Questions tagged [north-american-english]

Questions about English used in the United States and Canada, but usually not Mexico.

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67
votes
7answers
31k views

Which is the correct spelling: “grey” or “gray”?

What is the difference? Or is there any? Which would be more British English?
52
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3answers
9k views

How did “biscuit” come to have a distinct meaning in North American English?

The Oxford Living Dictionary makes a clear distinction between the usage of biscuit in Britain and North America: British: A small baked unleavened cake, typically crisp, flat, and sweet. ‘a ...
49
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3answers
9k views

The “old switcheroo”: Where did the “-eroo” suffix come from?

The -eroo suffix works as an intensifier of sorts, though it also seems to have other, less well-defined properties. The online OED has only this to say about it: -eroo, suffix   ...
35
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6answers
107k views

Is there a difference between “arse” and “ass”?

From a comment here, in frequent usage, arse and ass are often interchangeable when used to refer to buttocks or to a person of dubious charms. However, although “to arse about” has a vague connection ...
32
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6answers
235k views

“Spelt” vs. “spelled”

In the following sentence, should I say spelled or spelt: You spelt/spelled "Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis" wrong.
31
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4answers
46k views

Why does “corn” mean “maize” in American English?

I keep hearing "corn" as a synonym of "maize". This is widely popularized worldwide by popcorn. However, this is American English! In British English, "corn" can mean any type of "grain", especially "...
23
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9answers
59k views

Meaning of “go figure” and its origin?

Sometimes, people use a colloquial phrase of "it figures" or "go figure", which is kind of an acknowledgement of the correctness of a fact, or something like that. It's also sometimes abbreviated even ...
21
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1answer
4k views

The meaning of leaving someone back [ in American English ]

I just watched a great video (a kind of short documentary) about two educators who strive to afford better education for their students in a college in Red Hook (a neighborhood in Brooklyn). The video ...
19
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5answers
127k views

What does 'ten of six' mean in regard to time?

I am referring of course to the expression describing time. Today a corporate trainer (From north Philadelphia) that is teaching a class at my company used it in the context that the current time was '...
19
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5answers
38k views

Why is “t” sometimes pronounced like “d” in American English?

Why, in American English, is the word Italy is pronounced /ˈɪdəli/ and not /ˈɪtəli/? What is the rule that is followed in the pronunciation of Italy to make the letter t pronounced like a d? Why is ...
19
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9answers
94k views

Origin of “More X than you can shake a stick at”

What is the origin of the phrase "more X than you can shake a stick at"? Every website I've seen on this basically says the same thing (e.g., http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-sha2.htm): Recorded ...
18
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4answers
29k views

Is it awkward to use the word “aubergine” instead of “eggplant”?

According to Google Ngrams eggplant is far more common (although in British English aubergine seems to have a small advantage over eggplant). So, not being a native speaker of English I wonder ...
18
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8answers
49k views

When did the term “flip flop” displace the term “thong” in North America for a type of sandal?

To Australians like me "thong" means a kind of sandal such as recently repopularized by the Havaianas brand but we know it means a kind of G-string in other English-speaking parts of the world. To ...
17
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4answers
38k views

What is the proper plural of the word “freshman”?

Would it be proper to say freshman students, freshmen, or freshmen students? Edit: It is worth noting that I have since learned it is more acceptable in educational circles to use the term "first-...
17
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9answers
37k views

Using “them” instead of “those”

Background: Nowadays, I see this usage a lot. I don't know if it was this common in the past. For example: "one of them people" When I did a research about it, some people say it comes from ...
16
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6answers
13k views

The use of “hey” in North America

Having had my formative years in New Zealand, I was born in South Africa. I vaguely recall when I was VERY young having someone tell me when I said "hey" that "hay is what horses eat". I got that ...
15
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2answers
45k views

Why do North Americans pronounce “caramel” as “carmel”?

"Caramel", which (clearly) has an "a" in the middle, has only this spelling world wide. But in my experience, North Americans (Canadians too) don't pronounce the middle "a&...
15
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5answers
2k views

Do native speakers of major English varieties actually say “a software” or “softwares”?

