LETTERS FROM LONDON
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
30 August 2014
Some Awesome Awe

That lovely melodic word, ‘marvellous’, has been replaced by that harsh, grating
‘awesome’. Augh. I have always had a serious aversion to the word. Always. It's
the equivalent of a high-five. Augh. Equally annoying. Really annoying.
Awesome is often accentuated by that hand slapping gesture...and possibly a
jump in the air. Dumb and dumber dumbing down.

I like ‘awe’ – who doesn’t? ‘Awe-inspiring’ has a certain, je ne sais quoi, grace
or cachet, non? Picture the aurora borealis. Good. Now is that really simply
‘awesome’? And what’s wrong with ‘amazing’? Overuse is not an excuse. We all
like amazing.

Awe shouldn’t be confused with ‘aw’ as in ‘aw shucks’. Now we’re getting to the
source of the problem. Americanisms. For 20 years traditional British words
have slowly been replaced by Americanisms. Surely you’ve noticed. But then
again, maybe not since you are using them.

In 2014 the word 'awesome' appears 72 times per million words compared to
'marvellous', which has fallen in use from 155 times per million 20 years ago to
only two times per million today. Not so bloody bloomin’ marvellous.

Researchers at Cambridge University and Lancaster University charted the
gradual loss, decline, change, exchange. They have told us if we use 'cheerio',
'pussy cat', 'marmalade', fetch and 'fortnight', no one will comprehend.

You could say Americans speak in clichés versus Britons speak in visually
descriptive speech. Well, you could. American language is short, succinct and
economical with emphasis on every word including ‘the’ and ‘a’. Obama is quite
a master of this approach to annunciation. Lest we forget the ubiquitous ‘fillers’:
ya know and like, fer sher.

It’s got me thinking...give it a little think...it shouldn’t bear thinking about...it’s
beyond thinking about...have a thought...I’d like to think...I need a re-think...
what’s your thinking on that? Or I could have simply said: like yuh know, wadda
yuh think....

Researchers are thinking it’s the digital revolution and America's growing
influence on our culture which have dramatically changed the way Britons
speak. We are no longer ‘little Britain’. We’re now ‘little America’ – the 51st
state. Our brands, our culture, our films and television, our music, our sports,
our cuisine, our health care, our services, our economy no longer ours. Can’t
we at least keep our language? Evidently not. Notice I didn’t mention the
additional changes: teeth whitening, plastic surgery, celebrity obsession,
children’s parties, proms, twerking, Halloween, ad inf. Oops. I have now.

‘It’s a cracker!’ is now – a cracker – an American cracker such as (always a
favourite brand to boycott) Kraft. And while you are altering the language you
speak, forget ‘bickie’ – say goodbye to biscuit. It’s clearly ‘cookie’. Say
goodbye to jumper, trainers, cinema, football. Not football! No. I refuse. It’s
football – get it?
Foot – ball. We must hold out for football and autumn. No ‘fall’!

Language expert Professor Tony McEnery, from the ESRC Centre for Corpus
Approaches to Social Science at Lancaster University, said: “The rise of
'awesome' seems to provide evidence of American English's influence on
British speakers.” Keep schtum; pronunciation is an inevitability.

A research intern, Michael Pollitt, at the Legatum Institute, London worries the
UK education system is failing to produce enough students with foreign
language skills. That leaves us with American English, doesn’t it? He says
“machines won’t come to the rescue...The problem lies in the machine’s
inability to consider the cultural context that gives each word its meaning. The
French idiom
se taper le cul par terre, for example, is understood by every
Francophone as ‘to laugh heartily’ and has little to do with the literal definition
offered by Google – ‘ass banging on the floor’.” What?

Well, cheerio. Oh dear. Should I have said “Yo dude. Laydda”?
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