American vs British English|
Basic Differences and Influences of Change
(Introductory Outline for First Course Segment)
American English has grown steadily in international significance since
World War II, parallel to the growth of U.S. political, economic,
technological and cultural influence worldwide. American English is
currently the dominant influence on "world English" (cf. British English)
largely due to the following:
American and British English are both variants of World English. As such,
they are more similar than different, especially with "educated" or
"scientific" English. Most divergence is due to differing national
histories and cultural development (cf. Are Americans
Ruining English? [PBS]), and the way in which the variants have
- Population: U.S. vs U.K. (SAE/SBE ca 70% vs 17% of all native
English; [Dibul #68 from Google cache])
- Wealth of the U.S. economy vs. the U.K., & influences
- Magnitude of higher education in the
U.S. vs. the
U.K. (cf. Finland )
[January 2014 figures]
- Magnitude of the publishing industry in America
- Magnitude of global mass media and media technology influence
- Appeal of American popular culture on language and habits
- International political and economic position of the U.S.
The following general categories of difference between standard British
English (SBE) and standard American English (SAE) each have their
own sociolectic value:
I. Different Pronunciation, Although Same Spelling
- Advertisement (advert, ad),
- Controversy, laboratory, secretary
- Leisure, schedule, dynasty, vitamin, privacy, dance (cf. Gatsby one
and two (see also
2013 visual effects [YouTube])
- Renaissance, oregano, migratory, garage, clerk [bank, office], ate,
a 'beta' version,
- 'PC'-influence problematics: harass & harassment, Uranus, etc.
(Consistency? Predictability? cf. 'horehound', 'hoarfrost', etc.)
II. Different Spelling, Although Same
'Alright': Not a word? Grammatical error?
(Click to enlarge)
Note this 'homely' girl on a British book ...
...compared with this quotation from U.S. journalist H.L. Mencken
Counting in American English; notice the absence of 'milliard' (as used in
A 'thousand million' a term coined to avoid confusing
international audiences is the same amount in SAE and SBE
- Axe ax; plough plow; colour color, centre
- Cheque check (noun form [bank]; verb "to check" the same)
- Defence defense (noun form); licence (noun form)
- Alright all right; manoeuvre maneuver; tyre
- Ageing aging; gaol
jail; liquorice licorice
III. Same Term, Different But Similar Spelling and Pronunciation
- Aluminium aluminum
- Polythene polyethylene
- Maths math (shortening of "mathematics")
- Rise raise (more money in salary, wages)
IV. Same Words, But Different or Additional Meanings
- I married a homely girl (cf.
SAE example) The opening of our new
play was a bomb!
- We all had tea and biscuits. (cf. Harry Potter, 'crumpets' vs 'English muffins', etc.)
- The corn harvest was exceptional this year.
"maize" or "sweetcorn"; GB "any cereal" or "wheat", Scotland "oats", etc.;
- We needed a torch for the dark trail. (cf. flashlight,
or GB 'electric torch', flaming torch)
- IBM made over a billion dollars last year. (cf. "thousand
million"; 'changing' GB standards)
- The committee tabled the motion (GB: put it on the table
- Nigel and Trevor purchased 7-day Travelcard season tickets
- Ralph needs to write an essay for his university
- GB 'trousers' = US 'pants'; US 'pants' = GB 'underwear pants'
(cf. 'It was a frightening storm; my pants got all wet')
V. Grammar, Syntax, Punctuation, General Usage
(Differences in Usage with SBE 'Large Collective Nouns')
- Date writing, number/word order (never use only numbers!)
- Use of commas and periods inside quotation marks
- Business letter salutations, colons vs commas
- 'Honorifics': Mr. or Mrs. or Dr. Smith (U.S.) vs Mr or Mrs or Dr
Smith (GB), etc.
(Differences in Usage with SBE 'Pluralised Adjectives')
- (U.S.) Finnair has a flight to London today.
(G.B.) Finnair have a flight to London today.
- (U.S.) England has (...) played well today, even if it
(G.B.) England have played well today, even if they lost.
- (G.B.) The Government are acting like themselves
(Other Common Usage Differences)
- SAE: John failed his drug test; he's no longer on the team.
SBE: John failed his drugs test; he's no longer in the team.
