English: Snacking on a Tree, near to Everton, ...
English: Snacking on a Tree, near to Everton, Bedfordshire, Great Britain. An afternoon snack in the driveway to Woodbury Hall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A while back, Mr. Scalzi wrote about The New York Times calling him a “pretentious git” because he described something using a well-known, U.K. phrase. You can read about it here on Mr. Scalzi’s blog. And here’s the offending article.

You should read the NYT article. The author (Mr. Alex Williams) even attacks the use of ‘cheers’. I use that all the time. I never thought it specific to Britain. I mean, New Zealander’s use it (of course, because, guess what, they speak English, too) and wasn’t there that American show popular in the 80’s and 90’s called CheersWikipedia lists ‘cheers’ as a common, informal email valediction.

I just don’t see that word belonging only to Britons, so I was a bit surprised to see it included in the many British phrases that are filtering over the pond.

Here’s part of Mr. Scalzi’s response to the article:

I intend to enjoy as much of the English language as possible, and snack on other languages when it suits me. Because it’s fun and because language is meant to be used. Others do not approve? C’est la vie.

We all snack on each other’s language. Hell, I even take on the gait and lilt of my friends’ speech patterns. If you spend a lot of time with me, before you know it, you’ll hear phrases and speech patterns that sound eerily familiar. I’ve even lost a couple of budding friendships because of it. My new-found acquaintances thought I was making fun of them. I’m pretty sure one of ’em thought my speech mimicry was some bizarre mental illness. (Wait, maybe it is…)

Anyway, it is not like I’m great at it, but I do find myself doing it (I even passed for a New Zealander once!) and I’ve never thought anything of it. I even do it with my writing. I use the Canadian ‘eh’, the Spanish ‘no’, and the ubiquitous Californian ‘whatever’ with abandonment, and even mix-and-match to suit my mood.

Why on earth anyone would fault someone else for borrowing words and phrases from either another country or language is beyond me. We do it all the time, don’t we?  Every day, every second of our lives, we do it. Isn’t that how we, well, learn language? Learn to communicate with each other?

Which is why I liked Mr. Scalzi’s statement: Language, English or not, is meant to be used.

Until later, snack on words til ya burst at the seams.


21 thoughts on “Snacking

  1. Isn’t the NYT calling an author pretentious a little “Pot, meet kettle”?

    I love that you suffer from Unconscious Mimicry Syndrome – I do too. I used to worry when I was in retail and had an English customer that I would start giving them back the accent. After I watch a British movie, it takes a long time for my accent to revert. I don’t do it on purpose – can’t help it.

    “Pretentious” is defined as “characterized by assumption of dignity or importance; making an exaggerated outward show; ostentatious”. I hardly think it’s any of that to pick up a phrase you happen to like and use it when it happens to fit a given circumstance perfectly, wherever it’s from. Scalzi mentions “le mot juste” in his response – sometimes le mot juste is not un mot from the area where one was born. So there.

    Of COURSE someone who loves Doctor Who is going to start calling redheads “gingers”. Twits. “Americans say ‘cheers’ like Dick Van Dyke in ‘Mary Poppins,’ with too much enthusiasm. It must be delivered laconically.” Bollocks.

    I probably qualify as a pretentious git under these standards quite often (lets “quite” sit there quietly and unremarked), if for no other reason than I read a lot of British books and watch a lot of British *ahem* telly, and I have British friends online. I’m not doing it for effect. I read. I write. I’m a jackdaw – I pick up pretty shiny things wherever I find them. Live with it. Or don’t. I don’t really care. Just don’t get shirty about it. 🙂

    1. I’m with you here too, I also will find my speech pattern shifting based on those I am interacting with. When I was younger I spent vacation time in New England for a few weeks each summer, when I returned to the mid-west I had adopted the accent as well as other regional dialect. Ginder’s anyone?

      I think it is something fairly common with actors and writers, it just has to do with how we think.

  2. I do like the NYT but that was a silly article. In a blog (or every day life) such usage seems quite reasonable. In fiction, I think it could make for an awkward voice depending on the circumstances but there’s hardly a bright line. English is one of the more powerful languages because it is so fluid, creating and borrowing endlessly as well as changing form.

