Britishisms and Americanisms

English English EE, American English AE, Some excerpts from “That’s not English” by Erin Moore. Hope with this, you may enjoy buying and reading this book.

EE: quite means “rather” or “fairly”, and is subtle way of damning with faint praise. An English author receives an editorial letter from her American editor who “quite” likes her new book (Insult!) AE: quite simply means “very” and amps the adjective. No subtlety there. An American student finds it impossible to get a job in UK based on glowing recommendation letters submitted by her professors, whose highest praise is “quite intelligent and hard-working” (Shock!). An English houseguest confesses to being “quite hungry” and is served a steak of punishing size by an oblivious American friend (Horror!)

An adjective describing the quality of certain foods that make one want to keep eating them.English snaffle.Typical English snack sizes are smaller than Americans. Peanut butter are of size that can fit into a shoe whereas Americans are bucket sizes. American snacks may be labelled “family-size” but conveniently, the size of the family is not specified. American potato chips come with health claims: low-fat, gluten-free, no trans fats, calcium-enriched whereas in England its not so but sometimes came with small packet of slat to be added or with a claim “ready salted”

MUFTI – An Indian English word which means plainclothes, irrespective English love uniforms whereas Americans nope.English children wear uniforms from age 4 and there’s broad agreement, crossing political lines and class lines, that uniforms are a good idea improving discipline and focus and leaving class distinctions. Fewer than quarter of American schools have uniform policies. Americans are less comfortable with the idea of uniforms than the English, and when objecting to them, they often invoke the ideal of defending individual freedom and rights to expression. English always wonder given this line of thought why Americans always wear same jeans and T-shirts? Americans are in their “fanny packs” (fanny is slang for vagina in EE) whereas in AE slang fanny is vajay-jay. in EE, it’s called “bum bags”. England’s fashion to some extent is foppish and retro compared to American in certain items.

GOBSMACKED – figuratively to be flabbergasted, astounded or amazed

TRAINERS – fitness differences
Running shoes in AE is called “sneakers” and in EE is called “trainers”. Americans are joiners and appreciate the social aspects of shared workout experience and love their gyms – and not just because extreme weather and unwalkable suburbs make outside exercise difficult in many places. The English are more often head outside for their exercise. Outdoor activity is a huge part of English children whereas American schools are dropping their PE programs and cancelling recess, English schools are fanatical about games, and getting children outside in all weather. A rhyme often repeated to young children in shorts, as their knees turn blue is:
Whether the weather be fine, Or whether the weather be not
Whether the weather be cold, Or whether the weather be hot
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not

Fit or not, English love their countryside. Within minutes by car or train of any town or city, one can reach-instead of strip malls and big-box stores as far as eyen can see-unbroken stretches of walkable land – a testament to England’s devotion to county walking.

A dozen inflections of the word sorry exists in EE and only one of them really means sorry! Here are just a few of the many moods and meanings these two syllables convey:
”Sorry!” (I steeped on your foot)
”Sorry.” (You stepped on my foot)
”Sorry?” (I didn’t;t catch want you said)
”SOrry.” (You are an idiot)
”SORRy.” (Get out of my way)
”SorRY.” (The nerve of some people)
”I’m sorry but….” (Actually I’m not at all)
”Sorry….” (I can;t help you)

It’s rare that a word like “scunner” crosses nationalities, but we have a winner in “toilet”. It is generally, though by no means universally, unloved on both sides of the moist, moist Atlantic. (another most hated word is moist – due its connotations to body fluids, etc.) Americans use bathroom in homes and restrooms in public. British have their own loo and lavatory.

The English have a reputation for being passive-aggressive because they seem not to be saying what they mean—at least, not with words. In English culture, an anodyne word like sorry takes on shades of meaning that someone from outside will not be able to discern with any degree of sophistication, especially if he is from a culture that is more comfortable with confrontation, or one that condones a wider range of small talk among strangers. The English use sorry to protest, to ask you to repeat yourself, to soothe, and to smooth over social awkwardness as much as – if not more than – they use it to apologize. But most of the time, their object is pointlessness of a particularly English kind, to wit: politeness as refusal.
English courtesy often takes the form of what Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson have called “negative politeness”—which depends on keeping a respectful distance from others and not imposing on them. Its opposite, positive politeness, is inclusive and assumes others’ desire for our approval. Only the Japanese—masters of negative politeness—have anything even approaching the English sorry reflex. No wonder visiting Americans are so often caught off guard.
Although Americans and the English have different drinking customs and habits, cheers has been used as a toast in both countries for nearly a century. It comes from the Old French chiere, meaning face. Cheer later came to mean an expression or mood, and later a good mood, In England by the mid-1970s, cheers had become a colloquial synonym for thanks. Cheers has been used that way by the English ever since, and is a remarkably flexible word, It is, for one thing, a great class leveler:

