The book! The book!

I've been quieter than I'd like to be on this blog, but things have been a bit crazy-hectic-mad getting ready for the release of The Prodigal Tongue: The love-hate relationship between American/British and British/American English. Yes, there are different subtitles depending on which country you buy the book from. There had to be, right?

So I invite you, kind readers, to visit the new website for the book, which has lots of good stuff, including a couple of short quizzes (orig. AmE in that sense) to see how much you know about British and American English. (I will warn you: just because you come from a country doesn't mean you know all of its English!)

If you're thinking about buying the book, please consider (orig. AmE) pre-ordering it (see the buy now link at the website). Pre-orders help authors because they show (BrE) bookshops/(AmE) bookstores and media outlets that it's a book people care about—and so it's more likely to be kept in stock and reviewed.

And let me make a special plea to those who follow the blog and like it. The content that I provide here (and daily on Twitter and less daily on Facebook) is provided for free. It's not part of my day job to write Separated by a Common Language. I started it as an act of love (and procrastination) and all expenses relating to it (e.g. the makeover the blog had a while ago) are out of my own pocket. I do not take advertising money, because nobody wants to see ad(vert)s here. If you like this blog or the Twitter Difference of the Day, and you want to show its author your support, please buy the book and/or ask your local or school library to buy it. (And if you like it, maybe give it as a gift too!)

The book is SO MUCH MORE than the blog has been. It is not a printing of old blog posts. I learned so, so much in writing it, and really think you'll enjoy it. The advance reviews have been amazing so far.

So, please have a look at the site, please consider ordering one (and/or asking a library to do so!), and if you take the quizzes, please share your results on social media!

Thanks for reading! Lynne x  (that x is soooo British)

P.S. SPOILER ALERT: people are talking about the answers to the quizzes in the comments here. So if you're planning to take the quizzes and read the comments, do the quiz part first!


  1. Hmm, 9 out of 10 on both quizzes.

  2. Congratulations, Lynne, this is exciting news.
    I've just read the enticing extract on the Barnes & Noble site, and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.
    One thing about that extract, though - something has gone awry with the punctuation, and all the dashes are coming out as hyphens.
    For example:
    "But what makes our relationship special-a unique and essential asset-is that we join hands across so many endeavors."
    (Might this, ironically, have arisen from an AmE-BrE difference in how we type and space dashes--usually like that in AmE - and usually like that in BrE?)
    I do hope this error doesn't occur in either of the print editions.
    Speaking of which, I'm curious to know if there are any other differences between the British and American editions apart from the subtitle and the cover design.
    (I'm ashamed to admit that despite being an avid reader of this blog my quiz score was only 3/10 for AmE, vs 10/10 for BrE)

    1. I don't know how they've processed the extract, but the actual book is clear to read with dashes.

      There's some description of the differences between the editions in the first chapter and there will be more on the 'index' page on the website, closer to publication date.

  3. Pre-ordered today and can't wait to read it. I don't do as much localisation as I used to but it's vital to keep up to date with what's going on and I have been enjoying this blog for a while. Good luck with the publication. I'll let you know when I've reviewed the book on my blog

    1. Oh and I got 7/10 for US English and 10/10 for UK, which feels about right. I knew I didn't know the ones I didn't know, if that makes sense, which is all I ask of myself as an editor and localiser!

  4. Is the "x" because Americans prefer to supply multiple kisses instead of just one? Y'know, stiff upper (and lower) lip?

    1. Americans don't tend to put an x after the name like that, and when they use x's, tend to mix them with o's. It's just not part of text/email etiquette there like it is in UK...

  5. I took both the American and British versions of your quiz and I have to say I'm quite disappointed in my British skills. I was sure that hanging out at your blog all these years would help me do better than 4 out of 10 -- but I salute you for coming up with ingeniously idiosyncratic questions. I scored an easy 10 out of 10 on the American quiz, so I'm guessing the Brits here may have just as tough a time with *our* version as I did with *their* version.

    And now that I'm done commenting, let me add I'll be going back to your book's website to preorder it. Congratulations, BTW.

    1. Yay--the quizzes did their job! :)

      Thanks so much for the pre-order!

    2. Dick, I had similar trouble with the US English quiz. The more I think of it, the more I appreciate Lynne's skills as a multiple-choice test maker.

      The trick lies firstly in the choice of item, but then also in the construction of distractors. Far too many multiple-choice questions around — and not just the amateur ones — are padded with distractors that are obviously false.

      There was only one question that I got right by deduction rather than knowledge or guesswork. This was for a personal reason which I was planning to divulge, but now won't since but Lynne has pointed out that this can be a spoiler.

  6. A few further words on the quizzes. Looking at them again I see I misread question 2 on the British quiz and thought it was asking which of the foodstuffs was not a real thing. I've seen vegetable suet enough times in the supermarket to know that's real.

    On the American quiz, I had no idea which of drunk-driving etc. was wrong.

    Back in the sixties, the American ventriloquist Shari Lewis had a show on British television and she had a puppet called Charlie Horse. It was only many years later that I discovered that name actually meant something.

    About forty years ago I was at a science fiction convention in the UK and I was having lunch with a group that included an American. She had been reading an English book and needed an explanation. A character was getting dressed and put on a skirt and a jumper. We explained what a jumper was in the UK and she explained what it was in the US and we decided that it was what we call a pinafore dress.

    A few days later I was back at work and recounted this to a colleague who it turned out was an amateur dressmaker. She told me that anyone who bought dress patterns knew this as dress patterns were printed in the US.

    But more recently I've heard Americans refer to as a jumper the garment that is also called a romper, a combination of shorts and a top.

    I'm thinking about buying the book, but for many years I was buying books at a considerably faster rate than I could read them so I now think very hard about buying more books. (Is there a self-help group for people who have this problem?)

