Are Americanisms taking over the British Language?

Below follows Jan van den Berg’s first blogpost:

“American influence is busily eroding a valuable and once firm distinction in British speech and writing” (Amis 1997: 11). This is a quotation from Kingsley Amis’s usage guide The King’s English (1997). As we can tell from these words, Amis is concerned that the British English language is under attack by American influences and he does not seem too happy about it. Secondly, Amis states that certain Americanisms are driving out their British equivalents in British English . These concerns are shared by the Fowler brothers, who in their usage guide from 1906, which carries the same title as the one by Amis, also express their concern: “There is a real danger of our literature’s being Americanized, and that not merely in details of vocabulary – which are all that we are here directly concerned with –  but in its general tone” (Fowler & Fowler 1906: Americanisms).

But is it truly the case that certain Americanisms are replacing, or are in the process of doing so,  their British equivalents in the British English language? A quick look at two different examples  given by Amis in his The King’s English (1997) produced an inconclusive picture. For example, when using Google Ngram viewer (set to English generally) we are able to see that the British noun fortnight (in red) is indeed in the process of being replaced by the American equivalent two weeks (the blue line).

Ngram two weeks fortnight general

Another example mentioned by Amis  is that the British expression a different kettle of fish is experiencing serious competition from its American equivalent a whole new ballgame. However, Google Ngram tells us otherwise (blue for a different kettle of fish, red for a whole new ballgame):

Ngram kettle of fish


When we take a look at this second example from Google Ngram, we find that the expression a different kettle of fish is hardly being threatened by its American counterpart. Consequently, it remains to be seen whether the American influence on the British language is really as great as is being presupposed by our usage guide writer around 1995 (the year of Amis’s death).

So what do you think? Do you as a reader of this blog post and native speaker of British English feel that ‘American influence is busily eroding the British English language’ as Amis claims? Please let me know by sharing your opinion in the poll below. If your answer is ‘yes’ than I am also very much interested in your thoughts on this.


This entry was posted in usage features, usage guide and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Are Americanisms taking over the British Language?

  1. I’d rather see facts about American and British relations than encouraging people to state their feelings on the matter. The feelings are heavily politicized and often led by a number of misbeliefs about language. In a Telegraph article about Americanisms on the BBC, only three of the seven cited examples were American. In the BBC Magazine’s ’50 most noted Americanisms’ 10 or 12 of them (depending on how you think about certain variations in meaning) were of British origin. Many younger British people believe that -ize endings are American incursions in the language, when they have always been part of the British form and only seem to be being lost now as a reaction against perceived Americanisms.

    There’s a good amount of traffic in the other direction as well–see Ben Yagoda’s Not One-Off Britishisms blog.

  2. Alan Rew says:

    US ‘Alternate’ seems to be gradually replacing British ‘alternative’

  3. Scott says:

    “Can I get a… ?”
    “No, but you can have a… “

  4. -ize being written even in the UK instead of -ise

  5. will863813 says:

    The British English versus American English tug of love’s been pulling both ways for a long, long time. Words like fawcett and fall, for example, crossed the Atlantic from East to West along with the Founding Fathers.
    Besides which, there are plenty of markedly distinct varieties of English within each country. If Martin Amis is banging a drum for his preferred variety of English that’s fine, as long as he’s not asking the rest of us to fall into the trap of thinking that it’s anything like as simple as ‘us against them’ (us against the US!). It ain’t!

  6. Pingback: meta/phr(eɪ) Weekly Digest | meta/phr(eɪ)Ze

Leave a Reply to Lynne Murphy (@lynneguist) Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s