English to English Translation: American vs UK Common Word Usage

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I am on a roll or is it role? Naw.......it roll. See my hub on Homophones to know what I am talking about. While I am on the subject of the English language I decided to tackle another grey area which is of grave concern to many writers online.

We often face a bit of drawback when it comes to writing for a wide cross section of audiences. I have faced such drawback and had to learn fast. I am from the Caribbean and the British version of the English language was what was taught in my day. I think it is changing somewhat because I see that the schools are using American English spelling for some words while retaining the British English rules. This is a bit confusing.

The people who live in Britain speak a certain way. They also write a certain way and some of their words are spelled differently than the way it's done in North America. I was encouraged by my HP mentors during my Apprentice program to write American English. At the time I thought it was unfair given that:

  1. My primary language is British (I said primary rather than native since we actually speak a dialect)
  2. Many of my readers come from Europe

Now it is left me to to decide how to handle grammar and spelling issues. As a freelancer I have to know both languages and must be able to deliver American English as well British English when needed by clients. Below are some common words and terms use in both British and American English.

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Spelling differences

British
American
Neighbour
Neighbor
Colour
Color
Behaviour
Bahavior
Savour
Savor
Flavour
Flavor
Litre
Liter
Metre
Meter
Centre
Center
Theatre
Theater
Labour
Labor
Anaemia
Anemia
Fluoride/Flourite
Floride/Florite
Gynaecology
Gynecology
Haemoglobin
Hemoglobin
Cheque
Check
Dialogue
Dialog
Monologue
Monolog
Organise
Organize
Honour
Honor
Manoeuvre
Maneuvre
Encyclopaedia,
Encyclopedia
Aweful
Awful

Simple spelling rules to avoid confusion

There are some rules the Americans and British follow when writing words. All you need to do is adopt these patterns when writing some words and you can't go wrong.

  • re vs er words. There are some words which confuse at the end such as meter, center and liter. Follow this rule when writing. Two syllable words with the "er" sound at the end would be er American and re British. example: centre (UK) - center (US)
  • ou vs o words. There are words such as flavour (UK) and honour(UK) where the American spelling confuses people like myself. The rule I follow is leave to out the u for the American spelling, hence, flavor and honor.
  • ae and oe words. Words with these combinations with one sound where the other vowel is silent are British words. What the Americans have done is to drop the silent vowel. For example encyclopaedia which is British and encyclopedia is American English.
  • ize vs ise endings. Strangely it is the American English which emphasizes the use of the 'z' at the end of words usually ending with 'ise'. British - apologise; American - apologize.

Writing for the internet

Whether you are a blogger, freelance writer or webmaster there is a challenge as to which version to use especially if you are neither British nor American.

Americans and the British usually stick to their own versions but the challenge is with those who are neither British nor American.

Somehow it may be easier on the writer to stick with The American spelling in order to avoid confusion. The exception goes for those in the Caribbean where CXC, GSCE, GCE are British bases learning.

What I have done is set my own guidelines based on where I am publishing (which site) and who my client is.

  • If I am publishing on a content site such as Hubpages I try to write the American way. Sometimes the British English does slip by and I have to make a conscious decision to fix it. If the content site is American based then my spelling would be American. If you are British writing on an American site I see no reason not to be yourself.
  • When publishing my on blogs I make my work flow more naturally so many of my posts will have the British version of the Language even though most of my audience may be American. I don't think American readers mind reading the UK version of the language so long as you are consistent throughout the article and they do understand that writers come from all walks of life.
  • When writing for a client I find out where the client is from and what version of the language is preferred if it was not stated in the job description.

Differences in both American and British English

Other than the spelling there are more differences that are quite noticeable such as the type of words used, pronunciations of words and the accent on certain words. For example the word secretary is pronounced [se-cre-try] in the British version while the Americans pronounce the "a" in the last syllable.

Phrases and names of things are quite different as well. Also difference in language are phrases and exclamations. See the below table for comparison.

