Today on Radio 4 business editor Robert Peston linked football (known elsewhere as soccer) with the eurozone crisis, and then he apologized for using a "terrible Americanism" when he referred to the "winningest football nations du monde". (Apparently there's no need to apologize for using a Frenchism.)
Another discussion on Radio 4 centered on how the UK has been declared the least innovative team in the world. It's tied with Liechtenstein when it comes to technical innovation. (Apparently financial innovation, which brought down the world's economy, doesn't count.) Its only entry in the Top 100 Global Innovators, Unilever, is actually partly owned by the Dutch, which gives new meaning to "dead last" since the single Leichtensteinian company listed is solely owned by Liechtensteinians.
Does anyone see a link here? The constant harping on "Americanisms" such as "winningest" and "mojo" and "kindergarten" (apparently Germanisms are lumped in with Americanisms as an object of general condemnation) displays a refusal to innovate the language which I find alarming.
I'm not arguing for ignoring the rules for language—far from it. For instance, I find the constant use of "it's" to indicate the possessive form of "it" very troubling. I fear one day such usage will become accepted grammatical practice simply because a majority of English writers use the wrong form.
But finding a new way to refer to a team that has the most wins is being playful with language. I'll quote an expert on language, Lynneguist, replying to a BBC article about "irritating Americanisms". She demolishes the complaints, one by one:
43. My pet hate is "winningest", used in the context "Michael Schumacher is the winningest driver of all time". I can feel the rage rising even using it here. Gayle, Nottingham
Oh, I could have sworn I'd written about this one before, but it seems I haven't. I haven't much to say about it, except that it fills a gap and demonstrates a willingness to play with the language.
I'm really baffled by the fact that Gayle feels such rage upon hearing the word. Perhaps it's similar to the rage I feel when I hear technicians referred to as "engineers". And perhaps if Britain referred to engineers properly there would be more of them and thus, more innovation. The baggy-trousered "engineer" who fixes my washing machine wouldn't exactly inspire me to spend years studying the discipline of engineering.
This tendency to refer to technicians as engineers was also discussed on Radio 4 this morning, which Robert Peston, for some reason, found "surreal". I don't mean to pick on Robert Peston—I actually think he's brilliant (a Britishism I've embraced, since I'm all about innovative language). Nor do I mean to pick on technicians, but calling a technician an engineer is like calling a copyeditor a playwright.
The lack of innovation in Britain today undoubtedly has many causes, but I can't help but believe that people who are constantly worried about too much innovation in language will fear innovation in other areas too. And often it's the media—the very media who today are wringing their hands about lack of innovation—who's whipping them up. (See that playful use of the word "whipping" there? That's how it's done, and it's nothing to fear. Well, unless there really is a whip involved.)