September 2015

Tidbits on the English Language - No. 2: Growing Beyond the United Kingdom Borders

War and the Rise of America

On May 8, 1945, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the King appeared at the balcony of Buckingham Palace, after the defeat of Germany, waving their hands and reported to an ecstatic English population that the war was over. This scene was also reported to America by radio commentator Edward R. Murrow - the Second World War had come to a close, marking the end of an era and a new dawn for the English language. From then on, American English superseded its British counterpart as the most familiar type of English.

The strategic, economic and cultural interests of America spread to the world with an enormous impetus, through international English-speaking organizations such as UNESCO and NATO, together with private businesses like Exxon, Ford and IBM. This, in addition to the weakening impact of the homeland of English, helped America further increase the authority of the language.

American military bases were set up in the UK, Italy, France, Germany, and so on. The speech used by the US military was characterized by its profane and vivid nature.

After the capitulation of Germany, atomic bombs were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945. This incident introduced into English lexicon such vocabularies as fireball , mushroom cloud, test site, countdown, fallout, fusion, fission, chain reaction, and atomic holocaust, etc.

Japan relied on many American goods to rebuild the country, and US brands - such as Lucky Strike, Marlboro, Budweiser, Schlitz, Gillette, Kodak, Maxwell House, Kellogg and Coca-Cola - started making their way into the lives of Japanese people.

After the war, tens of thousands of English terms rapidly permeated into the Japanese language. It might be added that the opposite pattern was also true as some Japanese expressions entered the US vocabulary. One example here would be the word honcho.

Example: Who's the honcho on this project?

Honcho pronounced [hancho] is a Japanese term meaning a "leader" or "boss."

WWII was followed by the Cold War, an ideological confrontation between two superpowers, the USA and the USSR. The term Cold War was added to dictionaries in 1947, and anti-communist underworld organizations within the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe drew world's attention by publishing their manifestos in English.

The two superpowers first clashed during the Korean War (1950-1953), and new words were drawn from this conflict too, including brainwashing and chopper (for "helicopter").

Those hostilities were highly publicized in newsreels, but in 1953 several weeks before the armistice, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II drew people in many countries to their television sets.

By then televisual broadcasts had been gradually gaining in popularity. American films and TV shows were enjoyed in many countries, and the lifestyle and culture of America mesmerized many thanks to the introduction of as-then-unheard-of products such as Hoovers, Kleenex and Xerox.

Wars continued creating more English vocabulary afterwards, as the Korean War was followed by the Vietnam War (1960-1975), establishing new words such as defoliate, napalm, firefight, friendly fire, search-and-destroy mission, domino theory, inoperative combat personnel, silent majority, and vocal minority, etc.

Needless to say, conflicts are not the only source for new words or expressions. In the next issue, we will present more facts on the further development and spread of English.

Written by Masanori Itoh, Translation/Localization Department