You say tomato…
I blame Freddie Laker. In the 1970s he opened up the world to ordinary people, with the development of Laker Airways, probably the first no-frills airline we’d known. No longer did we have to be content with Lloret de Mar, we could travel further afield, to the USA, thanks to Freddie and his low-cost flights.
When we arrived in the US we were suddenly faced with restaurant and shop staff telling us to ‘have a nice day’. Back then, most of us found it rather irritating – particularly as they didn’t mean it – but it didn’t matter too much, because after two weeks we could return home to our proper English language, the irritation fading as fast as our tans.
The 80s and 90s saw a rapid increase in the number of US TV programmes on our tellies, and the growth in Britain of US retail chains, and then the internet and social media brought all things American even closer. So suddenly we were faced with that idiosyncratic way with the English language, both in our homes and when out shopping. There was no escape. We were hearing ‘can I get’ instead of ‘please may I have’, and ‘oriented’ instead of ‘orientated’, as in ‘they’re family-orientated’. Misuse of the words ‘bring’ and ‘take’ also come to mind, for example ‘I’m going to bring the kids to school’ rather than ‘I’m going to take the kids to school’.
My own personal bugbears are ‘super’ being used as an adjective, eg ‘super-exciting’ – it’s not – and perhaps the most over-used word of all – ‘like’, as used at least five times in every sentence by almost everyone from13 to 30.
Gap years spent in Australia have also influenced our language, introducing ‘no worries’ into everyday parlance, and ‘I’m good’ instead of ‘I’m well’ in answer to the question ‘How are you?’.
Whereas at school we were encouraged to have a pen pal, which necessitated the buying of airmail paper and stamps, and waiting excitedly for a reply to our letters, the Noughties introduced social media. That, of course, did away with having to wait for the postman to deliver a reply (which was half the fun), as people can now ‘talk’ to the whole of the world in real time, through Twitter, Facebook and a whole host of other social media platforms, picking up even more buzzwords and phrases as they go.
Language is not the only part of our lives that has been influenced. Nowadays Halloween, with its trick or treating, is huge over here (great for ‘candy’ manufacturers and fancy dress suppliers). Proms are also very popular now – big business for venue owners, limo companies and dress-shops, but hugely expensive for parents.
I wonder what will come next. Will we soon start to celebrate Thanksgiving, or adopt the American way of spelling, such as traveling, totaling, center? Or the Australian g’day or bonza?
As if children didn’t have enough to learn, with their love of US cartoons, games and films, they now need to differentiate between what’s correct grammar and spelling over here, and what they’re exposed to in their leisure time.
Michael Gove is championing a return to more ‘traditional’ teaching of subjects such as English. I think he has, like, a mountain to climb.