UK English versus US English

31 replies
Do writers from the UK have trouble with US English, and vice versa? The reason I ask is that we have a lot of UK copywriters and we've recently taken on a number of US clients, only the subtle differences between UK and US English are often a stumbling block.

By subtle differences, I don't mean the use of a letter z instead of a letter s, such as in 'optimization', I'm referring more to things like trailing commas before the 'and' in a list. For example, the correct UK English would be:

I like going to the park, eating ice-cream and playing on the swings.


Whereas the correct US English would be:

I like going to the park, eating ice-cream, and playing on the swings.

I just wondered if UK writers and US writers have this problem when writing copy for clients based on the other side of the pond?
#english #versus
  • Profile picture of the author BrianMcLeod
    This section of the WF is about writing sales copy.

    Discussions about grammar, punctuation and spelling are certainly not out of bounds, but since you're new here it bodes mentioning that the topic is not particularly germane to the heart of what we discuss here.

    But in answer to your question, Yankify your copy if you want big-dumb Americans to open their big dumb wallets.

    Welcome to the Warrior Forum,

    Brian McLeod
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    • Profile picture of the author ry6782010
      Originally Posted by BrianMcLeod View Post

      This section of the WF is about writing sales copy.

      Discussions about grammar, punctuation and spelling are certainly not out of bounds, but since you're new here it bodes mentioning that the topic is not particularly germane to the heart of what we discuss here.

      But in answer to your question, Yankify your copy if you want big-dumb Americans to open their big dumb wallets.

      Welcome to the Warrior Forum,

      Brian McLeod
      I laughed out loud at "Yankify". Best thing I've read today.
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      • Profile picture of the author WordsofWorth
        Originally Posted by ry6782010 View Post

        I laughed out loud at "Yankify". Best thing I've read today.
        Yeah, that was good. I do wonder though if Americans generally can spot whether copy was written by an American, or someone from the UK, as the differences (even though slight) do exist.

        From our company point of view, we always try to match up American briefs with American writers, and UK briefs with UK writers. It could be problematic for a writer if, for example, they were working on a US brief and an Australian brief at the same time as they both have different spellings and grammatical rules.

        Is this ever an issue for people?
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    • Profile picture of the author Russel Mogul
      Originally Posted by BrianMcLeod View Post

      This section of the WF is about writing sales copy.

      Discussions about grammar, punctuation and spelling are certainly not out of bounds, but since you're new here it bodes mentioning that the topic is not particularly germane to the heart of what we discuss here.

      But in answer to your question, Yankify your copy if you want big-dumb Americans to open their big dumb wallets.

      Welcome to the Warrior Forum,

      Brian McLeod
      lol, sound advice though
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      • Profile picture of the author Mark Andrews
        Banned
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        • Profile picture of the author max5ty
          Originally Posted by Mark Andrews View Post


          "I'm absolutely and utterly impervious to your aspersions and indeed, will take no great umbrage at your remarks Brian."
          Say's Mark... trying to keep his face from contorting into laughter.



          A chav...

          ...wears cheap tracksuit bottoms and burberry of all things, is invariably decked out in bling, sways from side to side to make himself look hard when he walks down the street (with the staffy terrier in tow by his side of course) and tries to talk like he knows a thing or two about the world whilst knowing pretty much dicksh*t about anything which may be of any use to anyone.

          And if he does drive... it's invariably an older clapped out 1.3 banger with a new cheap paint job, a large spoiler on the rear end and sporting the biggest chrome exhaust pipe imaginable with red emblazoned lettering across both the front and rear screens about some surfboard company even though he lives in the middle of Burnley or Leeds.

          If he can afford to go on holiday, him and his bloody chavette girlfriend will go to Southend-on-Sea or if he's really adventurous, Newquay where they'll drive around in circles all day long through the town with crap music blasting out before heading for the seafront to repeat the process. All the while thinking they look cool.

          They just make you want to steal a tank so you can take potshots at them and blast them off the cliff to the sea below.

          Usually from the north of England, they're like a disease spreading across the country. Makes one want to get an oar and simply shove it up his wisecrack arsehole. In a nutshell, they're tossers. I haven't got the time of day for them. They're bloody idiots the lot of 'em.


