You say tomato, I say Solanum lycopersicum
I came across this video (thanks, Jon)
I like this song for many reasons. Showing the human face of science in a fun way, the catchy tune, the slightly awkward rhymes...
But what struck me most was the pronunciation of the word "pipette". For those of you who aren't familiar, a pipette is a piece of equipment used in laboratories to move very small amounts (right the way down to millionths of a litre) of liquid from one container to another. For an illustration of how not to use them (what I call "bad pipettiquette"), see this Tumblr.
The word "pipette" is a diminutive form of the word "pipe". As such, Americans say "pie-pet". Which makes sense. But until I saw the video above, I had only ever heard it pronounced "pip-ette" in English, because I went to university in the UK and all my chemistry and biology lab instructors were British. Well, one was French, but that doesn't matter because the British pronunciation comes from imitating the French, who say "peep-ette". Which also makes sense (pipe in French sounds like "peep").
This is one of several differences in pronunciation across the Atlantic. I'm not going to list them all here, but I will point out a few of my favourite examples from the world of science:
- "Aluminium": In the UK we pronounce all the letters. Americans tend to drop the second i, saying "aluminum" instead. Some even spell it that way i. As far as I know, this is the only element name where this is done. However, I think we could have a lot of fun with things like sod-um or hel-um.
- Mathematics: the British say "maths", Americans "math". I've discussed this here.
- "Processes": some Americans rhyme this word with "analyses" (plural of analysis) and "crises", i.e. they say "process-ees".
- The British retain many French spellings, such as "litre" and "centre", whereas Americans use "liter" and "center".
- z or s in words like metabolis/ze. I think I prefer "metabolise", on the basis of consistency with "metabolism".
- Don't even get me started on "niche": "neesh"(UK) versus "nitchy" or "neeshay" or "nitch" (US, natch).
None of this matters very much, of course. I used to get quite annoyed by Americans "misusing" English, but I thankfully got over it and learned to appreciate the variety and make it fun in my mind to notice these differences.
In that spirit, here's the inimitable Eddie Izzard on the subject of American & British English:
For more discussion on British v American English, I recommend Lynne Murphy's excelent blog, Separated By A Common Language.
Over to you:
- Can you offer any more examples of these kinds of US/UK differences in scientific words?
- How do they say "pipette" in Canada, Australia, or anywhere else?
- Does this happen in other languages as well? e.g. In French: do Africa, France, Belgium, Quebec and Switzerland all use the same scientific lexicon?
- Are there variations in how different languages bring British or American English words into their own vocabularies?