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AWADmail Issue 54

October 28, 2001

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net; Your responses

Scrabble and chess have more similarities than just a board with squares:
smh.com.au/news/0110/27 /spectrum/spectrum2.html

Bowdlerizing software:
smh.com.au/news/0110/26 /text/national10.html

In the last issue of AWADmail, I invited comments from linguaphiles on the state of American English's prevalence in their countries. Here is a cross-section of responses.

From: E.M. Fotheringham (em.fotheringhamATntlworld.com)
Subject: English/American words & meanings

Not only spelling but also meaning of words has changed recently here in the U.K. For example "presently" has always meant "in a little while", "later on", but increasingly it has come to mean "now", "at this moment", as in "presently house prices are rising." Confusing to those of an older generation!

From: Robert Elliott (robertATalphyra.ie)
Subject: colour/color

With regard to your request for comments on US vs. international spelling, I've found that the greatest influence of US spelling comes in the world of programming, especially HTML; 'colour' isn't accepted as a keyword. I've also found it prudent to place 'humor' as well as 'humour' in my web page's keywords. Even going back to the days before the web, though, a program is what one wrote on the computer, while a programme is what was on television.

From: Natalia M. (asyaATehu.unibel.by)
Subject: Re: AWADmail Issue 53

Oh, of course, "tonite", "neighbor", "color", "dialog" -- we (in Russia) perceive them as iniquitous mistakes that only Americans can make. Those who have been to the US and lived there -- might use this variant, but not academically (e.g. on a test it would be a serious mistake). The younger (25-30 y.o.) generation of teachers, though, shows tendencies to accept both variants.

From: Andrew Lisec (aml2ndATyahoo.com)
Subject: English Abroad

Having taught English in Hungary for seven years (I recently returned to the States), I witnessed something of a sea change in English usage there. In 1994, when I arrived in Budapest, British English was the standard, and Hungarians with good English generally used British spelling, syntax and pronunciation. The state language examination board was also biased towards British English, in some cases (including a few of my own students) penalizing candidates who used Americanisms. By the time I left, however, the tables had largely turned, with American English becoming increasingly the standard in language schools and in the business world. Even the hide-bound state examination board now makes provision, if reluctantly, for the "colonial" version of English in its oral exam.

From: Jonathan Danilowitz (jon-danATbarak-online.net)
Subject: British/American English

I was born and brought up in South Africa, but have lived in Israel for 30 years. At first, the "Jerusalem Post" newspaper followed British-English usage, but some years ago, made a formal change to American-English. It was hard to read for a time!

Today, US-style English prevails here, no doubt because of the change made at the dominant English-language newspaper, and aided by the pervasive US TV influence.

From: Ian Douglas (ianATzti.co.za)
Subject: AWADmail Issue 53

Bad, and getting worse. Not just spelling as much as Americanisms.

From news bulletins on the radio:

"one hundred twenty" instead of "one hundred and twenty"
"they will meet Tuesday" instead of "they will meet on Tuesday"
And the horrendous "in back of" instead of "behind".

From a radio ad exhorting us to take part in the current census:
"fill out your form" instead of "fill in your form".

Also particularly American words popping up like "arraigned", which has never been used in SA. Same goes for "plea-bargain", which is being introduced here in SA.

From: Kathy Sham (kathy.shamATpixie.co.za)
Subject: American English outside the USA

A couple of thoughts from South Africa, where, for a long time, we were exposed to a relentless diet of almost exclusively American TV programmes, thanks to the Equity ban during the apartheid years. As a result we've embraced US culture, dress, attitudes and language to an enormous extent. Would you believe we've even forgotten how to pronounce 'apartheid', using the US/German form so that it rhymes with 'height' whereas it should rhyme - appropriately enough - with 'hate.'

From: Warwick Allen (warwick.allen.1ATuni.massey.ac.nz)
Subject: Americanisms in other countries

I live in New Zealand and am conscious of the many Americanisms that have entered our version of English. Some common examples are using 'gas' for petrol, saying a date as "November one" or "November first", for example, instead of "first of November" (when it's written people still use the form DD/MM/YY) and pronouncing 'z' as 'zee' rather than 'zed'. Dropping the 'ue' from 'analogue' seems to be almost universal.

