The theory of ‘Bumbershootism’

by Lucy Hundrup, Year 12

Last week, a lecture on ‘The Complicated Relationship between American and British English’ was hosted by Northumbria University, and three students and two teachers from the English department were lucky enough to attend.

Following on from her newly published book on the same topic, Lynne Murphy, a linguist who has was born in America, but has lived for several years in the UK, discussed many relevant topics relating to the two sub-categories of English in a fun and accessible way. Most memorably, she dispelled many common misconceptions about the differences between American and British English, proposing her theory of ‘bumbershootism’, which follows on from the American belief that the British word for ‘umbrella’ is ‘bumbershoot’. Throughout the lecture, Lynne spoke of various reasons for these differences, suggesting that social norms do play a key role in our interactions- it turns out we do live up to the stereotype of saying ‘sorry’ about four times more than Americans do (although they say ‘thank you’ twice as much as us). She consistently referred to historical figures, quoting insightful ideas such as Benjamin Franklin’s preposition that if Britain ever went to war with the US, their languages would become as different as Spanish is to Portuguese.