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Facts and figures about British and American culture and language to impress my students, colleagues and friends!                        

New Year's Eve

In Britain and America many people have parties on New Year's Eve (31st December). Traditionally people in Britain hold hands and sing 'Auld Lang Syne' at midnight at parties and wish each other 'Happy New Year'. Auld Lang Syne is an old Scottish song about friendship and remembering good times in the past. The title means 'old long since'. In large cities many people gather in public places such as Trafalgar Square in London, Princes Street in Edinburgh, and George Square in Glasgow. In Scotland the celebration of the New year is called Hogmanay. New Year's Day (1st January) is a bank holiday in Britain.

Taken from the Oxford Guide to British and American Culture.


Britainís most famous prehistoric monument is Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain in Southern England. It consists of two circles of large standing stones, one inside the other. The inner circle consisted of arches made by laying one stone across the tops of two others. Some of these have fallen, but some are still in position.

Stonehenge was built between 3000 and 1500 BC. Nobody knows why it was built, but many people think it was to study the stars and planets or to worship the sun, because a line through its centre would point directly to the position of the rising sun on Midsummerís Day or of the setting sun in midwinter. Stonehenge was made a World Heritage Site in 1986.

Taken from the Oxford Guide to British and American Culture.

World English

Varieties of English are spoken in many parts of the world: British English, American English, Canadian English, Caribbean English, Indian English, etc. About 250 million people speak English as their first language and in over 70 countries English is used as a second language. Estimates for the number of English speakers in these areas range from 350 million to 2 billion. There are also millions of learners of English as a foreign language. English is now more often spoken as a foreign language or second language than as a first language.

(From the new edition of the Oxford Guide to British and American Culture)

The Department of Homeland Security

The US government department created in 2002 to protect the country from terrorist attack. The department provides advice on security to the government and to private companies, and prepares for emergency situations. It also includes border control and immigration services, the United States Coast Guard and the Secret Service.

(From the new edition of the Oxford Guide to British and American Culture)

The Mayor of London

The head of the local government of London, elected by the people of London every four years. The role of the Mayor of London is more like that of a US mayor than a traditional British mayor who has almost no political power, and the Mayor has the power to set policies on transport, buildings and land use, culture and the environment. The first Mayor of London was Ken Livingstone, who was elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2004. The City of London, the financial district, also has a mayor who is called the Lord Mayor of the City of London. The first one was appointed in 1192.

(Taken from the new edition of the Oxford Guide to British and American Culture)

Word Origins

Bungalow late 17th cent.: from Hindi banglā belonging to Bengal, from a type of cottage built for early European settlers in Bengal.
Butterfly Old English, from butter + the insect fly; perhaps from the cream or yellow colour of common species, or from an old belief that the insects stole butter.
Lasagne Italian, plural of lasagna, based on Latin lasanum chamber pot, perhaps also cooking pot.
Mansion late Middle English (denoting the chief residence of a lord): via Old French from Latin mansio(n-) place where someone stays, from manere remain.
Map early 16th cent.: from medieval Latin mappa mundi, literally sheet of the world, from Latin mappa sheet, napkin + mundi of the world (genitive of mundus).
Parliament Middle English: from Old French parlement speaking, from the verb parler.
Pirate Middle English: from Latin pirata, from Greek peiratēs, from peirein to attempt, attack (from peira an attempt).
Pyjamas from Urdu and Persian, pāy (leg) + jāma (clothing).
Salary Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French salarie, from Latin salarium, originally denoting a Roman soldier's allowance to buy salt, from sal salt.
Video 1930s: from Latin videre to see.

(Taken from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary 7th edition CD-ROM)


American English

British people who went to live in the US in the seventeenth century came from different parts of Britain and so spoke different dialects, with slightly different words and pronunciation. In the US their language changed in its own way and so is not like British English today. New words were added to the language for things that were only found in the US, like plants, animals and food. Many of these new words came from the native American Indian languages; Dutch and French people also went to live there and added their words, and in the 19th and 20th century immigrants from all over the world have influenced the language.

The Union Jack

The Union Jack is the popular name for the flag of the United Kingdom. The word 'jack' is a word sailors use for a flag. It has been the British flag since 1603 when Scotland and England joined together. The design contains the red cross of England, and Scotland's white diagonal cross on a blue background. When Ireland joined the United Kingdom in 1801 its red diagonal cross was also added. The national flag of Wales is a red dragon, but it is not used on the Union Jack because Wales is a 'principality' of England, meaning that it is ruled by an English prince.

The Houses of Parliament

In the United Kingdom, Parliament is responsible for making laws, discussing important national issues, and raising taxes. The three parts of Parliament are the King or Queen, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. All three parts need to agree for a law to be passed, but today the King or Queen's agreement is given automatically. The British people elect the Members of Parliament (MPs) who make up the House of Commons. The people in the House of Lords, who are called peers, are not chosen by the people. The House of Commons has more power than the House of Lords.

American Settlers

America was named after an Italian businessman called Amerigo Vespucci, who sailed to South America between 1499 and 1502. Christopher Columbus called the Native Americans 'Indians' because he thought he had reached India. It was only in the 16th century that people from France, Spain and Britain started to live in North America. Today the population of the US is over 284 million.

The Empire State Building

New York City has 140 skyscrapers, more than any other city in the world. Chicago is second with 68. The Empire State Building in New York, which was the tallest building in the world for over 40 years, was built in 1931. It is 381 metres high and has 102 floors. On a clear day you can see five different states from the top of the Empire State Building, and it would take 11 Empire State Buildings to fill the Gulf of Mexico at its deepest point. The tallest buildings in the world today are the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, which are 452 metres tall.

The English Alphabet

bullet The letter 'o' is the oldest letter in the English alphabet; it has been the same shape since about 1300BC.
bullet 'O' is also the least common letter in English; the most common letter is 'e'.
bullet The novel Gadsby, written by Ernest Vincent Wright, has over 50,000 words but none of them use the letter 'e'.
bullet 'Almost' is the longest word in English that has all its letters in alphabetical order.
bullet The word 'set' has the most definitions of all words in English.
bullet The word 'four' has four letters; it is the only number in English whose number of letters is the same as its value.

The American Dialect

The nearest dialect to a standard American English is General American English. This is spoken mostly in the Midwest, but also in other parts. The main dialect groups are the Northern, the Coastal Southern, the Midland, and the Western. The main differences between them are in accent, but there are some differences in words too. Some old and rich families in Boston speak in a way that is very similar to Britain's standard dialect, called RP, or 'Received Pronunciation'.

The American Flag

The American flag has two names, the Stars and Stripes or Old Glory. It has been the flag of the US since 1777, after America became independent from Britain. George Washington had the flag made to encourage his soldiers in their fight against the British. There were originally 13 states in the US, so the flag had 13 stripes, seven red and seven white, and 13 white stars. When new states joined the US, a new star was added. Today there are 50 stars on the flag.

English Speakers Worldwide

There are approximately twice as many speakers of American English as other kinds of English, and four times as many as speakers of British English.

New Year