          Mark 'the cheerful' Andrews (who has just woken up at 5:30am feeling a little grumpy).
          LOL...that's some good writing there.

          I could picture them perfectly in my mind.
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  • Profile picture of the author Ruby Tyagi
    hey got to learn new term 'Yankify' and this is really funny
    However, on a serious note there indeed is big (they might seem small although) difference between UK and American English. I myself is a content writer and since past one year have been working for UK clients... over this past one year got to learn quite a few differences....

    anyway thanks
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  • Profile picture of the author The Copy Warriors
    This was discussed at length in a thread a while ago. Unfortunately, nobody was able to come up with any studies that arrived at a conclusion on whether not the nieceties of the UK version of english (e.g. behavior vs. behaviour, accounting vs. accountancy) made a difference with American readers, but most people said from experience that the differences are negligible and that readers often wouldn't be able to tell the difference. However, it stands to reason that where the vocab is actually different (e.g. apartment vs. flat), you would want to use the american terminology.

    As an interesting side note, there was a study done on whether an American would be less likely to buy from someone on a TV commercial who was speaking with an English accent, and it was actually found that American viewers responded slightly *better* to people with English accents. I've also noticed that there are quite a few british actors in (American) TV commercials these days, so maybe this is a well recognized phenomenon in marketing.
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    • Profile picture of the author Azarna
      Just avoid the few words that have significantly different meanings.

      Bum = US tramp, vagrant but in UK it is your 'sit-upon'

      Wash up = US people wash up (wash their hands) before a meal, but in the UK we wash up (do the dishes) afterwards

      You pay the check with a bill in the US, but in the UK you pay the bill with a cheque

      US folks get letters in the mail (from the US Postal Service), UK folk get their's in the post (from, weirdly, The Royal Mail)

      A US guy can be a silly ass, but that is a daft donkey to a British person

      The word 'damn' is considered 'cussing' in many US states, but is pretty much harmless in the UK (we also don't say cussing, we say swearing)

      And for goodness sake be careful using the word 'fanny'. It is innocuous enough in the US - but is a borderline offensive term in the UK - it describes a very different part of the body! We call 'fanny packs' bum-bags, and trust me, saying 'fannypack' in the UK can cause total chaos, as it seems most British people are not aware of the US meaning at all.

      I do love words :-)
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      • Profile picture of the author JakeDaly
        Why would you UK cats be snatching our womenz?

        And by womenz, I mean clients based within the U.S. Didn't you all learn anything from Season 3 of Mad Men?
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      • Profile picture of the author WordsofWorth
        Originally Posted by Azarna View Post


        You pay the check with a bill in the US, but in the UK you pay the bill with a cheque
        I love this one

        It's also wise not to ask someone on the street in the US for a 'fag', whereas in the UK it's perfectly normal.
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        • Profile picture of the author jonluk
          Originally Posted by WordsofWorth View Post

          It's also wise not to ask someone on the street in the US for a 'fag', whereas in the UK it's perfectly normal.
          I learnt this one the hard way when working in the states for a month back in the 90's.
          I have never liked smoking indoors. After a meal, "I'll be back in a bit, just popping out for a fag" - did I get some looks from everyone else in the restaurant or what.
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    • Profile picture of the author Ross Bowring
      Originally Posted by Andy Button View Post

      This was discussed at length in a thread a while ago. Unfortunately, nobody was able to come up with any studies that arrived at a conclusion on whether not the nieceties of the UK version of english (e.g. behavior vs. behaviour, accounting vs. accountancy) made a difference with American readers, but most people said from experience that the differences are negligible and that readers often wouldn't be able to tell the difference. However, it stands to reason that where the vocab is actually different (e.g. apartment vs. flat), you would want to use the american terminology.
      To be safe... go American with everything. Spelling, terminology, slang, everything.

      --- Ross
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      • Profile picture of the author Mark Andrews
        Banned
        Originally Posted by Ross Bowring View Post

        To be safe... go American with everything. Spelling, terminology, slang, everything.

        --- Ross
        I brought up this very topic a long time ago. Which sparked off a fair amount of controversy back then, if I recall correctly? I have to say, I still disagree with the common consensus. Wouldn't be surprised if Vin and a few others came out of the bag again vehemently arguing otherwise. I'd still disagree with him and others advocating this tactic.

