The most oft asked question for a Brit teaching English in Mexico City is….what’s the difference between British English and American English? The answer I give depends largely on my mood at that moment. Perhaps I’m feeling like a smug, superior little Englander, in which case I’ll tell them that the difference is we Brits speak English.
Or perhaps I’m in a humble, post empire mood, in which case I’ll tell them that British English is now the junior partner in this global language of ours. I might even go further with the junior partner argument. But no, I’m simply not qualified, nor was my education expensive enough, to be able to argue with a man of such high post as the Prime Minister of the UK.
If I’m not being daft, I’ll simply tell them that the Americans have made some obvious improvements to the spelling of the language, such as removing the random ‘u’ in many words. Humor, not humour. I may suggest that American English is the older variety of the two. And that American accents are generally milder than the many British variants. Some of which are so coarse and unintelligible as to leave the impression you’ve just been conversing with a drunk caveman.
The common use vocabulary is essentially the same, with just the occasional word tripping us up. Brits were mystified when Ronald Reagan described Libya’s Colonol Gaddafi as flakey. Did we hear right? The US just bombed Libya because their leader has some sort of skin ailment? Us Brits need to be even more careful when over the other side of the pond. Declaring that you wouldn’t mind a fag would raise a few eyebrows. In certain parts of the bible belt, it might cause a raised shotgun and request to leave the premises.
But really these are all minor differences, of the sort which exist not only between the two nations, but within the borders of each country. The real difference? I’m inclined to believe that British English is so much more fun. This may, of course, simply be my British bias, and because I’ve been exposed to British English just that little bit more. But British slang seems so much more random, mystifying and varied. Cockney Rhyming slang has no equal. British slang also tends to have a little more wit to it. Of course, this is all entirely subjective opinion. The septic tanks may beg to differ. Wankers… 🙂
There’s more subjective opinion on this weeks Americana podcast by the BBC, which is always a good show, and will explain my expletive at the end of the previous paragraph. It’s too good a word to let pass by without use. You can use on friends in jest, or non friends to offend. You should probably assume that I’m using it in the former. This weeks episode, Big Cities and Small Towns features just a little bit of slang based audio journalism at the end, which I’ve posted below.