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Stanley
05-10-2012, 04:43 AM
Hey everyone. I thought there would be already many threads like that, but there wasn't any. I would like to also ask for which one you're using, but it might be against forum rules to start a poll and ask questions on the same thread. :Shrug:

I want to know if they're truly apart from each other. All I know there are small differences like color/colour or traveling/travelling, but let's say for example if I studied with Cambridge's English Idioms book-which I really study- or other books written for British English, would it be too unusual for Americans? I want to learn and write in American English, but I'm in a doubt if it's normal to use books from UK press like Oxford's or Cambridge's ESL books.

I'm talking about written English of course, accents are really different from each other for sure. :D

BigWords
05-10-2012, 05:07 AM
Even though I am British I use American English. I find that the SF and fantasy material I write, especially, feel more... correct, somehow. I revert to using British spellings for some horror pieces, as the language of horror feels better in that form. I mix it up for the non-fiction, but as long as you are consistent within one piece (fiction or non-fiction alike), and follow guidelines and house styles, you shouldn't have problems.

I'm sure there was a thread on this a while ago...

Medievalist
05-10-2012, 05:07 AM
It's very different. Not mutually incomprehensible, (usually) but different.

If you want to learn American English, you'll need American publications and/or TV.

Idioms are especially going to be different. The shared stock of idioms is mostly derived from The King James Bible and Shakespeare and other pre 1800 authors.

thothguard51
05-10-2012, 05:28 AM
From what I have been told, it really depends on the audience an author is trying to reach.

A British author writing for an American audience, with stories set in America and American characters, well more than likely the author will want to use American spellings and American idioms.

But if the characters are british, even if the story is set in America, I would say leave in the british spellings and the idioms to give the book an international flavor and to be true to the character. If that makes sense.

I would also be very careful about using too much regional dialect from any country. I am not from Louisiana so I would never try to write Cajun dialect, except for maybe a word here and there to give the story some flavor. Reason, if you get it wrong, your readers are going to pound you on the dialects. Especially those from the region.

leahzero
05-10-2012, 06:01 AM
It's not just the idioms that differ, but slang, syntax, even common nouns and verbs (UK: windscreen, tin, pram, snogging; US: windshield, can, stroller, making out; etc.). And there are distinct regional differences within the US, too.

I can almost always tell a British English writer even without the use of obvious idioms or regionalisms. It creeps into sentence structure, rhythm, word choice, etc. in a subtle way.

IMO, the best way to pick up speech patterns is through osmosis. Watch American TV/film and converse with American English speakers.

Mr Flibble
05-10-2012, 06:01 AM
It CAN be very different

If I talk about jaspers, or slamming on the anchors, or saveloys, or any number of things it may not translate well. Worth keeping in mind.


Then again, growing up I read a lot of Stephen King etc and figured out that sneakers were trainers and so on (context is king!). Though it took me a while to figure out exactly what a hershey bar was -didn't really matter cos i knew what kind of thing it was.

A lot depends on house style. Under my own name, one of my pubs keeps British spelling (and we only changed idiom where it would cause real confusion, and even then if it was in context...) and another changes to American. But I have always subbed in Brit, if that's what you are worried about. They figured from the address I probably wasn't US. :D

buzhidao
05-10-2012, 06:11 AM
If you want to learn American English, you'll need American publications and/or TV.

This. (Well, and other American media like movies and music and whatever, but you know.)

Kenzie
05-10-2012, 07:44 AM
I think it would be somewhat easier for a British English speaker/writer to learn to write in American English than the other way around, just because there are far more American movies, TV shows and books out there than British (or other countries that use British English). I agree, however, that it would take more than just substituting one word for another or dropping 'u' from colour, honour etc. - there's a style difference that is subtle but present.

Australian English is different to British English yet again, though they are more closely related than American English. When I worked as a writer and editor in London, I had to consciously consider phrases I was using and whether I needed to find a British way of saying the same thing. I was constantly checking things with the British writers in the office, until it started to come more naturally.

SomethingOrOther
05-10-2012, 07:48 AM
When I worked as a writer and editor in London, I had to consciously consider phrases I was using and whether I needed to find a British way of saying the same thing. I was constantly checking things with the British writers in the office, until it started to come more naturally.

This is fascinating. Can you give a few examples of the sort of AmE-typical phrasings you'd have to add British flavour (heehee) to?

HoneyBadger
05-10-2012, 08:02 AM
I like to use the word "loads" loads because it feels rawther British and colours my writing well proper.

flapperphilosopher
05-10-2012, 08:23 AM
I'm a Canadian who has lived in Britain, gone to a British university, and had a British boyfriend, and yes, there are loads of differences that aren't even noticeable at first glance. An American (or Canadian) will usually say "I haven't gone to the store"; a Brit usually says "I've not gone to the store." Brits use the word "shall" with much more regularity than American/Canadians; same with the word "whilst". As well as all the rubbish bin/garbage can lift/elevator car trunk/car boot word differences, there are words that mean something different on each side of the pond ["pants" means trousers in North America, and underwear in Britain] and words that are current in the UK but archaic or dialectal in North America, like "reckon". Despite all my exposure to the British way, I never cease to discover new differences. My (ex) boyfriend and I spent twenty minutes trying to figure out why I didn't consider "pickle" anything like chutney. I've discussed how "hockey" in Canada is "ice hockey" in Britain, while "hockey" in Britain is "field hockey" in North America on two different occasions.

So.... yeah, lots of variation! Brits definitely get tons of exposure to the American way of speaking-- they like their American movies and TV shows-- and I thiiink most Americans will understand most British ways of speaking, though it will sound different. If you want to sound more American than British (I'd guess you're not a native English speaker?) definitely look for American ESL books and immerse yourself in American books and TV shows/movies.

As for me... well, actually, though I'm Canadian the characters in my novel are Brits. So they talk much more British-ly than I do, although I'm sure I've slipped up sometimes!

Raventongue
05-10-2012, 08:28 AM
I'm Canadian. Idiom-wise and in syntax the natural speech patterns are probably closer to American English by now, but a little piece of me dies every time I see colour without the U.

