Category Archives: Yanks vs. Brits

Dead & quite: How two intensifiers behave on either side of the pond

First of all, what exactly is an “intensifier,” in grammatical terms? It’s an adverb or adverbial phrase that gives the adjective it precedes extra force or emphasis. (Intensifiers are actually a particular type of what we call a “sub-modifier”: an adverb used in front of an adjective — or another adverb — to modify its meaning.) British or American, we use standard intensifiers all the time: absolutelycompletely, extremely, highly, rather, really, so, too, totally, utterly, very. And most of these “very variations” are used the same way on both sides of the Atlantic. But not all: there are in fact a couple of exceptions, one of which is quite ambiguous … Continue reading

Twit or tw*t? (Warning: explicit – but only for Americans …)

He was allowed to use the word arse last week on the Graham Norton Show, but when Rowan Atkinson (aka Mr. Bean) chose another word synonymous with idiot to finish up his story (see 2:05 in the video above), BBC America roundly expunged it. BLEEP! I’m guessing that when the show aired originally in the UK a few days earlier, the four-letter word didn’t raise a single British eyebrow — let alone set off the censors’ bells. Speakers of American-English: read on at your peril … Continue reading

Intent or intention? Exhibit or exhibition?

Do you ever hear people saying the word intent or exhibit — and think there should surely be an “-ion” on the end of it? “You mean that was your intention rather than your intent?” “Are you talking about a whole exhibition, rather than a single exhibit?” Well this might well happen if you’re an Englishman abroad (i.e. on the other side of the pond), where you’ll hear exhibit and exhibition used interchangeably these days. Intent and intention have also become similarly synonymous Stateside — and I’m not sure if this is also happening over in the UK. Read what distinguishes — or used to distinguish — the “-ion” version of each noun from its “-ion-less” counterpart. Continue reading

Some sketchy business email language

Wikimedia Commons

We’ve all got our own lists of business buzzwords that set our teeth on edge. Synergy, bandwidth, actionable items, scalable, leverage — and the more recent and ubiquitous “circle back”: these are just a few of my personal bugbears in the boardroom, and I know you’ve got more. (You can get your fill of them from an earlier Glossophilia post on The ubiquity of buzzwords and business speak.) But there’s another category of business-lingo that’s getting some of our backs up: it’s the common misuse in emails of certain standard English words or phrases, which just never will sound or be right, however often they’re typed and no matter how good the intention. They’re not just icky words and phrases: they’re just plain wrong. Continue reading

Overleaf …

Is overleaf a Britishism? This morning I received a Glosso-related question from Andrea, one of my American friends. “My friend Mary*, who has written several books, uses the word overleaf (which I have come to find out is an adverb) in this sentence: ‘You can see some alternative models of ‘stuck’ overleaf.’ In this sentence, overleaf must describe a verb — like ‘see’. My brain can’t absorb that word as an adverb. It is more like a preposition+noun. Do you have experience with overleaf? Does that sentence sound normal to you?” Continue reading

I’ve just twigged …

In a recent letter in The Times (of London), a reader described his experience of driving his old Renault 4 through France: “On the road, the beeping by other drivers made me nervous — until I twigged the car was being saluted.” Does the word “twigged” make any sense to you in that context? If you’re a Brit, it probably does. But I’m sure most Americans won’t twig … Continue reading

You say aluminum, I say aluminium

Aluminum. Or aluminium. / Wikimedia Commons

There might be trade war brewing over steel and aluminum. But another trans-Atlantic war has already been raging for a couple of centuries over one of those heavy metals. Which came first: American aluminum or British aluminium? Continue reading

I say sked-yule, you say shed-yule; I say nego-she-ate, you say nego-see-ate …

“Stand well away from Platform 4. The approaching train is not SHEDuled to stop at this station.” So pronounces the Very British voice actor Celia Drummond, who happens to be the the voice of London’s Jubilee and Northern tube lines, as well as of some of the other British transport systems. But is this the “correct” pronunciation of the word schedule? Or do Americans come closer to the way the word was pronounced in its original language? Continue reading