Archive for the ‘UK vs US English’ Category

Penelope Keith bemoans… pretty much everything

Posted on November 15th, 2010by Michelle
In English, UK vs US English, Words | Leave a Comment »

Hot on the heels of Emma Thompson’s attack on ‘sloppy’ language, another actress has been bemoaning the state of English.

Penelope Keith, star of The Good Life, has given an interview to The Sunday Telegraph in which she states:

“Language is my bugbear. Everyone says things now like ‘I was sat’ instead of ‘I was sitting’, which just sounds so ugly.

“I know language has to evolve and progress, but what we’re doing is diminishing ours by getting rid of present participles like ‘sitting’. It’s so much more descriptive than ‘I was sat’, which really offends me.

“And, of course, American pronunciation, too: if I hear anyone else say ‘irrevocable’ on the Today programme, I shall break every wireless in the world. I recently did a Noel Coward play, and someone on the team told me they’d ‘researched’ it,” she recalls, with a shudder.

Keith puts some of the blame for the demise on social networking and is also concerned that the ‘misuse’ of language is leading to the death of manners. To round off the interview she also criticises the current state of British television and “the demise of general family viewing” (whatever that may be). Whew.

I may be getting old, but I do think Keith has a point when she says:

“In this great age of communication, there are a lot of people you can’t actually understand. I know everyone tweets, and twits and texts, and all that, but actually we’ve all got voices, and it is awfully nice to hear them and, if you can, understand what people are saying.

“We have this wonderful language and we don’t appreciate it.”

I often have difficulty reading texts and emails from my 20 year old sister. Perhaps she’s showing me the future and I have to adapt rather than vice versa?


Posted on November 8th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Translation, UK vs US English | Leave a Comment »

Having spent a lot of time overseas listening to different versions of English, I’m always amused to note the differences and similarities to British English.

At the beach recently with an American friend, we discovered that we each had a different pronunciation for the floating device in the water known as a buoy. Whilst he said something like boo-ee, I laughed and responded boy.

I was delighted then, to receive a link to the style guide of The Economist, a weekly British publication concerned with international news and politics. The link led me to a very amusing section on Americanisms. Here’s a sample:

Try not to verb nouns or to adjective them. So do not access files, haemorrhage red ink (haemorrhage is a noun), let one event impact another, author books (still less co-author them), critique style sheets, host parties, pressure colleagues (press will do), progress reports, trial programmes or loan money. Gunned down means shot. And though it is sometimes necessary to use nouns as adjectives, there is no need to call an attempted coup a coup attempt or the Californian legislature the California legislature. Vilest of all is the habit of throwing together several nouns into one ghastly adjectival reticule: Texas millionaire real-estate developer and failed thrift entrepreneur Hiram Turnipseed…

I recommend reading the rest of the entry. Anyone got other Americanisms to add?

“Hey y’all!”

Posted on June 17th, 2009by Michelle
In English, UK vs US English, Words | Leave a Comment »

Y'allSpending a lot of time talking to an American man from the South, the word “y’all” has struck me as very interesting, although probably unusable if you don’t have a Southern accent. It has, however, spread to the extent that it’s included in the Merriam-Webster, so maybe it’ll catch on across the Atlantic eventually.

“Y’all” is short for “you all”, and is pronounced something like “yawl”. “Y’all” is commonly incorrectly spelled “ya’ll”, but think of the two words it’s made up of and it’s simple: “you” and “all”. When saying or writing “y’all”, you’re merely taking out the “ou” in “you” and replacing it with an apostrophe. “All” is one word that you cannot break up.

So when and how do you use it? As David Parker explains on Another History Blog:

…the word serves an important function in English. We have separate singular and plural first person pronouns (“I” and “we”) and third person pronouns (“he”/”she” and “they”), but there is no distinction in the second person; “you” is both singular and plural. The distinction between the French “tu” (singular) and “vous” (plural) doesn’t exist in English. It did until a few centuries ago: “thou” was singular, “you” plural. But by the time the American colonies won their independence, “thou” had practically disappeared and “you” was serving a double function. It’s almost as if we’re missing a pronoun now, and “y’all” admirably fills the second person plural position.

In other words: it’s OK to say “how are y’all doing?” if you’re referring to a group of people, but if you’re just talking to the one person, it’s best to stick to “how are you doing?”

And some further usage examples from my American friend:

“Y’all gon be around later?”
“Where y’all from?”
“Who won between y’all and em?”


