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American English is Real English

Updated on November 24, 2012

The Modern English Language

It is a regular feature of modern English that the language as spoken by Americans, is often more closely tied to its origins than the English spoken in Britain. This comment will undoubtedly be met with a cry of outrage from fans of football - or is that "soccer" - in England! Pints of lager will be slammed down on bar counters and red-faced fury will erupt.

Approximately 200 000 English words are in common use, compared to 184 000 in German and a meager 100 000 in French. This does not mean that English is necessarily a richer language but it shares its origins and thereby numerous words with German, French and many others. A remarkable landmark was passed on 10 June 2009, when the language officially passed the 1 000 000 word milestone - one million words! Back in the 1300's, an English speaker might very well have now said "shite"! And the modern derivative of that word I won't have to explain to you!

When pilgrims boarded ships and set sail in 1620, they took with them their language and the result of this can still be heard in modern language where the words path and bath would have been pronounced in Britain then, as they are in America now. I was personally lambasted by a teacher during English class at age fourteen for using the term "gotten" - I was sarcastically informed that the word is an Americanism and is therefor, not English. Even the modern English regard the word "gotten" as quaint, whereas it was in common usage in England before falling out of favour.

Other such words that have fallen out of use in England, while remaining common in their "lesser" sibling, American English, include fall for autumn, mad for angry, mean for unpleasant and the rather sensible, maybe for possibly. The latter also formed part of the general bollocking I received from my English teacher, a man I remember with great fondness... but who doubtlessly still looks down with a frown from that great teachers' lounge in the sky.

The paragon of British language news reporting, The Times, instructed in its stylebook that the term normalcy should be left to the Americans. "The English is normality", it observed with the haughtiness of long tradition. Rather uncomfortably, it turns out that normalcy was coined by the British.


Is American English a Language?

It should be admitted, by even the most traditional of English purists, that numerous words and expressions in common usage have traveled from American English to its superior sibling, rather than the other way round.

The most versatile, bastard word - its lineage is uncertain, to say the least - which has found its way across the world from west to east is "OK". Essentially, if you are able to read this hub, even if in your second or third language, you will know the term OK (okay). It is ubiquitous in a way that few other words are - like a linguistic fart in an elevator, it has happily taken over the entire space that constitutes English.

In a related aside, fart as a word has considerable antiquity and is one of the venerable old folks of our beautiful language and would have been understood by an Anglo-Saxon peasant in the 10th century. Their language was, however, impoverished by the absence of OK.

English was enriched by numerous American words adopted, and indeed adapted, from other languages prominent in the land of the pilgrims. From Dutch came landscape; from Indian came raccoon and squash; from the Spanish, who had in turn taken on Indian words, came buffalo, canyon and mustang; from the French came the beautiful and descriptive prairie. Isn't the English language beautiful? The growth of American English was partially a consequence of massive migration, with more than 30 million people flooding onto the continent in the latter half of the 20th century. New York had more native speakers of German than anywhere except Vienna or Berlin; more Irish than anywhere except Dublin; but despite all of these foreign language speakers and with the exception of enclaves such as the Amish community, Americans found common ground in their version of English.

I can now hear Jack Daniels shots smashing down on bar counters and a rousing rendition of Star-spangled Banner bursting forth in defence of the language spoken by Americans being referenced as a "version".

Britain versus America

lightening bug
estate agent
trunk (of car)

Americans all Speak the Same English

Dr David Ramsay, in his History of the American Revolution, noted that Americans were effectively compelled to find similarity despite their hugely varying origins, which manifested itself in remarkable consistency in their speech. Their pronunciation would have been remarkably similar to many regions of the Britain that they had left behind.

This was due to the continuous movement of people, on a far greater scale of travel than generally found elsewhere at the time; homogeneity created by the forced blending of varying familial backgrounds, much like various colours blending on an artist's palette; and a shared desire for national identity. Americans have a manner of universally identifying with America, whereas Europeans do not associate with Europe, but rather more strongly with their country of origin. Americans have long evolved beyond this polarisation and the same was reflected in their language.

