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Thanks to the Yanks

The English language has been greatly enriched by the Americans. Since the 18th century, Americans have created new words or changed and added new meanings to British English words. The British are sometimes critical of American English, often without realising how many words they commonly use owe their origin to the United States.


There is a slightly comical tendency of Americans to use somewhat pompous or wordy language in order to make their utterance less offensive, banal or negative. For example, an airline crash was described as "the involuntary conversion of a Boeing 727". An American hospital invented the phrase "negative patient outcome" for a death. The Pentagon once described toothpicks as "wooden inter-dental stimulators".

Fortunately we can thank the Americans for a much more positive contribution to the English language. They have invented many new words which have helped to keep the English language a flexible, expressive and precise tool.

New words

Did you know that the following common words were coined (or adopted from other languages) by Americans?

hangover commuter hamburger motel restaurant
escalator hotel airbrake fountain pen

In addition, Americans have proved adept at giving new meanings to old words. For example, they took the simple three-letter word "fix" and gave it so many uses that the dictionary of American English has seven columns of text and 5,000 words of elucidation to discuss these uses.

Here are a few examples:

I fixed (arranged) my hair before going out.

She fixed a meal for us.

They are fixing (getting ready) to go out tonight.

We fixed up (repaired) our house over Easter.

American English contains many instances where speakers have changed nouns into verbs. Examples include: to interview, to package, to corner, to engineer, to notice, to advocate.


It is also fascinating to realise that Americans have preserved words that have long since lapsed in Britain. Americans, for example, continue to use the word fall (autumn) which was in common use in Britain until the end of the last century and is now no longer used there. On the other hand, there are words whose use in the UK lapsed but which were kept alive in the USA and which have once again entered British English: to wilt (to droop), or to drool (to salivate with excitement).

Reading for meaning

When you read an article, you can often guess the words you do not know from the context.

Find words or expressions in the above article which have the following meanings:

a. uninteresting or very ordinary
b. skillful
c. clarification
d. draw special attention (to something)
e. stopped being in active use

Notes on American English

There a few grammatical differences between the ways that Amercians and British use English.

Simple past v. Present perfect

Americans tend to use the simple past for talking about new and recent information particularly when just, already and yet are included.


They have just opened a new factory.


They just opened a new factory.


1. Americans use on rather than in or at with certain nouns:


in the team


on the team


in Surrey Street


on Surrey Street


at the weekend


on the weekend
2. Americans generally omit to after the verb write:


I wrote to the authorites.


I wrote the authorites.
3. Americans use with after the following verbs:
meet, speak, talk


We are meeting the authorites next week.


We are meeting with the authorities next week.

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