        Ross states, "...to be safe, go American with everything. Spelling, terminology, slang, everything." No disrespect to you you Ross but I absolutely 100% disagree with you.

        Pigeon holing all copywriting into American English is a recipe for disaster. You misunderstand the very strong dislike in many other parts of the globe for American speak. This is definitely not an industry where one cap fits all. Far from it.

        Copywriting is all about understanding the local lingo and psychological nuances - what makes people or the collective consciousness tick.

        The Americans often don't mind the hard sell, they're more accustomed to it but try the same approach for a similar market in the United Kingdom and chances are your conversion rate will suffer. The British do not appreciate at all the hard sell approach. You have to adopt a much different and sometimes a much softer and dare I say it, a more sophisticated methodology if seeking to persuade this audience.

        Yes we're seeing a lot more American style advertising, for example, on the TV these days, but, for the most part, the adverts are absolutely crap compared to the British approach. You can of course beg to differ.

        However, here, the American copy approach is beaten by a factor of pretty much 99 to 1, that is, for every 100 different adverts appearing on the TV from various companies, the American approach is adopted perhaps just 1 out of every 100 TV commercials and then usually it's an American company trying to break into the market over here, not knowing any better. They make the assumption that we'll just take to their style of communication automatically.

        So why this massive difference? Why do the other 99% of British companies stick with the British approach to reaching into the collective subconscious mind of their target audience? Here we have companies spending a small fortune for advertising space on the box - does it stand to reason that given this vast expenditure that they would automatically presume to assume that the British market would be more receptive to a style of communication not familiar with the vast majority of it's residents?

        Why do they stick with the British approach for a British audience? Because to convey the company or product benefits in American speak represents a massive risk, a leap into the unknown.

        These advertisers they want the best return possible for their investment and of course they're going to use and tap into methods which over time have been proven to work over and over again. In other words... minimising their risk. And obviously in doing so greatly increasing their chances of making a sale, turning a decent profit for their advertising investment.

        If persuading or selling to a British market, you have to be prepared to adopt a British approach. American sales language won't cut it. Fair enough it may convert. It may not. But if I wanted to increase my chances of making sales with a British target audience the last language on earth I'm going to adopt, is American English.

        It pays of course to really research the receptiveness under local conditions in advance, to not do so is folly indeed. To assume a one-size-fits-all language for copywriting ignoring local market conditions without understanding what makes a particular audience feel and think as they do is fraught with danger.

        Best,


        Mark Andrews
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        • Profile picture of the author Ross Bowring
          Originally Posted by Mark Andrews View Post

          I brought up this very topic a long time ago. Which sparked off a fair amount of controversy back then, if I recall correctly? I have to say, I still disagree with the common consensus. Wouldn't be surprised if Vin and a few others came out of the bag again vehemently arguing otherwise. I'd still disagree with him and others advocating this tactic.

          Ross states, "...to be safe, go American with everything. Spelling, terminology, slang, everything." No disrespect to you you Ross but I absolutely 100% disagree with you.

          Pigeon holing all copywriting into American English is a recipe for disaster. You misunderstand the very strong dislike in many other parts of the globe for American speak. This is definitely not an industry where one cap fits all. Far from it.

          Copywriting is all about understanding the local lingo and psychological nuances - what makes people or the collective consciousness tick.

          The Americans often don't mind the hard sell, they're more accustomed to it but try the same approach for a similar market in the United Kingdom and chances are your conversion rate will suffer. The British do not appreciate at all the hard sell approach. You have to adopt a much different and sometimes a much softer and dare I say it, a more sophisticated methodology if seeking to persuade this audience.

          Yes we're seeing a lot more American style advertising, for example, on the TV these days, but, for the most part, the adverts are absolutely crap compared to the British approach. You can of course beg to differ.

          However, here, the American copy approach is beaten by a factor of pretty much 99 to 1, that is, for every 100 different adverts appearing on the TV from various companies, the American approach is adopted perhaps just 1 out of every 100 TV commercials and then usually it's an American company trying to break into the market over here, not knowing any better. They make the assumption that we'll just take to their style of communication automatically.