I naturally pick up on British English pretty well, so I'd presume most people do too. Usually the context tells all, and generally the new word makes at least as much sense as the one we use. You train for an athletic event in sneakers, etc. Concepts on the other hand- it wasn't until I dated an American girl that I finally figured out what the heck a homecoming was, and when I wrote back she wanted to know what the difference between a territory and a province was. I'd presume the same would be true between British writers and American readers/vice versa.

jari_k
05-10-2012, 08:39 AM
Some of differences I notice in British writers' work vs. Americans:

Round instead of around.

Shall--Americans seldom use it.

"Right!" (At the beginning of a sentence, unprovoked by a question, usually followed by a declaration of what the speaker will do next.)

Example: "Right! I'll paint the house, then."

Should have done, rather than should have.

Example:

American answer: "Yes, I should have."
British answer: "Yes, I should have done."

Would have done, rather than would have.

Fewer commas than Americans use.

"A bit" and "quite" are used more often than Americans would.

Have a go.

Getting on.

Whilst, smelt, spilt, spelt, burnt.

P.S. I am sure if I wrote a British character, I'd use all sorts of Americanisms to tip off any reader. It would take hard work to overcome the habits of a lifetime. I've read many books by British authors, and if I don't understand a word or phrase, I look it up. The internet is handy. Most of the time, there's no problem, though. Things translate pretty well, and differences only add to the charm.

Atlantis
05-10-2012, 08:42 AM
I never give too much thought about what to write in. My English is a mismash of Aussie/British/American. Half the time I'm not even sure what is what anymore. Like realise/realize. I think the z is American? Meh. I don't worry about it. I just write. If my publisher wants to change it they go through and do it. Most of the time it never comes up.

Chasing the Horizon
05-10-2012, 10:32 AM
There are many small differences, as others have said, but as an American who loves British literature and television I've never had any trouble understanding what our friends across the pond mean, nor have I ever had trouble making myself understood to Brits. My speech and writing is a hodgepodge of both British and American idioms. This works fine for my secondary-world fantasy, but I keep having to remind myself that the kids from Oklahoma in my WIP wouldn't say "bloody hell". :D

Once!
05-10-2012, 01:05 PM
I have a theory...

Forgive me if you've heard me do this one before (eg on the grammar forum), but I just can't help myself.

I need to ask why UK English says "colour" and US English says "color". And lots of other examples like that.

The answer, I think, has something to do with the way that we view language. It seems to me that US English is more orderly, more rules based, more logical. By contrast, UK English tends to be more organic and chaotic.

I'm a UK English speaker. I have lived in England all my life. When I see the word "colour", I know it is pronounced "culler". But I think a US English user would look at "colour" and expect it to rhyme with "sour" or "flour". By the application of the rules, US English expects every group of letters to have a consistent pronunciation.

By contrast, UK English works on historical precedent. I know that "colour" is pronounced "culler" because I've memorised it from an early age. It just is.

The classic example is the word "lieutenant". In UK English, this is pronounced "leftenant". I have no idea why, but that's just how it is. Interestingly, this particular word is starting to change. Younger generations of UK English users are starting to say "lootenant". One of the side effects of a language based on historical precedent is that meanings and pronunciations can change.

I watched a Sesame Street programme once which talked about "in front of" and "in back of". To a UK English speaker, the phrase "in back of" sounds funny. We just would not say it. But I imagine that a US English speaker would reason that we say "in front of" so we must also be able to say "in back of".

You can see this difference of approach in the posts in the grammar forum. US English speakers tend to be far hotter on "correct" grammar, where UK English speakers will sometimes concentrate more on how a word is used in real life.

Before anyone starts to get annoyed by this, I ought to say that neither approach is right or wrong. It's just a subtle difference in the way that language is used. I once heard a lecturer say that it might have something to do with the different histories of the US and the UK. The UK has been invaded so many times that we have become quite used to an organic and shifting language. But the US was a new continent which where there was a chance to impose order from day one.

seun
05-10-2012, 02:10 PM
It's not just the idioms that differ, but slang, syntax, even common nouns and verbs (UK: windscreen, tin, pram, snogging; US: windshield, can, stroller, making out; etc.). And there are distinct regional differences within the US, too.

I can almost always tell a British English writer even without the use of obvious idioms or regionalisms. It creeps into sentence structure, rhythm, word choice, etc. in a subtle way.


Definitely agreed it's not just the words; it's in how we write. Saying that, I got hold of a copy of Clive Barker's The Thief Of Always a couple of years ago which had been published in the US. It's a very British story but certain words had been replaced. So tap became faucet, nappy became diaper and pavement became sidewalk. Reading it like that was painful simply because it was a such a class of cultures and writing styles. It would have been like reading the characters in To Kill A Mockingbird talking about wearing trousers and speaking to their mums. Shudder.

Some of differences I notice in British writers' work vs. Americans:

Whilst, smelt, spilt, spelt, burnt.


The funny thing is I'm more likely to say burnt and write burned. But then I would say and write smelled rather than smelt.

Aint words well great. Innit.

onesecondglance
05-10-2012, 02:20 PM
You can see this difference of approach in the posts in the grammar forum. US English speakers tend to be far hotter on "correct" grammar, where UK English speakers will sometimes concentrate more on how a word is used in real life.

I don't know anyone under the age of thirty in the UK who was taught rigorous, proper grammar in public education unless they elected to take English Language at A-level, myself included. It's just not been on the curriculum.

My own understanding of grammar is somewhat... fluid. Mostly I can tell when something doesn't "feel" right but I don't have the technical background to work out why. I don't think I'm alone in this.

Honestly, the standard of "correct" English I hear in the UK from native speakers is way behind that of non-natives - again, myself included.

Maybe I'm hanging out with the wrong crowd...

onesecondglance
05-10-2012, 02:22 PM
smelt, spilt, spelt, burnt.

I'd actually use all of those in addition to smelled, spilled, spelled, and burned. I'd consider them different tenses:

The fire burned the wood / the wood was burnt.

