BBC News had an uncharacteristically good piece on language by the delightfully named Cordelia Hebblethwaite; it discusses how “British English is invading America” without trying to hype the subject excessively, including sensible quotes by Jesse Sheidlower (who calls it a “very small, but noticeable” trend) and Bill Kretzschmar, professor of English at the University of Georgia (“while the spike in use of some British terms may look dramatic, it is often because they are rising from a very low base. Most are used ‘very infrequently’, he says”). There are quite a few quotes from that personable lexicographer Kory Stamper (don’t miss her blog harm·less drudg·ery):
One new entrant into the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2012 was gastropub (a gentrified pub serving good food), which was first used, according to Kory Stamper, in London’s Evening Standard newspaper in 1996, and was first registered on American shores in 2000.
“The British pub is a very different critter from an American bar,” she says, but bars with good beer and food are springing up in many cities in the US, and the British term is sometimes used to describe them.
Twee (excessively dainty or cute) is another “word of the moment”, says Stamper, as is metrosexual (a well-groomed and fashion-conscious heterosexual man) which “took off like wildfire”, after it was used in the American TV series Queer Eye. There was even a backlash against it – a sure sign, she says, that the word had “absolutely made its way into the American vernacular”.
There are lots of good examples, and even some historical background. Frankly, the only thing that bothered me was the (to me, very surprising) objection to such borrowings on the part of Geoffrey Nunberg, who as a linguist should surely take a more detached view. What on earth is wrong with borrowing, a process that is as inevitable as sound change? Even Jesse Sheidlower (American editor at large of the OED), while not objecting to them en masse, says anyone who says bespoke is just “showing off” (assuming, of course, he was accurately quoted). Hey, people are like magpies, they pick up words that strike their ear and insert them into their conversation; you can call it “showing off” if you like, but that seems peculiarly hostile to me.
I should point out that Nunberg has a Language Log post complaining about the journalist’s talking about him “snapping” and “quivering” with “revulsion”; I understand his irritation at being presented in that way, but since he says she described him, “accurately, as generally deploring the practice,” my point is not affected.
While I’m on the subject of journalism about language, remember Quentin Atkinson’s Science paper about how language came out of Africa (see my irritated post about it)? Well, there’s a nice short takedown by Magnus Pharao Hansen in Anthropology News; don’t miss it if you have any interest in the subject.