Few of us now think of ‘belittle’ or ‘reliable’ as Americanisms. But when Jefferson used the former in 1785, the European Magazine was derisive: ‘Belittle! What an expression! For shame, Mr Jefferson!’ And in 1864 the Dean of Canterbury snorted that ‘Reliable is hardly legitimate … Trustworthy does all the work required’. But that was always a losing battle — more so than ever with 20th-century popular culture, above all the movies once they became talkies.