All of us from Commonwealth countries who followed the Presidential Election have found that Winston Churchill’s quotation that “England and America are two countries separated by a common language” is just as relevant today as it was decades ago. Language differences colour how we see and then comment the campaign, as well as any other matter within the United States .

Liberal, liberal, or liberal?

If I were to ask an Australian, or an Englishman if he were Liberal or liberal liberal mainstream media I would effectively ask him if he were a member of the Liberal Party, or if his personal politics and ethics were liberal and to avoid misunderstandings the Australians often say “small l” liberal when speaking. According to the Oxford Dictionary “liberal” means someone who favors “individual liberty, free trade, and moderate political and social reform”. This definition is a far cry from the current use of the word in the United States for political positions that could be described as socialist, or even communist.

Naturally there are also words that share common meanings, such as the political position of a “Whip” within a parliamentary party which is responsible for the presence of the party members at important votes and debates in the various chambers of parliament. Yet, this does not lessen the fact that the almost common language at times causes misunderstandings between the various forms of English spoken around the world. Recently the famous English comedian John Cleese wrote a satirical letter to the American nation withdrawing its independence in which he made repeated references to the linguistic differences between the two countries.

Wrong word to use

One notable example occurred many years ago in Australia during a televised awards presentation at the end of an exchange with special guest, champion boxer Mohammed Ali, the presenter Bert Newton used an expression from his Irish background “I like the boy!”. Newton was not aware of the historical connotations of the expression and was shocked when the African American reacted visibly to the final two words. Thankfully Newton was able to make the moment pass quickly and after clarification during a commercial break the show continued as planned.

Recently the British BBC science fiction television series Doctor Who has found a niche in the United States market and while the programme has achieved a high level of success and won many awards, it would be interesting to know how many of its American viewers understand all the puns and references to typical British institutions and personalities contained in each episode. The famous Australian comedy film “Crocodile Dundee”, while designed for the U.S. market, it was shown in some American states with subtitles due not only to the new accents, but also to the Australian expressions used by its protagonist. I remember being forced to watch the DVD of the Coen Brothers’ film “Brother, where art thou?” with English subtitles as I had great difficulty in understanding the accents of some of the characters.

Languages change

These differences are normal, languages are living creatures and they evolve with the history of each country. For example, an Englishman or Australian would say a person of olive complexion, but would be initially confused by an American who reads of olive complected that I recently read on an American article. Let us all remember this when we read foreign news items because not everything we read is what the authors intended to write. It will certainly avoid mistakes, or possible misunderstandings which may be hard or impossible to correct.

Finally, a word of advice for American tourists who intend going to Australia. Do not ask anyone who they root for, you may be surprised by the reaction…(!) #Presidential Election #@liberal