In History, What is, Words

There are many words you could use to describe the American Presidential election. You’ll have your own favourites. The word that kept popping into my mind was ‘faucet’. This is probably why international TV crews no longer come to me for comment on such occasions.

I bought a faucet this week, although I had to use the word ‘stopcock’ to avoid annoying the bloke in Plumbwell. Fine word though ‘faucet’ is, we just don’t get to use it in Britain and I think that’s a shame.

Regular readers have probably grown tired of my insistence on defending America against accusations of misuse of the English language, especially in such a week as this, but as a lifelong defender of Truth, Justice and the Purley Way, I feel it’s important to set the record straight.

And not just because my son banned me from laying ‘PATRONIZE’ in Scrabble last night. Bless him.

“Schvymxckzuh,” I said, “why is Scrabble so important to you?”

He simply told me American spellings weren’t allowed. I had to hold back from delivering a two-hour lecture on the words that we regard as American but actually aren’t.

Words like ‘faucet’.

A faucet is a tap, originally a tap for extracting the booze from a barrel – the best kind of tap – but nowadays a tap that delivers American water through American pipes. (How it ever became known as a ‘cock’ is a whole other story). It’s a word we don’t use in English – but we did, long ago. And the same goes for many other ‘Americanisms’.

Garbage. Apartment. Broiler. Vacation. Diaper. Candy. Patronize… Like faucet, these aren’t words the Americans have invented just to be different, they’re words they’ve hung on to while we’ve moved on. So who are the upstarts with no respect for their roots?

What you have to understand about America is that, for all its space missions and silicon and special sauce, significant swathes of the country are quaintly old-fashioned. There’s a town in Nebraska, for example, where they still eat with a knife and fork. Many of the nation’s customs were established by the religious refugees and fur trappers who colonised the place centuries ago and much of their language is left over from their English forefathers.

If you want to trace these things all the way back to their source, you’ll find that the use of ‘ize’ predates ‘ise’ in English because it comes from the Greek verb endings ‘izo’ and ‘izein’. “H to the izo, V to the izein,” as Jay-Z might have sung had he been an entertainer in the court of Theseus. Of course, he wasn’t.

The more widespread use of ‘ise’ in Britain probably evolved to avoid confusion with words like ‘revise’, ‘surprise’ and ‘exercise’ that never took the ‘ize’ ending in the first place because they derived from non-Greek origins. So it was we Brits who waived the rules.

Oxford Dictionaries, the ultimate authority on the use of English after my Dad, concludes: “In British English, it doesn’t matter which spelling convention is chosen: neither is right or wrong, and neither is ‘more right’ than the other.”

So what’s my point? 112 points, that’s my bleedin’ point! On a triple word score with a 50 point bonus? Come on!

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