Using 'good' as an adverb in place of 'well' is extremely common. I think this might just be a result of grammar having not been taught in schools here for a generation.

From: Alessandra Ricci (alessandra.ricciATsnamprogetti.eni.it)
Subject: Issue 53: US spelling in Italy

On the subject of US spelling, in Italy whenever we use the word "center" (for adverts, sport centers, shopping centers) we do it with the US spelling, I think because it's more similar to Italian and I think for the same reason we use "color" as in the famous "United colors of Benetton".

From: Gareth Barlow (cyberratATiafrica.com)
Subject: Re: American spelling

I've worked as an editor for a newspaper, and while South African spelling is "meant" to be equivalent to British spelling, 90% of the articles submitted to us used American spelling - much to my dismay (yes, we had to change all the occurrences of incorrect spelling). What's more, those people I have mentioned this fact to often reply along the lines of: "So what? What difference does it make?"

From: Onward Lam (onwardAThknet.com)
Subject: Re: UK vs US spellings

Similar to yourself, I have spent a good part of adult life in both places using predominantly US-English or UK-English spelling. Though using mostly the UK version, I have nevertheless, on occasion, been required to use the US variant to avoid being penalised.

One of these variants that I will probably never adopt or get used to is the use of the letter 'z' instead of 's' in the verb form '-ize' and '-ise'. My only rationale for this predicament is the American's strong desire to win at Scrabble (a "Z" scores 10 versus only 1 for an "S").

From: Melanie Sheridan (mellygoroundATaccess.net.au)
Subject: US English

Here in Melbourne, Australia, the official spelling favours the inclusion of the letter u in words such as colour, favour, neighbour. Our daily newspaper, The Age - and, I understand, all other Fairfax publications - uses an American typesetting machine, which automatically spells these words without the "U". While this endlessly frustrates purists such as myself, who object to US spelling, it also causes amusement, and confusion: a recent TV guide article on the soapie "Neighbours" for instance, included a sentence, part of which read: "the neighbors represented on Neighbours..."

From: Ron Eden (ronedenATremminteractive.com.au)
Subject: zeady words

A certain Australian public relations/marketing communications Company warn that they will deduct penalty dollars from payments of writers who deliver projects containing words spelt with American "z's" instead of English/Australian "s's".

I asked one of the partners on one occasion what was the most regular offender and she told me it was "recognized" rather than with an "s". She got a note in the mail from a writer once, which stated he would be more careful in the future. "I apologize", he wrote.

From: Jonas Eklund (jonas.eklundATspray.se)
Subject: Swedish English

In reply to your inquiry on the various usages on English in non-English- speaking countries, I can report that in Swedish schools (or at least the one that I went to), each pupil supposedly chooses the kind of English he or she wants to write: British, American (U.S.) or even Australian. My mother being from "over there," I obviously chose the American way of putting words in writing.

The standard spelling and pronunciation taught in Sweden are traditionally the British/upper-class English versions. However, the tendency in actual usage among young people is towards compliance with the world hegemony of American culture. I'm always rather surprised to hear another young Swede speak British English fluently, and I'll suppose that he or she has lived in Britain or has some other ties to that country.

From: Anatole Beck (beckATmath.wisc.edu)
Subject: British English

In the many years I have lived in England, on and off, I have made it my business to learn their language. So I am constantly being taken off guard by their adoptions of American usage. I first had a sense of this in 1973 when my son told me that half the students at his comprehensive school said zee instead of zed for z. Later on, I was surprised to hear truck used for what the Brits used to call a lorry. In British, a truck is a railway carriage (not car) with only four wheels, principally for carrying cargoes like coal. It is also the four-wheeled unit at each end of a standard railway carriage, what Americans call a bogey. In British, a bogey was a hole in golf played at par, but now they use the American version: one over par. American words like tire for tyre have even crept into their lovely and demanding crosswords (which have not yet been edited into crossword puzzles).

