Language is a funny thing

Language is a powerful tool used in all the world. Evidence of language spans back centuries. While Manderain Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, English is close behind with the Spanish language. As an American English speaker, I feel blessed to have a tool that allows me to communicate with nearly one billion people in the world. As I travel, I am able to get around in nearly all the developed countries regardless of their offical national language.

Over the past month I have personally observed the differences between the British and American English. While observing language variations, more questions arise than answers: Where did these changes come about? Is one right? Is one wrong? How has language evolved?

I have purposefully sought out answers as well as differences during my time in the United Kingdom. I am not the only one that has these questions and biases about language.

For example, last night a Northern Irish gentleman, Bryan, told me that it is absolutely ridiculous that we spell color without a “u,” while I think it is ridiculous they spell it with a “u.” The British also spell other words differently: color as colour, tire as tyre, fiber as fibre and theater as theatre.

The American English made these changes. Some theorists say that it was in the hands of one man, Noah Webster. When Webster published Webster’s Dictionary, he thought it was important to distance America from the British English and thus the spelling changes arrived. He later wrote An American Dictionary of the English Langauge, which further influences how America speaks today.

The differences stretch far beyond spelling. Even punctuation differences exist. In England they use single quotations marks for quotes in text, while in America we use double. This is not a vocabulary difference, but still an important difference to note.

This week I visited a friends’ sister and her newborn baby. As we spoke, I realized that simple things such as a pacifier, baby toys and medicine have different names. She said he needed a nappy, which I thought was a cute way to say he needed a nap or rest. It would have been really funny had I said, “I needed nappy, too,” because a nappy is a diaper. This reminded me of a Bill Bryson story I once read. Bryson, an American, lived in the UK for two decades before moving his English wife and children to America. There he discovered that his native tongue wasn’t so native. While working on his home, he ran off to the hardware store where he needed to pick up a few things. Bryson thought this would be an easy stop in and go. Little did he know that the British English had influenced him more than he imagined. While he struggled to think of what items were called in British English, the American store worker were left clueless on how to help him. “What do you call the thing that hangs the picture? We call it a bobble, I think?” Bryson couldn’t remember what the nick knacks were really called in England, let alone American English. It is funny how one language can vary so much.

For example, when talking about names, the English say someone is “called” Bob; whereas, in America, we say someone is “named” Bob. While I call my friend named Bob on the phone, the English ring their mate Bob. One question that remains answered is who decided to call someone rather than ring him or her. Who named sweatpants “sweatpants”? This is one concept that translates horribly into the British English language. Sweat is still sweat in English but pants are underwear. You get the picture. Translation can often times be difficult between a Brit and an American.

Word pronunciation is an evident difference between British English and American English, and dialects affect pronunciation immensely. Even here in England there are five or six names for what I call a “bread roll.” It can be called a Bap, Roll.  Hannah, born in Nottingham, which is considered the Midlands, now lives in Manchester and finds the dialects completely different. According to Hannah, in Manchester they call a bread roll a muffin. A muffin to Hannah is a pastry. While living in Manchester, she has to translate constantly; even the accents are completely different. A Manchester accent pronounces Mom like Mam, which often can be confused with ma’am. Yet most of the UK pronouns Mom as Mum. Pronunciation differences are typically the most noticeable. Words like garage, car, and schedule.

I spoke with a woman from Lancaster and her daughter on the train this morning about language. She mentioned one of Bill Bryson’s books on language, which is quite a coincidence because I had just written about Bryson’s experience at the hardware store. The woman had said that some American English stems from Old England. For example, the word trash is actually old English, yet here in England have steered away from Old English. The mother said that most Brits believe that Americans have taken most their words, but in this case, it is the Brits that have abandoned their Old English by calling trash litter or rubbish.

Through my experience, language differences are rarely negative. The differences typically trigger a conversation of vocabulary and language. The language differences have triggered many laughs and even more confusion. For me, it always is an opportunity to learn something more about a culture rather it be Britain’s or even my own.

