Bruce Moore reviews 'That’s the Way It Crumbles: The American conquest of English' by Matthew Engel

Bruce Moore reviews 'That’s the Way It Crumbles: The American conquest of English' by Matthew Engel

That’s the Way It Crumbles: The American conquest of English

by Matthew Engel

Profile Books, $32.99 hb, 278 pp, 9781781256688

Matthew Engel has written for many years in The Guardian and the Financial Times, on topics ranging from politics to sport, and between 1993 and 2007 he produced editions of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. In this latest book he takes up the bat (or steps up to the plate) for British English. That’s the Way It Crumbles is a lament for the death of British English, a noble warrior battered and bamboozled and beaten by its enemy, American English.

At the beginning of the book, the white cliffs of Dover become the symbolic focal point for Engel’s dirge. The Luftwaffe planes flying over the cliffs were the major threat to Britain in 1942, but when in that year Vera Lynn sang ‘There’ll be bluebirds over / The white cliffs of Dover’, she sang to a nation that was clearly oblivious of the fact that there never had been bluebirds anywhere in Britain, let alone flitting about the white cliffs of Dover. Bluebirds are American, and are viewed by Engel as a potent symbol ‘of an invading force that proved far more effective than the Luftwaffe’ – the American language.

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Bruce Moore

Bruce Moore

Bruce Moore, editor of the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary (2016), was director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre from 1994 to 2011. His recent publications include What's Their Story: A History of Australian Words (OUP, 2010), The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary 5th edn (OUP, 2009), Speaking Our Language: The Story of Australian English (OUP, 2008), The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary, 6th edn (OUP, 2007), Australian Aboriginal Words in English 2nd edn, R.M.W. Dixon, Bruce Moore, W.S. Ramson, & Mandy Thomas (OUP, 2006).