Practically everyone gays it, and it is appropriate to say to anyone (with the possible exception of the queen, and yet the younger royals surely use it).Where does this leave cheers? Perhaps because of visits to England, or the influence of English novels, television, journalism, Americans have begun to adopt the “thanks/good-bye” meaning of late. As one American said, “I enjoy hearing [cheers] instead of the worn out ‘later’ or ‘see ya later.’ Like it or not,the Yanks and the Brits are cousins, and that’s that. Cheers!” Need less to say, not everyone shares his enthusiasm.

An English banker living in New York groused, “I’m getting sick of my clients saying cheers to me. Americans say cheers like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, with too much enthusiasm. It  must be delivered laconically.” Delivery does counts The English say “Chis” out of the sides of their mouths when they mean thank you or good-bye. Americans do not pickup on this, and say cheers the same—toothily, hitting the r a bit hard and implying an exclamation point—whether they mean it as a toast or a casual good-bye. Some Americans are just as irritated by their compatriots’ appropriation of cheers.

The word bespoke is virtually unknown in America, which is astonishing because you would think that the American advertising industry would love to get its grubby mitts on a classy word like that. But just because the word is seldom heard and the typical American man wears mostly khakis or jeans and sneakers doesn’t mean America lacks the concept. “Having it your way” is considered a birthright by Americans, who bring a curatorial zeal to almost everything they do.

Clothing may not be bespoke in America, but want to know what is? Sandwiches. No one behind the deli counter will raise an eyebrow as you order to your eleven exacting specifications. Then, they will make it, fast, with no eye-rolling. Did I mention this is also cheap? When I went back to America, after a long absence, I was a little miffed when my roast (NOT honey roast) turkey, Swiss cheese, spicy mustard, light mayo, pickles, tomatoes, no lettuce, on whole wheat had gone up to $6.50. However, when it arrived it was not only a work of art, but a truly intimidating size.

The shops in England that offer the most choice today are actually borrowing the word bespoke from Savile Row: bespoke cakes, bespoke sandwiches, bespoke coffees. Everything is spoken for now. The dumbing down of the concept of bespoke in its native country would make Mr. Collins, haberdasher, of the USA, want to stick a needle in his eye. It may sound a bit silly, but it represents a level of choice that is actually new for England.

Americans and the English have very similar attitudes toward time. Both cultures value punctuality and hard work and live by the clock. They share a sense of time as a resource that can be saved, spent, or wasted, though perhaps only an American would express the opinion, in earnest, that “time is money.” They do have subtly different ways of expressing the passage of time, but these are never sources of lasting confusion. The English write their dates starting with the day first, followed by the month and then the year. Americans start with the month. The English use a twenty-four-hour clock, in which 4:30 P.M. is expressed as “16.30” whenever precision is called for, such as scheduling (pronounced sheduling) meetings or talking about train or flight times. With the exception of their military, Americans go by a twelve-hour clock. Americans say “four thirty” or “half past four.” The English do, too, but they also might say “half four.”

The English have a special word, fort- night, that means two weeks. Americans just say two weeks. TWO weeks—one bloody fortnight—is the amount of time the English are appalled to hear that Americans “only” have for holiday (vacation) each year. This is perhaps the one point of true divergence when it comes to English and American attitudes toward time. The English get—and take—at least twenty days of vacation, plus public holidays (called bank holidays), amounting to a full month of paid vacation each year. Twenty days is the minimum allowed under European Union rules, and England is surrounded by countries where people take even more vacation than the English do. The French get about nine weeks, and even the Germans have eight, which does not seem like something Angela Merkel would have signed off on. Paid vacation is therefore seen as a human right, not a privilege, and the English feel fully entitled to take advantage of it.

