Thursday, 13 December 2007

Thursday thirteen: UK vs. US

My friend Darlene in San Diego was puzzled when I mentioned that one of the final checks I give a manuscript before it goes out is to ensure that I have conformed to American spelling, since the markets I submit to are American. She was not aware that the English spoken in the UK and many of its former colonies - like those here in the Caribbean - is not identical to American English.

C'mon, folks. It's not just the accents that diverge. It's also the spelling, grammar, vocabulary, idiom, formatting of dates and numbers et al. There are even differences in the approach to punctuation. To quote George Bernard Shaw, the United States and United Kingdom are "two countries divided by a common language".

Here are thirteen examples of these differences:

1. The ise (UK) vs. ize (US) divide: realise/realize, recognise/recognize, specialise/specialize...

2. The our (UK) vs. or (US) divide: labour/labor, favour/favor, harbour/harbor, neighbour/neighbor...

3. UK: post, postman, postbox. US: mail,mailman, mailbox.

4. UK: Primary school. US: Elementary school.

5. UK: Secondary school. US: High school.

6. UK: pavement. US: sidewalk. (In the US I believe the pavement refers to the paved surface of the road, so you don't caution your children like we do to walk on the pavement.)

7. UK: Bank holiday. US: Public holiday.

8. UK: A public school is an elite private school. (Don't ask) US: A public school is a state-run school.

9. UK: The past participle of some verbs can be either regular or irregular, for example learned/learnt, burned/burnt, leaped/leapt, dreamed/dreamt, spilled/spilt. US: The irregular form of these verbs is never or rarely used.

10. UK: Athletes play in a team. US: Athletes play on a team.

11. UK: The last letter of the alphabet is pronounced zed. US: It's pronounced zee.

12. UK: 'First floor' is the one above the entrance level while the entrance level is the 'ground floor'. US: 'First floor' is the ground level, and the one above is the 'second floor'.

13. UK: Digital time is written with a point, for example, 6.00 US: Digital time is always written with a colon: 6:00


pussreboots said...

Pavement is any large cement area, not just the "sidewalk" in the US although regional areas have their own names for it. For example: Banquette in New Orleans.

Hawaii has bank holidays. I think it's from its time as the Sandwich islands. :)

Fancier buildings will have a ground floor with a first floor above it.

Cheers from California and Happy TT.

Lane said...

Some interesting ones there that I hadn't noticed.

I love the US 'gotten' and 'pants' always makes Brits snigger:-)

Kaz Augustin said...

In the UK, it's a "lift"; in the US, it's an "elevator".

In it the UK, it's "give me a ring"; in the US, it's "give me a call".

In the US, "fanny" means arse; in the UK, it means "vagina". They weren't talkin' about her butt in "Fanny Hill"!

In the US, "khaki" is pronounced "kak-ee"; in the UK, it's pronounced "car-key". I believe both pronunciations are considered faintly obscene in the other's culture.

In the UK, it's "lent/learnt/towards/upwards", in the US it's "leaned/learned/toward/upward". (Watch those, Liane!)

The one that caused me the US it's "ketchup" (a bastardisation of a Malay word, incidentally, for soya sauce), in the UK it's "tomato sauce". Could never ever get the hot dog I wanted in the States! :)

Ad nauseam. Oh, and it's "nauseam", not "nauseum".

Matt said...

I've always said "bank holiday" personally.

Of course, the U.S. can't even keep its language straight across itself. Depending on who you ask, a carbonated beverage is either a "soda," "coke" or "pop" (though coke is generally only cola). A few regions go with "soda-pop."

Also another of my favorites is regional differences for the childish art of sneaking behind someone and yanking their pants (trousers for you brits - I hear your snickering) down to their ankles. I grew up with it called "de-pants-ing" though most people I know call it "pants-ing," which to me would involve putting pants onto someone against their will. (I've also heard it called "shucking," which is a lovely description.)

