Two countries separated by a common language

The British don’t regard America as being a foreign country. Our common language and similar culture has produced a unique international bond despite the bad blood of the War of Independence. Not only this, but English is the international language, the official language of the European Union, Hollywood, Elvis, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra…the list goes on and on. It could be argued that the history of the western hemisphere is the history of English-speaking Anglo Saxons.

I’ve been a little upset to read that the British are increasingly regarded as an unreliable ally. We have our own opinions on world affairs and the long-term wisdom of trying to enforce standards by means of military intervention (we used to do that a lot). But it’s politics, so I’ll stay away from all that.

The power of American influences can be felt in many aspects of British life. Increasingly, people over here refer to children as kids and I had to stop my daughter from referring to an autopsy. It’s a post mortem I told her. But there’s only one American habit that’s a bit of a problem to my wife and I and that is the pronunciation of the word aluminium. Please note: al-u-min-i-um, not aloominum. Kuh!

It doesn’t all go one way, though. Because of my interest in American cars I cringe when I hear the terms bonnet and boot (instead of hood and trunk).

My involvement with WordPress has reminded me that there are musical differences, too, and I was prompted to write this blog as a result of comments by fellow blogger Jim Gramze, concerning my book. His opinions can be found at:

Now Jim and I get along fine and, in any case, he’s a customer whose views are important to me.

Briefly, he finds my style of writing difficult to follow. OK. I need to look into this. As a matter of interest, a consultant editor in London, having seen the manuscript, said ‘the book has a practical directness that enhances the text’. I was pleased about this because the one thing above all else I’d tried to achieve was to simplify a subject that is often rendered to be obscure and unreachable (due to elitism, in my opinion).

My blog has a musical emphasis, so I’ll briefly mention problems that have cropped up in my discussions with fellow bloggers and in forums.

I use words such as crotchet and quaver instead of quarter note and eighth note. Firstly, my terms are shorter (one word instead of two) and my (our) terms precisely identify the type of note, regardless of time signature. In 12/8 or 5/4 time, referring to a crotchet as a quarter note obviously has little relevance and, in any case, using the semibreve (whole note in 4/4) as the target duration is questionable, considering that most folk music, from which other forms evolved, used 3/4, 2/4 and 6/8 signatures predominantly because of their use in various dance forms (polka, galliard, jig etc.).

OK. Music from the middle east also used 11/8 and mixtures of 6/8 and 3/4 etc.

I understand that the British terms can appear to be rather quaint to American eyes.

Another eyebrow was raised over the term cautionary notes (manually inserted accidentals) which many in America refer to as courtesy notes.

Despite a long and varied career, I only recently encountered the term quartel harmony, which I use quite a lot. I call it harmony of fourths, although I can’t claim that this is more convenient.

On a trombone forum, a discussion arose regarding falset tones, those notes that can be faked on trombone with practise (to cut a long story short). No particular problem here except that, in Britain, we say notes more often than we say tones. A tone is most often understood to be a specific interval comprising two semitones. I would rather say false than falset except that the notes aren’t really false. They’re actually there on the instrument. I’ve always called them fake notes because they need a bit of tweaking.

‘England and America are two countries separated by the same language’ Sir George Bernard Shaw.

There’s an interesting page about all this at

I had proposed to think of a few more examples but then, I thought, why not throw the idea to the reader?

All suggestions welcome!


Having read the reply from Jim Gramze I must admit that hemidemisemiquaver is a real mouthful. Having said that, I didn’t need such words once in writing the book. I would revert to US habits in these cases. Is life never easy?


6 thoughts on “Two countries separated by a common language

  1. I have noted that English is the official “world” language in Japan and Thailand, going by the bilingual signs at their airports.

    Odd that here in the USA we still use the now-antiquated Imperial system of weights and measures. Stubborn lot we are.

    There isn’t much of an attitude of England here. Many people are excited about gossip concerning royalty, but we feel no allegiance nor ill will toward the country at all. England is the source of great music for me. Of all the countries of Europe, France is polarized as the land of cowards or the land of romance depending on who you ask, and there is the whole Nazi issue still lingering and slowly fading to this day. But England is all good with everyone I know, and the press is again more concerned with royal acts and antics.

    In college I do remember a music theory teacher making fun of the British music terminology, referring to a quaver, semi-quaver, demi-semi-quaver, and similarly adding other by-half adjectives to describe notes of shorter and shorter duration. I probably have the exact words he used wrong to rattle off a 128th note in his version of British terminology. I take “Hemidemisemiquaver – Sixty-fourth note” from the following source:

    I’ll give you that “quaver” is one word where eighth note is two.

    I will say that I have trouble understanding many Americans who speak heavily in local slang or are otherwise lazy with their speech. And the horrors of many blog articles, likely including a few of my own!


    1. The only aspect of measurement that causes me any problems is the US letter size. Everywhere else on the planet we use the A sizes. This causes print problems with longer files, leading to redundant pages with a few words at the base or it chops files at unfortunate places leading to confusion – even having maths (math) exponents on the previous page.

      The last time I was in the US it was almost as if Britain didn’t exist. I saw Margaret Thatcher once on TV. I believe I’m right in saying there’s an element of anti-British feeling amongst decision-makers over there. Also, Hollywood producers give the bad guy an English accent. The way the British and English were portrayed in the films ‘Titanic’ and ‘Braveheart’ was quite hurtful. My ancestors almost certainly fought with Wallace and he wasn’t the man you see in the film.

      National stereotypes are amusing. I worked in France and Germany in bands and managed to form my own ideas. Strangely, despite Germany’s serious image, of all the countries I visited the Germans were the biggest ravers. They go out to enjoy themselves but French audiences resemble a place full of music critics.

      Regarding local accents, you should try living where I live. I can pinpoint where someone lives to within a mile or so. Accents vary so much that it can feel like listening to a foreign language.


      1. I think I’m going to finish your book and not be so petty about every little nuance of words. I jumped through the book sampling various bits and it seems approachable enough, but I’ll not be trying to “translate” it into non-musical parlance.


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