Americanisms

In the words of Winston Churchill (or George Bernard Shaw or James Whistler or Oscar Wilde), Britain and America are “two nations divided by a single language”.

Quite a few of my pupils live outside the United Kingdom and/or go to foreign schools but are applying to English schools at 11+ or 13+ level.

One of the problems they face is the use of Americanisms.

There are a number of words that are spelled differently in American English, so you just have to watch out for them. English schools want pupils who are fluent in British English, not the American version – however similar it might be!

The first English dictionary was produced by Samuel Johnson, who published A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755.

However, after the War of Independence, Noah Webster was annoyed by all the ‘English’ textbooks in American schools and decided to try and prove that America had moved on from its colonial past by ‘simplifying’ English spelling and making it more consistent.

The result was A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1806, and then An American Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1828.

If you’re trying to learn English, that was an unfortunate decision!

However, there are a few typical changes that are easy enough to reverse.

  • -ize should be -ise, eg ‘realize’ should be ‘realise’ (but ‘capsize’ is the same in both).
  • -yze should be -yse, eg ‘analyze’ should be ‘analyse’.
  • -se should be -ce, eg ‘defense’ should be ‘defence’.
  • -l- should be -ll-, eg ‘traveled’ should be ‘travelled’.
  • -or should be -our, eg ‘color’ should be ‘colour’.
  • -er should be -re, eg ‘center’ should be ‘centre’ (but ‘thermometer’ is the same in both).
  • -e- should be -oe- or -ae-, eg ‘encyclopedia’ should be ‘encyclopaedia’, and ‘diarrhea’ should be ‘diarrhoea’.

Some of Webster’s alterations caught on in Britain, such as deleting the silent -k in words such as ‘publick’ or spelling ‘connexion’ as ‘connection’, but there were many others that didn’t even make it in the States – phew!

1. Cloke — cloak

2. Soop — soup

3. Masheen — machine

4. Tung — tongue

5. Greef — grief

6. Dawter — daughter

7. Korus — chorus

8. Nightmar — nightmare

9. Turnep — turnip

10. Iland — island

11. Porpess — porpoise

12. Steddy — steady

13. Hainous — heinous

14. Thum — thumb

15. Gillotin — guillotine

16. Spunge — sponge

17. Ake — ache

18. Wimmin — women

19. Determin — determine

20. Giv — give

21. Bilt — built

22. Beleev — believe

23. Grotesk — grotesque

24. Stile — style

25. Neer — near

26. Sley — sleigh

Leave a Reply