Thursday, 7 April 2011

Different (and other ambiguities)

The Queen's English
There's always something different every day. Something that differs from what has gone before.
There's your clue right there - something that differs from something else. Therefore, "different than" is wrong.
It's more wrong than any other thing that is wrong, because it is completely unjustified. But it is sadly a very popular mistake.

Which is something different that brings me to gas, and other ambiguities. (This is becoming essentially, a rant about the ubiquity of American English, but so be it.)
The liquid that powers cars, is petrol. Not gas. As my father, who was a motor mechanic told me many times, it becomes a gas during the cycle of combustion, but when you put it into your car, it is a liquid called petrol. People who ask for 'gas' to put in their car, run the risk of being thought to have an LPG tank. Gasoline is a nonsense word, and originally a trade name, as far as I know.
Chips. Now we're past calling them fries (are we?) all delicious processed potato products are in danger of being called chips. Even when they are actually crisps.
Pants. These are underwear. (We say, by the way, a 'pair of pants' although the noun is singular, because pants, like spectacles and scissors have two parts.) In American English, pants are outerwear and the underwear (for women anyway) are panties, which sound to me like something a baby would wear. My mother's advice, to make sure we had clean pants on in case of accident, before leaving the house, would now be thought to be advice to make sure we are dressed in the
first place!
Bathroom again. The bathroom is the room where you wash yourself. The toilet is the room where you relieve yourself. For reasons of euphemism, American English uses the word bathroom for the second as well as the first. (Some Americans have told me they are psychologically incapable of using the
word toilet). That's apparently why at least according to the television news, aeroplanes have bathrooms!

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