Tag Archives: language

All Hail the Queen?

9 Mar

Great Britain has given many things to America: the Fab Four, the less funny version of The Office, and the overwhelming confidence that, at the very least, our teeth could be doing much worse.

Some Americans, though, become carried away.  I think we have forgiven our British brothers and sisters too quickly: after all, was it not just a few centuries ago that that whole Boston Tea Party thing happened?  You know, the one where a gang of rogue Brits stole the cans of Arizona Iced Tea from the Celtics and threw them in the harbor, and then we had six more weeks of winter?

But to Americans, the Brits are adorable (as smaller and weaker things with bulging eyes often are), and in general, I wouldn’t care.  However, America’s fascination with the Brits has started to leak into its collective writing skills, and that, my fellow patriots (as you know, Tom Brady is a subscriber to this blog), is a problem.

First, a disclaimer: it’s not that the Brits aren’t good writers.  After all, they gave us Shakespeare, and without Shakespeare, Gnomeo and Juliet would never have been made, and that’s just something I wouldn’t wish upon cinema.

No, it’s not that British English is WRONG; it’s that Americans do not–and should not–write in it.  There are marked differences between British and American English in terms of phraseology, spelling, and even grammar, and if you’re an American writing an American paper, gosh darn it, it is your baseball and apple pie duty to WRITE LIKE IT.

1. Spell words like an American.

No, not like an American texting (*emoticon grimace*), but the way words appear in American dictionaries.  Town is not spelled towne.  Center is not spelled centre.  Color is not spelled colour.  Sometimes these crop up in business names, because Americans just think they’re cute (again, with the smallness and the weakness and the bulging of the eyes) but that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to use them in your writing.  If you ever open your own business, I give you permission to call it “Ye Olde Umbrella Shoppe” if you want to.  Until thenne, thoughe, ye must stoppe it.

2. Avoid British irregular verbs.

In British English, the irregular past particle is acceptable.  In America, it’s generally not used.  For example, the following verb conjugations are acceptable in British English, but much less common (or allowed) in America:

Lean —> leant

Learn –> learnt

Smell –> smelt

Spoil –> spoilt

3. Collective nouns.

Even in American English, depending on which publication manual you subscribe to (I only read them for the articles — “a” and “the”), there are disagreements over when collective nouns take the plural form and when they take the singular.

Collective nouns name groups composed of members.  Examples of collective nouns include: team, army, family, data, company, and jury.  Writers often have a difficult time deciding whether to use a singular or a plural verb with a collective noun. (Is it “The team are ready” or “The team is ready”?)  In general, the rule is that if the sentence’s emphasis is on the group as one whole, the verb should be singular, and if on all the individual members of the group simultaneously, then plural.

This is one area where the Englishes of Britain and America differ.  American English leans towards making most collective nouns singular (“The jury is ready.”), while the Brits tend to make more of their collective nouns plural (“The jury are ready.”).

Again, there is a gradient here: arguments can sometimes be made for choosing a plural verb over a singular oneand vice-versa.  However, if you find yourself saying, “The Clash are the greatest band of all time,” then know this: London’s calling, and it wants its collective nouns back.

There are plenty of other differences between American and British English, and most of us are able to keep these slight nuances of language separate.  The examples above are simply three slip-ups that I see American writers making more and more commonly.  The problem isn’t that American English is necessarily better than British English: it’s that stylistic inconsistencies can make your writing seem amateurish.

Honestly, the way to solve this is probably to just tell Americans to stop reading so much Harry Potter.  So put The Deathly Hallows, down, folks.  Here’s how it ends:

Harry Potter is Tyler Durden, and together, they both shoot Old Yeller

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