I Refuse to Say Trousers—Or Why American English Is the Best

I sometimes feel like the creature in the old Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs and Ham. I will not say trousers, I will not say trainers. I will not say them in a house, I will not say them to a mouse. I will not say them here or there, I will not say them anywhere. I can be stubborn when I put my mind to it, which is basically all the time.

Green Eggs and Ham

Okay, this is not true. I do try to refer to both American English and British English for a few reasons (reasons I have deemed good ones, as I like to congratulate myself on my decisions):

American vs British

American English is in all the movies. There are British movies and television shows, don’t get me wrong. For example, the glorious show known as Downton Abbey. (Do not call it Downtown. It’s quite far from downtown, actually.) But the vast majority are produced by none other than Hollywood. Now, Spaniards don’t really see this as a problem in either way because almost all movies and television shows are dubbed, and people have told me on many an occasion that they don’t like “reading” while watching movies. I get it. But someday, perhaps you’ll like to watch television shows in English to improve your skills! We Americans have got ya covered. Come to the Dark Side!

American businesses are in Spain, and I do believe there are more of them than British ones. I realize that there’s the proximity issue for Spaniards. You are indeed much closer to them than to us. But there are a lot more of us, and we’re invading your schools, teaching English with our American accents, and the kids might just benefit from it. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

The Rubber Issue

The Rubber Issue. You might actually go to the US one day, and you don’t want to be caught asking for a rubber. It’s okay to learn the word rubber; I just think it’s better to realize that in the States, you’d be asking for a condom. Yeah, not exactly the word you want to bust out in the middle of maths math class.

There is no reason to think American English is less “pure” than British English. Okay, I hate this one. First of all, languages are in constant flux and no language or accent is better than any other. I admit to having my preferences (yes to British and Irish, no to deep-South accents), but still, it would be more than snooty to assume I speak a “purer” language than another person, based purely on snobbery. For example, Britons tend to hate the verb form “gotten,” considering it an Americanism. Oh, I beg to disagree, sir. According to multiple sources, the word is of British origin and its usage dates back to the fourth century. How’s that for ancient, British folk? Oh yeah, and it was used by none other than Mr. William Shakespeare himself, so shove it!

American English is closer to the phonetic spelling. We all know English is notoriously difficult due to its nonsensical spelling. (Thank goodness for the gloriousness of the phonetic Spanish language!) Well, the Americans at least realiZe that the word realize sounds like it has a z in it! Realise, pshhhh … no. Also, theater makes more sense than theatre. Come on. It just does.

image

Americans love British accents. We aren’t snooty about our language, realizing that we got it from across the pond, and we love them for it! Thank you, Britain! We also wish to give our thanks for their seriously sexy accents, which—if we didn’t speak English with an American accent—we wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate! Swoon!

So, come on, tell me: should I start referring to flashlights as torches or what?

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50 comments

  1. When I lived in England, I had a couple young ladies swoon over my American accent. “You sound just like the Hollywood movies!”

    How could you cover rubbers, but leave out fags? It’s the other classic.

    That and gallo = ROOSTER, not COCK!

    Bravo on the sensationalist troll title, by the way.

    1. I didn’t think that the reverse swooning existed … must have missed out on that!

      I suppose that I don’t encounter the word “fag” too often working with kids. No se me ocurrió.

  2. There’s also the Britishisms I never even learned until I started teaching English abroad. Most notable among these perhaps being “pram.” And “at the weekend.”

  3. My Brit pals in Madrid gave me hell for how we say ‘herbs’ and asked did all of us Americans think we were French, not pronouncing the h. To which I replied something about spelling theatre, neighbour blah blah blah what about the word ‘honest’ etc French.

    The ‘pure’ language thing bothers me the most, too. It drove me crazy hearing teachers talk about it, too. If it really made such a difference, all the auxiliares would come to Spain via British Council. Grumble grumble.

    1. It’s a common myth and Spaniards think that because the Spanish language comes from their side of the pond, they have the purer version of it too. Nonsense, I daresay!