So I've looked up the word "software" around, and I've learned that -ware words are uncountable, and there's even a claim at the Wiktionary entry for this word that "a software" or "softwares" are a ...
14
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7answers
5k views

What is a small tent kind of shop on the side of the road called?

What is a small tent kind of shop on the side of the road called? It can sell stuff like newspapers, snacks, coffee, and other small things. The only two things that come to mind are "a hot dog stand"...
14
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2answers
2k views

What are the 'distances' among the major English dialects?

Yes, I admit, as an AmE speaker, that all non-North American accents sound the same: BrE, Irish, Scottish, Australian and South African. Or rather, I can tell they are different if placed side by side ...
14
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3answers
66k views

What does “rising senior” mean and what countries use it?

I know it is something to do with universities, but as I have never come across the term before today (and have lived in England all my life including going to an English university), I am assuming it ...
14
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2answers
85k views

“travelling” vs. “traveling” [closed]

Is the correct spelling travelling or traveling? I’ve seen both in common usage, but I can't find an authoritative source that says one way or another. Is this a difference between British spelling ...
13
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8answers
6k views

'Cheddar goes “good” with burgers?' Can “go” be seen as a verb of the senses?

I know that the adverb modifies a verb except for in some limited cases such as verbs of the senses or copula. "It tastes good.", not "It tastes well." "It looks good.", ...
13
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2answers
105k views

“Make sure to” vs. “Be sure to”: Is the first one correct?

These two versions below are used interchangeably where I live now in the United States: Make sure to do something. Be sure to do something. But I always have found the first version clumsy. It ...
13
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3answers
75k views

Origin and variants of phrase: “let's blow this popsicle stand”

I'd like to know the origin and precursor or derivative variants of the phrase "let's blow this popsicle stand". Reliable, conclusive, source-supported, authoritative and consistent information about ...
11
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9answers
31k views

Why is it called an “Indian file”?

I recently came across a US phrase, Indian file. This is utterly unheard of in the UK, and probably outside North America; at least I’ve certainly never heard of it. The phrase would be expressed in ...
11
votes
1answer
8k views

“Gun an engine” vs. “Rev an engine”

The driver of the van brakes sharply at every red light or junction and guns the engine when we move off. I begin to sweat—travelling sideways isn't helping. Apple Tree Yard "To gun the engine" is ...
11
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6answers
10k views

Is the term “village” used in North America?

The post Difference between "town", "city" and "metropolis"? describes the usage of terms describing various sizes of cities. In the US, I have never encountered any ...
11
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3answers
2k views

The meaning and usage of ‘stiffs’ in “Of Mice and Men”

I would really appreciate it if someone could confirm whether I have interpreted correctly the meaning of “stiffs” in the following excerpt “I had enough,” he said angrily. “You ain't wanted here. We ...
10
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4answers
26k views

Which is more affirmative: “I think” or “I guess”?

In South Asia, we tend to use "I think" when we are almost sure about something; or sometimes use it ironically like in example "I think you should have done this yesterday". "I guess", on the other ...
10
votes
1answer
453 views

From the Spanish “xaquima” to the AmE “hackamore”

A hackamore: is a type of animal headgear which does not have a bit. Instead, it has a special type of noseband that works on pressure points on the face, nose, and chin. It is most commonly ...
10
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1answer
5k views

Where did we get “buster” as in “Look here, buster”?

Americans, at least, have for some time used buster in speech or dialogue as a generic form of address. It has a range of tonalities, from light to affectionate to grimly confrontational. Listen, ...
10
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2answers
22k views

Dropping L in compound adjectives. Is it “skillful” or “skilful”?

We have been taught at school that when a word ending in "LL" helps form a compound word, "LL" becomes "L" (e.g. skill -> skilful). I have also come across the usage of this adjective as skillful (...
10
votes
4answers
25k views

What is the origin of the phrase “bush league”?

I know it's baseball terminology, but I've never heard anyone explain why a feeder or low-level league is associated with shrubs. Is there some relation in the phrase to "farm system"?
9
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6answers
9k views

Why is most North American speech rhotic?

