# English: US vs. British

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by leopold, Apr 16, 2011.

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Pure class!

3. ### QuarkHeadRemedial Math StudentValued Senior Member

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Hear hear to the metric vs. imperial comment. How many UKers alive today know how many ounces to the pound, pints to the gallon, yards to the mile etc? Not many I guess.

Something that has always intrigued me: UK English is incredibly context-dependent, and I wonder if the US version is likewise. To take an earlier example:

If I say "she was knocked up last year" I mean she was impregnated last year. But if I say "knock me up at 6 am", I am asking to have my door knocked upon to ensure I waken. No offer to impregnate me is implied.

Likewise: If I "put up a picture" I am hanging it on a nail in a wall. But if I "put up a friend" I am giving him temporary accommodation and certainly not hanging him on a wall.

These ambiguities must be infuriating to non native speakers. Do they exist in the US version of English?

5. ### synthesizer-patelSweep the leg Johnny!Valued Senior Member

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in the uk we use a curious hodgepodge of imperial and metric measurements - so most of us can do the basic approximated conversions in our heads - 4oz is roughly 100g - 1ft = 30cm - 1 mile = 1.5 km - 2lbs = 1kg

motor vehicles are by law required to display speeds in miles an hour on the speedometer (imported vehicles must be converted) - speed limits and distances on signposts are in miles - except on motorways (freeways) where certain short distances are quoted in meters (i.e 400m to next junction) - fuel consumption is quoted in miles per gallon but petrol (gasoline) is sold in litres.

all food and drink sold by weight or volume must be sold in metric measures - except when you go to a bar where beer is served in pints (or halves) but all other drinks are sold in metric measures - so you can buy a pint of beer in a bar, but not from an off-licence (liquor store).

generally we discuss our height and weight in feet and inches and stones (14lbs) and pounds unless we see a doctor - so most of us know our height and weight in both.

of course the US doesn't use imperial measurements either - it uses its own weights and measures system based on the original imperial system - for example an american pint is less than an imperial pint - same goes for gallons

7. ### AsguardKiss my dark sideValued Senior Member

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wow, i thought the UK had gone metric apart from your money. Seems i might be more at home in france where at least i would get the speed limits right

edit to add: just out of interest, my parents can do rough conversions in there head if they can remeber the right conersion formula (they keep mixing up the f to C) but its getting less and less common. Myself, i have to have a rough idea that f is a unit of temp for silly people

P) but apart from that i use a conversion program when i need to work out what the people on Law and Order (or whatever) are talking about. The only imperial measurment i know is that im around 180cm and around 6 foot. Apart from that who the hell cares

8. ### superstring01Moderator

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Scientists in the US have all but converted to SI. In rare cases where certain industries are bridged (NASA crashing satellites into Mars, comes to mind), Imperial might be used alongside, but for the most part it's all metric.

~String

9. ### synthesizer-patelSweep the leg Johnny!Valued Senior Member

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nope no metric money here - we still use groats, shillings, and shiney gold sovereigns ..... when we arent bartering with sheep of course.

all temperatures are quoted in celcius - I have vague recollections of weather forecasts showing temps in both when I was a kid though.

10. ### AsguardKiss my dark sideValued Senior Member

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yea i know but what im talking about is those scientists who then communicate with the public. For instance, lets say a climate scientist comes out and says the world will heat up by 5C because thats what he works with "in the lab". Now here thats fine because the general public ALSO use SI units in there daily lives so the hurdle he has to overcome is if the temp is 40 anyway do we care if it goes up to 45, its still bloody hot (YES, before anyone says anything, i KNOW thats not what it means, this is only an example). In the US on the other hand, first he has to either convert that 5C into F or explain to the whole public what 5C means before he can even start talking about his message. Further more, if the discussion is international or its a forum situation you have people potentually working in there own minds in compleatly different systems and if its going by fast the 5C could become in peoples heads 5F which is ALOT smaller. Thats why SI was introduced in the first place, so that at least scientists would be communincating with eachother in the same units but what wasnt taken into acount by goverments is the communication with the public. Another example could be drug doseages, a new nurse might be working in oz in there own mind where as all drugs are surposed to be measured in ml and mg (and micrograms but thats another story). This makes it easy to muck up in your own mind when having to convert things because thats not how your thinking about them naturally.

