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Yank-ing our chain: The Eternal Rift between English [UK] and [US]

Inspired this week by both the mishigas of Black Friday sales and a recent CIOL talk led by lexical royalty Susie Dent, some of us here in the WIT office had a little debate on the linguistic disparities between British and American English.

It goes without saying that we Brits take great pride in our classy yet chaotic language, silent letters and all. So much so, that the mere thought of omitting the ‘u’ in ‘honour’ drives us up the wall, and the simplification from autumn to ‘fall’ has irked us since time immemorial. Enter our transatlantic cousins…

You know the ones. Those cousins who come from the land where soccer is football and where football hardly uses the foot at all. The land where crisps are chips and chips are French fries, despite them not really being that French. Bless their cotton socks, how do they manage over there?… *sips tea with little finger raised*.

"Dear me...did he just say aloo-minum?'

Bold and Brash

But just what is the reason behind such disdain towards Americanisms? Perhaps it’s their blatant disregard of the purity of the Queen’s English. Well, hate to break it to you, but the English language itself is in no way free from foreign influence. Many of its most common orthographic characteristics, such as use of ‘z’ in words like realize, date all the way back to ancient Greece – way before America was even discovered. Not to mention the Greek origins of popular words such as problem, music and a British favourite, sarcasm.

However, influences aren’t always external. While the British have finessed a tendency towards understatement and an appreciation of the unsaid, Americans have transposed their cultural transparency and logic into their vocabulary. For instance, squash is racquetball, a torch is a flashlight and to disembark is to deplane. They opt for the most explicitly clear depiction of the word’s significance, rather than harking back to classical European influences and in Britain, whether it’s a question of sophistication or cultural cues…

Potato? Tomato? Let’s call the whole thing off…

There also stands a double-sided antipathy when it comes to accents and how things should be pronounced. But, back in the 17th century, English was generally spoken with an American twang so strong that it made it over to the New World with the pilgrims. Over time, both countries added neighbouring geographical influences into the mix, making the two versions of English even more disparate. Think French in the UK and Spanish and Italian in the US, the reason behind the infamous coriander vs. cilantro debate.

Listen up fellow Brits – cut those yanks some slack. Our shared language is far from perfect and attempting to label one version as correct would be, as Samuel Johnson of the dictionary fame says: ‘as futile as lashing the wind’. After all, shouldn’t language be used by however one sees fit depending on their environment?

'I could have sworn I spelled this with a 'U'...where is the 'U'?!

So, before you roll your eyes over hearing 'simultaneously' with a hard ‘I’ or feel the sizzling urge to correct the pronunciation of ‘yoghurt’, just remember how much English has and will continue to, like, totally change over time.

Here at WIT we don’t discriminate- we translate back and forth between a whole host of language variants, guaranteeing a local flavour wherever you need it.


By Gina Agnew, WIT Project Manager


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