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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]


I heard this pron on CNN, but I supect it isn't standard. Ro Thorpe 17:22, 4 May 2008 (CDT)

I've never heard anyone actually say it except when referring to a coin-coin-type canard, so I really don't know. By the way, are "canaille" and "canard" in the French list? Hayford Peirce 17:29, 4 May 2008 (CDT)

i thought of the former, + don't think it is. Ro Thorpe 17:45, 4 May 2008 (CDT) - but they are both.


should this - + perhaps similar - be on the list~ bre has the ó sound, ame apparently the or sound - Ro Thorpe 13:12, 25 May 2008 (CDT)


my dictionary says, is from a particular spring in Iceland. Ro Thorpe 17:20, 29 June 2008 (CDT)

Yeah, I think I knew that. What I meant was, do the Brits (or did they) call "water heaters" in general "geysers", either after the real thing in Iceland or after the name, say, of a particular British company that made them? Hayford Peirce 17:29, 29 June 2008 (CDT)

definitely i have heard that usage, which is where 'geezer' comes from, yes - don't recall if it was a cº name - Ro Thorpe 17:38, 29 June 2008 (CDT)


isn't general usage for 'caravan', is it? Ro Thorpe 14:48, 9 July 2008 (CDT)

It used to be when I was a kid. Now I think they're "mobile homes", plus some other terms that don't readily spring to mind.... Hayford Peirce 15:38, 9 July 2008 (CDT)

i asked coz i heard it u-no-where. is 'caravan' used in any sense in merkin? Ro Thorpe 18:38, 9 July 2008 (CDT)

just sliced off some finger & am back from the ER feelin' OK. am gonna go to bed with an extra-cold martini but it's hard to type. "caravan" is used *only* in the sense of "a caravan of old trucks snaked its way through the desert, following their intrepid leader Hayford Peirce 00:18, 10 July 2008 (CDT)"

ouch - hope it's on the mend now. thanks for confirming my suspicions - Ro Thorpe 10:36, 10 July 2008 (CDT)

feels fine this morning but am typing with 1 finger. "trailer" is still used, particularly in "she lives in a trailer park" or "trailer home park". Or "she is trailer park trash". poor girl.... Hayford Peirce 10:46, 10 July 2008 (CDT)

good; and yes, i've put it in, have heard all those uses - Ro Thorpe 10:53, 10 July 2008 (CDT)

redundant vs laid off

isn't "made redundant" used by brits to say, "GM laid off 6,000 workers today"? or some such. it;s never used in that way in 'merkin. Hayford Peirce 11:35, 10 July 2008 (CDT)

nice one, that's exactly right, and nearly always in the passive. Ro Thorpe 12:36, 10 July 2008 (CDT)
active: "bill smith wuz redundantized today"? hehe.... Hayford Peirce 13:05, 10 July 2008 (CDT)
sounds like 'disappeared'. i'll put it in. as i type, the bbc are talking, not for the 1st time, of 'emily brontay'...sigh... Ro Thorpe 13:21, 10 July 2008 (CDT)
oh, i say! Hayford Peirce 14:00, 10 July 2008 (CDT)


yes, i was surprized, as jane austen would put it, that checkers wasn't in - no doubt that inspired your 'naught' - and the spelling. the 'a' spelling is a near-obsolete synonym of 'nothing', as in 'stop at naught', the 'o' spelling is 0. 'zero' is used by brits too, but has serious sci connotations. i'm surprised at 'cipher' though, i thought that usage was obsolete, or referred only to the 0 character. must stop now before my arm falls off - Ro Thorpe 17:53, 19 July 2008 (CDT)

?should we have both:
  • naught
  • nought
Hayford Peirce 18:35, 19 July 2008 (CDT)

i'd go for 'nought' in the table and a footnote to cover BrE 'zero' - if it's more limited than AmE usage - ? - and 'naught', which ox. has as 'arch' but then goes on to quote 3 acceptable modern usages, 'bring to', 'come to' and 'set at' to add to mine above - Ro Thorpe 18:49, 19 July 2008 (CDT)

what's the brit fer tic-tac-toe? crosses and noughts? something like that.... Hayford Peirce 19:18, 19 July 2008 (CDT)

Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones

Chester Himes didn't call one his of tough Harlem cops Casket Ed Johnson -- although he could have, of course: it has a nice ring to it. But i would say that the two words are interchangeable for 'merkins. although the croque-morts (a great word!) want ppl to use the word "casket". don't brits use it at all? Hayford Peirce 13:45, 20 July 2008 (CDT)

i never used it, but the ox says a small jewel box, for example, can be called a casket. i'll see if i can reflect that in the list - Ro Thorpe 13:48, 20 July 2008 (CDT)
my own impression, and MW has just confirmed it, is that a "casket" is a "fancy coffin". in deadwood you're buried in a wooden coffin. if you're a gangster in chicago, you're buried in a $10,000 casket. when winnie was walked throught the streets, what wuz he in? a coffin? a casket? Hayford Peirce 15:48, 20 July 2008 (CDT)
you're referring to the 1965 funeral, but the same with any of 'em, eg the qm, i've never heard a brit use the word casket. so the latter is a fancy coffin in america, 'twould appear - Ro Thorpe 12:56, 21 July 2008 (CDT)
hmmm, i'll be darned! it must have been a word introduced by the croque-morts about the time, back in the 40s and 50s, when they evolved from "undertakers" to "funeral directors".... Hayford Peirce 13:32, 21 July 2008 (CDT)
that figures. by the way, should 'croque-mort', which i'd never heard before, be in the french list? Ro Thorpe 15:36, 21 July 2008 (CDT)
no, no, it's just french slang that i gleaned years ago from reading the wonderful Lucky Luke comic books. books that were actually comic! Hayford Peirce 16:06, 21 July 2008 (CDT)
so i see. wikipedia has a short article on him, shooting faster than his own shadow, but can cz do better? Ro Thorpe 17:39, 21 July 2008 (CDT)
that looks like a fairly thorough article to me. a cz article could be less impersonal and better organized but it ain't for me. if you scroll down to the bottom of the french article, you'll see a typical xroque-mort in the series, looking like a vulture and smiling happily at the prospect of a gunfight. the guys who did this series really were geniuses when at their best. they were funny both visually (extremely rare, almost unheard of, even) and in the plotting and dialogue. Hayford Peirce 18:59, 21 July 2008 (CDT)
yes, accompanied by a vulture, in fact - good stuff! Ro Thorpe 10:34, 22 July 2008 (CDT)


turned up again on the BBC, Congressman Ed Schuster I think it was. Canadian Lyse Doucet understood its metaphorical meaning... Ro Thorpe 15:41, 30 August 2008 (CDT)

We talked about it interminably a while back, now in the Archives at, but, I guess wore ourselves out so badly that we never actually put it in the list. Hayford Peirce 21:56, 26 October 2008 (UTC)

Ah, right, thanks for the reference - well, it's finally got its hyphen! Ro Thorpe 00:21, 27 October 2008 (UTC)

vaze as in haze

I dunno if I've ever heard that, but as feu mon epouse useta say, "Tous les gouts sont dans la nature...." Hayford Peirce 14:06, 22 September 2008 (CDT)

mw says it's most common in canada, certainly it's new to me too - Ro Thorpe 14:31, 22 September 2008 (CDT)

Fifth graders

Who are these people? Eight-year olds? Nine-year-olds? Ten-year-olds? This stuff needs a note, I think. Ro Thorpe 19:05, 5 October 2008 (CDT)

When I was at (British) school, the fifth form was 15-16 year olds. Given how Americans seem to inflate numbers (and everything else) I suppose their fifth form would be more like 12th? It would be useful to know what their Vice-Presidential candidate is wittering on about, though...Martin Baldwin-Edwards 20:44, 5 October 2008 (CDT)
How did *this* topic spring up?! Just FYI, I started 5th grade when I was 9 going on 10, but the more usual starting age would be 10. And even though 'Merkins *do* love to inflate numbers, if fifth form was 15-16 y/o's, that would probably be 11th grade for most kids that age. Most 'Merkins graduate from high school (12th grade) at 18, although 17 is possible, and 19 is not rare (particularly not among star football players). Hayford Peirce 21:02, 5 October 2008 (CDT)

Thanks, folks. See how you like my notes. Ro Thorpe 10:47, 6 October 2008 (CDT)

Eggcellent! Martin Baldwin-Edwards 10:53, 6 October 2008 (CDT)