Most North American speech is rhotic—why is that? Does it come from the early English settlers or perhaps from the Irish settlers?
9
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2answers
2k views

Can you hear the difference between 'Writer' and 'Rider'? Why?

Apologies in advance for the slightly blog-like nature of this question. The Background Some of the comments in relation to this question here: Unvoiced /dʒ/ and /ʒ/ in word final position ... ...
9
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4answers
110k views

Why is mutton used for both sheep meat and goat meat?

The meat of an adult sheep is called mutton. The meat of an adult goat is called chevon or mutton. In the English-speaking islands of the Caribbean, and in some parts of Asia, particularly ...
9
votes
3answers
8k views

Divergence in meaning of “just about” between UK and North American English

Does anyone know anything about how the meaning of "just about" came to have opposite meanings in the UK and North America. For example, in the UK, The team just about won. means that the team won, ...
9
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1answer
1k views

Pronunciation Rule for “nt” in the Middle of Words

Is there a "rule" or pattern for the pronunciation of "nt" in the middle of words, followed by a vowel (or "er" sound)? Here's what I have so far: 1) "t" is often omitted in words like "wanted," "...
9
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3answers
650 views

Are there any studies on changes in British English to become more like American English?

With the spread of American popular culture (movies, books, franchises, etc.) and technical jargon (manuals, Web syntaxes, default spell-check settings, etc.), I'm wondering if there have been any ...
8
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2answers
2k views

“There is a woman with a snapper.”

So far, I haven't found a clue to this use of the word "snapper" (1851) to describe an energetic, irrepressibly attractive woman at any of the 19th century slang websites so far. Here is part of the ...
8
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3answers
33k views

Origin of the word “boner”

What is the origin of the word boner? Trying to find the roots for its prevalent usage, especially in North America. According to a dictionary it means an erect penis.
8
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3answers
829 views

What is the earliest mention of an “American accent”?

Do we have any idea how quickly the American colonists (specifically those British colonists living in what would later become the United States, but I'd be curious about French and Spanish colonists ...
8
votes
2answers
752 views

How did an egg and cheese dish come to be known as “Woodchuck(s)”?

Our family just finished our traditional post-Easter dinner of colorful Woodchucks, and once again I am wondering about the origin of this odd recipe name. Some searching on the internet has turned up ...
8
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2answers
626 views

“the 'first/last' of the [day/night/week, etc.]” for "the 'beginning/end' of the [day/night/week, etc.]

Where in the U.S. and Canada do they say, at the first/last of [the day/night/week, etc.] for at the beginning/end of [the day/night/week, etc.]? Luck had it that they only experienced a very minor ...
8
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2answers
3k views

When does realisation of velar nasal /ŋ/ as alveolar nasal [n] happen along with tensing of the preceding vowel (/ɪ/ to [i])?

I have observed some English speakers in North America who seem to produce this assimilation in words like "running" /ˈrʌnɪŋ/ (as /ˈrʌnin/) or "winning" /ˈwɪnɪŋ/ (as /ˈwɪnin/). I'm specifically ...
7
votes
2answers
724 views

What are the names of the two phonetic changes in this sentence?

I'm going to be teaching English to French high school students for another year in September, and they all have a hard time with my variety of English (they're used to hearing British English). ...
7
votes
6answers
2k views

What is a way to express 'a sudden need to urinate or defecate'?

If I have a sudden need to use the restroom, how should I express that? I know there is an expression in British English - be caught short. to suddenly and unexpectedly need to go to the toilet, ...
7
votes
4answers
5k views

Origin & history of name “she oak” or “sheoak” (a Casuarina tree)

In wikipedia's Casuarinaceae article (and somewhat similarly in its Casuarina article), one finds: The most widely used common name for Casuarinaceae species is sheoak or she-oak (a comparison of ...
7
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5answers
4k views

“Barrow Pit.” Western American Term for Ditch

I'm from the American West and have heard a term local (northern Utah, southern Idaho, western Wyoming) rural farmers and ranchers use regularly with a half-dozen variations when they refer to ditches,...

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