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The U.S. and Britain: 'two nations divided by a common language'
These famous words have been attributed both to playwright George Bernard Shaw and Britain's wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Many overseas students still wonder exactly what the difference is between British and American English. The answer has to be: not nearly as much as you might expect after centuries of separate development. Most Brits and Americans have very little difficulty understanding one another, and in today's world of low-cost air travel, satellite TV and the Internet, Briticisms and Americanisms are being tossed around almost indiscriminately on both sides of the 'pond'. Perhaps in 50 years' time we'll hardly be aware of any transatlantic 'divide'.
In this section of my English User Guides I have been noting down variants in British and American usage as and when I've come across them. Those easily offended should be warned that, in order to provide as full a picture as possible, I have not shied away from including many politically incorrect terms, everyday slang and, in some cases, even taboo slang. Like it or not, this language has to be taken on board for a proper understanding of popular culture.
If a particular word or expression is used differently in British and American English, such variants have been hyperlinked together for easy cross-reference. Mere pronunciation and orthographical differences have largely been ignored. For a comparison of U.S. and British spelling rules I refer you to my Guide to Englsih Spelling.
These glossaries are constantly being updated and extended, so do please e-mail me any other expressions you feel ought to be included.
David V. Appleyard