Posted on May 4th, 2009by Michelle
In Spelling, UK vs US English, Words | 1 Comment »

It’s easy to get confused with inquire and enquire. They both mean the same thing: to seek information about something or to conduct a formal investigation. But which is which?
Inquire within
The difference between these two is particularly hard to distinguish. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘enquire’ is “to be used for general senses of ‘ask’”. ‘Inquire’, however, is used for when the meaning is more “to make a formal investigation”. The dictionary experts also note that enquire is more common in British English, whilst inquire is more commonly seen in American English. However, a notable exception in British English is that a formal investigation (e.g. by the police) is always an inquiry.

It’s no wonder then that this sign niggled at me. I saw it in Melbourne, Australia, where British English is more common than American. According to the rules above though, they were technically correct!

And some further examples?

You may enquire about a person’s health.
I inquired about the incident last night.

Inquire/enquire can also be a noun – inquiry or enquiry. Thus:

The police were conducting an inquiry.
My friend made an enquiry about my health.

Ya flamin’ galah!

Posted on April 25th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Idioms, UK vs US English | Leave a Comment »

Aussie Genteleman
I found this postcard in a souvenir shop in Australia recently, and it greatly amused me (click for legible full size).

Australians have come up with some excellent phrases that (sadly) have not made it into general use in British or American English. “Ya flamin’ galah” is perhaps my personal favourite, and will be familiar to anyone who watches Australian soaps. It basically means “you fool” and is best delivered in a broad Australian accent.

Whilst most of the slang on this postcard you’re unlikely to hear in the major urban areas of Australia, I can’t wait to get to the outback (or “the bush”) to see if someone really will call me a drongo and give me an earbashing for having a barney!
For more Aussie slang, see here.

We don’t need ‘u’!

Posted on April 17th, 2009by Michelle
In UK vs US English | Leave a Comment »

As someone who grew up in England and thus speaks British English, I have never really understood why or how Americans felt the need to change our wonderfully obtuse spellings by removing various letters from random words. How much extra time does it really take to write that extra ‘u’ in ‘colour’ anyway?

According to the MSN Encarta, it’s mostly due to the work of one man – Noah Webster (of Merriam-Webster), who around the time of the American Civil War decided that Americans needed their own dictionary. And their own spellings. His books, “An American Dictionary of the English Language” (1828) and “The American Spelling Book” (1783) were widely used and promoted “the use of an American language that intentionally differed from British English”.

So out with the old, and in with the new – Webster had most success with removing those ‘u’s (“colour” to “color”, “honour” to “honor”) as well as changing suffixes such as ‘que’ (e.g. “cheque” became “check”).

Other words such as “program” (in British English it is “programme”) have developed and changed in the intervening years through immigration and its further cultural influences. With American English being adopted by more English language learners because of America’s continued cultural and business success overseas, we’re sure to see more American spellings in every day life.

Give us a ‘z’! Or is it an ‘s’?

Posted on April 13th, 2009by Michelle
In Education, Hints and Tips, UK vs US English | 1 Comment »

Prioritise. Prioritize. Apologise. Apologize.

Same word, one letter different. People often get confused with the “z” and the “s” in words like these. One way is generally favoured by American English, the other by British English. Which is which?

The answer is slightly complex. The use of ‘z’ was popularised in American English when it was standardised in the 19th Century, whilst ‘s’ has become more widely used in British English, perhaps as a backlash against the American use of ‘z’. However, British spelling has always recognised the use of the suffix ‘ize’, with the Oxford English Dictionary generally favouring it.

There are some American spellings using ‘z’ though that are not acceptable in British English, ‘analyze’ being one.
Most importantly though, it’s best to be consistent. So if you start off by “organizing”, you should continue by “prioritizing”.

When a Swede’s not a swede

Posted on April 3rd, 2009by Michelle
In UK vs US English | Leave a Comment »

SwedesswedesRecently I went to the supermarket with a Swedish friend. In the fresh produce section, she was surprised to find a vegetable called a ‘swede’. I was equally surprised to find she didn’t know it as a swede!

This led to us pointing out different produce and comparing names. An ‘aubergine’ to me was an ‘eggplant’ to her; ‘courgette’ a ‘zucchini’ (I like both exotic sounding names for this cucumber-esque fruit).

This duality of names is not limited to vegetables – in English (as, I’m sure, in many other languages), we name a lot of things twice, if not more. ‘Mummy’, ‘Mum’, ‘Mama’, and ‘Ma’ are all common alternatives for one person – your mother (‘Mother’ is also a common, if somewhat more formal term).

So, how do you decide which term to use? It really depends on who you’re talking to. The main point of language is to be understood, so a person with American English will understand ‘zucchini’ but not ‘courgette’, and vice versa for someone who speaks British English. As for a Swede? Who knows…