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British children 'turn to American English'


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British children are increasingly using American English in their writing, according to a report based on entries to a BBC short story competition.

Oxford University Press studied around 74,000 entries for Radio 2's 500 Words contest.

Americanisms such as cupcake, garbage truck, trash can, candy, sidewalk and soda were found in many of the entries. Famous people such as Justin Bieber, Prince Willam and Radio 2's Chris Evans made repeated appearances. Children's writer Dame Jacqueline Wilson, singer Jessie J and the footballers Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney also featured prominently.

Books proved to be a big influence on participants. Many stories included mythical creatures such as the basilisk and hippogriff (recently popularised by JK Rowling's Harry Potter books), JRR Tolkien's orcs and Lewis Carroll's bandersnatch.

Technology also had a big influence, with popular words including Google and app (short for application).

So-called "text speak" only featured when the story included an imagined text message, demonstrating that children are aware when it is not appropriate to use it.

Doors, the most used common noun, was included 67,783 times, while the most common names used in the stories were Lucy and Jack.

Read the entire article

It seems American is winning the last battle... Shakespeare will soon be turning in his grave, not to mention a vast gaggle of other authors, poets and assorted worthies. :alien[1]:

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The language is merging back together, borrowing from everywhere English is now native.

Over here, we're seeing British and Australian/New Zealander words entering the vocabulary through audio and video, books and the internet. Every day now, I see both US and UK spelling, any time I turn on my computer.

But we're about overdue for a language change anyway. I don't think Shakespeare or King James or Queen Elizabeth I would recognize either UK or US English modern pronunciations or usage. They could read most of what we write and they'd hear either side of the pond as a strange dialect. We'd hear them as a strange dialect too. (Linguists have questions about their vowels and some of the consonants, for instance.)

That article: Well, first, modern communications and technology are putting new words into the vocabulary on both sides of the pond. Er, three sides?

Aside: If Brits don't call them sodas, what do they call them? Soft drinks? Seltzers?

Both sides are re-borrowing vocabulary, either formal or slang, as we have more everyday contact. Americans don't use British slang much, but we are aware of some of it and becoming aware of more. I have a feeling that in another fifty to a hundred years or so, the spelling divide may solve itself. The standard spoken dialect may start to merge too, but that'll be slower.

Some things in that article aren't British versus American usage, but simply current events and pop culture. Americans listen to British music and television and films and British folks listen to ours; likewise with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

But the thing that really puzzles me is about the basilisks and hippogriffs. Those are English and European medieval mythical beasts to begin with. They've existed in fantasy and historical fiction ever since. Their appearance in the Harry Potter books are from the UK from J.K. Rowling, couldn't be more Great Britain, Scotland, and Wales if you tried. Yes, Harry Potter and fantasy and science fiction are very popular over here too. But no one would claim that a basilisk or a hippogriff or a dragon are American. The article's covering usage overall, not just American incursion into British usage. It'd be good if that writer did a companion piece on British words entering American usage.

I'm fairly well aware of the common spelling differences and much of the grammatical variances. When I've edited before for Aussies like Graeme or DesDownUnder, I've asked if I didn't know a slang term or a common phrase, and I managed to surprise Graeme once with an Americanism he didn't recognize.

(Apparently, "to root" has a very different (and sexual) connotation in Australia, where in America, it's common to root for the home team.) (I dropped my teeth, like most Americans, the first time I learned that the British word "fanny" is *very* different from the American word "fanny." Thinking about just how or why that word would've changed meaning between the two was...very odd indeed.)

I'm looking forward to the next series of Doctor Who, for instance, and still have hopes for Primeval. At some point, I'll sit down and catch up on Being Human and Sherlock. (I haven't seen Sherlock yet.)

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The French probably look at them funny when they throw in the French too; perhaps even funnier, depending on where they grab before throwing.... "Oh-là-là, mon cheri, encore!"

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Yup, we do like wearing our toques on a cold winter's day to go into Timmy's for an extra large double-double, then we wipe our mouths afterwards with a serviette and go out for a game of shinny afterwards.

Now to translate in American English.

Yup, we do like wearing our winter hats on a cold winter's day to go into Tim Horton's for an extra large double-double, then we wipe our mouths afterwards with a napkin and go out for a game of pick up hockey afterwards.

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Aside: If Brits don't call them sodas, what do they call them? Soft drinks? Seltzers?

This is actually quite interesting, the different names for soft drinks in different parts of the world. Here, we mostly call it "pop." Just in North America alone, it's called "soda," "coke," "pop," or any number of other things. Here's a US graphic of some of the regional varieties of the name for soft drinks:


Now to translate in American English.

Yup, we do like wearing our winter hats on a cold winter's day to go into Tim Horton's for an extra large double-double, then we wipe our mouths afterwards with a napkin and go out for a game of pick up hockey afterwards.

