Friday, October 23, 2009

British Vs American – IS the Word or Sense Different?

Some words that exist in both dialects do not always mean the same thing – words like faggot (American: a homosexual; British: a bundle of sticks) and vest (American: waistcoat; British: undershirt). Similarly, if you take someone for a ride in Britain you are stringing him along in order to deceive him. In America, you are liquidating him or bumping him off. With words or expressions like these an explanation is even more in order. Using them without one could lead to serious – and embarrassing – misunderstandings.
Another, parallel, complication arises with words such as lift and elevator. It is not really true to say that a lift in British is an elevator in American. You would be nearer the truth if you said that one of the meanings of lift in British corresponds to one of the meanings of elevator in America. In America you can still give a hitchhiker a lift; in Britain grain might be unloaded using an elevator.
Again be careful if your readers or listeners include people from the other side of the Atlantic.
Explain your meaning of the word – or use an alternative, unambiguous one.
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