Short not sweet

As I’ve said before, sometimes it’s easy for me to forget that I’m in America. Aside from the fact that I moved here from London and one city is generally pretty much like another, it’s difficult to avoid the fact that wherever you are in the world, you slowly get used to things. As another UK-to-US migrant Fish Without A Bicycle recently said in the comments on this blog, she’s found herself abandoning her knife in favour of just using a fork despite her better efforts. I imagine that the crumbling of the British Empire many years ago began in a similarly (seemingly innocuous) fashion.

One thing that has definitely lessened in my consciousness is the US accent. Unless I hear a particularly extreme accent, the days when I quietly used to think to myself “for some reason I appear to be surrounded by Americans” seem to have long gone.

But every so often, somebody will say something – or more often, I’ll read it – and I will be brought kicking and screaming to the reality that I am in a country that speaks a language that is sometimes as foreign to me as, say, Cantonese.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that English is a fluid living language that continuously evolves. And the UK can hardly be considered innocent of all crimes against language. It’s not easy to be proud of a country whose kids have invented the word ‘gopping’ for ‘disgusting’, after all.

But in New York it seems that every existing word needs to be shortened in a bid to use as few characters as possible. It’s almost as if some people believe they are taxed for every letter they use in conversation. Or maybe it’s just an attempt to limit any movement of the mouth that’s not for stuffing popcorn in?

I guess I don’t mind some of the more comic-book shortenings such as ‘shrooms’ for mushrooms, or even ‘toon’ for cartoon. But is there really any need for ‘gator’ or ‘roach’? Does it really save you that much time?

My current bete-noire is the replacement of neighbourhood with ‘nabe’. Every time I see it, I cringe with embarrassment and shame. Even news organiszations are using it now, such as the New York Post sub-headline here. In reaction, I might just have to start lengthening all my words, becoming some overly-verbose English buffoon who takes ten minutes just to ask where the nearest bank is.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m off to ask the superintendent of the condominium in which I am currently residing to give me directions as to where I might catch an omnibus. I’ll be back for some more weblogging soon.

10 thoughts on “Short not sweet

  1. Jonathan Jones

    “Nabe”, are you kidding? *wince*

    See, that’s yet another reason gun control is a bad idea. We don’t put up with with that kind of tomfoolery ’round these parts. We only invent words in cases where there is a discernable gap in the language (e.g. “y’all”).

    But seriously, I think these slang words go through an observable life cycle:

    First, kids make up a word. (This is to add an element of mystery to their speech to substitute for a lack of sophistication.)

    Then, there is a very long period in which adults use the word ironically, to amuse themselves. (I.e. they make fun of their own lack of “hipness” by intentionally using “hip” words awkwardly.) I suspect “nabe” is probably in this phase in your neck of the woods, even though I’ve never heard it where I live.

    Gradually, if the new word fills a niche and is able to survive long enough, more and more people use it non-ironically, as the humor is hammered out of it by repetition.

    This process is also helped along when the irony is missed by people who are unaware of the word’s suspect provenance. They hear adults they respect using the word, and that gives it legitimacy.

    I’m like you. Maybe it’s a losing battle, but I always write “weblog”. And I occasionally discover that words and phrases I’ve used by entire life have “embarassing” origins, and I try to excise them from my speech and writing, or at least use them with conscious irony.

    It does force me to appreciate the fact that you can’t judge people for using words without consulting an etymology dictionary. Most people would rather spend their time doing other things.

  2. Sarcasmom

    FIrst let me say welcome to the “nabe”, by which I mean America as I am not a New Yorker. I blame the texting mania for the word shortening fad. As a lover of words I don’t care for it myself. But I am a “rent” to three and admit that sometimes their vernacular slips into my speech as well. Let’s hope the landlord doesn’t shorten the name of where you live to ” the condom”

  3. RennyBA

    Here from Leanne – what a great new blog home you’ve got!

    Sine this is my first visit: Hello from Norway and I wish you a great end to your week 🙂

  4. fishwithoutbicycle

    Hey Dylan, thanks for the shout out. Have you started to notice yet how quickly English slang evolves, the word ‘chav’ came into being since I’ve been living over here. I go back to England and I’ve no bloody idea what anyone is talking about 🙂 Have a great weekend. Fish

  5. Diane

    fishwithoutabicycle – I live here and I’ve no idea what anyone is talking about…

    I hate it when people use text speak when writing e-mails and comments.

    I blame young people. In my day….blah, blah…

  6. Flowers On A Friday

    ‘nabe’ – ug, that’s awful.

    ok, but what about the aussie slang. for some reason that doesn’t seem so horrific but maybe that’s because so many of us brits were brought up on aussie soaps.

    ‘arvo’ is my favourite.

  7. jAMiE

    It drives me nuts too and i too sort of blame it on text messages and instant messages. I try not to do it myself but every once in a while i catch myself doing it… *ugh*

  8. Pingback: A Brit Out Of Water » Blog Archive » 200 things you simply have to know about New York (part two)

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