My Vocabulary List – American to British:

Bangs- fringe

Trunk of a car – boot

Hood of a car – bonnet

Windshield – window screen

Stove top – hob

Pants – trousers

Underwear – pants or knickers

Sweatshirt – jumper

Sweatpants – track bottoms

Friends – mates

Purse- bag

Woman’s wallet – purse

Bobble – hair tie

Bobby pin – hair grip

Movie- cinema

Duffle bag – overnight bag

Trash – litter/rubbish

Trash can –litter bin/rubbish bin

Making out- pulling

Landry mat – launderette

Lorry – truck

Lift- elevator

Bathroom – toilet / loo

Planner – diary

Soccer – football

Cookie – biscuit

Vacation – holiday

Gas (gasoline) – petrol

Gas station – petrol station/filling station

Vacuum – hoover (verb and adjective)

Highway- motorway

Pudding – desert

Line (as in to stand in line) – queue

Living room – lounge

Flashlight – torch

Cigarette – fag

Slang or abbreviations:

University – Uni

Cardigan – cardi

Television – tele

Hoodlum – Ned (Scotland)

White trash – Chav




Edinburgh buses

I read this rather disturbing short story by Laura Hird called Routes. It was about a boy’s bus ride on his twelfth birthday. He had a filthy mouth and a depressing view of others. I do not like riding stories about young kids with such messed up lives. It makes me think how unfair life is and how some parents truly do not deserve take care of another life. On a lighter note, the story shows you a bit about what it is like to ride the buses here in Edinburgh.

While in Edinburgh, I have been staying in Pollock Halls, which are really nice one-bedroom dorms. The UK doesn’t believe students should have to share such a small place with other students. Man, my last three years of college would’ve been incredibly different had that been the case at KU and Theta. I am really enjoying having my own space. Pollock Halls are in walking distance from High Street also known as Main Street, but it is a really long walk. Thus, my program gave me bus passes to use while I’m here. I’ve hoped on the bus alone a few times over the past week and a half. It has been a great way to people watch – one of my favorite pastimes.

The thing I have noticed the most is the generosity of others. People are really nice here. When an elderly person enters the bus, people immediately vacate their seats for them. When a mother with her hands full of shopping bags and a child’s scooter entered the bus yesterday with her four-year-old daughter, a man helped the little girl to her seat while the mom struggled with all his bags. I believe the people here are less self-conscious about what people will think about their actions. Instead of worrying about what others think, they do what is right and help strangers. I’d like to think that I am constantly aware of those in need, but I know I could be better about helping others. Everyone probably could.



Glasgow June 29

We took a daytrip to Glasgow yesterday. It was about an hour bus ride, which I enjoyed catching up on journaling and spending time outside of Pollock Halls.

Only about forty-five miles separate these two cities but the differences are incredible. The biggest difference that I noticed was the accent. When we first arrived, Winston, Anne, Libby and I popped into the cutest coffee shop, Illy. The store was decorated with chandeliers and faux cow print walls. The two girls working there were really friendly and talkative, but I will be honest, I didn’t understand half the things they said. My first reaction was that they were from a different country and English was their second language. I’d love to know the linguistic differences and do a better job of explaining what made the accents so different, but it was really hard to pin down.

The city is rather large and was full of people shopping the man street, Sauchiehall Street, which by the way you pronoun like Sake bombs! What a funny name for a street. Cars weren’t allowed on some of the main shopping streets, which was nice to walk around these wide pedestrian streets without worries.

The biggest observation I’d like to make is about evidence of the recession. Personally, I know what the recession has done to my family and friends, but in Glasgow it was visual. Shops were closed and people were frumpy. The amount of street performers was surprising, but I believe that this was another example of recession. If you can’t find work, yet play an instrument, you’re out on the street looking for a living. On our way into Glasgow, there was a large building complex full of high-tech looking business suites that were completely desolate. Billboards surrounding the building saying, “Bring your business here. Outside the center centre. No hassle. No traffic.” It is obvious that the recession has affected this country, but it was visible in Glasgow. I hope our little bus of thirty helped the economy out that day with all our shopping and dining. However, I’m afraid it will take Scotland making some big changes to help out their economic situations.


History matters?



This one is for you to consider over the rest of the program.   It should be as a crimp in your contact lens or a pebble in your Thoms or sand . . . You get the idea. Interrogate your own relationship to history.  Juxtapose it to what you are experiencing on this trip.  Consider your own cultural underpinnings.  Consider the experiences in your own life, culture, media exposure, etc. and how those elements affect your relationship to history.


My Response:


History is all around us. You can’t avoid the implications of former leaders and artists. This has been especially true during my time here in Britain. I would never consider myself a history buff or pretend to be knowledgeable about American history let alone British. Sorry, Mrs. O’Brien, you’re European history class was spent passing notes. This trip has taught me a lot about how important it is to understand the past before you consider the present. For example, we visited Fountains Abbey, a giant monastery that was left for ruins. I have to think about Henry VIII and what he did in the 1500s to contemplate what I see now in the twenty-first century. Some of the differences between Scotland’s Highlands and the Lowlands stem from battles and conflicts that happened hundreds of years ago.

