Jan 23, 2012

Grammar Hammer: Winnie the Pooh Explains Britishisms to the Yanks

Perhaps you’ve heard about this recent stink in the literary world: The dumbing down of the Brits’ beloved Winnie the Pooh series with ghastly Americanisms.

Because, in fact, Winnie the Pooh’s author, A.A. Milne, was British. (Yes, there’s more to Pooh Bear than just the American Disney version!)

And evidently, some British Telegraph readers feel robbed by a recent error-strewn update of Winnie the Pooh that caters to an international audience (that “international audience,” apparently, is mainly Americans who can’t decipher words like “moustache” or “handkerchief” due to their British spellings).

And maybe the Brits have a point — “Winnie-the-Pooh” was originally published in 1926, and the licensing rights weren’t bought by Disney until 1961, so Pooh Bear and his animal friends have a heritage and nostalgia that is (or at least used to be) a symbol of British pride.

So in an effort to restore faith in the American intellect, here are some common spelling differences between American English and British English:

Ending some words with -or vs. -our

American style is -or and British style is -our

  • Tigger is a spunky goofball with a great sense of humor/humour.

Ending some words with -er vs. -re

American style is -er and British style is -re

  • Pooh’s life centers/centres solely around “hunny.”

Ending some words with -ize vs. -ise

American style is -ize (or -yze) and British style is -ise (or -ize)

  • Eeyore realizes/realises that he isn’t the most uplifting donkey.

Creating past tense with -ed vs. -t

American style is -ed and British style is -t

  • Wise old Owl has learned/learnt many things in life, but not how to spell properly.

Using single vs. double consonants in derivatives

If the root of a word ends in l, p, s or t, then American style leaves the consonant single before the suffix, while British style doubles it.

  • Christopher Robin benefited/benefitted from his wild imagination.

Dropping vs. retaining the -e- root of a word

American style drops the e before the suffix and British style retains it.

  • Rabbit is aging/ageing quickly, as a result of having so many kids.

Using ae or oe vs. e

American style drops the extra vowel, and British style keeps it.

  • Owl reads an encyclopedia/encyclopaedia for fun.

Phonetic vs. traditional spellings

American style simplifies spelling, so silent endings are usually dropped, or phonetic constructions are used instead. British style retains traditional spellings.

  • Eeyore plows/ploughs through life with his detachable tail and a gloomy expression.

*Remember that these are general rules, and there are many exceptions in some cases.*

Written by Grace Lavigne, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

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