Though credit is somewhat disputed, it is widely believed that George Bernard Shaw said, “Americans and British are one people separated by a common language.” We claim we all speak English, but according to the British, we crude rascals in the ‘States have butchered and debased their language.
We have, indeed, changed the language. When wife Julie and I watch a British movie on television, we are sometimes deploy the device’s subtitle feature to cut through the accents and old-world word usage. Okay, my minor hearing loss—damned mortars in the army—may have something to do with that as well.
However, Americans haven’t just changed the language; we have made it more colorful, much to the disgust of our British cousins. “Humongous” has a richer, campier sound than “huge”, right? Still, I am not sure that makes English easier to learn. In fact, foreigners who learn “the Queen’s English” are often confused when they arrive in the States. American slang and the mumbling of terms like shoudda, woudda, and coudda drive them nuts.
To its credit, the official Oxford English Dictionary—both online and in printed form—is adding around a thousand words each year. Most of them come from American slang. Here are some recent additions:
YOLO (“You Only Live Once”)
SWAG (“Stuff We All Get”…didn’t know the full meaning of that)
Moobs (“Man boobs”)
Shopaholism (That’s gotta be American)
Shootaround (Baskeball warm-up), and my favorite
Fuhgeddaboudit (Even the mob has clout with the folks at Oxford.)
By the way, “selfie” is now in the online OED version but not in the printed one. These things take time and scrutiny, old chap. (Life’s a “biatch”.)
One more source of word-growth: high-tech. I was recently looking at instructions for adjusting the settings on a laptop, and most of the sentences were dominated by tech words that didn’t exist when I was thirty years old. Here is a dramatization: “Select the FUNCHERS function to activate the CLIMGOPH feature. It will RUNTORT only when the DRONSTITH is aligned with the BRIMTPUTE. If a VIWYTAS occurs, call +91 8948 3915 244 (Bangalore) between the hours of 1245 and 1818, GMT.” Yowzers.
There are more than one million words in the Oxford English Dictionary, and an estimated 14.7 new words are being invented per day. Not all new words make it to the OED—only a thousand per year as mentioned above. If and when the Brits dump a mountain of archaic/obsolete words like mizzle-kyted, quagswagging, and forplaint (Look ‘em up!), it will take less than a thousand years for “American” to dominate the Oxford English Dictionary.