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I was reading along in my latest issue of Mighty Avengers, and suddenly I sat up and said, "Huh, I did not this author was British." I looked him up, and lo he was. I got clued in because he used one of those tricky phrases that I think doesn't get included in the sweater/jumper list of American and British English differences.

So, here are three phrasings that always tell me that an author isn't American and which I wouldn't expect from an American character (generally speaking; I assume there are regional differences, but these have all been faithful indicators for me in the past as to authorship):

1. Using 'meant to' where I would use 'supposed to.' I usually interpret 'meant to' as being about, say, purpose or life meaning or someone's (say a parent's or God's) intentions for someone else. 'Supposed to' is much more immediate and includes expectations one puts on oneself.

Good example: Vivian always knew she was meant to work with kids.

Bad example: We're meant to be unpacking our stuff, but it's kind of turned into a housewarming.

Fixed example: We're supposed to be unpacking our stuff, but it's kind of turned into a housewarming.

2. 'Different to.' This FAQ breaks down the UK/US usage. Basically, US speakers never say 'different to,' ever. I would instead use 'different from' (which is apparently fairly standard worldwide) or 'different than' (which is more of an American-specific usage).

3. Singular/plural usage of collective nouns. I actually don't see non-American writers use this for American characters, so maybe everyone already knows about it, but I think it's cool, so I'm going to tell you about it anyway. Basically, American English always uses collective nouns (ex: family, team) as singular and British English sometimes uses them as plural, if the context treats the difference members as indivduals.

British English: The company are braced for lay-offs.

American English: The company is braced for lay-offs.

(I am not totally confident of my British English example there; someone tell me if it sounds ridiculous.)

Crossposted from Dreamwidth. Comment here or there. (comment count unavailable DW replies)


( 51 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 26th, 2014 10:40 pm (UTC)
Really interesting stuff. As a non-American/non-English I find useful to learn new things about these languages.
Feb. 28th, 2014 03:28 am (UTC)
Feb. 26th, 2014 10:50 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I've been having the opposite experience - reading Connie Willis is freaking me out (so good, btw). Born in Colorado, lives in Colorado, says her bio. She *absolutely* writes like she's English. I've caught maybe three lines in four books that tweaked my Britpick sense at all (oh, and the fact that in London her characters always take the tube instead of walking between extremely walkable locations, but that's a specifically London thing).

How does she do it? Even if she has British parents I'd expect decades and decades of American usage would have an impact. I am utterly impressed. Unless the whole Willis persona is a front for a weedy bloke from Buckinghamshire, she has managed to overcome these traps that we all fall into. (I wrote 'fortnight' in that Olympics J2 quickie, and I *know* it's totally wrong in US English. Only caught it on about the 20th reading.)
Feb. 26th, 2014 11:32 pm (UTC)
(I wrote 'fortnight' in that Olympics J2 quickie, and I *know* it's totally wrong in US English. Only caught it on about the 20th reading.)

"fortnight" is definitely one of my big red Brit flags, so to speak. *lol* (Also "torch" and "bonnet" are ones I notice.)

The one that REALLY pings me though is "Fancy" ie "Would you fancy a drink?" NO American I've ever met uses that phrase to mean "Would you like...?" unless they were raised in the UK. I've seen buffy say that in fanfic and coming from her it's both hilarious and utterly wrong.

But then again I can't imagine the torture you go through reading American writers attempt a semblance of UK English. I'm fairly certain you do it better because the rest of the world gets exposed to our tv and movies; few Americans watch "The Eastenders" etc.
(no subject) - gillo - Feb. 27th, 2014 12:18 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - red_satin_doll - Feb. 27th, 2014 01:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 27th, 2014 12:11 am (UTC)
Connie Willis freaks me out for the opposite reason - especially in the two WW2 books which are wildly inaccurate. (Jubilee Line in the 1940s? WTF?) I love her stories, but find things jar me badly every few pages, even in Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog.
(no subject) - slaymesoftly - Feb. 27th, 2014 01:18 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 28th, 2014 03:29 am (UTC)
Hah, neat. I've read some of her stuff but of course didn't pick up on that so much. FYI, I am always up for an Ameripicking on a fic if you feel you need it.
Feb. 26th, 2014 11:19 pm (UTC)
And this New Zealander can't trust herself to do either. :(

The British English collective nouns example sounds a little off to me - partly because a company is a recognised legal entity. But I'd comfortably say "The team are all hoping you recover soon, Rodney."

