Monday, August 16, 2010

The Americanization of Britain

After a week in England, Toni ponders a few changes:

I've been back in England a week and was intending to blog about all those little changes I notice from one year to the next. You know, American words like shoo-in that seem to have crept into the local lexicon since last summer. Or the appearance of packaged waffles in the bread aisles of ASDA.
But no. I have proof positive that the UK is capitulating to American trends.

First, we had the use of the word "cup cake" instead of the traditional "fairy cake". Many others have blogged about this so I won't go into what it means for civilization and the western hemisphere; it is obviously a harbinger of Brits calling sweets "candy" and crisps "chips". Where will it all end?

Glancing through a copy of Good Housekeeping the other day my eye was drawn to one of those can't-live-without gadgets that are really a huge waste of money. Like rice cookers (what's wrong with a pan of water) and vegetable brushes (what's wrong with a nail brush? - Just kidding.)

This one comes to you from Lakeland, The Home of Creative Kitchenware. It's a CUPCAKE maker. (Even though it looks like a cross between a sandwich toaster and a Yorkshire pudding tray).

It's bad enough that Lakeland use the American term, but it also encourages consumers to step over to the dark (ie. American) side, by not having the patience to wait for said cupcakes to bake in a regular oven.

Oh no. Haven't got 20 minutes to spare. This must-have gadget bakes them in literally half the time.

Next thing you know Brits, your kitchen counter tops will be lined with toaster ovens, waffle makers, three gallon coffee makers and electric griddles the size of small ice rinks.

Step away from the catalogues. You have been warned.


  1. I think the kids pick up expressions from cable channels dominated by American programmes. Let's just say I'm going to "accidentally" forget to renew our subscription this year ..... my daughter's US teen-speak is driving me nuts. One day she called chocolate "candy" and I explained that candy is chocolate that has had all the cocoa flavour sucked out of it, US-style. That explanation seemed to make sense to her. Oddly I do prefer cup-cake to fairy cake - fairy cake sounds a bit silly!

  2. I always assumed that Fairy Cakes were smaller than Cup Cakes, which were made in cups (?!) I'm probably totally wrong, but I hope not. One of the strengths of English is the way it adopts new words from other languages (is American another language?) but retains its own earlier word, giving it a new shade of meaning. It's one of the reasons why English has so many subtleties of meaning, which in turn is one of the reasons it has been so successful. So I prefer to think of the process as one of enrichment! (That said, I would fiercely resist the replacement of 'chips' by 'fries' or 'sweets' by 'candy'). And then there are those cases where American words have preserved older English words which have been abandoned in England, and which are now being re-introduced back into England again. 'Fall' and 'Autumn' being an example of this. Sorry for going on - I find the subject fascinating!

  3. Ha! America infiltrates everywhere.

  4. It is a fascinating study. I read the PBS book "The Story of English" many years ago (still in print) and it says that a language changes more at its root. That means that many American words are more like original English words (closet being a great example) and the British English is the one that has actually moved on.

    Still - a machine that only makes cupcakes??? Really?

  5. Well, there's no reason it couldn't also make muffins.

    As far as rice cookers go, they're no stranger than electric tea kettles. A device that only... boils water?

    You can use them to make things other than rice, and if you make a LOT of rice they're VERY VERY USEFUL to have in your house because you're saving a burner to cook whatever-it-is you're cooking with the rice, rice not really being a meal unto itself. Plus you can start the rice early and keep it warm in the rice pot.

  6. I've always called cupcakes cupcakes as that's what I've always known them as (and I'm English btw). They're one of my favourite things to make but I do get annoyed when I read about or hear people saying that they are making them from a box - seriously, can't we mix 4 ingredients together anymore?

  7. Of course when I get back to America I am going to find an electric kettle and shun the cupcake machine. Cupcake machine? Really?

  8. Yeah, just what we need is a faster way to make cupcakes leaving 20 extra minutes to stuff our faces. When will we learn? That's right up there with the Pop Tart Store that opened in Times Square this week.

    As you know I've noticed these language changes too and it doesn't make me happy. From what I can tell it's being driven by advertisers (and perpetuated by mostly younger people.) If I were there I would fight against it as much as possible.

  9. Smart meaning clever. That's one I noticed. And it's a shame, because what the heck is wrong with the word 'clever'?

    I noticed it first in 'smartcards'. But they could be 'clevercards' couldn't they? Or some other term would do. Anything but smartcards would be fine.

    My worry is that once smart means clever, there will be no word for smart (as in smartly dressed). This is a real gap in American English, and we shouldn't allow it to develop in British English. That wouldn't be ... clever.

  10. Ha ha. My 14 year old son used to refuse to wear "smart shirts" (still does), which always brought a slightly confused smile to my neighbours' faces in the USA. What he meant of course, was a collared shirt.
    I think a "snappy" dresser is the American equivalent.

  11. I always wondered what fairy cakes were, but a machine for cupcakes-Ack! The Brits have gone to the dark side-I just hope it won't affect their TV shows:)

    Am I the only one who doesn't get the whole "cupcakes craze"? In DC, there's a cupcake store that has lines around the block-for cupcakes? Someone tell me what is the appeal?

  12. I too have banned the kids from satellite TV for fear of them morphing into Miley Cyrus and have spent a fortune with Amazon on BBC DVDs!The cupcake revolution has even reached the Middle East, where we now have cupcake cafes and cupcake decorating lessons. I'm sure the cupcake machines will soon be upon us...

  13. I used the word "spiffy" for a while, because I saw the Julia Donaldson book "The Smartest Giant in Town" is titled "The Spiffiest Giant in Town" in the US. But then I realised I never heard anyone else using that word, so I asked a friend, and she said it was very 1950s. When I asked her what she would say to someone who was looking smartly dressed, she said "I'd probably say "you're looking good" or "you're looking nice", but we Americans don't have much imagination"! (That's the kind of thing that she's allowed to say, but of course I wouldn't dream of saying.)

  14. I love making cupcakes. A cupcake maker would spoil the fun! I remember when I first moved to the UK and they had toasted sandwich makers. What?! I still make mine the old fashioned way, in a pan.

    Someone gave my daughter a Barny video (a giant purple American dinosaur for those in the dark) saying 'I was thinking as you're American you'll love this!' I didnt speak to them for a year. That video 'disappeared'.

    Do I sound like Ive been Anglicised (de-Americanised)? Not completely. I do have a waffle maker. :)

  15. I guess I am really out of touch -I had no idea there was such a thing as a cupcake maker.

  16. Ack! Gads, don't let it infiltrate television shows! I'm in the American south (with a British expat better half) and I "import" Beeb nature shows and documentaries to avoid the heinous amount of tripe we have over here!

    (thinks about the evil McDonalds we saw in Manchester and wonders about the practicality of bombing the hell out of it)

  17. It was really nice post. I must say you have very good observation power. You have mentioned all the things so well and in detail. I felt like I am seeing the differences in front of my eyes..


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