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The Language of Shakespeare
(Terminology Update, Volume 14, Number 10, 1981, page 9)
When I emigrated from Britain just over four years ago, I came equipped with what I considered to be a reasonably good grasp of the language of Shakespeare, together with a passable knowledge of the language of Molière and a similar degree of acquaintance with German. So, on arriving here, I found I would have to master, in addition, the two official languages of Canada. Fortunately, I soon noted certain similarities between the languages spoken in Canada and two of the languages with which I was already familiar. The similarities between the language spoken in France and the language spoken in the French regions of Canada I shall leave to those better qualified to compare. I shall confine myself to a comparison of the language I learned in England and the language spoken by Anglophones here in Canada.
I had been forewarned by fellow Britons who had "crossed the pond" before me that I would encounter some problems in communicating. Indeed, they were only too happy to relate the problems they themselves had encountered. For example, a request for plimsolls (sneakers, running shoes) in a shoe shop had elicited the response that: "We don’t sell fish here." Similarly, any Brit ("Englishman" is the word usually used by the English) rash enough to ask for "batteries for my torch (flashlight)" is sure to be greeted with a blank stare from any Canadian shop assistant (sales clerk) uninitiated in the British idiom.
While most Canadians are aware that Brits "quaintly" talk about "petrol" instead of "gas," they are not so familiar with the many other differences in car-related terminology—presumably because the automobile industries developed on separate sides of the Atlantic long after the original colonization of Canada.
A visit to the local car dealer’s (dealership)Remark a for a service (tune-up) or for any other mechanical work is almost certain to be a source of confusion. One service manager was quite baffled when asked to install a heavy-duty tow bar (trailer hitch) to pull a large caravan (travel trailer, touring trailer). He also misunderstood when asked to repair a faulty sidelight (parking light). Motorists often use sidelights instead of headlights in Britain when driving in well-lit streets at night.
Highway terms differ just as much as the names of car components. A Canadian visitor to Britain might be slightly puzzled if he asked for directions and was told:
"Turn left after the second zebra crossing, then carry on until you reach a T-junction. Turn right and go straight on for two miles. You will be on a dual carriage-way. Follow the signs to the M1 and take the London turn-off. Mind you don’t take the wrong slip-road. If you do, you can’t cross the central reservation. You’ll have to go 8 miles up the motorway before you reach a flyover where you can turn round."
(If you cannot guess all the terms from the context, refer to the glossary.)
Slang and colloquial expressions frequently differ from one side of the Atlantic to the other, not surprisingly perhaps, since this side of the language tends to evolve more rapidly than more formal English. In my early days in Canada, I thought someone was having me on (putting me on) the first time I heard the expression: "Is it ever cold." It struck me that it was very cold much of the time and nobody needed to question the fact.
Some differences in colloquial usage can be a source of embarassment to the uninitiated. If Canadians ask British friends round at the weekend (ask over on the weekend) and suggest they stay overnight, there are likely to be some red faces if the Brits ask to be knocked up (woken up) early in the morning.
Both Britons and Canadians bend the rules of grammar but they bend different rules. Brits have an affinity for "me" instead of "my" as in: "I threw me book in the bin (garbage)"; and "us" instead of "me," as in: "Give us a kiss." Canadians prefer a different kind of grammatical mistake. They seem to do a "real good job" of avoiding adverbs. They also have an affinity for the word "would" where it is not needed, as in: "If he would write (wrote) correctly, he would not write this." What is accepted as correct usage in Canada is not necessarily accepted as correct in Britain, and vice versa:
A Brit would be most unlikely to say: "He will likely come tonight." He would use "probably" instead.
In answer to the question: "Have you got a car?" the Canadian would say: "Yes, I do," whereas the Brit’ would say: "Yes, I have."
Britons prefer past participles ending in "en" rather than "ed." For example, proven, shown, sawn. Thus, British bank robbers use "sawn-off shotguns" while their Canadian counterparts use "sawed-off shotguns."
After four years in Canada, I feel I am beginning to master Canadian English, although I am still caught out by an unfamiliar expression from time to time. The following glossary represents a selection of words and phrases that appear to me to be used differently by Canadians and Britons.
