British English, Welcome to America!

There has been some “buzz” lately about British English words and expressions coming into American English. These are called “Britishisms.” This trend is easy to understand given two huge British cultural influences on America: Harry Potter (still hugely popular in the USA) and Downton Abbey (a delightful television program that I recommend you start watching immediately if you are not already!). We at Language Success Press welcome the British English expressions into our American vocabulary “with open arms.” Apparently, the British are not so “keen” on having American English vocabulary enter British English.¬†“In the U.K., the use of Americanisms is seen as a sign that culture is going to hell,” said Jesse Sheidlower,¬†¬†American editor-at-large of the Oxford English Dictionary in an interview with the BBC News.

So what are some popular terms that have sailed across the Atlantic to join our American vocabulary recently? Here are a few:

one-off: this means something unique; something that only happens one time and is not repeated. You will hear this a lot in the American workplace these days.

keen on: to like someone or something. Example: I’m not keen on going to New York this weekend (meaning: I don’t really feel like going). Or: Sandy is really keen on her new neighbors.

twee: too sweet or sentimental; excessively cute (apparently comes from a child trying to say “sweet”). Americans would also say “corny” in some cases. Example: The movie, in which two giant teddy bears fell in love, was a little twee for me.




Business English from the Real World

One of the best ways to keep improving your business English is to read the business pages of the newspaper. I find the Wall Street Journal to be very well written and full of idioms and expressions. Let’s take a headline right from today’s Wall Street Journal. In this case, all we need is the headline for a productive mini-English lesson!

P&G’s Stumbles Put CEO On Hot Seat for Turnaround

Here we’ve got two very useful business expressions in one short headline. Plus we have one very good noun (stumble) and one acronym you should definitely know (CEO).

So let’s start with the useful expressions:

on the hot seat – in a difficult position. Note that you will sometimes hear this as “in the hot seat.” Why “hot seat” in this expression? you ask. Some say this expression comes from the days when police used bright lights when asking questions of suspects. Bright lights made the questioning very uncomfortable.

turnaround – an improvement in conditions (when things are bad and then they turn good). I believe this originally just meant “turning in the opposite direction.” These days, when used in business, this means turning in a POSITIVE direction. A second definition in business relates to a period of time one has to do something (“What’s the turnaround on this project?” – “We need to get it done by Friday”).

Now let’s look at another word in the headline: stumble. Can you guess what this means? Well, it must mean something bad if it put the CEO on the hot seat right? Yes, indeed! It means mistakes or missteps (what you would call a “screwup” in slang). In this case, stumble is being used as a noun. But it is also very often used as a verb. To stumble means to make a mistake. If you stumble when you walk, you hit your foot on something. There is the expression “stumble through” which means to get through something awkwardly (as in: “Joe stumbled through his talk and quickly left the room”). If you “stumble over” something, you trip over it (“Susan stumbled over the books lying on the floor”).

Finally, we have our acronym: CEO. Do you know what this stands for? It stands for Chief Executive Officer. That’s the person in charge of the company. There may be other “chiefs” at the company too – such as Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Learning Officer (CLO), Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). All of these people make up what we call “C-level” executives and they are in a place at the company called the “C-suite.” All of those “C’s” standing for “Chief” and chief meaning the highest in rank or authority.

By the way, you may be wondering about “P&G.” That stands for Procter & Gamble. It is a large American consumer products goods company (CPG for short). The company makes products like laundry detergent, diapers, cosmetics, razors, shampoos and many other products you use every day. They were founded all the way back in 1837 by William Procter and James Gamble. Since the company is now nearly 200 years old, we can imagine it will survive. But perhaps today’s CEO will not survive the hot seat for too much longer.

A Great Reason to Reduce Your Foreign Accent

If you have an accent when you speak English, it probably adds to your charm. It also gives people an immediate conversation starter when they hear you speak (“What country are you from?”). Or they may enjoy guessing where you’re from. However, there is a “downside” to having a foreign accent when you speak. What’s a downside? It’s a negative aspect of something.

Research from the University of Chicago shows that foreign accents make speakers seem less truthful to listeners. What’s behind this? The listener’s brain. Non-native speech is more difficult for the listener’s brain to parse (analyze). This difficulty causes the listener to doubt the accuracy of what they’re hearing.

Researchers tested this with a simple experiment. People in the study were asked to judge the truthfulness of statements said by native and non-native English speakers. An example of the type of question asked was: A giraffe can go without water longer than a camel can. The people in the study doubted the statements more when they were spoken with a foreign accent. Native speakers got a score of 7.5, people with some accent a score of 6.95, and those with heavy accents got a score of 6.84.

So reducing your foreign accent may not only make you more clear when you speak, it will also make you more credible. This gives me (a native speaker of English) motivation to work on my Russian accent!

You can read more about this in Scientific America by clicking here.