Americanisms in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders
A FAST-US-1 (TRENPK2) Introduction to American English Second Paper
The FAST Area Studies Program
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere
Milla Remes, Fall 2007, USA
Susan Eloise Hinton is an American author who has mainly written fiction for young
adults. She was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma (SE Hinton.com).
The Outsiders was published in 1967 when Hinton was just eighteen years old. She
wrote the novel because she felt that at the time there was no realistic fiction written
about teenagers, and because she was frustrated by the social situation in her own
high-school where people were divided into different groups (SE Hinton.com).
The story of The Outsiders is told by Ponyboy, a fourteen-year-old boy whose
parents have died in a car-accident, and who is living with his two older brothers,
Darry and Sodapop. The three brothers belong to a gang of greasers, as do their
friends Steve, Two-Bit, Dally and Johnny. Greasers are rivals with the Socials, that is,
the Socs. Greasers are middle class, and poorer than Socs, but also wilder. Greasers
wear their hair long and use hair oil – thus the name. Socs are rich and well-dressed,
and one of their favorite things to do is to attack greasers.
At the beginning of the novel, Ponyboy and Darry have a fight which ends in Darry
hitting Ponyboy. Devastated by this Ponyboy runs to a nearby park with Johnny.
While they are there, a group of Socs arrive. The drunken Socs are mad because
earlier in the evening they have seen Ponyboy and Johnny with their girlfriends. The
Socs try to drown Ponyboy, but Johnny stops them, accidentally stabbing one of the
Socs to death.
Ponyboy and Johnny know they have to get away and hide from the police. With the
help of Dally, Johnny and Ponyboy run away to the countryside, to Windrixville,
where they hide in an old church. Later Ponyboy and Johnny save a group of
children from the church that has caught fire, and Johnny is badly injured. The boys
return to town, and Ponyboy makes up with Darry, and understands that his brother
is hard on him just because he loves him.
While Ponyboy and Johnny have been away, a full blown war has broken out
between the Socs and the greasers. There is a big fight between them to settle
things for good. The greasers win and as a result the Socs are to keep away from the
greasers’ territory for good. Later Johnny dies in the hospital, and Dally is shot by the
police after robbing a grocery store.
The death of two close friends, on top of trying to get by without parents and
struggling with being labelled a greaser, has an enormous effect on Ponyboy. In
order to make sense of it all, Ponyboy decides to write down everything that has
happened – thus, we have The Outsiders.
There are several factors which reveal that The Outsiders is an American novel.
The way certain words are spelled in Standard American English (SAE) differs from
the way they are spelled in Standard British English (SBE). Examples of this are
listed below (the American word appears first, followed by its British equivalent).
behavior (20) – behaviour
center (27) – centre
color (20) – colour
favor (13) – favour
gray (9) – grey
honor (116) – honour
neighborhood (9) – neighbourhood
self-defense (94) – self-defence
smoldering (63) – smouldering
There are also words in SAE that have completely different counterparts in SBE.
Examples of word pairs like this are listed below (again, the American word appears
fall (61) – autumn
fender (178) – wing
gas station (17) – petrol station
garbage (48) – rubbish
go to the movies (21) – go to the cinema
grocery store (161) – supermarket
movie (10) – film
There are several references to school in the novel. A junior (18) is third-year
student, and a senior (22) a fourth-year student in high-school or college (Rekiaro
855, 986). Ponyboy talks about the A’s and B’s (21) he gets from school (A is the
highest grade you can get, and B the second highest grade), and also says that he
“made the honor roll at school all the time” (116), which means that he had high
enough grades to be among the best students in school (Rekiaro 834). Cherry
Valance (a Social girl Ponyboy has a crush on) is a cheerleader (29), and Darry used
to be captain of the football team (24) in school.
Some well-known real-life people are referred to in the novel. Ponyboy says that
Two-Bit reminds him of Will Rogers (18), an American humorist (Rekiaro 973). When
Ponyboy and Johnny are in Windrixville, Ponyboy is remembering a poem by the
American poet Robert Frost (86). The beginning of the big fight reminds Ponyboy of
books written by the American author Jack London (151). In addition, Elvis Presley
(45) is mentioned.
Some other references are made to popular culture. In Windrixville, Johnny buys
Ponyboy a copy of Gone with the Wind (79), which is an American novel written by
Margaret Mitchell. During a hearing concerning the death of the Soc Johnny killed,
Ponyboy wonders if he has been watching too many Perry Mason shows (175). Perry
Mason is an American TV series about a defence attorney, Perry Mason, and the
show first aired in the fifties (Perry Mason TV Series).
Some geographical names relating to the United States are mentioned in the novel.
The story itself is taking place somewhere in the Southwest (19). New York (18) is
talked about several times, because Dally had lived there for a few years. In addition,
Texas (88), Florida (182) and the Arkansas River (145) are mentioned.
Cars play a vital role in the novel. Car makes such as Mustang (21), Corvair (44),
Sting Ray (93), T-bird (96) and Ford (111) appear in the novel.
Some brand names are also mentioned. There are references to two cigarette labels,
Kool cigarettes (27) and Camel cigarettes (87), and to Coke (29), that is, Coca-Cola,
and Pepsi (40).
There are several other references to typically American concepts. For example,
Dally rides in rodeos (19). A drugstore (27) is a store that sells cosmetics and other
types of goods besides medicines. In Windrixville Ponyboy, Johnny and Dally stop at
a Dairy Queen (91) to get something to eat. In addition, the F.B.I. (49), that is, the
Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Halloween (81) are mentioned.
Colloquial Language and Slang
The language of the novel is very colloquial, and there is also a great deal of slang
used, because the way the greasers mostly talk is not standard English. This is
emphasized by the spelling of many words and phrases, as in the following
‘cause (25) = because
coulda (82) = could have
Didya catch ’em? (20) = Did you catch them?
‘fore (68) = before
gonna (13) = going to
gotta (60) = got to
oughta (121) = ought to
outa (54) = out of
shoulda (82) = should have
ya (57) = you
The letter g is often omitted from present participle forms of verbs and replaced by an
apostrophe. Thus forms such as doin’, walkin’, and comin’ (21) appear in the novel.
There are also some examples of the double negative in the novel. Sentences like I
ain’t got nobody (59) and That don’t bother me none (96) appear in the novel.
Some examples of slang words that are found in the novel are listed below. All the
following words can be found in Whaddyacallit, a dictionary of American English
booze (35) = alcohol
broad (22) = woman
bug (17) = annoy
cooler (20) = jail
dig (10) = like
dig (25) = understand
dough (125) = money
fuzz (28) = police
gal (94) = woman
get hauled in (23) = get arrested
heater (91) = gun
holler (10) = yell
slugg (13) = hit
swipe (24) = steal
two-timin’ (22) = cheating
Certain colloquial or slang exclamations are often used in the novel. These include
for Pete’s sake (14), gosh (30), gee (50), golly (60), heck (40), and shoot (60).
Brockman, D.M. Perry Mason TV Series. URL:
<www.perrymasontvseries.com/index.htm>. Viewed 13 November 2007.
Hinton, S.E. The Outsiders. New York: Viking Books, 1967.
Rekiaro, Ilkka. Whaddyacallit. Amerikanenglannin slangin ja amerikkalaisuuksien
sanakirja. Helsinki: WSOY, 2002.
S.E. Hinton.com. URL: <www.sehinton.com>. Viewed 13 November 2007.