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Vocabulary differences between British and American English

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Maria Anioł

on 13 September 2016

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Transcript of Vocabulary differences between British and American English

Theoretical Background
Aims and methods of the research
Description of the research
Conclusions and further implications
Presentation/discussion of the results
Discussion of the topic concerned following concepts:
1. History of the English Language
2. The origins and history of American English
3. Features of American English : pronunciation,spelling, grammar and vocabulary
4.Regional dialects of American English
5. American Slang
1. Reading books and magazines.
2. Looking for some examples of the differences between American and British vocabulary.
3. Choosing the most interesting examples.
4. Presenting and analysing the examples.

The main reason for writing this work
- to emphasize the differences that exist between the two major varieties of English – British and American
The theoretical part
- the history and development of American English and British English
The empirical part
- the presentation and analysis of examples of vocabulary differences between American English and British English taken from everyday life, how they affect communication and what problems they may cause
Further research
- search of new examples and analysis of their impact on interpersonal communication
Herewith we would like to present results
of our researches by showing examples
of vocabulary differences
in British and American English.
Maria Anioł
Justyna Gaj
Joanna Hamela-Oczek
Kinga Pisula
Anna Wanowska

Vocabulary differences between British and American English
The aims of the research
The main aim of the research was to find and compare the differences that occur in British and American English and see how those two languages influence each other.
The ways/methods of performing the research
Material / Subjects
During the researches materials which we based on were books, magazines, TV shows, TV series ( Friends, The Ellen Degeneres show etc.) and animations.
History of the English language is characterized by four main age periods: The Old English, Early Modern English, Middle English and Modern English.The English language has greatly developed over all four periods.
In Old English period, which is characterized by four main dialects spoken in England and major differences between pronunciation and spelling.
In Middle English period, the English language, became less synthetic and more analytic. Grammatical meaning bbecame more important.
Early Modern English period is characterized by the expansion of the English language overseas and therefore, the development of new vocabulary borrowed from newly discovered countries.
There were many new developments in the Modern English language starting from grammar books and dictionaries being introduced but also the fact that English was not only used in the UK but also in many different countries.
History of the English language
The origins and history of American English
English was brought to America by colonists in the XVII century, and through various linguistic processes, rapidly developed a uniformity and standardization of its own, with a unique pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.
Features of American English
British English and American English, which both, despite many similarities, have also their differences. From a linguistic point of view, there is of course more than just one group of differences. General information and classification of the differences between British and American English, is divided into four main levels: the level of pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary and grammar.
Regional dialects of American language
Dialect is a form of language that people speak in a particular area of the country. People living in one region of the USA speak differently than people from the other part of the country. The differences refer to the pronunciation, spelling and what is the most important for this work various vocabulary describing the same things.
American Slang
It can be said that slang is a special language. Very often it is called jargon, argot, cant. Slang is associated with a vulgar and rude language but primarily it is a variation of colloquial national language used by a specified community or a group of people. Slang is not used in formal spoken language and rather not in writing. It is a casual spoken language used mostly in order to concealing the real topic of a conversation through using some words or phrases that are not known for uninitiated people.
Example 3

This short video comes from an episode of an American TV show, Friends. Here, in a funny way, the difference between the American vocabulary and British vocabulary is shown. In Britain, it is more natural to use the word "Arse" instead of "Ass". However most Americans use the "Ass".
Example 4
Example 6
The American word for "toilet" is bathroom. It is a very common mistake to make in any language. In Britain, another word for "toilet" that is used very often is also "loo"
Example 8
This is an example of advertising where we can see the differences between American English and British English. The first difference is that the Americans say “rent a car” and the British “car hire” another difference is the spelling of the American word “aluminum” and the British “aluminium”.
Example 9
This movie shows “Top Ten Stupid Things Americans Say To Brits” presented by British Actor, Ricky Gervais on an American channel CBS. Interesting example is here the use of the phrase “smoke a fag” which in British English means “have a cigarette” and in American English it means “kill a homosexual”.
Example 10
This picture shows a funny situation resulting from the different meanings of the same word. “Pants” for the American mean “trousers” , and for Englishman “underwear”. “Suspenders” for the American mean ”braces” and for Englishman “garters”.

