Divided by a common language – Part 3
I recently noticed another case of American English creeping into a British news report. Somebody (I forget who) was protesting something (I forget what). That’s American. In British English, we would protest about something. Occasionally, we protest against something and sometimes we protest to somebody. (“There are potholes in my street; I’m going to protest to the local council.”) That’s a useful example because it shows that protest is used in slightly different senses and therefore the preposition performs a useful function in distinguishing a general airing of a grievance from a directed criticism. (Are American protests always (and only) public demonstrations of opposition? If so, the preposition is redundant, but they can’t protest to City Hall, they can only complain.)
Similarly, American English uses write without the preposition:
“Why don’t you write me,
I’m out in the jungle
I’m hungry to hear you”
Paul Simon (on the Bridge Over Troubled Water album)
Again, British English preserves the distinction between writing to someone and writing about them. American English also writes about its subjects, so instead of two different prepositions, the distinction is made by using the verb with and without the preposition.
Now we should consider paying a visit. I have aunts in England and in Michigan. I visit the English branch frequently, but if I could go to see their American sister, I would visit with her. To my English ears, that is a very strange construction. Consider the phrase “when I visit Detroit, I visit with my aunt”. In American English, that means that when I go to Detroit, I go to see my aunt. In British English, it means that when I go to Detroit, I take my aunt along. We could, for example visit the Detroit Institute of Arts. I don’t think American English would visit with the museum, so the preposition with seems to be used to distinguish between visiting people and visiting places. That isn’t wrong (it’s the way that form of English works), but, to me, it seems unnecessary since I can usually tell the difference.
For more on prepositions, see Free Chairs for Stage Directions