Monthly Archives: February 2021

TWO NATIONS DIVIDED BY A COMMON LANGUAGE

That expression, or something similar, has been attributed to both George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde and I’m not sure who actually said it first.  No matter, it’s the idea that matters. I’ve been writing for some US companies of late, so I have to ensure I use American spelling.  But it’s not just the spelling, some of the terminology is different too.  Faucets instead of taps, back yards instead of gardens, pants instead of trousers,  mom and pa…. And the spelling: colour vs colour, valor vs valour, and so on.

I don’t know why the two versions of the language have diverged so much but I do know that, depending where I am in the States they either adore my accent (Georgia, Louisiana) or they don’t understand a word I am saying (Nevada). 

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by differences in the language, we have a regional differences in the UK – I brew tea but further north, they mash it.  I take a bath (NB there is no r, it’s just a long a), but up north they take a bat-h.

Accent is quite a significant difference between the two languages.  The Americans tend to have longer vowels than we do.  My somewhat clipped vowels were what confused them in Nevada.  The main difference, and something lots of nationalities struggle with, is that we English do not roll our r’s. 

Then there are the prepositions.  I know lots of English people get this wrong (it is correct to say different from, not different to) but in the US it’s ‘different than.’  Then they say, “what are you doing on the weekend?”  On the weekend?  They mean “at the weekend,” obviously.  And then there is that whole “Monday through Friday” thing when they mean Monday to Friday.

The Americans do not understand the difference between collective and singular nouns either.  For example, it is correct to say that the government is doing all it can to help businesses during the pandemic.  However, Americans would say the government are….  Wrong, wrong, wrong.

We’re probably all used to Americans saying they’ve gotten a headache.  It’s not wrong (after all, we say forgotten) it’s just we usually tend to drop the end of it.  But they have also regularised some irregular verbs, eg leapt becomes leaped, burnt becomes burned and learnt becomes learned.  I could go on but I’ll stop with some differences vocabulary UK and American English and the translations:

WordEnglishAmerican
 Ground floorFirst floor
JumperSweater, usually knittedSomeone who jumps off a building
PantsUnderpantsTrousers
RubberPencil eraserCondom
ChipsChunky, fried potatoes, proper fat fried potatoes.  Those nasty skinny things you get in some fast food restaurants are not chips.Potato crisps.
 Bum bagFanny pack
BiscuitBiscuitCookie (in the US a biscuit is a buttery bread roll)
DummySomething you use to pacify a babyAn idiot (harsh)
FlannelFace flannel, a terry towelling squareA thickish, button down shirt
PissedTo be rather drunkTo be angry
FagCigaretteA derogatory term for a homosexual
BumBacksideHomeless person
ChapsMale friends, sore lipsLeather over-trousers worn by cowboys
ChemistA pharmacistA scientist who works with chemicals

© Susan Shirley 2021