Stop Saying “Spot On.”

london phone booth

I remember exactly when I first heard a Britishism that began creeping its way into American business. That one was “at the end of the day.” The year was 1984. A couple of British clients dropped the phrase repeatedly into their conversation with me to mean, in our American equivalent, “when all is said and done…at the conclusion of the process…when all factors have been considered,” and like that.

Believe it or not, no one in America up to that point ever said “at the end of the day” to mean this. If you said “at the end of the day,” it was because you meant nighttime. But this new, British meaning spread throughout the American business vocabulary like a cancer. Within a year or two, everyone in business was saying it here.

Now there’s another one. “Spot on.” Like “at the end of the day,” it comes from the United Kingdom. You’ve been able to see it in British newspapers and magazines for years now, and it means the same thing that we used to mean when we said, “exactly right…just perfect…right on,” and like that. You hear it everywhere now. Foodies on a message board I frequent say it to describe the flavor of a particularly successful dish. The other night I overheard a table of young people at a restaurant using it to describe someone’s critique of a movie.

I suppose we adopt these Britishisms because we think the Brits are so much smarter than we are. Or because by dropping them into conversation, we can demonstrate that we are cosmopolitan, and have been exposed to people from other lands. There’s really no need for these Britishisms other than for sheer pretense, because we already had perfectly fine American ways to say the same things.

So just stop it.

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6 Comments on “Stop Saying “Spot On.””

  1. Craig says:

    A lot of people here in Australia get very upset when Americanisms creep into our language. It’s impossible to stop with the large number of American television shows that air here. I was taken to task on my radio show for saying ‘guys’ a few years ago. An Americanism that always makes we wince (being a classical music broadcaster) is ‘concertize’ (verb). Hideous! You can keep that one Ted! I always like the Henry Higgins lyric in My Fair Lady (referring to the English language): ‘In America they haven’t used it for years!’ I’m sure also that many Americanisms have crept into the British language – it must go both ways! And hopefully all our languages are all the richer for it. Hopefully?

  2. conchapman says:

    I agree. Now please tell me what the literal origin of the phrase “put paid to” is. I understand from context that it means “bring to a definitive end”, but no definition I’ve ever found says where it comes from; stamping a bill “Paid”?

    The phrase is used by would-be highbrow writers to spiff up their columns, but you never hear anyone in America actually use it in conversation. Hence the implication “I’m cultured and you, poor reader, are not.”

  3. Ted E says:

    Right on, brother – just saw it mentioned today in one our local rags here in Portland, Oregon.

    When my friends use the term, I tell them to stop using it.

  4. Tom Bowden says:

    I think “put paid to” probably refers to the stamping of a bill or invoice to mark it “paid” as in done, taken care of, etc. That’s just a guess – probably not spot on but at the end of the day, what’s the difference.

    BTW, I also noted the rapid onset of both of these “Britishisms” and they really are jarring and/or annoying. Kind of like hearing someone say “bloke” with a Boston accent. I had assumed that “at the end of the day” was a reference by wall street traders who had to settle up literally “at the end of the day” and that it’s use was intended to suggest that one was on the inside of things relating to Wall Street and finance in general. Maybe it’s both. Either way, it’s annoying.

  5. Steve says:

    Ted, I think that at the end of the day, you’re spot on, and you American plonkers should stop using those terms.

  6. I’ve heard / seen a few folks use “spot on” and it just grinds my gears…


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