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.