I was watching an American TV programme or film recently, I can’t remember what exactly, when I noticed someone use the term thrift store. I’d of course heard it used many times in the past, but this time I began to wonder why this American term is so different from its British-English version, charity shop.
Store and shop I’ve already covered, but I find it very interesting that American English emphasises thrift, but but British English stresses the charity aspect.
Not to over simplify things (and I’ll state from the get go that I’m not indulging in generalisations about American people), but it does seem to neatly encapsulate some of the main differences between American culture, and its forebears in Europe.
British English emphasises that these shops are charity operations, to help those in need. But American English, in a country where capitalism and rugged individualism are inextricably woven into the national identity, emphasises the economic aspect (finding a bargain), and downplays the charity aspect (everyone can achieve the American Dream on their own).
And as much as I like knowing that buying secondhand books from a charity shop is indirectly helping people, I’ll also admit that I love getting a bargain (my favourite is still getting the full-colour edition of House of Leaves for either €2 or €3). Just as I’m sure most Americans shopping at thrift stores enjoying helping people as well as saving money.
Still, it’s interesting to think about how ideologies are transmitted through language and can still influence us, despite our individual beliefs.
It’s pretty common to refer to the United States of America as simply America, or anyone or anything from the country as American. This however, can be somewhat controversial.
Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to get too political. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry’s got their hot take on Donald Trump, so I want to keep things focussed on language: grammar, etymology, stuff like that. Hang on, let me just have a quick look at Twitter before I write… He’s said what!?…
On Friday, Donald Trump, somehow President of the United States, weighed in on the controversial issue of professional American-football players protesting against racial injustice and police inequality towards African Americans. He naturally employed all the gravitas and diplomacy one would expect of his office, and said the following:
Hi there! Would you like a pepperoni pizza? Of course you would! Well, here you go…
The first part of the title of this post is the title of an article I came across yesterday on the Culture of the BBC website. I thought it would be interesting, and wondered in what way they might be killing the English language. I was quite disappointed then, to read it and find out, as I’d expected, they’re not killing it at all.
Following the violence (from armed Nazis, and the one side they represent) in Charlottesville, some people have suggested that the perpetrators only acted like brutal, thuggish Nazis, because people had been calling them brutal, thuggish Nazis for so long. Of course they’re going to act like Nazis if you keep calling them Nazis! Obviously it’s an attempt to take the blame away from the actual Nazis committing the violence. It’s an attempt to say, Look, these are just troubled young men not happy with the way they’re country’s going. But they’ve been demonized by SJWs, and that’s made them lash out in frustration! What do you expect when you call someone a Nazi!
There a couple of assumptions being made here. The first is that if you label someone with a negative name often enough, they’ll become what you call them. And that seems logical enough. Imagine how angry it would make you to unfairly labelled as something as terrible as a Nazi!? Except, that only really works when the label is applied unfairly, doesn’t it? So let’s take a moment to have a look at some of the people being called Nazis:
Happy Fourth of July to all of my American readers (about 50% of all my lovely readers)! I hope you’re enjoying celebrating your independence, and I certainly hope that you appreciate that I’m publishing a second article today just for you. You see, I’ve got into a habit of writing articles in the evening (it’s currently 8PM GMT summertime), but scheduling them to be published the following morning, so I don’t have the pressure of having to finish it quickly that evening. That’s why I published an article about Wimbledon on the second day of the tournament. But I thought I couldn’t possibly publish an article about the Fourth of July on the fifth, so here we are.
I originally thought about writing about some uniquely American words, or American English more generally, but I’ve already written about that, and there’s not much to be said there that you don’t already know about. But then at some point this afternoon, I was struck by a thought: why do Americans call it the Fourth of July, when normally they use the other format to refer to dates? Why not July Fourth?