The Wall Street Journal often gives style guidance to its writers, and it’s available on the website, under Style & Substance. These monthly bulletins have been compiled by the stylebook editors since 2013, and address a wide variety of topics covered by WSJ writers. Last week I clocked a tweet pointing out something that I’d never really noticed in my 27-year stint in the USA; here’s a screenshot of the entry:
“From next month”. Amusing as their faux outrage is, that was something I never picked up on. Believe me, if a) I’d said it, and b) it had sounded strange to the Americans around me, more than one would have laughed then repeated it back to me immediately. Indeed, had you asked me, I would probably have said that Americans opt for the shorter (quicker) “from” rather than the extra-syllabled “starting” or the laboriously tri-syllabled “beginning”. Clearly, I would have been very wrong.
I’d be interested if anyone has strong feelings either way about this, but I confess I didn’t spend too much time on the matter because of the other glaring conundrum in the clip.
I’m sorry, what did you say?
In all my time of writing about US-UK stuff, I’ve never noticed this word. Personally, I have opted for “Britishism” every time, because well, I’ve been talking about British English. Yes, it’s a bit of a clunker, but it makes sense. We have American-isms and British-isms. (Please don’t tell me there’s an alternative version of “Americanism”.) Given that the trunk of this word is Britic, I then wondered how on earth we’d pronounce it? I would have started with Britic with a hard, k-sounding “c”, but that doesn’t work when you add the “ism” to it. Off I went to do a little research on the topic.
I’m happy to announce that I was at least correct in assuming that the word is supposed to sound like “witticism” with a soft, s-sounding “c”. Here it is being pronounced by someone who knows. (Click on the icon next to the word.) On the other hand, Britic with a hard “c” would have sounded very Viking-like, wouldn’t it? You can just imagine a boat full of Britics sailing the high seas and laying waste to the lands they invaded. It has the same ring to it that Boudicca has, although yes, she was the queen of the Celtic Iceni and was around a lot earlier.
I am gobsmacked to learn, however, that “Briticism” has been a word since 1868! Coined by Richard Grant White, an American literary critic, Shakespearean scholar, journalist, and lawyer, he used the term to criticize Brits for what he saw as their made-up or misused words and he makes some fascinating points in this piece. Words that came into usage in Britain after the cultural split of Americans and Brits were, in his opinion, debased. ( It seems that as far back as 1868 Brits and Americans were arguing over words like “sick” and “ill”.) I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees the irony in an American complaining that the Brits were making up words and spoiling the English language.
In recent years, as Americans picked up British words from Harry Potter and Downton Abbey, there was renewed outrage as what is termed “Anglocreep” in some quarters. Author Jen Doll wrote in this 2012 Atlantic piece, (where she uses the word Britspressions, which doesn’t work for me, sorry) –
“Some people want to stop it! After all, we crossed the pond, we won the war, we shunted off the tea in favor, mostly, of a hell of a lot of coffee, and that’s a good thing.”
Anyway, regarding Briticism versus Britishism, I’m going to cut my cringing self some slack since not only was the word coined by an American, the Collins dictionary very kindly says “also Britishism” in its coverage, and the Thesaurus. Plus website explains that the two are “semantically related”. Phew. Nice to know I didn’t just make up the word and use it willy nilly for three decades.
Another quick internet search shows I’m not the only one either – there’s a blog called “Not One-Off Britishisms”, written by an American to boot! Vogue magazine covered “Britishisms” back in 2016, (written by another American), and the good old BBC took it one step further by not only using “Britishisms”, but the very questionable word “Britishisation”.
Okay, I think I draw the line at Britishisation.