American English

Welcome to our American English page.

This page contains a growing list of resources regarding American English; how American English has influenced international English and how English is spoken in the United States.

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American English – our blog posts

For a complete list of all posts on the topic of American English, including differences between American and British English, follow this link.

Touchous, honeyfuggle, and whoopensocker
… American speakers are no slouches in the regional expressions department. A good source of these is the US public radio show A Way with Words, whose listeners ring in with colourful colloquialisms – local sayings, puzzling slang, rhymes they learned as children, and so on.

Compound fractures
Readers over a certain age will think first of music when they see the word Motown. Americans may be surprised to learn that this genre of music is sometimes called Tamla Motown in the UK. This reflects the fact that the founder of Motown records, Berry Gordy Jr., began two record labels, the first being Tamla, in 1959 – a fact lost to American popular consciousness, but preserved in the British compound term.

Rather interesting
Michael Rundell noted in his post a couple of weeks ago that there was a clear British/American divide in the use of the expression “Thanks a bunch”: it’s often used sincerely in American English, but ironically in British. That distinction, in one respect, is the tip of an iceberg: the iceberg of adverbial modification. In fact there are many ways in which Brits and Yanks express the degree to which they do, love, hate, esteem, disparage, or qualify something in ways that differ only by a word or two. The points of difference are all adverbials, that is, single words or expressions that modify a verb or modify another modifier.

Helmer at the helm
The old nautical word helm is likely to evoke a salty sea image such as one from Herman Melville’s mighty Moby-Dick – that is, of a wheel or similar gear used to steer a boat or ship. A helmswoman or helmsman handles this duty, and if their helmsmanship measures up they will know how to up helm, down helm, and perform other helm-based manoeuvres.

Trending now!
What (in case you’ve been living under a rock) is Tebowing? It’s a word based on the surname of Tim Tebow, quarterback for the Denver Broncos football team. He’s an evangelical Christian and he manifests his faith, quite unconventionally, by genuflecting. Yes: genuflecting. English already has a word for what he does, but the novelty of its being done by a football player in uniform, combined with the easy convertibility of his name to a gerund and the fun of saying “Tebowing” certainly encouraged the coinage.

American political discourse: a primer
Speakers of English who did not grow up in the US may be nonplussed by the recurrence and special emphasis that a few words receive in debate rhetoric: the words are familiar, but the vehemence with which they are bandied about might make you wonder what gives the candidates such animation. The key to understanding this phenomenon lies in the special meaning that a handful of words carry in American politics.

Class, accent, variety: north vs south
… America has great regional variety. But one thing it does not have, in contrast to Britain, is a strong tradition of class-marked accents. Shaw, who gave us the braying phonetic snob Henry Higgins, wrote in a preface to Pygmalion that “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.” English accents have both geographic and class divides; America has many of the former but fewer of the latter.

The fall of the r-less class
The past century has seen American and British attitudes toward non-rhoticity diverge. Where r-lessness was once a prestige feature in both countries, it is a marker of working-class or vernacular speech in 21st-century America (typical of the broadest New York City, Boston and African American Vernacular Englishes). In England, on the other hand, non-rhoticity is stronger than ever, colonizing the country’s last rhotic safe havens.

I dig your rap
The music that we call rap today can be heard in nearly every spoken language. But the rap music that began today’s worldwide phenomenon was in English, specifically in a subcultural variety of American English. It’s informally called Black English but that’s not quite accurate; many Americans with African roots don’t in fact use this dialect, and Africans around the world speak a wide variety of English dialects, but not this one. A more accurate name for the variety of English that fuels Rap English, and the name currently favored by academics, is African American Vernacular English, or AAVE.

Dudes and dudettas, it’s American-English month!
I once shared an office with two Britons and an American. We all started work at more or less the same time and were all just getting to know each other. One day my new American friend took me aside and said: ‘Do you understand what those two are saying when they speak?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘But maybe that’s because I am more used to the British accent.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘It’s not their accent it’s that they don’t seem to say what they mean.’

The trickiest word in American
If you could hear my accent, you’d spot in a jiffy that my native variety is British English. But stop, come back, because I can tell you about THE most important word to get your head around if you’re communicating with Americans. I know this because I’ve lived in the US for more than a decade now, and it’s still the word that I have to think about – every time.

Wicked! The flavors of Boston English
Boston vocabulary and idioms are equally juicy. […] They also go up places, with the same missing prepositional to. Ask a Bostonian about his dear old ahntie Mabel, and he might tell you she’s up Mt. Auburn, under a tree, at which point you’d express your condolences, Mt. Auburn being a beautiful old Cambridge cemetery.

An official language for the United States?
Last month, the Texas Republican Party added this statement to its 2010 party platform: “We support adoption of American English as the official language of Texas and of the United States.” Many people, both inside and outside the country, may be surprised that the United States has no official language.

Border town lingo: a fusion of two neighboring cultures
This environment of linguistic pluralism in which I grew up gave me a deeper understanding of both languages and both cultures. It also demonstrated to me on a personal level that borders between countries are merely imposed political and physical structures. Borders cannot stop the rejoicing of two languages made one.

Collecting our nouns
A collective noun is a singular noun that refers to a group of individuals, animals, or objects, such as faculty, team, colony, staff, herd, and group. This is one of those points on which British and American English do not agree.

Are you a maven of the blogosphere?
Most online linguistic innovation originates in the USA – for obvious reasons. The USA is the epicentre of the web – by far the biggest and most influential producer and consumers of web content. As a result new words and phrases tend to draw on American cultural references.

Mavens and memes – the answers
Maven comes from the Yiddish word meaning ‘expert’ or ’someone knowledgeable in a particular subject’. The word has been popularised by Malcolm Gladwell to describe individuals who influence large numbers of people. A good example is Gladwell himself though he unconvincingly denies this.

A Brit’s take on American English
The US is a hazardous place for Brits. Since moving to Philadelphia, I’ve inadvertently commented on my hostess’s homely (=ugly) home; I’ve offended my gay neighbours by mentioning their fairy (=holiday) lights and I’ve even described the deceased at a funeral as having a wicked (=nasty – but not in Boston, where I might have been understood) sense of humour.

“D’oh!” and more: The Simpsons and its effects on American English
On the eve of its twenty-second season, The Simpsons deserves praise, not just for what it has done for television (you’re welcome, South Park and Family Guy fans), but it has also had an enormous effect on American popular culture and the English spoken in the United States.

You say ’soda’, I say ‘pop’: a Midwestern observation of language
As a child growing up in Minnesota, I often said yah, you betcha and uff da. I drank pop and ate hot dishes. When I moved to Florida, I quickly learned that what I called a shopping cart was a buggy and that some people referred to all carbonated beverages as Coke. I also learned that most Americans refer to a hot dish as a casserole.

American English? What’s that?
I was born in Tennessee, and grew up in Arkansas, Nebraska and then, mainly, Georgia. I remember moving to Atlanta at age 8 and beginning, self-consciously, to use “y’all”. We hadn’t said it in Nebraska and it came haltingly to me. I settled down into a lightly southern-inflected English there, with a Georgia-born father who said rassle and brefuss (for “wrestle” and “breakfast”) pulling me in one direction, and a Wisconsin-born mother pulling me in the other. My southern family always thought I (and my brother) sounded northern.

Other links

IDEA – International Dialects of English Archive
IDEA was created in 1997 as a free, online archive of primary source dialect and accent recordings for the performing arts.
British and American pronunciation from Macmillan Dictionary.

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