    1. Snap!

      I too glanced at the question and thought it had to be about what wasn't a real thing. There must be something in the quiz format that raises the expectation..

      And I wonder how old you need to be to know that there are fourteen ounces in a stone.

    2. When I was at school, there were 224 ounces in a stone.

      I can still recite it:

      16 ounces 1 pound
      14 pounds 1 stone
      2 stone 1 quarter
      4 quarters 1 hundredweight
      20 hundredweights 1 ton.

      Which, incidentally means that an Imperial ton, 2240 pounds, is heavier than a US ton, which is 2000 pounds.

    3. Every woman in the UK knows how many pounds are in a stone. It's all they talk about in the gym locker room--especially the young ones.

    4. Yes, I realised after posting that stones are still used for body-weight.

    5. I hope people are taking the quiz before reading your discussions of answers! "SPOILER ALERT" would have been fitting here!

    6. I expect the women in the gym are hoping to 'lose a few stone' - not stones.
      I've just got 10/10 for the BrE, 7/10 for AmE in the quiz. Not too bad, I suppose! A very well-constructed set of MCQs. Perhaps you should warn about possible spoilers for those who read the comments before doing the quiz.
      And of course I will be buying at least one copy of the book - I've been reading the blog for long enough to feel a great affinity for the subject matter.

    7. Thanks, biochemist!

      I have lots of MCQ experience as an educator, so that helps. There's a big shift in how you have to write such tests when you go from a system where an 'A' is 90% or more correct to one where a 'first' is 70% or more correct. Helped me build up my deviousness.

    8. Lynne, it may just be that I'm old-fashioned or don't belong to a gym, but isn't your use of 'locker-room' itself a marker? As an older Br-Eng speaker, I'd talk about a changing-room.

      Great Quizzes by the way. I daren't divulge quite how badly I did on the Am-Eng one.

    9. Yes, 'locker room' is pretty American.

    10. Paul

      I refrained from saying so before, but now that Lynne has posted the SPOILER ALERT, I can reveal that grammarians don't approve of the compound drink driving; there's no syntactic relationship between the two words, whether we understand drink as a verb or as a noun.

      I didn't know that Americans feel this objection, but the question does allow someone with grammar training to deduce that this was the disfavoured choice.

    11. Paul Dormer: on "jumpers". You may or may not know that when the American publisher Scholastic bought the U.S. rights to J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter novel they didn't just insist on changing the title from "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" to "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" -- they also insisted that certain Britishisms in the text (of which "jumpers" was one) be changed to accommodate U.S. readers. At the outset, of course, Rowling was in no position to refuse such alterations -- and they persisted, if I remember, in the U.S. editions of the first two or three novels. After that, Rowling was such a sensation she was able to demand that the U.S. editions had to be identical to the U.K. editions.

      But to circle back for a moment to that notorious title change, it's my understanding that Scholastic's marketing department believed the word "philosopher" was so deeply boring to the young audience it was seeking to capture that it simply had to come out. But what I've always wondered is this: does your average 10- or 11-year-old British kid even know what a "philosopher's stone" is? God knows I didn't at that age, but I was neither English nor especially literate.

    12. I recall someone posting a link, I think on this blog, to a page where someone had done a line by line comparison of the UK and US editions of one of the Potters. Lots of changing toilet to bathroom, I recall, but loo seat was changed to toilet seat.

      But one thing that apparently hadn't been changed. A US friend wanted to know what "rounders" was. I used to play it at primary school. It's similar to baseball, and I'm now fairly familiar with the rules of baseball, but it's so long since I was at school I can't remember the rules of rounders.

    13. I'm pretty sure that most of the people who play rounders don't know the rules of rounders: they get it mixed up with baseball, or softball, or french cricket, or the house rule at their school which involved not hitting the ball over to the left in order to reduce the chance of losing said ball in the pond...

    14. You're probably right. As I said I haven't played it since primary school and I left there in 1964.

      I do remember an improvised version of the game we used to play when the equipment wasn't available. Instead of a bat, you'd stretch out the sleeve of your jumper and bunch it up in your fist. The ball was usually a tennis ball. I can't recall what we used for bases. The proper bases were free-standing wooden bollards, the game usually being played on a tarmacked playground.

    15. BTW: the origins of baseball are shrouded in mystery -- and it's quite likely it wasn't anyone in the United States who invented it. While the first recorded game supposedly took place in Newark, New Jersey, in 1846, Jane Austen refers to baseball in Northanger Abbey, published in 1803:

      "Mrs. Morland was a very good woman, and wished to see her children everything they ought to be; but her time was so much occupied in lying-in and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughters were inevitably left to shift for themselves; and it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—or at least books of information—for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all."

    16. Indeed, rounders as I remember it is similar enough to baseball that I assumed the games are closely connected. Both involve a cylindrical bat, the object of the game is to run round bases. (Cricket is quite different.) I knew the Austen reference. I see from Wikipedia that base-ball and rounders seem to mean the same game up to the nineteenth century.

  7. Aussie expat living in the USA for the last 26 years signing in. 8/10 on the American and 6/10 on the British. So with my Commonwealthean upbringing (knows jumper, stone, etc) and US immersion (but not games or sports) the result is pretty much as expected.
    Long time lurker on the blog, love it!

  8. Australian here - I got 8/10 on each quiz, but I misread one UK question, and correctly guessed the US football question (total luck, I had no idea), so my AU Eng is probably correctly somewhere closer to UK than US.

