, Maidstone (now in Athens, Ohio)

I enjoy Americanisms. I suspect even some Americans use them in a tongue-in-cheek manner? “That statement was the height of ridiculosity”. Bob, Edinburgh

This is an interesting point, and I agree with it. I suppose the difference between ridiculosity, which, however suspect it may be grammatically, is perfectly sound from a moral perspective, and the vile going forward, is that the one is born of enthusiasm and the other is born of self-importance.

“Hike” a price. Does that mean people who do that are hikers? No, hikers are ramblers! M Holloway, Accrington

I am increasingly hearing the phrase “that’ll learn you” – when the English (and more correct) version was always “that’ll teach you”. What a ridiculous phrase! Tabitha, London

“I’m good” for “I’m well”. That’ll do for a start. Mike, Bridgend, Wales

I hate “alternate” for “alternative”. I don’t like this as they are two distinct words, both have distinct meanings and it’s useful to have both. Using alternate for alternative deprives us of a word. Catherine, London

Expressions that don’t sound like perversions to me, but which are certainly overused (2/50)

“It is what it is”. Pity us. Michael Knapp, Chicago, US

I’ve always liked this one, especially when spoken by Donald Rumsfeld, but it’s true that it’s overused. (Rumsfeld: “You can call that defense, as I do, or you can call it preemptive, but it is what it is.”)

Is “physicality” a real word? Curtis, US

Expressions I was glad to see on the list, that I might avoid them in the future (2/50)

My favourite one was where Americans claimed their family were “Scotch-Irish”. This of course it totally inaccurate, as even if it were possible, it would be “Scots” not “Scotch”, which as I pointed out is a drink. James, Somerset

The most annoying Americanism is “a million and a half” when it is clearly one and a half million! A million and a half is 1,000,000.5 where one and a half million is 1,500,000. Gordon Brown, Coventry

Expressions that seem fine to me (2/50)

Dare I even mention the fanny pack? Lisa, Red Deer, Canada

I would guess that Lisa is offended by fanny packs themselves, rather than the words that name them.

As an expat living in New Orleans, it is a very long list but “burglarize” is currently the word that I most dislike. Simon, New Orleans

Mere differences between the two Englishes, which the British might be right to object to, but which shouldn’t bother anybody on this side of the Atlantic (10/50)

Surely the most irritating is: “You do the Math.” Math? It’s MATHS. Michael Zealey, London

I caught myself saying “shopping cart” instead of shopping trolley today and was thoroughly disgusted with myself. I’ve never lived nor been to the US either. Graham Nicholson, Glasgow

I hear more and more people pronouncing the letter Z as “zee”. Not happy about it! Ross, London

My worst horror is expiration, as in “expiration date”. Whatever happened to expiry? Christina Vakomies, London

I’m a Brit living in New York. The one that always gets me is the American need to use the word bi-weekly when fortnightly would suffice just fine. Ami Grewal, New York

I do wish we used fortnightly, because that would allow bi-weekly to mean only twice a week, rather than either that or every other week.

Period instead of full stop. Stuart Oliver, Sunderland

“Bangs” for a fringe of the hair. Philip Hall, Nottingham

What kind of word is “gotten”? It makes me shudder. Julie Marrs, Warrington

Take-out rather than takeaway! Simon Ball, Worcester

Train station. My teeth are on edge every time I hear it. Who started it? Have they been punished? Chris Capewell, Queens Park, London

The point here is that Britons say railway station.

Puzzling/Miscellaneous (7/50)

Transportation. What’s wrong with transport? Greg Porter, Hercules, CA, US

“A half hour” instead of “half an hour”. EJB, Devon

Does nobody celebrate a birthday anymore, must we all “turn” 12 or 21 or 40? Even the Duke of Edinburgh was universally described as “turning” 90 last month. When did this begin? I quite like the phrase in itself, but it seems to have obliterated all other ways of speaking about birthdays. Michael McAndrew, Swindon

To “wait on” instead of “wait for” when you’re not a waiter – once read a friend’s comment about being in a station waiting on a train. For him, the train had yet to arrive – I would have thought rather that it had got stuck at the station with the friend on board. T Balinski, Raglan, New Zealand

To put a list into alphabetical order is to “alphabetize it” – horrid! Chris Fackrell, York

My brother now uses the term “season” for a TV series. Hideous. D Henderson, Edinburgh

I hate the fact I now have to order a “regular Americano”. What ever happened to a medium sized coffee? Marcus Edwards, Hurst Green


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