Example 11
These comparisons show that the same words written in the same way can describe two different things. American chips for Britons mean French fries. British football refers to American soccer whereas public school in England is the expensive school but in the USA it is government funded. Living on the first floor in England is the same like on the ground floor in the USA.
“England and America are two countries divided by a common language.”
George Bernard Shaw
Example 12
In this talk show American comedian Ellen DeGeneres and British actor Hugh Laurie give us in a humorous way some British and American slang. Examples of American slang are:
'showing off',
'a female buttocks' and
'young kid or a woman'

and British slang:
chin wag
'to chat' and
chuffed to bits
o be really pleased about something'.

Example 1
Example 2
Picture no. 1 is a funny example of difference between American and British culture, which is one of the reason why vocabulary differ from each other.These two countries have had bittersweet relations ever since their separation from each other. The Americans never took to being 'colonialised' by the British, and successfully broke free from their shackle.Now, they drive on the opposite sides of the road, drink different beverages, follow different systems of measure, use switches that work the opposite way, and try to be as maniacally different as possible.

Biscuit vs cookie
Biscuit vs. cookie
The research is based on empirical methods. The observations and data were collected in order to show the differences between American and British English.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the word biscuit comes originally from the Latin biscotum (panem), which means bread ‘twice baked’, which would explain the hard, crunchy quality of a British biscuit.

The word 'cookie' comes from the Dutch koekje, meaning ‘little cake,’ and could have been popularized in the US due to early Dutch colonization, though we don’t know for sure.

It’s unclear how these two different foods came to have the same word, and we can only speculate about the influence of the French language in the southern United States.
Autumn vs. fall
Autumn vs. fall
The word autumn came into general use around the 16th century, replacing the name harvest for the whole season. Autumn is derived from the French, which came from the Latin autumnus, the Roman name for this season.

Fall is a Germanic word that also came into use around the 16th century. It is thought to refer to the season's falling leaves and fruit, and to nature's decline as winter approaches.

Beginning in the 17th century, English-speaking emigrants took both words with them to the New World. In North America, fall became the more common word, while autumn gained the upper hand in Britain, as well as in Australia and New Zealand. In general, then, Americans usually say fall, while the British say autumn—and Canadians say both.
Example 13

According to etymology dictionary:
Old English græg "gray" (Mercian grei), from Proto-Germanic *grewa- "gray" (cognates: Old Norse grar, Old Frisian gre, Middle Dutch gra, Dutch graw, Old High German grao, German grau), with no certain connections outside Germanic. French gris, Spanish gris, Italian grigio, Medieval Latin griseus are Germanic loan-words. The spelling distinction between British grey and U.S. gray developed 20c

The history of American English can be divided into three periods which dates refer to important political and social events which had a significant impact on the development and evolution of American English:
The Colonial period
covers the period from the arrival of the first colonists to America to the end of the War of Independence.
The National period
extends from the end of the War of Independence to the end of the XIX century
The International period
lasts from the XIX century to the present.
Grey vs. gray
Color vs. colour
Elevator vs. lift
(n.) - 1640s, originally of muscles which raise a part of the body, from Latin elevator "one who raises up," agent noun from past participle stem of elevare. As a name for a mechanical lift (originally for grain) attested from 1787.

(n.) - late 15c., "act of lifting," from lift (v.). Meaning "act of helping" is 1630s; that of "cheering influence" is from 1861. Sense of "elevator" is from 1851; that of "upward force of an aircraft" is from 1902. Meaning "help given to a pedestrian by taking him into a vehicle" is from 1712.
Movie vs. film
(n.) - 1912 (perhaps 1908), shortened form of moving picture in the cinematographic sense (1896). As an adjective from 1913.

(n.) - Old English filmen "membrane, thin skin, foreskin," from West Germanic *filminjan (cognates: Old Frisian filmene "skin," Old English fell "hide"), extended from Proto-Germanic *fello(m) "animal hide," from PIE *pel- (4) "skin, hide" (cognates: Greek pella, Latin pellis "skin").
Sense of "a thin coat of something" is 1570s, extended by 1845 to the coating of chemical gel on photographic plates. By 1895 this also meant the coating plus the paper or celluloid. Hence "a motion picture" (1905); sense of "film-making as a craft or art" is from 1920.
Pavement vs. sidewalk
(n.) - mid-13c., from Old French pavement "roadway, pathway; paving stone" (12c.) and directly from Latin pavimentum "hard floor, level surface beaten firm," from pavire.

