English: A Language That Has Ausgeflippt

The word around the world is English, more or less

The United States and Britain, George Bernard Shaw once remarked, are two nations separated by a common language. Today he might say much the same thing about the U.S. and the whole world. ICE CUBOS, says a sign in the Mexican resort of Acapulco. Lebanese audiences watching Rambo shout exhortations in English, and a Japanese rock-'n'-roll hit begins, "Let's dancin' people/ Hoshi-kuzu nagarete feel so good . . ."

It was the British empire, on which the sun never set, that originally spread English around the world, along with tea breaks, cuffed trousers and the stiff upper lip. But when the...

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