Is this really English … American?

Ever since I heard Ray Romano say, in an episode of his TV show when they visited Italy, ‘does anyone here speak American?’ I’ve often wondered if, being an English speaker, there were two very distinct different versions of the language.

Spelling wise, there is.

You say color, I say colour, you know the sort of thing.

But then there are words like ‘heater’.

Yes, like a lot of people I thought the word means a device that warms you up in winter, or when it’s cold.

Apparently not, and this is where it pays to know a little about the American language, though maybe not necessarily that one Ray was talking about.

For instance, a heater – is a gun apparently, and an expression used often during the 1930s through 1950s, particularly in films.

Quite loses all of its magic though when you yell out to your friend, throw me a heater will you, and it’s not the gun!

Give him a heater, no, not because the recipient is cold, but it is an instruction from the catcher to the pitcher – yes, it’s another name for a fastball.

And what do you know, all three definitions turn up in an American dictionary, the one referring to the gun being labeled ‘dated’, and, yet another adds the notation ‘slang’.

I’m betting Humphrey Bogart used the term more than once in a gangster film.

There are other definitions, but none so colorful as that for the gun and the fastball, except perhaps for the short winning streak at the casino.

9 thoughts on “Is this really English … American?

    1. Probab;ly not, but I like the way different countires use similar words for something other than what we, in another cxountry, would use it. It only makes the visiting of such places so much more interesting, if sometimes somewhat confusing

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    1. Here’s the thing, if you’re from here, you will say Americans have accents, the British have accents, and the New Zealanders have too. Ask an American, Englishman or a New Zealander, and thy’ll say we have an accent. As for the Scots, well, that’s another story.


  1. Hi Charles,
    I teach English as a second language and I have had students who present an English-British dictionary and try to correct my American-English spelling. Language is fascinating. I am from the Southern part of the United States where we tend to linger in and draw out our vowels with emphasis on more syllables than the Northern accent does. My ESL students leave my class with a very nice Southern accent. I have watched Everybody Loves Raymond and that is definitely the New York accent which is world’s apart from the South. I tell my students that there is no such thing as “correct” or “proper” accent. As long as the communication is intelligible then it is fine. As far as the slang you referenced- I am not sure about “heater.” I think it is “packing heat” as slang for a gun.

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    1. Spelling, I guess is neither here nor there, and yes, pronounciation can be a factor. But, I think in the end we all know basically what’s being said. To be honest, I love the nuances of the accents, but to write it as it’s said, I don’t think I could.
      And I’m still trying to wrap my head around center instead of centre, honor instead oh honour, etc.
      Ah, the fun of it all. I’m just glad I’m not trying to teach Enlish as a first or second language, and think you are both brave and to be admired immensly for doing so.


  2. Thanks, Charles. I enjoy teaching English because it is quite a challenge. The favorite part comes when I dictate sentences such as “I plan to go to the mall at 2:00, do you want to go too?” All those two’s is a brain twister for non-English speakers, but eventually they learn the context in which the words are used. Accents are tricky to replicate in dialog. In my own writing I tend to avoid trying to replicate accents and go more to the way that particular character might use a verbal tick, such as saying “Gotcha.” This is used a lot to mean “I understand” in parts of the U.S. In the Southern U.S. when a person says “Well, bless your heart” it implies in a backhanded sort of way that the speaker thinks that person to whom he/she is offering blessings is not very bright. It’s backhanded pity. Only a Southerner would pick up on that sugar-coated sarcasm. There are so many different linguistic examples, of course. Slang can certainly define a character. I tend to use that rather than accents.

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