Thanks, Martin. Governor Peirce? Ro Thorpe 10:55, 6 October 2008 (CDT)

Hmmm, I'd never thought of expressing it that way before, but the numbers seem to be right. Innaresting.... Hayford Peirce 11:09, 6 October 2008 (CDT)

Good. Just shows how widespread that usage seems to be in American English, whereas in Britain e.g. 'fifth formers' would rarely be used outside the school context; also such expressions are confined to secondary schools. Ro Thorpe 11:30, 6 October 2008 (CDT)

It's not just "widespread", it's both universal, and, I dare say, the official language, at least in all public schools. There are a few oddities from the old *old* days, like the school I went to, Phillips Exeter Academy, founded around 1780, in which the four classes (9th through 12th grades) are called, if I recall correctly, Lower Middle, Upper Middle, Junior, and Senior. Sort of like 'Merkin colleges or universities, where we have no numbers, but Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years. Make of it all what you will.... Hayford Peirce 12:51, 6 October 2008 (CDT)
Or are you guys discussing this as a *metaphor*? Ie, "Sarah Palin last night revealed that she has the gravitas and knowledge of a fifth-grader"? Or some such. If so, then in 'Merka, that usage is absolutely universal, and everyone would instantly know what you meant. Hayford Peirce 14:21, 6 October 2008 (CDT)

Yes, that's what I meant by 'widespread' - its use where Brits would say '...of a ten-year-old'. And not just figuratively, but also as in 'the yard was full of xth-graders' - the American novels I have read with sentences like that in, thinking, well, must be about y years old from the context... Ro Thorpe 14:37, 6 October 2008 (CDT)

Gotcha. We are all, I would say, about on the 17th-grade level (first year post-grad studies in college) at the very least, hehe.... ~

"O Level Oscar"

I read a fine Brit thriller written about 1968 in which a relatively minor character, a thuggish or maybe just loutish London teenager, had a chapter about him entitled, more or less, "O-Level Oscar" or "O Level Henry". I got the drift of things, but it took me several years, I think, to get the exact reference. No Google in those days :( Hayford Peirce 15:18, 6 October 2008 (CDT)

Yes, and it's now GSCEs (at least, I think that's the latest version) which I don't understand at all... Ro Thorpe 09:34, 7 October 2008 (CDT)
Actually it's General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). As far as I'm aware these are exams that everyone takes. They replaced a two tier system of the GCE (General Certificate of Education) O-level, aimed at the higher level students and the CSE that was aimed at the lower level. I'm not sure how it works in reality. Do they still have GCE A-levels (like AP courses in US?) and S-levels or are they under the GCSE umbrella too? Chris Day 09:52, 7 October 2008 (CDT)
Yes, they still have A Levels, although they are trying to destroy those too. I think some schools tend toward the international baccalaureat as an alternative, but maybe only the cosmopolitan ones...Martin Baldwin-Edwards 02:15, 12 October 2008 (UTC)

Ever so awful

It suddenly occured to me that I think the phrase "ever so" is far, far, far more Brit than 'Merkin. Correct me if I'm wrong, but where a Brit might say, "That film was ever so funny and the popcorn was ever so bad," a 'Merkin might well say, "That movie was awfully funny and the popcorn was awfully bad...." Hayford Peirce 17:27, 11 October 2008 (UTC)

you're quite right, but it's the sort of thing i associate with working-class females of my mother's generation - do young people use it now, i wonder? it may be enshrined in dickens etc... Ro Thorpe 23:54, 11 October 2008 (UTC)
You got me, myte. So it's working class rather than Bright Young Things? Hayford Peirce 00:00, 12 October 2008 (UTC)
i'm ever so unsure of this and would value a second opinion - Ro Thorpe 13:25, 12 October 2008 (UTC)
Well, I meself am awfully unsure about it -- where is Martin Baldwin-Edwards when we need him? Hayford Peirce 15:34, 12 October 2008 (UTC)
Ha! Well, I am unsure but am inclined to agree with Ro. I will try to check it out in London tomorrow, during my fleeting visit. Maybe I can use the expression in my lecture, and see how the audience responds! Martin Baldwin-Edwards 15:40, 12 October 2008 (UTC)
Give it a go, myte! as we Aussie sye. That would be ever so cheeky! Hayford Peirce 16:02, 12 October 2008 (UTC)

High there!

Correct me if I'm wrong, me mytes, but does the 'Merkin "Main Street", so beloved of birdbrained politicians, translate to "High Street", which was mentioned today in a NYT op-ed piece by a Brit? Hayford Peirce 02:03, 17 October 2008 (UTC)

Yes. Chris Day 02:20, 17 October 2008 (UTC)
Slight difference in usage, the high street, and also Bromley High Street (Kent) but not I think Bromley Main Street (Arizona?). Ro Thorpe 15:57, 17 October 2008 (UTC)
Yes, I wondered if "the" was always used with "high street". And no, I don't believe that other names are ever used with "Main Street," ie, there is no "Peirce Main Street" in downtown Tucson. So, given all this, what will you do about the High Street-Main Street entry I made? Edit, amend, footnote, delete...? Hayford Peirce 16:47, 17 October 2008 (UTC)
Indeed, I was thinking maybe a footnote. Ro Thorpe 17:39, 17 October 2008 (UTC)
Yup, a footnote would probably be the way to go. Hayford Peirce 17:43, 17 October 2008 (UTC)

"High!" again

I'm pretty sure that in the three fine spy novels that the Brit Desmond Skirrow wrote in the 1960s, every time an American character turned up, he would *always* say something like, "High, there!" Always spelled High. And Skirrow, who wrote copy for a big-time London advertising agency, obviously knew what he was doing here. A subtle put-down? Satire? Leg-pulling? Or what? Any other instances that you know of? Hayford Peirce 03:54, 20 October 2008 (UTC)

I have never seen someone use "high" before. Chris Day 04:05, 20 October 2008 (UTC)

Hockey Maugham, to rhyme with "Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son"

I knew a Tahitian guy, whose first language was French, and second language English, who was fascinated by S. Maugham and collected his works. I could *never* get him to believe that the name was not pronounced Mog-hum, hehe.... Hayford Peirce 21:12, 23 October 2008 (UTC)

Well, with spelling pronunciation going the way it's going, who's to say the next generation won't decide he was right? Ro Thorpe 21:22, 23 October 2008 (UTC)

further to "ever so questionable"

I guess we never did decide what to do about "ever so something or other"....

A headline in today's Arizona Daily Star 's sports section: "A Jolly Good Show by Saints, Chargers", anent a National Football League ('Merkin version) played yesterday before 85,000 Brits in London. I *know* that they're being tongue in cheek, and gently twitting our Limey friends, but *does* anyone in Blighty still use "Jolly good!"? And if so, should it go into our list?

In the 90s on BBC World Service radio, there was a pop record request show called A Jolly Good Show, super ironic. No, I don't think this is worth putting in, having a distinctly old fashioned air, ditto 'ever so'. At least not exactly here.

Furthermore, Judge, what about "further to"? As in a bar sign that I used to see in Tahiti 45 years ago, "Further to police regulations, blah blah." I gather that it is actually used in Brit-type talk or writing. I don't think that it is in 'Merkin, however. Wotcha! Hayford Peirce 16:59, 27 October 2008 (UTC)

Gee baby, well, I guess that's kinda legalese Brit style... Ro Thorpe 21:09, 27 October 2008 (UTC)

ticks and checks

Have become an obsessive over the last couple of weeks about -- on Tuesday night I can start my de-tox program -- and in one of the blogger's comments tonight he said that only Brits use the word "tick" for "boxes and ballots". True? Vrai? I think that I *might* have heard the expression in 'Merkin, but it sure ain't verra common.... Hayford Peirce 01:59, 3 November 2008 (UTC)

