07 January 2017

The English Language

NOTE: It is my honor today to welcome my friend Herschel Cozine as a guest blogger. Herschel has published extensively in the children's field, and his stories and poems have appeared in many of the national children's magazines. His work has also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazines, Wolfmont Press Toys for Tots anthologies, Woman's World, Orchard Press Mysteries, Mouth Full of Bullets, Great Mystery and Suspense, Mysterical-E, and many other publications. His story "A Private Hanging" was a finalist for the Derringer Award, and his flash story "The Phone Call" appeared in Flash Bang Mysteries' summer 2016 issue. He currently has a mini-mystery in Over My Dead Body, and a story scheduled in OMDB's next issue as well. Herschel, it's great to have you here (again)! — John Floyd

I would like to concentrate today on the English language. I'm not talking about its idiosyncrasies that  allow one to use "ghoti," according to GBS, to spell "fish." Rather I am more interested in the variances between the British and U.S. in the spelling and meaning of words.

I am fully aware that the British were here first, so to speak, and that it is their language that we have borrowed and, supposedly, corrupted. But because one is the first to use an item doesn't necessarily mean he is using it correctly.

The British, for example, have the philosophy that two letters are better than one in the spelling of a word. "Why use one when two will do the same job?" It sounds like our government's approach. A brief list to demonstrate my point:


I won't even try to spell "maneuver" the way they do.

It seems to me a waste of space and ink. Walt Disney drew his characters with three fingers instead of the usual four. "Think of the money I save on ink," he said.

But Disney wasn't dealing with the British. They're awash in ink; most of it red as I understand it.

Recently I contracted with a magazine in Canada to write a story, and was told by the editor to use the British spelling of words. Fortunately for me there were only two. I'm not good with this kind of thing.

Then, of course, there is the meaning of words. In this instance I see no advantage of one over the other. Here are a few:

US                                 British

Hood                             Bonnet
Trunk                            Boot
Elevator                        Lift
Policeman                    Bobby
Gentleman                   Chap
Run (in stocking)        Ladder
Panties                         Bloomers
Bathroom                     Loo
Excellent                      Capital
Flashlight                     Torch (or Electric Torch)

Then there is the ubiquitous "bloody," which encompasses most of the four-letter words we Americans use. In this case the British have economized. Would that we followed their example in this instance.

Of course, the British refer to a two-week period of time as a fortnight. I have no idea why. When I was in the army, stationed at a fort, a day seemed like two weeks. Is there a connection here?

One need not travel to the United Kingdom to see and hear differences. In this country we speak several different languages, depending on which part of the country we are in. My father, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, changed the "erl," liked "berled" potatoes, and lived on "Thoid" Street. When I lived in New England, the residents drove "cahs," went to "grammah" school, and ate "botatoes." Since they dropped the "R's" from words, they found themselves with a surplus, so they put them on the end of other words. "Idears" and "diplomers," for example. Southerners eat "ahs" cream. Texans? I am still grappling with that one.

Here in California, we don't even speak English. Recently I was in a coffee shop. The table next to me was occupied by some young folks. One young lady with purple hair and tattoos on her arms and eyelids was holding court. I couldn't understand a word she said. I attributed that to the ring in her nose, which kept her from enunciating. But the others at the table had no problem with it. Truly remarkable.

But I digress. In the past few years a whole new language has come into existence with the emergence of texting. I wonder if the British text. How could they possibly communicate using a single letter? LOL.

I wonder, too, if this form will ever influence our writing. Just as English in Chaucer's time is far different from today's, will future generations see a similar change? Hamlet will soliloquize thusly: "2BR not 2B." I will, gratefully, not be around to see it.

CU later.


  1. Fun post, Herschel. I think I've got British English pretty well figured out these days. But I remember a long time ago watching movies or reading books and thinking things like, "What the hell is a lorry?"

  2. Jolly good show, Herschel! A smashing manoeuvre.

    But you forgot to mention that folks from the South always pronounce things right and every one else is wrong.

  3. I enjoyed your post, Herschel--thank you. As a Midwesterner, I had some adjusting to do when we moved to Virginia. Often, I found myself smiling and nodding in response to statements I didn't even remotely understand, because it was too awkward to keep asking people to repeat what they'd said. It also took me a while to realize waitresses weren't hitting on my husband when they called him "honey" and "darling" and even "baby." (After all, they often called me the same things.) The biggest jolt came when we went to services and a member of the congregation was called up to say the Torah blessings. At first, I was indignant--he'd been given a sacred honor, and he was clowning around, doing funny voices! Eventually, I realized he wasn't clowning around at all. It was just that I'd never heard Hebrew spoken with a Southern accent before.

  4. Herschel, enjoyed the humour.

    I also prefer the spelling of "grey" as opposed to "gray."

  5. Paul, I love the British sitcoms, (Fawlty Towers, Are You Being Served, etc). The language difference made them somehow funnier. Like you, I still wonder what some words mean.
    John, of course you are right but you will have a hard time convincing the rest of the country.
    BK, I know what you mean. I was flattered by being called "honey", etc. by perky young waitresses. I am still being called "dearie" by those young enough to be my granddaughter. Sobering.
    R.T., I have no preference there, but it is unusual that the English use the same number of letters in their spelling.
    Thanks to all for taking the time to comment.

  6. You left out my favorite of British/English differences: rubbers = erasers
    But a great post, Herschel!

  7. Herschel, it's Melodie here, and as a loyal citizen of the crown (UEL and all) I insist that we keep ALL our letters in both our names, rather than change them to an American "Hershel and Melody."
    Ha! Fun column. You outta try being Canadian. One of my publishers insists on American spelling and Chicago style. I find my English expressions are constantly being edited out and replaced with more mundane (not near as colourful - note the 'u') American ones, snif.
    Bloody hell, bugger, and all that rubbish.

  8. Eve, thanks. One of my favorites, too, but I forgot it momentarily. (Dementia?)

    Melodie, I'm with you on keeping all the letters in our names. You can't believe the number of ways my name can be spelled. Last count was 20. As for being a Canadian I equate it to being a person without a country when it comes to writing rules, etc. You have my sympathy. Who knows, if Trump isn't impeached by the end of the year I may be joining you! Thanks to both of you for your comments.

  9. Bitchin', dude.

    I'm from the Midwest, too, and I had the darnedest time figuring out that a "draw" was one of those things in a bureau. My wife said that and "quawtuh" for a twenty-five cent piece. Maybe that's why we split all those years ago.

    One of my theater friends--and a terrific actor--had a scene where he told everyone, "Let's all go oot (rhymes with "boot") to the cars..." We kidded him unmercifully about that all through rehearsal.


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