Just a few words and phrases

American
British
Bar
Pub
Young man
Lad/laddy
Young woman
Lass
Dinner
Supper
Stock (soup stock)
Broth
Taxi
Cab
Nap
Snooze
KIndergarten
Preparotory/Basic/ Primary
Junior High
High School
Candy
Sweety
Take a bath/shower
Have a wash
Sandals
Slippers
Bike
Bicycle
Toilet
Loo
Ass
Arse
Also
As well
Donkey
Ass
Crazy
Barmy
Great/ Fabulous
Bees Knees
Obvious
Blatant
Gosh!
Blow me! (sometimes accompanied by 'down')
Unstable
Wonky
Wee or pee
Take a wiz
Hi
Watcha
Idiot
Twit
Girl
Totty

This hub will be updated as I find more words to add. There are many more but the brain seems to be out of ideas at the moment. Kindly add your words in the comments and I will update the hub accordingly. Thanks for reading.

© 2013 Carolee Samuda

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Comments 21 comments

SubRon7 profile image

SubRon7 3 years ago from eastern North Dakota

Carolee, with the far different things you write about (and BTW I've never noticed "British" in your writing) anyway, I think you are amazing!

James


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 3 years ago from Jamaica Author

Thanks James. It is really very tough for me to try to keep it American when I write on HP, but originally it was British all the way for me. I guess what has helped is watching a lot of American programs so I also learned to talk American...lol


Pennypines profile image

Pennypines 3 years ago from Mariposa, California, U.S.A.

I encountered even more difficulty than the average, having attended a Roman Catholic Convent in Yokohama, Japan and remaining in Japan throughout the war. Our grammar and spelling were strictly British, but when the American Army invaded and I got a job with them, I not only had to convert from English English to American English, but also had to adjust to American Army language, which is a tongue all of its own.

Frequently I had to ask them to interpret their phrases in simpler words, which they very graciously did.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Ah need to do one four Texas speak! Then there's Hawaiian which is really hard to understand like Hi = Whatcha = Howzit (in Hawaiian).


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 3 years ago from Jamaica Author

Hi Pennypines, that must have been some experience. I know the army has their own language and I can't even begin to understand it at all. We were taught the British English here in Jamaica but I see subtle changes taking effect mainly due to the fact that most Jamaicans attend college in the US. Thanks for reading and commenting.


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 3 years ago from Jamaica Author

Hi Austingstar. I have always wanted to talk like a Texan. I was such a fan of Jr. Ewing...lol. I have friend from Texas and most of the things he write in his status feed I have no idea what they mean...lol can't wait tor read yours. The Hawaiian one should be quite interesting.


Pennypines profile image

Pennypines 3 years ago from Mariposa, California, U.S.A.

My business partner here in California was English, and sometimes reverted to the language of the Bow Bells when excited or disturbed. She dropped more H's even when there were no H's to drop. So did her husband and even occasionally her two sons. And I loved their wry sense of humor.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

Interesting comparisons. By the way donkeys are not asses. They're different animals. We say beer here as well, as in the news about 'Beer Taxes Going Down' etc. Beer is an umbrella term here for both European types of the amber nectar - as slurped by probably 95% of the world's population - and ale/stout. Ale has changed in nature, but is brewed in Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Germany as well as Britain (my Indian-born son in law is a recent convert).

The English language as written and developed in the USA is as 'exported' and written in Britain before the 'standardisation' process in English in the 18th/19th centuries, when the spelling of names was also settled. English, as written 'State-side' is that of the Pilgrim Fathers and the pre-Napoleonic era.

It's us that's made the 'shift', not them, although words like 'trash-can' and 'sidewalk' are US inventions. They fit the described object. We call trash 'rubbish', and some talk it like experts. Sidewalks are exactly what the word says they are. They stopped people sinking into the morass of the highway. We didn't have 'pavements' as such until the time of Thomas Telford who began to surface the highways with the substance known now as 'tarmac', short for 'tarmacadam' after the Scottish road-builder Macadam; even then pavement only existed in cities and towns, and were slabs of limestone quarried in Dorset and elsewhere.

The Yanks ain't that different except in accent and, aside from the Deep South, pretty standard. Until the Education Act in the late 19th Century words differed wherever in England you went.

Until the 19th Century Londoners couldn't fathom Kentishmen or anyone further afield. When the film 'Kes' was released in the 1970s (after the book 'A Kestrel for a Knave') the producers had to add subtitles for southern English audiences. The film was made with people not normally associated with acting and spoke their local dialect. Even many in the same county (Yorkshire) couldn't understand the Barnsley twang!


