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Old Jun 15, 2011, 1:20 PM   #41
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I thought of some very clear differences (between American and English) and I was going to write them here, but I've forgotten them! But I have just spotted one example of something that I've often seen. I saw reference to "a family of six fox". Now if that's correct American it certainly isn't correct English - we would say "six foxes". I can't remember the other similar occurrences I've seen, but they're pretty numerous.

A difference not of spelling but of pronunciation is "herb". Americans don't sound the initial "h", just as in modern French. But the English always sound the "h", and I believe earlier French usage was also to sound it.

I'm not sure when English started migrating to America in significant numbers, but in England we had experienced what is known as "the great vowel shift" between about 1350 and 1500, when modern English was evolving from middle English. The pronunciations of many words changed radically, so that the spelling (already crystallised because printing had been around for a while) often ceased to have much relation to the pronunciation. Similar changes happened in some other languages, but none to anything like the extent that happened in English. I suppose (though I don't know, and I believe no-one knows) that it was the final stage of Norman French being assimilated into a new single language of English. Pronunciations still varied widely across the country, and it wasn't really until the railways came that these started to draw together to a great extent. There are still many regional variations though, and in some places dialects persist that are relics of the original constituent languages. Perhaps the most obvious (once you hear it) is Geordie, which is largely unintelligible to people from the south of England.

A few other English/American differences that I can think of off the top of my head:- Biscuit/cookie, jam/jelly, tap/faucet, curtains/drapes.

English is really fascinating.
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Old Jun 15, 2011, 4:52 PM   #42
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I saw reference to "a family of six fox". Now if that's correct American
It's not. It is probably colloquial, based on the fact that sheep, shrimp, and Moose are both singular and plural. The correct plural of fox is foxes - likewise goats and pigs. Fish is both, but fishes is also used. Go figure.

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English is really fascinating.
Agreed. Why is it that in a fire, a garage burns down, but the car that is in it burns up?

While the house is burning down it (and everything in it) is going up in smoke, but the physics behind this wording is obvious.
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Old Jun 15, 2011, 8:36 PM   #43
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Why is it that in a fire, a garage burns down, but the car that is in it burns up?
In England the car would "burn out".

An American washes up before dinner (washes his hands), whereas a Brit washes up after dinner (washes the dishes).

A Brit goes to the bathroom to have a bath (in a bath tub). To do what an American does in the bathroom he goes to the toilet. The slightly more polite word for "toilet" in Britain is "lavatory", but both are euphemisms and originally referred to washing. Without checking I can't be sure, but I believe "toilet" is from modern French "toilette" and "lavatory" is from a much older word that derives from Latin.

A few years ago I visited Nome, Alaska for the end of the Iditarod (no pictures, sadly). There was just one hotel room available in the town so I took it, and on the way to the room we passed a small room containing just a toilet, so I asked where the bathroom was. I was directed to the room we had just passed, and had some difficulty conveying that it was the room where one washed and bathed that I wanted.

In England I went to a public school, but in America that would be called a private school. We do also use the term "private school", but it is not the same thing - it is a fee-paying school but not one of the top ones (they are the "public schools"). The British equivalent for the American "public school" is "state school". And at 18 I left school and didn't return, even though my formal education continued for many more years at "universities".

Someone mentioned the different names for parts of cars, to which I can add that the American "windshield" is the British "windscreen". I fuel up my car with either diesel (vastly more popular throughout Europe and Britain then in America) or petrol. I may also have a car propelled by LPG (liquid petroleum gas). We don't use the term "gasoline" though we recognise it and it causes no ambiguity (in Britain - in parts of Europe "gasoline" is actually diesel), but we never use the term "gas" as an abbreviation for gasoline - "gas" in Britain means an inflammable gas (using the word in its correct chemical sense). The gas may be from coal, petroleum, "natural gas" which is extracted directly from the ground and is a mixture of inflammable gases including different blends of butane and propane. I've seen Americans refer to any inflammable gas as "propane" (or is it "butane"?) even though it may contain little or none of that gas.

I wear a wedding ring, not a band - a term that would generally not be recognised in Britain. My watch is fastened with a "strap", not a "band".

At school I was taught by a "teacher" (mostly at primary school) and by "masters" or "mistresses" later on. At university I attended lectures given by "lecturers", "readers" and "professors". At school I never encountered a "professor", which in Europe is a French term that did not cross the Channel even though it does seem to have crossed the Atlantic. Prior to crossing the Atlantic I had never heard of an "associate professor".

If I'm feeling energetic I may go "abseilling" (from Anglo-Saxon roots). In Europe only the French "rappel".

