As a language, English is full of rich, vibrant words whose use or misuse can have an interesting effect on communication. One such misuse is the Americanism. I notice the word “selfish” getting thrown around a lot and was accused of selfishness myself recently by two different people for two different reasons. Observing the Covid crisis (read “farce”), we are told that who does not receive the ever-so-important jab is “selfish” because they care about their own health and well-being. I was told today that I was selfish for performing my duties alone on account of its being swifter for me to work alone on a task that can easily be done alone than it was for me to work with someone else on this task and have one person left to do a two-man job.
Why is this so problematic to me? To me, it is a sign that the modern language we know as “English” is more akin to some new language “American” than it is to being another dialect of English (the difference between languages and dialects is wide and substantial: I can speak English but might not understand someone speaking Yorkshire English, I can’t speak Chinese and could not distinguish between Chinese and Mandarin. American is a simplistic language in the sense that it does not really allow for equivocal words (a word that means a different thing in another context).
(N.B., throughout this post, quotation marks will be used a lot to mark out these terms, just go with it, it’ll make sense.)
An example of this is the word “simple”. To the modern mind, simple means something akin to “idiotic”, but to a more traditional speaker it can mean “idiotic” or “unintelligent” or “uncluttered” or “undecorated” or “uncomplex”. God is “simple”, but not in the “idiotic” sense, rather, He is without parts. Nothing goes to making up God in the way we have been made up, He simply is and is pure spirit.
Why, out of the plethora of words at my disposal, did I choose “simple” there? I was in conversation with an American recently who wished himself “simple” so that he didn’t have to know so much and could just be a farmer. My response to this was to rebuke him for wishing away the intellect God had given him. I then explained that to be a “simple farmer” was not to be a half-witted agricultural worker, it was to be a man who made his salvation and farm his priorities (in that order) and worried about those instead of what tricks the Jews were up to or whether “Cyberpunk 2077” was worth buying or not. A simple man leads his life without unnecessary worries, but that doesn’t require him to become unintelligent.
This simplicity of language is what we may call an Americanism. In Americanisms, you can refer to someone as “gay” to mean you don’t like him or you think him homosexual, but you can no longer call yourself “gay” because you’re happy. Likewise, you can no longer say “Gi’ us a fag” without being flagged as a raging homo.
What is all this in aid of? I am working towards a more thorough response to @Esoteric_Gorillia’s How does this sit with yall post and need to clarify at length that I may not be using a term in a manner you are used to, so get yourself a copy of the Oxford Dictionary of English.