(I can use a style guide. And I can edit for general consistency. And I probably slant British. But we're just bombarded from all sides, and codeswitch so often they blur together.)

(In my previous office, I argued with a girl who was editing our American story books for younger readers to be released in the UK market. She INSISTED that the dialogue tags should be formatted like this:

"I don't know how to tell you", I said to her, "that you are wrong, wrong, wrong".

"Punctuation only goes within the quote marks when the dialogue isn't part of a larger sentence. Like this!"

"Well, yes, that one is correct. But I don't understand why you can't you pick up a book recently published in England, or just read the Daily Mail online", I attempted to reason with her.

They got published that way. Uggggggghhhhhhh.)

Feb. 26th, 2014 11:22 pm (UTC)
Also, thank you, that's interesting information about meant/supposed.

(I can't stand "different than". I keep thinking back to the verb. One thing can differ from another thing. So: different from! Like "divergent from"! This may not be a sensible rule, but it works for me. Also, would you punctuate the quote marks in this paragraph in the same way as I have? Now I'm curious.)
(no subject) - red_satin_doll - Feb. 27th, 2014 01:39 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - morbane - Feb. 27th, 2014 01:47 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - zanthinegirl - Feb. 27th, 2014 04:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - morbane - Feb. 27th, 2014 04:32 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - red_satin_doll - Feb. 27th, 2014 04:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snickfic - Feb. 27th, 2014 05:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - red_satin_doll - Feb. 27th, 2014 07:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - morbane - Feb. 28th, 2014 03:19 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snickfic - Feb. 28th, 2014 03:27 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - morbane - Feb. 28th, 2014 04:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snickfic - Feb. 28th, 2014 03:31 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 26th, 2014 11:21 pm (UTC)
Basically, US speakers never say 'different to,' ever.

Although I actually have on rare occasions, partly because I've been exposed to it online via friends and fanfic (first in moulin rouge fanfic 10+ ago). I've also lived in North Carolina several years ago and my partner is from that area, so I've picked up some phrases from the region that I suspect may have their roots in the UK, and it's possible that's one of them. (I'm pretty sure "might oughta" OTOH is pure American south.)
Feb. 27th, 2014 01:24 am (UTC)
I've been alive (and an American) a very, very long time and I have never heard "different to" until I met people from the UK. Having said that, there are expressions and words that have crossed the pond in both directions I think, so there's no sense being surprised when something pops up somewhere. There are parts of the coastal south and the mountains where some archaic British expressions have lingered in isolated areas.
(no subject) - red_satin_doll - Feb. 27th, 2014 01:36 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - slaymesoftly - Feb. 27th, 2014 02:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - red_satin_doll - Feb. 27th, 2014 04:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snickfic - Feb. 28th, 2014 03:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - red_satin_doll - Feb. 28th, 2014 06:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snickfic - Feb. 28th, 2014 06:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 27th, 2014 12:14 am (UTC)
My teeth grate at the very thought of "different than", I have to say. Perhaps I should make a point of making an American character say it. I make silly mistakes, I know, especially in teenage language. And like BMB, I can't quite get my head round the fact that you guys don't use fortnights.
Feb. 27th, 2014 01:32 am (UTC)
Perhaps I should make a point of making an American character say it. OMG - please don't!!! It isn't correct and I don't think it's all that common. LOL Although I suppose it does happen more often than I'd like. I guess when my brain is functioning better, I'd better check my CMoS and get actual rule on when it is appropriate to use "than" rather than "from". Maybe I'll make a post on RRU about it.

I was surprised to learn at the last US WriterCon both that two young American girls had to ask what a fortnight was, and that when Lilachigh answered her, to find out that you all still use it. I've always thought of it as something that you find in older British novels, not something that people still say. I just wondered how they got through high school without reading anything with "fortnight" in it. (Maybe they did and just weren't curious enough to look it up?)
(no subject) - penny_lane_42 - Feb. 27th, 2014 01:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - slaymesoftly - Feb. 27th, 2014 01:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - penny_lane_42 - Feb. 27th, 2014 02:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 28th, 2014 03:34 am (UTC)
I had no idea that 'different than' wasn't used worldwide until I ran that poll a couple years back. These days I think I probably use 'different from' more often, but I don't really notice one way or the other.

