The Name Game 

14 June 2001

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is more than 20 years old. The formatting may be strange, links broken and/or images missing. The text may have been superseded by subsequent events or later research.

Although they apparently share the same language, people in the UK and the US sometimes have very different terms that mean the same things.

This has the power to cause confusion when people from one side of the Atlantic attempt to have a conversation with people from the other in all manner of mundane conversations.

A discussion using the word “homely” has the power to insult (in the US it means ‘ugly’, whilst in the UK its meaning is sharply opposed). An American proposing to table a motion will be surprised when a Brit continues to talk about it. And heaven help the poor Brit directed to a specific floor of an American department store – he or she will always be one floor away from it.

But in broadcasting it gets worse, as the languages diverge completely. This reflects the fact that the medium of television is comparatively new, yet has had time to build up different terminology (and mythology, for that matter) in each country.

Additionally, the sources of entertainment experience that television began with come, very generally, from different professions in each country – the UK having developed television out of radio, the US having developed it out of film making.

A short glossary of the wanderings of language in a single medium between two countries that share the same language makes for fascinating reading.

Presenter and Host, Emcee or Anchor

In the UK, persons who preside over programmes are almost always referred to as “presenters”, regardless of whether it’s a news programme, a chat show, a variety series or a quiz programme.

The term “host” is often used in the US for persons who preside over entertainment programmes. A term unique to the US is “emcee”, which is a way to pronounce the letters “M.C.”, an abbreviation for “Master of Ceremonies”.

Presenters of US quiz, chat and variety programmes are often referred to as emcees. Presenters of news programmes are usually referred to as “anchors”.

Vision Mixer and Technical Director

Americans might think that a “Vision Mixer” is a machine that mixes TV pictures. But in the UK, it refers to the person who in the control room switches between cameras under command of the director.

Here in the US, this person is known as a “Technical Director” – perhaps a more impressive sounding title.

Sound and Audio

In credits for many UK programmes, the person who runs the control room sound console during a programme is referred to as the “Sound” person.

In US programme credits this person is referred to as being involved in “Audio”.

News Bulletin and News Flash or Special Report

In the UK, “News Bulletin” refers to a scheduled programme that reviews the latest news.

In the US, “News Bulletin” refers to a major unexpected news story of such importance that the station or network feels that viewers need to know about it immediately, and will interrupt regular programmes to announce it.

In recent decades, American networks have increasingly used the term “Special Report” instead of “News Bulletin” to describe this kind of programme interruption.

What we in the States call a “News Bulletin” or “Special Report” is known in the UK as a “News Flash”. By contrast, some American viewers casually refer to such reports as a “News Flash”, although broadcasters haven’t adopted that term.

Recording and Taping

In the UK, the process of videoing a programme for later transmission is called a “Recording”. In the US, it’s referred to as a “Taping”, since the programme is recorded onto tape.

The latter term will probably survive even after other forms of digital video recording that do not use tape replace videotape.

Chat Show and Talk Show

British viewers often tune-in to entertaining or informative programmes, consisting mostly of talk, that are referred to as “Chat Shows”.

In the US, the same kind of programme is known as a “Talk Show”. Neither make a distinction between a one-on-one interview (Parkinson or Frost style) and an audience participation show (Trisha, Donahue etc).

Transmission and Broadcast

The process of sending a programme from the studio to the home TV set has long been known as “Transmission” in the UK and “Broadcast” in the US.

The term “Broadcasting” is used in the UK television industry to sum up the entire genre – radio and television – but rarely would someone tune into “a broadcast”, unlike in the US.

Continuity and Presentation

The bridging of gaps between programmes in the United States and in the UK has always been approached differently.

To American eyes, most of the UK’s output in earlier years was slower and friendlier, with in-vision continuity announcers providing “presentation” between each programme.

To UK eyes, American television has always seemed to be done at a rush. The stream of adverts, promos and programs doesn’t seem to pause for anything, let alone the opportunity to change channel. This fast-paced style hasn’t really acquired a name in the US, though “continuity” is probably what most would plump for.

This difference is unlikely to persist as the UK follows the US down the “no pausing” format and ends the previous traditions of friendly live announcing between programmes. The resulting ‘smudge’ of items between programmes, however, is likely to keep the name “presentation”.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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