Talk:British and American English

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 Definition A comparison between these two language variants in terms of vocabulary, spelling and pronunciation. [d] [e]

Wallets and Pocketbooks

I just noticed that Wallet is listed as Brit and Pocketbook as 'Merkin. SURELY this has been reversed from what it SHOULD be! We had a LONG discussion about this years ago at -- unless I am really wrong about this, I will switch the two around eventually.... Hayford Peirce (talk) 17:46, 10 February 2015 (UTC)

You say wallet, I say wallet, who says pocketbook? Americans, I thought. I may have heard it on the radio/TV a couple of times.
Just remembered billfold, which is obviously American. Ro Thorpe (talk) 21:52, 10 February 2015 (UTC)
Good catch! Shall I change the listing to wallet for Brit, wallet; billfold fer 'Merkins? And eliminate pocketbook entirely. As I said five years ago in the original discussion, NO 'Merkin male carries a pocketbook. Never, ever, not even once. But "billfold" is used occasionally. Less now, I think, than when I was young. Hayford Peirce (talk) 22:03, 10 February 2015 (UTC)
Yes, that would be fine by me. Ro Thorpe (talk) 02:34, 11 February 2015 (UTC)
How about the female equivalents? What we call a handbag they call a purse. I don't know what they call what we call a purse, i.e. a small container mainly for money that can fit inside the handbag. (Just to confuse things, the Oscar Wilde sense of handbag is now obsolete, replaced by holdall here and grip there.) Peter Jackson (talk) 17:49, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
Merkin's use the word handbag also, in the same sense as a purse. But "purse" can *also* be that small currency container that fits inside a handbag. I think we discussed this earlier in the archived link. I don't think that the differences between the two countries are distinct enough to make this an item on the list. Hayford Peirce (talk) 18:04, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
  • I impulsively decided to archive this page. Hope that's OK. The previous section's talk at Archive 2 can be continued if need be. Ro Thorpe (talk) 03:52, 11 February 2015 (UTC)
Fine with me. It was getting a little long in the tooth. Superannuated? I don't THINK that 'Merkins use that word....Hayford Peirce (talk) 14:42, 11 February 2015 (UTC)
And therefore not healthful. Just seen that for the first time (on my WP talk page). Ro Thorpe (talk) 21:34, 11 February 2015 (UTC)
Okie, I've looked up superannuate and it doesn't say chiefly Brit., to my surprise. Are you saying that healthful is not used it Brit. at all? In M-W it has a long separate entry from healthy and there *are* differences.... Hayford Peirce (talk) 21:49, 11 February 2015 (UTC)
I don't recall hearing it, no. Ro Thorpe (talk) 23:04, 11 February 2015 (UTC)
Even great Rheault can nod. Here's what the Concise Oxford says about healthful: a. Health-giving; conductive to moral or spiritual welfare. Hence ~LY adv., ~NESS n. Nothing about it bein' 'Merkin usage. But I'm sure that we DO use it more.... Hayford Peirce (talk) 23:20, 11 February 2015 (UTC)
Never heard it on BBC, Sky, Al Jazeera, CNN. Perhaps they use it on Fox News, I tend to skip that one. Ro Thorpe (talk) 13:42, 12 February 2015 (UTC)

Twee and quaint

These aren't synonyms. Quaint is a term of approbation, twee of disapproval. Ro Thorpe (talk) 13:53, 12 February 2015 (UTC)

Well, "quaint" *also* has another sense of "odd, figures of fun, strange". "Old-fashioned" in a disapproving sense, too. I think that today, in the States, at least, it's a coin-flip as to whether it's a word of approbation OR at least somewhat disparaging. The M-W says of twee: (1905) chiefly Brit: affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute, or quaint <such a theme might sound ~ or corny -- Times Literary Supp.> -- that's where I grabbed quaint from. Please give me a better one and I'll make the change. Hayford Peirce (talk) 18:23, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
Quite right, quaint can be negative, too. Once again the direct equivalent table model is failing us. Much better would be a list of words that are (normally) not used by Americans, and another of those not used by Brits, each entry as long as needed. Ro Thorpe (talk) 20:40, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
You are, of course, absolutely right. The question is: who will do it? Our manpower is severely constricted.... Hayford Peirce (talk) 23:00, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
Glad you agree in principle, anyway. Earlier I thought of bolding those that are normally restricted to one variety only, like sidewalk. Room for lots of disagreement there? Or just lots of work? Ro Thorpe (talk) 23:30, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
I think we're proposing something that is gonna be a lot of work, with only a couple of us contributing to it. A LOT of time, for instance, could probably be spend on individual items like tadpole/polliwog and purse/handbag etc. etc. Freeways, divided highways, dual carriage ways, motorways, etc. etc. etc.... Where is Doctor Johnson when you need him? Hayford Peirce (talk) 23:42, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
I don't think we need to worry about the amount of work. What actually needs to be done is for anything that's not straightforward "We usually say this, they usually say that" should be removed from the table and replaced by more dicursive explanation somewhere else, such as Lexis and idiom. This doesn't need to be done suddenly in one large operation. We can do it one item at a time whenever we feel like it. Peter Jackson (talk) 09:24, 19 February 2015 (UTC)
Yes, that's the way to look at it. Ro Thorpe (talk) 17:13, 20 February 2015 (UTC)

