How American is the term 'downtown'?

Hi, how American does the word/term ‘downtown’ meaning ‘the center of a town or city’ sound? Yes, according to Wikipedia ‘downtown’ is supposed to be an American term but I wonder what ‘downtown’ sounds like to British or Australian ears especially since Petula Clark is British. After all it was her, who became famous by her song ‘Downtown’ which was also covered by Emma Bunton, another singer from the UK.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: A burglar[YSaerTTEW443543]

New Zealand and Australia were originally British colonies, and so “down under,” British English was dominant for centuries… As televisions became commonplace in the 1960’s, we became more culturally informed by the USA, and as such, more American words and sayings crept into our language. We definitely say “downtown,” there’s really no other alternative.

For spelling and so on, we still use British English (in Berlin, the sign for the Sony Center always looks wrong to me- I feel it should be Sony Centre…)

To my British ears, “downtown” (which should not be confused with “down town”) sounds thoroughly American. It is not a word I would ever use, except perhaps when deliberately using American nomenclature to refer to an area of an American city.

Edited. Sorry, on second thoughts this is not really true. To me it seems usual in BrE also to use it when referring to parts of some other foreign cities. For example, “downtown Tokyo” or “downtown Havana”. But not to British cities, so it still somehow seems like “not an entirely British word”…

I think the French spelling “centre” reflects more the original French pronunciation of the word than the English pronunciation. The Americans changed the spelling of “centre” to make it reflect the pronunciation better. That’s also one of the reasons why “center” has become more popular than “centre”. As a matter of fact, the German Duden lists 25 German nouns that contain the word “Center”:[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: Washing windows[YSaerTTEW443543]

I completely agree- “center” sounds right… it simply looks wrong to me when seen in written form.

I disagree with that view. In my opinion t isn’t ‘more popular’ in the UK and the only reason its usage is so widespread is the sheer clout of American business, economy and popular culture (as is the case with so many other American spellings).

Are you now convinced that to the Brits ‘downtown’ can be classed as American in origin?

It’s helpful for me.Thank you very much

Hi Bev, to ESL learners the American spellings, as you call them, make sense because they reflect the pronunciation of the words. We don’t say “centre”. We say “Center”. Would you agree with that?

By the way, my question was not whether ‘downtown’ is of American origin. I know that. I’m interested in hearing how American the term sounds to British ears now, decades after the word has been used.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: A girl resting[YSaerTTEW443543]

I’d agree that they might be easier to spell for ESL learners, but if that’s the basis for the spelling changes why stop there?

Purrhapps yiw’d laik tw see it taikn ferthu.


Some years back, an Australian gentleman wrote a short note to the London Review of Books, a very intellectual book review. The gentleman “ordered” the magazine to use only American spellings. He said that British spellings made no sense. The magazine published his letter under the headline: WHAT A NERVE!

I can understand why British people are less than happy when told to change their spellings to American. After all, they used English long before there ever was an American nation!

But who knows? Maybe technology will force a change. I know NO THING about Twitter, but I hear you must use only 140 characters. So I should imagine that British youth might spell “coloUr” as “color” in order to save a character.

I think in the US they tried to introduce and adopt alternate spellings for some frequently occurring words.
For example, “through” was to be replaced by “thru”.
I think the rationale for this change was to save ink or something.

Though I think that accommodating ESL learners should not be the reason for changing the spelling system. Saving ink and paper is a much more compelling reason for this change.

Like American spelling makes a lot of sense. Changing “colour” to “color” (which should have been changed to “culor” in all fairness, to reflect the “u” vowel) by the Americans is just scratching the surface, there is a gazillion of words whose spelling doesn’t make sense.
For example, consider these words:

Through, though, cough, enough, bough.
In all of them the stressed vowels, represented by “ough”, are different.
Recently I came across this video where it was explained why English pronunciation is so hard (because of the recondite spelling system):


“centre”, “colour”, “theatre” etc, is the right way.

What about “Edinburgh”?

Do people that were born in Edinburgh know how to pronounce and spell their home town or they maybe don’t know?

Americans use “theatRE” when they want the name of a place to sound artsy or sophisticated. They know that the “odd” spelling will attract attention. As for “cenTRE and ColoUr,” they are simply out of the question!