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US and Kiwi English can be worlds apart

When I first moved to New Zealand one year ago, I knew there would be issues with my accent and, to some extent, my language.  Sure, English is my native tongue.  But, it’s American English.  Midwestern American to be exact.   I knew there were a few differences between that English and Kiwi English.

I had no idea how much I would have to un-learn, re-learn…or just plain learn.

A great example is the word “sort”.  To me, back in the US, “sort” means to take something that is untidy or unorganised and put it into a certain order, or specific categories.  For example, “sort the laundry” would mean to separate the clothes by colours, fabric, etc.  Here in NZ, “sort” can have a few meanings, including “take charge of”.  So you can “sort dinner” as in “cook and serve dinner”.

In the US you would never give your kid an “ice block”.  Never mind that they wouldn’t know what to do with a block of ice.  They could hurt themselves.  Ice blocks are usually very large and heavy.  For me, the term “ice block” conjures up images of the days of home ice delivery.  Of course, here in NZ an “ice block” is a frozen confection on a stick.  In the US, it is usually called a “Popsicle”.  Another example of a brand name taking over the generic term, like Kleenex or Xerox.

“Sherbet” is one I just learned last night.  In the US, “sherbet” is a frozen desert.  It’s similar to a “sorbet” in that it is mainly fruit flavoured, but it also contains a small amount of milk or cream.  Not as much as ice cream, but enough so that it differs from a sorbet.   Of course, here in NZ, “sherbet” is a sweet, but it is neither frozen nor liquid.

And then there are weather terms.

In the US, “hail” is only produced by thunderstorms.  You almost never have hail and snow at the same time.

When I was on TV, I used terms like “quiet” and “nice” to describe pleasant weather…or “stormy” to describe windy and rainy weather.  Here, the most common terms here are “settled” or “unsettled”.  ”Fair” is actually defined in the US.  It’s not a subjective or ambiguous term for meteorologists.  But it is for most people and that’s why I never use it.  I’ve used “unsettled” before on US TV, but never “settled”.  I also never used “gales”.  That was considered a “scientific” term.  As is “anti-cyclone”.

A “cyclone” is a tornado in many parts of the US as opposed to being used as a generic term for any area of low pressure.

As someone who has used his words and voice as the tools of his trade, it’s a bit unsettling to find myself re-learning all this stuff.  It’s kind of like a bus driver waking up one morning and finding out he or she now has to drive on the opposite side of the road.

Speaking of which…

Nah, I’ll leave that for another time.

By WeatherWatch Analyst Howard Joseph


Zelda Wynn on 20/05/2012 7:01am

I remember when iceblocks were TT2’s. Tip Top have a good history on them.

Guest on 20/05/2012 3:38am

Ha ha! English English and NZ english once had me similarly confused….Had to wear a singlet – not a vest, jandles not flip flops, eat a trumpet – rather than a nutty nibble – funnily enough it’s now a cornetto, not to mention (but I will): a tikki tour, a hoon, a feed, a skivvy, togs. . . . .

Guest on 20/05/2012 3:22am

Great stuff Howard.
Not to worry, after a while you’ll get used to driving on the “other” side of the road, just be careful to avoid those ice-blocks, after that you’ll have it sorted ha!


Derek on 20/05/2012 2:21am

Good article Howard, it is my opinion that parts of the US English are more clear & easy to understand & spelling is easier & more practical, than the English English..

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