The Impact of America

  • Brian Foster


The Annual Register for 1922 records that Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt had a glossary appended to it in the British edition in order to explain certain Americanisms. But, commented the Annual Register, ‘the cinematograph and the theatre… will have given the ordinary man a sufficiently large American vocabulary for his needs’. Even if this was true in the early nineteen-twenties, which seems unlikely, it was incorrect by 1935, for in that year H. W. Horwill issued the first edition of his Dictionary of Modern American Usage,1 which he explained as ‘primarily designed to assist English people who visit the United States, or who meet American friends, or who read American books and magazines, or who listen to American “talkies”’. On the other hand at the present day it is a fact that any English-speaking person born after about 1925 is painlessly endowed with a good knowledge of American idiom, thanks chiefly to those very films which Horwill saw as something of a linguistic problem in his own generation, and indeed it must be difficult for British adolescents of today to imagine a time before the advent of talking-films when the majority of the inhabitants were unfamiliar with American English in its spoken form except for a few remarks from an occasional American celebrity who had been brought to the microphone of the B.B.C. and when recordings by transatlantic artists were something of a rarity, for most songs were rendered in orthodox Southern English with Cockney or North-country thrown in for comic relief.


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  1. 1.
    Rom Landau, Portrait of Tangier (Hale, 1952), p. 136.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    Quoted by Paul C. Berg in A Dictionary of New Words in English (Allen and Unwin, 1953).Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    Cf. Thomas Pyles (Melrose, 1954), Words and Ways of American English, p. 105 of the British edition.Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    The Economics of Everyday Life, Gertrude Williams (Penguin Books, 1950).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Tarheel talk, ed. Norman E. Eliason (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1956), p. 96.Google Scholar

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© Brian Foster 1968

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  • Brian Foster

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