American and British English

There’s an old-fashioned joke which plays on one of the differences between American and British English. A Brit uses the operator to make a call to USA. The female operator comes on the line to ask the Brit if he’s connected and he says “Yes thank you, I’m through,” so she immediately cuts him off, ending the call.

I don’t think today people are connected by operator, but the difference in meaning for the word ‘through’ remains. It’s like the different ways we use the word ‘sure’.

I’m aware of obvious differences in spelling: Brits using ‘our’ in words like ‘colour’ while Americans use ‘or’; also, differences in double/single letters and the use of ‘s’ or ‘z’ in words ending in ‘ise’ or ize’. I’ve read that Canadians sometimes use both forms, but I suspect that’s dying out.

There are some differences in grammar – particularly the past tenses of verbs and whether group nouns are singular or plural – where the American way seems to be more logical. On the other hand, (returning to spelling) when it comes to ‘aeroplane’ I want to keep the ‘aero’ at the start instead of ‘air’ because it tells me that the word came from a Greek root.

I know some Americans hear us Brits as oddly formal in how we speak, or quaint (as in the Dick Van Dyke version of cockney) but it seems to me the speech difference is narrowing today, particularly amongst young people. Personally, I do admire the freedom of some American novelists and comedians but I like our British formality as well!

Oxy, I am an American editor working for a company in the Netherlands where British English is the standard, so have had cause to reflect at great length on the differences between British and American English. If you are British, you "depend upon," while if you are American, you "depend on." Similarly, if you are British, you are "amongst us," but if American, you are "among us." And don't even get me started on Oxford commas...

I notice how the internet and is wiping out apostrophes. The setting on my contacts file won't accept them and names of organisations eliminate them to avoid payment difficulties. So St Thomas's hospital in London is now St Thomas.

Apostrophes are important because they signal possession rather than plural.

Some other languages use declension where the ending of a word changes to show a different relationship to other words. In English the apostrophe has taken the place of declension.

Many British people use an apostrophe wrongly, for instance, writing apple's £1.00 a kilo when it should be apples.

I want to keep apostrophes because they make the meaning clear. You don't have to stop and puzzle out what the writer meant to say. Also they're part of the richness and history of our language.

There is this silly phrase 'grammar Nazi' going round on the internet, often used by people whose posts are littered with errors. I don't think posts should be perfect, but at least people should check for obvious typos. On the other hand, if you're an editor you know how difficult it is to eliminate every error from a piece of writing!

I'm a big fan of the BBC shows on TV, especially the dramas. It's helped me to decipher some of the terms used that differ from ours. Good examples are boot/trunk, bonnet/hood of a car/auto.

Text messaging seems to be eliminating proper spelling and punctuation. I'm still learning some of that lingo, and find myself constantly 'googling' the definitions! My grand kids laugh as I still use 'long hand'!

Yes, my wife used LOL for a long time to mean 'lots of love' only to be told by her son it has a slightly sarcastic meaning 'laugh out loud'.

Hey there Oxytosin

I love your topics! I thought I posted back about cards, chess and board games but must have gotten interrupted (I babysit my 2 yr old granddaughter) before hitting the send button! I do like the games but have not played much in a while b/c my husband prefers to read and work on computer programs (programmer), and the grand kids are too small yet. My children have since left the nest. But, growing up, my family (5 children) loved board games, cards and domino's! Saturday evenings were always filled with laughter playing games, and cousins, aunts, uncles were filling the room with lots of family play.

Our children were well read, and have good vocabularies; We also did puzzles together, especially in winter months as well as had family reading time, with me reading aloud a book of choice. One of the kids or parent, would choose a book we wanted to share that we had read or knew about, and we'd read it together so we could all discuss it.

Chess is a great game and not too many have the mind set to play, but in our family we raised our kids to play at an early age, as the strategy makes the mind work and solve problems ahead. We liked to expose our kids to many things so they were well rounded.

