The English Language

“The English use language as a poem even when they’re being practical, but the Americans use language as a tool even when they’re being poetical.”


  • Old Bob

    Yup. ;-)

  • A’ine

    Contrast the King James Version of the Bible with the New International Version…OR the New American Standard Version…'nuff said. :)

  • lifeonwindyridge

    I wonder if that's why British humour is so much funnier?

  • Magister Christianus

    I am a Protestant, albeit with strong Cathlolic inclinations, so I think I can say this from experience. I have long contended that there is a Protestant, minimalist spirit at work in America. A consequence of this is that form does not matter, only content. The Eucharist (Communion, Lord's Supper) can be celebrated in any old way. Baptism can be repeated. Liturgy can be endlessly reinvented. These things are possible because we all know that the spiritual truth behind them is what matters, thus meaning that form does not. "You are beautiful" can just as well be expressed, via such a philosophy by "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day" and "Dang, baby, you hot!"Sadly, in the latter example, so many young men know of no other way to court women, and so many young women have never heard better between their parents that they should expect more. Yet those of us who have drunk deep from the Pierian spring (Pope, "Essay on Criticism") are loathe to accept a proffered cup drawn from any meaner source.Should anyone think this is simply elitist talk, he should try reading some of the letters from a mere 150 years ago, notes penned by men in the fields of the American Civil War. These offered some pretty elegant stuff, and the men writing were not all Shakesperean scholars by a long shot.

  • Ttony

    Raymond Seitz's memoir of his time as US Ambassador in London makes a similar point about the way that British Isles speakers of England play with the language as a mettr of course. There might be something about US English being a language which immigrants have to assimilate quickly which makes its use more utilitarian.But while it's an interesting generalisation, it doesn't meant that the hairs on the back of my neck don't stand up when, for example, I hear a recording of RFK's speech in Indianapolis the night Martin Luther King was murdered.

  • shadowlands

    I'm not sure I understand the statement but here goes anyway….Bottom line, an honest statement spoken in love is poetical enough for me, whatever nationality the speaker. Sentimental seductive claptrap is of no use whatsoever, long term, other than as an invitation to hell, eventually, if one allows oneself to be flattered by flowery tripe, for long enough!Having said that, a well behaved Christian expressing emotion or discussing literature might prove pleasant, occasionally.N.I.V"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."King James Bible"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."

  • StevieD

    I am English and I make my living by translating the efforts of US students into something that just might impress those considering their applications for Master's and Ph.D. degree programs. Vive la difference!

  • Mike Cliffson

    I ve read WWI letters soldiers and family, certainly truer then of brits. (Curious: I wrote that before seeing Magister Christainus' comment.) Simple general everyday letters, and I suspect speech, was more … well,ok, poetical.& USA : some truth?Compare bestselling children's comic magazines Brit and USA up to late sixties, and gradually less so, childrens tv, compared to USA, this aying certainly certainly true of this genreBritcomics weren't shakespeare, but they were written in English, vocab, structures, etc: USa simple, terse, limted fitted superman et al.But American popular writing has been getting better nd better (and flowerier and more verbose ) all my life, and published britspeak shoddierand cheaper and harsher.But this is nearly all historical: God shuttered out, ugliness all around the more unnoticed and/or (horribly practical yet ugly usage!)praised even. That fairy story where the nastier sister opens her mouth an out pop the slugs and toads.

  • kkollwitz

    Why, thank you doctor!

  • Brent Stubbs

    As a Southerner, I like to think that we have tried in our tradition to keep in tact the English sensibility of the occasional literary curtsy. Though, I'm inclined to think that poetry is an agrarian gift, one in debt to nature and one that urban folk have a way of not really understanding. I think it is that long English agrarian history that makes them so charmingly reasonable.

  • Stella Orientis

    As an Australian (our culture is greatly influenced by both UK and US), I think there's something to it. We have to be careful though to consider who is writing – the majority of English, like Americans, are appallingly ignorant of the English literary heritage and therefore incapable of any real linguistic flair.However, I think when considering the educated English against the educated American, the distinction is palpably present. You can taste the difference between English and American writing – in fact this is one of the reasons the Anglican Ordinariates will probably not just adopt wholesale the liturgical books used by the (American) Pastoral Provision parishes.

  • Anthony Brett Dawe

    "Speakers of the English language attach a great deal of importance to their former misspellings'-auld Irish saying{Tory or 'torihdne' is derived from thief in Gaelic. Ed}

  • justamouse

    "so I think I can say this from experience. I have long contended that there is a Protestant, minimalist spirit at work in America."I heartily agree.

  • diff

    Then there is the Irish, we play with the words whether they are practical or poetical.

  • Susan C.

    As an Englishwoman teaching early American literature in MS, I have observed this to an extent. My perception is that, being a nation founded consciously and in recent history, a sense of purpose in ideology (e.g. notions of freedom) and style (e.g. anti-intellectualism*) naturally pervades American writing and thinking. That said, I would certainly not consider the writings of someone like Poe to fall into this category.*Before anyone gets angry at me, I mean that in the sense of arriving at conclusions through natural intelligence and empiricism vs. traditional scholarship, not playing a 'dumb American'!

  • Anthony Brett Dawe

    kinda wooly Oxbridgean questionbut this is in fact a fascinating subjectWhen I first washed up on Fife's barren shore I was in hyper-space mode to write perfect essays with perfectly 'diagrammed' sentences, as taught at my school.My first lecture was in the old quad of St Andrews where I, as 'fate' would have it, sat next to a young man with kinda spikey red hair deeply engrossed in that paragon of English prose style:'Judge Dredd.''Are you an American?' he said without taking his eyes off the robo-judge dispensing justice.'yes''You fascist pig''Are you from England?' I asked'No Bucks' (this was an history lecture to be fair not geography)'You yeoman' I fairly retorted.Even the now famous RC historian had to laugh, and we went on to publish Poetry pamphlets and dissect the usage of English, in all it's forms: UK USA Imperial Colonial even Franglais.The thing is the trad English style, as outlined by Hugh Fowler in his 'Modern English Usage', is to treat punctuation much as singers use musical notes. Comma slight break, semi-colon bit longer, etc.This if one reads a great writer in this 'form', Winston Churchill is very flexible and makes for innumerable digresssions and tangents which are many times more interesting than the original topic. Waugh I writes more than his son in this style. This some might name the Anglo-Saxon style.In the fringes of Eire and Scotland the style we, in the USA, use more was originated for the most part. We reckon the 'latinate' or 'legal' style really got going with Edmund Burke who intended his speeches to be reprinted and reread, not to mention probably used against him in libel suits- so may as well write them as a 'submission' to begin with, and go to dinner whilst awaiting the summons.Fair to posit the Anglo-Irish Ascendency in Eire proabably produced some of the most trenchant prose and poetry in the history of the Englsih language.'In the fire of love we live and breath and have our being,or pass by various ways, by unnumbered ways of dream to death.'-A.E. from 'Immortality'George Russell.Not far off Mother Teresa

  • justamouse

    Maybe we should just blame Strunk and White?

  • Anthony Brett Dawe

    @justamousei give a copy of Elements of Style to my sons and all worthy young students i meetbest one can do in these daysPrinceton Manual not bad also but read the great Revd. Jeremy Taylor for a brilliant power packed punch of English prose and Theology