I don’t like British English. Only in the last couple of years did I realize this. I was born and raised in the United States and wasn’t exposed to much British English during my time there; besides watching the occasional Monty Python movie, BBC documentary or BBC newscast, I heard and read little of it.
However, my circumstances have changed. I am currently teaching English as a second language in Southeast Asia, and my daily exposure to British English has caused me to form some strong opinions about it. This exposure comes in two forms: 1) the local media and 2) the British ESL textbooks which most, if not all, language centers in Asia use.
The various print media in Asia , including newspapers and magazines, are always written using British spelling and the British lexicon. The ESL textbooks are often printed by Cambridge or Oxford University Presses. If not, they are printed by giant publishing houses such as MacMillan (British) and Pearson PLC (British).
Journalists and writers working in Asia use, presumbably, the Oxford Style Manual when composing their articles. They certainly are not using the Associated Press Stylebook or the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. Hence, when I am perusing the daily newspapers in Saigon, Phnom Penh, or Bangkok, I always read about ‘labour’ disputes, ‘tonnes’ of rice, and ‘programmes.’
This, then, is my first major complaint with British English: the spelling. Why do the Brits insist on doing stupid things like adding unnecessary letters to words? Program is just fine as it is. It does not require or need an extra m or e to make it more official sounding. It’s the same situation with ton. T-O-N. It’s simple, direct, and to-the-point. Yet, the Brits want to glop on an n and an e to this word as well. And what is with the equally irritating habit of inserting unnecessary u’s into otherwise functional words such as labor, color, neighbor, and favor? I once had a British colleague here tell me that the extra u ‘softened’ the words. Give me a break.
The list of British English words that are spelled nonsensically is too long to list here. However, it should be noted that it is, indeed, a long list. Why spell complection as complexion? That just looks wrong. Where else do we put an ‘x’ into the middle of a word like that?
The British take logically spelled words like center, fiber, theater and liter and insist on transposing the e and r which makes them look retarded. Last week, I came across one of those glossy travel mags that are often left lying around in 4- and 5-star resorts. It was titled ‘Traveller.’ I had to blink to make sure I was reading it correctly. My first thought was, “Is that possibly a typo?” I mean, that’s not how traveler is spelled. But then the idea hit me: “Is that some stupid alternative British spelling?” I looked it up online and sure enough, adding an extra ‘l’ to words like that is standard practice in the British Isles. Thanks, Oxford and Cambridge.
It gets worse. Words like maneuver and estrogen are bludgeoned with extra o’s in Brit-land. Just look at this word: manoeuvre. Does that look correct? Yes, I know we stole that one from the French, but we are using English, so let’s use the spelling that makes the most sense and reflects how we pronounce it.
British slang words and phrases are equally tiresome. This too is a long list. Let’s begin with one of the worst- knickers. Does that word conjure an image of something colorful, silky, and sexy under a woman’s skirt? No, not at all. The word panty however does conjure that image. Score one for the Americans.
A Brit might say, “What about the word herb? You Americans, for no logical reason, don’t pronounce the h while we do. Now who’s the silly one?” It’s a fair observation, but I’m inclined to think the hippies (American) had a hand in this one. You see, hippies have for a long time used herb as a synonym for marijuana. Every day at 4:20 p.m., they sit down and say, “It’s time to smoke some herb (silent h). Any hippie will tell you that word rolls off the tongue so much more smoothly when the hard h is dropped. ‘Erb’ just sounds sexier than Herb. So even here, Americans have been on the right track.
If you live in a room, or group of rooms, inside a building, then you live in an apartment. It’s not a ‘flat.’ That word is properly used to mean ‘level.’ If I am interested in something, then I am, well, interested in it. I am most certainly not keen on it. If I am really interested, then I might say that I am excited about it.
When I was growing up, the word brilliant always meant ‘having or showing great intelligence.’ However, it seems that over the decades more and more meanings have been attached to this overused word, thanks to our British friends who love to use it like confetti: a brilliant goal, a brilliant show, etc. In these circumstances, there’s always a better, more precise word to use in the context, if they would but try.
The loathsome recent trend of saying ‘sorry’ whenever ‘excuse me’ used to suffice must have been started in Great Britain. There’s no way brusque and direct Americans would initiate such a tortured assault on meaning. Hell, they’re even teaching this now in textbooks! Seriously. Chapters that teach phone manners, social gatherings and such state that when you interrupt, ask directions, or bump into somebody, you should say ‘sorry’ instead of ‘excuse me.’
Hey Brits, percent is one word, not two. It’s a synonym for percentage, you know. I don’t care if the dictionary says that both spellings are acceptable. The American usage is better and more commonsensical, as usual. And finally, the woman who gave birth to you is your Mom, not your Mum. Listen to a baby calling for his mama. It sounds like MOM-A, never like MUM-A. Let’s keep the word Mum with its proper meaning- silent.