06 January, 2016

The great English divide

I periodically post language or other cultural questions on my Facebook page. Because I have friends from both sides of the American/Commonwealth English divide (and more besides, including South Africans, Singaporean, etc.) I often end up with some lively discussions. 

What do you call this? Port or suitcase or something else?
Here are some recent samples of less well-known differences in the English language:

In Australia this is a cheap, coloured sweet drink (non-alcholic) bought as a liquid and diluted. Popular with children.

  • KC wrote: "Wow, to me (a North American), a cordial would be an alcoholic drink, so I was a bit surprised when you said it is "popular with kids"! In the USA, a "cheap, colored, sweet drink that is made by adding water, is usually called "kool-aid," although that is a brand name and there are many no-brands of the same thing. The difference is that kool-aid starts as a powder, whereas it sounds like your "cordial" starts as a concentrated liquid."
  • JM wrote: "We don't have an exact equivalent that I can think of, which is probably why I was starstruck by cordial the first time I drank it in Brisbane! It never occurred to me that it was unhealthy. Here are approximations that come to mind: when I was growing up, we had "frozen concentrated orange juice". It was a frozen can of orange stuff that you would reconstitute with water. In theory it was "real" orange juice but I'm not so sure about that now. Also, we had, and still have loads of powdered drinks like KoolAid and Tang....now there's Crystal Light..."
Fruit cake
Australian fruit cake is moist and uses dried friut. Apparently American fruitcake is often made on candied friuit and can be quite dry. It is also the butt of jokes. However my FB page revealed that some Americans do like American fruit cake. 

Means luxurious, appealing or catering to high-income consumers. Americans didn't seem to have heard of it, but rather used "high end".

Lego vs Legos
I saw this on a friend's page. What's the correct plural? Answer: neither, it depends on where you learnt your English. It's best on this one to agree to disagree.

You may have seen this amusing video of Australian vs US words going around, one of my language exchange partners enjoyed it so much that she asked to see it again on a later occasion and for the link to show her daughter.

But even within Australia there are variations, as this article demonstrates.

Ah, we live in an interesting world. Language is constantly changing. I was reminded of this recently when reading a poem by George Herbert (1593-1633). It has phrases like "The six daies world-transposing in an houre" and "Heaven in ordinary, man well drest". Obviously we can still read and understand these words, but the spelling is different.

So we may rally against different English uses but ultimately in a multicultural environment the only way to live at peace with one another is to be tolerant of one another's differences.

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