Same, but different

There’s a joke that England and the United States are a single country separated by a common language. It’s funny, because it’s painfully true, at least as far as the language goes. (It’s actually separated by an ocean, and there are different governments – it’s this whole thing, but you can Google it.)

There are bunches of words that we both use that aren’t what the other says they are. Here are a few:

  • Biscuit
  • Cookie
  • Maternity Leave
  • Plaster
  • Jumper
  • Chips

A biscuit is a biscuit, but it’s actually a cookie. I still can’t shake the faint assumption that a biscuit is a bit of a treat. In America, a biscuit is fluffy and not something you’d dunk in your tea (or coffee, or whatever. Gin.). A cookie in the UK is more something that’s chewy or not dry.

Maternity leave is guaranteed in the UK and lasts 12 months (although I presume you could take less). Maternity leave is barely tolerated in the United States, and if you are lucky enough to have insurance, you get to take 6 weeks for a vaginal delivery and 12 weeks for a cesarean section.

Plaster is either something you use to fix a bit of wall or it’s a band aid. It depends on whether the Atlantic is to your right or to the left.

Similarly, a jumper is a dress that has suspenders and perhaps a bib, unless you’re in the UK, in which case it’s a sweater.

Chips, crisps, fries – you all know this one. Chips are fries in the UK, but are potato wafers in the US, which are crisps in the UK. It’s a circle of dysfunction that we all have to deal with.

But probably the best discrepancy that exists is that until the 1970s, a billion was an entirely different number in the UK and in the US. British English put a billion at a million million. American English put a billion at a thousand million. American English says a trillion is a million million. British English had a trillion at a million million million, instead. This continues on up the scale. Unbelievably, British English lowered their standards and conformed to the American English way of calculation. The British version was based on Latin (10^6 = million, so 10^12 = bi-million, and 10^18 = tri-million), but America didn’t have a convenient word for “thousand million” (if you’re wondering, Britian just said “thousand million”) so they decided to adopt the French convention that 10^9 = billion and 10^12 = trillion (cycling up by thousands, rather than by millions). Because saying “thousand million” was inconvenient. The French reverted to the British version just in time for Britian to switch to the American version, so it’s the whole chips/crisps/fries circle again.

2 responses to “Same, but different”

  1. WHAT. The Spaniards also use “a thousand million” (mil millón) for 10^9 and “billion” (billón) for 10^12, so I knew this was a thing, but I never knew it used to be a British thing.

    Also, I still to have to stop myself from asking for “lemonade” in Britain and make sure I clarify “cloudy lemonade.” As I never deal with billions and trillions of things (so sad), lemonade is a more practical problem for me. 😆

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha, yeah, I bet that no one cared until millionaires were a thing, even if the science didn’t quite work out. (Ok, if I’m being fair, it’s probably got more to do with the transatlantic data cables being laid about 20 years prior, and that scientists were collaborating across continents BUT. Millionaires.)

      Liked by 1 person

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