As a Midwestern American, I rarely think about British history and its implications on my life, but it is important to think about America’s forefathers and what they had to go through to declare independence from Britain. I doubt I will ever truly understand the ramifications that an entire nation has on another, but I’m committed to keeping an open mind about our history and search for answers wherever questions arise.

We met the Caledonian Mercury’s editor, Stewart Kirkpatirck, this week. He started Scotland’s first online-only newspaper. When he came to speak with us, he mentioned a lot about Scottish independence and the Parliament’s referendum. I knew only what I learned in Comparative Politics about British politics, so Stewart’s talk was information and interesting. I hope to keep up with his newspaper and Scottish politics through that. There is so much information out there about the world.

In conclusion, I have a lot to learn about history. One thing I do understand is that it is important to consider the past and what people have contributed to this world we live in today. I’m curious to see how my generation contributes to history. Wish us luck.

Old Town and New Town

Edinburgh’s Old Town and New Town

I tried to explain the town of Edinburgh to Alex last night, and I realized that I had learned loads about the fun history of this town. I’m glad I still have a few days to explore it before we head back to London.

Edinburgh is made up of two parts that they call Old town and New Town. The old town is of course the original town of Edinburgh before they took down the city walls and rebuild up the hill. Clever names they have: the Old and New Town. The old town is built really high because the town became really populated while the city walls limited where the people could live. Some of the buildings are stacked ten stories high.

We learn a lot about what the people did with their excrement and such. It is extremely gross and unsanitary. In the Old Town everything slanted down to the lake. So long story short, people threw their poop and stuff out the window and it would run down the streets to the lake. This is the same lake that they bathed in and washed their clothes and dishes in. No wonder plagues ran rampant in the city. The city was constantly being built on top of itself in this time and so someone thought it would be a good idea to close in the people who were plagued and simply built on top and around their homes. People were closed in and died inside. The city has many haunting stories. I will write later about the witches in the lake.

The New Town started when people realized their Old Town smelled awful and there were too many people living there as is. Moving too far from Edinburgh would’ve been hard, so they built on the other side of the lake, which they later drained. The New Town was meant to be better and, of course, new. The streets in the New Town are set up in a grid unlike the Old Town. Princes Street is in New Town and is where lots of shops are located.

Now that the lake is drained and people use indoor plumbing, Old Town isn’t a bad place to be. The two towns make up Edinburgh, which has been a pretty neat city to explore.


Highland Storytelling


On Friday, we loaded the Haggis Adventure Bus bright and early. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The Haggis bus is really similar to the Kiwi Experience Bus that I toured on in New Zealand. We did a three-day tour including the Isle of Skye.

We did so much this weekend. It will take me a while to catch up blogging, but for now I want to talk about Scottish storytelling.

The first day on the Haggis bus was my favorite day. Our guide Lizzy was hysterical. I liked traveling through Scotland hearing about the landscape and history and battles that had taken place there. Lizzy had a great way of telling a story. She used silly accents and lots of energy.

Storytelling seems to be a big part of the Scottish tradition. My favorite stories were the one about the French fighter pilot that crashed in the Highlands. The story was silly and Lizzy told it in such a fun way. The story of the five daughters’ mountains was an extremely long tale about how five large mountains came about in the Glen Garry, I believe.

Overall stories a great way to convey a piece of history in a fun way. Our Haggis tour guides taught us a lot about the Jacobite battles and English conflicts. After our tour in the highlands I was able to understand Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped much better. The highlands is a great place to visit. I’d like to visit Fort William. It seems like the Queenstown, New Zealand of Scotland. Meaning, it is an outdoor adventure town full of great things to do.


Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament building is a modern building with these odd bamboo like bars on all the windows and doors. I don’t like the look of the bar-like features.

Scottish Parliament

After class, some of us met up with Lauren Stewart for a Royal Mile walking tour Part II. We ended the tour at the new Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. The building was finished in 2004. Now, don’t be fooled the new Scottish Parliament building is much more than a modern looking building with architectural wonder. It is a symbol of Scotland’s freedom and furthermore, their independence from the British Parliament located in London. While still very much a part of the United Kingdom, Scotland can pass its own laws here.

I really enjoyed the outside walls of the building, which were littered with quotes. The wall had nice quotes from both Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson, authors who we have been reading in class. The quotes, of course, displayed Scottish pride. The Scottish Parliament is a symbol of independence. The signs outside the Parliament were in both English and Scottish Gaelic, the country’s second national language. Lauren told us that not many people in the lowlands area speak Scotish Gaelic. However, when we head to the Highlands we might see more signs in Gaelic and maybe even meet someone who speaks it.

