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Linguistic imperialism

November 28, 2020

Has anyone else noticed that the traditional expression in the light of has dropped its definite article over the last few years, and now takes the slimmed-down form of in light of? I first noticed this in philosophy articles and papers but it has become more widespread. I have a feeling, which I could not substantiate with evidence, that the change is American in origin. Which is odd because in some contexts Americans are keener on the definite article than we are: they tend to say in the hospital where a British speaker would say in hospital. 

While we are on the subject of the influence of American on British English, has anybody noticed the creeping use of likely as a synonym for probably? As in ‘The game will likely go to extra time’. Not keen on that. In British English, likely belongs to that small groups of adjectives which end in -ly, even though though -ly is the regular suffix for adverbs. Others include friendly, spindly and leisurely. To my British ears, likely used adverbially sounds crashingly wrong. But American linguistic imperialism is irresistible and we’ll likely – I mean probably! – all be using it before long.

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3 Comments
  1. Mark Brafield permalink

    That’s interesting. I am also starting to notice ‘math’ as the American version of ‘maths’ creeping into the language. This was very funny when used by Professor Denzil Dexter, the crazy hippy scientist on The Fast Show, but just irritating when people use nowadays it to sound cool.

    On the question of ‘probably’ versus ‘likely’, when I am in court I have to explain to people that any disputes of fact are decided ‘on the balance of probabilities’. One judge told me that he thought that people could not understand this formulation, so he explained it by saying that when faced with a dispute of fact, he had to decide which version of events, taking everything into account, ‘was the more likely’. I think this is grammatically correct – no doubt you will correct me if I am wrong – but I thought that it was interesting that people could understand ‘likelihood’ more clearly than ‘probability’.

  2. Simon Carter permalink

    There must be quite a difference; The Likely Lads versus The Probable Lads.

  3. If I had thought of that joke I would have put it in!

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