  9. I caught Lynne’s vignette/cameo on Radio 4 yesterday in which she responded to the arrival of Mother’s Day cards addressed to ‘Mom’ and the accusation that this is an Americanisation of our traditions. But the whole shebang has already been Americanised: some of us still maintain a modicum of resistance, or cling to tradition.
    Today in the UK is Mothering Sunday, a day in the middle of Lent when traditionally one celebrated one’s mother church - this meant also going home to visit mother, hence bringing flowers or small gifts. Mother’s Day in the US and Canada is a different day - chosen for the convenience of manufacturers of greetings cards, as otherwise it is too close to Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day and Easter ....
    so every year I search among the Mother’s Day cards for the ever-diminishing cards that refer to Mothering Sunday, since my own mother clings to the traditional usage.
    Then, of course, I try to avoid the cards with ‘Mum’ on them, because despite my own advanced age, I still call her Mummy ....

    1. I've always regarded mum as a homogenising standard term. As a boy, it seems to me that nobody in Nottingham said it. In middle-class families like mine the word was mummy; around me I head mam. In books and on the radio there was mama, which (rightly or wrongly) seemed to be a marker of class pretension. Similarly, I misconstrued ma as a class marker. So when I began to hear mum as a novelty, it struck me as a compromise democratisation.

      That was probably an unjustified deduction, but I do see why West Midlanders are so resistant to the idea of mum as national British standard.

      For those who haven't heard it, Lynnes's snippet was followed by a long exegesis by Professor Carl China, tracing the ON~AN, OM~AM distinction back to Old English dialect difference. He capped the argument by saying that he could call his father his old mon.

      But he then slightly spoiled it by saying that he called his grandmother his 'nan'. Why not his 'non'?

      OK, my boyish analysis of what other people said for 'mother' was flawed and personal. But I suspect that many other British speakers started their speaking lives with another word and then came to accept mum as a default standard — at least for somebody else's mother.

      Ah, yes! I never used mummy for anybody else's mother. Nor was it how my father and I referred to my mother. My father deployed a number of comic names — taken, from radio shows and George Formby Senior. Too many for me, so we settled on Solly (my mother), Jock (my father) and John Willy (me). Once upon a time before this slimmed-down repertoire, I was asked my name and replied (so I was much later told) 'Finklefeffer Rappaport'.

    2. I believe "Mom" is used in some parts of the UK, simply as a regionalism, as, indeed, is "Mam". My family has never "done" Mothers Day, although we do acknowledge the day and do, indeed, give thanks for our mothers (my own was 90 in January!).

    3. It was always "mum" for me. I don't think I used "mummy" after the age of about 5 (which was 1958).

    4. By 1958 I was 14. In the decade leading up to it, I'm sure that I personally became more aware of how people spoke beyond Nottingham. I'm less sure of it but my hunch is that in those years the word mum was spreading across geographical and social boundaries.

    5. My family moved from London to County Durham in 1957, so I'm never sure which parts of my speech are London and which are from the north-east. People tell me I still have a London accent (but I did move back there as an adult).

      Mummy always seemed to me to be baby talk.

    6. David Crosbie, you don't think 'Mum' and 'Dad' + 'Nan' for grandmother, might come from Welsh, 'Mam', 'Tad' and 'Nain' do you? Or has Welsh got them from English?

      A Welsh friend, speaking of his mother-in-law told me that although English people think 'Mam' and 'Mum' are straight translations of each other, a 'Mam' is something totally different altogether.

    7. Dru, the OED has new revisedentries for these family names in the online Third Edition. Here's the start of the entry for mom.

      colloq.. (chiefly N. Amer.).
      1. One's mother; a mother.
      Mom is chiefly used as a form of address, or preceded by a possessive (as ‘my mom’); it is also used without possessive ... in the manner of a proper name.

      Pretty well exactly the same wording is used for mum, mam and mama — although the last mentioned is followed by an account of the history of use and pronunciation. Apparently it was like papa (see below) a classy word used also by adults but became mostly childish. Later, the stress shifted to the second syllable, and eventually it became an upper-class speech marker.

      The entry for dad starts

      Dad formerly occurred most commonly in children's language, but is now in more general informal use, having a similar status to (and often used in collocation with) mam, mom, and mum .

      It then continues with pretty much the same wording as for the others.

      The entry for papa starts in the same way, then traces its history from adoption from French, to elite and courtly use by adults and children, to mainly childish use, to not much use at all.

      There's more to the mom:

      In addition to North American use, mom is also found in English regional (West Midlands) use and in South African English.

      For mum they note an additional use

      ... or to denote a particular type of working-class mother, who retains a dominating influence on the lives of her children, even when they are adults.

      This refers to the way mum was use some years back. My feeling is that it has lost its working-class connotations. Surely we hear middle-class women talking of being (or becoming) a mum.

      On the geography of mum they say

      The word has a wide geographical spread, although in U.S. usage the equivalent mom n.  is more common. Cf. also mam n.1

      I rather take issue with the running thread that these words are used in three ways: as an address; with POSSESSIVE; as a name. I'm pretty sure that mum and dad (at least) in British English (at least) are also widely used as ordinary countable nouns a mum, the mum, those dads etc. Does American English use a mom, the mom, those pops (or similar) at all widely?

      As for Welsh, some people believe that Welsh mam is from Proto Brythonic *mamm from Proto-Celtic *mamma, and they've managed to present is the source of English mam on Wiktionary. Believe it if you like. I'm sceptical.

    8. Some more interesting (I think) info from the OED entries: the dates at which these words are known to have entered into the written language.

      mammy and daddy 1523
      dad 1533
      mama 1556
      mam 1570
      mum ?1595
      papa 1681
      grandma 1772
      mummy 1768
      grandpa 1785
      momma 1810
      ma and pa 1823
      pop 1828
      mom 1846
      poppa 1897
      nana 1899
      nan 1955

      OK, there were probably delays before literate people chose to write down words confined to childish and regional speakers. Still, it's striking that a bunch of words can be traced to the sixteenth century, while another brunch can only be traced to the nineteenth,

    9. Interesting how late nan is on that list. I was calling my grandmothers nan in the late fifties.

    10. My guess is that's been around in the mouths of children for as long as nana, but nobody chanced to both hear it and write it down.

