This morning, I caught up on the news by reading about the recent terrible accident in Glasgow that took six lives. Most headlines I saw referred to it as the “Glasgow Bin Lorry Crash.” Here, we’d call it the “Garbage Truck Crash.” Sad as the incident was, It got me thinking about a less-tragic cultural phenomenon that I’ve been observing for some time.
When I was a kid, I wouldn’t have had any idea what a “Bin Lorry” was. I remember having to look up words like “treacle” after I’d come across them in books. And books were nearly the only places I ran across such words. I met an exchange student from Australia in high school and was fascinated by slang he taught me like saying “no worries” rather than “you’re welcome” or “not a problem.”
I also remember being confused about the term “mince” or “mince meat” — I thought I’d figured out that “mince” was what we termed “hamburger meat” or “ground beef,” but then I heard about a “mince pie” or a “mincemeat pie,” which sounded like dessert to me. And speaking of dessert, that Pink Floyd song that asked “how can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat!” mystified me a bit, too. I thought I knew what pudding was, but this seemed an odd usage of it.
Mince – as in my first definition (this is a classic)
As a young adult, had an orange tabby cat and learned at some point that these were called “ginger tabbies” across the pond. Which sort of fit, because his name was Nigel.
But now, the term “ginger” (for redheads of the feline or human variety) is perfectly normal for my kids, and it’s not just because we live in a US/UK mixed household (my husband is Scottish). (The other day, I caught my youngest telling his father that “gingers” come from Scotland.) If you don’t believe me, check out this Google analysis of the use of “ginger hair” in American English.
When I’ve looked into where they’re getting words like this, it’s largely from other Americans — young people whose videos they watch on YouTube. Of course, they’ll just as readily watch videos that originate from the UK or Australia or any place else, and they don’t seem to be as fascinated by accents as I was, back in the day.
Many of these “Let’s Play” videos even feature a mixed-nationality cast of players, who apparently met online and now play games together, with no regard for national barriers (barring the inevitable time zone concerns).
Even adults seem to have picked up a lot of sayings that I once deemed regional, such as “no worries” or “one-off” or “rubbish.” Heck, there’s even an entire blog dedicated to observing British slang in American speech, called Not One-Off Britishisms. It makes sense that — with entertainment being one of America’s main exports — U.S. English has long been influencing things in other parts of the world. But most of the British entertainment we get on TV or in movies seems to be of the Downton Abbey variety — set in some long-ago time where the speech seems hopelessly old-fashioned and not worth adopting.
I’m writing about this here partly because I don’t have any other appropriate place, but also because this change is undoubtedly fueled by technology. Our cultures are larger than they used to be — they encompass a much greater geographical area, because we’re able to transmit memes and influence ideas around the word, and in real time. Media like YouTube videos can be more influential than TV.
I’ve always been interested in language, as you might guess from my occupation as an editor, reporter and writer. And having a Scottish husband and in-laws, for whom I occasionally have to translate, has just made this phenomenon even more fascinating. As a writer, I have to cheer, because the more words and phrases we have to choose from, the richer our expression becomes.