It’s been several months since I participated in Jenny Matlock’s AlphabeThursday weekly alphabet meme, but when I visited over the weekend I discovered that she and her group are just two weeks into the fifth round of this fun and entertaining exercise. So, I’ve decided to post catch up entries for the letters “a” and “b” early this week and then join the group on Thursday when everyone contributes a “c” post.
I’m actually rather excited to begin this round because I’ve decided to focus all my entries on colloquialisms and idioms—those informal words and phrases that are unique to a region or have meanings that aren’t necessarily discernible from the combined meanings of the individual words. Language, in and of itself, is interesting, and American English is especially fascinating because, over the centuries, it has evolved based on the languages and cultures of native American Indians as well as immigrants from around the world.
Among the factors that influenced the evolution of American English is that colonists and subsequent immigrants had to either adopt native American names or invent terms for new-to-them places, geographic features, plants, and animals. In addition, though English was the most common language among the population, it was still necessary for people of diverse linguistic backgrounds to be able to communicate with one another. Over time, American English assimilated words and phrases that have their roots in many other languages than English and, in some cases, those words have been “Americanized” in a way that bears little resemblance to the original word. All this becomes even more complicated because of regional differences in linguistic influences, accents, and usage. Language along the eastern seaboard was largely influenced by predominantly English settlers compared to, for example, the upper midwest which traces its linguistic heritage to German and Scandinavian languages while Louisiana’s culture and language is strongly influenced by its background of French and Spanish settlements.
There are modern influences to be considered as well. Ever-changing technology adds new words to the language at a much faster rate than older words fall into disuse, and a society that is increasingly mobile, global, and casual is bringing its own brand of changes to the language.
So with this introduction, I’m looking forward to my admittedly amateur exploration of some of the words and phrases that simultaneously make American English interesting, challenging, and frustrating.