British VS American English: Why it’s important to be specific

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Communication is key to business success. But you already knew that. The real dilemma is how to customise communications to effectively impact your target audience. Can’t decide whether to use British English or American English? This blog will highlight the differences to help you make the right decision for your business.
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ENGLISH: WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO BE SPECIFIC

Who is your target audience? And what kind of English do they communicate with? These are the two questions you must answer before you and your company can begin to create effective content. The next step is to maintain consistent communications. Consistency is the key to clear communication with one’s target audience. This is also invaluable to networking and developing relationships. Describing your firm as an “organisation” when it’s an “organization” is a rookie mistake we can help you avoid if you keep reading.

When you break down the differences between British English and American English, you might be surprised by some of the variations. Many will seem incomprehensible to the non-native speaker. As an Irishman, I’m uniquely qualified to distil the differences into simple terms.

 

 

THE QUEEN’S ENGLISH VS SPELLING THE WAY YOU SPEAK

Think of British English as the Queen’s English—formal, proper, and influenced by French. American English is informal, more flexible, and full of shortcuts. Essentially, American English is written exactly as it is spoken. In contrast, written British English is a little more nuanced. Words like “organise” keep the “S” from the original French, rather than the more phonetic “organize” with a “Z”. The American English “Z” sounds like “Zee” when spoken, so it makes it easy to see why it’s preferred to the letter “S”. This should also explain all those advertisements for “World War Zee”.

Nobody really knows why it’s called a “movie” in the US and a “film” in the UK. Or why motion pictures are screened in a US “theater” (notice how the Americans swap the original French “re” for “theatre” here too) and a UK “cinema”. To be honest, either way, you’re unlikely to be misunderstood mixing up the examples thus far. We’ll talk about the words lost in translation that cause the most misunderstandings a little later.

Peculiarities specific to British English are the addition of extra letters to words. Don’t worry, there are not many, but a few tend to pop up again and again. “Color TV” or any kind of color without an added “U” to make it “colour” is a real pet peeve of native British English speakers. Similarly, the popular US Netflix “program” “Travelers” would be spelled (or “spelt”) “Travellers” if it were a UK BBC “programme”. The double “L” and “M” don’t really feature in American English, while “ed” is favoured over the “T” common to past-tense in British English.

 

As an Irishman, I’m uniquely qualified to distil the differences into simple terms.

 

DIFFERENT WAYS OF PRONOUNCING THE SAME WORDS

Aluminium vs Aluminum is the best possible example of arguably the weirdest difference between British English and American English. This really is a profound difference to the ears. If you didn’t know better, you would think the American English “əˈluːmənəm” (Aluminum) was something entirely unlike the British English “æljʊˈmɪnɪəm” (Aluminium). It’s the same metal in England as it is in the United States; the only distinctions are an extra “I” in the British version, and how the vowels are emphasised. The original discoverer of the element, Sir Humphry, changed his mind no less than three times before settling on aluminium in 1812. In the US, the previous spelling aluminum seemed to stick. Strange but true.

A notable absence you might detect in spoken British English is the letter H. This is commonly omitted from words that actually begin with the word “H”. It can sound quite odd to hear “Arry” instead of “Harry” or “ardly” when you expect “hardly”. Not everyone drops the “H”, but it’s better to be prepared than unaware and struggle to comprehend a conversation.

 

Not everyone drops the “H”, but it’s better to be prepared than unaware and struggle to comprehend a conversation.

 

LOST IN TRANSLATION

The list of words and phrases lost in translation is thick enough to fill a phonebook. However, we shall endeavour to succinctly advise you on the most confusing “babel”. As noted earlier, borrowing from French is not common to American English. On the other hand, British English is full of French influences. “Cul-de-sac” is lifted directly from French into British English, and even features on road signs. However, American English road signs will refer to a street closed at one end as a “dead end”.

Common causes of shopping mishaps include diapers vs nappies and oatmeal vs porridge. Infant’s sanitary underwear is referred to as “diapers” in American English and “nappies” in British English. The gruel-like breakfast of Quakers is called “oatmeal” in the US “grocery store” and known as “porridge” in European “supermarkets”. “Store” is also used in place of “shop” in American English.

“Football” is a word that seems to have an obvious logical meaning. The truth is, football is more complicated than you think. In British English, “football” is the sport you play with your feet. This is not the same game in American English. “Football” is a completely different contact sport, mostly played using your hands. “Soccer” is the American English equivalent to the World Cup sport.

 

CONSISTENT ENGLISH CONTENT IS PARAMOUNT

Concerning the creation of effective content, what’s most important is consistency. Choose whether to adopt British or American English standards, and stick with them through every task and article on your website. At Yuqo, we’ve made the decision to use British English, given that our audience is predominantly European. Even though some of our clients may use American English, for our own site, we aim to perpetuate consistency in order to make our content as effective, reliable, and straightforward as it can be. If your business needs help deciding on an effective English content strategy, don’t hesitate; contact Yuqo today.