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Why do Americans call it a period and the British a full stop?
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Location: Singapore
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Hi,

Just wondering:
Why do Americans call it a period and the British a full stop?

Cheers, Susan
<Richard, Moderator>
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I really don't know for sure, Susan, but my hunch (from what I know about our history) is that we call it a period just to be different from the British. That doesn't mean that the word was just "invented" by Americans. Actually, the word period used to mean the punctuation mark placed to signal the end of a sentence goes back to the early 16th century, if I remember right. So there is justification for calling it a period rather than a full stop.

After the Americans won their independence from Great Britain, the famous dictionary compiler, Noah Webster, determined that we should try to do things as differently from the British as possible to separate ourselves psychologically as much as we could. In that vein he changed lots of spellings. For example colour/color; gaol/jail; Geoffrey/Jeffery; tyre/tire). I wouldn't be surprised if that's why we now say period and the British say full stop.

(By the way, I've always thought it silly to say full stop. A stop is a stop. How can you have a "full" stop? Can you have a "partial" stop as well? Would that be a comma? In that case, I'd call it a "momentary stop," not a "partial" stop! Wink )

We even went so far as to change our table manners. When the British cut some food on their plates, they hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right hand. Then they pick the cut food up with the fork, still held in the left hand, and bring it to their mouths. Americans, in contrast, cut the food the same way, but then put down the knife and take the fork with their right hands. Then they bring the cut food to their mouths.

I know I've gotten off the topic, but I thought you might find this interesting. There was a lot of psychology going on back in the early years of our independence from Great Britain, Susan!

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Dear Richard,

I would like to join in.

Thanks a lot for such informative reply.

Since the Americans want to be different from the British, I wonder why they i.e the Americans have spoken their language at first. They could have spoken Spanish, for example.

PS. You, the Americans try to be different form the British in grammar, vocabulary, spelling and pronunciation. And we, the learners of English take full credit to cope with such differences! That's not fair, is it!Smile

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Izzy loves you all,


SmileIzzy loves you allSmile
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I don't agree that Americans always want to be different from the British.

It was true in the past that, in declaring ourselves independent, out nation's founders tended to divorce ourselves from everything British. For example, at the beginning of our nation, we wanted to avoid any kind of royalty in a government, so great efforts were taken to make sure that a president could not be a king. And, people strove to make many concepts in language and writing different, too.

However, at some times now, and in some circles, things British are very much admired and copied. People who love the British are called Anglophiles, and we have quite a few of them in the United States.

Still, if some Americans adopt a British accent, and call the letter Z "zed," and an elevator "a lift," the rest of us kind of smile and think the speaker is a little affected.
<Richard, Moderator>
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Rachel's made some excellent additional points, and please remember that I was talking about something like 180 years ago, not today!

quote:
Since the Americans want to be different from the British, I wonder why they i.e the Americans have spoken their language at first. They could have spoken Spanish, for example.

As a matter of fact, Izzy, we almost didn't become an English-speaking nation. At the time we won independence from Great Britain (1781), there were almost as many German speakers in the US as English speakers, so there was a big debate about which language should become the common language of the new country. I don't recall the details, but as you can see, English won out. It's interesting, though, that if some more people had voted for German, you'd probably be teaching German to your students instead of English! Smile

quote:
PS. You, the Americans try to be different form the British in grammar, vocabulary, spelling and pronunciation. And we, the learners of English take full credit to cope with such differences! That's not fair, is it!

Well, as we've already said, Izzy, we don't try to do that anymore; that happened a long, long time ago and you need to remember it was based on the hostile feelings that Americans had toward the British at that time. These days, of course, Americans and the British have a very close relationship.

By the way, it's not just English speakers who have changed their language in many ways from one country to another. You'll find the same thing in the Spanish-speaking world, among others. There are enormous differences between the Spanish spoken in Europe and the language spoken in the Americas. Moreover, there are some important differences among many of the countries in Latin America. So it's not just "an English thing."

And, putting Classical Arabic aside, you find the same thing in the Arabic-speaking world! Wink
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Since the Americans want to be different from the British, I wonder why they i.e the Americans have spoken their language at first. They could have spoken Spanish, for example.

