March 27, 2012

CULTURE SHOCK: The English Vocabulary Lesson

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Before heading off to London, I was pretty sure that the culture shock would not be particularly extreme. When it came to language, however, I was in for more confusion than I expected. So for those of you heading to this side of the pond soon, here are some tips.

1.) “Are you all right?” means “How are you?”

I’m pretty sure in America “are you all right” is synonymous to “What’s wrong?” or “Have you been crying?” It’s not usually positive, and someone is generally calling you out on behavior that they find abnormal. Here, it’s a standard greeting. If you take too long to respond, than it leads to the American “Are you all right,” so “Good” or “Fine” will usually suffice.

2.) “Cheers”

“Cheers” can be completely unrelated to any behavior involving a toast. “Cheers” can mean pretty much anything from “Bye” to “I agree” to “Thank you.” If you have an American accent, you will always sound like a poser when you use it in social situations, even if it’s accurate. Of course, no one will complain if you use it in a pub with friends or the bartender either. It’s informal, and used in friendly context. I’ve never heard anyone with authority say “Cheers” to anyone beneath them, so audience is key.

3.) The s/z phenomenon ou/o phenomenon

British people do not use the letter “z” half as often as we do. Authorizing = authorising. Realize = realise. You will never adapt to this letter variation. It will always look wrong to the other party. As will spelling “color” as “colour” and “favorite” as “favourite.” It just never makes sense.

4.) Football versus soccer

In American football, you use your hands, in British FOOTball, you use your foot. I think they have us on this one.

Rebecca Bogatin is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at rbogatin@cornellsun.com . Notes from Abroad: Culture Shock appears on Wednesdays.

Original Author: Rebecca Bogatin

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