US English Is Only A DialectThe English language is from England, not the USA

I am writing this post in exasperation, and out of frustration, after receiving a number of messages, emails and social media comments from US grammar nazis in recent weeks, who through their ignorance, fail to comprehend that I write in British English.

US English is a dialect, and as such, has its own set of grammar, spelling and lexical forms, which differ from British English. However, these American grammar nazis seem to believe that US English is gospel.

Well, it ain’t! I use Oxford, and not Webster’s altered English.

American English, or United States (U.S.) English, is the set of dialects of the English language native to the United States.

US English is only used in America. The rest of the English speaking world use the English language based on British and Commonwealth standards, with a number of local variations and dialects, including Canadian, Indian, Australian, South African and New Zealand among many others.

I am sorry to be a pain in the arse (no, not ass) about this, but while it is possible for the entire English speaking world to understand that there are many forms of English, including US English, it is only US grammar Nazis who live in ignorance, believing that their US English is the one and only English on the planet.

Well, sorry guys. It ain’t. It’s just a dialect. However, I can read it, understand it, and accept that it is different. But I don’t impose my standards upon you, do I?

So while I use collective nouns in both plural and singular forms depending on the context, which is perfectly correct in British English, please don’t criticise me because your US English dialect has been dumbed down, and can only use the singular form. Not my fault.

When I use a double consonant in words such as travelling or focussed, please don’t tell me my spelling is incorrect. Only in US English does it become traveling and focused.

When it comes to vocabulary, I know what a cell is, but because I can use a mobile or a portable as well to talk about a phone, don’t tell my I am wrong. While it may only be a sidewalk in the US, it can be a pavement or a footpath in my lexis.

The point to be made very clear here is that while the rest of the world finds it very easy to understand the US English dialect, Americans have a big problem understanding, and it seems, accepting, real English, from England. This English is not a dialect; it is the English language from which US English derived.

So, to the boorish US grammar nazis I say, don’t shoot your mouth (off), when you have such a singular understanding of only one form of English. I accept your US English without question, but please do not impose it upon me.

If you do, I shall throw this at you!

Oxford English Dictionary

Yes, I’m quite pissed off. Or for those in the US, I’m pissed. But to me, this means that I am drunk. Perhaps I should be.

God save the Queen!

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18 thoughts on “US English Is Only A Dialect

  • 30/01/2016 at 5:24 am
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    I love this because you’re right. I come from the City of Charleston. I’m told that the accent is similar to English as the colonists spoke it–that it is the British accent that changed.

    American English is thick with loan words from hundreds of cultures and eras. Accents vary so wildly that
    in the North the accent of some regions of the South is beyond comprehension…

    Language Nazi’s are a good thing because if you don’t know the rules you can’t break them effectively; and they teach rules..but I also think that enforcing a particular way of speaking English is another way to impose class restrictions.

    Reply
  • 08/02/2016 at 6:29 pm
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    As an American with more than a passing interest in the English language, I’d like to comment on your little screed.

    First, with respect to American “grammar nazis” who correct your spelling or word choice or conventions with respect to plurals, I can only offer my sympathies. Though I obviously don’t know, some may perhaps be less “grammar nazis” than “grammar bigots” who, though they’re aware of the differences between British English and American English, write to you only to assert the primacy of American preferences. (The American 19th-century lexicographer Noah Webster, who was responsible singlehandedly for imposing many spelling reforms on American English — you can blame him for our preference for spelling the word color without the letter u — was as interested in establishing a national identity for American English as he was in simplifying it.)

    On the other hand, your own bigotry is also beyond question. When you say “This English is not a dialect, it is the language” you express your own intolerance toward those whose English differs from yours. That most of the world’s English speakers *don’t* speak your British English — that however much Canadian or Indian or Australian English may be, as you claim, “based on British and Commonwealth standards” they’re nearly as different from your English as mine is from yours — I take as an article of faith. Indeed, once while visiting Foyle’s Bookstore in London many, many years ago I recall coming across an Australian-to-English dictionary. It was a lighthearted effort but illustrated quite nicely that the kind of differences you scorn in your post, such as the American preference for “sidewalk” over “pavement” (a perfectly good word in American English, by the way), exist in Commonwealth countries as well.