  4. And there’s nothing wrong with saying “trousers” either. You might not want to say it because you’re used to saying the equivalent in your coutnry, but your students will decide what they want to say. I hate the sound o “c” pronounced by Spaniards, I dont like the “ll” sound pronounced by Argentines and Uruguayans I dont have to say exactly like them.

    1. The trousers thing was tongue-in-cheek, and I actually do say that to the first graders so they don’t get confused. They have enough on their plates as it is.

      I do what I want! :)

  5. No, Kaley! Continue fighting the good fight. A flashlight is a flashlight, an eraser is an eraser, and a truck is a truck.

    Personally, I don’t care whether the kids learn British or American English, since they’re both equally valid. But it’s annoying watching my teacher give students crap for saying zee instead of zed, or zeebra instead of zehbra. Or being told that every correction I offer her, whether on culture or grammar, is because they do it differently in England. Sorry ma’am, the word “shepherd” is not pronounced “sheferd” in Merry Old Humbly-Jumblying England.

  6. I’ve found myself involuntarily using some Briticisms and I always want to smack myself for it. I’m a huge Anglophile, but I really don’t feel the need to start using their lingo. I’m lucky in that my teacher loves that I’m teaching the students American English because she believes it to be the most useful one and she thinks it’s “prettier.” I’m slightly inclined to disagree on the pretty part, only because I love British accents, however, I will say that I think American English just makes sense. Who says ‘lift’ for elevator, I mean really…

  7. Haha. I agree about trousers. Why does it sound so wrong? However, as one friend from the UK pointed out to me, Americans have strange vocabulary as well, such as sweatshirt. ‘As in a shirt you sweat in..that’s disgusting..’, and of course, he was right. What would he say? Jumper? Nice post.

  8. I wrote a few posts like this on my blog last year about the most common differences I encountered between American English and British English in the Spanish classroom (which you can read the first one here: http://ameliesayshola.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/british-versus-american-english-in-the-spanish-classroom-part-1/). I remember the “I have got….” It drove me bananas! I remember the day I discovered ladybird was the UK word for ladybug. I was like, “WHAT? Since when is that bug considered a bird? NO IT IS A BUG!” I’m pretty flexible when it comes to the variety of the English language but I’m not budging on ladybug. No can do!

    Of course the English you grew up with is the English that is the most familiar. Anything else seems weird and just alien. I imagine it is the same in the Spanish-speaking world. The dialect of Spanish you grew up with is the “right” Spanish.

  9. Dying. Especially over the Eagles and naughty parts. My old school asked me to speak with a British accent to the children, so I did it for ten minutes while being observed, and they told me I sounded ridiculous (I also over exaggerated everything, even my hand gestures, I can’t believe I never got fired from that hellhole). You want British English? HIRE A BRITISH PERSON. I would never ask Kike to use Mexican or South American Spanish for me benefit, because all of them are correct.

    And, for the record, all Cambridge exams allow American English and have American accents (including Southern ones!)

    1. I cannot believe they asked you to speak with a British accent … that’s so difficult! I try to say things with a British accent and I just can’t. I suck at imitating accents. That’s why the pay actors who imitate accents (like Damian Lewis in Homeland) the big bucks.

      Yes to the Cambridge exams — so even if they do say zee instetad of zed, they’ll be fine.

  10. Great post! Love your comparaisons GB v US. We have a similar battle in our house, on a regular basis as I am from the North of England and hubby is from the South of England.
    I might even get round to writing a post one day too :) Pants is our taboo word. Hence my fave expression “That is totally pants!”

    1. Haha I love that the very innocent word pants is underwear in Britain. I often go pantsless at home, in the Amercian sense of the word, so don’t get any ideas!

      Also, fanny. Oh man, what images must a fanny pack invoke!!

  11. I think it’s a moot point these days. An anachronistic debate that’s become obsolete with the emergence of the clearly superior Irish form of English over the last couple of centuries :)

  12. And then we have the other odd letters such as whinge instead of whine. Since when are G’s silent in English? And even though I’ve known for a long time that a torch = flashlight, when someone tells me they’re grabbing a torch, I still envision them holding a stick coated in pitch and set on fire.

    1. When reading Harry Potter (the AmericaniZed version, really), they didn’t change whinge, so as a 12-year-old, I was very confused by the word whinge.

