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Monday, September 24, 2012

It's Tough to Get a Brit to Speak American

When I was in the UK, I quickly learned to say "loo" or "gents" instead of "bathroom," "skip" instead of "dumpster," "lift" instead of "elevator," "shop" instead of "store," and even learned to ask for tomAHtoes on my sandwich instead of tomAYtoes.

But I was just trying to convince a British professor who has been lecturing in the US for many years that designating "grain" as "corn" when lecturing to an American audience was not a good idea, since Americans would almost all interpret "corn" as meaning "maize," and would think that the, say, ancient Romans had lots of maize kicking around. He wasn't buying it: apparently all English speakers can speak British, but Americans insist on using their silly "Americanisms" despite understanding proper English quite well. A colleague of mine reported something similar: a British colleague who insisted on talking about uRYEnals despite having been in the US for 25 years.

I don't think they've quite accepted the result of that little contretemps in 1776 quite yet.

8 comments:

  1. Somewhat along a similar vein...

    Have you ever wondered why we pronounce 'drawer' the way we do?

    Think about it a second...

    Seems to me that if we were talking about 'someone who draws,' ('He was the drawer of that picture,' or whatever...) we would say it a completely different way than when we are talking about it as a piece of furniture ('droor').

    I think maybe we preserved this bit of British accent on this particular word, for some reason. That just struck me one day as I was saying it.

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  2. I'm sure that you've also heard a Brit try to do an American accent (actors aside). They all do it in a weird John Wayne, cowboy style. It's funny.

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    1. I hope you realise that Americans invariably sound like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins when they attempt an English accent.

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  3. I thought that you didn't approve of that little contretempt in 1776...

    Senyor

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  4. I thought that you didn't approve of that little contretempt in 1776...

    Senyor

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    1. That is correct.

      But I acknowledge the result.

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  5. 'I quickly learned to say "loo" or "gents" instead of "bathroom,"'

    That's funny, I generally say bathroom.

    I'm a bit surprised that Americans don't recognize "corn" as a word for wheat or grain. When I've been to the US the tins of sweetcorn all say sweetcorn on them, not just corn. Anyway, something to remember when talking about "corn economies".

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    1. "That's funny, I generally say bathroom."

      OK, but I almost never heard that term used.

      "I'm a bit surprised that Americans don't recognize "corn" as a word for wheat or grain."

      Why? Brits don't (generally) recognize "rubber" as a word for condom. There must be hundreds of such words, with different meanings between the two countries.

      "When I've been to the US the tins of sweetcorn all say sweetcorn on them, not just corn."

      Over here, that would be "cans." But in any case, no they don't -- I just searched for images, so I know I am right here. But furthermore, you have parsed this wrongly: those that do say that say "sweet corn," not "sweetcorn": it is an adjective modifying "corn," and not the name of the thing.

      I guarantee that no restaurant in America advertises "corn" on the menu and then serves barley or oats.

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