I am British and have lived in Britain my entire life. I have never heard anyone refer to an estate car as a “station wagon”. I have never heard anyone refer to a criminal as a “hood”. I have never heard anyone say “wisecrack”. I have never heard anyone say “sure thing”. I have also never heard anyone begin a sentence with “Hell …”, except Ed Miliband during the 2015 election and he was ridiculed for it.

And yet this is the language that the British characters in British writer Len Deighton’s “Game, Set and Match” trilogy use when speaking to other British characters. The narrator also refers to trousers as “pants”, which I have never heard any British person do.

In Berlin Game, the British narrator phones a “Federal Emergency Number”. In London Match, the British narrator tells his British wife that his murdered British subordinate, who worked for the British security services, was punctilious about reciting the “Miranda Warnings.” Nobody in Britain knows what the Miranda Warnings are, but they are what American police recite after they have arrested a suspect.

When I asked a similar question about Berlin Game on Quora, I was told I was reading the American edition. And I was! So I went out and bought the Penguin Classics edition, which, it says in the front, was originally published by Hutchinson. And the Americanisms are still there!

(Somebody on Quora also suggested that FED was the number 333 in the days when phone numbers also had letters and that this took you straight through to Whitehall.)

In all three books, the author repeatedly adopts the American practice of using the past simple tense where traditional British English would use the perfect. It is very, very noticeable, it is on almost every page and I think it is this more even than the American vocabulary and idioms that gives the books such an American flavour.

Can anyone explain this mystery?

  • 3
    Wikipedia says that Deighton "left Britain in 1969, and has lived abroad [ever] since". Commented May 1, 2022 at 12:25
  • FWIW, "hood" is, like a lot of Americanisms, actually archaic English rather than a novel development. Cf. the legend of Robin "Hood", aka Robert of Locksley. Other archaic Americanisms include "fall" for the season, "gotten", and "I guess" (used by Chaucer). Commented May 1, 2022 at 12:57
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    'I have also never heard anyone begin a sentence with “Hell …” you never met my father, born Leicestershire 1920. Commented May 1, 2022 at 19:29
  • 1
    The London FEDeral exchange (01-333 after STD introduction) served key central government functions and was originally a WWII exchange. Nothing to with the 'Federal Government'. Another was the TRAfalgar naval exchange. Commented May 1, 2022 at 19:41
  • I agree that some of Deighton's later spy series (the Game, Set, Match) series were consciously written for an 'international' readership, I think his early stuff (such as The Ipcress File) has a very British flavour, as have (e.g.) Bomber and SS-GB. Commented May 1, 2022 at 19:51


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