          So why this massive difference? Why do the other 99% of British companies stick with the British approach to reaching into the collective subconscious mind of their target audience? Here we have companies spending a small fortune for advertising space on the box - does it stand to reason that given this vast expenditure that they would automatically presume to assume that the British market would be more receptive to a style of communication not familiar with the vast majority of it's residents?

          Why do they stick with the British approach for a British audience? Because to convey the company or product benefits in American speak represents a massive risk, a leap into the unknown.

          These advertisers they want the best return possible for their investment and of course they're going to use and tap into methods which over time have been proven to work over and over again. In other words... minimising their risk. And obviously in doing so greatly increasing their chances of making a sale, turning a decent profit for their advertising investment.

          If persuading or selling to a British market, you have to be prepared to adopt a British approach. American sales language won't cut it. Fair enough it may convert. It may not. But if I wanted to increase my chances of making sales with a British target audience the last language on earth I'm going to adopt, is American English.

          It pays of course to really research the receptiveness under local conditions in advance, to not do so is folly indeed. To assume a one-size-fits-all language for copywriting ignoring local market conditions without understanding what makes a particular audience feel and think as they do is fraught with danger.

          Best,


          Mark Andrews
          Sorry to make you write all this...

          I was nightcrawling the thread and in my daze thought the discussion was about whether to use any "English" English when marketing to the US & A.

          I grew up in Luton... grew to be a man in Middlesbrough... and would never dream to use 'orrible American speak for persuasion purposes on our good Queen's shores.

          --- Ross
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  • Profile picture of the author laurencewins
    I am Australian. I mainly write using US English but occasionally I use UK or Aussie English and I use that language in my Word document.
    I am fluent in all forms of English. If you hire someone, ask if they know your preferred version.
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    Cheers, Laurence. Writer/Editor/Proofreader.
    Visit my site for more info

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  • Profile picture of the author BrianMcLeod
    I dare say we got on Mark's tits with this thread.

    LOL

    I can't say "gets on my tits" enough. Ever.
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    • Profile picture of the author Ross Bowring
      Originally Posted by BrianMcLeod View Post

      I dare say we got on Mark's tits with this thread.

      LOL

      I can't say "gets on my tits" enough. Ever.
      Oh... the quaint eloquance of the English.

      --- Ross
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  • Profile picture of the author seogame
    As they say, english is a language of less rules and more exceptions..
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    • Profile picture of the author WordsofWorth
      Originally Posted by seogame View Post

      As they say, english is a language of less rules and more exceptions..
      'fewer rules', rather than less, and that's one of them.
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  • Profile picture of the author littledan
    To completly honest my spelling and grammer are so bad I just mix and match. Also in your example a part from one comma I couldn't tell the difference. I write e-letters and blog posts all the time in my own business, and grammer does not matter one little bit. In fact it is a big turn off. In my opinion the best way to write for sales pages, emails, blogs etc is to write as if you are talking to somebody. It's way more interesting, and much easier to read.
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  • Profile picture of the author PsychoProfits
    Well, WordsofWorth, did you draw any worthwhile conclusions from this thread?
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    • Profile picture of the author WordsofWorth
      Originally Posted by PsychoProfits View Post

      Well, WordsofWorth, did you draw any worthwhile conclusions from this thread?
      A few yeah. Seems there's a lot more colloquial differences than I first thought, and writers who are used to dealing with both regions are aware of them and are skilled at writing copy for the UK and the USA.

      Also, a great deal of writers don't seem to know there are even any differences at all, which is a worry to be honest.
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      • Profile picture of the author Ross Bowring
        Originally Posted by WordsofWorth View Post

        A few yeah. Seems there's a lot more colloquial differences than I first thought, .
        I never realized just how many until I immigrated to the US from England in 1999.

        It really is a different language at times, but a lot of fun to learn.

        --- Ross
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        • Profile picture of the author Mark Andrews
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          • Profile picture of the author Azarna
            I think it also depends on what you are selling.

            If I were selling, say, a book on etiquette,English history, grammar or horse riding then I would certainly be using my 'English' English, as I think it would be an advantage to do so.

            If the book was on internet marketing, general health subject, movies etc then I would be more inclined to use Americanisms.

            I do agree though that if marketing to a specifically British market then one would have to take a different approach to the 'usual' ones we see here. As a nation we really dislike the hard sell, start putting in phrases like 'its a no-brainer' and half the UK audience will be pulling faces.

