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.