      Or perhaps writers were put off by the existence of nan with other meanings (now lost) equivalent to 1 'sissy boy' or 2 'wench'.

    11. There is, it may be mentioned, the circa-1970 US humor about the poor girl who 'caught the Egyptian Flu - and now she's turning into a mummy'

  10. Congratulations, Lynne! I enjoyed the quizzes, got 8/10 on the American one (should have probably been 7/10 as one was a lucky guess), and 10/10 on the British one. Incidentally, though, a marrow is *not* just an overgrown courgette - you can treat an overgrown courgette as a marrow, but the real thing is a different cultivar, and actually much nicer!

    1. OK, I had thought that was the case, but then I looked it up and something on the web told me they were actually the same thing...

    2. I remember when courgettes/zucchini were sold as 'baby marrows'.

  11. Congrats on the book! Just pre-ordered it from the Tattered Cover (our beloved local bookstore / institution).

  12. Kiwi here. I got 5/10 for the American, 6/10 for UK but a couple were lucky guesses! Any chance the book will be available as an e-book?

    1. Yes, I'm sure people have told me they've pre-ordered it as an e-book too.

    2. Thanks! Rakuten seems to only have the US edition available. Is there much difference between the books or is it just spelling? I am looking for EPUB versions of the book as I don't own a kindle. Sorry to trouble you!

    3. I really don’t know anything except that Barnes & Noble is selling a Nook version.

      Editions just differ in some spelling, punctuation & cover.

    4. Ok thanks! I've pre-ordered the US edition!

    5. The Nook version will use the ePub format, if that helps. BTW: I realize that many people don't like reading ebooks on their smartphones, but if you have an Amazon account and an iPhone or Android phone you can download the Kindle app for either and read Lynne's book on your phone -- Kindle hardware not required.

  13. BrE speaker - 7/10 for the AmE, 9/10 for the BrE. Didn't know the number of pounds in a stone (I would usually quote my weight as "roughly nine and a half stone" or whatever).

    1. Meant to add - I found the BrE easy, while the AmE quiz required me to remember things I've read on here!

    2. I metricated years ago and give my weight as "about 95 kg". :-)

    3. Too bad kg are a measure of mass, not weight*. The more correct answer should be "about 930N". Or about 9.3 * 10^7 dynes if you accept CGS units.

      I wouldn't bother to mention this except for the pervasive snarky comments from people incapable of managing more than one measurement system, and that imperfectly. They've rather sensitized (stet) me and raised my hackles. (I've been known to give temperatures in °F and Kelvin rather than °C purely out of pique, for instance. 8-) )

      I find it interesting that similar comments regarding language rather than measurement systems would be seen as bigotry, but this seems to be handled differently. For some reason.

      * There is a convention to allow kg-weight, but it's not actually a part of SI. The same applies to lbs.-mass, which should be reported in slugs.

    4. What you must bear in mind, Doug, is that most people don't regard measurement terms as a system. They're a set of labels that express what we want to say with the degree of accuracy or ambiguity with which we want to say it.

      For Paul's purposes and mine, newton simply doesn't do the job. I can't speak for Paul, but I don't want anything to do with any 'measurement system'. I just want to communicated with shopkeepers in different countries and follow the instructions in recipe books printed in different places at different times.

      Younger Brits than me still talk about stones when discussing body-weight (in Lynne's gymn, for example), even if they've never had to learn how many pounds make one.

      Super-precision in language is a barrier to communication. In everyday situations it's totally inappropriate to make a disctinction between mass and weight.

    5. For purposes of communication, either SI or Imperial works fine. Imperial is a bit more intuitive for me, because it's what I was raised with, but I'm fine with either.

      In the few cases where there's an honest question about what I might have meant, I'm happy to provide translations (and usually without even resorting to "Let me Google that for you" 8-) ).

      The problem arises when the "question" is simply used to berate me (or others) for using the wrong (the clear implication is that it is not just incorrect, but morally wrong) system.

      If someone were to use that sort of tactic because an interlocutor were using bits of, say, Irish Gaelic in a conversation, that would not be tolerated anywhere that I'm likely to be. But when the pretext for the attack is measurement systems, and I assert that it is nearly always a pretext, that seems to be acceptable. Unfortunately for those people, I actually understand the system better than they do in most cases, which I find useful for getting to the root of the matter. And twisting the knife.

      Here, that was almost certainly an overreaction, and to the extent that it was, I apologize. A little. 8-)

      As to, "'s totally inappropriate to make a distinction...", I'll say two things:

      1) It's technically correct, which is the best kind of correct. (A Futurama reference, in case you haven't run across the meme.)

      2) From your previous comments here, I think that arguing that "Super-precision .... [i]s totally inappropriate...." is probably equitably estopped.


    6. Doug,

      Communication is a process of cooperation. The speaker/writer chooses the language that the hearer/reader is able and willing to interpret. In particular he/she chooses the amount of information that the hearer/reader is prepared to receive. Too much information is a turn-off. Information that is obvious is in danger of insulting. That's why effective communication usually has a calculated element of imprecision.

      For a very large number of hearers/readers in most everyday settings it shows a total lack of cooperation to speak of body mass or of weight in newtons. And if you don't cooperate, the hearer/reader may feel no need to cooperate either.

      In the context of Lynne's Brighton gymn, only stone andweight are appropriate words. In the company of Americans, stone is an uncooperative word to use. In a physics lesson one should speak of newtons and explain repeatedly the mass/weight distinction. Outside the lesson, it's aggressively uncommunicative among non-physicists.