            Basically, we are a bit snobby, you know ;-)
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        • Profile picture of the author Ross Bowring
          Originally Posted by Marianne Gonne View Post

          So true...

          I had the opposite experience, Ross. Moving to East London from NYC in the early 1980s, I felt like I'd landed on Mars.
          I was thinking that when I read your post. Moving to England from America, especially with the zany variety of English accents everywhere had to have been a challenge.

          My Mom, when she visited the states asked a waitress at a TGI Friday's, "Can I have a fresh orange please love." Which got her a blank stare and the response, "An actual orange?"

          No "OJ" in England you see, you ask for a "fresh orange"... but I've been gone for a decade so what do I know? If I'm wrong on this orange thing Mark Andrews is already hitting reply :-)

          Writing wise... I've made such a concerted effort to learn the lingo in the states that I don't think I could write for a soley British audience. I think I'd accidentally throw in a "yeee haaa."

          --- Ross
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  • Profile picture of the author Ross Bowring
    Just remembered... this might be a good time to ask, what is a "chav?"

    All I read anymore in UK newspapers is that this person or that is a chav.

    English wordsmiths, please, enlighten a brother.

    --- Ross
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    • Profile picture of the author Ross Bowring
      Originally Posted by Marianne Gonne View Post

      Oh Ross. You really have been away from the UK for a long time, haven't you?!

      Chav = A thuggish underclass that somehow manages to spend a lot of money on (bad) designer clothing and fad gadgets.

      At the bottom end of chavdom, there's the Council-Housed and Violent breed. At the so-called "top end", there's Wayne Rooney and his chavvy Missus.

      Like locusts, Chavs have taken over all urban areas of the UK. They're absolutely everywhere.
      Thank you! Now I can sound like I know what I'm talking about to British friends :-)

      --- Ross
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  • Profile picture of the author sanjaypande
    Sometimes the way you learn a language affects you.

    My first language was English in the UK when I was 4. I even had the localized verbiage and pronunciations when I returned to India at the age of 5. I'd pronounce "boat" as "bout" and say "prickles" instead of "thorns".

    Grew up in India which is heavily influenced by British English at least academically. Watch people read the news in English on any Indian TV channel. It's what I call "neutralized" Indian English - without regional accent influences. Never lived anywhere for more than 3 years, so it didn't really add regional accents.

    After growing up, moved to the west which included stints in the US, UK and in Canada. US and Canada are very similar with the exception of spelling - "color" vs "colour", "vapor" vs "vapour".

    Now, I can tell you what irks me sometimes.

    1. Using "Bring" instead of "Take" (I can't stand this one)

    Examples

    Whenever I was going to visit friends or family, a common question:

    "Are you going to be bringing them anything?"
    "Would they expect you to bring them any gifts?"


    This is normal for an American or Canadian but will make a Brit (or even an Indian) cringe. I'm Canadian now, so I'll have to learn not to. I still get taken aback because it just sounds wrong.

    2. Using "momentarily" which means "for a moment" and NOT "in a moment" incorrectly. (Over time, I've become used to hearing this and don't mind it so much anymore).

    Examples

    "The doctor will be with you momentarily"
    "Hold on. I'll be with you momentarily"


    Well. what's the point? On another note, the doctors in Canada really are with you only momentarily till they send you off and call in the next patient.

    3. Using "Did do" instead of "did"

    Examples

    "We did do that"


    Ugghh!

    4. For some reason the excessive and incorrect usage of I (which has been hammered into their heads) especially with an "and".

    Examples

    "John and I are going to see a movie" - No Problem
    "John and me are going to see a movie" - Wrong and often corrected
    "I and John are going to see a movie" - This is NOT wrong, just not preferred
    "Would you like to go to a movie with John and I?" - This is WRONG
    "Would you like to go to a movie with John and me?" - This is CORRECT and is incorrectly corrected to the previous version.

    And of course there are the common lines ...

    "I don't know nothing!"

    "Who woulda thunk it"

    etc etc etc ...

    Over 10 years in the West and still not used to it ... yet!

    And the first time I heard the phrase "Hang in there", it conjured up the strangest images rendering my friends extremely insensitive.

    And now for something completely different ...

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