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British English vs American English

The battle of the Atlantic. England and America may share a language and have a history together, but that does not mean they have developed parallel to each other.

Localization ServicesBritish English vs American English: the battle of the Atlantic.

England and America may share a language and have a history together, but that does not mean they have developed parallel to each other. In fact, in regards to language, British English and American English have diverged from one another to become separate and individual languages with the possibility of some confusion and awkward conversations.

Atlantic Ocean - British English vs American English

The languages have localized rather than assimilated – as demonstrated by altered pronunciation and spelling of words like aluminium/aluminum. What is essential when crossing the Atlantic is to be aware of the similarities as well the dissimilarities to ensure that communication is clear, concise, and correct. This can be done by localization services that consider cultural differences when translating – they also consider demographics and target it towards them.

Below are some of the differences:

1. Is there a U?

In the UK, color has a U, whereas here in America it does not. Depending on which side you are arguing for, u is either dropped or gained on the nation.

2. Is there an S or a Z?

The letter Z (pronounced zed in Britain; zee in America) is used much more often in the US when mutating to a verb.

Biscuit or Cookie - British English vs American English

3. Careful when offering a biscuit…

Either party could respond in bafflement at this. Here in the US, a biscuit is a bread product that usually accompanies dishes like soup. On the other hand, Britain’s form of a biscuit is a confectionary item, or what the Americans usually refer to as cookies.

All cookies are biscuits in Britain, but not all biscuits are cookies to clarify… or confuse further.

Calendar - British English vs American English

4. Confusing the date

There are differences in format between the two nations. This could mean missing meetings and deadlines. The after-affect of that is losing business and disrespecting potential clients.

To be safe, say the name of the month if you are concerned. The British date format is the logical progression of day-month-year.

The American’s structure for the date is interesting as it is linked to mathematic limits. The structure is month, day then year. This is due to the month being limited to the number 12 and days limited to the 31, whereas the year can go from 0 to 99. An interesting method to structure the date that is fairly unique to the US.

5. Expressions

Globalization and the heavily mediated Western cultures mean that expressions and phrases are not as lost on the other as they used to be, but there are still possibilities to be dumbfounded.

There are some words and phrases that will leave some people ‘gobsmacked’ (flabbergasted) and others feeling like a lame ducks (useless). Be sure to educate yourselves on these phrases and boom! Bob’s your uncle! You’ve leveled the playing field.

Frozen - British English vs American English

6. Temperature

No, British reader, when they say 100 degrees they do not mean Celsius meaning that you would be at boiling point.

Instead, the Americans use the Fahrenheit calculation. Fahrenheit stems from 18th century German physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit.

So when they say it’s 100°F, it is still the shockingly hot 37°C so dress accordingly, but you will not melt… Probably not, anyway.

7. Fortnight

If your British client says something similar to “we’ll see in a fortnight”, they are referring to two weeks’ time. Simple, but essential.

Measure - British English vs American English

8. Measurements

You are most likely aware that they use the imperial system in the United States of America, while Britain is in the awkward in-between of metric and imperial.

Britain now measures metrically when doing construction work, our speed limits, height, and weight are more commonly measured imperially when referring personally – the healthcare system (NHS) has switched to the metric system as the UK is a part of the European Union.

These simple clarifications can save time and money to make sure the correct sizes are achieved.

Braces or Suspenders - British English vs American English

9. Suspenders/Braces and Trousers/Pants

Suspenders hold up your pants in the US. If you are an American chatting to a British client and you are having problems with your uncomfortable suspenders, you may get some looks. This is because suspenders are a lingerie item in the UK.

10. Fanny-bags/packs

When referencing these words to British people, it is probably better to err on the side of caution. In fact, it is probably best to avoid the prefix entirely.

The word is of a much more rude origin in the United Kingdom. It does not refer to one’s derriere nor the bag that tourists wear to rest on top of it for ease of access, lower chance of being pickpocketed, and an, umm, interesting fashion choice.

Careful when searching for the definition on Google. You could have similar problems.

There are plenty more to mention in regards to British English vs American English – this has been a generalization of the countries themselves, all sorts of complications arrive when you localize to regions.

Although the trip across the Atlantic can be fairly brief, the differences in American and British English are staggering. It shows the power of language evolution as well as the influence of the media due to the sharing of content.

Many may be aware of the differences, but it is always handy for a nifty guide to avoiding confusion. This works for international companies seeking to localize and translate their content too. That way any company – even ones further than the trip across the Atlantic – can know their market and know that sharing language does not mean sharing colloquialisms, never mind sharing a culture.


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