George Bernard Shaw once said: ‘England and America are two countries divided by a common language’, and it’s not hard to see why. As soon as you talk to anyone in England about America they will generally snort and say “yeah, they call football soccer” with a heavy emphasis on the ‘o’. This ignores the fact they picked up the name from the right hand side of the Atlantic in the first place. (It comes from the Association part of Association Football).
For us in Britain dealing with Americanisms is very easy as we have a constant stream of programmes and movies that are in Lingua America, so we can readily link sidewalks, fall and the always humourous fanny pack, with their English cousins. It’s not the words that form the major difference however, it’s how those words are used that forms the major part of our language confusions.
Baring the usual spelling differences, such as the fact that I am using a computer in New York so the spell check is going crazy by wanting to remove plenty of U’s and add in some extra Z’s (that’s zeds not zees), the main thing that separates our languages is the way we use it. It reflects the culture differences between our two nations.
Take the phrase “we’ll see”, for Mrs G (an American) this means that whatever ha been asked for is going to be looked at and thought about. Yet when it’s a Brit saying this it is a polite way of saying “no”, a way to brush someone off without offending. That’s because in English English we have developed numerous ways to express our passive aggressiveness without being too forceful.
The American way is much more direct, when walking through Times Square I would be full of “oh excuse mes” that sounded like I was doing something wrong in trying to get from point A to B and was sorry to inconvenience somebody else to move out of my path. Mrs G’s “excuse mes” came out like a last warning, slightly sarcastic asking why are you being such a dumbass standing in my way.
Granted these examples are from but two people from different cities and backgrounds, but I see regularly the difference between the American up and at ’em versus the British slightly apologetic attitude. When first thinking about moving to New York one of my main worries was starting employment in the American job market, and how would the slightly bumbling, Hugh Grant-esque act of self-deprecation work over here?
In the UK we struggle with enthusiasm, and if that is matched with success that is a big no-no. So even when we want to do something really badly we will never jump forward at the start and volunteer preferring to wait to be asked at which point we will take on the task as though it will cause us great hardship. Even when the plan backfires and someone else is given the task we wanted to do we will still take it in good grace, and in all likelihood proclaim that they would do it better than us in the first place.
Perhaps this is the chasm in our shared language, despite all the words we share and slightly misspell an American says what they means whereas the British would rather not.