As per my previous post though, I'm no grammarian.

Once!
05-10-2012, 02:36 PM
I don't know anyone under the age of thirty in the UK who was taught rigorous, proper grammar in public education unless they elected to take English Language at A-level, myself included. It's just not been on the curriculum.

My own understanding of grammar is somewhat... fluid. Mostly I can tell when something doesn't "feel" right but I don't have the technical background to work out why. I don't think I'm alone in this.

Honestly, the standard of "correct" English I hear in the UK from native speakers is way behind that of non-natives - again, myself included.

Maybe I'm hanging out with the wrong crowd...

Or maybe the UK is less interested in what is or is not "correct"?

My son, aged 11, is being taught more about how to express himself and be creative than he is about the rules of grammar.

buzhidao
05-10-2012, 02:57 PM
I need to ask why UK English says "colour" and US English says "color". And lots of other examples like that.

The answer, I think, has something to do with the way that we view language. It seems to me that US English is more orderly, more rules based, more logical. By contrast, UK English tends to be more organic and chaotic.

I'm a UK English speaker. I have lived in England all my life. When I see the word "colour", I know it is pronounced "culler". But I think a US English user would look at "colour" and expect it to rhyme with "sour" or "flour". By the application of the rules, US English expects every group of letters to have a consistent pronunciation.

By contrast, UK English works on historical precedent. I know that "colour" is pronounced "culler" because I've memorised it from an early age. It just is.

The classic example is the word "lieutenant". In UK English, this is pronounced "leftenant". I have no idea why, but that's just how it is. Interestingly, this particular word is starting to change. Younger generations of UK English users are starting to say "lootenant". One of the side effects of a language based on historical precedent is that meanings and pronunciations can change.

I watched a Sesame Street programme once which talked about "in front of" and "in back of". To a UK English speaker, the phrase "in back of" sounds funny. We just would not say it. But I imagine that a US English speaker would reason that we say "in front of" so we must also be able to say "in back of".

You can see this difference of approach in the posts in the grammar forum. US English speakers tend to be far hotter on "correct" grammar, where UK English speakers will sometimes concentrate more on how a word is used in real life.

Before anyone starts to get annoyed by this, I ought to say that neither approach is right or wrong. It's just a subtle difference in the way that language is used. I once heard a lecturer say that it might have something to do with the different histories of the US and the UK. The UK has been invaded so many times that we have become quite used to an organic and shifting language. But the US was a new continent which where there was a chance to impose order from day one.

Noah Webster changed the spellings on purpose to "Americanize" them, saying stuff about the English aristocracy having corrupted spelling and grammar and such. Most of his changes caught on, and that's why we spell stuff different. (Not all of them. Apparently he wanted to make tongue into tung and nobody liked it.)

I (an American) don't think colour is supposed to rhyme with flour, in the same way that I know through doesn't rhyme with trough and neither rhyme with though. I also know that wound, the past tense of wind, is pronounced differently than wound, the noun, (and wind the verb different from wind the noun) because I'm a native speaker and I just do. We learn these things--spelling doesn't always make sense, you just have to know. Colour is color, but one looks weird. :P

So I do think there is truth to what you're saying. People did want to distance themselves from the British on purpose upon their independence, so we made a tremendous declaration of our freedom by spelling things different. :D But we can have some very fluid grammar, too. I think the first lines of a Nelly song go something like

C'mere girl
Who your name is
Where you from, turn around, who you came with
Is that your ass or your momma half-reindeer
Can't explain it but damn sure glad you came hurr (is this spelled "Herre"? I believe it is either "hurr" or "herre" when said in this particular dialect :D )

'n' stuff. :) So, I dunno. But it is interesting, what you say, good sir or madam. I think maybe at the outset we did have this purposeful "let us revamp language to have it make sense" thing going on, but more recently it has taken on a less rigid life and gone off in some different directions.

I don't know anyone under the age of thirty in the UK who was taught rigorous, proper grammar in public education unless they elected to take English Language at A-level, myself included. It's just not been on the curriculum.I'm pretty sure most Americans don't get "rigorous, proper" grammar either. :D I didn't, anyway. Some, but not rigorous. I learned a lot more from reading in general than from lessons in school.

Fallen
05-10-2012, 03:59 PM
You can see this difference of approach in the posts in the grammar forum. US English speakers tend to be far hotter on "correct" grammar, where UK English speakers will sometimes concentrate more on how a word is used in real life.

Only partly, I think. A lot of that depends more on what people have learnt about grammar.

My daughter (10) is taught punctuation, adjectives, nouns, verbs, complex sentence structure, how to use 'time connectives' (time adverbs) etc at school, this is at primary level. Once you move beyond secondary education into college uni, focus shifts into the different approaches to language, moves into the likes of language in context, change and diversity (halliday v chomsky, Bakhtin, Saphir-Whorf etc).

Before that we're taught English is an all-knowing diety to be worshipped, never challenged. After that we learn that English is more your punked-up neighbour who gets a kick out of studding his personables after he's slipped out of his suit. He belches, grunts, groans (and even lets rip with the ocassional fart).

I like English: he's complex, changeable, and comes in Brit, American, Aussie, Indian-hybrid flavours too. :)

@stanley, if you're really (really) unsure, best advice is to get a good reference grammar from both countries. Do a little compare and contrast. There are differences, but, in all honesty, if you write in your own variety of English, no publisher will shoot you for it. You'll work with editors, line edtors, proofs when the needs comes to it. :)

onesecondglance
05-10-2012, 04:31 PM
Or maybe the UK is less interested in what is or is not "correct"?

This is entirely possible.

My son, aged 11, is being taught more about how to express himself and be creative than he is about the rules of grammar.

Exactly as it should be, IMO. Although there are plenty of times I wish someone had sat me down and forced me to learn some of the basics... nothing stopping me doing so now, of course, apart from laziness :D

mccardey
05-10-2012, 04:39 PM
My son, aged 11, is being taught more about how to express himself and be creative than he is about the rules of grammar.


