The American Way


We’re all guilty of using “Americanisms”. My friend from Aberdeen is the spokeswoman for DUDE, I revel in the AWESOMENESS of everything and even my dad is partial to throwing in a BUDDY every now and then. The biggest explanation as to why we’ve adopted so much American slang is surely the influence of US film and television. For example, the main character in The Big Lebowski is The Dude- everyone wants to be The Dude, he made milk cool again, for God’s sake. Thanks to Mean Girls we were both reacquainted with “skank” and introduced to “skeez”, and programmes like Friends, a show that plays several times every day in syndication and has done so for nearly twenty years, are responsible for the “Oh my God” and “like” pandemics that spread across the English speaking world. Diablo Cody, the writer of Juno, has been praised for the way in which she managed to engage with and portray the way American teenagers actually speak, and because of the movie’s worldwide success, we have picked up some Juno-isms like “food baby” and wanted to be as smart, witty and irreverent as she can be. While we might not all go around repeating every new word we hear on this week’s episode of Girls or chronicling the way Jersey Shore cast members speak,  the language and phrases British audiences are exposed to by the US media definitely have the ability to shape the way we talk.

But why are we so influenced by the way Americans speak? The answer to seemingly every question regarding anything vaguely cultural or significant in the 21st century is technology and the growth of the internet; thanks to sites like Facebook, Twitter and even Urban Dictionary, people are capable of ascertaining fad slang faster than ever before and on an even greater international scale. I present LOL, something that started as convenient text speak and has become a word our grandparents use (perhaps a slight an exaggeration- but congrats if your grandparents manage to slip it into conversation). I know, sadly, from personal experience the boundary you cross when the text abbreviation you once used “totally ironically” accidentally becomes part of your vocabulary. And it sticks. So some kitsch phrase that starts spreading round US university campuses becomes a meme, which in turn spreads over the Atlantic and beyond, like lyrical Swine flu.

It’s also possible that we speak like Americans because we want to be like them; we speak like the characters in Friends because they’re what we aspire to be- good looking, funny, in pretty decent jobs, and living in the best city in the world. And it’s not hard to understand why this idealism exists when you look at the saturation of American culture in our everyday British existence, if there is such a thing. Everything from watching another season of your favourite HBO programme to being greeted with “Welcome to the pier, dude” if/when you walk into Hollister has generated a definite affinity for all things American. Perhaps engaging in US culture possesses an element of escapism- is it more exciting to be from the Bronx than from Ibrox?

But things are changing. We’re currently seeing yet another “British invasion” in the States, where the best we have to offer are being welcomed with big, chubby open arms in so many different areas. In music, One Direction and Adele, as well as Mumford and Sons, have obviously made an enormous impact in the last two years with unparalleled success in the album and singles charts, while in TV, Downton Abbey, Luther and Sherlock are all part of this cultural phenomenon too. It’s not as if British culture has never played a significant part in the US, but it is rare that acts and programmes are so collectively successful at the same time. And in an age where everything can be “liked”, retweeted and shared, word of mouth has never been easier to spread.

So how far will our cross-cultural language exchange take us? Will everyone throughout the UK end up adding a question-like inflexion to the end of every sentence and using “super” as the go-to adjective for everything? Probably not- but with technology advancing as quickly as it seems to be, each country will continue undoubtedly to share the best- and worst- parts of its culture with the other. But if “bro” ever passes my lips without a hint of irony, I will implement a self-imposed exile immediately.

[Jonny Stone]

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