As I shovel(l)ed leaves off the sidewalk/pavement (it's actually just the side of the road as there are neither sidewalks nor pavements on/in my street), I pondered the difference between Autumn and Fall. Obviously Fall is accurate, as the task I was doing demonstrated, but how much more atmospheric the word Autumn is. When and why did Americans decide to call the season Fall?
I spend a lot of time figuring/working out the differences between English and American. Having grown up in England, lived in the US for four decades, and written books set almost all in England and in three different periods, I find it very easy to confuse the two--not so much words as phrases. In pursuit of accuracy, I look up absolutely everything I'm not sure about, both as to which side of the Atlantic it belongs and when it entered one or t'other language.
OED is a wonderful resource for this. Many years ago friends found the Compact edition on sale, bought it for me, and lugged it all the way home. For those who don't know, it's the entire 27 or so volumes packed into two--with a magnifying glass included. It weighs a ton. I consulted it so often I never needed to work out with weights. Now I have it online at the click of a mouse. Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English is my other sine qua non.
The other day both failed me. When, I wondered, did the phrase "run circles around" someone come into use. Nothing in OED or Partridge under either circle or run. I've never had much luck with googling phrases--there are plenty of sites but they mostly explain without dating. So I moaned on Facebook. Two people suggested websites: <http://www.phrases.org.uk/
Phrase Finder tells me "run circles around" is American. The earlier English phrase is to "run rings round," which comes from the revolting "sport" of hare coursing (now banned I hope and believe).
OED is not infallible. It has many American words and phrases, but misses a lot, too. However, the online version avoids one of the big problems of the paper original-- Online you see only the definition you specifically asked for; I used to spend far too long reading definitions that caught my eye!
Hey, I'm a writer, words are my business (and, I confess, I'm addicted to looking things up whether I need to know or not).