A History of the World in a Dozen Objects: Number 9 - Two Important Men and a Dictionary

by Jarvo J May. 25, 2011 3682 views

I sat at work today with my trusty dictionary on the little shelf above my desk. I picked up the phone and dialled one of my colleagues in our London office. No sooner had she picked up the phone when she said, ??I'm sorry if it's a bit noisy in the background?, she said ??only, we're just waiting for Barack Obama to go past the window?.

He is in the middle of a three day tour of Britain. He and Mr Cameron have been playing it very nicey nicey and saying lots of things about ??The special relationship? between Britain and the USA as the Democratic President and the Conservative Prime Minister do their very best to try and help each other get re-elected.

This got me thinking about a famous quote from an Irishman that England and America are, ??two countries separated by a common language?. What is it really like when Cameron and Obama are together in private away from the stage managers and PR men. Wouldn't it be absolutely fantastic if David asked Barack to put his fag end in the ash tray! In reality though, I don't suppose the president is much of a smoker, and the pm would be too well briefed to make such a gaff. There have been some fun moments in the past though, notably when President Carter shouted ??“Howay the lads,” to a crowd of Geordies (people from Newcaste ?? where the brown beer comes from) in 1977.

Back to the dictionary, and it is interesting how many words are different between American-English and British-English, or at least are used differently. Sometimes the Americans continue to use English words that have died out (or at least remain dormant) on this side of the Atlantic. Sometimes they invent new words, some of which are picked by us and used some of which aren't. Sometimes they just take a more pragmatic view of spelling and pronunciation ?? simplifying words .

But that is perhaps inevitable. All successful languages grow and develop. Indeed about 60% of English words are derived from Norman French. It's hardly noticeable when listening, but you can see it in the written form. French itself developed from several languages, most notably latin. Latin derived from other older languages.

The 40% of English that doesn't derive from French comes from a multitude of sources, Anglo-saxon, Celtic, Indian, German… you name it, it's in there. And that is surely a healthy thing.

What of the future? Will English and American English become so different that the later becomes known simply as American, as distinct from the original as English is from French. Or will they develop together? I don't know.

Please feel free to add your own below. They don't have to be Enblish/American, but any languages.

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There are 12 comments , add yours!
Larry Nelson 9 years, 11 months ago

Great lesson in English and whatever-it-is that we speak on this side of the pond.

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Susan 9 years, 11 months ago

Fun post!
Telly: TV
Tcon, telecon(ference): conference call

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Gregg Maretka 9 years, 11 months ago

Yes....i've noticed the differance in words...quite interesting just from state to state here...but with the internet and being able to communicate with everyone around the world, to become friends with them,to learn the differant cultures, spellings, meanings, and just to have the pleasure of sharing each other becomes very special and amazing to me.....another fabulous post...Jon !!! You are a very intelligent fellow,chap,lad,man,mate,friend,,,,,ok i'll stop my rambling...stay cool my friend !!

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Jacki 9 years, 11 months ago

I thought of another: years ago when we were in England some lady told my kids to "puddle in" to a stream... we would say "wade in" to the stream.

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Mikkal Noptek 9 years, 11 months ago

Great !!

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Lis 9 years, 11 months ago

great job Jon.. honestly this is brilliant!

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Jet28 9 years, 11 months ago

Note to DD: Everyone knows we speak Strine!

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Eiram Marie 9 years, 11 months ago

This is so unfair!!! So many people speak English and nobody speaks Czech...and Czech is such a beautiful language! Just try to say: Strč prst skrz krk.
Wonderful, right?

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Snowpie 9 years, 11 months ago

great pic and nice collection^^ do things like the spelling count, too? like color and colour? Or what I heard in a meeting. "to table sth" in England it means "to put sth on the agenda" and in the US "to put sth off the agenda". I think that's funny. :) It started a lot of confusions that time.

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Jacki 9 years, 11 months ago

jumper/ sweater ... mate/ friend
At least these are what my Aussie relatives say... and they seem to think THEY speak "English". :)

Fun post, Jon. I'll look forward to stopping back and see what others come up with. How about sayings like "in hospital"/ "in THE hospital".

OH, and I've never heard the word fag used (well at least not in the last 30 years) it's "gay".

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Michael Sakowicz 9 years, 11 months ago

Yeah, he smokes...

By the way... I thought these were slices of cheese...

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Helen Hooker 9 years, 11 months ago

Yet another fascinating post Jon :-)

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
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