      Stone no longer belongs in a system. We in Britain still use the term for what body-scales display. But we rarely speak of stones, pounds and ounces. Still less do we relate stones to quarters, hundredweights and tons.

      It's technically correct, which is the best kind of correct.

      Only in certain circumstances. In other circumstance it can even be the worst kind of correct.

      probably equitably estopped

      This means nothing to me.

      The problem arises when the "question" is simply used to berate me (or others) for using the wrong (the clear implication is that it is not just incorrect, but morally wrong) system.

      Does that really happen? The closest I've observed is when people with scientific training insist that only their technical use is acceptable in non-technical contexts.

    7. Doug, I think I've worked out the source of your problem.

      There is, indeed, something of a pressure in Britain to switch to using metrical units. (The switch to the SI system for technical purposes is something else entirely.) But I think you misconstrue the nature of the pressure.

      Imperial measures have almost no official status in Britain. OK, milk can be bought and sold in pints. And draught beer is only sold in pints or half-pints. (Please note, though, that our pint is bigger than yours.) But nothing else can be offered for sale in pints, pounds, ounces etc. The only other exception is that road signs and traffic regulations express distances in miles and speeds on miles per hour.

      For several decades, children have not learned in school that sixteen ounces make a pound, that eight pints make a gallon etc. Older people like me may think in Imperial-measure terms. We may well ask a shop for a pound of something, but the official price is per kilo.

      That's why I assumed — wrongly as it transpires — that younger people don't know what a stone is.

      Now, we oldies do have to speak to younger people, and we have to understand the official measurements that are presented to us. Hence the gentle pressure to express weights and volumes in metric units. Similarly, young people are conversant with Celsius, while older people are slowly coming to terms with what we still call Centigrade.

      So that's why Paul metricated years ago and gives his weight in approximate kilos.

    8. I've been away a few days (going to the opera in Paris and, in between times, reading a certain book) and not been checking this blog recently.

      What I was taught at school back in the sixties was that to define a system of units, you start with units of mass, distance and time. Although in physics we used only metric units, in maths we used three different sets of units, the foot pound second, the centimetre gram second, and the metre kilogram second. So, the unit of force in the first of these is the poundal, the force required to accelerate one pound mass at one foot per second per second. Similarly, we had the dyne and the newton. We were then told that as a convention, weight was the force of gravity on an object but given in units with the same name as the units of mass. So, we would distinguish between pounds mass and pounds weight, and also kilograms mass and kilograms weight. To convert newtons to kilograms weight, you divided by some standard value of the acceleration due to gravity.

      I gather that the US way of doing this was somewhat different. For instance, we never used the foot pound as a unit of work, it was always the foot poundal.

      And my bathroom scales I'm sure measure my weight, not my mass, and still give the value in kilograms.

    9. i was also at school back in the sixties, but because I chose to take Greek, my Physics was criminally limited. Still, what little Science I studied impressed the importance of the gram and the centimetre. Well, that prepared my for life and work overseas, and eventually the gram came to take over from the pound and the ounce here. Not so the centimetre. Nor it's relative the cubic centimetre. Like my wife, who was schooled at about the same time in the USSR, I struggle slightly with lengths in hundreds of millimetres and volumes in millilitres. The world changed and we didn't. Schools here — and presumably schools in Russian — don't teach the (cubic) centimetre any more.

      There's a real sense that what was 'correct' in the sixties is no longer 'correct'. It's not what schools teach. But the old terms still mean something — the same as they did before to those who choose to understand them.

      Stone differs from cenitmetre in that it's not now a general measure — if it ever was. However dedicated we may remain to pounds and ounces of anything that can be weighed, it's only our bodies that we measure in stones. Just as it's only racecourses that we measure in furlongs.

    10. As I went on to get a degree in physics, I did get taught a lot of it, and some of it even stuck. Conversely, I don't think anyone took Greek at my school. In my stream, you either took sciences or languages, and language was mainly German - I think two pupils took Latin. Everyone took French, which I failed at O-level fifty years ago this year.

      It's easy to convert millimetres to centimetres - just move the decimal point one place to the left - and a millilitre is a cubic centimetre, at least now. (There was a time when they were slightly different.)

      I remember talking to someone in Australia whose mother-in-law was involved with the metrication board there. One of the first things they did was make horse racing give all weights in kilograms and all distances in metres. Horse racing was popular and people soon caught on.

    11. It's easy to convert millimetres to centimetres - just move the decimal point one place to the left - and a millilitre is a cubic centimetre,

      It's one thing to know this. It's another thing to internalise it as instinctual everyday behaviour. It takes a second or two at least for me or my wife to make the translation.

      Besides, it's occurred to me only today that centimetres aren't entirely dead. The bookshelf kit that we bought the other day gives all three length dimensions in centimetres. Perhaps it's because it's a different market sector, perhaps because it's Swedish.

      It's indicative of our mindset that we notice when lengths are expressed in millimetres, and don't notice when they're in centimetres.

      Your Australian story echoes what I heard in South Africa. When they went metric, they made it illegal to publish anything with Imperial-Metric conversion. Rulers and thermometers, which still exist in Britain with both scales marked, had two be be made and sold with metric units only.

      My introduction to metrical units was before the fifties — when I was at primary school and the metric system was an interesting irrelevance — quaint and exotic. I don't know what the official units were, but teachers passed on what they had been told. For example milligram-centigram-decigram-gram-decagram-hectogram-kilogram. In real life, I never encountered most of these units — until I went Italy where the hectogram was alive and well as un etto, due etti etc. At least this was a proper metric measure. In France and Germany I've come across the word for pound used to mean 500g.

      Because bathroom scales can legally show two measurements, the word stone still means what it used to — unlike what happened to livre and Pfund. I presume the future of stone is secure (albeit limited) for the foreseeable future.

