American English vs British: Uriel, answer me, please!!!

j   Fri May 12, 2006 6:22 pm GMT
I'm copying my question again because nobody's answered me yet. The question probably doesn't seem so interesting for the others, because it's very specific, but for me it does. Please answer me, Uriel.

From the book "On Beauty" by Z. Smith:
location: Massachusetts. Howard is a middle-aged professor hosting a party; a second character - a young black British girl.

'So you're DJ,' said Howard.
'Looks like it - you don't mind?'
'No, no ... although a few our senior guests were finding the selection ... maybe a little bit hectic.'
'Right. You've been sent to sort me out.'
It was strange to hear this English phrase said in such an English way"

First questions:
1.What's so "English" in the above-mentioned phrase?
2."...said in such English way" - what did Howard mean?

Another question. One of the reviews (at Amazon) says:
"My major beef with the book was the dialogue. I second the reviewer who commented on Smith's tin ear for American speech. Where were her American editors? An American--even one with a British father, I'd think--would never say "You were meant to be here," but "You were supposed to be here." Jerome would call his emails "emails," not "mails." And Levi would certainly not "pay a call" to his friend in Roxbury".

Are those claims really valid?
Thank you in advance
j   Sat May 13, 2006 7:25 am GMT
Thank you, mjd.
Guest   Sat May 13, 2006 8:26 am GMT
Interesting how yanks refer to "British" this and that while other native English-speakers would be more specific: "an English father", a "Welsh father", "a Scottish father" etc.

"Z. Smith" is Zadie Smith, born in North London in 1975 to an English father and a Jamaican mother.
Uriel   Sun May 14, 2006 1:20 am GMT
Sorry -- I've been away for a few days!

"Sort me out" (meaning "to correct me) is not a very common American phrase. We would be more likely to use "set me straight" or something like that. So that did stand out as a Briticism to me.

When an American says "you were meant to be here" usually he or she does not mean simply mean "you were supposed to be here" -- "meant" in that context would have a more profound meaning, as if it were fate or destiny, or some such nonsense. So that is a small semantic difference between American and British usage.

We also would never say "mails", but would use "e-mails". And we do not usually "pay a call" or "call upon" people; we "pay a visit" or simply "visit" or "see" someone.

So yes, all of those reviewers and critics are correct. Those are very minor dialectical differences (especially, I would imagine, to an outsider) but they are enough for native speakers to pick up on. It isn't just accents that give people away, it's also their choice of words, and that can come through on the written page even when you can't actually hear the speech itself.
j   Sun May 14, 2006 3:11 am GMT
Thank you Uriel for the very detailed explanation. You've been very helpful - as always.
Guest   Sun May 14, 2006 7:52 am GMT
These days, with so much activity done online, email is often abbreviated to mail. There's nothing particularly British or American about that.
Guest   Sun May 14, 2006 7:53 am GMT
The now-common use of "meant" instead of "supposed" in that context is a relatively recent phenomenon in the UK, and appears to have come in from the bottom, like so many other instances of poor usage and mispronunciation. The usage is rare in other speakers of Commonwealth English.

To call emails "mails" is extremely uncommon even in the UK, except in the hackneyed "you've got mail", and the UK wasn't responsible for that one.

To "pay a call" is also rarely used; one would be much more likely to "go to see someone", or to "visit", even in the UK.
Guest   Sun May 14, 2006 8:05 am GMT
>>To call emails "mails" is extremely uncommon even in the UK<<

Is that why Yahoo caters to its UK clientele with "Yahoo Mail"? (Likewise a host of other email service providers in the UK.)

IT jargon seems rather universal.
Benquasha   Sun May 14, 2006 11:49 am GMT
>>>>To call emails "mails" is extremely uncommon even in the UK<<

Is that why Yahoo caters to its UK clientele with "Yahoo Mail"? (Likewise a host of other email service providers in the UK.) <<

Even so. In everyday speech it is extremely uncommon to hear Emails referred to as Mails. On the net it isn't unusual for companies to just use Mail in their name but Emails are still always referred to as Emails.
Guest   Sun May 14, 2006 12:11 pm GMT
>>Even so. In everyday speech it is extremely uncommon to hear Emails referred to as Mails. <<

Less common, yes, but context sorts out snail mail (or postal mail) from electronic mail.
Lazar   Sun May 14, 2006 4:01 pm GMT
I think we should make a distinction between counting and non-counting uses of the word "mail". I think in both the US and the UK it's allowable to use "mail" for "email" in the non-counting sense (as in "you've got mail", or in names of services like "Yahoo Mail" or "G-Mail"), but I've never heard of "mail" being used in a counting sense (as in, "I sent you a mail"). I don't know if such a usage is acceptable in UK English, but it sounds very unnatural to me.
Uriel   Mon May 15, 2006 5:56 am GMT
True. I usually think of "mail" as being both singular and plural, like "deer". "Mails" sounds strang to me. Yet, oddly, "e-mails" does not, even though it is technically short for "electronic mail(s)" -- again, when written out in full, it's hard for me to add the final S.

The vast majority of the conversations between the native English speakers of various nationalities on this board are dialectically non-specific -- you often can't tell where a poster is from just by reading them. But every now and then their wording or spelling will give them away as being from one place or another. There probably has been some convergence in dialects due to mass communication, but there are also prefences and word choices that are clearly regional.
Geoff_One   Mon May 15, 2006 6:23 am GMT
items of mail
Uriel   Mon May 15, 2006 6:28 am GMT
Case in point. I would say "pieces of mail", not "items".
Nigel   Mon May 15, 2006 7:39 am GMT
I wouldn't say pieces of mail, as pieces implies sections of a whole, rather than a collection of disparate objects.