Thursday, December 2, 2010

Detective Inspector, Grammar Police, American English Division

I used to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) to non-native speakers. Since I live in the US, I adopted and used the American English spellings for my lessons. I'm a native-born Brit and it took me a while to adjust to both spellings, depending to whom I'm talking, or to whom I'm writing. I'm sensitive to word spellings and constructions because I also do line editing. I'm so used to AE that a British friend dubbed me the title of this entry (in the most affectionate manner, of course).

So D.I. Annie presents to you some differences between British English and American English:

Just changes in spelling, but same meaning:
defence/defense (nouns end in -ce. If it's a verb, the British use the -se spelling)
storey/story (as in floor of a building)
aluminium/aluminum (note the extra "i" in the British spelling. It's pronounced "a-loo-MEE-nee-um")
anaesthesia/anesthesia (the British keep the extra "a")

Some British English (BE) words and their American English (AE) counterparts:

Davenport:a small writing desk (BE)
a sofa (American and Canadian)

Bomb (v): A smashing success (BE)
a failure (AE)

table (v): to consider immediately (BE)
to postpone till later (AE)

access (n) custodial rights (BE)
permission to go somewhere (AE: visitation rights)

Bristol fashion (adj) all taken care of (BE)
taken care of, all A-OK (AE)

Bungalow (n) modest house, cottage (BE)
one story house (AE)

Call (v) dropped by, visited (BE) The British say, "He telephoned" or "He rang." to refer to a phone call.
telephoned (AE).

catch (you) out (v) spot an error (BE)
The Americans say "Catch an error" or "Spot an error."

pavement (n) (BE)
The Americans say, "sidewalk."

razzle (n) A binge (BE) "To go on the razzle." means "to go on a spree" for Americans.
"razz" (v) to tease (AE).

run in (v) Breaking into a brand new car. (BE)
to meet unexpectedly, have an accident (AE).

slag (v) to mock, deride, tease (BE) to "slag (someone) down" means to "give someone hell, read them the riot act, call them on the carpet"
(n) destroyed (AE, military). "It was reduced to slag."

shake (someone) down (v) to let someone stay the night at your place (BE)
"shakedown cruise" in American naval terms is the maiden voyage of a newly commissioned ship.

flat, n. apartment (BE).
It's an adjective in AE, meaning two-dimensional.

bonnet (n) a car hood (BE)
a ladies' hat (AE)

boot (n) the trunk of a car (BE)
a shoe that goes above the ankle (AE)

zebra (zebra crossing) (n) pedestrian crossing (BE) Also called pelican crossing
crosswalk (AE). Also a sports term for the referee (who wears a black and white shirt)

wash up (v) wash the dishes. "Do the dishes" doesn't exist in BE.
use the restroom (AE)

And to clarify some numbers:
A zero in the US is a naught or a cipher in England.
A million in both countries is 1,000,000 (1 with 6 zeros)
A billion in the US is 1,000,000,000 (1 with 9 zeros). In England, it's a milliard.
A trillion in the US is 1,000,000,000,000 (1 with 12 zeros). In England, it's a billion.
A quadrillion in the US is 1,000 x 1 trillion (1 with 15 zeros). In England, it's a thousand billion.

So a billion in the US isn't the same as a billion in England. It does make a difference...a huge difference, by about 1,000.

And some commonly misused proper names:
(Note: Most people think of themselves as Scots, Welsh, Irish, etc. first, before being British)

British: a naturalized subject of Great Britain (it can include someone from Scotland, Wales, N. Ireland, or from any Commonwealth Country)
Briton: a person from Great Britain/England (shortened to Brit)
English: specifically from England in culture and outlook. (DO NOT refer to a Scot, an Irishman or a Welshman as "English". Just don't.)
Scot: A person from Scotland
Scottish: from Scotland (i.e. bagpipes, kilt, etc.)
Scots: Scottish English, Scottish dialect of English (NOT the same thing as Scottish Gaelic, which is Gaidhig)
Scotch: This is the English word for Scottish dialect (see above). The Scots themselves would not use this for their language.  It's also in certain expressions "Scotch whiskey" (whisky in England), and "Scotch tweed".

(Most terms from British English A to Zed: Revised and Updated Edition by Norman W. Schur, updated by Eugene Ehrlich ©2001 by Checkmark Books, New York)

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post, do you think people still run in cars these days?..My cars are all well run in these days LOL!


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