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a light hearted look at linguistic differences across the AtlanticBack to top Back to main Skip to menu
Divided by a common language - a light hearted look at linguistic differences across the AtlanticPage: 2/3
Since the industrial revolution, new technologies and inventions have occurred on both sides of the Atlantic - with Americans and the British creating new words for things. It made the differences even more distinct.
So, what happens when an American and an Englishman start talking, and think they are speaking the same language, but in fact, don't understand everything that is being said? It can lead to confusion, frustration, embarrassment and sometimes hilarity.
As a coach and intercultural specialist I work with people on both sides of the Atlantic and have learned to use British AND American words at the same time. For example: Car park - parking lot; handbag - purse; boot - trunk; lift - elevator; And I am also aware of different pronunciations of things including fillet, ballet and basil.
In business In Britain, to table something means to bring it TO the table for discussion. In the USA it means to put it aside. I was in a meeting when an American suggested tabling a topic - and a British colleague opened a whole discussion around it. The outcome wasn't as planned. The American got annoyed with what he saw as English arrogance and someone who deliberately did it to make him angry, while the Englishman was bemused at the lack of interest and hostility around the table.
Another story comes from an Englishman who was at his wits' end with an admin assistant who never got around to doing his work. His American colleagues always seemed to get preferential treatment. What was really happening here? He would ask 'Would it be possible to get this fax out today?' and she would put his request at the bottom of her pile of work. The Englishman meant 'This fax is urgent and must be sent before 5.00' in American English.
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