The really interesting thing is that in most cases, they do not hear the change themselves. I tell them it is true, but they are unaware. Two of the most interesting cases are metaphors, which I swear the British had right thirty years ago, but now they use the (flawed) American version. One is, "You can't eat your cake and [still] have it", and the other is "Heels over head in love." Of course, you can have your cake and [then] eat it, but not conversely. Heels over head is flipped over. Head over heels is standing up straight. In this connection, the American usage ass backwards has not yet been taken up. Of course, it is ass forwards which is the English language translation of preposterous. Ass backwards is how things are s'posed to be.

From: Kelly Aparicio (kellyATpalaciodurazno.com)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--testudinate

Today's "testudinate" made me think about coincidences in different languages. In Uruguay, smaller country, compared to its huge neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, we usually refer to someone who is a lazy or rather useless person, as "pelotudo" or "boludo" (these being non educated words, but very accurate, as they mean that the balls or testes of such a person weigh so much that he moves very slowly). From today on I'll be using refined language when I use the term "testudo" instead.

From: David King (dkingATdal.dol-esa.gov)
Subject: Crabwise

This word reminded me of a Smothers Brothers bit. In a song the brothers sing about the doomed love of a crab and a lobster. I remember the reason why this love was doomed to failure as the brothers sang, "because crabs walk sideways and lobsters walk straight..."

From: Gregory Whitfield (gregory_whitfieldATnotes.rlg.org)
Subject: Crabs

Yesterday's word made me think of a musical term for playing a tune backwards: cancrizans. It is used especially in fuguing when the theme goes retrograde.

From: Graham Summers (gsummersATndsuk.com)
Subject: Headline verb confusions

These headlines reminded me of one of my favourites. This was the headline to an article that announced that Michael Foot (left wing MP in UK) was to lead a group looking at nuclear disarmament : "Foot Heads Arms Body".

From: Rene Buchanan (buchananATvolpe.dot.gov)
Subject: New usage

A friend traveled to NYC and reported how changed was much 'typical NYC behavior--not as surly, more polite driving, etc. Indeed, he heard an aggressive driver's behavior described as "so 9/10".

From: Eric Shackle (eshackleATozemail.com.au)
Subject: Newspaper Names

AWAD subscribers may be interested in an article about U.S. Newspapers' Eccentric Names, just posted at bdb.co.za/shackle. Clicking on some of the quirky titles presents a wonderful picture of life today in small-town America.

From: Barbara A. Kerr (kerrATbainbridge.net)
Subject: black and white

One of the comments in today's newsletter expressed a wish that "black" and "white" were more ambiguous--as is the word "blue." I'd like to suggest that "white" at least does not always mean good. In fact, it can sometimes imply that something is boring, deceptive, or dangerous: white noise, whitewash, whiteout (as in a severe snow storm), white water, and--with tongue in cheek--white male.

From: Klyd Watkins (klydATthetimegarden.com)
Subject: literal

How can we save the word "literal"? Can we demand that no one on radio or television use the word, unless they are licensed to do so, that license to be granted only after a 500-word essay exam demonstrating an understanding of its meaning? Can we offer a bounty to comedians for ridiculing its misuse? I know I would chip in. We can't stop change in language. But the word "literal" is very useful, used correctly. The word is 180 degrees wrong when a figurative expression is said to be literal, as in "Carl Malone literally took the team on his shoulders," or "she literally broke his heart;" but more pernicious is the irrelevant use, when the expression is not figurative to begin with, as in "they literally helped a great deal" or "he literally came in and changed things." This is becoming more and more common. The word, which was never that common in its correct usage, is becoming very popular, as a substitute for "actually" or "truly" or "really." It's all over the media, not just by sports announcers but news anchors as well. Maybe you could have as a weekly theme words whose meanings are changing in unfortunate ways. By unfortunate in this case I mean that a word that precisely describes a very specific situation, which is difficult to express without the term, is coming to mean something which has many alternate expressions, but there must be other ways words are becoming less useful, or have already become less useful than with a previous meaning.

    I literally did a few themes on this topic last year. See "Words often used in a sense different from their established definitions" and "Words that have reversed their meaning" in January 2000 archive. -Anu

Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands, and goes to work. -Carl Sandburg, poet and biographer (1878-1967)

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