“University” Gets Major Ink

I reckon that the three words I’ve written the most about over the years are (alphabetically) “bits,” “clever,” and “university.” (To find the posts on them, please use the search function in the right sidebar.) What they have in common is that all three have traditionally been used differently in the U.S. and U.K., and thus the adoption of the U.K. meanings over here need to be teased out a bit.

Recently, I’ve done a number of posts on “university“–specifically, Americans starting to say things like “When I was in university,” “He is going to university next year,” or “Many university students protested the ruling,” when traditionally they would have used the word “college.”

My distinguished colleague Lynne Murphy, author of The Prodigal Tongue (again, see right sidebar) and proprietor of the “Separate by a Common Language” blog, has noticed the same thing. And indeed, she has just chosen “university” as her annual “UK-to-US Word of the Year.” I recommend you read her entire post, but one interesting finding she shares is a difference that persists even for the Americans who are adopting “university.” It’s that where the British tend to refer to their time “at university,” Americans tend to say “in university,” echoing the familiar formulation “in college.”

Incidentally, her “US-to-UK Word of the Year” is “dune,” specifically its pronunciation.

6 thoughts on ““University” Gets Major Ink

  1. I’m afraid to say that in the UK ‘university’ has been almost entirely replaced in common speech by ‘uni’ for which we have the Australian soap opera Neighbours to thank. I remember in the late 1980s when it first caught on people always said uni with a cod Australian accent just to show they were knowingly using the word half-seriously. Now it’s standard. Even my 81 year old mum says uni, but then she still watches Neighbours so she never really stood a chance.

  2. WRT Americans adopting British pronunciations, there’s also Jaguar, as in the car. For years growing up in America it was JAG-WIRE, but now more and more Americans pronounce it the British way, JAG-YOU-ARE. Maybe a result of TV ads, not sure.

    1. There are regional variations, and I have heard jag-wire (and jag-u-ar) used, but I think the traditional standard U.S. pronunciation was jag-war, two syllables. At least that is the one that comes most naturally to me.

    2. That’s not quite correct, Tom – the standard British pronunciation is not JAG-YOU-ARE, but JAG-YOU-ER, with the stress firmly on the first syllable.

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