    12. As Lynne said way upstream, every woman in the British locker room knows how many pounds are in a stone (and her weight is expressed as x stone y pounds). No pluralisation of stone, in contrast to kilograms.
      In the same way, in BrE, height is x foot y [inches] - five foot two, eyes of blue.


      My introduction to metrical units was before the sixties.

      My schooling before 1950 was a matter of months.


      I wonder how gender-specific the habit of saying and y pounds is.

      As for five foot two, is this still said by the youngest among us?

    14. All this stone discussion has made me think that the wording of measurement is not at all the simple matter I originally thought.

      The a basic variation in (for want of a better word) mindset. I distinguish there science mindsets:

      school science With this mindset a particular set of measurement terms has superseded what went before — and these are therefore 'correct'. Remarks made in this mindset would seen to be what have upset Doug Sandseth — particularly as they are based on diktat, not subject to critical examination. Moreover, school science mindset leads to inconsistency between users — as schools have changed the terms they teach several times over the years.

      general science In the US, but not in many other English-speaking countries, this mindset generally leads to either consistent use of Imperial terms for all purposes or to consistent use of Metric units for all purposes.

      international science In this mindset only the current ISO-recognised metric units are to be used.

      Now, all of us are capable of assuming any of these mindsets for a particular communicative event. Even I, who did precious little Science at school, can assume the international science mindset to understand a text about science. I once observed a 'model lesson' where the talk — as if to secondary-school pupils — was of newtons and had no difficulty in following it.

      My more usual default, however, is the school science mindset, alternating with a mindset that I'll call pre-science.

    15. Next bullet point, the

      pre-science mindset. In this mindset we are free to use whatever terms we grew up with without any constraint to be systematic .

      I think it all centres around the word scale. In each of the science mindsets, a scale is a system of units regularly converted mathematically to each other. The mass of a grain of sand can be expressed in metric fractions of a kilogram; the capacity of a lake can be expressed in millilitres. The expressions may be odd, but they will be accurate and valid.

      In the pre-science mindset, scale has two senses related to each other but very different from the science mindset sense.

      1. Scale means something like 'magnitude'. When we speak of the scale of the problem or of doing something on a grand scale we're thinking of the upper limit. We assume this to be a long way above the unspecified norm-level.

      The implication of this sense of scale is we may feel free to apply different scales to the measurement of different objects. Not only can we measure racecourses, and nothing else, in furlongs, but we measure one set of household features in centimetres and another in tens of millimetres — and, as biochemist observes, our height in feet and inches.

      In these measurement scales the upper limit is the measurement and the lower limit is zero. For our comfort, the upper limit should not be a huge number. We don't dream of expressing our height in millimetres. In Britain, though not in the US, this principle extends to not expressing weight in hundreds of pounds.

      2. Scale also means a physical linear display with measurement units marked out. This is the sense used figuratively in expression like off the scale. More literally we speak of readings on the scale.

      The existence of scale in this sense allows in Britain — but strictly not in South Africa — a physical display marked with units of two systems. Some everyday objects in Britain carry such a dual-system scale.
      • Rulers and tape measures/measuring tapes often display feet/ inches markings and centimetre / millimetre markings.
      • Measuring jugs for kitchen use may carry several display scales — including maybe cups .
      • My kitchen weighing thingy — called a scales or a scale in yet another use of the word — alters its display between units of different systems at the press of a button.
      • Last, and for present purposes far from least, our bathrooms contain a weighing thingy usually called a bathroom scales with markings in kilograms/grams and pounds/stones. As long as thees objects remain commonplace in Britain, the future of the word stone is assured.

    16. I meant to include another everyday object with a dual-systen display scale, but then I forgot...

      • Thermometers often display both Fahrenheit and what we oldies call Centigrade.

    17. As I mentioned, I have a degree in physics. Therefore a temperature scale I often used was the absolute scale, where Absolute Zero - -273.16C - is the zero point. This is now called the kelvin. Water freezes at 273.16 kelvins and boils at 373.16 kelvins.

      In thermodynamics, you can calculate the efficiency of an ideal heat engine if you know the absolute temperatures of the hot and the cold part of the engine. After graduation, I went on to work for the electricity supply industry, but in computing. However, as part of my indoctrination I was sent on a course on the technical background of electricity generation and supply, including the working of a power station. The lecturer started talking about the efficiency of a power station and used degrees R. This flummoxed me for a time, but he explained that R stood for Rankine and this is the absolute temperature scale for Fahrenheit, which engineers in the UK were still using back in the seventies.

  14. I'm an immigrant to the US from Russia of 27 years, and I read this blog, so I thought I'd get 10/10 in AmE and a relatively high score in BrE. In fact, I got 7/10 and 2/10 respectively. And most of my answers were guesses to an extent. For the particulars,
    AmE question 1 I got correct, but by process of elimination. I didn't recognize the board, and Ludo didn't sound like an AmE game. And of the rest, I had some idea of what the board looked like for all but the correct answer.
    #2 was easy, although aside from the fact it's mononucleosis and an illness, I don't know much about it.
    #3 I got wrong. I was thinking jumpsuit, but women's clothing isn't my thing at all.
    #4 I got wrong as well. I knew it was a vegetable, but then all the choices are vegetables.
    #5 The final one I got wrong. I have never heard of a Charlie Horse at all.
    #6 Not a big sport(s) fan in general, I know the term figuratively, that the full phrase is "Hail Mary pass", and that it came from Football, so I was able to guess.
    #7 the correct answer was only vaguely familiar, but more so than any of the ohers
    #8 was easy. I'm surprised you didn't include that it was short for boondocks in the explanation, though.
    #9 well drunken driving sounds wrong to me too, but I remember the discussion on this blog, so I got it right.
    #10 I only knew it's a person or group of people, and probably not a bouncer, but I could have easily gotten it wrong given a different list of choices.