That's one I've long been sensitive to, but, it seems, not in front of the computer. I'll put it in.
Yes, 538 I looked at when you recommended it before, &, thankya myte, I'll go there again, as I am having another wineless night as a result of antibiotics for an accursed bladder infection.
Also, some chriffic Merkin writing on Bush in the Guardian today. Ro Thorpe 03:42, 3 November 2008 (UTC)
As one of the reigning writers from Minnesota, Garrison Keller, or some such, calls him always: "The Current Occupant". May he rot in the nether regions. Can't bear to read anything about him, or even to think about him. Fortunately he has lately vanished from all our screens and even our consciousness.... Hayford Peirce 04:04, 3 November 2008 (UTC)
Yes, 'tis a long time since I had to change channels to get away from him; this is still necessary alas quite often when there appears the late occupant of nº10; before him it was his mentor Thatcher, but we now have the occasional pleasure of seeing a somewhat post-conscious Maggon on our screens, & perhaps we'll live to see the other two in a similar state. Meanwhile Nulayba continues its attacks on hard-won British liberties, and it's quite normal for people to shout in public libraries.
Do you agree with my addition of 'swish' as in 'Nike'? Always a tick to me, as learner & teacher. Ro Thorpe 15:27, 3 November 2008 (UTC)
I guess so, but as far as I know that is the *only* place it occurs. Frankly I was baffled by your addition until I saw this discussion page. I think I would remove it on the grounds that it *only* occurs in these wretched advertisements. To me, this thing, as a noun, is a "checkmark", although MW-11 defines "checkmark" as being definition #10 of check. Hayford Peirce 15:48, 3 November 2008 (UTC)

speaking of one-off words

MW-11 does show "one-off", and doesn't call it a "Mostly Brit. usage", but I gotta say that I sure don't think of it as an Americanism. I could be wrong, I suppose.... Hayford Peirce 20:58, 3 November 2008 (UTC)

Surprised at that. My Oxfords don't label it, thesaurus doesn't have it - so what do you say, or is a phrase needed? Ro Thorpe 21:10, 3 November 2008 (UTC)
Strangely enough Bill Safire wrote an article about the damn thing only a couple of months ago -- I musta read it at the time but completely forgot about it. Here it is. I was doing a search in the NYT and *most* of their references were to something like "Two guys got off the airplane but only one off the boat." Constructions like that.... Anyway, thank you, Bill Safire. Hayford Peirce 21:44, 3 November 2008 (UTC)
Funny, for me it's always been around, & if asked I'd've hazarded that it was American. It does indeed mean unique (a word that all sensible persons know should not be qualified) but there is this usage difference: a unique example = a one-off example (adjective), but it's a one-off = it's unique (not a noun). Ro Thorpe 23:15, 3 November 2008 (UTC)
I'll be darned. I've certainly never used it myself, and I don't think I've *ever* heard anyone speak the word. I see now that Safire's piece was from June of 2007, and I doubt if I was even aware of the word until I read about it in his column. A strange gap in my knowledge, perhaps.... Hayford Peirce 00:45, 4 November 2008 (UTC)
Yes, every now & then I find I have had such a gap... Ro Thorpe 01:17, 4 November 2008 (UTC)

me shirt's too tight, myte

Isn't there a Brit word "shirty"? If so, do we want it here with its 'Merkin equivalent? Or is it too much slangy? And what did we decide to do with slang, anyhow? Just put in slang that has stood the test of time, or what? Hayford Peirce 21:34, 7 November 2008 (UTC)

I dunno. Certainly both my (80s) dictionaries have it, but it's not something I've heard for, er, ever so long. But then I'm not really in a position to judge. Probably better to ask one of the Brits who actually lives there. I'd be interested to hear your nominees for American equivalent, though: indeed, that highlights the main problem, indeed the whole point, of slang: nothing is official or intended to be permanent... Ro Thorpe 22:01, 7 November 2008 (UTC)
Well, just looked it up in MW and it says: adj (1846) chiefly Brit: ANGRY, IRRITATED.... That's a long time that it's been around. But, of course, I dunno if anyone ever uses it any more. I think I've still seen it in Brit. novels, but whether they're 1920s Agatha Christies or more recent ones I can't recall. I think I *have* seen it occasionally in 60s spy thrillers, etc., that sort of thing.... Hayford Peirce 05:00, 8 November 2008 (UTC)
I associate it with my parents & their ilk, but don't recall it in the sitcoms that BBC Prime was airing a year or two ago. Probably it is still around, but it's definitely slang, anyway. Ro Thorpe 05:22, 8 November 2008 (UTC)
Okie, so it's a no-go fer us August Lexicographers.... Hayford Peirce 15:57, 8 November 2008 (UTC)
Surely someone out there has a Slang article cooking? Ro Thorpe 17:59, 8 November 2008 (UTC)
Maybe my friend Dr. Partridge -- or anyone else with 2 or 3 centuries of spare time on his hands. That's a subject about as big as Knowledge, I would say.... Hayford Peirce 18:07, 8 November 2008 (UTC)


As a northerner, I object to the description of southern English as "standard" British. Peter Jackson 11:49, 18 November 2008 (UTC)

You can object all you like, that's what foreigners want to learn! Even if they go to Huddersfield School of English and arrive home with a Yorkshire accent...

I'll deal with your other points later on, when I'm in the mood. The û phoneme is a can of worms, & I wasn't so much recommending an American pronunciation as dodging the issue. But you might like to look at U, where I think I tried to address the [u] v. [ju] nuisance...

Thanks for your interest. Ro Thorpe 20:13, 18 November 2008 (UTC)

Whether that's what foreigners want to learn or not is irrelevant. See British English, which says all forms must be included. Isn't this a matter of neutrality?

On u, see Talk:English phonemes, where I've pointed out the utter mess there. Peter Jackson 11:50, 19 November 2008 (UTC)

For the time being I've taken you at your word & changed the lead accordingly. However, I think it wouldn't be too hard to cover things properly. The main local variations are in pronunciation, which might be summarized thus:

  1. in [list of words], southern English uses à, northern English & American (& the rest of the English-speaking world?) use á
  2. r in [certain positions, detailed] is pronounced in American & Scottish, but not in England
  3. wh is pronounced as hw in American & Scottish, but as w in England (& Australia)
  4. in certain words the pronunciation is yoo in Britain & parts of America but oo in other parts of America (?I think, but leave that to Americans)
  5. others I've forgotten?

Peter Jackson 11:12, 20 November 2008 (UTC)

Good start. Regarding 3), we should be clear that "wh" is [w] for the large majority of American speakers as well as basically all other non-Scotsmen. 4) is referred to as yod-dropping and is indeed well-entrenched in most American forms; it occurs regularly after alveolar and post-alveolar consonants. Another notable difference is that the short-o phoneme (as in "bother" or "hot") is merged with [a] (as in "father" or "car") in all American dialects other than Boston.—Nat Krause 23:30, 20 November 2008 (UTC)
A pronunciation dictionary I consulted said hw was usual in American. I'll go back & see which one it was. The o point was one I'd forgotten. It's mentioned in the other article. Peter Jackson 11:19, 21 November 2008 (UTC)
Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation, 2001, just marks the h as optional in American, which doesn't get us any further.
Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary, 2006, page 558: "... ususally pronounced as /w/ in British English and /hw/ in US English. The realisation /hw/ also occur amongst some speakers of British English."
Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, 2000, page 835: "In RP and other accents of England, and in Australian English, it is usually w ... but in GenAm usually, and in Scottish and Irish English almost always, it is hw ... (In England and Australia ... hw tends to be considered 'better', and so is used by soem people in specially formal styles only.)"
page xiv: "... General American. This is what is spoken by the majority of Americans, namely those who do not have a noticeable eastern or southern accent."
Peter Jackson 11:47, 21 November 2008 (UTC)
Actually, I hadn't forgotten the o case. Rather, by the time I read your comment I'd forgotten the original purpose of the list: to cover those cases that aren't simply British vs American because some British agree with the American pronunciation or vice versa. So the o case doesn't belong in the list because it's uniformly different (I think). Contrariwise, the wh case probably doesn't either, for the opposite reason.
(y)oo is more complicated. The article U says oo is substandard, but I'm sure it must be much more common over there than here. Certainly it's part of our folklore that Americans go to buy a noo soot (though perversely they often seem to go to Hyoostn to do so). On the other hand, East Anglian dialect has pronunciations that sound very much like hooge &c. Peter Jackson 15:49, 21 November 2008 (UTC)
Merriam-Webster gives noo as standard (American), nyoo as chiefly British. Peter Jackson 10:58, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
Hillbilly and country singers useta sing about "My neeyoo love fer yee-oo in the foggy, foggy dee-yoo," but I don't know if they still dooo or not." The closest most 'Merkins can get to pronouncing the French "u" is to be a country singer, hehe.... Hayford Peirce 16:10, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
Peter, you're right, I seem to have misunderstood the purpose of the list. Regarding [ʍ] (or [hw]) ... I wonder if it would be possible for me to be awarded the status of editor for American phonology, on the grounds of being a native GA speaker. Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary and Longman are just plain wrong: [w] for "wh" is quite predominant in American English. Wikipedia cites a 2006 study to the effect that "there are regions of the U.S. (particularly in the Southeast) where speakers keeping the distinction are about as numerous as those having the merger, there are no regions where the preservation of the distinction is predominant ... Throughout the U.S. and Canada, about 83% of respondents in the survey had the merger completely, while about 17% preserved at least some trace of the distinction." Regarding [ju], I think that [nu sut] for "new suit" is pretty much mandatory in most forms of American English, although I don't entirely trust my ear in distinguishing [nju] from [nu]. [hudʒ] for "huge" is unheard of here, although, ironcally, some folks go the other way and have [judʒ].
Hayford, I've heard some younger Americans with a tendency to front [u] to [ʉ], so maybe if you wait long enough you will find they eventually have no trouble with the French "u".—Nat Krause 23:28, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
It's a toughie, no question about that. I think it took me years to get pretty close to it. I still remember the mangled efforts of a poor Texan kid in my first French class many years ago. Made me grit my teeth in anguish. He never did come close to getting it. The test for the younger kids will be when they go to France and actually try to talk.... Hayford Peirce 23:44, 27 November 2008 (UTC)