For a real life example of how this can go wrong look at the canadian plane which ran out of fuel because they had just changed over to metric AND this plane didnt have an flight engerner on board. These 2 things ment that this crew who were unacustomed to working in metric, combine with a ground crew that wernt made a massive calculation error and the plane went down

11. ### AsguardKiss my dark sideValued Senior Member

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you missread, i knew your money wasnt metric, i thought everything else was

12. ### synthesizer-patelSweep the leg Johnny!Valued Senior Member

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I was just joking

I'm not sure what you mean by metric money though

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metric as i was taught it means everything is a multiple of 10\100. So in Australia there are 100 cents in the $Further more our coins go 5, 10, 20, 50,$1, $2 and the notes go 5, 10, 20, 50, 100. Ie no weird numbers like 7 in there. Thats what i ment. I just checked with wikipeda and aparently im right, metric IS a decimilised system AND http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_system so why are your speeds in miles and fuel measurments not in Km\L? 14. ### drumbeatRegistered Senior Member Messages: 375 Changing money (like in the 1970s) is one thing. A bit of extra maths and everyone got used to it. A clean switch from one to the other. Changing from miles to KM would mean billions on new signs, laws (eg speed limits), changing the speed counter on cars etc etc. We all think in miles for distance and speed. It just wouldn't be a clean switch because it would have to come in stages. 15. ### synthesizer-patelSweep the leg Johnny!Valued Senior Member Messages: 2,262 ah ok - we do have a decimalised currency - have done for about 40 years now not sure - I guess changing to km might cause a few problems with some people confusing 100mph with 100kmh while we change over perhaps. fuel is probably sold in litres because of EU regulations - standardised weights and measures across the eurozone. I expect that fuel consumption is quoted in mpg because is sounds better than Km/L 16. ### phlogisticianBannedBanned Messages: 10,342 I've only ever been taught metric measures, but I guess was one of the first wave to be brought up this way. Having said that, I couldn't guesstimate someone's height or weight in metric, I'd default to imperial measures. When I do DIY, I used whatever scale gets the nearest integer or fraction, I'm not fussy. I do know ounces pounds stones, inches feet and yards etc, just from experience, and I still order things in ounces at the Deli counter. And of course, I enjoy a Pint. We never really embraced the metric system though did we? We sell petrol in litres, but then drive in miles, at miles per hour, Kilometres never got a look in. We're a bit all over the place. We're English, and eccentric, dammit! 17. ### quadraphonicsBloodthirsty BarbarianValued Senior Member Messages: 9,391 Both of those terms exist in both British English and American English, and are indeed not synonyms within those contexts. But the British "spanner" is synonymous with the American "wrench" as the respective generic terms for such tools. This one seems to come up a lot in conversations like this, but it should be noted that "faucet" isn't used so much any more (at least in my region/generation). "Tap" is far more common in my experience - to the point where the use of "faucet" stands out, and marks the user as anachronistic. Maybe the story is different in other parts of the country, though. For that matter, the word is rarely used on its own - usually people refer to the output of such, as "tap water." Nobody uses the term "faucet water," even people who prefer "faucet" to "tap." 18. ### Fraggle RockerStaff Member Messages: 24,690 We don't use the word "pram." Sorry, a pram is what we call a buggy, not a stroller, although these days people often call them both strollers. My mother pushed me around in a "baby buggy," but the word fell out of fashion. One of our classic tongue-twisters is "rubber baby buggy bumpers." We call them all wrenches. The ones that completely enclose the nut or bolt head with a six-sided opening are called box wrenches; the ones with a worm gear that can be adjusted are called adjustable open-end wrenches, although most of us call them crescent wrenches, which is a trademark and it's like calling every vacuum bottle a Thermos or every disposable paper handkerchief a Kleenex. Screws with little hexagon insets have allen heads (as opposed to slotted heads, hex heads, phillips heads--another lost trademark--etc.) and the hexagonal tool that turns them is an allen wrench--no doubt also a trademark that has become public-domain. A plumber's wrench with an adjustable, loosely-fitting jaw that clamps down harder on the pipe as you turn it is a monkey wrench. A regular wrench with a C-shaped jaw that slides onto the head easily and is not adjustable is, properly, an open-end wrench, but we just call 'em "wrenches," or "knuckle-busters" since they can slide off the head just as easily as they go on. Oh yeah, and