• 10th October, 2012

Confused? Blame Noah Webster…

Does that name mean anything to you? Have you ever heard of An American Dictionary of the English Language? This dictionary is the main reason for the language differences in British English and American English. Comprising over twenty years of work, this dictionary by the American born Webster, was published. The author believed it was important for America, a new and revolutionary nation, to assert its cultural independence from Britain through language.  The book contained 70,000 words of which more than 12,000 had never appeared in a dictionary before.

So, where did these words come from? Webster had learnt over 27 different languages and decided to “borrow” words from Native American: racoon or wigwam; Dutch: cookies or stoop; French: levee or prairie, and Spanish Mexican: lasso or rodeo. As for the English words, the English explorers in America at the time only spoke a handful of English dialects compared to the large number spoken across the UK at the time; so really, it is easy to see how American English would bear great differences to British English.

English grammar, pronunciation, punctuation and in some cases meaning were all affected, but let’s take a look at vocabulary.

In BrE we say jam, tap and lift, whereas in AmE they say jelly, faucet and elevator. Also pavement, boot and rubber are sidewalk, trunk and eraser. You might be slightly embarrassed asking your American counterpart for a rubber, as this word is indeed used but actually means condom!

The list goes on: (BrEAmE) bracessuspenders; trouserspants; lorrytruck; sweetscandy; torchflashlight, plaster band-aid

So, which one is right? Unfortunately there is no answer to this question! Across the old commonwealth countries British English is prevalent yet in Canada they tend to “swing” from one dictionary to the other. Basically if you are a native English speaker then think yourself lucky because if you are learning English, you have your work cut out for you!

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