Some more words to consider

From Sword of Honour, page 217 getting near the end of the first book:

"A potty little show." M-W traces this back to 1860 and says it's chiefly Brit, meaning either trivial or insignificant, OR slightly crazy, OR snobbish.

Just means 'crazy' to me.

"All round the bum boats floated....", page 229. For the spelling section? In 'Merkin it is all around.

It's audible, not just spelling. Lexis and idiom, more like.

"she was not much of a dab at anything" -- M-W says it's chiefly Brit and is a "skillful person". I've also frequently seen something like "he's a dab hand" in all sorts of Brit books....

I only know it in the latter expression.

From The Mathematics of Murder, a little-known collection of short stories by the esteemed Michael Gilbert, a man who also writes a very clean prose:

The first story concerns murders being committed on railroad cars carrying commuters out of London. He refers to them as either coaches or carriages. I'm pretty sure that 'Merkin-talk is cars.


Also, to my vast surprise, he describes these carriages as having a central gangway "down the middle". The old Brit trains with individual compartments had a corridor, I think, but American ones with open seating would have an aisle.


On the same page, 17, he refers to a pantechnicon, which is NEVER used in the States. A very large lorry, I believe?


In the next story, page 33, he refers to a rough shoot (the great Geoffrey Household had a novel called A Rough Shoot), and I don't think there is any exact 'Merkin equivalent. Shoot does exist in 'Merkin but isn't much used, I think. Hunting rights I *think* is what we would say.... Maybe a blind....

I'd need the context for this one.

Also in this story, various lawyers and accountants look at account sheets -- I think these are bank statements or ledger pages but am not quite sure. Hayford Peirce (talk) 00:34, 4 March 2015 (UTC)

No idea about that last one. Ro Thorpe (talk) 14:05, 4 March 2015 (UTC)
Have to be careful with technical stuff. There's a varety of different accounting documents (or were pre-computer). Might need an accountant to clarify what's what. Peter Jackson (talk) 10:43, 5 March 2015 (UTC)
Yes indeed. I did a little googling on this one,then decided to stay clear of it. Hayford Peirce (talk) 14:04, 5 March 2015 (UTC)

Pronunciation -- Caribbêan

I just noticed this. At least in MY experience, BOTH pronunciations are common in the States -- Cah-RIB-ee-un, AND Care-ah-BE-un. Might be slightly regional. I know that over my own lifetime I have gone from one to the other. The second seems to be more common these days.... Hayford Peirce (talk) 02:39, 6 March 2015 (UTC)

I first became aware of the first (Cəríbbean) just in the last few years. Ro Thorpe (talk) 18:51, 6 March 2015 (UTC)
I THINK that when I wuz younger we used the first more, then as I aged moved to the second. But I just don't know.... Hayford Peirce (talk) 19:23, 6 March 2015 (UTC)

trucks and lorries

Am almost at the end of the second novel comprising the Sword of Honour trilogy. The first was written around 1952, the second in 1955. Both are quintessential Waugh, the master of "British" English prose. In the first novel there are many references to "lorries" as Guy Crouchback moves back and forth across the UK. Towards the end of the second book he is in Egypt and then Crete. Here Waugh begins referring to lorries as trucks, then back to lorries, then to trucks again. Generally describing the same vehicle a few pages apart. He would have killed himself rather than knowingly used an "Americanism" in his prose, other than in dialog (in which his Americanisms were noticeably BAD). There's no possible way that he could have done this by mistake and then not picked it up at some point in his rewriting and copy-editing. I wonder what was going on here. DID British soldiers in 1941 sometimes refer to lorries as trucks? Hayford Peirce (talk) 02:07, 11 March 2015 (UTC)

