American English on BBC News site

It’s clear that the BBC uses American terms on its website. I don’t say it’s wrong, if they have lots of American readers, but it seems odd to me. I mentioned this on January 13th. Now I am looking at the story ‘”Nazi” dog owner gets sentenced’, of February 5th. No matter if I read the World Edition or the UK Edition, the following strikes me:

bq. “Adolf is a very sweet dog,” said the man’s attorney, Nicole Bumann-Zarske.
“He loves cookies just like his owner!”

I don’t at all mind ‘attorney’ for ‘Rechtsanwalt’ – I sometimes use it myself. It’s more precise than ‘lawyer’, and I wouldn’t use the specifically English terms ‘barrister’ and ‘solicitor’ to translate foreign lawyer designations. It’s a long time since I’ve thought of ‘cookies’ as anything other than an Internet matter, though.

I wouldn’t swear to the whole article being in U.S. English – there may well be some Britishisms too.

There’s a sad and bizarre news story about 18 Chinese cockle pickers being drowned on Morecambe beach. 14 more survived. They may have been illegal immigrants being exploited by someone.

bq. Police said they were of Oriental appearance and they are questioning them with the help of Chinese interpreters.

LATER NOTE: I found it odd to hear the cockles described on German TV news and in the press as ‘kostbare Herzmuscheln’ (‘valuable/precious cockles’). The term I read in the British press was ‘lucrative’, which makes more sense. According to the Independent (February 7th):

bq. The immigrants were enticed to the Red Bank sands near Morecambe by the prospect of easy riches. The bay’s high-quality cockles fetch £10 per 50kg bag for the employer and a picker can fill one in an hour. There is said to be £8m-worth of cockles in the bay.

13 thoughts on “American English on BBC News site

  1. That’s an interesting point about American English on a UK website; a phenomenon I notice quite often. To an extent, I think there’s a blurring of the obvious differences between the languages, but in this particular article, I, as a Brit, didn’t notice any other instances.

    It may be worth noting that article credits the original source as being Associated Press, a US organisation (or even organization), so the wording might be theirs rather than that of the BBC subeditor.

  2. Good point, that may well be it. But where is the reference to AP? (Same goes for my earlier reference to ‘British trucker wins appeal’ – was that AP too?)

  3. Hi Margaret

    On the business of “trucker”, surely that term has become a part of British English these days? You can still be a trucker and drive a lorry. Or am I out of touch? Am just basing what I say on what I regularly hear on British TV (Sky) in the news and sitcoms etc.
    Paul

  4. I don’t really know any more than you do, Paul. I suppose I would say what I hear on the news and TV when I’m there is Americanized too. The BBC article used the words ‘truck’ and ‘lorry’, btw.

  5. While the attorney might be questionable I don’t see why the BBC shouldn’t use “cookie” in this case: It is a direct quote of something the lawyer said, so why should the BBC change it if she used that term?

  6. The reference to AP is in the penultimate paragraph:
    “A friend of the man told the Associated Press news agency that the dog had been hit by a car, damaging his right paw.”
    I suppose it’s possible that a BBC journalist recorded the rest of the story and just included one aspect from his/her AP colleague, but I doubt it, and this is a fairly common way for the BBC to acknowledge an entire story is from an AP source.

    I’d say ‘truck’, ‘truck driver’ and maybe ‘trucker’ are in general UK usage nowadays; ‘lorry’ somehow seems outdated, now you mention it.

  7. @NRT: thanks for the information. I hadn’t picked that up, but there’s only so much one can do by listening to LBC and reading the British press!

  8. I wouldn’t be surprised if the lawyer spoke English, assuming she was interviewed by an American journalist. From what I remember (I’ve been away for too long ;-)) most Germans like to practise and/or show of their English.
    Alternatively it was just the translation from the presumably American AP journalist ;-)

  9. @rmin: you may well be right. I’ve been out of England 21 years now, so I shouldn’t be talking. Her English is better than that of some German lawyers I know who think they can speak English…
    I don’t mean my customers, of course!

    @NRT: here’s my last blast before I do what I should be doing: I did a Google search restricted to site:www.bbc.co.uk. Results:
    truck 1690
    lorry 1390
    trucker 69
    truck driver 75
    lorry driver 237

    Some of those uses were not relevant, of course. In particular, a lot of Truck with a capital T hits referred to other things. I thus conclude that some or even most BBC News items are more traditionally British English than others. If ‘lorry’ seems outdated, perhaps we should get the BBC to enter the 21st century.

  10. It’s the same with The Economist. Quite often, you can tell that an article has been written by an American and then “edited” (words such as organization are changed to organisation, etc.); however, such “editing” remains at the level of spelling. They don’t edit style and usage at all.

    If everything else fails, and you end up with a mixture such as this, you can always say it’s Canadian English. ….;-))))))

  11. I agree with you about The Economist using American English – at least, I used to have that impression (I remember a colleague wanting to know what ‘high on the hog’ meant in an article on stocks and shares) – but when I tried to find examples a few years ago I couldn’t.
    However, I must defend ‘ize’. I use it myself, and so does the Oxford University Press, and so do some other publishers. Most of the newspapers use ‘-ise’. Both are allowed in British English. In fact I’ve been advised to use a Canadian English spellchecker.

  12. Not only (as Margaret Marks notes) has the BBC started using trucker instead of lorry-driver or patient with chronic back pain and a dietary disorder: the Americanism has been the preferred usage in Holland for years. Henk Wijngaard’s 1978 hit,…

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