    Let me pause here to be a proofreading nazi and note a misspelling in your post, to wit: “… it is only US grammar nazis who live in ignorance, believing that their US English is the one an only English on the planet.” I believe you mean “the one *and* only English on the planet.” Unfortunately for you, the word “and” is spelled the same in British and American English.

    Lastly, allow me to point out a grammatical solecism in the subtitle of your blog:

    The blogging alter ego of author, Derek Haines

    It has to do with that improper comma you’ve inserted, the one that demonstrates you don’t know the difference between a restrictive and nonrestrictive appositive. True, it may be that the rules I follow on appositives are American and that the English don’t subscribe to them. But I seriously doubt it. By all means consult your favorite UK-based grammar authority and see what it has to say on the matter.

    I’ll end by quoting the bigoted American author Mark Twain, who, commenting on the language shared by Britons and Americans, once wrote:

    There is no such thing as “the Queen’s English.” The property has gone into the hands of a joint stock company and we own the bulk of the shares!

    Cheers.

    Reply
    • 08/02/2016 at 9:36 pm
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      Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Richard.

      Opening a debate such as this is akin to throwing hand grenades, I know. However, I believe it is important to make the point that there are many forms of English, and that criticising from the viewpoint of believing that one form is superior, or singular, is wrong.

      And, well, what about and? And my Oxford comma use? You lost me there.

      Look, I read quite happily in US English, with no complaint. Even if I wish the author had had a grasp of the Present and Past Perfect. But, I never make a point to openly criticise this, or worse, post a critical book review based on my grammar preference. It’s US English and I accept that.

      But you must understand how annoying it becomes when I receive online criticism for something as puerile as spelling travelling with two L’s, or using plural agreement with a collective noun.

      So, I can’t agree that is is bigoted to state that English is a language. It is. As I am Australian, I speak the Australian dialect, but have no necessity to force this on anyone else.

      Which comes back to my original point. I don’t like having US English imposed on me by US grammar nazis, or as you say, which is probably more correct, grammar bigots.

      Reply
      • 09/02/2016 at 5:02 pm
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        Derek —

        Thank you for your civil reply. (I wasn’t sure whether my comment would be accepted for posting, let alone given a civil answer. Thank you for both!)

        As a follower of Lynne Murphy’s blog Separated by a Common Language (http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/) I’ve discovered over the last few years that the differences between American and British English are far more extensive — and intricate — than I ever would have guessed. Trivial example: the common American phrase “tea kettle” appears to be unknown in British English, where the proper term is simply “kettle”.

        As far as the puerile comments you receive from American grammar nazis, I can only assume you don’t bother responding to them — or if you do, you’ve worked up some boilerplate you send off whenever one of these grenades lands in your inbox. We both know that publishing is a dangerous trade in the Internet era, when far too many people are outrage specialists who are constantly on the prowl for excuses to vent their spleen. I would imagine it’s even riskier when you actually *sell* what you publish. Hell hath no fury like a customer scorned.

        About “And, well, what about and? And my Oxford comma use? You lost me there.”

        I’m afraid you’ve lost me, too. I didn’t even notice your Oxford comma use. I was pointing out that in your sentence …

        “… it is only US grammar nazis who live in ignorance, believing that their US English is the one an only English on the planet.”

        … you’ve left the letter “d” off the word “and” in the phrase “the one *and* only English”. Do you see what I’m talking about?

        Anyway, I can’t help thinking you’re hedging your bets when you say “So, I can’t agree that is is bigoted to state that English is a language.” Because that’s quite different from saying “This English is not a dialect, it is the language.” British English *is* a dialect, just as American English is. Just as Australian English is. Just as Indian English is. And on and on and on.

        Sure, it’s perfectly idiotic to have some insular American tell you that “travelling” is spelled with one “l” and not two. And just as idiotic to insist, by virtue of geography, that it should — it must — be spelled with two “l”s and not one.

        That your preferences are proper and my preferences deluded (or corrupted) is, at least, the message I take away from “The English language is from England, not the USA”.

        P.S. Much of what Britons think of as American English *is* from England. Trivial example: American “fall” versus British “autumn”. If you’ve got an OED on your shelf, look up “fall” and you’ll see what I mean. It’s as English as bangers and mash. American vocabulary is larded with British English words that over the last couple of centuries Britons have dropped as their version of the language (I won’t say dialect) changed.