I once read that a good method is to round your lips & try to say 'ee' - that gets pretty close to it - Ro Thorpe 00:01, 28 November 2008 (UTC)

Yup, I remember poor Mr. Neumeister (such a French name!) telling the poor yokel to do it that way (I think), to no avail. A long-suffering man, fer sure! Hayford Peirce 00:56, 28 November 2008 (UTC)
Nat's citation is another reminder to us all that "reliable" sources are often wrong, & we have to go to the most specialized & up-to-date sources we can find. This is where a system like ours can be very effective. Lots of people working together can find lots of sources.
The last pronunciation he mentions is quite common here. Peter Jackson 12:16, 28 November 2008 (UTC)

It's hard and it's hard, ain't it hard.... call someone a hardware dealer. I suppose that this does it exist, but the normal term in 'Merkin talk is "hardware store." Ie, "I'll be back in 15 minutes, I'm going to the hardware store to buy some nails." Hayford Peirce 01:30, 19 November 2008 (UTC)


Is 'cycle' the normal Am for 'circle'? Ro Thorpe 19:41, 28 November 2008 (UTC)

you mean as in "vicious cycle"? I've never hoid that -- must be a typo, or ignorance. or irony. or something. I can see why someone might have invented the phrase, feeling pleased with himself, but I'm sure that it isn't in common use. Hayford Peirce 20:21, 28 November 2008 (UTC)
Interesting - I think that was the 2nd time I've heard that - not sure if it wasn't a Brit the first. Ro Thorpe 21:37, 28 November 2008 (UTC)
"Well, let's look at the record," as the 1928 Demo. pres. candidate used to say (he lost v. badly to Hoover). A Google shows 1,930,000 for "vicious circle". And almost as many for "vicious cycle". BUT - there seem to be a software company, a band, a bicycle factory, a blog site, and other things named "vicious cycle." None of them appear to have the same meaning as "circle".... Hayford Peirce 21:46, 28 November 2008 (UTC)
So it's a case of life imitating commerce, & not for the first time. Ro Thorpe 22:17, 28 November 2008 (UTC)

two turns of the screw

How come you gettin' rid of the 'Merkin talk fer tournament and tourniquet, myte? Hayford Peirce 19:07, 1 December 2008 (UTC)

I just streamlined it - it's still there, but it was presented differently, don't know why - now, the Br is on the left, the Am on the right, like all the others. Ro Thorpe 19:36, 1 December 2008 (UTC)
Ah, okay. I see what you've done. I hadn't studied it carefully enough -- it looked to me as if a couple of items had just disappeared. Sorry! Hayford Peirce 20:16, 1 December 2008 (UTC)
No problem! Cheers - Ro Thorpe 20:46, 1 December 2008 (UTC)


I just looked at the website of Simpsons in the Strand for no particular reason and saw that on their menu have have a list of Starters, followed by a list of Mains. Us 'Merkins will sometimes use the word Starters on menus, but I've never seen the word Mains before. Main Courses, Entrees, or some such, yes, but not that solitary word by itself. I don't recall seeing it in London 40 years ago, but it could have been used I suppose. Progress has been made, however: I see that Simpsons now serves its Scotch salmon "starter" with capers and some other stuff. When I was there with my Tahitian wife we ordered the salmon and I asked for some capers. The waiter was baffled. Eventually he returned with an enormous dusty bottle and asked if that was what I meant. Everyone in the restaurant was staring at us, hehe.... A true boulevardier, I said, Yes, that's it precisely. And we spooned capers out of the bottle to go with our salmon....

By the way, I surprised to see that the online MW has pissoir, but it does.... Hayford Peirce 22:33, 10 December 2008 (UTC)

'Mains' I have heureusement never heard in that context. Beware, it might catch on, what with quantiteez, Mumbai and Thai-land on Sky Newspeak in rapid succession today.
That's good about 'capers' though, a word and food I first came across in Germany, I think.
Oxford has pissoir too, and nearby, piste and piolet - do we have those...? Ro Thorpe 10:10, 11 December 2008 (UTC)
We've got piste but not piolet. Hayford Peirce 16:33, 11 December 2008 (UTC)


Is it true that Americans use 'U.K.' & Brits (I certainly do) 'UK'? - & if so, can one extrapolate from this? Ro Thorpe 23:28, 11 December 2008 (UTC)

That Americans, with their greater land mass, accumulated wealth, and larger population, are more expansive in all ways. They can afford to be profligate with their periods.... Hayford Peirce 00:59, 12 December 2008 (UTC)
Truly a Land of Periods and Majuscules. Ro Thorpe 01:32, 12 December 2008 (UTC)
Except that so many 'Merkin wimmin are runnin' marathons that periods are in danger of disappearing entirely.... Hayford Peirce 02:14, 12 December 2008 (UTC)
Well, colon has been pre-empted from the grammarians. Howard C. Berkowitz 21:35, 23 January 2009 (UTC)

Postvocalic r

This is the most noticeable difference in English dialects and I think current text oversimplifies, saying it's just "British" vs, "US" English. I'd say the full list of +r dialects is Scots & Irish English, plus Canada & most of the US, heavily influenced by Scots & Irish immigration. -r includes (most? all?) of England, plus Oz, NZ, South Africa. What about Southern US, the "Boston brahmin" accent, Wales, and Indian English? I'd say those are all -r, but I'm not completely certain on any of them.

Anyone know the history? Since the r's are in the spelling, I imagine they fell out of the pronunciation sometime after spelling was standardised, but before the big bursts of immigration to places like Oz that got -r dialects. Sandy Harris 04:32, 12 December 2008 (UTC)

Postvocalic r was disappearing in England long before the founding fathers made it to the New World (I think there may be one or two examples of r-less spellings in Chaucer, or at least texts from his day). I suspect that it may have been retained in the spelling to indicate the historic pronunciation and also to allow distinctions between so-called 'short' and 'long' vowels (e.g. cad and card). The reason r made it to America was that most of the early settlers were from the south-west of England, which retained r (and still does to this day). Later settlers came without r but their accents were overwhelmed by the well-established rhotic accent (except for a small group who, one story says, were blown off-course by a storm and ended up around what is now New York, I believe - which is why some north-eastern accents are non-rhotic). r may or may not have been reinforced in the US by later Irish/Scots etc. immigration, I'm not sure. Obviously, most settlers who headed to Australia much later carried with them the non-rhotic accent that by then had come to dominate England. Something like this could be added. John Stephenson 05:37, 12 December 2008 (UTC)

This is only humble BrE & AmE, and it says the pronunciation discussion is limited to the two standard varieties. But there is a Commonwealth English stub, and you've given us the basis for English postvocalic r (or whatever) right here. Ro Thorpe 13:40, 12 December 2008 (UTC)


I've always used (and seen) "demagogue," which is allegedly the British variant. Maybe it would be better to list both "demagogue" and "demagog" for the American variants. With just "demagog," students are apt to think, incorrectly, that that spelling is the common "correct" American spelling, which it ain't. --Larry Sanger 21:46, 31 December 2008 (UTC)

I've swapped it for 'synagog'. Hopefully... Ro Thorpe 22:03, 31 December 2008 (UTC) - Alas I should have looked in Merriam Webster: seems 'synagog' is merely an option also. Will alter... Ro Thorpe 22:08, 31 December 2008 (UTC)

You lot (or you guys) are doing a fab job on this....