    In particular, it seems a bit silly for someone to call Americans for borrowing expressions from England, Australia, NZ or whereever, given that American-English has been such a “donor” for the last century.

    My favorite “ping-pong” word is ’roundabout’. Sounds so British doesn’t it? Apparently it was created by *American* GIs in England during WW2 for traffic circle and then made its way back to the US. So does that make it British, American or what?

    As for ‘cheers’, that’s nearly indispensible these days and finds a place in professional emails (typically to a coworker but not to someone outside of the company). It’s informal but has become accepted usage.

    Speaking of emails, how about the salutation? I must confess I was a bit of a diehard and it took me a long time to drop the comma after ‘Hi’

    Hi, Sam,


    Hi Sam,

    No one uses the first comma any more, not even my editor friends. Well, almost no one, I still see if from some people for whom English is not their first language. For example, some people I work with in Japan still use the comma.

    1. I waffle with that comma. Sometimes I include it, sometimes not.

      I did not know that about roundabout! I’m pretty sure in New Zealand ’roundabout’ is on all their official signage and literature:

      Have you ever been on a drilling rig? Those guys/gals have a (dirty) language all of their own. But when they use specific words for some specialize activity – it fits – perfectly. Why not use it for other circumstances that evoke the original?

      And, yes, I like the NYT, too. I imagine they were trying to get folks talking about language. But the author does sound serious, huh?

    2. The problem with missing punctuation is that it can change meanings entirely and many a relationship has foundered on a missed comma in a message because the meaning has been misunderstood. This was true even before the days of electronic communication.

      Read Lynne Truss’s book “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” to be fully enlightened. Commas should not be held in contempt. Punctuation is there to make sense of text.

      With grammar-checking on computer now, there is no excuse to get it wrong. People are just getting lazy with language and it can lead to all sorts of trouble. Some misunderstood meanings could lead you into legal hot water!

  3. Considering how many “American” English words have been imported into “British” English, this was inevitable. I rarely think anything of it except in a few exceptional circumstance (profanities such as w*nker and b*llcoks never sound right coming from Americans). I do remember being surprised though on an early episode of Lost when John Locke asked another character who had “pinched” something (only because I’d never heard an American use that word before – we use it to mean “stolen”).

    Language evolves. People on both sides of the Atlantic need to get over it.

  4. I, too, suffer from Unconscious Mimicry Syndrome. It’s inherited – my mother had it, too. I even convinced a Yorkshire woman that I came from Yorkshire because, in conversation with her, I had slipped into her speech. She asked me which part of Yorkshire i came from, which was a bit embarrassing, as I come from the south coast of England, a long way from Yorkshire and I apologised, because I had not intended being rude. It was a great achievement on my part, in reality, because no Yorkshire person would ever think they would make such a mistake. I think I should have gone into acting because such s skill could be very useful in that profession!

    1. Is that a real syndrome? Blimey, I never knew. 😉

      I imagine that everyone does it, some more than others, and especially when we were/are young. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

  5. There’s a posh name for that – when you end up speaking like those you talk to a lot – it’s called convergence. It can be embarrassing at times, but I think it is (as someone up there said) to do with humans having empathy. I reckon it’s a way we can show we’re on the same wavelength. Interesting read 🙂

    1. Ah, yes, convergence! It is normally sometime I associate with streams and other natural processes, but I guess it works for language, too. Thanks for the comment and for stopping by. 🙂

  6. Ah, convergence – so now I know it really has a name. Thanks.
    By the way, I am finding this hard to read. The font is very small and black on blue doesn’t stand out. The pale blue is almost impossible to read. I know my eyesight isn’t as good as it was but I’ve just got some new glasses and I still find this hard to read. Maybe it’s me but I would suggest you choose a different colour scheme – or even a ‘color’ scheme.(Color is how the English used to spell it. I don’t know when or why the u was put into similar words.)

    1. Oh, sorry about the new look. I was looking for something completely different, not unreadable!

      I’ll see if I can adjust any of those settings. This is a free template, so maybe not. If that is the case, I’ll probably have to try a different template. Thanks for the heads up!

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