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