As for English, proper, Americans have basically destroyed it; I agree as for grammar we just do not tend the details as we should! I enjoy your posts! Keep them coming!

thanks CM

Thank you CM, that's so kind of you. I love your description of choosing a book together and discussing it. That makes books come alive. Scrabble is a fun way of building vocabulary, but the best way, I think, for children is to see words in a book or hear them and get used to how they're used. That way the words aren't abstract definitions, they're alive and kicking. All your games and reading and discussion sound fun and so useful!

When you mention puzzles that makes me think of jigsaws. They reckon to fit them together stimulates important parts of the brain. Anyone enjoy jigsaws?

There are Victorian jigsaws you can buy which have some of the middle pieces in the shape of animals. The Victorians made jigsaws that didn't always have lugs sticking out (like ears) which slot the pieces together. Some of the parts would be curved on all sides, or they'd have straight edges at several different angles. In Britain we can buy Victorian jigsaws at National Trust properties and the jigsaws are often pictures of their gardens.

I remember when we went on holiday my ex-wife used to spend many hours with a large tea tray fitting together the pieces of a jigsaw she'd found in the house we'd be renting. She said jigsaws relaxed her.

In fact, when we went to these holiday cottages there was always an interesting collection of games provided for rainy days.

It's tempting to say that with phone games and internet games these kind of family and group sessions are dying out. But people are still playing games. You see them on trains looking at a screen taking guesses or puzzling things out. Human beings seem to be obsessed by games and puzzles and quizzes.

We have lots of TV quiz shows. If people don't know the show 'Pointless', which is very popular in Britain, I can post a description. It's a really interesting variation on this kind of show.

Do other people have their favourite TV quiz shows?

Wow Oxytosin;

You have many of the same interests, I'd say!

My oldest granddaughter, now 18 and graduated H.S. at 17 yrs old, grew up with my two younger ones as more like siblings to her; they used to tell her she could not use a word unless she knew how to spell it and know it's meaning and usage! LOL Young minds are inquiring and she would stop you mid sentence and ask what a word meant and how to spell it and her vocabulary grew quickly! LOL She is now known among her peers as "the grammar Nazi" LOL.

Yes, we do play Scrabble and love jigsaw puzzles. Our youngest daughter started before age two selecting random pieces and fitting them together by colors, shapes never getting the edge together first as most of us do, but would have it together very quickly;LOL She thinks in a more abstract way but very intelligent; Her first job of course was fast food while in H.S. but from there immediately took Postal test and worked for the Post Office as Postmaster Relief and was the youngest ever known to be hired in that position in this area.

Our family is very close, and we do enjoy sharing. We did play Connect Four, Pente, and Mancala which are also games of logic, strategy and thinking.I do love game shows like Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud. These test your knowledge of history and some trivia. We always enjoyed Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly as well as Parcheesi.

I'm not a big fan of video games. I do know many of these games are computerized such as Chess and Scrabble, but what is missing is sharing and interaction with other people.

Keep your topics coming, Oxytosin! Some of you, please join in; we need input from everyone here!


What playground/party games did people play?

I remember 'what's the time Mr Wolf?' where you creep up on Mr Wolf (with his/her back to the players) and if you're moving when he/she turns round then you go back to the starting line.

If, when Mr Wolf turns round, instead of saying a time like 'three o'clock', he/she shouts 'dinner time!' then everyone runs for the starting line and Mr Wolf tries to catch one. Of course, if you're caught you take over as Mr Wolf.

We also used to play party games like 'murder in the dark' which scared me rigid.

I remember in the playground what they called 'chain tighy' which meant one person was 'it' chasing everyone. When they caught someone they formed a chain of two hand-in-hand chasers. The next person caught joined up for a three person chain etc etc.

Drives me crazy. A soccer team is clearly singular.

What is manchester united? A soccer team. The two words to pay attention to are "A" which means one. Combining A with "team," you get 1 team.

1 is singular. A car is made up of thousands of parts, but it is not plural. Why should a soccer team be plural?