I should stress that although this glossary was prepared more with Canadian readers in mind, it does work both ways. So, for example, when I enter "one time" in the Canadian column and "once" in the British column, this is not intended as an indication that "once" is not used in Canada—it is an indication that "one time" is rarely used in Britain.
The terms in the glossary fall mainly within the following five categories:
- "British" terms recognized but not commonly used in Canada: e.g. trousers (pants).
- "Canadian" terms recognized but not commonly used in Britain: e.g. elevator (lift)
- Terms not recognized at all in Canada: e.g. plimsolls (sneakers)
- Terms not recognized at all in Britain: e.g. bangs (fringe)
- Same term used in different senses:
|automobile, car, auto||motor car, car, motor|
|back up, to||reverse, to|
|backup lights||reversing lights|
|defogger, defroster||heated rear window|
|family sedan, sedan||family saloon, saloon|
|soup up, to||tune up, to|
|station wagon, wagon||estate car, estate|
|total (The car was totalled.)||write off (The car was written off; was a complete write-off.)|
|tune-up, to tune up||service, to service|
|turn signals, turn indicators||indicators|
|divided highway||dual carriageway|
|expressway, freeway||motorway (M1, M2, etc.)|
|median (strip)||central reservation|
|parking lot||car park|
|pedestrian crosswalk, pedestrian crossing||pedestrian crossing, zebra crossing|
|rest-stop (possibly more elaborate than a layby)||layby or lay-by|
|bathroom, washroom||bathroom, loo, toilet|
|garden||vegetable garden, etc.|
|kitchen garbage can, step-on can||pedal bin|
|outlet||socket, mains (to plug appliance into the mains)|
|row houses||terraced houses, terraces|
|semi-detached (end of row)||end-terrace|
|commercial||advertisement, advert, ad|
|television, TV, the tube||television, telly, TV, the box|
|TV antenna||television aerial|
|TV station||television channel|
|cuffs (on pants/trousers)||turn-ups|
|raincoat||mac or mac(k)intosh|
|sneakers, tennis shoes||plimsolls or plimsoles|
|sweater||jumper, pullover, sweater, jersey…|
|Date, Time & Number|
|April 23, 1979||23 April 1979|
|it’s five after two||it’s five past two|
|it’s half past six||it’s half past six|
|noon, noon hour||midday, 12 o’clock|
|two hundred sixty||two hundred and sixty|
|week from Saturday||Saturday week|
|Food & Drink|
|chips, potato chips||crisps|
|fish sticks||fish fingers|
|lunch||lunch, dinner (school dinners)|
|popsicle||ice lolly or iced lolly|
|pork roast, beef roast||joint of pork/beef|
|sausages in Yorkshire pudding||toad-in-the-hole|
|Same Words Used in Different Senses|
|chips, potato chips||crisps|
|garden||vegetable garden, etc.|
|joint||pot, hash, etc.|
|roast (of pork/beef, etc.)||joint (of pork/beef…)|
|do ("Have you got a car?" "Yes, I do.")||have ("Have you got a car?" "Yes, I have.")|
|first of all||first of all|
|garbage (I threw my book in the garbage.)||bin (I threw me book in the bin.)|
|likely (He will likely come.)||probably (He will probably come.)|
|me (Give me a kiss.)||us (Give us a kiss.)|
|real (She did a real good job.)||really (She did a really good job.)|
|sawed-off shotgun||sawn-off shotgun|
|second of all||secondly|
|third of all||thirdly|
|was (The Government was…)||were (The Government were…)|
|would write (If he would write to me, I would tell him what I thought.)||wrote (If he wrote to me, I would tell him what I thought.)|
|Better you than me.||Rather you than me.|
|He came by himself.||He came on his tod.|
|Is it ever good!||It’s bloody good!|
|They came over to see us on the weekend.||They came round to see us at the weekend.|
|Are you putting me on?||Are you having me on?|
|Can you do that right away?||Can you do that straight away? (or right away).|
|Wake me up at six in the morning.||Knock me up at six in the morning.|
|downtown Toronto||central London|
|line, line-up or lineup||queue|
|mail, to||post, to|
|pad, apartment||digs, flat|
|pay phone||call box|
|pretty girl||dolly bird|
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