Americans have an ambivalent relationship with the word smart. Listen to the way they use it, and you might question whether they think being smart is really such a good thing after all:
“I’ve had it with your smart-ass comments.”
“No one likes a smart aleck.”
“Don’t get smart with me! ”
In America, it’s perfectly fine to be a show-off if you are a talented athlete, or musician, or entrepreneur, but it’s not cool to be too intellectual. The brightest kids in school are rarely the most liked or popular, and this can last into adulthood if they don’t figure out where braininess is welcome and where it isn’t. No one wants smart people lording it over them. It’s why people who go to top universities won’t mention them by name in mixed company. “I went to college in Boston” is code for “I went to Harvard, but please like me anyway.” Americans don’t like elitism—and they associate intellectualism with elitism. This has been one of Barack Obama’s recurring challenges as president. His critics look for every opportunity to prove he is, as The New York Times reported, “a Harvard-educated millionaire elitist who is sure that he knows best and thinks that those who disagree just aren’t in their right minds. Never mind that Mr. Obama was raised in less exalted circumstances by a single mother who needed food stamps.

In England, like America, playing up your intelligence is just plain bad manners—not because it’s uncool to be bright, or because it’s considered elitist, but because it’s showing off, and as Sarah Lyell asserts in her book, A Field Guide to the British, “boasting … makes you seem aggressive, ambitious, self-regarding, puffed up—verging on American. The evils of those things are ingrained in them at school, where they are discouraged from saying they are better than anyone else, even when they are.” Even Oscar Wilde, one of the biggest show-offs the British Isles ever produced, knew this. He made valiant attempts at self-deprecation, but never really carried it off, once saying, “I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.”

Americans think that all English people sound posh, and they won’t let the English forget it. Those who spend a lot of time in America, especially British expats, aren’t thrilled about the constant compliments they get about their accents, and some find them intrusive. There are more than sixty-six thousand members of a Facebook page called “I hate the way Americans think us English people all speak dead posh.” (Dead can be used in English English to mean “completely,” as it is here.) In England, accent is a strong indicator of one’s place in the class hierarchy. Many people grow up feeling self-conscious of what their accents reveal about them, whether they are posh or not, and compliments can make them feel a bit uncomfortable.

The English are constantly exposed to a variety of American accents and vocabulary through television and movies. Americans’ less-enunciated accents, and tendency to speak louder than the English are used to, make them sound brash, confident, and a little sloppy. American slang contributes to this impression, cutting across socioeconomic and gender lines far more than English slang, which is stratified. For example, to the English middle and upper classes, something they like will be “brilliant,” and if they agree with something you say, they may do so by saying -Quite.” A working-class person from London or Essex, seeking agreement, will use the question tag “innit” at the end of a sentence, in the same way an American might say “amlright?” It is harder to tell Americans’ social class from the words they use, and as a result Americans of all classes can sound similarly unrefined. There is no word that typifies this phenomenon more thoroughly than dude. Dude is a word that—no matter how often they are exposed to it—the English will not adopt. It is one of the most American-sounding words there is. And the story of dude is also the story of how American slang can become universal and classless in a way that is hard to imagine happening in England. Ironically, this aggressively casual word that, in today’s American English, might refer to a person of either sex.

This definition, while not entirely unknown, is not the primary one in America. If an American hears “a proper cup of tea,” he is apt to picture a pinkie-lifting exercise in etiquette— not the strong and hot brew this phrase calls to the English mind. All the most common American uses of the word proper are about conforming to convention, being respectable and appropriate, formal and sedate. When Americans call something proper they are thinking refined, virtuous, boring. Being proper means likely having to pretend to be something one isn’t. Being genuine, or “real,” is far more desirable in American society than being proper. What Americans might not realize is that when the English say proper, genuine and real is precisely what they mean.

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can get you into real trouble. Whether you mean to insult or compliment, you’d better first make sure that the word you choose means what you think it means. For example, if something is cozy and comfortable in England it might be called homely. In America, homely means ugly. In England, a muppet is a foolish or incompetent person. In America, a muppet is a character from the beloved TV show by Jim Henson. Someone (or something) described as scrappy in England is untidy or poorly organized, whereas in America, someone who is scrappy is determined to win or achieve something, often in spite of mitigating circumstances. In America, scrappy is a compliment that carries the connotation of the underdog.

Imagine for a moment you are learning English as a foreign language. What would you make of words and phrases like pull, snog, pick up, make out, and screw? Do these sound like events in the World’s Strongest Man competition? Lesser-known Olympic sports? Things that might happen at a Monster Truck Rally? (SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! BE THERE! BE THERE’. BE THERE!) Courtship slang in English is anything but dignified. Of course, there are words in English for perfectly innocent activities, like retrieving golf balls from practice ranges, that are just as strange. Does ball shagging sound like something it ought to be legal to pay a young boy to do? Pull, snog, and shag are the English synonyms for pick up, make out, and screw.