Americans do not speak English. Well, not proper English anyway – it’s a bastardised version (i.e. it is a unique, distorted version of British English). I once was told a story about an American woman who was at an overseas ATM wanting to withdraw some money. When the teller prompted for the language to use, she complained that there was no button for American – someone nearby told her to use the English option – this hadn’t occurred to her (I am not sure if she was blonde, or if this happens regularly)!
Anyway, as I have mentioned before, although we speak the same language, we have encountered all sorts of issues with being understood in America. Sometimes the word is the same, but pronounced differently, sometimes the word is completely different to what we would use and sometimes it’s just the spelling that is different.
Now, we can thank one Noah Webster (founder of the American dictionary) for all the variations in spelling between British English and American English. In 1801 he started work on his American dictionary because Americans were using words that just weren’t in English dictionaries – for example – ‘skunk’, ‘squash’, ‘chowder’. Webster also believed that English spelling rules were too complex and sought to simplify them; thus changing the spelling of ‘colour’ to ‘color’, ‘metre’ to ‘meter’ and ‘plough’ to ‘plow’. There are plenty of other examples, like ‘masque’ to ‘mask’, ‘gaol’ to ‘jail’ and ‘tyre’ to ‘tire’. However, he thankfully didn’t succeed in the following: ‘cloak’ to ‘cloke’, ‘women’ to ‘wimmen’, ‘tongue’ to ‘tung’ and ‘ache’ to ‘ake’.
Changing the spelling is mostly ok, since it generally hasn’t changed how the word is pronounced. However, when the word is spelt the same, but pronounced differently, that sometimes causes a bit of a smile or a “what the…” reaction. Now it is also true that there is differences between the states with what things are called as well as how words are pronounced (particularly between Northern & Southern states – and New Yorkers seem to have a dialect all their own); I have just listed a few words that we have found differences with here:
|English word:||How Texans pronounce it:||How Aussie pronounce it:|
Words that start with an “h” seem to render the “h” silent as in herb = ‘erb, hotel = ‘otel, etc, but if it’s in the middle of a word, for example, as in “vehicle”, then the “h” is almost stressed.
Then there are the instances when the word for an object is different and when we ask for something using the word we know – we can get a completely blank stare or the “huh?” response. So, here are a few notable differences we have found:
|What Aussies would say:||What Americans would say:|
|Service station (or Servo)||Gas station|
|Cutlery||Flatware or silverware|
|Toilet||Bathroom or restroom|
|Runners (or joggers)||Tennis shoes|
*A note on the humble biscuit. Now, in Australia (& Britain & New Zealand too), a biscuit is a sweet, delicious thing (similar, but not the same as an American cookie) and is often dunked into your tea or coffee. My favourites are probably all made by Arnotts; check out their website to understand more about this iconic Aussie company and their products.
Biscuits in America are a bread-like item and more like a scone than anything else and are often served with a main meal and with gravy.
But some of the most interesting sayings – I have at times almost needed to ask what they were talking about, or indeed have felt the need to correct their grammar. The word “drug” is used instead of “dragged” and a bedroom suite (Aussies would pronounce that as ‘sweet’ and refers to a bedroom setting made up of bed, bedside tables, dressing table and drawers) is referred to as a bedroom suit – when I first heard this one I thought it might be something akin to your birthday suit, but worn in the bedroom!
Not all are bad though, and some of my favourite (not favorite) Texan sayings include: “Y’all” and “Do what now?” – meaning could you please repeat what you just said.
The development of language and dialect is interesting and I am not saying Aussies are perfect either – we have a terrible habit of abbreviating just about everything wherever possible – see the “servo” example above (and maybe that’s something to look at in a future blog).
Please share your views and thoughts in the comment section below: 🙂