Posted by: christinelaennec | October 19, 2010

Mid-Atlantic English spoken here

Tilly guarding the washcloths - or are they flannels?

Not for the first time, the Dafter has expressed some exasperation at the fact that the English we speak at home is a hybrid of American and British.  “Is it pronounced vittamin or vytamin?  What do people here say?  I need to know for when I’m talking at school!”  Last year she was very cross because we say “bathrobe” and not “dressing gown” and she hadn’t been forewarned:  “Everyone laughed at me!  How was I to know?!”

The truth is that Michael (who lived in the States for 10 years) and I (who have been in Scotland for 18) are so used to the way we speak around the house that we never notice the inherent contradictions.  And there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to when we use British words, and when we use American ones.  For example, in our house, we clean our faces with washcloths (not flannels), we vacuum (we don’t hoover), and we put things in the trunk of the car (not the boot).

However, we eat tea about 6 p.m. every night.  In fact, we very often distinguish between the meal and the drink by two phrases:  “tea-the-meal” and “tea-the-drink”.  For example, one of us will say:  “I’m going to make some tea – tea the drink, not tea the meal”.   Why do we do this when we could simply say “dinner” for the meal, and obliterate all confusion?  Who knows.  Also, I never now speak of “going to the bathroom”  – we go to the loo.  Similarly, as regular readers may have noticed, I’ve completely converted to the British use of the word “garden” to mean what as a child I would have called the “yard”.  Here we have a front garden and a back garden; within the back garden, the place Michael grows vegetables is called the “veg patch”.

Add into the mix more than a few Scottishisms that we’ve picked up.  For example, the “postie” delivers our letters and the Dafter’s bedtime snack is a “supper”.  We also use some Scottish expressions, though I think with invisible quotation marks around them:  “there was a real stooshie at the Parent Council meeting” or “she was up to high do”.

I couldn’t tell you why we’ve adopted certain words or phrases, and feel we have the right to use them — Michael to use American words, me to use British, or either of us to use Scottish.   Perhaps researchers in linguistics have an answer to that riddle.  Obviously our children, who are both born and bred Scots with one English and one American parent, have free choice!

Despite all of this, I remain extremely fond of my native Americanisms, and particularly the ones that my mother and Granny used.  But that’s probably the subject of another post!



  1. Jist a wee comment fae a ‘Doonhamer’.
    It wid be ‘up to high doh’ ye wid be meanin’.

    • Dear Iain,

      Thanks for writing! I’d always thought it was Do as in the musical note. What’s a “Doonhamer”?

  2. I think that’s a great mix! Why not collect all your favourite sayings, wherever they hail from. Stooshie is one of my favourites.

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