British or American English?
The Beatles first flew into New York in February 1964. They had what to many American ears was a charmingly fresh approach to the English language.
Interestingly, this came across more in their spoken interviews than their lyrics. Early Beatles songs consciously followed the established 'American' style: 'I Wanna Be Your Man'.
In fact 'I want to hold your hand' (sung wanna) arose from a direct request from Brian Epstein for a single tailored to the US market.
Success gave The Beatles to licence (or license!) to 'Act Naturally' as Ringo sings. By the mid-Sixties British cultural and linguistic references permeate their song lyrics. Here are a small selection:
- '...crawled off to sleep in the bath' (from Norwegian Wood). This refers directly to the bathtub rather than the room.
- the (UK) National Health Service (from ‘Dr Robert’)
- '...the News of the World (newspaper notorious for sex scandal stories from ‘Polythene Pam’)
- ‘ring my friend’ (‘Dr Robert’ Americans would say call)
- 'Time for tea’ (British advertising jingle from ‘Good Morning, Good Morning’)
- Dressing gown (‘She’s Leaving Home’(bathrobe in US English).
- Plasticine porters in ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ – the American equivalent Play-Doh doesn’t quite work here.
- 'Such a stupid git' ('jerk') (from 'I'm So Tired'
- 'Doris gets her oats' (on Let it Be). A 'Doris' is an unflattering reference to a female and 'oats' is British slang for sex.
'Britishisms in Beatles Lyrics' Harold Somer