"Would you have a look at this?"
"This expression in this story."
"Ah. It’s British. We shouldn’t use it."
After years of complaints in Britain that the language was being hopelessly corrupted by American slang carried over the water by soldiers and movies, there is now some return traffic.
The expression sussed out means that one has surmised or figured out something. It might not turn up in the stately and formal periods of P.D. James, but the demotic dialogue of Ian Rankin’s urban Scots or the robust Yorkshire idiom of Reginald Hill’s Superintendent Andy Dalziel could have made it familiar to fanciers of British murder mysteries. And, of course, the Harry Potter phenomenon in books and films has gone a great way to make British slang and idiom familiar on these shores.
An editor at this paper once objected to the expression went missing — another import from British mysteries. Its increasing frequency may be accounted for by the lack of an apt equivalent in American English. Found to be missing and discovered to be missing, in addition to being wordy, look self-contradictory. Is missing describes a current situation but is not much help in narrating past events. Further, went missing is handy because it can be understood to mean abduction, flight or mere wandering off. I suspect that it is here to stay.
Other imports appear to be gaining a foothold. Roundabout for traffic circle is preferred, with attached language unsuitable for a daily newspaper, by motorists in Towson and elsewhere in Maryland. At the end of the day for finally or most importantly has become monotonously familiar in political discourse. An acquaintance typically talks about having a coffee rather than going out for some coffee. Now that a cup of coffee can cost as much as a fast-food meal, the British version makes the occasion look a little more substantial.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Many Britishisms are convenient and succinct. The series Queer as Folk took its title from the proverbial expression There’s nowt as queer as folk. "Nothing (or nobody) is as odd as people" lacks the same punch. Give it a miss for pass up or forgo has a nice casualness of tone. Barking mad is vivid enough that it would be pleasant to encounter it in American discourse.
But my favorite, as a manager/administrator/bureaucrat is bumf. It is a wonderfully eloquent monosyllable with which to refer to official forms and all manner of paperwork. Its currency dates from at least the Second World War. And its origin? From bum-fodder — toilet paper.