The ‘special relationship’ between American English and British English

No matter which president is headed into the Oval Office, every four or eight years we can expect to hear about the “special relationship” between the US and the UK. I was pondering this fact last week as I thought about another “special relationship,” that of American English and British English.

You may have noticed that the Brits do a few things we do not, such as spelling “favor” as “favour” and doubling the “l” in words like “traveling,” which becomes “travelling.” I have edited books for British clients who wanted the British spellings removed from their books so the language would be easily understood by American readers, and it’s rather fun to look for such things.

But if you study The Chicago Manual of Style (or CMOS for short, widely considered the publishing industry Bible here in the US), you’ll soon learn that some Britishisms remain in our language today. One that I see most often in the books I edit for others is the British spelling of the color “grey” rather than the American spelling, “gray.” An easy memory tool is to remember that the spelling with the “e” is for the English and the spelling with the “a” is favored in America.

And then there are what CMOS calls those “directional words” like toward, downward, forward, and afterward. Those are the preferred forms here in the US, but the British prefer them with an “s” on the end: towards, backwards, etc.

There’s a popular saying that “England and America are two countries divided by a common language.” I have seen it attributed to George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and Winston Churchill, but the closest quote that carries this idea is in a short story from Wilde, whose character said, “We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.”

And clearly, that still holds true!

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