  13. lol I have a British boyfriend and we constantly ~argue about the differences: “hoover,” “at the weekend,” saying “herbs” instead of “‘erbs,” “courgette” instead of “zucchini” and sooo many other words and phrases. But I love the mix! In school, yeah, we have to teach them British English but I still get to teach them about the good ol’ USA like our culture and some of our slang!

  14. LOL! I think it’s just a matter of proximity, England is much closer and therefore what most are used to just like in the US they teach Latin American Spanish/grammar. I was lucky in the fact the teachers I taught with (they all studied at UK universities) would acknowledge both British and American English…now if I can only stop using the word “fancy” as in, “Anyone fancy a drink?”. My friends here in NY think I’m crazy. lol!

  15. Heh, good point about mentioning rubbers but forgetting “fag”, that one will get you in far more trouble in the U.S. than “rubber” would ever stand a chance to, haha.

    Also, a lot of people don’t know this but the current American accent is virtually unchanged from the original American/British accent (they were one in the same at this point in time) from the late 1700s. The British drastically changed their accent in the late 1800s and consequently the way Americans speak now is the original “British accent” as it was 200+ years ago. This also means, hilariously and much to my amusement, that if you wanted to get as close as possible to how Shakespeare would’ve originally sounded when first acted out on stage at the Globe Theatre in the early 1600s you would need to have an American with a neutral accent read it out loud–it wouldn’t be dead-on, but it would be the closest you could get, far closer to how it would’ve originally sounded than if it were read with a modern British accent as they tend to do in the movies and on TV.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  16. Great post and comments! As an American who lived in London for 18 years and now Madrid for 3, my accent has morphed into something no one can quite place…and my language is littered with such a combination of American/British (with the odd “pero” or “vale” thrown in without intent). My husband is Italian and our kids have British accents and call me Mummy. I’m all over the place!! But enjoying the ride 😊xx

  17. Well this is a long standing debate I must say. I’m American writer but my publisher as well as editor are both English. I have to write to fit the British style of language–does this make me a traitor?

  18. My kids use British English at school, and I can deal with all of it, but when my 6 year old starts yelling for his rubber it makes me instantly pause, and think WTH.

  19. Haha I just had a conversation about this at a party last night, followed by people going around the table and saying words the ‘right’ way (‘route’, ‘garage’, etc.). I’m always ‘wrong’ – I got rid of my English accent growing up in California, but some Britishisms stuck.

  20. I’ve been reading your blog for a few years now but have never left a comment. I find your posts well thought out and interesting. I like reminiscing about my Erasmus semester in Spain through your blog and learning more about Spain, as we both know that one semester is nowhere near enough time to learn about a country’s language and culture.

    What really though threw me for a loop when I lived in the UK was the word tea. One day a friend invited me over for tea. I thought, “Great, we’ll probably eat scones with that!” I went over to her house and we chatted for about an hour. I started to wonder when she would prepare the tea, but I was too embarrassed to say anything to her, not wanting to offend her. Eventually she said, “So, would you like some tea now?”, to which I answered, “I’d love some tea!” Imagine my shock when she got up and pulled out some chicken from the fridge and said, “Would you like a lot of parsely with your chicken?” I didn’t say anything at the time and ate the chicken, but the next day I told her and she laughed for a long time.

    1. Ah yes! How could I forget “tea”?! My boyfriend, who’s from the North, says tea when referring to dinner/supper as well. And lunch would be “dinner.” Making me so confused! Also, instead of mum, he says mam. And my friend who’s Welsh says mam as well. It’s crazy!

  21. I work in US for a British firm so deal w/English issues everyday. last week two colleagues each said “Pants!” And that threw me – I was told it meant “on my” or “drat” and that they wear trousers not pants. can you imagine saying “pants” out loud each time something doesn’t go well?

  22. Just wait until you get back home and try to speak to the Mexicans here. My boyfriend of 1 year now is Mexican and he STILL gets confused by some of the things I say…..”mobil” instead of “celular,” “manta” vs. “cobija,” words like “gilipollas,” “hostia,” “venga,” “cono” that don’t exist in Mexico, “curro” vs “chamba,” and can’t forget “vosotros”…..the list goes on.