...but there's still so much more.

Y'know what I'd like to see? A section on words and expressions where the user might think they understand exactly what is being said, but might be wrong due to misunderstanding the primary or first-to-pop-into-head use of the word in the other variant. That seems apparent enough when we talk about slang, but 'jumper', an article of clothing, describes two entirely different garments, a 'comforter', two different kinds of bedding. Same with the verb 'to table' (in the context of meetings). It's used exactly the same way and in the same context in both CE and AE, but usually means something quite different.

Also, is aluminum/aluminium correctly termed a spelling difference? Minor, I know, but it *is* pronounced differently.

Aleta Curry 01:58, 2 January 2009 (UTC)

A friend from Australia was quite surprised at what she was served when she ordered "chips and sauce" on her visit to the U.S. Raymond Arritt 01:30, 22 May 2009 (UTC)
Having lived here off and on for 67 years, I can't believe that there's a waiter anywhere in the United States who wouldn't have said, "What's that?" if someone ordered "chips and sauce". Although *conceivably* a Mexican restaurant would bring their standard corn chips and salsa. So what *did* she get? Hayford Peirce 01:48, 22 May 2009 (UTC)
Tortilla chips and salsa. She was expecting what we'd call french fries and ketchup. Raymond Arritt 03:06, 22 May 2009 (UTC)
She musta been in a Mexican joint. (I was in one for lunch today -- I don't like either the chips or the salsa, though....) Hayford Peirce 03:30, 22 May 2009 (UTC)
In English caff (if you're lucky enough to get someone polite/condescending): Plate o' chips, love? Sauces are on the table, dear. (Bottles of Heinz tomato ketchup & HP Sauce on each table, along with a sugar dispenser.) Ro Thorpe 16:34, 22 May 2009 (UTC)
In Australia during the 1970s, if you ordered "chips" you would have received two actors pretending to be motorcycle cops... Okay seriously, if you ordered "chips" you would be served what most Americans would call French fries (with the exception that the chips here would be usually plumper and less crispier). That all changed somewhat when McDonalds started opening franchises here, so its usage became muddied. I believe back in the 1970s most Americans (bar Mexicans) would refer to "potato chips" as something we would call "crisps". Have I confused everyone already? :) ...said Meg Ireland (talk)
Throughout history, ever since they were invented (supposedly by George Crum [he shoulda been a baker]), "crisps" have been known in 'Merkin culture and language as "potato chips." Period. That's all there is to it. It doesn't matter what decade it is or was. So it's not confusing at all. That said, there are now a gazillion *kinds* of "potato chips", such as kettle-cooked, light salt, buffalo-wings flavor, salt-and-pepper, Hawaiian style, you name it. But they are all crisps made from potatoes. There may be *other* things that resemble them, but they will be called, geez, I dunno, "turnip chips" or "plantain chips" or "sweet potato chips" or whatever it is they're made from.... Hayford Peirce 03:33, 23 May 2009 (UTC)

"And two hardboiled eggs!" HONK! "Make that three hardboiled eggs!"

According to Wikipedia at it's a Brit phrase. If you read the article, maybe it will give a clue as to what the 'Merkin phrase for it is. Off-hand, I can't think of it. I know that similar things exist at U.S. carnies, just they generally feature stuff like throwing baseballs in order to make people drop into a tank of water or something. I can't even think of the phrase for that, either.... Hayford Peirce 20:42, 23 January 2009 (UTC)

Well, apparently Danny Kaye does it in a film, so sez WP. And is also says that 'cocoanuts' is an 'old spelling', so I checked in Merriam Webster and that gives only 'coconut', so alas... My Oxford gives both spellings for the tree, curiously. Ro Thorpe 21:02, 23 January 2009 (UTC) - And MW does not give a definition for 'cocoanut', instead saying it can be found at MW abridged - must be X-rated version... Ro Thorpe 21:13, 23 January 2009 (UTC)
I think this is a can of worms that we can safely ignore, which will save us time, energy, and grief. Hayford Peirce 22:11, 23 January 2009 (UTC)

Zero & nought

I'm puzzled by Caesar's edit & comment 'zero more common that nought in UK'. That certainly wasn't the case when I grew up there. Ro Thorpe 18:05, 19 May 2009 (UTC) - Anyway, I'll change them round, so the emphasis is on the contrast. Ro Thorpe 23:38, 21 May 2009 (UTC)

I saw his comment, but since I haven't been in England since '68 I simply don't know. And even then, I can't remember what people used to say (or write). I'm sure that people still say, "All for nought", even Merkins say that, without knowing, I would say, what Nought actually means. In your time, did telephone standardistes say, "The number you want is seven nought one six two nought nought?" And I've always thought of James Bond as being Oh Oh Seven, but I suppose he could have been Zero Zero Seven or even Nought Nought Seven, hehe.... Hayford Peirce 00:02, 22 May 2009 (UTC)

I was last there in '94 (seems like 3 or 4 years ago...) so ditto. I suppose that phrase could be spelt 'all for naught'? The British telephone word was & surely still is 'O': seven O one six two double O. (I don't think there's a standardised spelling.) Bond is Double-O-Seven, but it must have been the ska record you heard called Oh Oh Seven - I have a copy, natch, or rather my mother's bungalow has... Ro Thorpe 00:29, 22 May 2009 (UTC)

Yeah, you're right, it's probably "all for naught". I've never head a ska in my life, thank goodness, although I dated a ska sax player twice about a year ago. I think that back in the days when maybe I heard Merkins talk about 007 they said Double-Oh and Oh-Oh interchangeably, although I could be wrong.... Hayford Peirce 00:42, 22 May 2009 (UTC)

OK, yes, Oh-Oh too, not so common, but yes, come to think of it. I just vandalised a bit of your comment, forgot to hold down the key when pasting, but have done a repair job - plenty of experience at the other place! Ro Thorpe 00:54, 22 May 2009 (UTC)

That's fer sure! Hayford Peirce 01:10, 22 May 2009 (UTC)

Well, I don't claim to be an authority, but I hear zero more often than nought - I think nought is generally regarded as old fashioned.
I believe the spellings naught and nought are interchangeable, both having both meanings.
And yes, of course, there's oh - only used in speech, in a sequence of numbers - you wouldn't tend to use it on its own. Never used in writing.
I've never heard of cipher meaning zero. The Oxford American Dictionary says this meaning is dated...
Caesar Schinas 14:30, 22 May 2009 (UTC)

Perhaps we need to distinguish two meanings: the concept and the symbol. What we have now, I think, is the latter, as in: a quantity of zeroes or noughts (never, here, naughts) or ciphers (yes, 'ciphers' sounds dated to me) but not ohs, which are as you say, oral & only used in a sequence. I was thinking yesterday, perhaps we don't need this entry at all, as any American/British contrast is now vestigial. Ro Thorpe 16:42, 22 May 2009 (UTC)
Except for Drafts and Noughts or whatever weird Limey name youse guys uouse fer tic-tac-toe! Hayford Peirce 16:47, 22 May 2009 (UTC)
Ciphers and crucifixes, you mean? Ro Thorpe 16:49, 22 May 2009 (UTC)
This entry is confusing unless one reads this discussion. Perhaps some explanation could be added. I heard mathematicians say "a-nought" for a0 (and "a-zero", but never "a-cipher"). However, even dated differences should be included (with explanation) because one will find them in (old) books, and maybe even in old movies. Peter Schmitt 16:06, 10 December 2009 (UTC)

Some missing words

I just discovered this nice page -- very useful for a non-native speaker who has learned (probably: Oxford) English in school and is reading books from both sides of the Atlantic, and sees more pictures from Hollywood than of British origin. I miss some differences I know about: billion, rather, o.k./all right, and the entry about "bill" is not clear enough: Where does one ask for the bill and pays with a check, and where one asks for the check and pays with a bill? ;-)
One more question: Shouldn't "See also" be moved to "Related articles"?
Peter Schmitt 21:15, 3 June 2009 (UTC)

