Just Frances

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Separated by a common language

This entry was posted on Monday, March 4th, 2013 by Frances Ryan.
Tags: writing, words, scotland, geek, expat, england, america

It’s National Grammar Day in America, when grammarians will march forth on March 4th to spread the good word. (That’s good word, not well word.) And as a lingual hobbyist, I couldn’t resist the urge to join in.

I’ve tackled the topic in the past by talking about breaking the rules, but this year I want to talk about the frustration of living with two sets of rules—some of which I break. I am, after all, living in the UK these days where I am constantly reminded that we are two nations separated by a common language.*

You see, American English and British English are very different. And that means that I have found myself constantly stressed out when deciding how to spell certain words—and, in fact, which words to use in the first instance.

But it’s not the obvious things you’d think of like adding a ‘U’ to words like colour, using an ‘S’ instead of a ‘Z’ in words like prioritise, or doubling my ‘L’s in words like travelling.

And it’s not things like using completely different words like pavement instead of sidewalk or silencer instead of muffler.

No, it’s those little things that people don’t know are different. Worse, some are things that I cringe when I see done wrong.

Example: Toward. Or, rather, towards. You see, in America it’s toward. No s. Never, ever, ever is there meant to be an s. But in the UK, there’s an s. But I’ve spent so many years being ‘anti-s’ that I now find it difficult to use the s.

A less frustrating example is math. Or as they say in the UK, maths.

It’s little things like verbs. Dreamed/dreamt, learned/learnt, and gotten/got. That last one gets me the most awkward looks.

And it’s things like punctuation use. Does the final punctuation go inside or outside of the quotation marks? And is that a single or double quotation mark?

Oh yes, the list goes on and on. And that’s before I even start in on the regional differences between Scotland and England!

But, I seem to be succeeding in communicating with the natives—despite my vulgar American English. The more difficult challenge now tends to be speaking with Americans when I’m in the States visiting because people think I’m faking an accent. But that’s a rant for another day ...

And if reading about grammar wasn’t enough for you, you can re-read my National Punctuation Day posts about punctuation in general or my attempt at making a case for the interrobang.

*The quote I allude to is actually a mis-quote. Still, it’s a good one.

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