May 7, 2012 By Angela Boothroyd
Do you ever get confused by the differences between the English vocabulary used in North America, the UK, Australia and New Zealand?
Generally speaking, it doesn’t really matter which of these varieties of English you learn and use because most of what you say will be understood by any group of English speakers – but there are some areas of difference e.g. vehicles and driving, food and drink, clothing, and slang words, where it’s particularly useful to understand and use the different words used in specific English-speaking countries and regions.
Have a look at these driving-related examples. How many of them do you know?
|British / UK English
||North American English
|car park||parking lot|
|driving licence||driver’s license|
|estate car||station wagon|
|gear stick / lever||gear shift|
|hire car||rental car|
|number plate||license plate|
|petrol||gas / gasoline|
|motorway||freeway / expressway|
English to English: The A to Z of British-American Translations is a very useful guide to over 2000 commonly used English words in British and British-related English, and North American English. There are words and phrases from specific areas of the United States and Canada, and the UK, as well as words and phrases from Australia and New Zealand.
The book is small enough to fit into your bag or pocket and is very easy to use to improve your English vocabulary and to look up any unfamiliar words or phrases you hear.
You can buy the book from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.ca. It’s also available on Kindle.
Interview with the author
English to English is compiled by Canadian born author and writing expert Suzan St Maur who now lives and works in the UK. Suzan very kindly agreed to answer some questions for me.
1. What’s your favourite British or British-related English word from your book?
I think my favourite British word is “naff.” It can mean a number of things suggesting displeasure … as an adjective (a “naff” hat, meaning an ugly or silly hat) … or as a verb (*naff* off, meaning go away.) Although it is slang it is not considered to be more than mildly rude, and as it was made popular by Britain’s HRH the Princess Royal many years ago when telling photographers to go away, it has had Royal approval!
2. And what’s your favourite North American English word?
My favourite – or at least the funniest – North American word has to be “conversate.” This is results from a recent trend to backtrack from nouns ending in “tion” to create new, fancier-sounding verbs. The original verb, of course, is “converse,” but many Americans these days who want to seem more educated will say they are “conversating,” rather than “conversing,” or indeed just plain “talking…”
3.Here in the UK, some people get irritated that Americanisms are used more and more in everyday conversation. What do think about this? And in your experience have many British English words drifted into North American English in the same way?
Since the advent of movies (cinema) and television in English-speaking countries, American films and programmes have dominated the screens for a long time – almost 100 years in the case of movies. Whether the other English-language countries like it or not, American words and phrases are very common now. Of course with the internet, too, we are seeing new words emerging all the time, all driven by the American dominance of the hardware and software we use for our computer needs. Words like “expiration” (originally “expiry”) … “unlike” (new, from Facebook) … and phrases like “you’re done” (you have finished) … are all examples of American influence that has spread across all English-speaking nations.
As for British English words entering American vocabularies, I think that’s very unlikely. As Jonathon Green says in the Foreword to my book,
“a new country requires a new language, or at least a version of an older one, and Americans were quick off the mark. The lexicographer Noah Webster, whose great Dictionary appeared in 1828 and who in 1789 had been the first to use the phrase ‘the American language’, was determined to push the project forward. As well as collecting and explaining words, he created a whole new mode of spelling: it was not just a simplified, and what he saw as more practical version of the UK’s notoriously problematic system, but a reflection of a new world, not to be tied to old and outmoded European habits.”
And the Americans aren’t about to change that!
4.When you return to Canada for business and holidays do you find it difficult to switch back to North American English vocabulary, and vice versa? Have you ever been embarrassed by confusion over the differences?
When I return to Canada I spend the entire 7 hour flight to Toronto working through in my mind, two things: a) driving on the other side of the road, because I pick up a rental car on arrival at the airport and b) North American terms as my family don’t understand some of the British words we use! I don’t find it hard to switch sides of the road to drive on as long as there is plenty of local traffic for me to follow … but the words and phrases do take me a few days to get used to. My most embarrassing moment – as I’m sure happens to many people moving from British English to North American English – was when asked by my aunt where my 20-year-old son had gone after dinner I said, “oh, he has just popped out for a fag.” (Fag in British English means cigarette, but in North American means something quite different, and indeed very offensive…)
Thank you, Suze
Do you have any questions about British or American English?
Do you prefer to learn British / UK English or North American English?