Common tongue

As a Brit moving to America, I really didn’t anticipate many linguistic challenges. We do, after all, speak the same language, don’t we? Sure they have a twangy accent, they don’t pronounce their ‘t’s half the time and they say silly things like ‘pants’ when they mean ‘trousers’, but I’m already used to all that and they’re slowly getting used to me. Americans seem to have a hard time identifying English accents, so most people will ask me if I’m from New Zealand or Ireland (one even asked if I was specifically from Tipperary which I found hilarious), rather than picking up my Scottish intonations.

Nevertheless, I have been discovering more unusual differences between American and British English than I had initially anticipated, and they mostly came about when I started writing for American readers. I am constantly switching between my UK and US spellchecker, so much so that it’s starting to give me a headache. Occasionally I will come across unexpected spellings like the American standard ‘inquire’ for ‘enquire’ that crop up underlined in a red squiggly line in my text and make me question my sanity. There are also a few strange variations in how you use punctuation, so whereas in British English a full stop will follow a quoted text, in American it will be incorporated inside the quote even if it’s not part of it (“bla bla bla.”). I’ve discussed this particular point with a few Americans, and it also appears to be a generational variation, a rule which has been drummed into younger people but which older Americans don’t always follow.

Now I could start cataloguing all this of course (I just had to double-check that because my US spellchecker underlined it – you write ‘cataloging’ in US ENG apparently) but it turns out that someone has already done that. And good thing too, there are way more amusing things to do with this blog. If you want to delve extensively into the multitude of variation between British and American English, feel free to browse Lynneguist’s blog ‘Separated by a Common Language‘. An American living in the UK, she has been writing it since 2006 and has still not run out of things of note. The differences I talked about above were, I think, things she is still to write about.

Some fun sections of the blog include the UStoUK/UKtoUS new word exchanges in Word of the Year, or this pretty amusing section on class. Enjoy!


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