Which English Do You Speak?

Believe it or not, English still remains today’s lingua franca. Whether you are a native English speaker from the US, Canada, the UK, India, Australia, South Africa, or any of the other numerous English-speaking countries around the world, there’s always some kind of variation between dialects.

Personally having surrounded myself with quite a few expatriated Brits while living abroad, when being introduced, it’s still pretty commonplace to hear: “Ah, you’ll have to forgive him. He speaks American.” By no means do I find this offensive, but stopping and thinking about it, it is quite an interesting dynamic to have another native English speaker pardon your ‘ill-pronounced’ language littered with your ‘wonky’ words. In the same respect, though, it’s even more surprising to reverse the situation and see just how the UK dialect is admired. Join us as we take a closer look into the UK and US English and see with which one you identify better.

Photo via Wikimedia

I say ‘tuh-MAY-toh’, you say ‘tuh-MAH-toh’

Most of the English-speaking world uses British vocabulary with a slight homegrown twist. Australians, South Africans, the Irish, Scots, and parts of Canada are more likely to say ‘jumper’ over ‘sweater’ or ‘trainers’ rather than ‘sneakers’. Why and how these terms changed as they crossed back and forth over the pond has still yet to be thoroughly answered, though many have tried.

Photo via Flickr

Bill Bryson (on the far right), the favorite populous scholar of airport bookstores around the world, gave it a shot in his book Made in America where he refutes the British claim that American English is the sloppy, slack-jawed second cousin of British English. There is no doubt, however, that American English is the product of those huddled masses the Statue of Liberty so symbolically welcomed; that English was the country’s platform language which morphed and grew with German, Yiddish, and Italian, to name a few.

The British love to mock American English and culture almost as much as they love to co-opt it. Technically, the British invented the language so their usage is correct, right? It may be splitting hairs, but it’s important to consider that the language was really only solidified by the publishing of the first definitive dictionary in 1895. This dictionary was compiled by volunteers from all across the English-speaking world and that, by far, the single most active contributor was an American doctor living as a patient in an insane asylum outside of London. Food for thought.

But does any of that explain why an ‘eggplant’ in the US is an ‘aubergine’ in the UK or why ‘treacle’ in the UK is ‘molasses’ in the US. Check out this brief list of somewhat associated dialect differences:

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This is just a smattering of the hundreds and hundreds of the dissimilar words used in both dialects, not to mention the few shared terms with completely different meanings (see ‘rubber’ above). Even down to extremely colloquial term: a complete dad joke referring to the television as a ‘boob tube’, in England would be a ‘tube top’ (like a 90s Clueless shirt), for obvious reasons. Alternatively, while ‘homely’ in the US is a pretty unattractive person, so much that they should remain home, in England it is a place as comfortable as being in your own home (better said in the US would be ‘homey’, and not your best friend).

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If we work slang into the equation the divide gets much, much greater. For instance: ‘skint’ for ‘broke’, ‘nick’ for ‘stealing’, ‘knackered’ for ‘tired’, ‘gobsmacked’ for ‘shocked’, ‘chunder’ for ‘vomit’. Everyone knows that ‘pissed’ in England or Australia is being drunk, while in most of the States, you’re incredibly ‘angry’. But do you know what a ‘snout’ is? Have you ever been offered some ‘spotted dick’? Have you had a good ‘chinwag’ or ever gotten your ‘knickers’ in a twist?

The beauty of languages is often in their differences and this is generally the biggest part of what makes traveling the world so fascinating. While cultures and communities grow continuously closer, both culturally and virtually, these differences too may shrink. For now, celebrate the differences and bask in diversity.