The main reason we don't speak Spanish in North America is that the Spanish conquistadores and the settlers that followed took hold in South America, not in North America. (In addition, the Portuguese settled Brazil.) The English -- and the Germans and the Dutch, as Richard notes -- were developing North America. Thus, you will find the not only the Spanish and English languages in their respective areas, but their cultures as well.

What's interesting about Spanish in North America is that Spanish is a second language now. So many Spanish-speaking workers arrived in the United States that you hear Spanish being spoken all over. Many places have signs in both Spanish and English, and many phone menus say "Press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish." Even ballots to vote are printed in the two languages.

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Wow, thanks for all your input. How interesting.

Warmest regards,
Susan
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Thanks lot to you both, R & R!


SmileIzzy loves you allSmile
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This is for whoever thought the full stop was silly, ie a stop's a stop Smile

First, I agree that many things sound silly...but, as someone pointed out, if you wanted grammatical consistency, maybe you'd have been better off with Spanish Smile

But, instead, you received a much larger bounty - the English language and let's face it, it's one of the most expressive language out there...totalling a mere 800,000 words..the largest vocab on earth, primarily becasue we adopt words all the time, unlike other languages who regulate what gets in or does not. The lack of pron. consistency is the rpice we pay for having 50 ways to tell someone to f**k off :P Quid pro quo.

Going out on a very tentative limb, maybe the use of full stop is related to the printing press, during whose time, there indeed was a difference between a "stop" and a "full stop"? I'm thinking the real early, clunky printing presses...and I don't know why but I recall, or i think i do and there were two types of stop..one that would leave you literally where you finished and the other would bring you to the start of the next line

Maybe something to do with that big lever thing you'd grab and haul to the left? Sorry been a while since I dusted off the ol typewriter.

With reagrd to it sounding silly, Richard - a rather culturally centric viewpoint, don't you think? I mean, for me - a period has many meanings, none of which are equivalent to showing that a sentence is finished; in fact, neither would you only for your lifelong connection between "period" and " finish". If not, you'd be like all of us, giggling away in classrooms when our teacher tells us that Americans use the same word for a girl's time of the month as they do for a full stop.

Noah Webster ought to have been hung by his pinkies (did he invent that one) for what he did to an already complete language, personal arrogance notwithstanding - that he thought he, alone, could improve upon a language which had seen constant evolution for centuries. Sorry Noah. Get over yourself. Sorry guys...I'm not p*ssing on Noah Webster, but I find most "academics" of those times = Irish, English, Americans etc...were all pretty ignornant people compared to our modern understanding of science, linguitics, religion etc. Sh*t, most called themselves Christians and condoned slavery. These were primitive times guys - nothing there to wax lyrical about.

I would imagine that the colour to color thing was an attempt to make English easier to learn for the vast numbers of "new Americans" for whom English was not a native tongue..in other words, trying to amke it easier to pronounce for non-native speakers and an attempt to have some standardisation now that you were so far removed from the lingusitic source of the language.

I'd also profer that the general education of the average Joe in 1770s probably was even close to that which we all enjoy now..for that reason, I'd say that a lot of the American pronunciations may well have sprung from ignorance of the overall arching dichotomy of pronunciation within English.

Therefore, you might be forgiven for thinking the "out" and "route" have the same pronunciation; however, we already ahve a word "rout" and we pronounce it the way you pronounce "route". Route comes from French and, as was (still is) custom..all imported words tended to keep their orginal pron. Think about he italian word, orchestra...and how "ch" is spoken like a "k"..why? cos that's the way the word is in Italian. I'd imagine the average trail-blazer at those times was largely unaware of the French influence on English etc.

Another factor is that American ENglish did not really change, but it was the English "English" that underwent the great transformation that we now hear in the "rhotic" and "non rhotic" accents of the anglosphere. I mean, some Irish still use: "He doesn't be here on Monday" Not wrong at all when yoh think about The Mayor of Casterbrdige who, in introduction, says: I be the mayor of casterbridge. Our Irish, American accents are actually closer to how everyone spokle English back then, including the English.

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