Do you need copywriting in US English or UK English? This article considers why and how they are different. The American form of English is the standard outside the UK and the Commonwealth nations, so if you are writing for a global audience the US form of the language is the correct one to use. This article looks at the differences between the two forms of English.
George Bernard Shaw famously said: “England and America are two countries separated by the same language.”
Shaw, an Irishman, meant that while both nations speak the same language, they don’t speak it in the same way. Some words have one meaning in the US and another in the UK. This can lead to smiles and complete misunderstandings. For example, “chips”, a “line”, “college” and “gas” have completely different meanings in the UK and the US, and they can even be contradictory. What we somewhat illogically call a “public school” in the UK, the Americans sensibly call a “private school”.
Why are US English and UK English different?
I was curious to know how the two nations came to use the language so differently and found that the explanation lies in history. America was colonised by migrants who had been unhappy in the UK and left their homeland to make a new life in the “New World”. They took the English language with them and from that time English evolved differently on the two sides of the Atlantic. This is why the American pronunciation of words is different. It is because the US way of speaking is closer to the way that the British spoke English in the eighteenth century.
When America gained independence from Britain, the lexicographer Noah Webster studied the way that English was spoken in the States and compiled a series of new dictionaries that defined the US form of the language. For political reasons, Webster wanted America to move away from the old class-ridden European form of English, with its throwbacks to Latin and French. This is why Webster changed the spelling of many words, simplifying them and writing them as they sound.
In Webster’s spelling “axe” became “ax”, “colour” became “color” and “honour” became “honor”. These are just a few examples of the spelling variations between UK and US English. If you are writing copy in US English, Webster’s New World College Dictionary remains an important authority and the website at merriam-webster.com is a useful reference for American spelling.
Copywriting in US English for technology businesses
A copywriter writing for a global audience should be able to write in US English and UK English and know the differences in writing, punctuation and presentation. Some of the differences are easy to spot while others are more subtle.
I remember noticing how the US spelling “license” crept into the UK in the early days of the software industry, and the tech sector today seems to use more Americanisms than everyone else. Words such as “analog”, “fiber”, and “center” frequently pop up in marketing copy.
The Americans use “z” in stead of “s” in verbs, so the UK forms “organise”, “digitise”, and “analyse” become “organize”, “digitize” and “analyze”. These words often relate to IT, so copywriters working in the technology sector will find that they are frequently mentioning digitization, organizations, utilization and optimization in their copy.
There is a big difference in the presentation of headlines and titles. Americans use capital letters for all of the main words while in the UK, we just use the upper case for the first word of a heading and the proper nouns.
We write dates very differently. In America it is usual to write April 1, 2023, while in the UK we would write 1st April 2023.
There are many more differences in grammar between the Americas and the UK. Fortunately, there are now proofing tools in Word which you can set to check your spelling in US English or UK English so that you can check every piece of text for US or UK variations. If you are looking for a copywriter who finds this interesting, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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