British English vs American English

Union_jack_tvYou’re UK based, sign up with a great value ISP, install WordPress and away you go setting up your own websites, blogging, article writing and onward into the adventure that is online earning. It’s around about then that you start to realise just how much truth there is in the old joke – America and Britain, two nations divided by a common language.

It’s certainly a fact that no language stands still, and certainly even here in the UK the way our language is used is far different now than when I was a boy, let alone in comparison to hundreds of years ago. What I find even more fascinating though is how the geographical divide has affected the evolution of what on the face of it is the same language.

Perhaps the most obvious difference is spelling, where it seems the US has always more readily adopted a much more phonetic approach than we have. Grey becomes gray, metre becomes meter etc. Most of these we know and can can readily deal with, but the one that I psychologically just can’t seem to adapt to is s and z where compromise becomes compromize etc. Maybe my old teachers just did too good a job beating this stuff into me, but personally I do find it really difficult to take the zee route. The other distinct possibility is that it’s a reaction to good old Bill Gates trying to sneak the zees into our documents unannounced when we’re not looking!

The second problem for me is in trying to tell the difference between proper accepted American English and plain old bad usage. As an example, for many years in the UK, pedantic old fuddy duddies like myself have frowned and tutted when people (usually estate agents) use the word compliment when they actually meant complement. However, on US sites I can’t ever really recall seeing the words complement or complementary. So were they ever in use? Or has the word compliment just triumphed in the phonetic war?

And all of the above is before we even consider the plain old differences in usage. You guys across the pond might think it’s amusing that my car has a bonnet, but at least our bankers don’t wear red suspenders (well at least not at the office). And we better not get started on any Fanny Craddock  jokes as who knows where that might lead us, you’re just going to have to Google it!

Returning to an almost serious note. We do have to write with our audiences in mind, and on my blogs I pretty much stick to British English regardless, however on sites and articles that will inevitably have a predominantly US based readership, I always try and remember to write American English. I just wonder what the inevitable slip ups look like to a US reader? Would I be better just sticking with what I know best and ignore the differences?

I suppose with the influence of television, the question of British English vs American English will ultimately disappear. We are definitely adopting more and more American usage in the UK and presumably the languages will eventually reconverge. I think that will perhaps be a little bit sad. It’s rather a nice thing to have our similarities but to retain our differences don’t you think?

2 thoughts on “British English vs American English

  1. Ah yes, I know what you mean. And something that’s really worrying me lately is that I spend so much time online reading American websites/ forums that I am now getting confused by reading the date in the UK format!

    Apart from that the s/z thing bothers me too, because I once saw a blogger complain that a writer they hired was not a native English speaker because they didn’t know how to spell ‘realise’ properly! Ahhh well, I’m starting to rant now 😉

    I tend to write articles sometimes in British English sometimes not. In my Flippa.com auction listings I use s instead of z and I do think some people will probably assume I can’t spell properly, but I shouldn’t be ashamed of writing in my own language! (That said I bet if I checked my blog I’d be really inconsistent between US and British English! it is starting to take over)

  2. affiliateprogress

    ……”not a native English speaker because they didn’t know how to spell ‘realise’ properly! ” — Excellent, I love that one.

    I suppose when all is said and done we should be more worried about the emergence of “SEO English” – that really is a different language.

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