While waiting for Noble Rheaux to reply, let me say that in the States one can ask the waiter for either the bill or the check. Check is probably more common but bill is frequently used. Bill is probably used more often for things like auto repairs, etc., where check is *never* used. Hayford Peirce 22:06, 3 June 2009 (UTC)
Thanks for that explaination Hayford; I've always wondered about the exact usage of the US bill and check.
In the UK, it is the bill which says what you must pay. You ask the waiter for the bill. If you asked for the check he wouldn't have a clue what you were talking about. Then you might pay with a cheque (never check) or, more likely, with cash - notes, which I believe the Americans call bills. Or a credit card, but that's the same in American.
Caesar Schinas 22:21, 3 June 2009 (UTC)
the word "banknotes" is used sometimes in the States, but in fairly specialized senses, I think. "Notes", never. "Bills" always, in that "I paid the bill with a $20 bill." Or "I paid the check by check." The old system of checks and balances, I guess, hehe.... Hayford Peirce 22:55, 3 June 2009 (UTC)
Thanks for those, Peter, glad you like the page. I've made a couple of additions to vocab, hope bill & check are clear, if not we could add some footnotes. Check & cheque are in the spelling section already. Billion, well, the Murcans have won that one, as their system was always simpler, if less numerical, so trillion is now 1000,000,000,000 (four lots) in British too (right??). The old British word for 1000,000,000 was, I think, milliard, but that sounds like a ball game & was never in general use even in my youth. The other words are used on both sides of the Atlantic, more or less frequently, although 'alright' is considered by many to be incorrect. OK?/O.K.?/Okay? Ro Thorpe 23:34, 3 June 2009 (UTC)

Well, I like this page because I am interested in language in general, and from the "outside" it is often not easy (or impossible) to distinguish betwen individual usage and regional differences.
It is interesting (and maybe important) to know that "billion" now differs from (german) "Billion" in BE tpp. But I think that such historical changes should be included in some way as well. Is okay and alright also a historical difference? I thought that when I learnt English, "okay" was considered to be AE. And with regards to "rather": I read that referees should be careful because phrases like "he is rather good" are interpreted drastically different in BE and in AE.
Some more (potential) candidates for the list: first floor, you know / isn't it (?), the comma in "A,B(,) or C", quid / smackers / greenback, "white metal" for silver without British hallmark. And what about differences in hyphenation?
Peter Schmitt 08:49, 4 June 2009 (UTC)
I forgot: lift/elevator. And how about film/movie/picture and cinema/film theatre(-er) -- are there differences in usage? And I just remember disc/disk. Peter Schmitt 09:35, 4 June 2009 (UTC)

I'm interested in what you are saying about billion - so far as I am aware, it now as the same meaning the world over - namely, the product of a thousand and a million; 109 or 1,000,000,000. I know it used, some time ago, to mean 1012 in some countries including the UK, but this is now called a trillion. Is there anywhere where a billion is still 1012?
OK - were you referring to the word in general, or to the spelling okay rather than ok? I don't think either is considered to be American; both are commonly used in English.
Rather - we use it rather a lot in the UK, but I don't think it's used much in America or, for that matter, Australia or New Zealand. I don't know about Canada. I wasn't aware of any possible misinterpretations - what else can it mean?
What are the issues with you know and isn't it?
Greenback is another American word for paper money, isn't it - but can it be any note, or is it just one dollar notes or something? I can't remember whether all dollar notes are green or not. Quid - is it ever used outside the UK? Never heard smackers before. Nor have I heard of that usage of white metal.
Lift is used exclusively in English, but everyone would understand if you said elevator to them.
Picture is very archaic, at least in English. You would watch a film or a video at home (possibly regardless of whether it was on a film or a DVD). In the cinema you would watch a movie or film, never video, whilst on the web it would always be a video. In the theatre you would watch a play, not a film/movie/picture...
Disc/disk varies greatly within both English and American - Generally, the English is disk and the American is disc, but according to the Oxford American Dictionary on my computer, specific usages are the same in both. Computer-related usages are almost always disk - floppy disk, disk drive, etc, - with the exception of compact disc. The we have things like disc brakes, which apparently always use the US spelling.
The Oxford comma is controversial in English - some people such as myself almost always use it, whilst others steadfastly refuse to (sometimes resulting in rather ambiguous lists). Is it used in American?
Hyphenation, again, varies greatly in English according to personal style. I think it's used less, in general, in American.
Caesar Schinas 09:56, 4 June 2009 (UTC)
At the moment, I don't have time to discuss all points. Maybe it is also better to wait for more comments (if any). However, in German there is still "Milliarde" and "Billion" (and "Billiarde", etc.), unless someone carelessly translates an English text. Concerning disc/disk: My Collins English Dictionary (of 1979) says: disk, variant spelling of disc, mainly US. And an elder friend from England who is very careful and British with his language calls "elevator" an American word. Finally, aren't there different rules how to hyphenate words in BE and AE? For instance, TeX has separate patterns for BE ("ukhyphen"). Peter Schmitt 10:23, 4 June 2009 (UTC)
Also, donut (American) and doughnut (British). Meg Ireland 10:37, 4 June 2009 (UTC)
I don't quite understand about million - what do these German words mean? Google tells me that milliarde means billion - so what does billion mean in German? And billiarde apparently means quadrillion, which we don't tend to use in the UK.
Disk - interesting; the exact reverse of what my Oxford American Dictionary seems to be saying. Hmm...
Certainly, elevator is American and not English. As I said, nobody would ever use it in English. But we would understand it.
I don't know what "rules" there are about hyphens, but in the UK they vary greatly according to personal style. My mother, for example, hyphenates all sorts of words which I would never dream of putting a hyphen in. I think the Americans hardly use the hyphen. I recall a quote from Eats, shoots and leaves - where an American author apparently wrote that "the hyphen is the most un-American thing ever". Note the hyphen in un-American...
Caesar Schinas 10:54, 4 June 2009 (UTC)
First, to answer the question: Billion = 10^12, Trillion = 10^18, Quadrillion = 10^24, (and so on), while Milliarde = 10^9, Billiarde = 10^15, Trilliarde = 10^21, etc.
Second, are we talking about the same meaning of hyphenation? I meant hyphenation as it occurs at the end of line, not whether or not to write e-mail or email.
Third, concerning rather: I recall that it was pointed that sentences like "The candidate is rather good" are interpreted as a positive evaluation in one case (it was BE, I think), while it is considered to have a negative connotation in the other case.
And concerning elevators: I do not doubt that "elevator" is understood in Britain (and "lift" in US), but the page is also about differences in usage.
Peter Schmitt 13:26, 4 June 2009 (UTC)
So in German you still use the definition of billion which we used to use in the UK. Interesting.
No, I wasn't talking about using hyphens to split words at the end of lines. I don't know of any differences in that usage between English and American, but that doesn't mean there aren't any...
Rather - yes, in English that would certainly be positive. I wasn't aware that it would be negative in American - how odd!
Elevator - yes, I was just remarking on the fact because a lot of Americanisms are hardly understood, or not understood at all, in the UK, whilst we would have no hesitation about elevator.
Caesar Schinas 17:12, 4 June 2009 (UTC)

(unindent) Donut is simply a stoopid Americanism that merchants invented to make the word "doughnut" shorter for their neon signs and painted signs. Like "nite" for "night". Or to stand out. Whatever the case, it is informal, and incorrect. It is NOT an Americanism that is used in place of the fastidious British doughnut as "elevator" is used in place of "lift". Speaking of which, did Rheaux take care of ground floor, first floor, rez de chaussee and all of that business earlier on? Hayford Peirce 17:27, 4 June 2009 (UTC)

