The Val & Kit Mystery Series

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why Our English Language Must, Like, Change—Roz’s Take

Many years ago, when I was a schoolgirl in England, my beloved English teacher pulled me to the front of the class to chastise me for using the word okay. I was mortified as she explained to me and the rest of the class that okay was American slang, definitely not proper English, and certainly not okay.

I, on the other hand, thought it was the epitome of cool. I had picked it up from one of the many American TV shows and movies we were, and still are, bombarded with. Now, many, many years later, after living in the U.S. for more than half my life, I am amused at how specific words, once used only in England, have almost vanished and been replaced by Americanisms. I return to my native England at least once a year, and I never fail to notice how English English is evolving. It’s, like, so totally cool.

The list is endless. A flat is now an apartment. A lift is an elevator. Women carry purses, not handbags. A television advert has been replaced by a commercial. And the word guys is commonly used to refer to a group of people, regardless of gender (I think we can blame the highly popular TV show Friends for that one). English people, like their American cousins, are, like, constantly using the word like inappropriately, to the extent that it will eventually be, like, proper.

And it’s not just across the Atlantic Ocean that language is evolving. I moved to Texas from Minnesota thirty years ago. When I first arrived in The Lone Star State, I was charmed by the Texas accent and unique language. Texans were often fixin’ to do something, and y’all was the preferred second-person pronoun. Sadly, with so many Yankees moving to our state, the Texas idioms and unique way of speaking are growing rare. The exception is y’all (that’s staying right here, thank you, ma’am).

When Patty and I first started writing together, she would sometimes graciously point out a specific word I had used, questioning if it was British. And she was always right. But I think she would agree that those British words creep into my narrative less and less. It’s not so much that I have become Americanized; it’s that the English language (as spoken in England) has done so.

Of course, we all know that English has to evolve (as Patty, my wordsmith, pointed out). If not, we would all be speaking like characters in a Jane Austen novel, or even worse, a Shakespearean play. And that’s just, like, totally okay! NOT!