Exactly as it should be, IMO. Although there are plenty of times I wish someone had sat me down and forced me to learn some of the basics... nothing stopping me doing so now, of course, apart from laziness :D

I don't believe in a slavish adherence to rules for their own sake - but I'm not convinced that the choice has to be made between creativity and learning the rules of grammar. Creativeness is usually inherent (or not) and develops with an individuality that can't possibly be corralled to the classroom's pace. And if a child doesn't at least learn the rules of grammar, how will their creativity resonate in the larger world? It will be restricted to those who understand their own small vernacular.

Fallen
05-10-2012, 05:17 PM
I don't believe in a slavish adherence to rules for their own sake - but I'm not convinced that the choice has to be made between creativity and learning the rules of grammar. Creativeness is usually inherent (or not) and develops with an individuality that can't possibly be corralled to the classroom's pace. And if a child doesn't at least learn the rules of grammar, how will their creativity resonate in the larger world? It will be restricted to those who understand their own small vernacular.

Agreed. The teachers in my daughter's school ask them the difference bewteen a verb and a noun, they also ask them what's the difference between a graph and a trigraph, and how modifying a noun can alter meanin. Along with this, they have 'creative sessions', where they write storues and also edit each other's work, giving suggestions for improvements.

My kids said she'd loved to see it taken beyond that, see how a story moves into print, how covers are designed, chosen. If the author gets to have a say in the design....

Creativity doesn't just happen on the paper, it's a process that brings a multitude of people together with different talents. And for the writer, that starts with knowing how to write a sentence and alter it if it's not making sense. It just needs to be taught in a creative way.

If I asked my daughter 'what rule of writing did you learn today?' I'd get a 'huh?', but in context, she can tell my why a sentence works and why one doesn't.

onesecondglance
05-10-2012, 05:29 PM
My son, aged 11, is being taught more about how to express himself and be creative than he is about the rules of grammar.

I'm not convinced that the choice has to be made between creativity and learning the rules of grammar.

I don't think these two statements are mutually exclusive. I didn't mean to imply that when I quoted Once! above. :)

mccardey
05-10-2012, 05:34 PM
I don't think these two statements are mutually exclusive. I didn't mean to imply that when I quoted Once! above. :)

Sorry - I may have misunderstood. I was responding to your Exactly as it should be, IMO.

Mostly, though, I was just trying not to go back to my irritating WiP...

*sigh*

Words. Not my friends, today....

Sorry for taking you out of context. My bad.

fireluxlou
05-10-2012, 05:36 PM
I stick to British English it's what I know. But my writing also has flavours and word structures of my local dialect in which can confuse people (I'm learning to not write like I talk in essays and my own creative writing!).

I can always tell who is a British author when they try and give their characters an american voice and setting. Phrases and words that American dialects don't have always crop up.

Peter Graham
05-10-2012, 05:37 PM
The answer, I think, has something to do with the way that we view language. It seems to me that US English is more orderly, more rules based, more logical. By contrast, UK English tends to be more organic and chaotic.A great post, but I think we have to be careful about this sort of argument.

A number of posters may well assume that US English was actively changed to be as it is now and British English has stayed as it was. That may be the case in part (particularly with regard to more phonetic spelling), but it is far from the whole story.

British English has also been changed. The invention of RP which was so fundamental to the early days of TV and which still sees some people pronounce "girls" as "gels" or "cold" as "kowuld" marked a radical departure from what, until that point, had really been a mix of accents and dialects with no firm consensus about what was right or wrong.

Furthermore, many words which to British ears sound American - including (I think) fawcett, diaper and trash - were originally British English words which fell out of use here but remained in use in North America. Same goes for "pants", which in Britain now means what we used to call underpants. So called because they were worn under one's pants......


By contrast, UK English works on historical precedent. I know that "colour" is pronounced "culler" because I've memorised it from an early age. It just is.The same goes for American English words. Diaper is pronounced "dypa" rathe rthan "dye-apper" as one might otherwise expect.


You can see this difference of approach in the posts in the grammar forum. US English speakers tend to be far hotter on "correct" grammar, where UK English speakers will sometimes concentrate more on how a word is used in real life.If this is right, I'm with our American friends. Young British adults appear to be taught very little grammar and, as a result, tend to write like five year olds. Self-expression is nothing without the means to convey it. Far from stifling creativity, grammar lights it up like the Blackpool seafront. Otherwise, it's like building a beautiful, sleek sports car without knowing how to fit an engine or a gearbox.

The UK has been invaded so many times that we have become quite used to an organic and shifting language. But the US was a new continent which where there was a chance to impose order from day one.Hmm. The last time the UK was successfully invaded was 1066*, which was quite some time before the Jamestown colony!

Regards,

Peter


* Although, depending on your views of history, you could make an argument for the Emperor Claudius being the last one.

Mr Flibble
05-10-2012, 05:45 PM
My son, aged 11, is being taught more about how to express himself and be creative than he is about the rules of grammar.


My daughter, at 11, has been taught more grammar than I ever was. Which gets a bit embarrassing at parents' evening.

Once!
05-10-2012, 06:01 PM
Hmm. The last time the UK was successfully invaded was 1066*, which was quite some time before the Jamestown colony!

You are right if we are talking about political/ military invasions. I was thinking more about linguistic invasions! ;-)

onesecondglance
05-10-2012, 06:18 PM
Sorry - I may have misunderstood. I was responding to your [earlier quote].

[...]

Sorry for taking you out of context. My bad.

No worries and no need to apologise. Give that WIP a good kicking and I'm sure it will start behaving for you ;)

Stanley
05-10-2012, 06:29 PM
I read replies to realize they are truly different from each other, that is sad thing for me. I've found Cambridge University had published a few books for American English Vocabulary and that's all. Rest of the books doesn't labelled as British or American, but I assume they are British Eng. The best thing I can do is keep studying on British English books because those are all I've got. There are no any American English teaching books accessible :Shrug: I'll check every idiom within the book if that exists in American English, then learn them. :D

Maybe I would find a book someday that shows difference between these both. That way an osmosis can be happened(did I say it true?).

