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