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Divided by a common language - a light hearted look at linguistic differences across the Atlantic

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When Americans interact with the British, there are many subtleties to consider. I worked with an American who had expatriated to London and would tell people how great it was that his British colleagues called him a 'cowboy'. Cowboy, however, in Britain refers to someone who does poor quality work because they rush at things and don't plan ahead!

Americans can also be on a sticky wicket when using SPORTS terms in business! Here is a golden rule: sports terms don't travel well in countries where the sport isn't played. So don't be surprised if you get a blank stare if you ask an Englishman to step up to the plate. We only know a plate as something to eat off. The world isn't involved in the World Series! It took me a while to figure out if STRIKING OUT was a good or bad thing and what is a curve ball anyway? - is it like going round the bend?

Here's something else for Americans to be aware of: did you know that an eraser is called a rubber in Britain? A good British Mum makes sure her children go to school with a rubber in their pencil case. There are many more examples that are guaranteed to bring lightness to any occasion!

Summing Up

When we look at American English and British English, the differences are clearly there, and it DOES have an impact on how Americans and British people communicate with each other. Do I agree with George Bernard Shaw? Are England and America two countries divided by a common language? I would say that England and America are two countries who are confused and amused, but not necessarily divided, by a language that is clearly different on certain occasions, but don't quote me on that! So - Is that a yes or a no in American or British English? I'll let you decide.

Val is an expatriate Scot living in the USA. She coaches people ready to head in new directions - in the world, their career and in life. Find her on the web at

Copyright 2005. Val Boyko, My Global Coach. All rights reserved. Please feel free to share this article with friends, colleagues, a group or an organization - providing you include this notice, of course. To contact Val email

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