Oops…My Language

I suppose the title of this article threw some people off. I am not referring to filthy curse words coming from my mouth. I am talking about something a little more practical, yet silly.

It has to do with my English.

You see, if you weren’t already aware, I am an American. But I have a little British background. My wife is British, I lived in the UK from August 2003 to July 2006, and I now travel over a handful of times each year to meet with the various leaders within our network of churches.

So, with all these things in mind, I decided a couple of years ago to make the full switch from American-English to British-English. Just like I thought it was practical to move from Fahrenheit to Celsius and from AM/PM time to 24-hour time (what we, in America, call ‘military time’). I have not switched to a British accent, though. We all know that would be incredibly awkward!

Therefore, with the language change, it means a shift in terms for some things:

  • Trash becomes rubbish
  • Trash can becomes bin
  • Vacuum becomes hoover
  • Paper towels becomes kitchen roll
  • Bathroom becomes toilet (while bathroom is still used by Brits, but refers to the actual room with the bath/shower)

It also calls for a re-pronunciation of some words:

  • Process
  • Aluminum
  • Tomato

And it calls for a re-spelling of words here and there:

  • Traveling becomes travelling
  • Center becomes centre
  • Savior becomes Saviour
  • Color becomes colour
  • Behavior becomes behaviour
  • Organize becomes organise
  • Recognize becomes recognise
  • Aluminum becomes aluminium (that’s why it is pronounced differently)

Even the letter z is now pronounced as zed when saying the alphabet.

Recently, we had dinner with our friends (the wife is Dutch, the husband is British). With 3 cultures sat at the table, we discussed some of the details of both the English and Dutch languages. With English, we noted that not every word in which Americans use the letter z gets transferred to an s in British-English. But, I suppose if I want to be safe with British-English, I will stick to mainly using an s (we did find one example in the dictionary that evening, but my memory fails me).

Still, I found out that my biggest blunder with the language changeover was my use of the words practice and practise. You see, I thought practise was the noun form and practice was the verb form. Yet, come to find out, it is the exact opposite.

So I lament and repent of my 2-year hiatus of using improper British-English. You can snicker at my improper use in my blog articles. I’m just surprised it went on that long without any knowledge of the misuse.

8 thoughts on “Oops…My Language

  1. Scott…truly enjoy your blog. As an American who’s lived in Canada I’ve “struggled” with British vs. American English. Looking at your list, I remember when I discovered why the Brits pronounce “aluminum” differently…it’s actually because they spell it differently “aluminium” – extra “i”. Drove me nuts for years, but thought you might be interested/enjoy. Thanks again for your blog!!

  2. I love this. I’m a bit of a language and literacy geek. Originally a drama teacher, I found myself thrown into the deep end to become a literacy teacher and have since learned how crazy the English language is- not only for us ‘normal people’ but for people with learning disabilities and other language backgrounds too.

    I was researching today and found a whole on-line movement dedicated to changing the spelling of English words. Apparently an Italian kid can become a proficient speller in two years because the graphemes are so simple – but we of English speaking background? Uh-uh. 1 in 5 adults can’t even spell proficiently…

    I’m neither here nor there on the simpler spelling issue. Reckon it might have it’s uses but considering the differences in pronunciation and accent I question how effective it would actually be.

    English is literally a bastard language…

    Oh, and I’m Australian… if you ever visit you might wanna look up ‘thong’ and ‘fanny’. If you use (or hear) those words here, out of context, it might get embarrassing.

  3. Another funny one to accidentally talk about in the UK is “suspenders” :-).

    I swapped to Brit-Eng during my stay there as well. While you don’t adopt the accent, I couldn’t help but inadvertently adopt the inflection in how they ask questions. When my daughter Nev watches British cartoons like “Charlie and Lola,” she has the inflection afterward as well, it’s pretty funny.

  4. Interesting to hear about your experiences! I’ve never spent any proper time in the US but in my last visit I was amused (bemused?!) by the differences in the use of language and the potential trouble it can inadvertently get you into: use of ‘I don’t care’ in American English for what would only be phrased as ‘I don’t mind’ in British English (at the risk of meaning something somewhat harsher), and going the other way, ‘homey’ vs ‘homely’ (I was warned against unintentionally insulting people).

    There can often be a wrong understanding amongst British people that see American English as novel, without realising that in many cases it preserves the language of an older day that has long since disappeared in today’s British English (e.g. the past participle ‘gotten’).

    It wasn’t so very long ago that I first read about the origin of ‘aluminium’ vs ‘aluminum’. Worth googling if you’re interested to learn more, but it certainly isn’t as simple as you might think. Common American spelling also used to be ‘aluminium’, but then there is evidence of Brits writing ‘aluminum’ (not to mention ‘alumium’). ‘Aluminium’ is more commonly used internationally but both have been around a while. And the reason for ‘aluminium’ gaining the upper hand in British English is fairly arbitrary: it mostly relates to a preference for a more classical sounding word and fitting with the reasonably large number of other elements that end ‘-ium’ rather than ‘-um’!

    And my final thought is that my very British mum would always approve of ‘vacuum’ over ‘hoover’ on the basis that a generic noun should never be named after a particular brand!

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