- Cf. also the British "appointments book", "drinks counter", and
- However, there is also SBE "book shop", "magazine rack" and "student
meeting", etc.; usage varies with both instance and individual usage
- Usage also varies in SBE internationally (e.g. local adaptations?) cf.
SAE: I purchased my new sandals from the shoe store on Mombasa Road
SBE: I purchased my new sandals from the shoes store on Mombasa Road
- (G.B.) Have you got your grade in history yet?
(U.S.) Have you gotten your grade in history yet?
- (G.B.) He went on a course. How many were on the course?
(U.S.) He was in a course. How many were in the course?
- (G.B.) We lived in the High Street. (cf 'street people' ...)
(U.S.) We lived on Main Street ("on" plus article plus
- (G.B.) He's in hospital with a broken leg.
(U.S.) He's in the hospital with a broken leg.
- (G.B.) I have got a car. vs. (U.S.) I have a car. I got a car.
- (G.B.) We weren't able to catch him up
(U.S.) We weren't able to catch him, catch up with him,
catch up [with him].
- One was different from/than the other.
VI. Same Concept, Different Terms or Expressions; (or)
Differences in Style, Connotation and Frequency
- Hire a car rent a car (hire-purchase vs installment plan)
- Petrol gasoline; Saloon sedan, Estate car
- Boot trunk (storage area); silencer muffler (to
reduce exhaust noise); other auto terms
- Fortnight two weeks; Goods train freight train
- Barrister vs. solicitor ['brief', 'silk'] lawyer, attorney,
- Sweet (vs "sweets") dessert; red whortleberries
lingonberries, food terminology generally (see 'Localizations' of Food Terms in Children's Books)
- GB "bank holiday" vs US "public holiday" or just "holiday"; a
fête (party); "Boxing Day"
- GB "mates" & "lads" vs US "friends"; GB "tossers" & "wankers" vs US
"dorks" & "losers" etc.
- "Could you tell me where Waterloo Station is?" (UK); "Would you be
able to use one of these?" (AU);
"yes/no" vs expected cultural
- See also Selected ENGA2 Language Residency
Report Observations as well as Lost in
Translation for US/GB 'changeability' [quite or very?] and other
VII. "Creativity": Spinoffs; Combos; Referencing of Current
Events and Brands
- Hamburger cheeseburger, beefburger, fishburger,
The onomatopoetic 'boing' ...
(Click to enlarge)
... and its alter ego 'sproingg'
(see also onomatopoetic comic
terms and animal sounds one
An Arizona 'xeriscape'
- Hotel, motel, floatel, boatel
- Suburb, exurb, technoburb, cyburb
- Hardware, software, firmware, shareware, freeware, vaporware,
- Citizen, netizen atmosphere, blogosphere;
- [outsourcing] to crowdsourcing,
cloudsourcing, crowdfunding, crowdworking ...
- Copyright to "copyleft" (cf. 'Wiki' contributions, for example),
'to Google', 'googling'
Verify to "wherify"
(GPS-technology child-tracking system)
Wikipedia to 'wikiality
('facts' determined by 'majority rule')
[cf. Alan Turing's suicide via a bite of a cyanide-laced apple to the
Apple logo, etc.]
Twitter & 'twittering', twitterati, twittiquette, a 'tweet' (cf.
The Twictionary; see also 'hashtag')
- "Climate canary," "to be YouTubed, to be Plutoed" (cf. WOTY2006 [PDF]), a "plutoid" ['something less
than a planet'], etc.; see also WOTY2012
and WOTY2013, where "hashtag" and "selfie"
were Words of the Year)
- The "boingg" effect (cf. 'sproingg',
etc.) (N.E. Journal of
Medicine 1981, then 21st century)
- Fashionista, stylista, frugalista, accessorista (all reflective of
both the present economic situation and new 'Spanglish' influence)
- Smoke/fog = smog; cf. cosmetics/pharmaceuticals = cosmeceuticals;
pharmaceuticals/farming = pharming
- Sexploitation, cityscape, zeroscaping (xeriscaping; xerostomia
- 'Brand name' recognition cf.