No, I haven't done those. Ground floor is unAmerican, right? Donut, etc., I have now put in English spellings, with dire warnings. 'Rather' is a complex word, 'rather good' means 'agreeably better than expected', for example, but I don't think any of that's a US/UK thing. Quid is certainly British, but then so is the concept (although I believe 'pennies' are informally cents, including the ones 'from heaven'). The comma before 'and' is another individual thing (I vote against). Ro Thorpe 20:07, 4 June 2009 (UTC)
Merkins say, "I got in on the ground floor," to mean that they invested in, or got into, something at its very inception. In other words, a generally favorable thing. Aside from that they *very* seldom use it except, I suppose, to say, "the baker's shop is on the ground floor of the building." But they would generally say "the first floor." A Merkin's "second floor" is everyone else's "first floor." That completely baffled me as a student studying French, but I finally got the concept after a couple of years....
As for commas, we discussed this elsewhere once. The comma before "and" is called "the Oxford comma," "the Harvard comma," or "the serial comma." I myself would cut off my left hand before *not* using it. Some style manuals recommend it, others don't. As long as I don't see an article here in CZ marked BE and not using it, I will continue to insert it, ie, in all AE articles. It's probably a little more frequently used in Merkin than Brit-write. Although even here it is on the wan, I think. I believe the NYT *used* to use it, now they don't. Grrrrrrrrrr, I'll cancel my subscription! Hayford Peirce 20:38, 4 June 2009 (UTC)
Both candidates for the usage section, then... Ro Thorpe 20:57, 4 June 2009 (UTC)
Interesting; I didn't think the Oxford comma was used in American. I'm glad to hear it is. I feel the same as Hayford about it. I'd never heard it called the Harvard comma, though!
If you're going to insert it in en-US articles you should do so in en-GB too; it is just a matter of style here too. CZ should probably decide on one style and stick to it.
First floor - does anyone other than the Americans use it the American way? Frankly, the American way does make more sense from many points of view...
Rather - but Perter said that in the US it would be negative rather than positive, implying that Ro's example would mean disagreeably worse than expected to an American - Hayford or another American, is this so?
Caesar Schinas 07:29, 5 June 2009 (UTC)
Just Googled: 322,000 for Oxford comma, 2,400 for Harvard comma, 47,700 for serial comma. So Oxford it is. I've never heard anyone actually use these terms in speech -- I had to look them all up a year ago when this same discussion came up. I think that if you *said* "serial comma," an educated person would probably figure out what you meant. If you said the other two, he'd just scratch his head.
"Rather". A head-scratcher. A lot of it depends on tone and inflection, I think. If you say, "That was a rather good hamburger," I don't *think* that's quite as positive as simply saying, "That was a good hamburger." But if you say, "Oh, that hamburger was really rather good!", that's pretty positive. I don't think it's actually used all that much, however. Hayford Peirce 16:13, 5 June 2009 (UTC)
Since there is some discussion about it -- I expected that native speakers would have no problem to decide upon it -- I want to explain in more detail why I brought it up: I read (or heard?) about advise for referees that they should be careful with the word "rather" when they are writing some report because what they write is likely to interpreted other (opposite meaning) than intended on the other side of the Atlantic. (If I could remember the source I would be happy to cite it.) Peter Schmitt 16:45, 5 June 2009 (UTC)
It could very well be, I just don't know. I'd be happy to see some concrete examples, however. One word that *does* have opposite meanings, however, is the verb "table". In England, if you say, "The committee tabled the motion," it means that they put it on the table in order to discuss it. In the States, if you say exactly the same thing, it means that they TOOK IT OFF THE TABLE, so that it could NOT be discussed! Or is it the other way around? Very, very strange, in any case! Hayford Peirce 17:10, 5 June 2009 (UTC)

Two questions about usage

It is slightly off topic, but I have two questions concerning the usage of common mathematical terms. They can be found in Talk:Platonic solid and Talk:Greatest common divisor#highest common factor?. I ask them here, too, because they might go unnoticed. Peter Schmitt 23:52, 26 June 2009 (UTC)

A candidate

A remark of an American speaker suggests "cookie" vs. "biscuit" as a candidate for inclusion. Peter Schmitt 23:04, 14 July 2009 (UTC)

A shocking omission. Possibly we discussed it & couldn't agree on something...? Anyway, I'll put it in... Ro Thorpe 23:29, 14 July 2009 (UTC)
Yeah, I'm *sure* that we hashed that one over at some point a long time ago.... Hayford Peirce 23:56, 14 July 2009 (UTC)
Do British browsers accept biscuits? Howard C. Berkowitz 00:14, 15 July 2009 (UTC)

the barmaid in the honky-tonk downstairs

there's a superb old George Jones song from about 45 years ago called The Honky Tonk Downstairs at but it's probably one of those words that has disappeared from the 'Merkin language, at least in Beverly Hills and other PC spots. Whether people still use it in East Texas buckets o'blood, I dunno.... Hayford Peirce 05:55, 15 July 2009 (UTC)

There are proudly self-identified honkytonks in otherwise metrosexual Dallas. Maybe they were in a suburb. Howard C. Berkowitz 21:41, 19 July 2009 (UTC)

Cooks and cookery

I have a very nice book of recipes and pretty photos that someone gave me about 20 years ago called "The Harrod's Cookery Book." Is Harrods being affected, old-fashioned, or pretentious, or do my British cousins actually call "cookbooks" (one word) "cookery books" (two words)? Hayford Peirce 21:39, 19 July 2009 (UTC)

Gor blimey, them 'Arrods. Ro Thorpe 22:15, 19 July 2009 (UTC)
This remark could point out another entry (porridge). Peter Schmitt 13:18, 27 August 2009 (UTC)


From Hayford's corrections I see that the usage of quotes is different in BE and AE (something I was not yet aware of). This should be included here.
A question on quite another topic: Where is the meaning of the accents (which denote pronunciation) explained? I know the IPA characters, but not this notation.
Peter Schmitt 23:19, 28 September 2009 (UTC)

The accents are referenced at the beginning of the Suffixes section, where they first appear. English spellings has a table, which could be copied here.
Hayford I think regards single inverted commas as especially British, but I was brought up in England with both double and single, although in primary school it was always double. Later I read that it's a matter for publishers. A similar case is -ise, more common in BrE, and -ize, ditto AmE -but again, not, it seems, exclusively. Ro Thorpe 23:58, 28 September 2009 (UTC)
99% of all Brit novels that I own (and I used to have a ton of them), always used single quotes. What the practise (note, hehe) is today, I dunno. I do know this for an absolute fact: in the States, single quotes are never used in that way. Hayford Peirce 00:10, 29 September 2009 (UTC)
I overlooked the link to spellings or, rather, did not notice its significance (a clear hint that it leads to the explanation of the notation would be helpful). Concerning quotes: You native speakers (Hayford and you?) will have to sort out whether this should be mentioned (and how). I would think it should because it is considered a difference by some.
Another topic: Ro, you are obviously monitoring this. So I suppose you overlooked my pointer/question left just above this section. Peter Schmitt 00:17, 29 September 2009 (UTC)
An edit conflict, but never mind...I put in a bit in italics at the top. Will that do? By all means put in something about the quotes. As for porridge, what had you in mind? I'm not one for breakfast myself... Ro Thorpe 01:31, 29 September 2009 (UTC)


Does the British use of "Europe" for the continent merit an entry?

A delayed answer :-( With the link to breakfast I wanted to point to:
"Porridge is known in North America as oatmeal. To a Briton, eating oatmeal would mean eating the uncooked raw ingredient."

Peter Schmitt 00:04, 8 October 2009 (UTC)

lemme (caution) remind you about remand

I think that only my good friends the Brits use "remand" to mean "we'll send you back to jail (gaol) for 15 days while the tweedy inspector continues his inquiries." It is NOT, I gather, the same as "to sentence," ie, "I sentence you to three years in gaol." I don't *believe* that 'Merkins use "remand" this way; a judge here would say, "I'm returning you to jail for 15 days while we wait for the municipal torturer to show up to work." Hayford Peirce 03:36, 6 November 2009 (UTC)

Quite so. So do Americans use 'remand' at all? When I was a kid, people were always being 'remanded in custardy', which sounded very messy. Ro Thorpe 15:29, 6 November 2009 (UTC)
Have any of you people ever tried looking up merkin in a good dictionary? Peter Jackson 16:03, 6 November 2009 (UTC)
Quite so, my dear chap, I too grew up thinking that "remanded-in-custody" was one word, hehe. As to "merkin", A.) That's how Lyndon B. Johnson used to address "My fellow 'Merkins"; and B.) That's the name of the Peter Sellars presidential character in "Dr. Strangelove", Merkin Muffley. Look up Muffley -- it means the same as Merkin. I think that the manufacturers of them have gone the way of the buggy-whip manufacturers, however.... Hayford Peirce 16:59, 6 November 2009 (UTC)
Where does Muffley mean the same as Merkin? Ro Thorpe 00:06, 7 November 2009 (UTC)
I wuz wrong -- that was something that I read *years* ago, and I never bothered to check it. Just did, with the complete OED -- says "muffley" is an old variant of "muffler": no sexual connotations over 500 years for "muffler". I guess that because "muff", at least in Merkin English, can mean a lady's pubic hair, whoever wrote the script for "Dr. Strangelove" (Terry Southern?) conflated the two. And a Website I just checked said that the "Muffley" in this case suggested that President Peter Sellars was a "pussy".... Hayford Peirce 03:41, 7 November 2009 (UTC)
Are you thinking of Mrs Slocombe's cat? Howard C. Berkowitz 04:12, 7 November 2009 (UTC)
For the non-native speakers reading this discussion:
merkin/'mə:rkɪn/ noun an artificial covering of hair for the pubic area.
muffley/ no entry
muff/noun/ 2 vulgar slang a woman's genitals
Source: Oxford New Dictionary of English (1998). --Paul Wormer 09:49, 7 November 2009 (UTC)

