Finding America

Me and Tarah

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When I launched this blog in 2013, one of my chief ambitions was to help foster a community in which we addressed some of the myths surrounding Americans. Having resided in the United States now for almost ten years, I've come to find that a good number of these myths tend to centre around American English (AmE)—that is, a variety of English that is unique to the United States.

In a series of tweets, I recently called attention to a particular set of AmE words that have, historically, been the source of much disgust among British language purists, who routinely scold Americans for "butchering the language." What these words sometimes have in commonoften unbeknownst to those plucky vocab crusaders—is that they either originated in Britain, or originated elsewhere but with a spelling and pronunciation to which both Brits and Americans are no longer faithful. In other words, the British really need to stop complaining about certain American English words. 

Below are five such words.

1. Soccer
Brits back home often ask me if I've yet succumbed to the dark side and allowed the word soccer to enter the once pure fabric of my lexicon, as if the word itself were inherently evil. The truth is, in the company of Americans, I do use it; not in an effort to rile my compatriots, but to avoid confusion when speaking to people for whom the word football means something quite different. Regardless, I am perfectly at ease with the word soccer, and certainly don't feel it my moral duty to correct Americans for using it—particularly since history dictates that there's no moral high ground to be had from doing so.  
2. Aluminum
I get it—Americans spell and pronounce this member of the periodic table differently from the rest of the English-speaking world, and are therefore wrong on every conceivable level. Well, the issue is a tad more complex than that. First of all, those of you who insist that the American spelling is somehow unacceptable because it is morphologically inconsistent with the likes of magnesium, potassium, and helium, have perhaps never encountered the elements of platinummolybdenum, and tantalum. Not only that, but the word aluminum isn't even an American-derived word at all, as outlined in this tweet from January 11.
3. Gasoline
When it comes to fueling cars, neither nation is afraid of practicing what linguists refer to as clipping; that is, reducing a word to one of its parts. In other words, Brits shorten petroleum to petrol, while Americans shorten gasoline to gas. Another thing the two countries have in common is their propensity for finding fault with the other's usage. This is particularly short-sighted on the part of the British, who—it turns out—coined the word gasoline themselves.
4. Van Gogh
The pronunciation of Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh's last name has long been the source of major contention between Brits and Americans. And it was included on this very list not because the American pronunciation of van-GO is consistent with the Dutch pronunciation (it's not), but because neither is the British pronunciation (van-GOFF). In short, the whole argument can be summed up as follows:
5. Center
Brits love to give ordinary Americans a hard time about their use of simplified English spellings, as if a) such spellings are a bad thing and b) the decision to simplify was made by the ordinary Americans in question and not by a single lexicographer named Noah Webster. Exhibit A in such cases tends to be the Americanization of words like centre to center. As outlined in the below tweet from January 22, Brits who offer such a critique should be careful to consider the historic spellings of some of their own words.

Laurence Brown is a British man documenting his life in the truly bizarre and beautiful world of America. He lives in Chicago, Illinois, and can be seen regularly on his popular YouTube channel. He is also an avid user of Twitter, where he spends his time discussing British and American English, the Royals, and his own silly little life.

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