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 3 years ago from Jamaica Author

Thank you for the history lesson Alancaster. My Aunt with whom I grew up lived in England most of her life. So I am familiar with most "British" words and phrases, some of which fails my memory at the moment. I always thought that Brits said ale or stout instead of beer. I have never heard her say beer, but then again maybe she had no occasion to in my presence...lol

So, if the language was changed by the British, why does it seem the opposite?


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

There's a lot of mileage across the water, and a lot of water's passed under the bridge since the Mayflower sailed west. Lads and lasses usually live north of 'Watford Gap' (nowhere near Watford, just the name of a service station on the M1 in Leicestershire), the mythical dividing line between north and south.

Besides, since WWII when the Yanks came over 'the Pond' to help liberate Europe they brought their words with them and took some of ours. Fair swap. Some words didn't travel well, and 'watcher'/'watcha' is usually shared with our cousins in 'Oz' (Down Under). They use an 'argot' shared by the underground/criminal element in the Thames corridor region. Listen to an Aussie talking to a Cockney (born within the sound of Bow Bells church in the City of London) and you'd be hard put to fathom the difference!


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 3 years ago from Jamaica Author

This is quite interesting.I couldn't help but chuckle here and there..lol. I really appreciate the response and the history lesson. Quite fascinating!


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

Another little pointer (on section one: spelling) -

'Aweful'. Nobody spells it that way (except maybe drunk newspaper journalists). We write 'awful' same as the Yanks, and 'awesome' same as them too, and 'wonky' is the colloquial for 'unstable' (same either side of the Pond).


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 3 years ago from Jamaica Author

Alancaster, didn't the British used to spell it that way? I swear that's what I learned in school. Just to double check I did a little Googling while typing this and it seems that the word aweful is still out for discussion.


thirdmillenium profile image

thirdmillenium 3 years ago from Here, There, Everywhere

You are incisive, cardisa and fantastic

My take on this is different. You realize when you read Pygmalion that the language may differ even from area to area in London City itself. But all the same, everyone understands everyone else, doesn't he?

English is international in the broadest sense and a different usage here or there should not deter anyone from listening to you.

I do think it is not a matter of concern. Instead of searching for the right American or British word, I will let the conversation flow on the assumption that the other party would understand. 'cause that is what happens!


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 3 years ago from Jamaica Author

Hi Thirdmillenium. I think speaking and writing the language are different. Personally I don't mind reading both US or UK versions but I do realize that clients will be specific when requesting work and you may lose out of potential jobs if you don't know the difference. I was also offended when Hubpages asked me to write in US format. I also believe that if you are writing UK version, stick to it throughout the article.


epbooks profile image

epbooks 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

This is a helpful hub especially if you are not accustomed to writing in anything other but US English. I have to work w/ both US and UK, so I'm somewhat familiar with the differences, but it's always good to have a guide to follow. Voted up!


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 3 years ago from Jamaica Author

Epbooks, when I was in school, we were taught the UK English version, now it's changing as I see a lot of US style English text circulating in schools. As a writer based in the Caribbean most of my work is shown in the US as well as most of my clients. I had to learn the difference really quickly..lol


skperdon profile image

skperdon 3 years ago from Canada

Hi Cardisa, Love this article on the two styles of English. I posted it's link on my facebook page, hope it's ok with you. Just let me know if it's not.


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 3 years ago from Jamaica Author

Hello Skperdon, thanks for reading and commenting on my hub. Thank you for posting on Facebook as well. Have a great day.


emilynemchick profile image

emilynemchick 3 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

What a fantastic list! My first taste of the difference between British and American English was when I was teaching in the Czech Republic. I am English and my husband is American, so now I consider myself as something of an expert (I also write in American English as a freelance writer).

Back in the CZ, though, my husband and I were often baffled by each other's language and that of our students. He'd often text me during one of his classes to ask me if his student was speaking British English or just plain nonsense.

We had a lot of issues you wouldn't even think about - a textbook used the phrase 'he was made redundant', which to a Brit obviously means he lost his job, but to an American is simply incomprehensible.

I think every English teacher abroad should get a printed copy of these lists to ensure they know what's going on.


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 3 years ago from Jamaica Author

Hi Emily, that phrase about someone being made redundant I understand quite well because we still use the British English in Jamaica. It must be quite interesting to share the difference in language with your hubby. Can you think of any other words I can add to the list?

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