a handle with a pivoting nub on the end onto which you fit various cup-shaped thingies with twelve-sided cavities to fit on a bolt head is called a "socket wrench." I wonder how the Brits regard it? You flap your intervocalic D and T like a Spanish R, just like we do, so "ladder" and "latter" are homophones. The Brits pronounce them D and T. They reserve that flap for their R, whereas you always pronounce it as a liquid like we do. Your vowels sound a lot like British vowels--to most Americans. But I can hear the difference and I wonder if they sound like American vowels to them. Do you guys pronounce "tune" and "new" as tyoon and nyoo like the Brits, or toon and noo like us? How about American skedule versus British shedule? We use the term that way more generally, for example a chocolate bar. The name of the heavenly espresso-laced Italian dessert tiramisu means, literally "pick me up." So if you're on your way to a concert and you stop at three friends' houses so they can ride in your car, what have you done? We pick them up. Do you "collect" them? We say, "He was picked up by the police," but it's usually for a minor offense that doesn't merit handcuffs, like a forgotten speeding ticket. A trolley is a trolley car, a public transit vehicle with an electric engine that runs on rails and has some primitive apparatus on top that draws electricity from overhead wires. There are very few of those any more so the noun will probably become available for a new definition. We would all understand the word because we call the liquid that comes out of them "tap water," but we don't usually call them "taps." Also, the spigot in a beer barrel, or inserted into a maple tree, is indeed a tap, so it's not an unfamiliar word. The Chinese call them shui lung tou, "water dragon heads." We just call them turn signals. We say that, but perhaps more often the people of my generation than the youngsters. A biscuit here is a bread roll made with baking soda. Children eat lollipops, which are "suckers" on the end of a stick. We use garbage and garbage can interchangeably with trash and trash can. But rubbish is more serious than trash; there have to be pieces of old buildings in it and it has to be picked up by a bulldozer rather than by hand. Where did you buy your black-market software? Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image! Sounds like you got a bootleg copy of an American CD-ROM. A lot of Americans don't recognize the names of many of our states, and think Canada is one of them. Only a Southerner, with their unique accent ("Wah doan y'awl set dan a spell?"), would think that an Australian sounds like a (northern) American. But it's fun to make nice with people. I forgot about that. My father used to call a monkey wrench/pipe wrench a stillson wrench I've never heard anyone call it a tonic (that's quinine water, as in gin & tonic), but I say "pop" as often as "soda." "Soda-pop" is pretty old-fashioned, the kind of word you'd use humorously, or hear in a song. "Soft drink" is the industry word, you'll see it on menus. Most people don't use it in conversation. As for "Coke," well remember that Coca-Cola was invented in Georgia so people in the South (what we call the South is really the eleven southeastern states that seceded and brought about the Civil War) are still likely to use it generically. Talk about stupid and redundant, many people say "hot water heater." You have to go to Yellowstone National Park to see geysers. Next thing they'll be talking about "cold air conditioners." To us a garret is an attic that's been fashioned into a miserable little apartment and rented out to a starving artist, poet or musician. I only hear them called "traffic circles." In the Southwest they're sometimes called by their Mexican Spanish name, glorieta. If you want wild and crazy, some of the traffic circles in Virginia have lanes that cut right across the circle, and the whole thing is governed by stop-and-go lights. (Bet you haven't heard that one in a while.) All they do is eliminate left turns, which admittedly is a worthy goal. It's one of those things that becomes automatic when you do it every day. The problem is that even if you might be able to quickly convert miles to kilometers and feet to meters, if someone asks how many kilometers make fifty thousand feet you have to stop and do two calculations. As Dywyddr noted, that American use of "knock up" was only introduced into Albion in recent years. So both versions will coexist confusingly for a while. We use "put up" in both of those same ways. Temperatures are really difficult because there are two calculations instead of one. People outside the UK use that term jokingly to refer to decimal currency. The conversion was surely very similar and painful. Even I wish they had called the new smallest unit something other than a "penny." I spent years learning that 240 pennies (yeah I know, it's "pence") make a pound, so when I see a British movie and they talk about something small thats priced in "newpence" I get confused because now 100 pennies make a pound. When I was a kid £1 = about$2.50 so a British penny and an American penny were almost equivalent in value.

