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By the time I returned to the United States from a ten-year expatriate sojourn in England, I was in love with the English language, its provenance in the Old World and evolution in the New World along a different path, all the extant words, all the extinct words, the Latin and Greek roots, dialects and colloquialisms. As an American living in England, my New York accent was considered “quaint.” At parties I was often asked to do “Brooklyn” or “Bronx,” though I had grown up in Manhattan and spoke a more neutral New Yorkese. Eventually, I learned to speak British English so well that late in my stay few people appreciated that I had learned another language and was now bi-lingual.

Anyone with a good ear for language will pick up the cadences, stresses and expressions of the region where they live. I forgot to switch back into American English when my American friends called. They would comment on my strange way of speaking and not always in a complimentary way. I was leaving America behind and had become European, they said. This was a betrayal. Their comments echoed the chauvinism I experienced in Britain, in reverse.

I returned to America with a devotion to English though I was also weighed down by the cruelties of colonial history, the insistence that the English language was an Imperial Tool. Now that English has become a global language by force of internet rather than by arms, and the days of Empire are—hopefully—over, these worries have become moot. But the etymologies of the language, its history, is still of great interest to me.

I returned to America with several old dictionaries I’d picked up at flea markets and soon landed a job writing etymologies for a language arts textbook company. It was the perfect transition back to New York and the language of my childhood and young adulthood, which had already mutated into something else, as it does constantly. My dispatches to the Times Educational Supplement of London began to sound more and more American by the day. My editors weren’t happy and I eventually gave up writing for British publications. But I still am an Anglophile and read Trollope for relaxation. On my new Kindle2 I can look up quaint Victorian words such as quod and bespoke. One is extinct, the other is extant.

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