A Comparison of American and British Written English [incomplete]

Posted on February 26, 2016


0. Introduction

As you’ve no doubt heard, there are two primary standards for written English: American and British. Obviously, these are both accepted standards and in that sense they are both perfectly correct. Indeed, the differences between them are fairly minor and many objections can be made that apply equally to both. For example, neither boasts an especially consistent relationship between spelling and pronuncitation when compared to some languages of the European continent.

With those words of sanity and sobriety out of the way, we come to what this post is about. For the heck of it, I am going to look at some of the differences that obtain between American and British English, and give my reckoning on the Pros and Cons of each. […] It’s possible that the Halo Effect is at work.

1. Prevalence

What if this were a democracy? Which is more common? Well, American English is used in only one country, namely the United States of America, while British English is used in the other Anglosphere nations. (Canadian English is something of a hybrid strain, albeit British-dominant.) On the other hand, the US is by far the most populous English-speaking country. In fact, of the population of the inner-circle English-speaking countries (the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand), roughly 62% lives in the US.

2. Spelling

2.0 -or, -our

The advantage of omitting the u here is that it allows for greater consistency. Britain uses colour and humour, but drops the u before Latin-derived suffixes as in colorise and humorous. Amercan English irons out this discrepancy with its use of -or-  across the board. Euthanasia, if you ask me.

2.1 -re, -er

-er is clearly the more phonetic spelling. The -re spelling is derived from French, and the French not only spell it kilomètre, they also pronounce it that way. Since we’re not French and we say /ˈmitəɹ/, I feel like we should just man up and start writing it meter too.

2.2 -ce, se

This one’s peculiar! In British English, licence and practice are nouns while license and practise are verbs. Excuse me, but what the fuck? I’m reasonably confident that a lot of people can’t readily distinguish nouns from verbs in ordinary sentences. Even if you’re good at parsing sentences on the fly, you still have to remember this obscure orthographical quirk. Nah, I’m done. This is a pointless shibboleth.

3. Punctuation

American-style quotation marks are an outrage and inexcusable.

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