Overall, this extremely modern building illustrates Scottish pride. I recommend visiting the Scottish Parliament and the surrounding area in Holyrood if you visit Edinburgh.

Fountains Abbey

Today we visited the Fountains Abbey, which once was a large put-together monastery. The Fountains Abbey is Britain’s largest monastic ruin. It was built in 1132 by some monks. When Henry VIII destroyed the monasteries in England in 1539, some merchant bought the estate.

This was one of my favorite things we’ve seen in England. It was magical. That sounds silly, but it really was like a big kid’s playground. We were able to walk through the ruins and although, we weren’t supposed to, we climbed on the ruins and checked out the place from all different levels.

It was amazing to think that these monks built something so incredibly massive and expansive. It was sad to see something just go to ruins. Henry VII simply shut this place down and it wasn’t until a few hundred years ago that people started to think of this place as something wonderful and tour-worthy.

I knew Henry VIII started the Church of England, but I don’t think I ever realized the extensive affects of his doings. The ruins here were a perfect example of what can happen when a leader demands something. The monks were forced to leave and unfortunately no one kept the Abbey up.

Now the Abbey is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Northern England. I’m really glad we stopped there. It was a great place to stop and think about English history. It was a perfect place to reflect and ponder. I spent the time thinking back on my past two weeks here. I can’t believe how quickly two weeks passed by. I’m happy to say I have lived them up to the max. I know the next two weeks in Scotland will go by just as fast.

Castle Howard

Castle Howard was not a castle in the sense of stoned walls and monstrous towers, but… wow… Castle Howard was a sight to see. It is a large estate that has been in the Howard family for ten generations. The current tenet is none other than Simon Howard. No, you shouldn’t recognize the name and I sure as heck didn’t. You can read about the Howard family here. It even has pictures of Simon and his wife and their 9-year-old twins, Octavia and Melvin. It is amazing that these two young children not only live in a castle of this size, but that they live in a house that is open to the public year-round. Now, keep in mind that their separate living quarters were off limits to us touring. However, we walked through rooms that they still use on a regular basis. The immaculate bedrooms often house their guests. I wonder if the kids think that their lives are normal or if they yet realize how different their upbringing is.

Furthermore, the Castle Howard is this enormous estate with hundreds of acres full of mystical gardens and amazing views. We took loads of pictures in the gardens and had fun seeing all the grounds, which in retrospect we didn’t see much of the grounds at all. The place is huge.

Last Friday we visited Haworth, where the Bronte sisters lived. Now the Parsonage is now turned into the Bronte Parsonage Museum. A parsonage is the home that the a member of the clergy would live in. In this case it was Mr. Bronte that resided in this small house with his three daughters and son. The small house was set next to the church and a cemetery. The cemetery had their scary feeling and the area was very wooded. The moors provided an open space in juxtaposition with the crammed cemetery and parsonage. It was no surprise to me that the sisters wrote so much. This was not the place to find much entertainment. The girls had to explore the moors and make up stories as they did.

Now, Castle Howard was much brighter. The castle was surrounded by neatly cut grass and fountains. The life here seemed privileged and relaxing – mostly because life at Castle Howard is privileged and relaxing. The Bronte sisters had to look out their bedroom window at a dark forest and cemetery full of graves of those who died from the nasty sewage stained water.

I doubt the Howards worried much about death and grim in their pampered life at the Castle. Now it isn’t that Haworth was extremely depressing. The moors in Haworth were quite nice. I enjoyed my time exploring the Moors. However, the life at Castle Howard seemed much more like a walk in the park than a hike up a frumpy moor.

Haworth had lots of problems with their water. Many people died of nasty diseases.


Haworth and York

The North vs. The South

The people are nicer in the North. We went to the Golden Fleece is supposedly the most haunted pub in the world! Or at least York. The bartender there was happy to ask us questions about our stay and our study abroad program. Bartenders in London never stopped to ask us about where we were from or what we were doing there. Here I York, we’ve been asked so many questions. People here like to take the time to engage with you. In London it was too busy to talk to strangers.

The landscape up North reminds me of New Zealand. Kids on the bus were saying, “This looks like the Shire.” I wanted to shout out that I’d been to where they filmed the Shire! The kids are right though; The North and Scotland looks really similar to New Zealand and thus, the shire. Everything here is so green. The North is much more hilly and you are able to see further out than you could in The South. The North is more mountainous than the South, too.

The accent changes dramatically as you head North. As you head North, the English accent changes. Some say that they become harder to understand. I simply think that the regional accents become more distinct. I love the Scottish accent, so I look forward to Edinburgh and chatting it up at the pub.