        P.P.S. I take it you still haven’t consulted a UK grammar book on restrictive versus nonrestrictive appositives.

        Reply
        • 09/02/2016 at 5:17 pm
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          You’re right Richard. I never respond to silly remarks or complaints about my use of English. Well, apart from having a grumble on my blog!

          Although, getting book reviews that concentrate on the subject of grammar or spelling does peeve me.

          However, when I receive thoughtful comments, suggestions or opinions, I always respond. Debate is healthy, and I am always ready to learn.

          And yes, I did take a moment to look up appositives.

          So yes, I see what you mean. I must plead guilty to not taking as much care with my blogging as I would in my writing.

          Perhaps I have been too well beaten into always remembering, ‘let’s eat, grandpa’.

          Reply
          • 03/12/2016 at 12:40 am
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            It’s American arrogance that annoys us most. But that is to be expected from a country that has been brainwashed by its leaders to believing that America is the only country that matters and the rest of the world has to follow them. The rest of the world wishes America could get off of itself and realize that the “American way” is not the “only” way; unfortunately, we can’t see that happening any time in the next 4 years.

          • 03/12/2016 at 3:39 pm
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            There are a few that can annoy, Elizabeth, but not all. The election was divisive, but I’m sure things will settle down now.

  • 15/02/2016 at 8:18 pm
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    Derek –

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Coming from India, and knowing 4 Indian languages (being able to read and write in 3 of them), English is a 5th language for me. So do I have an accent? Absolutely. But the more important thing for me is to be able to communicate. Am I able to communicate with people all over the world? Yes. So to me, English is not merely a language. It is a communication tool. In fact, communication is more important to me than having the correct grammar.

    Reply
    • 15/02/2016 at 8:25 pm
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      Well said! English is indeed about communication, and not about nitpicking whose regional dialect is right or wrong.

      Reply
  • 25/02/2016 at 11:35 am
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    Greetings Derek. Having only just found your blog via the Smashwords blog I have been reading through your posts like a word hungry pit-bull. When I came across this post I immediately said ‘Boy, y’all not be alone,” (well, I didn’t say it like that, but it seemed apt.)

    There have been many who have shared you pummeling from ‘Grammar Nazis’ over the other side of the pond, but I think ‘Grammar Nazis’ aren’t the problem – at least not the educated ones who, by rights, should know the difference between dialects. Try ‘American Bubble’. It’s a large, transparent ball that covers an X number of square miles across the U.S.A. that makes some – not all – United Statesians completely unaware there IS another language out there, or that there is even LIFE out there.

    An extreme of example of this is someone I spoke too from Michigan who thought England was off the edge of Australia! (They were only a college professor.) What the problem is, and as you’ve said, the world can understand the U.S. but the U.S. can’t understand the world when it comes to English, is that ALL books written by British authors (not sure on Australian, New Zealand, etc.) are TRANSLATED for want of a better word. Shopping trolley becomes shopping CART; car park becomes PARKING LOT; estate Agent becomes REALTOR. All right (another one: alright in some corners), so it’s minor in some cases but huge in others. This ‘Translation’ is supposed to be for ease of understanding, but it forms a massive amount of ignorance towards English as a whole.

    They used to say American and Britain were separated by a common language. That ‘common language’ is no longer common and the division is getting people’s backs up on both side of the Atlantic.

    On another blog (Roz Morris, I think) someone suggested placing on the title page of our written works: “This work is written in (your country) English. Spelling and grammar reflect the country of origin”. While some may think an author placing that at the front of their novel may be a little up themselves, it would most certainly help to avoid any misunderstandings further down the line.

    BUT, could this also have an impact on sales? On reviews? If a reader won’t read anything but their own country’s authors you lose that sale. If a reader hates your particular country for no other reason it’s not THEIR country, the reviews may be biased. In other words it’s really a no win situation.

