Café Crem

Art, Music and Words around The Coffee Table

U.S.A., or USA–NOT the Same Place At All!

I started to reply in the comments section of Yolanda’s blog entry, about thinking that the theme of US referred to the United States of America. But then I started to write so much that I thought it should be a separate blog entry.

I would like to point out an interesting difference between American English modern British English, which I only learned about around two years ago. I believe this difference accounts for your, and others, confusion. In modern Britain, they have stopped putting in the periods (called full stops in Britain–and Americans wouldn’t know what  full stops are either) where they belong (or used to belong, even in British English). This change seems to have taken place around 1955, or at least some time after WWII, as I have British books in my home library published in the 1950’s that still use periods, but those books I have from the 1960’s on no longer use them.

For British English speakers worldwide reading this blog, you should know that in America, it is TOTALLY incorrect to write USA when meaning the United States. In fact, it refers to the Japanese town of “USA,” (pronounced as one word, with a hard “s” sound). This town was created after WWII, when cheap Japanese goods of poor quality were flooding into the United States. The town was created and written in capital letters without periods (unlike the U.S.A., which MUST have periods). The reason was that these cheap goods could now legally have printed on them, “Made in USA,” but could never say, “Made in U.S.A.” So, everyone had to look very carefully for the periods if they wanted American goods.

Now, two years ago, my daughter had an English book in her Moroccan school which I thought was misprinted, and I thought her teacher did not teach correctly when I discovered they were being taught like this:

Mr and Mrs Jones live in the USA.

In America, we would write:

Mr. and Mrs. Jones live in the U.S.A.

I am an elementary teacher, and I can assure you that ANY child who forgets to put in the periods after Mr. or Mrs., or between the letters of U.S.A. would have a total of five points marked off his paper!

When I showed this to a British friend who is both a teacher and translator, she told me they don’t use the periods there (she was raised in the 1960’s when the periods had already dropped out of British usage). We went together to my library and looked through the few British books I had which range from the 1880’s through the present. We discovered that 1950 and prior had the same usage as American English today. We were both surprised–she to see how we do it, and the usage in older British books; while I was surprised to see that they don’t use those periods at all!

So I think that for anyone whose native language is not English, and especially if it is not AMERICAN English, I think they can be forgiven for thinking that US referred to the United States! I think it’s a logical conclusion.

Now I’m especially waiting to hear what Kevin thinks about this!

Madame Monet

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April 13, 2008 - Posted by | Art

10 Comments »

  1. An interesting point.

    Viv

    Comment by Viv | April 14, 2008

  2. A great and informative post, MM!
    I was especially interested to hear about the town of USA, what a great sales idea! I’m pretty sure I, schooled in the 60’s, was brought up to put the full stops between the letters of any abbreviation such as U.K. , U.S.A., C.I.A. etc.
    I think it’s just modern laziness that leads us to do otherwise! I guess its just another example of how different American and English really is, where a boot is a trunk and a bonnet is a hood, a bottom is a fanny and a fag is a homosexual, a guy can really run into some trouble!

    Comment by kevmoore | April 14, 2008

  3. Great post, Madame Monet, I enjoyed it a lot, as I anyway enjoy every theme related to languages.
    It reminds me of a big dispute which we had, Kevin and me, as we met, and which is still going on. In the school in France I learned to write the word “realize” with “z”, and Kevin always assured me that he must be written with “s”. He assures me that”realize” is U.S. English and not U.K. English. But I really can’t imagine they they teach U.S. English in French schools! Do you know something about it? If yes, I will take you as a final judge in this matter! 🙂

    Comment by Miki | April 14, 2008

  4. Well, this same issue came up when another British friend (an editor) pointed this out to me, that American spellings often use a “z” where English spellings use an “s.” I can’t quite remember the details of what we found out, but I do remember finding out that it’s not just Americans changing the language, that there was a historical reason back in the time of Noah Webster when that spelling came in–it was nearly 200 years ago, not anything recent.

    I’ve found that in countries outside of Britain, such as America, we are actually in some ways using OLDER forms of English than are currently used in Britain. An older form was transported to America and it is in England where the usage has changed and evolved.

    These issues have ceased to upset me like they used to. I’m just guessing, but there seems to be a lot of antipathy between the French and the British (I could give you several examples I’ve seen). So my best guess would be that they use the American spelling in France because those teachers studied from Americans, OR because they are more anti-British than anti-American (although I found in Bretagne they were pretty anti-American, still talking to me about the WWII bombings!).

    My thought is that communication is what’s most important, and why not use the English which is most comfortable for the people you are communicating with (when in Rome, do as the Romans do). Since you live with Kevin, and he is British, why not use the British spelling to make him feel good?

    Best regards,
    Madame Monet

    Comment by wpm1955 | April 14, 2008

  5. All I have to say is words which are my passion cannot be taken too seriously. The best novels break with convention. Deals in business get done without a librarian present while they map the idea out on a napkin. Rock Stars party and wake up or during the party in the zone writing lyrics and music notes they hear in there ear. I have read hundreds of biographies and the ones going all the way back to Mozart and Beethoven and Goethe and Picasso did not rely on ‘convention’ to ‘accomplish’.
    Unconventional Authenticity RULES.

    Comment by Michael | April 14, 2008

  6. Well, Madame Monet, this is a funny explanation you have for our English teaching in France. And you are right, there is a kind of problem between the French and the British! Nevertheless, I don’t believe this is the reason as I know for certain that one teaches the “z” in Germany and in Italia too!
    But as you say, I want Kevin to feel the best possible and for him I abandoned the “z” a long time ago… it was not easy though!
    I totally agree with you about the importance of the communication and I have already thought to use U.S. English when I leave a comment for an American and U.K. English for a British!

    @Michael
    I agree with you. I love to invent words, most of the time they are a mix of the different languages I know and i find the results always beautiful … you know like children of mixed race, one says they are the most beautiful!
    Danu is always very good at that!

    Comment by Miki | April 14, 2008

  7. What a fascinating discussion! I’m not sure I have anything to add, except that I heard on the radio that yesterday was the date Webster published the first dictionary, after working on it for many many years all by himself. Now there’s a love for words!

    Comment by shelleymhouse | April 15, 2008

  8. If you want to see a very funny difference between American and British English you have to see the impersonation Jack Lemmon does in Irma la Douce, a charming (old) comedy by Billy Wilder! Great! (Shirley MacLaine is Irma)

    Comment by iondanu | April 15, 2008

  9. Great movie, Danu! You know your films, mate!

    Comment by kevmoore | April 15, 2008

  10. Danu and Kev what observant eyes!!!!

    Comment by Michael | April 15, 2008


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