Don’t Blame the Americans for this One!

By Maeve Maddox

Ever since the 17th century, our English cousins have been blaming Americans for distorting, weakening, or vulgarizing the English language.

For many, the term “Americanism” next to a word in the dictionary is a warning to avoid using it.

Well, a recent press release from the Old Country puts paid to the idea that the English language is more respected in its land of origin than it is in the New World.

Here’s the headline in the Telegraph:

Councils ban ‘elitist’ and ‘discriminatory’ Latin phrases”

In a story that sounds more like an April Fool’s Day joke than a bona fide news story, we are informed that several English City Councils have forbidden their employees to use specific Latin words and phrases.

What are some of these dreadful, incomprehensible, elitist horrors?

Here are some examples:

bona fide, e.g., ad lib,
etc., i.e., per se,
quid pro quo,
vice versa, via,
status quo”

If any of these elitist expressions are unfamiliar to you, do something outrageous: look them up in an English dictionary.

(You may also wish to browse Daniel’s compendium of Latin expressions.)

What is the reasoning behind this official purge of common Latin expressions in English?

According to the Bournemouth Council,

Not everyone knows Latin. Many readers do not have English as their first language so using Latin can be particularly difficult.”

I agree that not everyone knows Latin. Sadly, it’s no longer part of the general curriculum. But words and expressions of Latin origin are part of the English language.

Some of these Latin borrowings have been more digested than others, but surely status quo is as “English” as spaghetti.

George Orwell warned us this would happen. In his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the English of the future is called “Newspeak.” It is

“the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year”

One of the characters admires the way every new edition of the dictionary is smaller than the one before it:

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

Read the Telegraph article here.

Discover the principles of Newspeak here.

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


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5 Responses to “Don’t Blame the Americans for this One!”

  • Bill Womack

    It’s sad to see so many productive, useful words being laid off in the great cultural restructuring. Those that are left are invariably saddled with greater responsibility, leading to a language whose words stumble home at the end of each day, too exhausted to play with their children. The fewer words we use, the more meaning that must be crammed into each one, until finally they collapse under the weight of confusion, and obfuscation becomes the status quo.

    Oops, I was accidentally elitist. C’est la vie.

  • PreciseEdit

    Fiat Lux, i.e., let the light shine on simple minds, weak intellects, misguided leaders, etc.

  • Malcolm R. Campbell

    My goodness, not everyone knows a lot of the other languages that have words that have been pulled into English. Are we to throw it all out and begin anew, I wonder?

  • Julia

    Uh, the use of this sign kind of makes the author look bad. This is not a mis-use on the part of the Norwegians!!!

    “Her” is the Norwegian word for “here”. The sign is simply a mixture of using the English phrase and combining it with Norwegian. Only the top phrase is in English, all the other words are in Norwegian!

    Take it from an American who has been living in Oslo for over a decade, this is not a mistake–it just shows that the author doesn’t have a cultural understanding of Norwegian!

  • Julia

    Nevermind, the sign no longer appears on the top of the page so the link between the title of the webpage and the picture visible here were obviously just a coincidence 🙂

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