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Communication confusion between English, Americans

An English Rose in Georgia

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POSTED: July 15, 2012 12:00 p.m.

I recently lectured to a group of high school students attending summer school at Georgia Southern University about business and my experience as an entrepreneur. It struck me that the language gap between the Unites States and the United Kingdom is widened even further when you combine it with the generation gap (and I am only in my 40s).

For starters, in America parents raise their children, whereas in England we bring them up. If children are naughty, the parents will be cross, not mad, which means crazy in the U.K. And as for being chewed out, a British child would be told off.

So back to spelling classes. I have had to relearn to spell since moving to the U.S. What has America got against the letters U and C, and why is it in love with the letter Z, which Brits rarely use and pronounce “zed” rather than “zee?”

Firstly, the poor old letter U. Did you know that in England we spell many words ending in “our?” Honor is spelled honour, color is spelled colour and neighbor is neighbour.

Then, what is wrong with the letter C? Why do Americans spell defence as defense while a fence is still a fence?

Most striking is the American love affair with the letter Z. We would say “admitted to hospital” rather than “hospitalize,” or, “We were burgled,” not “burglarized.” Socialise, mesmerise and prioritise all look normal to me, but I am sure you are wondering about that missing Z and mysterious S. The U.S. also seems to resist ending words in “re,” so center is spelled centre in England and theater is theatre.

The language of praise and criticism — especially in school — is also different in the U.S. A nerd or geek would be described as a “swot” in the U.K. If something is lame, it is called “naff” in England. And if you are the bee’s knees, you would be the bomb in America (or so I understand).

While I cannot approve of serious swearing, it is useful to have one or two mild expletives up one’s sleeve and even that is different. So you would say “dang” or “gosh” or “darn,” and we would say “dash” or “flip” or “jeepers.” Similarly, you might describe an unpleasant character as a “jerk,” whereas in England he would be a “git.”

Confused yet? Try emigrating.

My most cherished memory of my day at GSU was when I asked if anyone knew what an “angel investor” is. One brave young man raised his hand (or “put up his hand” in the U.K.) and said, “Is that an investor who is already dead?” Bless his heart, as you say in the beautiful South.

Anyway, as I left I could not resist saying, “Cheerio, I am off to have a nice cup of tea” — or to translate: “I’m going to grab a coffee. Laters!”

God bless America!

Lesley grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009. Contact her at lesley@francis.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.

 

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