Two nations divided by a common language

Discussion in 'English Only' started by coppergirl, May 9, 2006.

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  1. coppergirl

    coppergirl Senior Member

    London, England
    Hi everyone!

    It is often said that Britain and America are "two nations divided by a common language". However, the attribution of this quote on the web and elsewhere is dubious at best.

    I originally heard that it was said by Winston Churchill, although having checked, other sources cite George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde.

    Does anyone know for certain to whom we should attribute this? Sorry if it seems trivial. It is driving me nuts now.

    Cheers! :)
  2. TrentinaNE

    TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    Reminds me of a Monty Python skit (perhaps available only in recorded form) in which Wilde and Shaw take turns exchanging witticisms before the King. Wilde repeatedly reacts to Shaw's jibes by saying "I wish I'd said that," to which Shaw responds, "You will, Oscar, you will." ;)

  3. Joelline

    Joelline Senior Member

    USA (W. Pennsylvania)
    American English
    Have you checked Oxford Quotations or Bartlett's Quotations. They're both rather careful about attribution. I'd check for you, but my daughter has my hardback copies in her room right now, and she's "studying" and "cannot be disturbed"!!
  4. Jmoney33 New Member

    English, United States
    The two countries do have a similar language; however, they also have theyre differences
  5. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations gives the attribution to GBS, but points out that this does not appear in any of his published work.

    No alternative is suggested.
  6. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    Actually, that exchange is usually attributed to Oscar Wilde and James Whistler. {the son of Whistler's Mother}
  7. coppergirl

    coppergirl Senior Member

    London, England
    Interestingly, I found online several things to suggest that Wilde didn't actually use those words. Instead I have seen at least two sites which suggested that he stated something along the lines of "the Americans and the British are identical in all respects except, of course, their language". (NB: I won't cite these sources here as they were not necessarily reliable and may, themselves, be paraphrases)

    This doesn't have quite the same ring to it, although it may be one reason why this quote is attributed to him---clearly he was on to something!

    Another site said: "Oscar Wilde famously declared that Britain and America were two nations divided by a common language. Actually he didn't quite say that but he should have done, which is why he is always misquoted."

    (The link for this one is here:").

    I don't know how accurate these all are, but all the same, it looks a bit obscure still as to the identity of the chap who first made this remark. (i.e. It is still driving me nuts.)

    Any other ideas, opinions, or facts would be greatly appreciated! I can then follow them up further.
  8. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    These, and a few other useful but inconclusive observations, can be found about halfway down this link.

    The suggestion is that Wilde, Shaw, Russell and Thomas (less likely, Churchill) all said something along these lines. Probably the current favourite version (as in the thread title) is a result of later polishing by numerous imitators.
  9. coppergirl

    coppergirl Senior Member

    London, England
    All of which means, panjandrum, that it gets tricky when one tries to quote this, as it is awkward to say "In the words of the following possible candidates . . . ".

    All the same, the observation stands. It just makes for an awkward quotation!

    Thanks for the links!
  10. nathan3011 New Member

    I have heard that quote before but not exactly that way and as panjandrum has put the most that we can attribute it to is the fact that it is a mix of 3 things that have been said by famous people.

    I still feel that it is such a relevant quote though as we are 2 nations that supposedly share the same language despite there being such obvious differences between the 2, ie spelling and meaning of words.
  11. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Moderator's note:

    When this thread was opened in 2006, it was fine, but the guidelines have since changed and it is no longer within the scope of the forum.

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