(n.) - "path for pedestrians on the side of a street," 1739, from side (adj.) + walk (n.). The use of sidewalk for pavement as one of the characteristic differences between American and British English has been noted since at least 1902.
- British a cigarette. In Middle English
meant, as a verb, to droop or, as a noun, a flap or remnant. These notions gave rise to ‘fag-end’ and subsequently, in the 19th century, to fag as a stubbedout or limp, low-quality cigarette. In the 20th century the word was generalised to refer to any cigarette.

- American a male homosexual. This is generally taken to be a shortened version of
, but may pre-date it.
The word
was coined by English chemist Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829), from "alumina", name given in 18 century to aluminum oxide, from Latin alumen "alum". Davy originally called it "alumium" (1808), then amended this to
, which remains the U.S. word, but British editors in 1812 further amended it to
, the modern preferred British form, to better harmonize with other metallic element names ( sodium, potassium, etc.).
- shortened from
- 1660s, "kind of tights" (originally a French fashion and execrated as such by late 17 century English writers), associated with Pantaloun (1580s), silly old man character in Italian comedy who wore tight trousers over his skinny leg. The term was shortened to "pants" in the 1840s. According to Collins English Dictionary in the UK the word "pants" generally means an undergarment reaching from the waist to the thighs or knees. In the United States “pants” is usual name for trousers.
- in the United States and Canadian a pair of straps worn over the shoulders by men for holding up the trousers. Also called in Britain
. Outside the US the term suspenders or suspender belt refers to a garment used to hold up stockings, what in American English is called a
Ass vs Arse
The word "
" is of celtic origin. In Old English, the spelling differed as it was "
" and was related to a Welsh word "
" based on a latin word "
". From etomological point of view, the word "
" in British English is used for "buttocks" whilst the word "
" slang is used for "backside," and was first attested 1860 in nautical slang, in popular use from 1930 chiefly in the U.S. The loss of -r- before -s- was also done in several other words (such as burst/bust, curse/cuss, horse/hoss, barse/bass, garsh/gash). The useage of the word "
" is not usually used in the United States.
Fries vs. Chips
Toilet vs. Loo vs. Bathroom
used from mid 16th century. The word "toilet" comes from French toilette meaning ‘cloth, wrapper,". The word originally denoted a cloth used as a wrapper for clothes and then in the 17th century a cloth cover for a dressing table. In the 19th century the word came to denote a dressing room, and, in the US, one with washing facilities; hence, a lavatory around the early 20th century.
There are several theories about the origin of this informal British term for a "toilet". The most popular, is that it derived from the cry of 'gardyloo' (from the French regardez l'eau 'watch out for the water'), which was shouted by medieval servants as they emptied chamber pots out of upstairs windows into the street.

A combination of two words - bath + room. Originally a room with equpiments for bathing, used from around the 2oth century in the U.S. as a euphemism for a lavatory and often noted as a word that confused British travelers. To go to the bathroom, meant to "relieve oneself; urinate, defecate," from 1920 (first used in a book for children), but nowadays it is typically used without regard for whether an actual bathroom is involved.
Example 14

(n.) - from early 13c., "skin color, complexion," from Old French color "color, complexion, ppearance" (Modern French couleur), from Latin color "color of the skin; color in general, hue; appearance," from Old Latin colos, originally "a covering" (akin to celare "to hide, conceal").
For sense evolution, compare Sanskrit varnah "covering, color," related to vrnoti "covers," and also see chroma. Meaning "visible color, color of something" is attested in English from c. 1300. As "color as a property of things," from late 14c. Old English words for "color" were hiw ("hue"), bleo.

