A funny thought occurred to me while I was having a cup of tea and considering a bloody great cheeky Nando’s for dinner; many of the words used in my articles are spelt differently than that of my colleagues and that may be confusing to some readers.
The reason? I’m from the UK.
PlayTyme is an international organisation that spans several continents across fifteen hours’ worth of timezones, and yes, that makes coordinating meetings a pain in the arse, but it’s also a point of pride. Maintaining such a variety of countries and cultures across one team isn’t easy, but it allows us to reach kink communities on an international scale. As such, when I brought it up in a meeting with our CEO and my editor-in-chief, it was decided that my English spellings would not be changed for the newsletter, even though I’m fluent in both American and British versions. It means that many ‘Z’s (“zeds”) are ‘S’s, but we decided that it was a nice touch to have something different and allow me not to censor my word choices or spellings by Americanising them.
My maths is plural, I ask for the bill at a restaurant and aluminium has more syllables. I sometimes use more old-timey sounding words like ‘whilst’ or ‘unbeknownst’. I dreamt last night, I use a lift to ascend the storeys of a building and order beer on draught at the pub. I go towards, rather than ‘toward’, something, turn anti-clockwise and usually say I move forwards, not forward (a foreword belongs in a book).
A biscuit is a thin cookie and a scone is thick and soft. When I’m “pissed”, I normally mean drunk. Pants go on under trousers, so without pants I’m nude. I put a condom on a penis, but erase pencil with a rubber. Fun fact: because a ‘fanny’ refers to female genitalia, fanny packs confused me. I thought that meant Americans wore them on the front, whilst we Brits wear our bum bags on the back.
I’d attend a football match, rather than a game, and it would be played on a pitch instead of a field. The ‘trunk’ and ‘hood’ of a car are the boot and the bonnet. A lorry is a truck, television shows have series instead of seasons, I tick a box rather than check it, brackets are parentheses and a billion was until recently a million million. The fun discrepancies go beyond our different understandings of wrenches and spanners; we attend college during what is the last two years of high school in America, and then university is what Americans would call ‘college’. We love commas and spell a bunch of words differently, such as: grey, defence, ageing, civilisation, doughnut, yoghurt, cheque and tyre.
Some spellings move letters the other way around, like ‘centre’, ‘metre’ and ‘theatre’. Some use ‘S’ instead of ‘Z’ (“zed”), like ‘realise’, ‘memorise’ or ‘organise’. Many have an additional ‘U’, such as: colour, armour, favourite or behaviour. Some, like ‘larvae’, ‘foetus’ and ‘coeliac’, add an ‘E’. Some add more letters, which may or may not affect their pronunciation, like ‘catalogue’, ‘dialogue’ and ‘orientated’. There are so many more: oestrogen, paediatric, mediaeval, paralyse, pyjamas, artefact, burnt, mould, plough, primaeval, smoulder. Many words keep their root spellings, such as Greek, French, German and Latin-originating words like ‘anaesthesia’, ‘diarrhoea’, ‘faeces’, ‘gynaecology’, ‘haemophilia’ or ‘leukaemia’.
We say “half five” to mean “five thirty”, fly in aeroplanes and know that whiskey is from Ireland, but whisky is Scottish. We receive post instead of mail, ‘fulfil’ has one ‘L’ but ‘cancelled’ has two and football is of course played with your feet, unlike American football. We go on holidays instead of vacations, summer becomes autumn rather than fall and we walk on pavements instead of sidewalks. Cars take petrol and not gas, and this sentence will end with a full stop instead of a period. A courgette is a zucchini, an aubergine is an eggplant and coriander is cilantro. Beyond culinary terms, there are a lot of French words used in English that we pronounce far more closely to how they are pronounced in French, but Americans make phonetic, such as ‘clique’, ‘croissant’ and ‘homage’.
Like most countries, we use the full twenty-four hours of the clock and write dates in a different order, which can confuse my colleagues and lead to serious errors, but luckily I’m well-versed in the American calendar. To demonstrate, we write dates in ascending order (day/month/year), which most countries do. Some reverse this by descending (year/month/day), but the order is the same. The North American style swaps month and day so that the day’s actual date comes second (“It’s October 3rd”). This means 04/08/2022 is a completely different time of the year to me than it is for most of my colleagues, which gets a little harder if they can’t tell what time 19:35 is.
In the UK, we have considerable exposure to American popular culture, so these things are easy for us to pick up on and understand. It’s also why British actors do such good American accents and not the other way around. General American and Mid-Atlantic were required accents when I was at drama school, in addition to Received Pronunciation (“posh”) and Heightened RP (“super posh”). British actors have to be able to play American roles convincingly to be at all hireable, since so many plays, films and series are set in America. The UK and Ireland have so many accents that it’s crucial to have them available to you if you’re going to be an actor. Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Northern English, Cornish, Cockney, South and East London are all among some of the most necessary. This is on top of American and Canadian accents, to say nothing of Australian, New Zealand and South African accents (which I am far better at than any regional British accent).
The funny thing is, I’m not actually English. Technically, I’m Hungo-Afrikaaner/Swiss. My mum grew up in Soviet Hungary and my father is from South Africa. His father was Swiss and most of that side of the family moved there in his youth. I’m lucky enough to be well-travelled and to have three passports, having naturalised when I was a child to gain my British. Holding Hungarian citizenship means I’m actually still an EU citizen following Brexit, whilst Swiss is one of the best to have for being Schengen, universally-liked and enjoys the same benefits as an EU passport. South African is the only one I don’t actively hold.
My German may be terrible and I don’t speak Magyar or Afrikaans, but I’ve been really lucky to be as well-travelled as I have been. My mother (by sheer coincidence) now resides in Switzerland, as does my brother, after having lived in Canada and the Netherlands. My sister has lived in Switzerland, New Zealand, New York and now Holland as well, so I’m used to travelling all over the place just to see them. While I didn’t grow up with many Englishisms, I did have a rather unique blend of cultural upbringing. My American partner is actually the one who got me into tea, believe it or not, since his grandparents are English.
Americans get a bad reputation sometimes for being obsessed with their heritage, but I think wanting to understand our origins is a beautiful thing. That is, so long as you’re not outright calling yourself Irish or Italian whilst being several generations removed from any such roots. Having never lived anywhere near such places or grown up with any of the language, culture or history undeniably puts a great distance there. I wouldn’t call myself Dutch or Romanian. Yet, it’s so cool to learn more about where we all come from. The paths travelled, cultures combined and stories interwoven that have led to our existence are naturally fascinating to a species as curious as us.
These were all the differences I could come up with off the top of my head, but there are so many more fun and bizarre ways that being from another country with a shared language affects how we use it. From idioms, adages, proverbs and aphorisms, there are all kinds of odd expressions that differ in addition to spelling and grammar, like the swear words we use. Learning a little more about each others’ way of speaking is something I find endlessly fascinating, so I hope this has been a fun little dive into my background and why my articles read just a tad differently to some of the others.