I am very sad myself that we don't use fortnights. We just don't think of two-week periods as distinct entities.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 27th, 2014 01:33 am (UTC)
Oh wow, does it! I just saw that usage somewhere recently and had that immediate reaction.
(no subject) - snickfic - Feb. 28th, 2014 03:34 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 27th, 2014 01:16 am (UTC)
Good things to point out. Using collective nouns as plurals though, seems to be catching on here. Especially with sports announcers. I've been hearing it a lot in the past couple of years. It isn't actually incorrect (optional) in American English, but will seem so to most of us because it isn't something we are used to hearing. I much prefer our way. :)

Different to is (according to my UK sources), is as incorrect there as it is here, but is a very common colloquialism and most people who use it don't know that they are being ungrammatical. Different from is correct everywhere, however, there are specific situations in which different than is appropriate. Have a headache and can't rattle off specific examples just now, but it is acceptable in certain situations. (Not nearly as many situations as you'll hear it used, but some)

I think "meant to" is kind of neat, but it does definitely identify the author as British. :)

Edited at 2014-02-27 01:34 am (UTC)
Feb. 28th, 2014 03:35 am (UTC)
Huh, I had no idea about the sports announcers, or that the collective-as-plural thing was even optional in the US.

That's interesting about 'different to'; I didn't realize it was incorrect over there.
(no subject) - slaymesoftly - Feb. 28th, 2014 03:50 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 27th, 2014 03:26 am (UTC)
FASCINATING. *strokes chin* The last one generally causes me a lot of indecision, especially with things like, I don't know, "Team Angel". NEITHER "IS" OR "ARE" SEEMS RIGHT.
Feb. 28th, 2014 03:36 am (UTC)
Huh, see, to me 'is' is the obvious verb there; 'are' sounds very unnatural.
Feb. 27th, 2014 04:11 am (UTC)
Another one I've noticed is british "in hospital" vs american "in the hospital".

The punctuation inside quotation marks is a good one; though that just confuses me as to which way I should type it!
Feb. 28th, 2014 03:36 am (UTC)
Oh yes, definitely. That's another giveaway.
Feb. 27th, 2014 07:02 am (UTC)
My problem is that I spend so much time trying to Americanise my prose that I've got to the point that if I care about perfection, I know I'll never finish anything! So I honestly don't bother about trying to find things I know are invisible to me. I get over enough ropiness with British characters that I sort of hope we can all get along... I mean, language usage does rub off, so who's to say if people like the Buffyverse characters who spend enough time with Giles and Spike wouldn't shift slightly from standard American? I've picked up so many non-Britishisms from my non-native friends.
Feb. 27th, 2014 01:39 pm (UTC)
I think there's been a lot of mixing - possibly more in fandom that in RL? We all spend a lot of time "talking" with and reading things written by friends and acquaintances from the other country and things are beginning to rub off. LOL When doing character's voices, I try to keep in mind actual show dialogue as much as possible, rather than thinking "would someone from this country say this or that" I try to ask myself if it "sounds" right for the character as written and presented on the show. Would Buffy, Xander, Willow, Giles, etc say that? The American characters have slightly different voices, just as Giles and Spike do. In Spike's case, we're talking about a character who re-invented himself many years ago, left his native country and has lived in the US off and on for years. Add that to the fact that the character was speaking lines written by mostly American writers and spoken by a California boy, and... yeah. I don't think he's going to sound "right" to very many Brits. Giles, probably more so given both ASH's nationality and his character's more precise speech.
(no subject) - snickfic - Feb. 28th, 2014 03:38 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 27th, 2014 04:30 pm (UTC)
I forgot one other: "uni" for university. I never heard that until I had friends in the UK online via moulin rouge fandom ten years ago Someone said to me "I'm in uni" and I had to ask. I've never heard an American say that, ever.
Feb. 28th, 2014 03:38 am (UTC)
Oh, yep, definitely.
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