    I see some authors ‘selling out’ and writing in U.S. English because they think it’s the only way to gain sales. How that would work with a story about a Yorkshire Farmer entering the local Sheep Trials I dread to think. “By gum, y’all!” Problem with that is unless you know how the nuances in the language work you’ll fall flat on your face. I’ve seen many U.S. historical Fiction writers look like morons when they have English village peasants talking like they spent six years at Eaton (and vice-versa with a free Western I read by a British author who seemed to think the protagonist from CANADA should sound like a hilly billy from Deliverance.)

    Sorry for the long post.

    Reply
    • 25/02/2016 at 2:12 pm
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      Thank you for your thoughts, Alex. It is an annoying problem, but as you correctly point out, the problem exists mostly ‘within the bubble’, as you say.

      However, I have to admit to attempting to to write in US English for my current novel, which happens to be set in the US, so I thought it would be a logical to try. After 30k words, I gave up the idea in absolute frustration! Not because of the different vocabulary, which is quite easy, but because I just could not continue writing under the handicap of minimising my use of the perfect tenses. Having to use ‘went’ when I really wanted to use ‘has gone’, or ‘did you ever’ instead of ‘have you ever’, frustrated me so much, that I gave up on the idea and began a complete re-write in UK English.

      So, I guess the potential US sales for my new book will take a nose dive! lol

      And, no need to apologise for the length of your comment. It was extremely informative, and very welcome.

      Reply
  • 24/05/2016 at 1:52 am
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    Derek,

    I enjoyed your post and agree with you on the need for diversity in English. In my proofreading work I’ve only come across one book so far that needed “translation,” and that was because a bunch of Midwesterner characters shouldn’t sound like they are from Notting Hill. That said, the increased use of slang in fiction makes it harder for people to understand other Englishes. In a number of books I’ve come across idioms for which definitions were hard to find even via an internet search.

    Reply
    • 24/05/2016 at 9:42 am
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      As an Australian, Michael, I know about idioms and vocabulary that are next to impossible to translate. The Australian vernacular is very rich, but a lot of it has no easy ‘translation’ in other English forms. Take the verb ‘to root’ and its idiomatic uses in Oz English for example. Now there’s a challenge! lol

      Reply
  • 03/12/2016 at 5:15 pm
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    I never did very well, grade-wise, in my English grammar courses during my public schooling years. It makes me wonder why I would want to be an author then, or what made me believe I’d be any good at it. But, I keep trying anyway.

    I have to admit that when I do comments on other author’s stories, I do find myself occasionally trying to correct tense usages before reminding myself that they tend to differ from country to country. For the most part, I don’t have much of a problem understanding what a UK author is trying to say vs. a US author (or Canadian or Aussie, etc.). There are certain terms and phrases that throw me-no examples at this time-but usually I can figure it out by context.

    Sorry for the ramble, but aside from all of the excellent points made above, I’m also thinking that at least part of the problem is the English as a whole language is quite dynamic as compared to many others. It’s constantly changing and growing. Much of that has to do with slang, of course, but not all of it. Many authors have a tendency to make up words, most of which never make it into common usage, and others just spring into being at need (usually derived from an older source word).

    I’m over-simplifying on this, but for the most part I believe it’s fairly accurate. I know I’m a huge offender when it comes to using non-existent words. One of my all-time favorite (favourite) authors, Mr. Terry Pratchett, was another. :)

    And now I’ve lost my train of thought, so all I can say is I enjoyed the post (rant?) and happen to agree with you on most of its points. Please continue to write in whichever form is most comfortable and appropriate. I’ll try not to judge or correct too much.

    I’m not sure how relevant this might be, but I’ll leave with a quote from Canadian game and speculative fiction reviewer, James Nicoll — “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

    Reply
    • 03/12/2016 at 5:37 pm
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      There is certainly a lot of variety in English, Robert. That is what makes English so rich. But it is very difficult to criticise, as it is all to often criticism from one geographic or grammatical perspective. eg: US vs UK English. As an Australian, I tend to have a foot in both camps, so to speak, but I do try to limit Australianisms in my writing. Often unsuccessfully, however.

      Reply
  • 03/12/2016 at 6:27 pm
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    If more Americans travelled and lived overseas in their younger years, they might be a little less ethnocentric. I spent my junior year at Durham University. While there, I compiled this list of British to American terms. Sharing it here – hope you don’t mind. One of the biggest usage differences is the American “different from” (or incorrectly used, “different than”) as opposed to the British “different to.” I rarely heard a Brit say “I have got,” either.