SeriousScholar
05-10-2012, 07:05 PM
Part of the time that I lived abroad, I lived with a guy from Canada and a girl from England. I'm from the US. Of course we had no problems understanding each other, but we did have fun, on a daily basis, joking with each other about our word choices and accents. :tongue The word fanny comes immediately to mind--that was a learning experience, yikes!

As others have said, I'd go with whatever style corresponds with the target audience. In addition to word choice and idioms, prepositions are often used differently (e.g., what are you doing at the weekend?). And punctuation is different too (single vs. double quotation marks, punctuation with quotation marks, etc.). I wouldn't be surprised if other issues were different as well. If using British English, I'm guessing Oxford style would be the choice but I'm not sure if there are other guides based on the genre or disciplinary preference. In U.S. English, the style guide of choice would depend on the type of writing (Chicago, MLA, etc.).

Hope that helps! Take care and cheers! :)

LJD
05-10-2012, 07:24 PM
I'm Canadian. I use American spellings (even though, yeah, I like the "u" in favourite and the double "l" in travelling). Since my WIP is set in Toronto, this is reflected in my characters' dialogue. It's not all that different from the northeast US, but, for example, "college" and "university" mean different things here. And we don't say freshman, sophmore, junior, senior.

BethS
05-10-2012, 07:25 PM
When we lived in Switzerland and my kids went to the International School in Basel, many of the teachers were from the UK. One of the language differences we bumped up against (to our great confusion) was the meaning of the word "revise." To us, "revise" meant to rewrite, edit, correct. To the British teacher, it meant to study and review. But when they sent a paper home and our child was expected to "review" it, they meant correct it.

Took us awhile to get that sorted out...

Peter Graham
05-10-2012, 08:22 PM
The word fanny comes immediately to mind--that was a learning experience, yikes! So true. We titter like schooloys when an American talks about their fanny or, better still, their fanny pack.

Another phrase which is ripe for transatlantic confusion is "can I bum a fag?" Over here, that is merely a request for a free cigarette........

But as far as the OP is concerned, I see no problem with using what you learn in British English text books. North American readers are perfectly at ease with the fact that differences exist, just as we are. We all know the common differences and if you write well, anything uncommon will stand out as "aha - another British phrase" rather than "this bloke writes like a numpty".

Regards,

Peter

onesecondglance
05-10-2012, 08:28 PM
One of the language differences we bumped up against (to our great confusion) was the meaning of the word "revise." To us, "revise" meant to rewrite, edit, correct. To the British teacher, it meant to study and review. But when they sent a paper home and our child was expected to "review" it, they meant correct it.

Took us awhile to get that sorted out...

Those are pretty good ones, as "revise" does mean to me both what you thought and what the teacher meant depending on context; as does "review".

"Separated by a common language" indeed...

tmesis
05-11-2012, 01:14 AM
I read replies to realize they are truly different from each other, that is sad thing for me.

There are far more similarities than differences, though. I can rarely tell a user's nationality from their posts on this forum. Many US idioms have made their way across the pond so that we don't even recognize them as Americanisms anymore. I write in British English but my preferred usage guide (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage) is a US publication. It makes no difference to me at all.

As a Brit, I wouldn't be terribly confident writing about Americans in the US. But I'd be even less confident writing about Geordies in Newcastle, or Scots in Glasgow.

Alessandra Kelley
05-11-2012, 01:41 AM
I think it would be somewhat easier for a British English speaker/writer to learn to write in American English than the other way around, just because there are far more American movies, TV shows and books out there than British (or other countries that use British English). I agree, however, that it would take more than just substituting one word for another or dropping 'u' from colour, honour etc. - there's a style difference that is subtle but present.

You would think, and yet every British writer I've seen slips up somewhere. I remember an Alan Moore character, supposed to be a rural American (well, a demon imitating one) saying "Mommy needn't know." No American would ever say it that way. It would be "Don't tell Mommy" or something like that. Even Neil Gaiman, who lives here, drops odd Britishisms into his set-in-America writings sometimes.

Definitely agreed it's not just the words; it's in how we write. Saying that, I got hold of a copy of Clive Barker's The Thief Of Always a couple of years ago which had been published in the US. It's a very British story but certain words had been replaced. So tap became faucet, nappy became diaper and pavement became sidewalk. Reading it like that was painful simply because it was a such a class of cultures and writing styles. It would have been like reading the characters in To Kill A Mockingbird talking about wearing trousers and speaking to their mums. Shudder.

I hate hate hate when they Americanize stories. Did you know they Americanized the Harry Potter books? One more reason to never read them over here. Grr!

Imagine if the final lines of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had been turned into:
"Shucks!" said Edmund, "I've left my new flashlight in Narnia!"


I'm pretty sure most Americans don't get "rigorous, proper" grammar either. :D I didn't, anyway. Some, but not rigorous. I learned a lot more from reading in general than from lessons in school.

I sure didn't. My grammar class was so dull, I read books under my desk instead. To this day I cannot diagram a sentence. "Schoolhouse Rock" is all that saved my bacon, grammarwise.

dawinsor
05-11-2012, 01:42 AM
I remember reading a mystery by a Brit writer in which the MC goes to NYC and is talking to a telephone operator. The MC uses the word "bloody" and the operator says "There's no need to swear." That made me laugh because there's no way an American is going to hear "bloody" as a swear word.

Alessandra Kelley
05-11-2012, 01:45 AM
I forgot to add:

Although I've read lots of British lit, and my gran was British, a lot of British English still throws me.

I watch "Doctor Who" with subtitles on, which is the only way I can even figure out what some words are. "Abseil," for instance, which I never in a million years would have guessed how to spell or anything. Apparently it means what we in the US call "rappelling."

mirandashell
05-11-2012, 01:48 AM
Wait, wait, wait! In America the TV companies put subtitles on Doctor Who to translate Brit English into American English?

Really?

Fantastic!

