a bbc opinion on american english

a few months ago, a student informed me about the bbc series the adventure of english. specifically he wanted to confirm that he had understood correctly that in one of the videos the bbc claims 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.

fun elt practice :) richyrocks on youtube

some other interesting points from the bbc vid…..

drifiting away air english drifting away water english

drifting away in the air and at sea (lupographics)


  • 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. u can listen to the difference here.  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


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

the first thing i think of when i 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

at 5:05 in this cartoon, donald duck shouts timber!, but too late because the tree has already fallen on pete, a humorless lumberjack.

also listen to donald at 3:10.  he says

might just as well be in a concentration camp

might just as well in this context is the same as might as well.  donald’s hypothetical idea is that working for pete is the same as being in a concentration camp.

pitbull‘s track with ke$ha, applies timber similarly to the donald duck cartoon, but with several other possibilities as well.

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.

twerking english
twerkin in bras & thongs: does this make u think of trees falling? erections? 

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.  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

and a final sexual innuendo in the timber lyrics; erections can be referred to as timber

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?  which of the songs do u like best? share your opinon under leave a reply





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