On the day before Christmas, I’m thinking about the one gift that keeps giving: language. What fascinates me is the way we borrow words from other cultures to embellish our own. My latest novel, Trompe l’Oeil has a French title. Its meaning is less well known than words like rouge or au revoir , which are also French in origin, but people involved in the arts or design are comfortable with the term which translates as “to fool the eye.”
The number of British words that have crept into our vocabulary since the Revolution, or more properly since the invasion of the Beatles, is breathtaking. We don’t say cheerio yet but we do say mate for buddy, uptick to mean slight increase, one-off for unique and gormless as a synonym for clueless.
According to a recent article in The Week , the inclusion of a foreign expression starts at the top end of society, where people like to sound trendy. After that, the words make their way down to Main Street. (“Why We’re Speaking British,” by Cordelia Hebblethwaite, reprinted from BBC News, The Week, December 7, 2012, pg. 41.) But, the author points out, when it comes to cross-continental current, “the balance of payment” lies with Americanisms. We export our slang at a far greater rate than our goods. If the latter kept up with the former, there wouldn’t be a national debt. (Ibid, pg. 41.)
Happy Yuletide everyone!
(Early Schults Peanut strip courtesy of CBR, google.com)