In an otherwise reasonably well-reported BBC piece on American adoptions of British — really English — expressions, Cordelia Hebblethwaite described me, accurately, as generally deploring the practice, but tricked out my remarks in a tone that made it sound unfamiliar to me or others, as Mark noted in his post.
"Spot on – it's just ludicrous!" snaps Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley.
"You are just impersonating an Englishman when you say spot on."
"Will do – I hear that from Americans. That should be put into quarantine," he adds.
Now, as Mark surmises, that report wasn't entirely spot on. For one thing, I wasn't snapping anything (at best, I was going for a crackle). To be sure, that could be the fault of it one of those cross-cultural misunderstandings arising out of intonational differences that John Gumperz explored in his research.
But I suspect that it was something more deliberate than that, particularly since Hebblethwaite later has me "quivering" with "revulsion" over British loans. Listen, when I quiver, I quiver, but the target is generally United Airlines, not some piece of English usage. But it's a weary cliché among the feature-writing classes that opinions about usage are made to sound more comical when they're rendered in the tone of operatic indignation that Lynn Truss has made a specialty of, even when that tone has to be spun from the writer's imagination. Indeed, it wasn't only my tone that Ms Hebblethwaite, well, misremembered.
"That should be put in quarantine," she has me saying of the repeated 'do' in verb-phrase ellipsis, as in in "I might have done." (She characterizes the offending expression as "will do," which was confusing to some commenters on Mark's post, since the latter does exist in American, of course, as an idiomatic acknowledgment of a request or command.) Now "put in quarantine" is commonly used metaphorically in the UK, where quarantine was historically imposed on travelers and shipments arriving from abroad, and where until just a few years ago, pets were quarantined for six months on arrival. (Americans of my generation may recall how Liz Taylor quartered her dogs on a rented yacht in the Thames so that she could visit them while on a shoot in London.) But I don't think I've ever heard "quarantine" used this way in American English — and in fact I think few Americans associate the word specifically with things imported from abroad. Oh dear, it's distressing enough to be misquoted deploring the wholesale adoption of Briticisms without having to undergo the further indignity of having one of them inserted into one's very own mouth by one of those journalists who feel impelled to embellish their stories with touches of, you know, writing.