That’s The Way It Crum­bles Matthew En­gel (Pro­file, £16.99)

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

Matthew en­gel’s That’s The Way It Crum­bles is not short on strong state­ments. the book’s sub-head­ing, ‘the amer­i­can Con­quest of english’, is just the first in a bar­rage of mil­i­tary metaphors: lin­guis­tic amer­i­can­isms are an ‘in­vad­ing force’ and this book is a ‘call to arms’, a mis­sion to re­lease Bri­tain from ‘ver­bal en­slave­ment’.

al­though he doesn’t en­ter­tain the idea of the na­tion be­ing ‘for­mally an­nexed’ by the Usa, he does es­ti­mate that amer­i­can english might en­tirely re­place Bri­tish english by 2120, one step to­wards ‘a world that is es­sen­tially amer­i­can’. ‘worse fates may yet await this planet’, he muses, ‘but this one alone would of­fer a dull, grey future.’

such state­ments are not with­out a de­gree of irony and the au­thor’s char­ac­ter­is­tic wit light­ens the lex­i­co­graph­i­cal load. each chap­ter heaves with ex­am­ples of amer­i­can­isms ac­crued through time, from ‘crooks’ to ‘com­muters’ and ‘im­mi­grants’ to ‘mul­ti­mil­lion­aires’, and the book of­fers a com­pre­hen­sive history of the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween amer­i­can and Bri­tish english: from the ne­ol­o­gisms in­vented by the Pil­grim Fathers to to­day’s tech terms shipped straight from sil­i­con Val­ley.

Rather than be­ing a pedan­tic project, the book is an ex­pan­sive re­flec­tion on an­glo-amer­i­can re­la­tions and the role of lan­guage in con­struct­ing na­tional iden­tity. a post­script as­sesses the state of our lan­guage in the wake of Brexit, as Bri­tish politi­cians pan­der to trump; any hope that amer­i­can­isms might en­rich the english lan­guage seems in­creas­ingly un­likely when the coun­try’s spokesman can’t string a sen­tence to­gether.

‘and yet this is not,’ Mr en­gel re­peat­edly writes, ‘an anti-amer­i­can book’; in­stead, it’s a call for greater re­silience against the ho­mogenis­ing power of a coun­try that is tech­no­log­i­cally and cul­tur­ally dom­i­nant. a call for the Bri­tish to keep a ‘stiff up­per lip’. which is, of course, an amer­i­can­ism. Matilda Bathurst

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