It was with horror that I read a recent headline claiming that Americanised English was slowly but surely taking over the world. As a copy editor for many years in Dubai, the number of occasions I slammed the delete button to replace a letter here or add the missing parts of a mangled sentence there doesn’t bear thinking about. As a general lover of the written word, I would go home with my index finger throbbing and enlarged like a pink apple, my poor heart suffering the effects of hypertension, which will come back to haunt me in later life, no doubt.
While I couldn’t possibly befriend someone who uses the word ‘awesome’ more times than they blink, the number of people I overheard in Dubai uttering the word to describe something as banal as meeting to go for a sandwich was just too much, each emission a little jab to my already weakened heart.
This news of the invasion on what I prefer to call ‘English English’ shook me to my core as a native English speaker (yes, I’m from Northern Ireland and my native language ‘should’ be Irish, but that is a long and tragic story that we don’t have time to go into here, I’m afraid). But as someone who was raised in the English language it is essentially ‘my’ language.
I find myself tutting with indignation at the mere mention of ‘ballpark’ — we don’t have ball parks we have football or Gaelic pitches ... pitches! When I feel like a crunchy treat to wash down with a few gallons of tea I take offence at the suggestion that all, usually circular and crumbly, teatime treats are called ‘cookies’ — there are cookies and there are biscuits, they are not one and the same thing. Bring me the old biscuit staples of custard and bourbon creams any day, but keep your cookies for yourselves (although I’ll admit a penchant for Oreos; the shame).
Haven’t the Americans done enough to the world with their mac and cheese monstrosity and the mountains of burgers with endless food chains churning out the cheap meaty meals by the tonne? And now Trump? Why do Americans hate us (and by ‘us’ I mean the world outside of the United States)? One of my fears over Brexit are the new ‘trade’ deals the United Kingdom will make with the US; people will be in for a shock at the fructose-filled foodstuffs that will soon hit our shelves and anything else increased globalisation will bestow upon us. And more burgers — dear sweet Christopher Columbus — the burgers will flood the market via even more food chains and other devious means.
What are we to do about this? Is it a moral duty of all of us right-thinking members of the global English-English speaking community to correct, nay, admonish anyone caught talking out of term? There must be limits to globalisation. It can’t be allowed to dilute our languages.
But perhaps I’m overthinking. The reasons why English has spread so successfully across the world is due to its less-than-cordial colonisation of nations all over the world, including Ireland. English is a language that was thrust upon my ancestors and which has become my mother tongue, well, more like a stepmother, from a Disney cartoon. When it’s put like that, maybe I should be more forgiving towards our American friends after all.
Come to think of it, I doubt it matters much these days. In 50 years’ time, we’ll all be communicating exclusively through emojis and snapchat-style images of ourselves with dog ears and rainbow tongues. It’ll be awesome.
Christina Curran is a journalist currently studying a Masters in International Relations at Queen’s University, Belfast.