According to an article from BBC News, British English words and phrases are creeping in to American English.
Ben Yagoda, Professor of English at the University of Delaware, has even set up a blog to track them. He’s so far found around 150, from skint to cheers and loo to mate.
According to an associate editor of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, some Britishisms can be linked to the release of the Harry Potter books:
There has also been “a huge up-tick”, says Stamper, in the use of ginger as a way of describing someone with red hair.
She sees this as clearly tied to the publication in the US of the first Harry Potter book. Dozens of words and phrases were changed for the American market, but ginger slipped through, as did snog(meaning “to kiss amorously”) – though that has not proved so popular. (Source: BBC News)
Read the full story in the BBC Magazine, plus a follow up with reader comments.
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There are a lot of similarities between American English and British English. There are also a lot of differences, and these are a lot more fun!
BBC America is helping smooth the linguistic pathway, with its list of “10 Stinging British Insults”, only one of which is reproduced below as the rest are NSFW.
A recent addition to the canon, and a rather grand one. At first, minger simply referred to ugly people. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there’s not a human born who won’t have been called a minger at some point or other, even David Beckham (although probably not very often). However, the word also means disgusting, so yes, you can be David Beckham, you can be admired for your looks from here to way over there, but if you’re eating yesterday’s takeout from the garbage with your fingers, you’re a minger.
To further expand your insult vocabulary, head over to the article at BBC America.
Every American I’ve met has commented on what a ‘cute’ accent I have – I think it’s something to do with my very English vowels.
Every American I’ve met has also tried to imitate my accent, with generally pretty dismal results. But help is at hand if you wish to speak the Queen’s English (in text form anyway). A new Android app called the Queen’s English will convert your texts, emails and tweets to… well, the Queen’s English.
The app was created by a British company called SwiftKey, who took all the Queen’s speeches since her coronation in 1952 to build a database of words she might say. This has revealed some interesting facts about her speech, including that she avoids contractions, and has a generally positive tone.
The app is available on a free one-month trial – so why not celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and give it a go?
Whilst visiting the states last month, I discovered there’s a lot of things Americans don’t understand about the British (one being the difference between England, Britain and the UK). But there’s also a lot the British don’t understand about Americans.
BBC America has compiled a list of five American expressions Brits don’t understand. Here are my two favourite, with descriptions:
Oh what? Snap? Snap what? What ARE you on about? And what purpose does this expression serve? Are you saying it to commend a smart-ass for their witty quip, or pat them on the head condescendingly for trying? Is it one of those phrases that started out as a high fiving “oh you got SERVED” and has now ended up meaning an eye-rolling “nice try, Seinfeld”? It’s just that we’d probably be quite good at saying it, if it turned out to be the latter. Eye-rolling is a British specialty, after all.
I only found out about this the other day, but it’s a good one. It seems that our two great nations have different understandings of the same word. Suppose you have friends coming over to stay, and they send a text message when they’re just around the corner, just to be sure you’re ready for them: “Hi! We’ll be there momentarily!” In America, this means “we’ll be there in a moment,” but in the UK, it means “we’ll be there FOR a moment.”
I understand both of these expressions – perhaps my love of American television is to blame? What British expressions do Americans find difficult to interpret?
Being British, I pronounce the letter ‘z’ as ‘zed’. Whilst visiting a friend, his two young nieces were confused and asked me why I didn’t say ‘zee’ like they did. They also chuckled at me saying ‘zeb-ra’ rather than ‘zee-bra’.
Over at Separated by a Common Language, they’ve written a handy post which is of some explanation. Zed is older than zee, dating back to at least the 15th Century. But the letter ‘z’ has had other names, including ‘zad’, ‘ezod’ and ‘uzzard’. Noah Webster seems to have decided on ‘zee’ for American English use.
One exception to this is on ham radio, where they use ‘zed’ according to one blog reader. There may also be regional variations in both the US and UK on its use.
Do you say ‘zee’ or ‘zed’?
I often struggle with what to say after someone has thanked me. Sometimes I just smile and nod. Other times it’s “no worries” (a hangover from living in Australia). Occasionally I say “no problem”. And then there’s “you’re welcome”.
