November 24, 2006

How to speak English in America - Part VII

My friend J flew in from England for a visit,
and she tells me that in the shuttle from
the airport she was talking to an American next to her.
Although they were ostensibly both speaking
English, they couldn't understand one another! So this
edition's 'How to speak English in America' insert
deals with vocabulary , vocabulary, vocabulary. Plus a
quick look at those little words, the prepositions, as well as
some pointers on pronunciation.

On restaurant menus, an 'entree' is NOT what the name
suggests. In America, a starter is what we might call
an entree, whilst an entree is a main course. Why,
no-one can tell me. Thus, one orders a starter, an
entree and a dessert, even though it seems you're
ordering 2 appetisers and a dessert.

A take-away is a 'take-out' and you'll be asked if
it's 'to go' or 'eat in'. I was met with blank looks
when I asked for something to 'take away'. "You mean,
to go?" Well....yes. Isn't that what the word 'away'
suggests? It's weird, but if you do not use the exact
terminology, people act as if they don't know what you
mean - even though it's all English, just 'away'
instead of 'out' or 'petrol' instead of 'gas' ;-).
Also note that the 'bill' at the end of the meal is
the 'check'. And a 'cheque' is always spelt 'check'.
Your handbag is your 'purse' or 'pocketbook' and your
purse is a wallet.

A blanket is a 'comforter', 'sneakers' are trainers
(sport shoes), a jersey is a 'sweater', jam is
'jelly', 'grilled cheese' is a toasted cheese
sandwich, route is pronounced "rauut", roof is "ruff",
houses are "houSSes".

'You are' is very often misspelt as 'your' - i.e. 'you
are welcome', is written 'your welcome'!
Where we say "different FROM", Americans say
"different THAN". Whilst we "talk TO someone", they
"talk WITH someone". Superlatives abound: everything
is the most 'awesome thing ever', if you do something
amazing, 'you ROCK', if something isn't cool it's
'lame' and in a very un-European way, showing
enthusiasm is de rigeur. So it's important to repeat:"
I'm so EXCIIIIITED!" as often as you can (but only
when you are). Seriously though, it is refreshing that
one is permitted to express excitement and enthusiasm
without being thought of as childish or undignified. I
find myself squealing "Oh, I'm so excited about
(-insert appropriate noun or verb-)" when that is the
case. European reserve can be a little limiting

(photo: Venice Beach)

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