Do you know your Britishisms? | BBC Ideas
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Do you know your Britishisms? | BBC Ideas

October 10, 2019


The A to Z of isms… Britishism. Britishism – a term denoting
a word or phrase that only functions properly
and without footnotes in the United Kingdom, but which has begun
to spread across the globe like a cup of tea spilt
over a map of the world. Some examples of… for a person you consider
to be not as clever as you. for a person you consider
to be not as clever as you. as in “I fancy you”. for being startled or amazed. would have been unfathomable
a few years ago. But even Obama has used the word
gobsmacked and he’s no numpty. A British person in that vast area
of the atlas that he calls abroad. Someone behind a counter
in a shop says “How are you?” and the British person replies
“Fine thanks, how are you?” which, of course, the person behind
the counter wasn’t expecting. To the British person
it’s a genuine question. To the rest of the world it’s just a little flag in the
foothills of the day’s conversation. Although the word ‘Britishism’
was first uttered in the 19th Century it’s become more prominent
in recent years for reasons that are hard to fathom
but which may have something to do with the international
spread of Englishes and the way that, when they rub
against each other, sparks can fly. Every country, every region
will have its own isms of course. There’ll be French isms and
Australian isms and Canadian isms and they begin, I guess, with the micro languages
within national borders that don’t travel too far or didn’t travel too far
before we all began to travel. Within Britain,
there are various local words that are their own postcode
versions of Britishisms, not moving far across
what linguists call an isogloss – a place where language use changes
over a small geographical space. So in the British Isles you could say
“Come in…” Sit down on the sofa or the settee in the… The essence of the Britishism is perhaps the essence
of the British psyche – eccentric, self-effacing,
gently poking fun at itself. To be a train spotter
with your notebook, scribbling down the numbers
of the engines as they trundle by, is a very British thing. Welcome to the world
of Britishism spotting. Last one
with an open notebook is a…

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