If it all goes wrong and I need emergency medical attention I will be taken to the "Emergency Department", never the "emergency room". I will be treated by nurses and doctors. A doctor may be a "houseman" or a "registrar", each of whom is called "doctor". The most senior doctors and surgeons in hospital are "consultants", who are always called Mr (or Miss, etc), never "doctor". If I need surgery that occurs in an "operating theatre".

For general medical attention I see my "GP", or "general (medical) practitioner". I visit him at his "surgery", never his "office". I call him "doctor" even though most do not have doctorates. My dentist is always called Mr (or Miss etc), never Doctor, and he works in his surgery, never his office (he might write up his accounting books in his office, but he will never see patients there). As a Brit I will rarely have any other medical attention other than with or through these people - I will not have any direct contact with specialists.

I take my sick animals to the "vet" which is only ever short for "veterinary surgeon" and never for veteran soldiers, and I call him "Mr" (again, or Miss etc). He is never called "doctor".

And so it goes on. Anyone who finds this subject as fascinating as I do should start by reading Melvyn Bragg's excellent and approachable book, and then move on to more erudite and authoritative works by David Crystal, amongst others.
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Old Jun 15, 2011, 11:49 PM   #44
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Hey Kjell, long time no see!

I have noticed that the immense popularity of the British series TopGear has resulted in many of the proper English terms for car parts now showing up in American car magazines. In Newfoundland we called the cars engine cover the bonnet until television influences from the US had us referring to it as a hood (which used to be the roof of the car).
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Old Jun 16, 2011, 12:16 AM   #45
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Originally Posted by peterbj7 View Post
I thought of some very clear differences (between American and English) and I was going to write them here, but I've forgotten them! But I have just spotted one example of something that I've often seen. I saw reference to "a family of six fox". Now if that's correct American it certainly isn't correct English - we would say "six foxes". I can't remember the other similar occurrences I've seen, but they're pretty numerous.

A difference not of spelling but of pronunciation is "herb". Americans don't sound the initial "h", just as in modern French. But the English always sound the "h", and I believe earlier French usage was also to sound it.

I'm not sure when English started migrating to America in significant numbers, but in England we had experienced what is known as "the great vowel shift" between about 1350 and 1500, when modern English was evolving from middle English. The pronunciations of many words changed radically, so that the spelling (already crystallised because printing had been around for a while) often ceased to have much relation to the pronunciation. Similar changes happened in some other languages, but none to anything like the extent that happened in English. I suppose (though I don't know, and I believe no-one knows) that it was the final stage of Norman French being assimilated into a new single language of English. Pronunciations still varied widely across the country, and it wasn't really until the railways came that these started to draw together to a great extent. There are still many regional variations though, and in some places dialects persist that are relics of the original constituent languages. Perhaps the most obvious (once you hear it) is Geordie, which is largely unintelligible to people from the south of England.

Years ago, during a British Bank Holiday, my wife and I traveled between Glasgow and London via passenger train. It was a very old passenger car that had been pressed into service for the bank holiday, due to the increased number of people using passenger trains on the holiday.

We were assigned a compartment with two men, one from Glasgow, one from Liverpool.

All of us were strangers, however we stayed up all night talking.

The odd thing for my wife and I (both Canadian) was that the British men could understand everything we said....but couldn't understand much of what their fellow Briton said.

I ended up 'interpreting' for each man.

Finally after a few hours of this...the man from Glasgow said it really is amazing that although Glasgow is only a couple hundred miles from Liverpool...they can't understand each other's accent and that it is more surprising that a Canadian who lives about 6000 miles from Britain, can understand what both Britons are saying and in fact is able to interpret.

A few other English/American differences that I can think of off the top of my head:- Biscuit/cookie, jam/jelly, tap/faucet, curtains/drapes.

English is really fascinating.
Fascinating it is. A good book about this subject is by Robert McNeil...The Story of English.
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Old Jun 16, 2011, 2:29 AM   #46
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Years back I stayed at a youth hostel in the Yorkshire Dales. The warden was a Geordie. It was customary in those days for members staying overnight to help out with cleaning and other chores, so I duly volunteered my services. He asked me to do ... something that I couldn't understand, so I asked him to repeat it. After three attempts he was getting increasingly frustrated and I was no closer to understanding what he was saying. I presume he was not just speaking in the Newcastle accent which is bad enough, but actually speaking the dialect which owes more to medieval Norwegian than it does to modern English. We both gave up, as did everyone else who volunteered to do jobs. I imagine the warden must have been very busy, as no-one could understand him!

Thanks for the reference to that book. I'll try to find it. Is McNeil a Canadian?
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