    On the British one I got #6 and #9. Those were almost complete guesses as were the ones I got right.

  15. I got 10/10 for BrE and 8/10 for AmE, some of which were guesses. I too remember Shari Lewis and never knew that Charley Horse meant something until I started reading this blog; neither had I heard of Parcheesi until then.

    1. I remember a reference to Parcheesi on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (twenty years ago now) and I looked it up.

    2. Note that Sorry is a somewhat simplified Parcheesi variant. The difference in boards is that Sorry has slides across some of the spaces. Which, unfortunately for me, I didn't remember until after choosing poorly.

      9/10 US, 7/10 Br (Not incidentally because of this blog.)

    3. Is Parcheesi supposed to be the same as Ludo, just different names in AmE and BrE? The board does not look like a Ludo board to me - where are the stars and globes? They're significant! - but then I'm neither British nor American, so maybe we play a different variation of Ludo in Scandinavia.

    4. It's the sort of topic that attracts enthusiasts, possibly not-so-expert, to contribute to Wikipedia. However, the entry for Ludo bears a reassuring-looking bibliography.

      The story is that we discovered an ancient Indian game called pachisi and devised various ways to make money out of it by making minor alterations and patenting the result.. So Ludo, Pacheesi and Sorry are all patent modifications of the original. (Other US derivatives, apparently, are called Aggravation and Trouble.) By a less commercial process, Ludo was further adapted by the Royal Navy to create a game called Uckers.

      The entry lists an impressive range of names used in different countries. Of interest to Anonymous is that in Sweden it's called Fia or Fia or Fia-spel or Fia med knuff, while in Norway and Denmark it's called Ludo.

      The spelling is interesting. The Hindi name pachisi simply means '25'. The R in the derived suggests that the inventor of the Parceesi adaptation was a non-rhotic speaker. Could it be that it was invented and named in Britain? Could the greater popularity of Ludo have consigned it to oblivion here?

  16. I see the book is going to be available on Audio CD through Amazon, is it going to come out on Audible?

    1. It is my belief that that is the case.

    2. Lynne: will you read (or have you read) the text aloud for Audible ... or will Audible be hiring a voice actor to do it?

    3. No, someone else has done it. I got a few emails asking how to pronounce certain words I'd made up.

      I will be interested to find out how they dealt with the cases where I'm talking about variant pronunciation or spelling. E.g. for something like "Controversy can have its primary stress on the first or second syllable" how do you pronounce "controversy"? I'm assuming they're going with US norms and clarifying where necessary (since it's the US publisher that's doing the audio), but I don't actually know!

    4. Interesting. Has your UK publisher sold the UK audio rights to your book -- or are you too (you'll pardon the expression) small potatoes for a separate UK audiobook, as happened with J.K. Rowling's audiobooks of her Harry Potter novels? (An invidious comparison, I realize!)

    5. I don't think there's much point in having a separate UK audio book. You won't be able to hear the punctuation differences, and you can buy book downloads from anywhere. And if it's just a matter of not wanting to hear the book in an American accent (if indeed that's what it is!), then this is the wrong book for that listener. :)

  17. I really enjoy both your Twitter presence and your blog!
    For best effects, should I buy a printed version or would the e-book be just as good?

    1. I don’t do ebooks, so I’m not the best person to answer that!

    2. The ebook is fine. There is a couple of places where whatever bookmaker did it changed double column, ie recipes, to tandem but didn't change 'left' to 'above' in the following paragraphs.

  18. Got 9/10 for both. I'm Australian, so have been exposed to both major types of English (and of course to Australian English). I think I got lucky with a few items.

  19. I ordered the book long ago, but today I realised that I could suggest it to Edinburgh Libraries.

    In the past, you had to speak face to face with a librarian and persuade her or him that you needed to borrow the book. Nowadays you can just bring it to their attention online.

    Followers of Lynne, try it with your local Public Library.

  20. British living in the US for the last 6 years. 9/10 on the American and 7/10 on the British. Ready to turn my passport in :-(

  21. 10/10 on the British quiz, which apparently means "Blimey! You're British!" Ahem, no, but good fun all the same.

    I said "thumb tack" in Ireland as a child, so we must have some American influence in that respect. And the first thing I thought when I read the question was "push pin".

    Lynne, I'm really, really looking forward to reading your book! I'm going away soon for a few weeks but as soon as I'm home I'll order my copy (copies - this would be a great gift). I've been inspired by your blog to give a couple of seminars on the differences between British and American English, so now it's my time to give back.

    1. Thanks, Iain! I’d love to hear about your seminars.

    2. I've done them in both English and Finnish with slightly different twists. The one in English was aimed at native English-speaking editors and translators, while the ones in Finnish were for translators of Finnish into English. I included vocab, grammar, punctuation and a few other topics I can't remember now. I gave your blog a big plug in both!

  22. "Allotments are usually rented from the local government council." Er, no. They are rented from the local council. The phrase 'local government council' sounds wrong and pleonastic in BrE.

    1. The explanations are for the people who are not British.

    2. Sure... and 'local government council' probably won't mean anything at all to Americans. But maybe it will! I have no idea because I'm not American.

    3. As a phrase 'local government council' has the information one needs to get some picture of what it is. It's not the phrasing an American would use, and they might not imagine it quite the way it is, but it communicates enough, I hope, to get the general idea across. I could have just left it at 'local government', I suppose, but this introduces the notion that 'council' is a relevant word in the BrE context.

      Multicultural communication is challenging!

    4. Technically in the US, a "Local Council" may not be necessarily government related. We can infer, but adding "government" in there to clarify doesn't hurt and helps focus the concept.

  23. As a self-confessed parenthesis addict, Lynne, you could have written

    from the council (the local government).