Bill Bryson asserts in his wonderful book Mother Tongue that according to some estimates, two-thirds of Americans, residing on some 80% of the land, speak with effectively the same eccent. Quite astonishing!

But let's not stop here my grumpy British and American readers - fill up those pints of lager, order another round of Jack Daniel's and we will now discuss "u". Not you, but rather the u that has mysteriously gone missing from American spelling.

Where on earth is the u in favour, colour and most importantly, in humour? Hmmm.

An olde English quiz

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    • profile image

      Paul Morgan 23 months ago

      The language is English. Changing a few words and spellings does not make it a different language and to suggest that it does is laughable.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      American English is proper English for you and may be the rest of Americans. I have been told by many Americans that I speak perfect English and as a South African I know I do. British English in my opinion is the perfect English. Thank you.

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 2 years ago from Cape Cod

      I say old chap, you're spot on with this bit of work. But don't listen to me, for I learned my English from a Paisan who added an 'a' to every American word: if-a you get-a what I'm-a saying. When I asked him how to say refrigerator in Italian; he said, "Ice-a Box".

    • profile image

      bigpaul 2 years ago

      As an American, I have several qualms with this article:

      1. I have never heard of an overpass called a flyover.

      2. Where I grew up (northern New York State), the terms "see-saw" and "teeter-totter" are used interchangeably although "see-saw" might be the preferred term.

      3. Muslin and cheesecloth are not the same fabric.

      4. There are many realtors in America. The term estate agent, if used at all, is not common.

      5. I'm not sure how the Brits use the terms "yard" and "garden", but I suspect the author has them twisted around. My garden is where I plant my vegetables and flowers. My property surround my house is my yard, which includes my garden(s).

      6. To say that "fidgety" is British and "antsy" is American is nonsense. They are synonyms which reflect the richness of the English language.

      7. The word dog certainly does have etymological roots: "dog (n.) Old English docga, a late, rare word, used in at least one Middle English source in reference to a powerful breed of canine" (Online Etymology Dictionary). Moreover, those same roots also appear in the German word "Dogge" as in the phrase "Deutsche Dogge," German for a Great Dane.

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      a british person (obviously stupid) 3 years ago

      I am amused. By your stupidity, half of those things aren't even true and I can almost accept the whole "american english is the best," I'm so MAD right now and you may all think I'm MEAN, oh and I have not met any British person, including myself that says yard and not garden.

      P.S. I think this would have been funny, if you hadn't insulted and entire nation and ignored Canada, New Zealand, Australia and other countries too.

    • grumpiornot profile image

      grumpiornot 5 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for reading Randi - appreciate you stopping by and commenting.

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      I really enjoyed this. I have a few hubs/posts about the English language so I truly enjoy reading what others have to say about this. I love the facts and word derivitives you have used and, with your permission, will probably link this to mine. Thank you!

    • melbel profile image

      Melanie Shebel 5 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

      Didn't have another way to respond to your answer to my question, so I'm responding here:

      I ask questions on HubPages to get traffic to my questions from Google search, not because I'm curious as to what the answer is.

    • miscellanea profile image

      Tarik Aarbaoui 5 years ago from Morocco

      Why don't you have a rate capsule on this hub. I could have given you five! Thanks for this great hub, and im not gonna only read it but keep it with me :) it's so so great! thx for sharing

    • grumpiornot profile image

      grumpiornot 5 years ago from South Africa

      @James: Thanks for reading! We are aiming for excellence here - 80% is ok... You made me laugh with your comment!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      I enjoyed your excellent Hub until I got an 80% on your test and the screen said, "That's OK!"

      OK?! An 80 is just OK?

      James :D

    • Kiera G profile image

      Kiera G 5 years ago from Australia

      I agree that American English is proper English in its own right. The changes that occur due to geographical and cultural differences are what makes the world such an interesting place. Something that I hope the globalisation of this era doesn't destroy.