« Guide Alice | Main | Episode 50 »

An Englishman In New York: American English

David Thomasesson reflects on American writing, and America's Big Day.

American writing has surely gone downhill faster than you can say John Hancock, the Massachusetts President of the Congress, whose name became synonymous with clarity as being the only well-written signature on the Declaration of independence. Taking up a whole five inches, Hancock's large and flamboyant signature became iconic, emerging in the United States as an informal synonym for "signature". As in “put your John Hancock on the dotted lined”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hancock

There were fifty-six delegates to the Second Continental Congress (hence the name for one of the two Houses in American politics, Senate being the other) and who can forget one of the three Georgia delegates who signed, the impossibly named Button Gwinnett. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Continental_Congress

The United States Declaration of Independence is a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain were now independent states, and thus no longer a part of the British Empire. Written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration is a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2 to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The birthday of the United States of America, Independence Day, is celebrated on July 4, the day the wording of the Declaration was approved by Congress.

After finalizing the text on July 4, Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in several forms. It was initially published as a printed broadside that was widely distributed and read to the public. The most famous version of the Declaration, a signed copy that is usually regarded as the Declaration of Independence, is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Although the wording of the Declaration was approved on July 4, the date of its signing has been disputed. Most historians have concluded that it was signed nearly a month after its adoption, on August 2, 1776, and not on July 4 as is commonly believed.

The sources and interpretation of the Declaration have been the subject of much scholarly inquiry. The Declaration justified the independence of the United States by listing colonial grievances against King George III, and by asserting certain natural and legal rights, including a right of revolution. Having served its original purpose in announcing independence, the text of the Declaration was initially ignored after the American Revolution. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Revolution Its stature grew over the years, particularly the second sentence, a sweeping statement of human rights: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights (and a penis), that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life%2C_liberty_and_the_pursuit_of_happiness Which is what the wife of a French diplomat once told Queen Elizabeth II at a state banquet. When asked what she wanted most of all, the wife replied “a penis”. Or at least that is what Her Majesty heard, what she of course actually mean was “‘appiness”. http://www.biography.com/articles/Queen-Elizabeth-II-9286165

This sentence has been called "and "the most potent and consequential words in American history" and “one of the best-known sentences in the English language" presumably second only to “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. Genesis 1: 1

Allow me to vent a little here, on the vagaries of American English. Tell me, if you’re going to “visit with” someone, are you telling me who you are taking along. Is this what you intended?

Also, if you write the Pope, that means you actually write, in letters, on a piece of paper, the words “the Pope”. Remember you write “to” someone.

And finally, that awful example of American English, the truly dreadful “in back”. If you mean “behind” please say so!

I stand to be corrected.

Happy Independence Day everyone! Make the most of it because judging from the number of British voices on he streets of Manahattan, I think we're taking it back one at a time.

Oh and by the way, when hanging around the BBQ dishing up your best grilling techniques, best not to inquire from which part of the cow the hot dogs originate. A valid question on any other day, yes, but it’s really not polite, not on July 4th. After all you might be asked to defend pork pies, or worse, haggis. And trust me when I say there aren’t enough hours in the day, and if there were, nobody but nobody can explain haggis. Who else but the thrifty Scots would steal a horse's feedbag, fill it with onions and a sheeps innards (including the pluck. A pluck, a pluck, WTF's a pluck?) and boil it for hours. Not surprisingly they wash it down with "a wee dram". I should hope so!


Do visit David's Web site http://www.britoninnewyork.com/


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.