Creeping Britishisms

We’ve all heard about ‘Americanization’ — the influence of the US on our own lingo. But perhaps we weren’t as aware of the influence that our creeping ‘Britishisms’ have on US English.

It’s easy to think that the early American settlers took the English language with them, Noah Webster tinkered with it, and that was it. However, the reality is that the two variants are much more fluid and interwoven than that. Indeed, Bill Bryson talks in his book, Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language, of how modern American English is actually a closer reflection of old English than modern, UK English itself.

US English — more British than you think

Some of the grammar rules I learnt at school are now considered old fashioned here in the UK, but still very much current in the US —handy when I’m asked to write in US English! So where I would still use title case in American headlines, I would most likely use sentence case for UK clients. And the serial comma I wrote about recently — something we associate with American English — is also called the Oxford comma because its use is standard for the Oxford University Press.

Recent reports have highlighted some interesting examples of modern-day language creep. According to this BBC article , words that we think of being typically American, like ‘diaper’ and ‘fall’ (the season) actually fell out of favour in the UK in the 19th century. And in a follow-up article , we learn that Americans are starting to adopt ‘autumn’ in favour of ‘fall’.

Writing for US readers

So where does this leave you if you’re writing for a North American audience? Our advice is to tread carefully when using colloquialisms, particularly when writing business collateral, but to keep your finger on the pulse in these times of person-to-person communications. If in doubt, you can always get your copy professionally localised so you know it will speak directly to your readers.

And if you want to take a deeper look at how we’re influencing our transatlantic cousins, Ben Yagoda, author of How to Not Write Bad, has devoted himself to writing an informative and entertaining blog on the subject.

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