‘S’ or ‘Z’

March 9, 2007

Union Jack “S” —- OR —- Stars & Stripes “Z”

My sister brought to my attention this morning that if I really want to be a true Brit and represent my country, I should use the letter ‘s’ in place of the American use of the letter ‘z’ in words like realise and customise and follow the Queen’s English to the letter. She makes a very good point. While I have pondered the thought of going back through my blogs and doing a global replace of ‘z’ for ‘s’, I want people to know (especially my English countrymen) that it was a conscious decision on my part to use the ‘z’ format.

Why? Well in short it is because I simply wanted my American readership to feel more comfortable. While seeing ‘z’ in words like custimize is merely a peculiarity and mild irritation to a Brit, seeing an ‘s’ in a word like customise is more alien to an American.

Besides, I’ve had over seven years to get used to writing ‘ize’ words instead of ‘ise’ words and I am quite comfortable with it now.

I think if there was a big enough groundswell of opinion for me to change back to ‘s’ I would do so, but to me, its a minor concession to make.

Just because an authoritative and standardised English dictionary existed in England approximately 60 years before such a dictionary came to pass in America should not be cause for me to be overly pietistical. Besides, my blogs are courtesy of WordPress, an American company, a fact I am constantly reminded of when I try to “ise” my words and the inbuilt spell checker underlines my words in red, demanding I change them to “ize” words. I do hate red ink on my virtual documents.

I do however struggle enormously with saying and spelling the word aluminum instead of aluminium. For some reason this really seems to go against my upbringing. Thank goodness there aren’t a lot more words in the English language that end in “ium” because if Americans forced me to replace “ium” with “um” I think I’d just have to pack my bags and head back home to Blighty! Instead of helium we would have helum and Kurt Cobain’s Lithum just doesn’t have the same ring to it.


Things: An Urban Dictionary

March 8, 2007

International Conversion Reference Guide
English to American / American to English

I hate redundancy and so I will try not to repeat or reiterate things I have already covered in previous blogs. The purpose of this particular blog is to correlate all those things that I have come across that can cause possible confusion for our two countries and try to provide clear and concise explanations for each.

This document will be a work-in-progress so I will keep coming back and adding to it as I remember things. I feel it is more accurately defined as an ‘urban dictionary’ than an authoritative guide.

Once you’ve read the article and appreciate the format, feel free to comment and contribute your own additions. I do not intend to cover words that we pronounce differently but are basically the same, like aluminum (aluminium), tomato, yogurt (yoghurt) etc., only those things that are actually completely different and can cause the most confusion to a visitor.

The conversion format is American to English in all cases except where you will see *no equivalent* on either the American or English side of the equation notating that there is no known equivalent for said item in one of the cultures. Slang terms will be enclosed in single quotation marks ‘like this’.

American (first) to English (second)

Hood – Bonnet
Trunk – Boot
Gas/Gasoline – Petrol
Gas Station – Petrol Station
Stop Light – Traffic Light (on red)
Windshield – Windscreen
Windshield Wipers – Windscreen Wipers
Stick Shift – Manual Gear Change (i.e. non-automatic)
Sidewalk – Pavement
Freeway – Motorway
Rest Stop – Services/Service Station
Semi – Lorry
Road Sign – Sign Post

Wrench – Spanner
Monkey Wrench – Wrench/Monkey Wrench
Flat-Blade (Flat-Head) – Screwdriver
Philips – Posidrive / Philips Screwdriver
Come Along – Pulley (specifically ratchetable chain pulley found in an automotive garage)

Around the Home
Restroom (public) or Bathroom (private) – Loo/Bog/Toilet/Bathroom/Ladies/Gents
Faucet – Tap
Stove – Cooker
Closet – Cupboard
Vanity Unit – Medicine Cabinet
Broiler – Grill (and hence broiling = grilling)
Grill – BBQ (Americans use the term BBQ’ing too but specifically Grilling to an American = BBQ’ing)
Toilet Tank – Cistern
Toilet Paper – ‘Loo Roll’/’Bog Roll’
Baseboard – Skirting Board
Baseboard Heating – Floor Height Radiators
Doorwall – Patio Doors (uPVC)
*no equivalent* – Electric Kettle (for boiling water) –

Americans use archaic stove kettles, a saucepan, or a jug in their microwaves for boiling water. The concept of boiling water in an electric kettle is almost non-existent.

Pants – Trousers/Pants
Underwear – Pants/Underpants/’Undies’/’Undiegrots’
Tennis Shoes – Trainers
Sweater – Jumper
Bibs – Dungarees
Nylons/Hose – Tights
A run in a woman’s hose – A ladder in a woman’s tights
Diaper – Nappy
Sleeper/Playsuit – Sleepsuit
Pacifier – Dummy (Americans also use slang favorites like ‘binky’, ‘nuk’ and… ‘ninny’* {see physical})

Bangs – Fringe
Ass – Arse/Bum/Backside
Pregnant woman’s baby belly – Bump
Booger – Snot/Bogey/Ninny
‘Loogie'(Loogee) – Phlegm/’Greb’
‘Cooties’ – ‘Lurgy'(Lurgi)

Going Places
Going to the movies – Going to the cinema (English say “movies” too but Americans never say “cinema”)
Strip Mall – *no equivalent* (closest would be shopping center)

Basically a strip mall is a consecutive line of adjoined shopping stores either in a straight line, a rectangular horseshoe, or a full quadrant but the overriding features are that a) it has its own common parking to all stores and b) it follows a uniform design across all stores as the entire mall is usually designed and built by a single contractor who rents/leases out the individual stores to businesses. We do have similar places in the UK but is less common for an entire shopping outlet to be planned and built first in the hope that it will later be filled by high-street stores.

After creating this page I came across Chris Rae’s excellent The English-to-American Dictionary which you should also check out. Chris, a Scot, has been at this a lot longer than I have and his site has a wealth of content on this very subject including a great deal of reader contributed data.

Understanding the Differences

February 25, 2007

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”)