Monday, November 07, 2005

Gratuitous BritSpeak

Mark asks:
I read a very interesting piece you wrote that convinced me that you are the person who can answer a burning question I have. What in the world has recently occurred where the word "the" is dropped when speaking of hospitals? ex. "My grandmother is ill and has been in hospital for weeks."

There are others like this and they escape me at present. What's your theory?

Mark, what we have here is a fine example of a gratuitous britishism. Americans use the word hospital as a noun, and thus speak of that big building where you go to have expensive and painful life-changing experiences as "the hospital." The British drop the article and always speak of being "in hospital," as if they're midway through the process of transforming the noun into a verb and will someday speak of going hospitaling or having been hospitaled.

(I've often wondered: if you get into a bad car accident on the A590, might you wind up in traction in hospital in Barrow-in-Furness?)

Americans who use the expression "in hospital," on the other hand, are probably doing so because they feel it makes them seem more cultured, worldly, and frankly, less American. If you observe such a person closely, you will eventually catch them spelling the monochrome shade between black and white as "grey," inserting extraneous u's into "neighbor" and "color," and talking of giving some stubborn mechanism "a good bash with a spanner."

A Fun Game to Play: if you catch someone using the expression "in hospital," note the date, and see how long it takes them to use the expression "put the Wellie on it" when they want someone to move faster!