Mr Flibble
05-11-2012, 01:51 AM
They did that with Eastenders as well, iirc (subtitles or a phrase book I think). Apparently Americans were puzzled over what sort of club had puddings in it :D

mirandashell
05-11-2012, 01:51 AM
Well!

I remember watching The Wire. We didn't have subtitles for that. Didn't even occur to me there would be any.

Torgo
05-11-2012, 02:01 AM
Well!

I remember watching The Wire. We didn't have subtitles for that. Didn't even occur to me there would be any.

Oh, I know a few people who watched it with subs - my mum, for one. Me, I had no problem, having spent my youth listening to east coast hip-hop (like Prez with his records, I guess.)

Torgo
05-11-2012, 02:04 AM
I forgot to add:

Although I've read lots of British lit, and my gran was British, a lot of British English still throws me.

I watch "Doctor Who" with subtitles on, which is the only way I can even figure out what some words are. "Abseil," for instance, which I never in a million years would have guessed how to spell or anything. Apparently it means what we in the US call "rappelling."

You do get these situations sometimes where the US and UK versions of something are equally cool and you could see how one would struggle to displace the other. It's difficult to choose a favourite between 'abseil' and 'rappel'. Wikipedia seems to think the latter is US slang, and that there's also a Hindi variant usage, 'rappling', which is also a lovely word in a slightly different way.

mirandashell
05-11-2012, 02:04 AM
Over here though we usually only have subtitles for foreign language programmes. Not for accents.

Alessandra Kelley
05-11-2012, 02:07 AM
I remember reading a mystery by a Brit writer in which the MC goes to NYC and is talking to a telephone operator. The MC uses the word "bloody" and the operator says "There's no need to swear." That made me laugh because there's no way an American is going to hear "bloody" as a swear word.

Er, yeah. I used it for a while, thinking it was just a mild expletive adjective. "Bugger" too, which I thought was roughly the equivalent of "Bother." My deeply religious friend used it for a while, having got it from me. Whoops.

Wait, wait, wait! In America the TV companies put subtitles on Doctor Who to translate Brit English into American English?

Really?

Fantastic!

No, no. It's not American English at all. It's what they're saying, British English, but written down so we can see what the heck they just said. Sometimes their accent is so odd, or the idioms come so thick and fast, that rather than say "What? What did he just say? Was that Welsh?" we put the subtitles on.

And it's optional.

Fallen
05-11-2012, 02:08 AM
"Abseil," for instance, which I never in a million years would have guessed how to spell or anything. Apparently it means what we in the US call "rappelling."

Well, that's another one I didn't know. Rappelling: sounds a good tough word. Ours is all light and breazy.

We get more dangerous with our haircuts: cutting on the fringe.

Torgo
05-11-2012, 02:09 AM
Over here though we usually only have subtitles for foreign language programmes. Not for accents.

Not always, but sometimes - watching Gordon Ramsay's recent Kitchen Nightmares in the USA I often see people with accents subtitled. Maybe the bar is set a bit higher over here. I think perhaps we consume proportionately more media with US accents than they consume with UK accents, so we're more used to them than they are to us? Or something?

mirandashell
05-11-2012, 02:09 AM
No, no. It's not American English at all. It's what they're saying, British English, but written down so we can see what the heck they just said. Sometimes their accent is so odd, or the idioms come so thick and fast, that rather than say "What? What did he just say? Was that Welsh?" we put the subtitles on.

And it's optional.

Oh I see! Ah ok, then. That's makes more sense.

Have to admit, there were a few times in The Wire when I looked like this: :Wha:

Alessandra Kelley
05-11-2012, 02:10 AM
You do get these situations sometimes where the US and UK versions of something are equally cool and you could see how one would struggle to displace the other. It's difficult to choose a favourite between 'abseil' and 'rappel'. Wikipedia seems to think the latter is US slang, and that there's also a Hindi variant usage, 'rappling', which is also a lovely word in a slightly different way.

The accent in "rappel" is on the second syllable. I had always thought it was the technical term. It's the only one I had ever seen or read over here. I honestly had never even run across "abseil" until that one episode of "Doctor Who."

And if there hadn't been subtitles, it probably would have gone right over my head and I'd've never remembered it. As it was, I grabbed a dictionary and thought, huh, England has a funny word for rappelling.

mirandashell
05-11-2012, 02:11 AM
Not always, but sometimes - watching Gordon Ramsay's recent Kitchen Nightmares in the USA I often see people with accents subtitled. Maybe the bar is set a bit higher over here. I think perhaps we consume proportionately more media with US accents than they consume with UK accents, so we're more used to them than they are to us? Or something?


Yeah I expect so. We do get a lot of American TV here.

Alessandra Kelley
05-11-2012, 02:12 AM
Well, that's another one I didn't know. Rappelling: sounds a good tough word. Ours is all light and breazy.

We get more dangerous with our haircuts: cutting on the fringe.

Oh, right. We call that "bangs."

"Fringe" confused me for many years. I imagined characters with headbands with string fringe hanging down.

mirandashell
05-11-2012, 02:13 AM
Took me years to work out what bangs were. I mean, why 'bangs'? Was does that have to do with hair?

jaksen
05-11-2012, 02:18 AM
I went to school in a liberal, American, Massachusetts small town, (public school) and we studied grammar every year, so much so I was falling asleep in many an English class in high school. It was part of the curriculum, that and vocabulary, spelling until high school and literature. I hated grammar and damn it, should have paid more attention during those classes.

(I taught in the same school for 35 years and they were still teaching 'rigorous' grammar when I retired.)

Not all American schools are the same. Guidelines and curriculum differ widely by state and still do despite efforts to create a 'national curriculum.' And do what? Water down many of the individual states' educational standards?

I shall now step off the soapbox.

Once!
05-11-2012, 02:22 AM
Actually, "bugger" is both a mild expletive and a strong expletive in UK English. If you say it on its own, it does broadly mean "bother" and is fairly mild. The problem comes when you use it as a verb ...

