Understanding the Differences


So, we all know that there are differences between American English (or “Webster” as I prefer to call it) and the Queen’s English (or “real” English as I prefer to call it) but on both sides of the pond, few know just how many there actually are.

Few Americans realize that there is a world outside of the United States. Fewer still realize that it wasn’t they that invented the English language, .. or sandwiches .. or space travel (I could go on but I won’t). In fact if you are a Brit living in America, most Americans will happily tell you that a) you have an accent and b) you don’t speak English (as they understand it). A sad truth is that even fewer Americans know, that even before full independence was achieved, there was a conscious effort to begin a ‘separation’ process on many levels from England. Not least among these was the development of Webster’s English (now American English) which would be taught in the developing school system across the 13 colonies and beyond. This modern take on the English language included changes in both spelling and pronunciation of many words and also included the introduction of some new words.

Now a polite word of warning. . .

Unfortunately the above facts appear to have been conveniently forgotten and if you are a new Limey in America, you can be forgiven for thinking there is some kind of bizarre conspiracy going on to make you think that all you have been taught in English schools is somehow wrong and that you are being made to feel somewhat stupid as you inadvertently stumble over numorous “mispronunciations” when engaging in conversation with your new American acquaintances or families. Now here’s the best advice I can give you:

i) Don’t keep fighting it. You will never single handedly re-educate 300 million Americans. Especially when 1 in 8 of them has Spanish as their native tongue.

ii) If you plan on living here, as excruciatingly painful as it is to try and start pronouncing words the same as Americans, you might as well give in and make that effort because you’re already at a disadvantage with your accent and if you walk in to a room and start throwing around words like ‘to-mah-toh’ and ‘yog-urt’ and ‘alu-min-ee-um’ you are going to get some very blank stares. Believe me.

Now while we are on the subject of accents, let me also prepare you for two constants that you will come across:

1. Americans will take much joy in asking you where you are from, but not before they have tried to guess. Guessing will usually take the form of “Australia?” “Canada?” “Scotland?” or “Ireland?” but don’t be surprised if you get thrown curveballs like “Are you from France?” This has happened to me more than once in the seven years I have lived here.

2. You come from London! I don’t care if you are from Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Portsmouth, Ipswich or Bristol many Americans (especially those working behind the till in gas stations) will ask this question of you:

“What part of London are you from?”

Now you can muse as much as you like about whether this question derives from their belief that Britain = England = London or whether they believe (as some do) that the U.K. only has two cities, London and Edinburgh (“Ed-in-burrow” <cough>) with a road between the two.

Now, to be fair to Americans, most “could care less” as they are want to say. Although for a Brit, that would beg the question, “how much less could you care?”. The correct phrasing of “could not care less” appears to have totally escaped all but the best educated over here. Thankfully my wife, who hails from Michigan, is not among the unknowledgeable, and had she been, I would not have failed in my duty to correct her!

In the next blog called “Things” I’ll make an effort to list all the things that can cause the greatest confusion between our two great cultures. I plan on “Things” being an evolving document which I will keep adding to as I remember stuff.

Readers are more than welcome to contribute their suggestions for things they feel separate English and Americans (Limeys and Yanks) and I am interested in hearing from both. After all, I don’t want this blog to be completely one-sided.

(Ed. “Yanks” is a term that almost all British people call Americans, regardless of whether you are an American from the north or the south. Its our equivalent to your “Limey”)

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One Response to Understanding the Differences

  1. kp says:

    Are you saying that you meet people who say ‘i could care less’ when they mean ‘i couuldn’t care less?’ if so I’d soon be a gibbering wreck! Good luck living there

    I'm afraid so kp.

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