Some day British parents will bring their children to America on vacation (excuse me, "holiday") and they'll point to one of our traffic markers, or a sign in a store, and with tears in their eyes they'll say, "Bless these Yanks. They're the only ones left who are preserving our culture."

We'll still be listening to the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, when they've moved on to some bizarre kind of 22nd century music. They'll probably have kicked out the royals so they'll be living here in exile, and every time we walk past their downsized palace we'll say, "God save the Queen" and really mean it--so long as she doesn't try to take OUR country back.

In other countries don't they measure it in liters per hundred kilometers? You convert that to MPG by dividing the number into 225. I always thought that was an interesting view into the difference between American and European culture. In America bigger is better, so a car that gets more miles per gallon than another one is better. But in crowded, resource-depleted Europe, smaller is better, so the more attractive car is the one that uses fewer liters per 100km.

Last edited: Apr 20, 2011
19. ### quadraphonicsBloodthirsty BarbarianValued Senior Member

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Sounds like somebody hasn't been to San Francisco or San Diego, lately...

No, a traffic circle is different from - inferior to, actually - a roundabout. One of the reasons that we don't have many roundabouts is that we built a bunch of awful traffic circles back in the 1970's, which people have confused with roundabouts since then. But in places where roundabouts are found - and they do exist here more than some people might think - they're called exactly "roundabouts." Traffic engineers who favor roundabouts make a big point of observing this semantic distinction, to avoid the taint associated with traffic circles.

Right, the presence of stoplights is among the tell-tale differences between a traffic circle and a roundabout.

They do a lot more than that - they change the primary accident mode of the intersection from "high speed t-bone" to "low-speed sideswipe," which is a far less costly failure mode, both in economic and medical terms. They also increase throughput of the intersection, if designed appropriately - a major intersection where I grew up switched from a 4-way stop to a roundabout some years ago, and I can confirm that it reduced wait times there by an order of magnitude.

20. ### Fraggle RockerStaff Member

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I only get home to Eureka once a year, if I'm lucky. It's been about eight years since we drove down to San Francisco to deliver a puppy, and ten years since I flew to San Diego to teach a class on Microsoft Project. Everyone knows San Francisco's famous streetcars (the more common American word) but I didn't know they had proliferated.
So which is which?

21. ### quadraphonicsBloodthirsty BarbarianValued Senior Member

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The San Diego Trolley has been operating since the early 1980's. Although you might not notice it, depending on which parts of town you are interested in - it will still be years before it serves the areas of concern to me, sadly. See also: LA's subway.

The ones with stoplights/stopsigns are traffic circles. Traffic in a roundabout is controlled by entering traffic yielding to traffic already in the roundabout.

22. ### drumbeatRegistered Senior Member

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In the UK everyone just calls them roundabouts. But yeah, I get what you mean.

23. ### mathmanValued Senior Member

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One small difference. In UK (and Australia) People go to classes in university, wile in US they go to a university or college. Note the a for university, but not college.