Bloody is both a mild swear word and an ordinary adjective. "My wound was bloody" is not swearing because it genuinely refers to blood. "My wound was bloody painful" is swearing. My 11 year old son thought that was hilariously funny when he first heard it. He still does.

I love words with a hidden meaning, especially if that hidden meaning is a swear word. Not many people know that "naff" is actually quite rude.

Talking of hidden words, I have long loved the name Pendle Hill. That's because "pen" means hill and "dle or dhull" means hill. So we have a place called hill hill hill. The first settlers called it Pen - meaning the hill. The next group to live there didn't know what Pen meant, so they appropriated it and called it Pendhull, meaning pen hill. Then a third group come along who don't know that Pendhull already means hill. So they call it Pendle Hill.

I believe there is also a river river river, but I forgotten what that one is called.

You've just got to love this language.

mfarraday
05-11-2012, 04:14 AM
I run into these differences when I critique's people's work, quite often actually. It's sort of embarrassing when I try to correct someone, and am, instead, myself corrected. LOL. But it's always fun and interesting to learn.

I do think they're truly two different languages sometimes. I learned the phrase 'I'm sat' for instance which I'd never heard before in my life. Will be watching for that one to appear again sometime.

Good thread!

Lillie
05-11-2012, 04:22 AM
I believe there is also a river river river, but I forgotten what that one is called.


The River Avon means river river. Is that the one you mean?

BigWords
05-11-2012, 04:28 AM
Paraguay River = river river river

There are more here (http://www.fun-with-words.com/redundant_etymology.html).

ULTRAGOTHA
05-11-2012, 05:44 AM
When we lived in Switzerland and my kids went to the International School in Basel, many of the teachers were from the UK. One of the language differences we bumped up against (to our great confusion) was the meaning of the word "revise." To us, "revise" meant to rewrite, edit, correct. To the British teacher, it meant to study and review. But when they sent a paper home and our child was expected to "review" it, they meant correct it.

Took us awhile to get that sorted out...

I remember a story an American who lived in the UK for a while was telling. Her kid got sick. The doctor and she were having ongoing discussions about what was wrong, and she kept telling the doctor her kid was sick. He kept asking about when and where and how long after a meal, which completely confused her. Took a while for her to figure out the difference in Britain between ill and sick.

No, no. It's not American English at all. It's what they're saying, British English, but written down so we can see what the heck they just said. Sometimes their accent is so odd, or the idioms come so thick and fast, that rather than say "What? What did he just say? Was that Welsh?" we put the subtitles on.

And it's optional.

Not just the accent, which I'm pretty good at parsing, but the SPEED at which they talk. American actors don't talk that fast, and when they do, I'm not also having to sort the accent and idioms on top. So every once in a while I turn on the subtitles, too.

Alessandra Kelley
05-11-2012, 05:53 AM
Took me years to work out what bangs were. I mean, why 'bangs'? Was does that have to do with hair?

Not sure. That hairstyle became fashionable circa. 1870 (as seen in this Manet painting (http://www.ski.org/CWTyler_lab/CWTyler/Art%20Investigations/Manet.FoliesBergeres/Image1.jpg) ), and there was a word, "bangtail," which started meaning a horse with a straight-across-cut tail in the late 1860s. Some people have suggested a connection. Or connexion.

LJD
05-11-2012, 05:54 AM
I run into these differences when I critique's people's work, quite often actually. It's sort of embarrassing when I try to correct someone, and am, instead, myself corrected. LOL. But it's always fun and interesting to learn.

I do think they're truly two different languages sometimes. I learned the phrase 'I'm sat' for instance which I'd never heard before in my life. Will be watching for that one to appear again sometime.

Good thread!

I find it interesting, too. I've never heard "I'm sat" before.

As long as people are aware that there are differences in the language depending on where you live...
In another community, I was rather irritated when one of my posts was tagged with "desperately seeking spellcheck" because I used "jewellery" rather than "jewelry". Uggh.

Mr Flibble
05-11-2012, 01:20 PM
I think perhaps we consume proportionately more media with US accents than they consume with UK accents, so we're more used to them than they are to us? Or something?

Broadly, perhaps. Buying stamps in the US, me and Old Man had to resort to sign language because they couldn't understand us, and we couldn't understand them (we spoke too fast, they spoke in slo mo lol)

Peter Graham
05-11-2012, 01:52 PM
Talking of hidden words, I have long loved the name Pendle Hill. That's because "pen" means hill and "dle or dhull" means hill. Is that right? I've heard it before and I know some etymological guides swear by it, but I suspect the "dle" bit derives from "dalr", the Norse word for valley, usually rendered in English as "dale". "Pen" is the Brythonic word for hill or headland (it still exists in modern Welsh with much the same meaning), so does Pendle not just mean "hill at the head of the valley"? The local village is called something like Newchurch in Pendle, which is also suggestive of the "dalr" derivation.

Torpenhow in Cumbria does mean hill hill hill. It once featured on the highly entertaining smugfest of QI. Avon, Went and probably Ouse all mean "river". "Mere" means lake, so the tendency to refer to England's largest body of fresh water as "Lake Windermere" is a modern example of the same phenomenon. As is "Langdale valley".

One reason why I suspect that our American pals have subtitles when we don't is perhaps the bewildering array of dialects and accents here. I remember being taught about the development of accent, which is a slow business. For all it's size, the US has far fewer accents than we do. American viewers watching a British programme which had Scottish, Tyneside, Devonian and Birmingham accents would probably find it much harder going than us watching one with Texan, New York, Louisiana and Alaskan accents.

Regards,

Peter

fireluxlou
05-11-2012, 01:56 PM
If you read 50 shades of grey I'm not sure if anyone will but it's a good example of someone trying to Americanise their work without changing anything.

Like common UK words & phrases remain; 'She's Not Well', 'can't have' and 'throw my toys out of the pram' and she says 'singlet' which mean completely different things in UK and America.

Fallen
05-11-2012, 02:35 PM
Oh, right. We call that "bangs."

"Fringe" confused me for many years. I imagined characters with headbands with string fringe hanging down.