Whenever I catch myself saying “you’re welcome”, I reflect that it makes me sound very American. In the UK it’s not a commonly used phrase, and I must have picked it up living in the States and conversing with my American friends. One writer thinks it’s passé however, and lists some of the many variants:
Sure thing/sure, you bet/you betcha, you got it, that’s why I’m here (shout-out to James Taylor), my pleasure/the pleasure is mine, don’t mention it, not at all, no biggie, no problem/no problema/no probs, of course!, and the all-time favorite of NPR interviewees, thank YOU! (Source: The Chronicle)
He goes on to say he’s starting the “Non-Verbal You’re Welcome” movement, so perhaps my first instinct to smile and nod is correct after all!
What do you say after someone’s thanked you?
Over at the Economist’s Johnson blog, they’ve been running a highly unscientific but incredibly interesting survey asking British people what Americanisms they use.
Having lived and worked in the States, as well as worked for an American boss in the UK, I can attest to the fact it’s easier to acclimate than hold on to your British pronunciation. My boss took such offence to my use of the word “toilet” (as in “I’m going to the toilet”) that I still use “bathroom” even with my now all-British colleagues.
It seems that Brits living in America are still holding on to some things though, with more using “holiday” than “vacation” and “zed” rather than “zee”. To take a look at some lovely pie charts representing word comparisons, head over to the results blog post.
An interesting article on Slate.com looks at whether the new iPhone’s speech recognition software can handle different accents.
The question is particularly important since the phone has the capability to be used in any country in the world. And the answer is yes, due to programmers ‘training’ the system. This is done by feeding in lots of audio and then typing in what is said – the software then ‘learns’ to recognise different forms of pronunciation.
From the article:
Take, for example, the plosive consonant T, which sounds one way in the word tree and another way in the word plate—and that’s just in one dialect. When software engineers are working on a product that will be used by people around the world, they include recordings in different dialects and from non-native speakers of English in the training. To stick with the T example: British people tend to pronounce the T sound in butter much more clearly than Americans, who swallow it. Eventually, the program establishes a kind of bell curve for the phoneme, and it will interpret any sound whose frequencies and other physical characteristics fall within the parameters of that curve as a possible attempt to produce that phoneme. (Source: Slate.com)
The software then uses the curve to guess what a word is when it is not pronounced clearly. Pretty cool huh?
Over at the Dialect Blog they’ve listed their top 10 American accents done by non-Americans. The post is based on an article at USA Today which looked at American accents by non-American TV actors.
The two lists are united in choosing Hugh Laurie (House) and Idris Elba (The Wire) as having excellent American accents. Having never seen The Wire, I can only comment on Hugh Laurie’s accent, which I find a little odd. To me it sounds American-adjacent; I recognise that it’s supposed to be American but for me it’s just a bit too odd sounding. I do agree with the Dialect Blog though about Laurie’s portrayal of a different type of American, it’s refreshing to see this in amongst the bland and stereotypical characters we see on a lot of shows.
Having occasionally tried an American accent myself, I can attest to the difficulty of switching from your native accent (good thing I’m not a professional actor!). Who do you think does a great job with accents?
Over at the Macmillan Dictionary Blog, it’s small talk month. The most recent post asks “is small talk different in the US and UK?”, to which the answer is yes!
The post is aimed at Brits interacting with Americans. I thought it might be interesting for Americans to get a British perspective on their small talk. An extract:
Finally, saying farewell:
You’re going to find this so easy. Do nothing. The Americans will do it all for you and they are so much better at it.
You know how we have the expression ‘saying our goodbyes’ in British English? Americans don’t have it. They just ‘say goodbye’ because they only need to do it once. So you can forget all our, ‘Is that the time?’, ‘I really should be going …’, ‘Well, anyway …’ nonsense. And you know that situation where we start getting out the door and someone says something which means we have to go back to the beginning of the conversation and start all over again? It doesn’t happen here.
So let the Americans handle the farewell. They will do it with aplomb with phrases like ‘Take care’ and ‘It’s been nice talking to you’ and ‘Catch you later’ – things our mothers should have taught us. Just keep quiet, listen and learn. (Source: Macmillan Dictionary Blog)
Saying goodbye is something I certainly have difficulty with – being English I will often agonise over how to end a conversation without seeming rude! Often I invent an excuse (“I promised my housemate I’d make dinner tonight” or similar) in order to ease myself out of a situation. I definitely identify with Clare in the comments!
Do you have any examples of the way small talk is different between the US and UK? How do you say farewell without seeming rude?