    After a year of being here talking to him and also traveling in Central America my Spanish has morphed into a strange hybrid. I’ve dropped the Spanish pronunciation of “z” and “c” and my accent is more Mexican-ized, I’ve picked up a bit of there slang and say “celular” half the time now…..but some things I just refuse to let go of. Oh, and the other day we had an argument about whether vosotros was correct or not…he insists it’s something the Spaniards invented. Yeah, they did invent it, along with ustedes, ellos, ellas and everything else in the Spanish language, right? But who’s to say which is more “pure,” both forms are correct nowadays :)

  23. Hi Kaley,

    I really don’t get the “fanny” thing!! As a Brit that sounds funny! Is it used often in the US?

    I was in Miami a few years ago and couldn’t understand the American English there, I had to ask them to speak in Spanish! From their puzzled faces they didn’t understand me either!

  24. Living and teaching on the Costa Del Sol, I meet a lot of English people! And most of the English language books I find are British too, so I am finding a lot of spellings and slang that I didn’t know about. “Chilli vs chili and carcase vs carcass are 2 new ones for me. Last week at Pueblo Ingles I found myself translating between an Englishman and an American! “Lorry” is one she was struggling with. (cot, nappies, bin, trolley, rubbish, skip….) The funny thing to me is that they don’t realize that we don’t use these words.

    Being from California, I have the reverse Mexican Spanish problem – I’ll say things like “jugo” instead of “zumo” and the kids don’t know what I’m saying. Adults will just laugh and say that I’m muy Mexicana. Just be sure that if you go to Mexico you don’t say you want to “coger un autobus”!

  25. When my students ask me which accent is better, I always tell them that both are equally correct, just as South American Spanish is equally as correct as Castellano (always gets a great reaction in Spain hahahaha!) I have to say I love speaking British English. Whenever an American say pants, I just hear underpants. If you want to freak out a British person, just tell them you love their pants!

  26. Nice post! English language is so beautiful!

    In Spain we always have learnt British English, not because it may be better or not than American but because of the proximity of Britain and the fact that school textbooks are designed by teams of Brits and Spaniards or in Britain. That’s the reason we do learn that a “camion y camionero” is a lorry and lorry driver, not “truck and truck driver”, we learn to ask “have you got a light” or to say “i have got a car”, we also learn that a “cubo de basura” is a rubbish bin, not a “garbage can”, the same with petrol station, not “gas station”

    I’ve never used “gotten” because i feel more comfortable pronouncing “have got”.

    I don’t really know which one is better, American or British, but us Spaniards tend to think that British is the best or purest, above all the BBC English or Received Pronunciation.

    When i was in the USA in 2010 and last year i refused to say “garbage can” because my brain told me it was a rubbish bin. Also i preferred petrol station to “gas station” as the word gas makes me think of oxygen, hydrogen or methane, or even i think of the bubbles that containes a tin of coke or any other gaseosa as we call them.

    1. I know you said that Spaniards tend to think that British is the best or purest, but I think that said feeling/thought has its roots in them also thinking Spain Spanish (or even Castilian Spanish) is also the most pure. Unfortunately for them, linguists disagree—there is no “pure” form of a language, as language a dynamic thing … always changing. No language can be pure.

      I know YOU didn’t say that, that’s just my argument to their thinking. :)

  27. European Spanish or Castilian is the best and purest form of Spanish, i don’t care what linguists or any fossil sitting on a chair in a luxury room of the building of a language governing body may say. Castilian developed in Castilla around the 9th or 10th century, later taken to the Americas, so as a Spaniard i do have the right to say that we speak the best form of Spanish even if my Murcia/Cartagena coastal accent may sound horrible if compared to the brilliant and perfect of someone from the city of Salamanca, Logroño, etc

    you are right that languages are changing. By the way Kaley as you are american and i see that you are interested in the language and you like Spain, i recommend you to watch the TV serie “Isabel” on Monday night on TVE1, it’s about Queen Isabela of Castile, some of the comments or lines are medieval and sound really beautiful. I guess because you’re not native you won’t feel the beauty in them. This is the advantage i’ve got! ;)

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