Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Origin of American Spellings

I've always wondered what caused the divergence of American and British spellings. It turns out the origin wasn't simply the passage of time or an oceanic separation. An article by BBC's Anglophenia blog explains that the standardization of language and spelling (on both sides of the Atlantic) didn't occur until the 1800s. Noah Webster wrote several books establishing new rules for American spelling and grammar,  in order to "wrest control of the language from the British ruling classes." In an attempt to spell words more like how they're pronounced, defence became defense; theatre became theater. He dropped "u" from several words "to differentiate...from the ones that end in -our and sound like -ower," such as hour. For example, honour became honor.

These changes aside, American spelling is still difficult and confusing. The English language itself is full of idiosyncrasies, contradictions, and quirks. At least now I can helpfully inform people at dinner parties how colour became color. I'm sure they'll be fascinated.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Three Ways Living in England Has Changed Me

1. I bring an umbrella with me everywhere. Even if there is no rain in the forecast (0% chance of precipitation is more of a wish than a prediction), even if there are no clouds in the sky. Stealth rain attacks are common. A single, dark raincloud will appear out of nowhere, usually while you're out walking the dog. It will track you down, unleash a deluge directly on top of your head, then continue on its way. I'm serious. Bring an umbrella.

2. I simply ask "Alright?" instead of greeting people with "Hi, how are you?" It's the most common way for Brits to greet each other, even though it sounds like you're asking for permission for some unspecified thing. People then respond with the same question. "Alright?" No one ever divulges whether or not they are, in fact, alright.

3. I can enjoy a room-temperature, flat beer. It all comes down to the difference between ales and lagers. Most American beer (bottled or on tap) are lagers, best served cold and with lots of carbonation. Typical British ales are meant to be consumed at close to room temperature and have very little carbonation. At first, I found ales almost undrinkable, but I've since grown to appreciate their more complex and interesting flavors.

(Image source)