"And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."
In this final sentence in the Declaration of Independence, is Thomas Jefferson also declaring independence from the British language? The last word is honor, not honour. Spelling in those days was not consistent, so it probably was not a deliberate attempt to Americanize the word. But since 1776 the differences between American and British English have grown. Yes, Americans have adopted British terms, such as kiosk and queue, and the British have picked up quite a few Americanisms. But the difference remains. I am reminded of it nearly every time I read Julie's blog, The Virtual Journey, or one of her other blogs. Her posts are always interesting and always well-written, but the language is distinctly British.
In a wonderful description of a meal at an English inn, Julie writes: "In the centre of the plate, a field mushroom nestles in a bed of rocket and green salad; it is topped with spinach, grilled cheese and crisp lardons of bacon." There are no guided missiles here; rocket is British for arugula. (It made me wonder--excuse the groaner of a pun--if British botanists who specialize in arugula could be called rocket scientists.) And Americans just don't eat lardons of bacon, which I believe are small cubes. Our bacon comes in strips, or what the British would call streaky rashers.
I was reminded of an article I read more than thirty years ago. I dug out the Summer 1975 issue of Horizon Magazine and reread "Of Panda Cars and Pantechnicons, Biros and Blimps," by Ian M. Ball. Ball quotes Oscar Wilde as saying, "the English have really everything in common with the Americans, except of course language."
"To begin with, " writes Ball, you might pick up the Times Educational Supplement and read the following: 'A fifteen-year-old Croydon boy has been suspended by his head since last September because of his long hair.' No, this is not the British belief in corporal punishment carried to sadistic lengths. Head is an acceptable abbreviation for headmaster."
Then there's the simple sentence, "I was mad about the flat." For an American, it expresses anger about a punctured tire: to a Briton, it means being crazy about an apartment. Ball goes on with a paragraph to test the reader's understanding of British:
I was wearing a bespoke suit, with gongs, and was sitting in a bath-chair in a lay-by in the arterial road, when I first saw a panda car, then a milk float, followed by a pantechnicon and an articulated lorry. The driver of the lorry, oddly enough a real blimp, stopped, got out, and asked if I was carrying a biro. It transpired that he was carrying a load of geysers, immersion heaters, and loofahs for the ironmonger on the front. He said he had heard there was trouble locally in the mains in town and he was searching for a blower. I told him there was a kiosk ahead, just past the pillar-box.
While I'm sure Julie understood all the references, most Americans wouldn't unless they had spent quite a bit of time in the United Kingdom.
Here's a glossary:
Bespoke suit=custom-tailored suit
arterial road=main highway
panda car=small police patrol car
milk float=milk truck
articulated lorry=tractor-trailer truck
blimp=a pompous, elderly man
biro=ball point pen
geysers=over-the-sink hot water heaters
mains=electric power supply
Kiosk, of course was more general term even then, and has since crossed The Pond, as the British are wont to call the Atlantic. You can buy loofahs at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, but biros, pantechnicons, and geysers haven't made the journey.
Personally, I love learning about the differences in American and British, as well as the regional variations. (The Kensington and Allegheny, or K & A dialect of Near Northeast Philadelphia may be grating to my ear, but I'm glad there are still those who speak it.) But it must be difficult for my Hungarian friend SzélsőFa , who must not only deal with the sometimes bizarre rules of English spelling and grammar, but then have to sort out peculiarly American and British usages. And I haven't mentioned Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, Jamaica, and so many other nations which have taken English and made it their own.