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The Language of Shakespeare

C.A. Lawrence
(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)* 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:

  1. "British" terms recognized but not commonly used in Canada: e.g. trousers (pants).
  2. "Canadian" terms recognized but not commonly used in Britain: e.g. elevator (lift)
  3. Terms not recognized at all in Canada: e.g. plimsolls (sneakers)
  4. Terms not recognized at all in Britain: e.g. bangs (fringe)
  5. Same term used in different senses:

e.g.

British

vest

undershirt

Canadian

waistcoat

vest

Back to remark 1* Yes, I know "dealer" is also used in Canada, but "dealership" is not used in Britain.

Canadian English—British English Glossary
Canadian British
Automobile
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
fender wing
gas petrol
muffler silencer
parking lights sidelights
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
windshield windscreen
Highway
curve bend
divided highway dual carriageway
expressway, freeway motorway (M1, M2, etc.)
intersection junction
median (strip) central reservation
overpass flyover
parking lot car park
pavement road (surface)
pedestrian crosswalk, pedestrian crossing pedestrian crossing, zebra crossing
ramp slip road
rest-stop (possibly more elaborate than a layby) layby or lay-by
sidewalk pavement
traffic circle roundabout
Household
aluminum aluminium
apartments flats
backyard, yard garden
baseboard skirting
bathroom, washroom bathroom, loo, toilet
flashlight torch
garbage rubbish, dust
garbage can dustbin
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
stove cooker
styrofoam polystyrene
Television
cable TV
commercial advertisement, advert, ad
television, TV, the tube television, telly, TV, the box
TV antenna television aerial
TV station television channel
Clothing
briefs pants, underpants
cuffs (on pants/trousers) turn-ups
jumper pinafore
pants trousers
pantsuit trouser suit
pantyhose tights
raincoat mac or mac(k)intosh
sneakers, tennis shoes plimsolls or plimsoles
sweater jumper, pullover, sweater, jersey…
undershirt vest
vest waistcoat
Date, Time & Number
4/23/79 23/4/79
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
one time once
two hundred sixty two hundred and sixty
two weeks fortnight
week from Saturday Saturday week
Food & Drink
ale ale, beer
candy sweets
chips, potato chips crisps
cotton candy candyfloss
fish sticks fish fingers
French fries chips
Jello jelly
jelly jam
(lager) beer lager
lemonade lemon squash
liquor spirits
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
Seven-up, etc. lemonade
supper tea
Same Words Used in Different Senses
backyard, yard garden
billfold, wallet wallet
chips, potato chips crisps
football American football
French fries chips
garden vegetable garden, etc.
joint pot, hash, etc.
jumper pinafore
pavement road
purse, handbag handbag
roast (of pork/beef, etc.) joint (of pork/beef…)
sidewalk pavement
soccer football, soccer
sweater jumper
wallet (woman’s) purse
Grammatical Points
(Mostly Ungrammatical)
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.)
had dreamed dreamt
had learned learnt
had proved proven
had showed shown
had spelled spelt
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.)
Idioms
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.
Miscellaneous
baby buggy pram
bangs fringe (hair)
buddy mate
cigarettes fags
downtown town centre
downtown Toronto central London
elevator lift
eraser rubber
girl, chick bird
horny randy
line, line-up or lineup queue
mail post
mail, to post, to
pad, apartment digs, flat
pay phone call box
pretty girl dolly bird
stroller pushchair