I'm with Miranda. I read a book where a young boy had long bangs, I just thought dreadlocks: lol. But it had a good pull on me, I thought it gave the kid character. Then I got it a few years later (not that I'm slow or anything), that he just had a long fringe.

seun
05-11-2012, 03:09 PM
Have to admit, there were a few times in The Wire when I looked like this: :Wha:

I watched a film with Tommy Lee Jones in it last year. Well, tried to watch it. After half an hour, my wife and I had to give up. We'd got one word in five. Maybe.

From what I remember, it was set in Louisiana.

mirandashell
05-11-2012, 06:59 PM
Would that be No Country for Old Men? I remember struggling with his accent.

WyrdeDragon
05-11-2012, 07:02 PM
I'm an American, but I grew up watching quite a bit of British and Canadian TV. I also read quite a bit of British writers as well. I'm even somewhat conversant in Aussie, though not nearly as well as the others. But to me it's still fairly easy to pick up the differences in the various versions, and not just the odd tin, sod or zed. As others have pointed out, the sentence structure and phrasing can be quite different.

Then again, in America our own dialects can be plain damn weird (like the "needs done" construction in some regions) to damn near incomprehensible. And don't get me started on the move to teach ebonics as a separate language in some schools.

Over here though we usually only have subtitles for foreign language programmes. Not for accents.

Actually, they do that a lot here. Especially on news programs. Although they usually keep what the person is saying, they just write it out so you can read it to see that yes, they did say what you thought they said and yes, you really have no idea what the hell that means.


If this is right, I'm with our American friends. Young British adults appear to be taught very little grammar and, as a result, tend to write like five year olds. Self-expression is nothing without the means to convey it. Far from stifling creativity, grammar lights it up like the Blackpool seafront. Otherwise, it's like building a beautiful, sleek sports car without knowing how to fit an engine or a gearbox.


Hmm... given some of the comments I've heard from the petrolheads on Top Gear, I think this may be a quite apt metaphor. Though I'm not nearly enough of a gearhead to say for sure myself. :)


But on all the comments about organic vs. structured, American English often suffers from too many people who try to keep the language "pure". I've read Strunk & White, many writers over here swear by it. I found it hilarious. It's clearly based on the American English of the early 20th century. I'm writing contemporary YA. If I wrote like that, my audience would find it stilted and weird.

Then again, I'm writing for American teens who use otaku, moe or yuri in a sentence without italics. And I feel free to have American teens using British-isms without any self-consciousness, since the sort of geek characters I'm using would reasonably be expected to have read and watched more than enough British sources to have absorbed them.

In short, these are characters like my own kids and their friends, who are equally comfortable using the phrases "Bloody hell" "Bitch, please" and "Lol no". The ones that will use "WTF" or "facepalm" in a sentence.

So to answer the OP, I think style guides are nice, I prefer the Chicago Manual myself. Those should help you get the basic punctuation and grammar rules for standard American. However, if you want to really get a feel for the characters and especially the dialogue, try studying the books, TV, movies and music they would immerse themselves in, even if it isn't all local to them. That should give you better handle on idioms and so on.

And don't sweat it too much. As long as it's a good story, most readers will let the occasional odd word of sentence structure slip past without comment. If you're really worried about it, have a local read over your draft for any obvious problems. If I was going to write a character from London or Atlanta, I'd want to have someone who'd lived there read it over to see if it felt natural, since I've never spent any time in either place. But telling a good story should come first, the rest is just set dressing.

BethS
05-11-2012, 07:28 PM
It's difficult to choose a favourite between 'abseil' and 'rappel'. Wikipedia seems to think the latter is US slang

Rappel is not slang. As a mountaineering term, it originated in the '30s and was borrowed from the French.

Abseil came into popular use (in the UK) at around the same time, but it has German roots.

seun
05-11-2012, 08:06 PM
Would that be No Country for Old Men? I remember struggling with his accent.

Can't remember the exact title. Something to do with mist. Give me a sec. I'll check.

ETA: Found it. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0910905/

Torgo
05-11-2012, 08:11 PM
Rappel is not slang. As a mountaineering term, it originated in the '30s and was borrowed from the French.

Abseil came into popular use (in the UK) at around the same time, but it has German roots.

Yeah, Wiki says slang, but you know, Wiki. 'Rappeler' means to remember or recall in French I think.

BigWords
05-11-2012, 08:13 PM
If I was going to pick a film to complain about, it wouldn't necessarily be In The Electric Mist - I have no problem with accents, but when actors (British or American) start to mumble their way through a performance I get really annoyed. As long as their is clear pronunciation (even if the listener considers it "wrong") there is the means to understand it, though when you can't even make out the words...

Diana_Rajchel
05-11-2012, 08:42 PM
This is actually of concern to me right now. I'm a US writer, and my book has been picked up by a British publishing house. The terms on my contract say "American spelling," which is NOT the same as American English. In my case, there are other cultural nuances at work beyond just idiom and meaning, and for that I need to commit to making the book a piece of American language OR a piece of English language.

Torgo
05-11-2012, 09:11 PM
This is actually of concern to me right now. I'm a US writer, and my book has been picked up by a British publishing house. The terms on my contract say "American spelling," which is NOT the same as American English. In my case, there are other cultural nuances at work beyond just idiom and meaning, and for that I need to commit to making the book a piece of American language OR a piece of English language.


Are they asking you to anglicize it yourself? Odd.

mirandashell
05-11-2012, 09:19 PM
If I was going to pick a film to complain about, it wouldn't necessarily be In The Electric Mist - I have no problem with accents, but when actors (British or American) start to mumble their way through a performance I get really annoyed. As long as their is clear pronunciation (even if the listener considers it "wrong") there is the means to understand it, though when you can't even make out the words...

I had this problem with Solaris. The new version. I love watching George Clooney and I knew I'd enjoy the film, having seen the original but..... bloody hell, the sound quality was dreadful. With one of the actors, all I could hear was mumblemumblemumble. Mummummblemumbleble. Mumble.