    British to American terms

    1. take the mickey out of = make fun of
    2. It’s haf-nine = 9:30
    3. It’s twenty [to] 9 = of
    4. Put a cross [against] your name = next to
    5. students going down = students leaving for vacation
    6. holiday = vacation
    7. I [shouldn’t] worry about it = [wouldn’t]
    8. as well = also
    9. I shall = I will
    10. mucking about = fooling around
    11. I can’t be bothered to do my work = I don’t feel like doing my work
    12. What time do you make it? = What time is it?
    13. skiving off = not doing any work
    14. swot = bookworm
    15. queue = line
    16. crèche = childcare
    17. chips = French Fries
    18. crisps = potato chips
    19. jumper = sweater
    20. pinafore = jumper
    21. track suit bottoms = sweat pants
    22. trousers = pants
    23. knickers = underwear
    24. suspenders = garters
    25. braces = suspenders
    26. waistcoat = vest
    27. fringe = bangs
    28. post a letter = mail a letter
    29. postbox = mailbox
    30. ring her up = call her
    31. rubber = eraser
    32. petrol = gas
    33. bonnet = hood
    34. mum = mom
    35. sweets = candy
    36. bar of chocolate = candy bar
    37. revise = review (study for exams)
    38. schedule = timetable
    39. coppers = small change
    40. wastebin or dustbin = wastebasket
    41. rubbish = trash, also “baloney!”
    42. biro = ballpoint pen
    43. foolscap = notebook paper
    44. tube = subway
    45. polo neck = turtleneck
    46. vest = sleeveless T-shirt
    47. linen = sheets
    48. cutlery = silverware
    49. dungarees = overalls
    50. petticoat = slip
    51. lift = elevator
    52. pavement = sidewalk
    53. pissed = drunk
    54. knock me up = wake me up
    55. disco = dance
    56. advert = ad
    57. drawing pins = thumbtacks
    58. sellotape = tape
    59. tights = hose
    60. chemist = drugstore
    61. loo = bathroom
    62. ladies’ = ladies room
    63. washing powder = laundry detergent
    64. pub = bar
    65. ta = thank you
    66. cheers = thank you
    67. roundabout = rotary
    68. coach = bus
    69. pram = baby carriage
    70. tram = streetcar
    71. ginger hair = red hair
    72. bird = girl
    73. bloke = guy
    74. different to = different from
    75. takeaway = takeout (as in Chinese takeaway)
    76. mind the step = watch out for the step
    77. diversion = detour
    78. torch = flashlight
    79. lie-in = sleep late
    80. curling tongs = curling iron
    81. rucksack = backpack
    82. cottonwool = cotton
    83. cotton = thread
    84. jam = jelly
    85. jelly = jello
    86. biscuits = cookies
    87. rah = preppie
    88. pet hate = favorite thing to hate
    89. way out = exit
    90. handbag = purse
    91. nappy = diaper
    92. cul-de-sac = deadend
    93. single = one-way (ticket)
    94. return = round trip
    95. hair grips = bobby pins
    96. hair clips = barrettes
    97. press-studs = snaps
    98. bung it in = throw it in
    99. ices = ice cream, etc.
    100. straight on = straight ahead
    101. straight away = right away
    102. give way = yield
    103. larder = cupboard
    104. wardrobe = dresser
    105. lead = leash
    106. car park = parking lot
    107. dicey = risky
    108. gone off = stale
    109. sweet = dessert
    110. reverse charges = collect call
    111. directory enquiries = Information
    112. left luggage = airport/railway checkroom
    113. a right pig = a real pig
    114. puckish = a bit hungry
    115. keep your [pecker] up = keep your [spirits] up
    116. jumble sale = rummage sale
    117. plasters = band aids
    118. ladder = run (in stockings)
    119. up the spout = down the drain
    120. going on the dole = unemployed
    121. paper = exam
    122. invigulator = person who hands out exams
    123. might do = might
    124. collect my bag = pick up/go get
    125. knackered = worn out
    126. shattered = beat, tired
    127. do you want a coffee? = do you want some coffee?
    128. belt up = shut up
    129. gents = mens’ room

    Reply

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