|About the same in COCA and BNC||More in COCA (American)|
head over heels in love
price on ~ head
head for the hills
head and shoulders above
talk over ~ head
talk ~ head off
two heads are better (than one)
use ~ head
make ~ head spin
put ~ heads together
bury ~ head (in the sand)
from head to toe
have a head for (something)
hanging over ~ head
off the top of ~ head
head (v) up
head (v) toward(s)
head (v) back to
head (v) out
in over ~ head
(hit the) nail on the head
head ~ off at the pass
cooler heads (+ prevail)
heads or tails
head rush (n)
(like a) deer in the headlights
In the examples above, we mostly compared exact words or phrases, with some cases of phrases where a given part of speech was used in a particular slot (e.g. in over his/her/my head; [=ap*]). But you can also do searches like the following:
head* (COCA) heads-up, headliner, headspace, headware; (BNC) headteacher, headstock, headhunted, headmistress
a(n) *head (COCA) crackhead, knucklehead, bobblehead, hothead, bonehead, trailhead, wellhead
head + prep (COCA) toward(s), to, up , around, into
verb ~ head: this construction has about same frequency overall. But there are clear differences in the particular verbs, e.g. (COCA) poke, stick, tilt, cock, lift, bob, shake, nod; (BNC) mind, feel, raise
Moving away from the words and phrases with head, the following are just a handful of other lexical comparisons:
*ism words: (COCA) bioterrorism, volunteerism, Islamism, Pentecostalism, ecotourism, globalism; (BNC) Owenism, Toryism, Fabianism, teetotalism. Comparing such lists of words provides some interesting insight into cultural differences between the two countries as well.
Adjectives used to describe men: (COCA) nuts, liable, scary, smarter, tougher, relentless, focused, easygoing, low-key, astounded; (BNC) redundant, wont, spotty, chuffed, dotty, cheeky, posh
Phrasal verbs with up (COCA) ratchet, fess, hike, crank, listen, bust, scare, cuddle, scrounge, rack; (BNC) nip, stump, plant, top, phone, cash, tot, pluck, cock, mug, bugger, knock
[have] gotten: obviously much more common in American English (COCA)
have + proved / proven: the first is more common in the BNC, the second in COCA. To do this right, you'd want to get a ratio of the two forms in Excel (for example), but here we're just doing the two forms individually
5. Syntactic differences. The following compare -- side by side -- particular grammatical phenomena in the two dialects. These are just a random sample of quick examples; hundreds of other phenomena could be studied in more depth.
need NEG VERB (e.g. you needn't worry): much more common in British English (BNC).
must VERB (e.g. we must work more): more common in British (BNC).
end up V-ing (e.g. he ended up paying): more common in American (COCA).
"quotative" like (e.g. and he's like "that's not fair"): much more common in American (COCA).
We can also search for very "narrow" phenomena, like the following:
[go] to university|hospital. Without the, much more common in the BNC
inquire *: there isn't a huge difference in the overall frequency of inquire, but American English (COCA) takes about and occurs without a following noun phrase (e.g. after she inquired, we ...) more than in British (BNC)
napkin/nappy: the BNC has more collocates referring to children (e.g. baby, children, rash, toy, child), showing that this word has roughly the same meaning as the American diaper. In American English, though, it refers to the British serviette, and this shows up with collocates referring to food and dining, like cocktail, silverware, plates, and cups.
cupboard: unlike American English (COCA), in British English (BNC) it can refer to a place where you store clothes as well, hence the collocates like wardrobe, linen, clothes, and bedroom.
scheme: in American English, it has a much more negative sense than in British English, hence the collocates like risky, hazardous, offensive, aggressive, evil, and diabolical.
stick: in American English, it refers to many objects that it wouldn't in British English, like butter, margarine, needles, and gum. (In British English, it would be a knob of butter, right?) Notice newer words like memory (stick) as well, which won't occur in a 20 year old corpus like the BNC.
dumb: it looks like in British English it still has the meaning it had in American English 50-100 years ago ("can't speak" (well)); whereas in American English it now usually means "stupid" (e.g. things, luck, idea, investment).
neat: in British English it still refers mainly (??) to something being "orderly" (e.g. finish, collar, control, button), whereas in American English it has expanded its meaning to "nice / cool" (e.g. place, trick, guy, stuff, part).
boost: it looks like in British English, it refers primarily to "increasing" something (e.g. finances, figures), whereas in American English it has expanded its meaning to "improvement" (e.g. mood, spirits, security).
flip: it's not clear how to characterize what it means in American English that it doesn't (yet) in British English, but the list of nouns is quite interesting: light, hair, phone, bird, head, channels, etc. Any ideas?
strip: in the US, we have lots and lots of strip malls in our cities, where we go shopping. BTW, what are these called in England?
web: this one is pretty obvious. In COCA, it refers to the World Wide Web (site, world, page, email, company, browser, Internet), but the Web wasn't really in existence when the BNC was released a generation ago -- back in the early 1990s. This shows the value of having up-to-date texts that reflect recent changes in the language.
7.1 Size matters. Even with 450 million words (COCA) and 100 million words (BNC), in some of the cases above we still only have a handful of tokens. Imagine if we were using tiny corpora of just two million words or so for each dialect. Very few of the searches above would be possible, and we'd be reduced to looking at just highly-frequent phenomena, like modals, other auxiliary verbs, and prepositions.
7.2 It really helps to have a corpus that is up-to-date. For several of these searches, it looks like British English (BNC) is different from American English (COCA), but this may just be due in some cases to the fact that COCA is so much more up-to-date (the BNC ends nearly a generation ago, in the early 1990s, whereas COCA goes up through mid-2012). For the best comparisons, it would really help to have an up-to-date, balanced corpus of British English. Any takers?
7.3 It is now possible to compare corpora side-by-side with just one click of the mouse. It doesn't make much sense to limit oneself to just one corpus (like the BNC), and completely ignore all other corpora (like the much larger and much more recent COCA), especially when these "side-by-side" comparisons of multiple corpora are so simple.