“The former Mississippi governor was all set to hop in to the Republican presidential primary. He even dropped twenty pounds in anticipation of the planned bid. Then in late April he announced he wouldn’t be a candidate. Why the reversal? According to authors Mike Allen and Evan Thomas, the announcement came shortly after he was shown an opposition research file that his advisers had started assembling on their boss, a fairly standard procedure in the early stages of any campaign. It’s still somewhat unclear what was in the file. Smith and Thomas say that ‘flashing red lights included foreign clients of Barbour’s lobbying shop,’ but they also left the door open to further, more salacious speculation when they noted that “some of the material was so embarrassing that Barbour was briefed in private” by chief adviser Scott Reed.”
Did Americans in 1776 have British accents?
Reading David McCullough’s 1776, I found myself wondering: Did Americans in 1776 have British accents? If so, when did American accents diverge from British accents?
The answer surprised me.
I’d always assumed that Americans used to have accents similar to today’s British accents, and that American accents diverged after the Revolutionary War, while British accents remained more or less the same.
Americans in 1776 did have British accents in that American accents and British accents hadn’t yet diverged. That’s not too surprising.
What’s surprising, though, is that those accents were much closer to today’s American accents than to today’s British accents. While both have changed over time, it’s actually British accents that have changed much more drastically since then.
First, let’s be clear: the terms “British accent” and “American accent” are oversimplifications; there were, and still are, innumerable constantly-evolving regional British and American accents. What most Americans think of as “the British accent” is the standardized Received Pronunciation, also known as “BBC English.”
While there are many differences between today’s British accents and today’s American accents, perhaps the most noticeable difference is rhotacism. While most American accents are rhotic, the standard British accent is non-rhotic. (Rhotic speakers pronounce the ‘R’ sound in the word “hard.” Non-rhotic speakers do not.)
So, what happened?
In 1776, both American accents and British accents were largely rhotic. It was around this time that non-rhotic speech took off in southern England, especially among the upper class. This “prestige” non-rhotic speech was standardized, and has been spreading in Britain ever since.
Most American accents, however, remained rhotic.
There are a few fascinating exceptions: New York and Boston accents became non-rhotic. Irish and Scottish accents are still rhotic.
If you’d like to learn more, this passage in The Cambridge History of the English Language is a good place to start.
“A crucial fact about award shows: they are fucking boring unless you are winning an award. Celebrate yourselves by all means. Take yourselves as seriously as you want and hand each other prizes. But don’t televise it unless there’s something in it for the viewers. An award show is not a spectator sport. I tried to make it one. I made a choice. Please the 200 most privileged people in the world, in the room, or please the 200 million ordinary people watching around the world on TV? I chose the latter. It wasn’t a particularly brave decision as things like that don’t really affect me either way. I don’t really count them as part of my oeuvre. They are outside my career so to speak. I host the Golden Globes, like some businessmen play golf. For pleasure. Then, Monday morning, I’m back at work. I don’t have to worry about what I say based on who might give me a job one day. If I think it’s funny, and/or true, I’ll say it. You see, I create my own labour. I write all my own material. I direct and produce all my own stuff basically. I’m not beholden to any so-called ‘big wigs’ or overly important people. Some would say I’ve got ‘Fuck You’ money. I would say I please myself and always have.”
- Ricky Gervais
Actress Mia Farrow, whose mother, Maureen O’Sullivan, starred as Jane in the Tarzan films, took to Twitter to remember the animal. “Cheetah the chimp in Tarzan movies died this week at 80,” she wrote. “My mom, who played Jane, invariably referred to Cheetah as ‘that bastard.’” “He loved women,” Cobb says. “He loved life, everything about it.