To return to the original topic, you can be remanded on bail instead of in custody. Peter Jackson 11:45, 13 November 2009 (UTC)


My Collins dictionary claims: trapezoid (a bone in the wrist) = U.S. trapezium. Peter Schmitt 20:50, 19 November 2009 (UTC)

Oxford: trapezium, gb, 4 sides, 2 parallel, us = trapezoid. trapezoid, gb, 4 sides, 0 parallel, us = trapezium. then look in wikipedia, bones, eureka...and get REALLY confused... Ro Thorpe 21:52, 19 November 2009 (UTC)
I was careless and only read "trapezoid U.S. trapezium". A more careful look showed that there are two different bones but - what is really weird - that the geometrical meaning is said to be exchanged in BE and AE.
[Collins 1979]
trapezium 1. Chiefly Brit. quadrilateral having to parallel sides of unequal length
             Usual U.S. name: trapezoid
          2. Now chiefly U.S. a quadrilateral having neither pair of two sides parallel
          3. a small bone of the wrist near the base of the thumb
trapezoid 1. a quadrilateral having neither pair of two sides parallel
          2. the usual U.S. name for trapezium
          3. a small bone of the wrist near the base of the index finger
My older English-German, German-English dictionary is rather imprecise:
[Cassels 12th edition 1968, printed 1976]
Trapez     trapezoid, trapezium (math)
Trapezoid  quadrilateral (geom)
trapezium  Trapez
trapezoid  Trapezoid
By the way, what is more common -- quadrilateral or quadrangle?
Peter Schmitt 11:42, 20 November 2009 (UTC)
The normal mathematical usage is quadrilateral, unless you want to stress that you're looking at things from the point of view of angles rather than sides. A quadrangle usually means a courtyard. Peter Jackson 14:31, 20 November 2009 (UTC)

Request for translation

What's American for 'Act of Parliament'? Congressional Act? Sounds too sexy. Ro Thorpe 01:11, 24 November 2009 (UTC)

Act of Congress, as far as I know. Just did a Bing on "by act of congress" and got 54,400,000 hits, hehe, so I assume that that's the actual case.... Hayford Peirce 01:50, 24 November 2009 (UTC)

Gee, thanks, Officer Peirce. I thought of it as soon as I'd typed those tildoes... Ro Thorpe 01:56, 24 November 2009 (UTC)

Formally, once the Congress passes it, it is a Public Law, numbered for the particular session that passes it. For retrieval purposes, it then becomes a section of United States Code. There are other terms for things that have only passed the Senate or the House; I won't get into specialized things such as Continuing Resolutions. Howard C. Berkowitz 23:21, 15 June 2010 (UTC)

font vs. fount

My Collins says: font (mainly US), other word for fount. Can you confirm this? Peter Schmitt 15:58, 10 December 2009 (UTC)


I recently discovered that the US use completely different names for their notes. Here is a wiki table that outlines the whole set of differences. Chris Day 17:55, 9 February 2010 (UTC)

How strange that the American ones actually make a lot more sense than the incomprehensible British ones. I wonder if the Brit ones weren't put there by a typical WP vandal? Hayford Peirce 18:11, 9 February 2010 (UTC)
So you have never heard of a crotchets, minims and quavers? Chris Day 18:14, 9 February 2010 (UTC)
My apologies Ro, I just discovered there is a section on Musical notes. I only looked through the table. Chris Day 18:23, 9 February 2010 (UTC)


The idea that one way round is exclusively British and the other is exclusively American is recent and untrue (or am I wrong?), although there are some powerful people who, it seems, would like us to believe in the distinction. Ro Thorpe 22:31, 2 March 2010 (UTC)

DD/MM/YYYY system is used in Australia and New Zealand, so it's not just the British that use it. Meg Ireland 22:34, 2 March 2010 (UTC)
Dunno, Ro. I always thought it was more a matter of Style Manuals than of strictly national standards. Although I'm sure that our pal Napoleon the Disentimed ( probably imposed a standard system across Europe when he wasn't busy breaking eggs to make omelets or inventing the indoor flush toilet and Champagne.... Hayford Peirce 22:59, 2 March 2010 (UTC)
I think some British newspapers write mdy. Peter Jackson 17:42, 19 August 2010 (UTC)

Disc and disk

Should these be included? My assumption as a BrEng speaker was that 'disk' is for magnetic storage media and 'disc' is for everything else, including optical media. I get the impression that 'disk' is more widespread in American English, though. By the way, we now have an article called Digital versatile disk. John Stephenson 04:00, 4 March 2010 (UTC)

Yes, 'disk' always felt American to me, but apparently it is more complicated than that. Wiktionary has an interesting entry. Ro Thorpe 20:00, 4 March 2010 (UTC)
I think "compact disc" must be a registered trade mark. Have a look at the logo on the casing of one. Peter Jackson 17:41, 19 August 2010 (UTC)

Skive and slack off

Like this better; I don't think there's a term "skive" in American English, but it's there in skive. It's also a verb I think, skivving. Cool word. Also I didn't check if it's there, but "pissed" in Australian English I think means drunk, while "pissed" in American English means angry like pissed off. Also I didn't check but the word "buggered" -- I think I heard Hugh Grant saying this in a movie, but I don't know what it meant.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 01:19, 6 April 2010 (UTC)

Literally it means 'sodomised' but it's used like this: 'buggered if I know', meaning 'I haven't a clue', or 'well, I'll be buggered', meaning, 'I'm very surprised'. Both that & 'pissed' are slang, of course, and I think it was agreed to leave slang out of this section. However, elsewhere... Ro Thorpe 18:16, 6 April 2010 (UTC)
Just FYI, all these are Commonwealth English in general, Tom, not just Australian, but as Ro says, all are slang. Aleta Curry 22:46, 15 June 2010 (UTC)

Bringing up children, as opposed to food

Americans both raise and bring up children. (Bringing up Baby, Buddy, Buster, etc.) Probably the edge goes to 'raise' in speech, though this may be regional. I changed. Aleta Curry 22:46, 15 June 2010 (UTC)


(BE) ... and crawfish (AE)? --Peter Schmitt 16:27, 19 July 2010 (UTC)

Or crawdad (Louisiana English). Howard C. Berkowitz 16:28, 19 July 2010 (UTC)
Total confusion about crayfish and crawfish, Peter, they're basically interchangeable, at least in the States. In Loo-zee-anna, where they come from, they're 99% crawfish, with some crawdads thrown in, along with some "mud bugs".... Hayford Peirce 16:44, 19 July 2010 (UTC)

Grain-ularity of spelt??

Is spelt wheat spelt as such in Britain, or do you bake with spelled? Howard C. Berkowitz

No worries mate

I heard this phrase in New Zealand a lot; is it big in Britain too? It means (I think) don't worry about it, no big woof, etc.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 23:32, 10 September 2010 (UTC)

No, it's not common here. Yet. It's standard Australian. Peter Jackson 10:34, 25 September 2010 (UTC)
Other kiwi speak. "Flat white" = type of coffee. "motorway" = US "highway" or "thruway" or "tollroad" or "interstate". When roads are icy, they're called (in NZ) "frosty". "Bars" (US) are called "pubs". Lawyers are called barristers or solicitors. I believe the traffic circles (US) are called roundabouts. --Thomas Wright Sulcer 18:51, 25 September 2010 (UTC)
Roundabouts, barristers, solicitors (and lawyers), pubs, motorway are all standard British. Frosty, too, though usually figurative, a frosty reception. Ro Thorpe 19:41, 25 September 2010 (UTC)
Roundabouts are called traffic circles too. Both words could be used to describe the same thing. We have parkways, freeways and highways. Mary Ash 02:37, 26 September 2010 (UTC)
We also have driveways. One parks in a driveway and drives in a parkway. In New England, one also has rotaries, which have slightly different rules then traffic circles; my terror at roundabouts was such that I really can't say if a rotary and roundabout are close, just with different directions of rotation. Howard C. Berkowitz 04:01, 26 September 2010 (UTC)
Buildings should really be called builts. I'm emailing Webster about this.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 15:45, 26 September 2010 (UTC)