2005/07/30

Schemes

One of the things that is so fascinating about living here is the wide range of nationalities and cultures. So I have lots of exposure to non-American English speakers, most of whom are either British, from former British colonies of a more recent vintage than America, or influenced by British English speakers. This leads to some confusion and amusement when words don't always mean what I think that they do or more likely just seem old-fashioned or funny. Like seeing pants called "trousers" (trousers just sounds hilarious and old fashioned to me), or lines "queues". You don't get food "to go", you get it to "take away".

The one that always strikes me as the funniest is "scheme". To me, and I would guess most Americans, the word scheme has negative connotations. A plan to steal money would be described as a scheme. A villian in a James Bond movie has a scheme to take over the world. But almost everyone here uses it in the neutral sense of "plan" or "design" though, so I hear or read things that just strike me as hilarious. For example:

Kid Jockey Scheme on Schedule.

Group Medical Insurance Scheme. This is the insurance plan for university employees, but it makes me nervous to hear it described as a scheme.

JK Consultants unveils investment scheme. Makes me want to sign up.

Bank-funded scheme for tsunami victims.

[Added later] Feel free to participate in the British/American English discussion in the comments. As Shaw said "England and America are two countries separated by a common language."

10 comments:

dev devaya said...

You might like to try conversion sites like this one. It has drop-down lists of British to American English words and vice versa.
http://esl.about.com/library/vocabulary/blbritam.htm

dev devaya said...

While on the subject...
American, unlike British, usage normally has the month followed by the date, e.g. 7/31 as opposed to 31/7.
Is there any special reason Americans say "Fourth of July" and not "July Fourth"?

Brn said...

Hi dev, thanks for the comments. I should have said in my own defence that British history is my favorite subject, so I know most of the common British/American translations, but the link that you sent was very interesting. I learned a couple of new ones that I hadn't seen before. But some of them are wrong too, like curtains are called curtains, not drapes, in America by almost everyone.

I'm just curious, it claims that an optician or ocultist is what Americans call an optometrist. So what do you call what we call opticians? Americans call the doctor who examines eyes an optometrist; the person who makes lenses for glasses is an optician.

I knew that Americans are almost the only people in the world who put dates as month/day/year and that it is a really illogical way to do it. Logically dates should run either day/month/year (smallest time period to largest) or (in my opinion, even better) year/month/day. This would be better because then it becomes very simple to sort dates alphabetically.

I don't know for certain why we say the Fourth of July except that for special days it sounds better or more old fashioned perhaps (sort of like "the ides of March"). For just regular days, we are much more likely to say "June 10th" instead of "the tenth of June".

Hurricane_ said...

There is no special reason we say "Fourth of July" or "July Fourth" or more hip these days as "the 4th".

Brn said...

The one difference that really throws me is the way that Brits use plural verbs with what we Americans consider singular nouns. For example, "The Government are..." or "Manchester United were...". I understand that the singular nouns are made up of more than one person or thing, but it still just sounds so wrong.

Anonymous said...

hey Brn,

good to see a positive uae blog up... nice and refreshing.. heck ive even swtched my handle to reflect the positive attitude!! Keep up the great blog!

Olbap

Anonymous said...

Much of the differences in language between American and British English came as a result of a conscious effort at separation. Interestingly, though, this effort didn't happen in, say, in the 1780s (at the end of the Revolutionary era), but in the 1820s, and through the efforts of language nationalists like Nathaniel Webster.

The "Fourth of July," then, reflects that pre-1820s-era usage...

dev devaya said...

Thnks brn.

Hadn't thought of plural collective nouns. My guess would be that if they all acted as one, it could be singular and if not they'd be a motley collection and therefore plural. Hence - Manchester United was sold after Manchester United were defeated. By that logic I guess most governments would be plural.

dev devaya said...

Thanks Pablo,

The pre-1820s-era usage makes sense to me.

Dhabi Dabbler said...

In Canada I once suggested the use of a torch in a dimly lit records vault. Needless to say, I had it corrected to flashlight!