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May 28, 1982

And They Say It's the Same Language

JAMA. 1982;247(20):2827. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03320450061040

Sir Winston Churchill once noted that the British and Americans were divided by a common language. However, he had an advantage because with his American mother he had been accustomed from birth to the differences. The truth of his statement is often overlooked by those visiting either the United States or Great Britain, particularly those physicians who plan to work for a year or so, telling themselves that "at least there won't be a language problem when I move."

In discussions with European colleagues, held in English because of my inability to speak their language, I have noticed that both speakers took pains to ensure that what was said was being understood. I assumed this to be a normal state of affairs, but recently I started wondering at the cavalier way in which Americans and British prattle away together, never stopping to check each other's meaning and blithely assuming total