âThe British and the Americans are two great peoples divided by a common language. “- Attributed to George Bernard Shaw
The above quote may be “completely wrong in fact,” Christian Science Monitor reporter Mallory Browne wrote in 1942, “but so much closer to the truth than mere factual statements ever are.”
I agree – sort of. For one thing, anyone with a good command of American English could travel to England and have virtually no problem communicating with the locals. On the other hand, one could, at times, be easily convinced that these people speak an entirely different language.
Why? Well first, there are their spelling rules. You know, the ones who turn a perfectly good word like “flavor” to “flavor” or “color” to “color”. (Interestingly, the English spelling of sports equipment brand Under Armor is acceptable in both countries.)
I’ll let the English pass the difference “meter” versus “meter”, since that’s basically the name of their unit of measurement, but do they have to sit in the middle section of the theater?
OK, I realize (or does it “realize”?) “Slaughter”, “acre”, “mediocre” and “ogre”.
Unfortunately, we can also agree on âdialogueâ and âprologueâ, but the question then is why did the Americans have the sense to change âcatalogâ to âcatalogâ? (Perhaps they were on momentary momentum after abandoning the British ‘maneuver’ and ‘adviser’?)
But these strange spellings (for us) are just the beginning of the differences between the two dialects. Let me tell you (and translate) the recent experiences of my German friend Claus, as he recently told me after an extended stay in London with the family.
As he opened his last tin of beans for supper, he heard his little girl cry in her crib. After putting a pacifier in her mouth to calm her down, Claus discovered that her diaper was in dire need of a change.
Throwing the full in the trash can (trash can), he realized that there was none left in the house and rushed to the bathroom to retrieve a flannel (washcloth) to use as substitute while on their way to the store.
Already in his dressing gown (bathrobe) for the evening, Claus went to his wardrobe (closet) and dug up his pants (underwear) and pants (pants), not forgetting to tie his suspenders (suspenders) for maintain his pants. . . uh. . . pants. After finding his waistcoat (jersey) and waistcoat (waistcoat), he searches for his shoes.
His sneakers (canvas sneakers) were still wet from the start, so Claus decided to forgo his sneakers (running shoes) and wear his rubber boots (rubber boots).
He loaded his daughter into her pram (stroller), grabbed her umbrella (umbrella) and took the elevator (lift) to the ground floor (first floor) of his apartment (apartment) on the first floor ( second floor). As his car was still in the body shop with a broken wing (wing), he headed straight for the metro (metro). On the way, he was almost hit by the driver of a truck (truck), who had driven on the road (sidewalk).
Upon arriving at the store, he grabbed a shopping cart (cart) and bought diapers with crisps (crisps) and biscuits (cookies) for later.
On the way back to the metro (another name for the metro), they were almost run over in the zebra crossing (pedestrian crossing) by a driver who did not slow down for the sleeping policeman (speed bumps).
The couple continued beyond the license (liquor store) but stopped to take out (take out) a burger and fries (fries) as their beans were cold when they got home period. final (period).
Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and word lover whose works include “LL Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine”.