International English

When I am not working, reading or writing, I like to waste away a little time with online multiplayer games. I think it’s a great way to meet people all over the world and you can learn a lot about other cultures just by talking to people from other countries. A lot of the people I have met are American. Talking to them has taught me a lot about how the English language differs on the other side of the pond.

I decided to write about this after one of my American friends messaged me asking “If I said I wanted to snog you, would that be a compliment or an insult?” He had found a British programme on YouTube called Snog, Marry, Avoid and didn’t know what snog meant. (For all you readers who may not know either, it’s a British term for french kissing.) That got me thinking about, and talking to my friends about, how English and American English differs.

In 1806, 30 years after The Declaration of Indepedence, Noah Webster published America’s first Dictionary. Webster introduced American spelling of words like customise (customize), colour (color) defence (defense) and centre (center). The idea was that they were no longer British, they were American. They wanted an American language.

As the two countries developed they created their own words to describe things. For example:

Sidewalk – Pavement
Trunk – Boot (of a car)
Hood – Bonnet (of a car)
Sneakers – Trainers
Fall – Autumn
Traffic Circle – Roundabout
Diaper – Nappy (interestingly, the word diaper originates in England. It’s use died out in Britain but continues to be used in America).

Then there are the words which are the same, but have different meanings.

This is an example of English and American English just confusing everything. Jello in England is known as jelly. The wobbly stuff you have with ice cream at parties. Jelly in England is known as jam. That’s the fruity stuff you put on toast. America then has a jam all of it’s own which is like English jam only more runny.

Pants in America are what British people called Trousers. Pants in England are underwear. It’s what the Americans call panties; only in Britain pants works for male underwear too.

In America bangs is the term used to describe the hair covering your forehead. In England we call it a fringe. Bangs are loud noises/the sound of explosions.

A lot of American slang has made it’s way into the British language and vice versa over the decades. Sometimes these words are introduced through literature. Take Harry Potter for example. Now these books were translated into American English which is how ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ came to be released in the US as ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’. Some British words slipped through however. More and more Americans are now using the term ‘ginger’ to describe redheads. A term largely introduced by the Harry Potter books to describe the hair colour of the Weasleys. Another British word left in the Harry Potter books; bringing me full circle; is snog. It would appear that it is not so popular as a new slang word though as it hasn’t really been taken up in America.

I hope this post has been interesting to read. I just want to leave you all with this. Stick with your writing and maybe someday you will have an effect on the language of a country in a small way with one of your stories.