"Half & half"; "A 6-pack of PBR tallboys"
- (Roz, on Frasier): "I'm going to climb into a hot tub with
my good friends Ben and Jerry"
VIII. Euphemistic References
- Security officer, hair stylist, household manager
- Powder room, ladies' lounge; motion discomfort bag
- A "pre-owned" car (cf "used car" & "used-car salesman")
- "The loved one..." (cf. death and
funeral references generally)
- "To deselect, dehire" employees; to "downsize, right-size" the
IX. "Equality" Vocabulary
- Fireman/firefighter, policeman/police officer, mailman/mail carrier
- Stewardess/flight attendant, salesman/salesperson, etc.
- Chairman chairperson, chair, presiding officer
- Manmade artificial, synthetic, manufactured
X. "Politically Correct" References
- Seniors; 'older' adults (55 & older) vs. "elderly" or "old" people
Americans vs 'black Americans' or 'blacks' or 'people of color'
- 'Stay-at-home mom' vs "housewife" (not 'married to one's house')
- "Canola" vs "rapeseed" oil; animal
companion vs "pet", Native American vs "Indian"
- Recent controversies: an 'articulate' black politician? A
XI. 'Ethnolects': "Black English" (specific terminology in cultural
- Everybody look down at they feet; I ain't afraid of nuthin'
- You ugly, man; I the baddest cat around; He be good.
- Boy, nigger, soul food, honkie, rapping (note the
disagreement over the term)
XII. Yiddish and Ethnic Jewish Influence (lexical & structural) on
- Schlep, goy, schlemiel, schlock, chutzpa, nebbish, shtik
- I should have such luck! He's
complaining yet! This I need? What's not to like?
- "Schm-/shm' reduplication," from the Yiddish koyfn, shmoyfn
(to buy, not to buy; who cares?)
e.g. 'fat-shmat, so long as she's happy,' 'fancy-schmancy' (pretentious)
or 'Oedipus, schmoedipus as long as he loves his mother!')
XIII. Various Jargons; Changing Cultural References...
- Computer culture: fonts, multitasking, up/downloading, blogging,
lurking, flaming, etc.
- Internet 'memes' #1 [snarky] & #2, 'twerking'
'digital detox' (downtime away from social media), etc.
- Technoculture: technocrat, technopeasant,
techno-potato; a virtual corporation
- Infoculture: telecommuting, edutainment, 'terrestrial' TV (vs cable,
satellite); [broadcasting to] 'narrowcasting', broadband vs narrowband,
digital vs analogue watches
- "Gay" culture: (drag, closet, fairy, fruitcake, 'to out'
'he was outed') [vs GB 'poof', etc.]
- Drugs: Cocaine (coke, leaf, snow) Cocaine/heroin formerly, now PCP
(angel dust); crack, valise, kilos, a 'brick'
- Social 'Trendiness' (status): Yuppie, Buppie, Puppie, Dinks, Woofs
- Business: Power breakfast, Valium picnic, warm fuzzies
- Youthisms: dork, nerd, geek, dweeb; psyched, pumped, barf
XIV. Regional Variation, Identity, Stereotyping
Variation in Terminology
Terms for general, 'anonymous' or 'stereotypical' persons
- Soda vs Soda Pop vs Pop vs Coke vs 'tonic', etc. (see map from www.popvssoda.com)
- 'Ice cream soda' vs 'milk shake' vs 'shake' vs frappe vs cabinet
- 'Rubber band' vs 'gumband' (Pittsburgh region), etc.
Varying implications (region, education, ethnic) of "non-grammatical"
- "Uncle Sam" (U.S.) vs "John Bull" (U.K.)
- John Doe, John Q. Public, Joe Citizen, Joe Senior
- Joe Blow, Joe Shmoe, Joe Six-Pack, "brother", "sister"
- "Southern" names: Billy Bob, Jimmy Joe, Bubba and Beauregard
- (a) "He ain't done nothin' yet" (uneducated, rural?)
- (b) "He done et over at th' Hatfields"
- (c) "You be late...the food be cold." (Black English)
XV. "Four-letter words", Obscenities and Implied Obscenities
- Damn, fart, piss, crap, turd, shit, fuck, cunt; vs GB bloody, bugger,
bollocks, sod, tosser, etc.
- His daughter was a thespian who matriculated at the
state college. She came to the party with a homo sapiens!
The dean said he was an extrovert. He masticated
throughout the meal.
Course References Index
Last Updated 04 February 2014