    [Posted twice because Blogger isn't recognising me. Is anybody else having this trouble?]

  24. I got 10/10 on both quizzes, which probably means I've been reading this blog too long.

  25. Enjoying your book immensely. (Buying one for a friend!) As a Brit, who has lived in the USA for 37 years, I am still slightly surprised by the use of "today" when people want to sell you something. Gas pumps ask me whether I'd like a car wash "today"for example. Waiters ask you whether you'd like dessert today! Perhaps this happens in the UK today, and I am just out of touch! Or is it clever selling? Having a car wash with your gas is the normal thing to do, and a refusal is not final, but you simply don't feel like the car wash today -- perhaps next time! Or can this be counted as one of those things that's more likely in the USA than in the UK?

    1. Reminds me of an incident some 25 years ago when I was on holiday in Florida with some friends. One morning not long after arriving, I woke up with a blinding migraine and felt nauseous. My friends were going out for breakfast and I went along, even though I didn't feel like eating. I ordered just a bowl of cereal and a coffee, but one mouthful of the cereal and I had to dash to the loo to throw up.

      When a few minutes later the waiter came back and saw the untouched cereal, he said, "Sir just can't relate to food today."

    2. It is creeping into the UK. I was very amused last summer, when I had to spend 24 hours in hospital, that the senior nurse came up and introduced herself, saying "I'll be your nurse today"! I thought of American waiters and waitresses....

  26. Just finished reading the section on "sick" and "ill." When I use Uber, I often ask the drivers how they feel about transporting intoxicated people late at night. A Santa Barbara (California) driver told me about a passenger who "became ill" clearly meaning that he threw up. An Ealing driver (UK) described a similar experience about a passenger who "was sick all over the back seat." Having grown up in the UK, I was very familiar with being sick as a description for vomiting, but 'becoming ill" was new to me! Is it common? (Not becoming ill, but this sense of ill?)

    1. There's a blog post on 'sick' v 'ill'--I'd suggest posting this there (or seeing what the commenters have already said). The discussion areas do stay active.

  27. Your book just arrived this morning, ordered in the Netherlands several weeks ago after reading a review but had to wait a few weeks for it here. 20 pages in & I’m laughing aloud in sheer delight - thank you so much for writing this! Will definitely be recommending it to my Dutch students who struggle with which ‘language’ to use.

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I hope you (and your students) enjoy the rest of it!

  28. Read it. Enjoyed it. Learned quite a bit. Gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.

    For what its worth.

  29. Loved the book. It was scholarly but accessible, and I loved the way you covered the history of America in relation to that of Britain to show why some words are revivals or relics even when we see them as 'new'. I definitely felt the sweep of the 20th-century and the new dawn in the 21st.
    I was a bit surprised that P G Wodehouse was not mentioned, when he lived and wrote on both sides of the Atlantic, producing both Bertie Wooster and his English chums, and musicals and screenplays in America.
    I think your British copy editor missed one AmE usage - 'a trouser', where in BrE we refer to 'a pair of trousers'. I was galloping through the book and didn't note down the page number. I will look forward to reading it all again.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for saying so.

  30. I read the book a couple of weeks ago while on holiday in Canada, which was a strangely appropriate place to do so. I loved it. What particularly stuck in my mind was the part about the teaching of writing in the US. I also thought the first chapter on the British malaise of spotting Americanisms, often phantom ones, hit the nail on the head.

    1. So glad to hear it, Ian. And especially nice to hear about it when people liked later chapters...nice to know you made it that far through! :)

    2. I read the whole thing in a week or so – in no way was it a trudge! It helped that I had a long transatlantic flight to get stuck into the start of it. Any plans for more books?

    3. Yes, but because of the day job, they will be a long time coming.

  31. Robert Edwards16 May, 2018 08:12

    Loved the book. I was fascinated to learn the origin of the view that a double negative makes a positive, which you describe as being mathematical (Ch 6). True, but more specifically it's multiplicative. A negative times a negative gives a positive. However, living in Venezuela for a year I realized that, unlike multiplicative English, Spanish must be additive. Multiple negatives seemed to be just fine (at least spoken). Adding more negatives made the statement more strongly negative. My invented example: El no da nada a nadie, nunca. Translated literally: He doesn't give nothing to nobody, never. That is, he's a real miser.

    1. Many thanks, Robert. So glad you enjoyed the book.

  32. Hi, Lynne.
    I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and you'll be pleased to hear that I've bought a copy as a birthay present for a friend.
    You asked somewhere if anyone had spotted any inadvertent American English in the British edition.
    I set off reading it determined to look out for such things, but I was soon swept up by your entertaining writing style and forgot all about it.
    I did notice two very minor things, though:
    (1) Towards the bottom of page 240 you use the expression 'pay raises' when the more common term in Britain is 'pay rises'.
    (2) I was momentarily confused by the last sentence of note 30 on page 314, because your penultimate use of the word 'vice' is ambiguous to British readers.
    But that was it!
    Thank you for keeping me entertained on a quiet bank holiday!

  33. Whoops!
    I see you have already noted the rise/raise thing here:

  34. Just read your book in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed it. As the Welsh wife of a Frenchman whose Frano-Brit son is married to an American I now realise I must sometimes be (unwittingly) the mother-in-law from hell. Who knew « please » is rude for Americans...oh deary, deary me! I shall be passing the book on to my daughter-in-law so that my grandson grows up talking proper!

  35. Just doing the quizzes and got to the one about living in rural areas... I once said, as a British person, to another British person "Oh I live out in the sticks" and he looked at me like I was totally insane and replied "What... on the river that delivers people to the Underworld??" Apparently it's not as well known a phrase as I'd thought!
    (see River Styx if you are not familiar with your Greek Mythology.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)