English English and American English: The Highs and Lows

George Bernard Shaw is reported to have said, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”

That’s a nice witticism, although I don’t think it’s true. I believe the common language of the Anglosphere (Britain, Canada, Australia, the United States, and to a lesser extent, Hong Kong, Singapore, India) has been a great cohesive force. And the common institutions are probably just as important. 

You’re unlikely to find a more avid Anglophile than me. I have …

  1. Leigh
    tabula rasa:

    I’m generally fine with English grammar, except that the English propensity to put the quotation mark inside the period will never look right to me. 

    I’m going to have to disagree with this one.  I object strongly to putting punctuation inside quotation marks that wasn’t in the original quote.  That period belongs to my sentence, not to whatever you just said.  I wince every time I do it.

  2. Schrodinger

    I like the sound of the language. Give me a Scot or Irish brogue, an Australian “No worries”, a Cockney ‘ello, or a Cambridge “I say”.

    Better than Shakespeare!

    I am also partial to a Southern drawl.

    (Must be my Midwestern upbringing and my English-Scot-Welsh heritage)

  3. Antiphon

    To Mr. Shaw I would say, as the English do, “rubbish”.

  4. doc molloy

    Schrodinger’s Cat

    I like the sound of the language. Give me a Scot or Irish brogue, an Australian “No worries”

    “No worries” can also be used in the more explicit but less vulgar expression “no wuckin’ furries.” Australians do have a way with words.. May have something to do with living on an island continent.. a sort of Galapagos Island for language.

  5. Nanda Panjandrum

    I enjoy nationalisms and regionalisms of all kinds/sorts…(except when I’m on a customer service line – probably in Asia somewhere <grin>.)

  6. Innocent Smith

    I’m not sure what I think about using their aluminium foil…

  7. tabula rasa
    Leigh

    tabula rasa:

    I’m generally fine with English grammar, except that the English propensity to put the quotation mark inside the period will never look right to me. 

    I’m going to have to disagree with this one.  I object strongly to putting punctuation inside quotation marks that wasn’t in the original quote.  That period belongs to my sentence, not to whatever you just said.  I wince every time I do it. · 1 hour ago

    I can’t argue the logic–it just looks so wrong to me.

  8. Franco

    “Knock me up in the morning” has a nice ring to the American ear.

    What doesn’t sound so nice, “Smoke a fag”

  9. John Walker
    tabula rasa:

    …the English propensity to put the quotation mark inside the period will never look right to me.

    And why the heck can’t Mr and Mrs have a period (Mr. and Mrs.)?

    The logic behind the international English spelling (as we grandiosely call it, “imperial” having fallen out of fashion), is that you only use a period to indicate letters omitted at the end of an abbreviation.  Since “Mister” has the letters dropped in the middle, one writes “Mr”, as opposed to the American “Mr.”.  The same rule applies to other abbreviations such as “Mt” for “Mount”.

    I would argue that the international English convention for placement of the quotation mark is not just a socially constructed symmetry breaking (like which side of the road you drive on), but the best choice.

    His hand twitched toward his gun.  I said, “Go ahead; make my day”.

    The quoted statement is within its enclosing sentence.  I’d argue it makes no sense to move the closing quote outside the period.  As a computer programmer, I could argue for closing it with period, close quote, period, but that would be too fussy.

  10. tabula rasa
    Ryan M: I’m not sure what I think about using their aluminium foil… · 24 minutes ago

    Good point.  The difference between the American and English pronunciation of that word is jarring.  I know the English make it work phonetically, but it sounds so wrong.

  11. John Walker
    tabula rasa

    Ryan M: I’m not sure what I think about using their aluminium foil… · 24 minutes ago

    Good point.  The difference between the American and English pronunciation of that word is jarring.  I know the English make it work phonetically, but it sounds so wrong.

    Lithium, Beryllium, Sodium, Magnesium: what’s so wrong about Aluminium?  It’s a light metal!  (Yes, “Helium” is very wrong, but when it was discovered in the solar spectrum nobody knew it was a noble gas—in retrospect we’d probably have called it “Helion”.)

  12. James Of England
    Leigh

    tabula rasa:

    I’m generally fine with English grammar, except that the English propensity to put the quotation mark inside the period will never look right to me. 

    I’m going to have to disagree with this one.  I object strongly to putting punctuation inside quotation marks that wasn’t in the original quote.  That period belongs tomy sentence, not to whatever you just said.  I wince every time I do it. ·

    Yeah. In general, I prefer American English, but the rule that the inside of the quote is the quote, and the outside is the author’s context for the quote seems like an insurmountably sensible one. Even if the alternative scanned more easily (and it doesn’t for me), the loss in clarity would seem to outweigh the aesthetic gain. I’d attribute this to my background in law and theology but I recognize that I’m disagreeing with someone who has put far more thought into both subjects than I have.

  13. Richard Fulmer

     A story from WWII had it that the Allied generals were engaged in a long argument over some decision and finally agreed to table the discussion.  The Americans proceeded on to the next topic, surprising the Brits to whom “table” meant to bring to an immediate vote.  Fortunately, hostilities did not break out.

  14. Frightened American
    Leigh

    tabula rasa:

    I’m generally fine with English grammar, except that the English propensity to put the quotation mark inside the period will never look right to me. 

    I’m going to have to disagree with this one.  I object strongly to putting punctuation inside quotation marks that wasn’t in the original quote.  That period belongs to my sentence, not to whatever you just said.  I wince every time I do it. · 12 hours ago

    Especially if my sentence is a question, not the quote.

  15. TheRoyalFamily
    tabula rasa

    Leigh

    tabula rasa:

    I’m generally fine with English grammar, except that the English propensity to put the quotation mark inside the period will never look right to me. 

    I’m going to have to disagree with this one.  I object strongly to putting punctuation inside quotation marks that wasn’t in the original quote.  That period belongs to my sentence, not to whatever you just said.  I wince every time I do it. · 1 hour ago

    I can’t argue the logic–it just looks so wrong to me.

    I suspect – with absolutely no evidence – that the American way came about because of printing. In writing, you can write the quote marks directly above the period, no problem. Not so with type, and then you have a funny space with the punctuation outside the quote, because of the way the type is set up.

  16. Eeyore

    “Snog” seems entirely indelicate and unromantic.

  17. Simon Templar

    and torch beats flashlight hands down, but jumper?  Give me a break.

  18. James Of England
    Eeyore: “Snog” seems entirely indelicate and unromantic. · 22 minutes ago

    I believe that it is useful to have indelicate and unromantic terms for acts that can be indelicate and unromantic. Perhaps the delicate and romantic “make out” could be seen as more appropriate to marital affection, or to the more risque forms of pre-marital affection, but snog seems to fit just right for the more genteel activities in the sort of nightclubs that one does not attend if one fears violence or is snobby about looks.

  19. Zafar

    What James said. 

    Eeyore: “Snog” seems entirely indelicate and unromantic. · 33 minutes ago

    Think of it as onomatopoeia

  20. Matede

    It might be an irish thing but my family in Belfast says ‘People mover’ for a van. I prefer van but people mover is much more descriptive. Also hoovering as a verb, Hoover is a brand of vacuum and the Brits have turned the brand into a verb how is that for marketing.

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