Another grammar difference illustrated in this comment - U.S. grammar always puts punctuation inside of quotation marks (see my commas above), though Brits put it on the outside.

KeVin K. said...

US English varies widely by region in common usage, which is not surprising given our size. When I taught English as a second language I always cautioned my students to avoid emulating the southern accent they heard around them. When anyone from outside the south (geographically the southeast) hears you speak with a southern accent then automatically drop your IQ about 30 points. (We drop initial articles, still use irregular verbs archaic to the rest of the nation, and tend to broaden vowels.)

I had a Cuban refugee one year -- he'd learned English from British instructors and spoke like a grammar text. A broad man with thick grey hair and black eyebrows, he was taking my course because the local idioms were opaque to him. Every class he'd wait patiently while I took the rest of the group through standard greetings or subject/object or some such, then he'd leaf through his pocket notebook, frown at a page and demand: "What is 'hun'? The waitress at the café called me 'hun'." "Short for 'honey'," I'd explain, knowing that by 'café' he probably meant McDonald's. "In southern culture it is common for women to address others -- men, women, and children -- with informal endearments. They do not imply intimacy nor familiarity, it is merely custom. Do not use informal endearments when you address others." He would nod thoughtfully, annotate his entry, and move on to his next question: "What is 'turkey ham'?"
I also had Spanish speaking Americans. People whose families had lived in Texas and California and Arizona since the western half of our continent was a colony of Spain. They'd lived their whole lives in America without needing English. Until they'd followed jobs to a region that had never heard Spanish.)

Actually, most regional accents are fading. I've been told that when a Brit speaks everyone in the room can instantly peg where they were raised to within a mile. Americans are more general and it's not uncommon to find blends of regional accents and idioms.
I think that's why it's easier for Brits to fake an American accent than it is for an American to fake a British accent. We're used to overlooking accents and idioms wandering about the map

kim said...

I have always been jealous of the our vs. or thing.

Anonymous said...

The English once thought England was the centre of the World but now the Americans are sure the US is the center. Americans use sulfur in their matches but it appears the Brits use sulphur in some of their food. Americans put their groceries in the car trunk while the English would use the booth. The Brits think their accent is bloody good but Americans think it's damn good.

Lane said...

Had to come back and have a look.
A closet for a Brit is something a gay person is in, before they 'come out'.
Fauset is only ever a tap.
Vest is worn under your clothes
Braces/suspenders. Here, suspenders hold up stockings and braces go on teeth.
Cell phone/mobile.
One of my favourite US words is 'stoop'. 'Front steps' just doesn't compare.

Good luck Liane

ORION said...

This was fun to read. The UK version of LOTTEY comes out in just a few weeks but they didn't do any editing on this- It's the same manuscript as was released in the US...

wordtryst said...

This has been great fun. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I wasn't even aware of some of these.

High school exams here used to be marked in the UK so we were taught that Americanisms were 'wrong'. With the influence of the mass media it seems to that the approach to language is much more inclusive, and what we have are all kinds of variations and fusions - some of my purist friends would say corruption - of this language that we love.

Welcome, pussreboots.

Kaz, I did a frantic search of this blog to check my spelling of ad nauseam and sure enough, I spelled it incorrectly in at least one post. Thanks! My friends who studied Latin (yes, Dion, I mean you) must shudder at these slips.

Matt, we call it 'pantsing' down here. And the punctuation is tricky: sometimes it goes inside in UK usage too.

Kevin, very interesting. I spent some time in Miami where the default language is Spanish, and I know exactly what you mean when you write about the Cuban guy. Not to mention the prejudice against the southern accent. These attitudes get transferred globally via TV and cinema, believe it or not.

Kim, the jealousy works the other way too. Often the American way seems much more logical, as with aka_lol's center vs. centre.

Orion, nice of you to drop by! For those who don't know, Orion is Patricia Wood whose first book Lottery was released this year. It has been doing marvellous things, too. I posted about it here.

Lane, thank you. As you can imagine, straddling these variations of the language gets more than a little confusing at times.