Don't know about that. I tend to think of lorries as bigger than trucks, but I couldn't specify the distinction out of my head. Peter Jackson (talk) 11:28, 12 March 2015 (UTC)
Got round to checking Chambers, which confirms: they're both for carrying goods, with lorries for heavier loads.
Another one where we have finer gradations is stones, which are in between rocks and pebbles. Peter Jackson (talk) 09:59, 16 March 2015 (UTC)
Oh my, I don't think I want to get into that! My tennis club locker room got a new electronic scale the other day -- it can be set to read in pounds, kilograms, or stones! A guy who had spent 25 in England and I were scratching our heads about the stones. I said it was 12 lb., he said it was 16. But neither made any sense for my weight in pounds. So I finally looked it up. 14 pounds. Wikipedia, incidentally, does NOT have an article about it. Hayford Peirce (talk) 13:58, 16 March 2015 (UTC)
I wasn't thinking of those stones (which are in our article). It's the more literal ones.
I know, I just brought this up as a "By the way...." Hayford Peirce (talk) 14:36, 17 March 2015 (UTC)
On the BBC this morning: it has been known for British material to be subtitled on American TV. They didn't mention whether it happened the other way. Peter Jackson (talk) 10:57, 17 March 2015 (UTC)

bowler hat and derby

The scholarly Companion to Sword of Honour that has been so useful says that "bowler hat" is the Brit term for "derby" (the first ones were made by an outfitter called, in part, Bowler. I think that 'Merkins also say bowler hat from time to time, but is "derby" ever used in this sense in Blighty? Hayford Peirce (talk) 20:55, 27 March 2015 (UTC)

Not to my knowledge. Ro Thorpe (talk) 00:53, 28 March 2015 (UTC)
Okie, then I'll put it in the list. Hayford Peirce (talk) 03:15, 28 March 2015 (UTC)


'Turnout' or 'pullout', says Wikipedia. Ro Thorpe (talk) 18:57, 21 April 2015 (UTC)

Yes, that sounds right to me. Hayford Peirce (talk) 20:54, 21 April 2015 (UTC)


We need an explanation of the different senses in Britain. Peter Jackson (talk) 10:20, 27 April 2015 (UTC)

OK, but it is covered in the Suffixes table. Ro Thorpe (talk) 14:54, 27 April 2015 (UTC)

Enquiry vs. Inquiry

Just came across a gift shop/nut (as the kind you eat) shop/ museum called Perry's Nut House in Maine that was once run by distant relatives of mine. They were using the word enquiry on their website, so I looked it up. M-W says only that it's chiefly Brit. usage for inquiry. To my 'Merkin eyes, it is misspelled.... Hayford Peirce (talk) 16:02, 21 May 2015 (UTC)

Generally, an enquiry is a question, an inquiry is an investigation. Both are pronounced with the stress on the second syllable, while I think you stress the first. Peter Jackson (talk) 17:24, 21 May 2015 (UTC)
Hah! I think Brits have Inquiry Agents, which I really don't think is used for 'Merkin PIs.... Hayford Peirce (talk) 17:50, 21 May 2015 (UTC)
As a Brit, I've never heard of Inquiry Agents (but then I'm v oldfashioned). If I wanted to ask about something, that would be an enquiry. If the government wanted to pacify public opinion by looking into something that had happened, that would be an Inquiry. --Martin Wyatt (talk) 19:41, 21 May 2015 (UTC)
It's hard to tell how common it is. I know that in one of the wonderful Victor Canning books about Rex Carver, Carver tells someone sardonically that he's "just a simple inquiry agent". And the phrase turns up here and there in various Google searches.... Hayford Peirce (talk) 20:33, 21 May 2015 (UTC)

Preparatory schools

In England these are typically age 8-13. I understand that in America they're substantially older. Wikipedia isn't explicit, but seems to imply 14-18. Would that be right? Peter Jackson (talk) 17:02, 28 May 2015 (UTC)

Yes. I went to a prep school, Phillips Exeter Academy, which, along with Phillips Andover (both founded by the same guy), are the oldest and best known. They, like MOST of them, I think, are for four years, grades 9 through 12. Some of them, such as Lawrenceville and maybe Grotons and St. Pauls, took in kids a couple of years younger, I think, being basically 6-year schools. As the years have passed though, I think that more or more of the schools have not only taken in girls but have also added younger grades. I don't know if even a majority of them are strictly four-year schools these days. Hayford Peirce (talk) 17:11, 28 May 2015 (UTC)