(n.) - chiefly British English spelling of color.
The word "
first floor"
came from 1660s and in that time referred to the story built on or just above the ground. Nowadays this original meaning is used in the United States. First floor as the story built next above the ground emerged two centuries later, in 1865, and it is common in Britain.
First floor vs. ground floor
British football vs. American football
The term
"public school"
emerged in 1570s, originally in Britain. It’s a grammar school endowed for the benefit of the public, but most have evolved into boarding-schools for the well-to-do. Public schools in England prepare students chiefly for the universities or for public service. By the late 20th century the term independent school was increasingly preferred by the institutions.

The main modern meaning in the USA came from 1640s and referred to school (usually free) provided at public expense and run by local authorities.

open-air game involving kicking a ball, in reference to the inflated ball used in the game. This word arose in Middle English c. 1400 from foot (n.) and ball (n.1). One of Shakespeare's insults is "you base foot-ball player" [Lear I.iv]. Ball-kicking games date back to the Roman legions but the sport seems first to have risen to a national obsession in England in 1630. Nowadays it is played by boys in most British schools. Most towns have an amateur football team which does not get paid for playing and plays in a minor league. Football is also the most popular spectator sport in Britain. The Football Association was founded in 1863 to decide the rules of football and the resulting game became known formally as association football.
American football

The U.S. style, known to some in England as "stop-start rugby with padding", evolved gradually in the 19th century from the games of football and Rugby. The first true collegiate game is considered to have been played in 1869 between Princeton and Rutgers, at Rutgers, but the rules there were more like soccer. A rematch at Princeton, with the home team's rules, was true U.S. football. Both were described as foot-ball at Princeton.
Public school
North American fries (or French fries) are sticks of fried potato served hot. Outside of North America, namely the U.K. these fried pieces of potato are called chips. The etymology of the word "
", comes from Thomas Jefferson who had "potatoes served in the French manner" at a White House dinner in 1802. Then, the expression "French Fried Potatoes" first occured in print in English in the 1856 work Cookery for Maids of All Work by E Warren. The word "
", on the other hand, was already popularised in Middle English from Old English "ċipp" which meant "log, beam, small or piece of wood” and from Proto-Germanic *kip(p)az “log, beam”.

is a word that came into use around the 15th century from Old French renter "pay dues to" or from rent (n) "payment for use of property". Prefix
first was attested in 1921, mainly of businesses that rented various makes of car ( Rentacar is a trademark registered in U.S. 1924) than it was extended to other "temporary" uses since 1961.
The word
comes from Middle English hiren, earlier huren, which originate from Old English hyrian "pay for service, employ for wages, engage,".
Example 5
Chuffed vs. Happy
Chuffed vs. Happy
: Used from around 1957, the word "
" comes from dialectal "
", originally meaning “puffed with fat". Chuff is a term with a multitude of meanings mostly, if not only, used in the UK. It was used in 16th century archaic slang to describe a boorish, miserable person, or a self-satisfied blowhard with big ruddy jowls, but there are other, newer uses of the word. If used as an adjective, the meaning of this word is simply "pleased, satisfied or happy"

: This word, on the other hand, was first recorded in late 14th century in Middle English period, "
"meant (“fortunate, prosperous”) Some would argue that perhaps it is an alteration of Middle English happyn,(“fortunate, happy”) and from Old Norse heppinn (“fortunate, happy”) assimilated to be equivalent to hap (“chance, luck, fortune”)
Example 7
Nappy vs. Diaper
Wee vs. Pee
Nappy vs. Diaper
Wee vs. Pee
: Mainly used in Britain from the early 20th as an abbreviation of napkin. Now used in the UK, Ireland, Australia and South Africa for an absorbent garment worn by a baby who does not yet have voluntary control of his or her bladder.

: an American version of the word "
" which came to use during the Middle English period from Old French "
" and from medieval Latin "
". The term seems originally to have meant "a costly fabric" but after the 15th century it was used in a noun sense as babies' diapers were originally made from pieces of this fabric.

: In Britain most commonly used for "
". In mid 15th century it's meaning was described as "extremely small," and was taken from an earlier noun use in sense of "quantity, amount" (such as a littel wei "a little thing or amount," and from Old English wæge "weight".

: Popular in America and came into usage in the 18th century meaning "to spray with urine," and is an abbreviation of "piss" meaning "to urinate"
Arse vs. Ass
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