Well done! Except a better translation of "extra large double-double" is a ridiculously large amount of coffee with two creams and two sugars.

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Even worse, they've recently changed the sizes. Now an extra large is even bigger. It's a bit awe inspiring actually, to see that much caffiene contained in one cardboard cup. Tim Horton's coffee is a strange beast. Strictly speaking, it's actually not all that wonderful, as coffee goes. But, somehow, it's amazingly addictive, like crack. It's hard to figure, but they're doing something right. The long line-ups every morning at every Timmy's drive-through are proof of that. And as anyone who's been to Canada knows, that's roughly on the corner every two or three blocks of every city and town in the country.

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We. our family, tend to drink a boatload of coffee... throughout the day. Funny, here we call soft drinks either "Coke" or "Cold Drink".

I started out on the other side of the pond, not in the UK, but have almost forgotten half my birth language in four years.

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Yup, I've tried to make sense of Cajun French, but often it's too changed for me to get it. What I learned was standard French, and not Québecois either, but French French.

Paul, are you French originally? :)

I'm Texan, so a "Coke" is any soda. It's only recently in the big cities, with constant influx of people from anywhere in the country, that I hear "soda" more often. Yes, this means that the waitress may ask you what kind of Coke you want, and she doesn't just mean Classic, Zero, Cherry, or Vanilla. Note also to out-of-state and international folks: If you order "tea," you will get iced tea. Specify hot tea if you want that. Further, in big cities in the South and Southwest, you'll have a choice of unsweetened or sweet tea, but in most small town restaurants besides the big chains, you're likely to get sweet tea (again, iced tea) by default, so ask for unsweetened. Though these days, diet and diabetes consciousness are changing that. Personal experience: In small towns in Texas, your best bet is often chicken fried steak, if you can't tell the food quality right away. In small towns in Louisiana, your best bet is often seafood like fresh catfish, and you are likely to leave full and satisfied.

Where my dad's from, Virginia and around there, Kentucky and Tennessee, you can ask for a Coke, but if you don't specifically want a Coke, you may need to ask for a soda or a pop. Depending on where you are, though, "pop" or "soda" might sound "Yankee" (Northern) to the locals.

And given that I've edited for Graeme and Des both, and know a few other Aussies and Kiwis, I'm mystified why I'm not sure what the usual word is for a soda pop / soft drink / ahem, carbonated beverage.

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French spelling is so strange because it retains so much from the past, so it's not surprising anyone would have trouble with it. Some of the oddities of English spelling are holdovers from the Norman French period of Middle English.

My knowledge of French is mostly from the classroom, high school and college, so when I try to follow movies and songs, I often find myself reading the subtitles, which is very hard. I'd rather concentrate on the French. At least I can think in French without always having to translate back and forth.

Salut encore et bienvenu!

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I'm Texan, so a "Coke" is any soda.

That was also the way it was where I grew up, in Central Florida. The street dialect would usually be, "gimme an RC Coke-Cola and a moom' pie."

Literally, a waitress would ask, "do you want a Coke? What kind?" And they wouldn't bat an eye if you wanted Sprite or root beer or something.

"Pop" was definitely a northern thing. I never, ever heard that in Florida or California. Soda... once in a blue moon.

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American English is fraught with danger for those who speak another language. I have sympathy for those of Spanish origin who are faced with learning English and find it difficult, America is now filled with people struggling to make themselves heard.

A fine example of that would be the lady I saw yesterday at the post office who could speak not a word of English and had to rely on her six year old daughter for communication. But even that young girl had to struggle in the translation since I am sure all words in English do not make the leap into Spanish.

I studied French in grammar school, but that was overseas in Asia and I was taught by French Canadian Catholic brothers. Our English lessons were of British origin so when at age 12 I returned to the US of A there was a lot of catching up to do. I missed out on the 1950's American style and some of you will understand that language was evolving at that point, at least among the youth.

Even now I find myself puzzled by certain words in English. I can see where French influence came sneaking in the back door with the use of gender identity of words. Why should an object be male or female? Quite frankly, who gives a damn? But in English we have blond for the male usage and blonde for the female...why?...anyone? To me the term blond or blonde describes coloring. We don't have black and blacke, do we? If a man's hair is auburn shouldn't a woman's hair be auburne? The pitfalls of language....watch out for that hole...

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Simple reason: Both "blond(e)" and "brunet(te)" were loanwords borrowed into English sometime in the 1600's or 1700's. English kept the French grammatical forms, and then it became tradition. In the 1950's, they were still very strict about making the spelling agree with the gender of the person whose hair it was.

