Americanisms and British English

Americanisms and British English

During our proofreading and editing work we frequently come across Americanisms in documents that are meant to be in British English; such as “Labor costs have increased since last year.” 

These Americanisms come in four types: 

Firstly, words where there is general agreement about the differences between the spelling, such as color [Am] (colour [Br]) and traveling [Am] (travelling [Br]). 

Secondly, words ending in ‘-ize/ise’ or ‘yze/yse’ can be confusing; for example, words such as ‘realize/realise’ are, according to some dictionaries, acceptable alternatives in British English, while in American English ‘z’, is the only acceptable spelling. However, while ‘analyze’ is the only acceptable American spelling, ‘analyse’ is the only acceptable British spelling. For this reason, we recommend that in British English, it is best to use ‘ise/yse’ always as this avoids such confusion. 

The third type is in a class its own; is it ‘program’ or ‘programme’? In the past, this was simple, ‘program’ was the American spelling and ‘programme’ was the British spelling. However, the computer age has changed this. In British English, the word ‘program’ is used only when referring to a computer program, but in all other uses, ‘programme’ is used (e.g. ‘television programme’). In American English, ‘program’ is used for all meanings. 

The fourth type is where actual words differ rather than spellings. Examples of this are:  pavement [Br] (sidewalk [Am]), lift [Br] (elevator [Am]). The following sentence is quite different in British and American English. 

British: I had to walk in the road because there was no pavement, so I was afraid of being hit by car.

American: I had to walk on the highway because there was no sidewalk, so I was afraid of being hit by an automobile. 

The words, ‘braces’ and ‘suspenders’ have opposite meanings in British/American English for example, in British English, a man wears braces and his wife wears suspenders but in American English a man wears suspenders while his wife wears braces. It is obviously important not to confuse these words.

Consistency is paramount. If your document is in British English, then do not use any exclusively American English words, but if your document is in American English, then do not use any exclusively British English words.