america, americans & american english: controversies surrounding a dumb name

a while back a student informed me about the bbc docu-series the adventure of english. specifically he wanted to confirm that he had correctly understood a claim in one of the videos that americans speak better english than the british.

lord gordon
lord gordon was impressed by american english when he visited colonial america in the 1760s. (henri-pierre danloux)

at 1:11 in this excerpt (little piece) from episode 5 (english in america) u can hear british lord gordon‘s high opinion of late 18th century american english…

[english is] spoken by all ranks in a degree of purity and perfection surpassing any but the polite part of london

surpass means be better than. indeed presenter melvyn bragg‘s conclusion is

the americans didn’t just speak good english, they spoke it better than the english themselves.

themselves is used to emphasize that american english was better than the english spoken by the english, the inventors of the language

drifiting away air english drifting away water english

drifting away in the air and at sea (lupographics)

some other interesting points from the bbc vid…..

  • at the beginning of the vid, bragg remarks that

as english spread, it also started to…drift away from the language spoken in england. those were already the beginnings of the tomahto/tomayto problem.

drift away means gradually and unintentionally move apart.  it gives the idea of how objects move on the water or through the air.

in this beautiful seventies song, dobie gray, wearing a dope ass shirt, sings about how music inspires your mind to drift away


tomato is pronounced differently in british english than it is in american english. .  the most famous example of the tomahto/tomayto pronunciation disagreement is this pre-rock-and-roll-era george and ira gershwin song, let’s call the whole thing off, sung here by billie holiday. listen closely at :35. call off means cancel.


  • bragg also explains that what americans call lumber, the british call cut timber.
lumber english
u say cut timber, i say lumber. (

the first thing most americans think of when we hear timber is lumberjacks (people who work cutting down trees) shouting it as a warning that the tree they are cutting down is about to fall.

a lumberjack shouts his warning

pitbull‘s track with ke$ha, uses timber metaphorically in this way.  the chorus says…

it’s going down, i’m yelling timberu better move, u better dance

going down is used often in the lyrics. go down can have a variety of definitions including happen or give oral sex. it’s going down is proclaiming that a party is going to happen and ke$ha and her friends are going to party, maybe until they fall down like trees. in other parts of the song going down can be understood as hooking up (connecting sexually)

@mackdistrict6a promised senator thirst trap at Block Island 😈♬ original sound – Senator Tiara Mack

twerking in a bra & thong (actually a bikini) on tiktok, ALSO–face down booty up and ALSO serving the people of rhode island, usa

at :40 pitbull implies that the girls he likes to hang around (be with socially) also remind him of trees because they are

twerkin in their bras and thongs, timber. face down, booty up, timber.

booty is another word for butt or ass.  it is the title of this song by saucy santana, and is used numerous times in the lyrics.

twerk is a type of dance that features the booty.  bras and thongs are ladies’ underwear. bras on top, thongs on the bottom. a thong is sexier than a normal pair of underpants. it covers much less of the booty.

timber english
a guy with some serious timber

one more sexual innuendo in the timber lyrics 👉🏼 erections can be referred to as timber.

and there is an entertaining and convenient coincidence that the ke$ha lyrics use better as a modal auxiliary verb (u better move, u better dance) in contrast to melvyn bragg’s use of better as a comparative.

this richyrocks instagram video starts with the comparison of american english to the english spoken in england. it continues with observations that some americans call the language they speak american and that there are opposing views about who should use the label (designation) american.

in addition to jokes, commentary and the conclusion that the name america was given to us by old school cartographers (mapmakers) there is plenty of useful vocabulary to analyze.

trump finish the wall--vocabulario en inglés--american english

america for the americans: is donald trump the new james monroe? (cnn)
  • whilst is the same as while.  it’s mostly used by the british; not very common in america.
  • as long as in this vid means that whole time, in the context of this video, all my life.
  • noisy means loud or vocal. the americans who think american is a language are a minority, but they are very vocal, make a lot of noise.
heck applied to a classic internet meme
  • goll is a softer, less offensive way of saying god. heck is a softer, less offensive way of saying hell. they both sound corny (cheesy, old-fashioned, nerdy).
  • thrilled is excited.
even today people get excited about michael jackson’s thriller album. (wikipedia)
  • it stands to reason recognizes a good argument. the name america was originally used to refer to all of the continent, so it is understandable that people who live in the caribbean and central and south america feel excluded when united states residents imply that they are the only americans.


  • what’s in a name? is an expression that is used to say that a name really isn’t so important. the info in the video is that the first time the name america appeared on a map, it was actually used to identify what today is south america. what’s in a name? is famously used in shakespeare’s romeo and juliet by juliet capulet in an effort to justify her love for romeo.  romeo’s last name is montague., a name the her family hates. listen for it at 1:15 in this clip from the leonardo dicaprio/claire danes version…

do u think we will continue to speak english like gringos and brits?  or will global english drift away from how it is spoken in those two countries? what’s your feeling about the name american?  what happened to pitbull? share your ideas under leave a reply


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