Cell mates

Posted by Word Camel on January 11, 2002

In Reply to: One up for the land of the free... and single-celled New Yorkers posted by The Fallen on January 11, 2002

: : : : Elsewhere on this forum, someone worries that US spoken english is becoming less rich in vocabulary. Being from the UK and therefore prone to a "holier than thou" attitude when it comes to the English language, my natural tendency is to agree and view American english as evolving into a more simplified form - hence the loss of the diphthongs "ae-" and "oe-" (as in anaesthesia/anesthesia or diarrhoea/diarrhea) and the dropping of the silent "u" (as in colour/color and many others).

: : : : It is indeed a given with the evolution of language that things tend to progress towards regularity as time moves on, with exceptions to generic standards slowly falling into disuse. However, whereas US english seems to have adopted a more simplified spelling structure, when it comes to verb declensions, it's the UK that seems to have moved towards simplification more quickly.

: : : : I'll cite the two examples that come to mind.

: : : : To get - I get, I got, I have got (UK)
: : : : I get, I got, I have gotten (US)

: : : : (And yet, "to beget" and "to forget" in UK English follow the above US route in declension)

: : : : To dive - I dive, I dived, I have dived (UK)
: : : : - I dive, I dove, I have ????? (US)

: : : : (I can't think of another example that follows the above US declension)

: : : : It's interesting to me that the US has preserved irregular (or "strong") verb structures longer than the UK. It just goes to show how diversified a common language can become, given only 200 or so years of separation.

: : : In the U.S., "dived" is standard for past and for past participle. "Dove" is colloquial. "Gotten" now appears without a cautionary note (i.e., status label) in the American Heritage Dictionary. However, at the small publisher's where I worked 30 years ago, the house style book said of "gotten": "We do not recognize this word. Say 'got.'"

: : : If we in the U.S. exported as much academic writing as we export pop culture, the rest of the world might have a higher opinion of our mastery of English.

: : :
: : As far as 'colour' vs 'color';'tumour' vs 'tumor' etc are concerned that 'o' version was often the way the words were spelt in Britan up to the turn of 18th century. It then became fashionable to put in the 'u' on this side of the Atlantic, a habit which was never taken up on the other side. In Britain we still retain the old spelling in some instances, eg the distrist of London known as 'Honor Oak', and the female name 'Honor'. By and large, and by an overwhelming amount, the US spelling is more accurate, and based on the original Latin - 'Labor' and not 'Labour'. Perversely, many of the derivative words in GB English retain their old spelling - 'Laboratory' is a good example! A pet hate of mine is the use of 'Foetus' in GB English. This is wrong, and 'Fetus' is the correct way to spell the word, based on its Latin origin. All our Medical Journals in the UK have long used 'Fetus'. I've tried, off and on, for more than 20 years to get the 'Times' to change - to no avail.

: On reflection, you're absolutely right regarding the rogue additional "u" when considering Latin word roots - the US format is definitely closer to the original, and therefore arguably more "pure", if such a thing matters at all. I wonder idly how "torpor" snuck (sneaked?) under the UK radar and did not have a "u" thrust upon it.

: As to your diphthong statement, does it only apply to the oe- construct? I am pretty sure that ae- diphthongs are pure Latin in origin and therefore more "purist", but am on very shaky ground when it comes to oe-. You'll note I carefully chose "manoeuvre" as my example, which was a deliberate avoidance of the issue :)

: So if you're right about "fetus", should an amoeba be an ameba? Or should just transatlantic amoebae be amebas? Or amebae?

: Since I'm now merely confusing myself, could somebody please be kind enough to confirm the origins of both foetus/fetus and amoeb