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AWADmail Issue 19

November 5, 2000

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

From: Dr. Lynn S. Mancini (manciniAThopi.dtcc.edu)
Subject: Re: AWADmail Issue 18

I personally have had the opposite experience. Although I am a U.S. citizen and grew up in the United States, I have always spelled "colour" with a "u". In fact, I have made a point of adopting many of the British spellings. My orthographic decision can be traced back to when I was about seven years old. I got "colour" wrong on a spelling exam because my teacher only recognised the u-less spelling of the word. I approached her in a quiet class moment and explained that I was positive I had remembered seeing my spelling in a printed book, although I couldn't remember which one. She just dismissed me as being incorrect. It was not until many years later that I realised that British spelling differs from that in the U.S., and that I had undoubtedly seen "colour" in a British book. I lament that my teacher's own ignorance delayed my awareness for so long. My enquiry was the perfect "teachable moment": she could have spent a minute to tell me a little about geography, history, political boundaries and orthography, had she but known herself. To this day, I tend towards using British spellings as a minor act of rebellion -- I was, indeed, correct with "colour"!

From: Malcolm Cunningham (mcunninghamATjustice.gov.sk.ca)
Subject: cultural/linguistic assimilation

Dan Gerrett's comments blew me away - mainly because they sounded so Canadian! The problem is much worse in Canada, of course, because of our close proximity to the tsunami of U.S. culture, but I never would have thought it was having such a major effect on Britain, so far away geographically and with, I thought, a much older, more established culture. I guess it really is true that geography matters less and less.

From: Alan Bloom (aabmdATworldnet.att.net)
Subject: English vs American

I was interested in your comments about the contrasts between English English and American English. Recently a British friend said: "You Americans are amazing. You play baseball underground!". I was confused until I realized he was talking about the "Subway Series" between the New York Yankees and Mets - two baseball teams connected by the subway.

I suspect you've heard the old saw: If an American says "I'm mad about my flat." there is something wrong with his car. If an Englishman says it he likes his apartment.

From: Kay Moller (mollerATspot.colorado.edu)
Subject: RE: English (British) pronunciation et al

The discussion about pronunciation differences between the different English speaking countries reminds me of a true exchange that my husband overheard one day, while waiting in line to see an Australian film:

Guy, to girlfriend: "I hope this isn't one of those movies with subtitles - I hate subtitles!"
Person behind him in line: "It's Australian."
Guy, to girlfriend: "Oh, no - let's leave."

...and they did!

From: Ron Davis (davisATcanada.com)
Subject: Diverging Languages

Almost all the words that are different between North America and England are the names of things that were invented in the 19th century, such as "lorry", "tram", and various car parts. Anything invented during this century has the same name everywhere, even in countries that don't speak English, such as "telephone" and "radio". (Actually cars and telephones were invented about the same time, but I think cars became widespread sooner than telephones.)

The point is that enhanced technology for travel and communication has reversed the tendency for languages to diverge. Nowadays, there are even people worrying about the loss of linguistic diversity. (Good riddance, I say, in contrast with genetic diversity).

Slang of course always strives for diversity, which is consistent with what you say.

From: Lisa Garson (lgarsonATpoloralphlauren.com)
Subject: dictionaries

Can you recommend a good on-line dictionary? Many thanks!

From: James Hobbs (jhobbsATeasynet.co.uk)
Subject: Re: Avid

Quick note to say how much I enjoy AWAD. My brother David set me up with a gift subscription about a year or so ago. He died of cancer (aged 41) at Easter, so in an odd sort of way I'm still getting emails from him. Better still, on his birthday, 16 October, the word of the day was 'avid' - four letters from his name! Keep up the good work.

When I feel inclined to read poetry, I take down my dictionary. The poetry of words is quite as beautiful as the poetry of sentences. The author may arrange the gems effectively, but their shape and lustre have been given by the attrition of ages. -Oliver Wendell Holmes, physician and writer (1809-1894)

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