OK, you say, but why? And what forms? And why adjectives? And what...? OK, OK, wait a minute, I'll get there. :)

English used to have its adjectives agree in grammatical form with the gender and number of the noun, just like its Germanic cousins and Latin distant cousins like French still do. But English dropped that late during the Middle English period (after Chaucer and before KJV and Shakespeare). -- So why spell blond and brunet differently, like the French do?

Two reasons: One, at the time blond and brunet entered English, French was the big international European language for literature and science and diplomacy. So if you were educated, it was important for your English and French to be proper, even though spelling wasn't quite standard yet. French final E wasn't quite silent yet, either. The second reason was because blond and brunet could serve as adjectives (He has blond hair.) versus nouns (He is a blond.). English nouns still change form for number (and case) so you could have a blond or a brunet, some blonds or brunets, and the ladies thought it was très chic et à la mode (no, not with ice cream) to be blondes and brunettes, and the guys chased girls of whichever hair color they liked, so they wanted a cute blonde or brunette (or several?) too. That is, when they were the kind of guys who chased girls instead of guys. ;)

blond, brunet - one male;

blonde, brunette - one female;

blonds, brunets - several males or mixed males and females;

blondes, brunettes - several females;

It's only since around the 1950's that that has started to blur. English nouns change form for number (one dog, two dogs) and case (one dog's, two dogs') but not gender, and very few English nouns have any inherent gender if they aren't animate, living creatures. So the -e and -te are probably doomed in English.

Oh, and no, I don't know why they didn't borrow rousse, rousses for redheads, auburn hair, or strawberry blonds. They just didn't. Call it inconsistent or unfair or not as popular, but it didn't happen.

We still say people have brown or black hair, or sable (another loan but not French) or raven-haired or chestnut (very English) or a few others.

So what did people call blond hair before "blond" was borrowed? Simple: You were one of the following: fair-haired, tow-headed (white-blond), flaxen-haired (like linen), or if they were really into you, you might be golden or honey haired. If your hair was really light, you might even be silver or platinum haired, but silver haired usually meant you'd gone grey.

There was one other thing to note. Back in medieval times, it was popular to be fair-haired, of course. But -- There were two ways it might work against you. If you were fair-haired but looked or acted weird, you just might be one of the fair folk, and that might or might not be good. If you were the kind whose hair changed from blond to brown with the seasons (sun-bleached) or when you grew up (puberty, oh boy) then you just might be a changeling, one of the fair folk exchanged for a human baby, and that was really suspicious.

Just be glad you don't have to worry whether you have a silent or voiced E at the end of your adjectives in English now, like they did in Chaucer's day.

No, it still doesn't make much sense why we kept the separate male and female forms for blonde and brunette, but we did.

Me? I'm a blond, not a blonde. At least I'm not a beige. But at least with beige, you don't have separate male and female forms. If something is beige in French, it's always beige, unless they are beiges!

And now it should make perfect sense, right? Surrrre!

No. I don't know what anybody had against gingers, redheads, auburn-haired, strawberry-blonds, those folks. :: shrugs :: Red was popular, despite the old wives' tale about tempers.

Silly, isn't it?

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Language is an evolving thing. I suspect though a lot of English kids are using computers with the spellchecker set to American English as many computer programs default to that.

Around my way, we generally say 'pop' but you'll find them referred to as 'soft drinks' on menus etc. I've never heard the word 'coke' applied to anything but a coke type drink and were you to request it and then get lemonade (the fizzy sort) you'd be most surprised.

The spelling of the word 'program/programme' is interesting. Quite a few English people, including myself will refer to a computer program, and a television programme. However, had we asked a teacher 40 years ago, the answer would have been, 'it's programme in English, the spelling without the second 'm' and 'e' is American. And from a etymological point of view, not that logical either since one could argue, the computer program was invented by a English lady, Ada Lovelace.

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Why should an object be male or female? Quite frankly, who gives a damn? But in English we have blond for the male usage and blonde for the female...why?...anyone? To me the term blond or blonde describes coloring.

Actually, if I can be pedantic for a moment, blond and blonde both have adjectival and nominitive uses. When used as nouns, they don't describe coloring as much as they identify a male or a female who has yellow hair. Blond, used as an adjective, can be used to describe a woman's or a man's hair color. Blonde, used adjectivally, is usually restrained to describing the color of a woman's hair.


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A person with a typical full blond head of hair will have about 120,000 hairs on their head; brunets and brunettes average about 100,000 hairs on their heads while red heads and redde heads generally only average around 80,000 hairs.

Old guys have about ten.

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I'm just glad not to be the poor schmuck who had to count all that hair and estimate the total amount of hair.

Now I find myself more than vaguely disturbed at the mention of hair and drinks.

Also, I'm trying to get that blasted "my milkshake" song out of my head. Yikes!

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