Something that always takes me aback when I am in England is how British and North American usage of the word "scheme" differs.
Here in North America, a "scheme" usually has negative connotations of something underhanded or conniving -- or at the very least somewhat suspect. It has this sense in British English as well. But in England, there are also laudable "schemes" everywhere: building schemes, funding schemes, training schemes, pension schemes, and so on. In Scotland, public housing is called "housing schemes". In all these cases, we North Americans would use "plan" or "project" or "program" (why we have a fondness for words starting in "p" I don't know).You can even see that the word "scheme" is more common in British English than in American English by looking at this frequency chart based on Google Books (admittedly a rather clumsy tool, but nonetheless I think this is significant):
Here are some examples, in none of which would a North American use the word "scheme":
and, from Birmingham Royal Ballet's website:
"A longer version of this article originally appeared in Entrechat, the magazine of the BRB Friends. To find out more about the scheme [i.e. the Friends of BRB], click here."
"I have also worked there as a Regional Representative within Merseyside for their Young Dance Ambassador Scheme".
"Scheme" comes ultimately from the Greek schema (form, figure). Its first use in English, in the Renaissance, was for a rhetorical device, but it was also used to mean a diagram. From the literal "plan" of something, it soon came to designate a plan of action or a project. The idea of an underhanded plot came to be attached to the word in the 18th century, and the negativity seems to have clung more tenaciously on this side of the Atlantic than on the other. There are of course neutral expressions like "colour scheme" and "in the great scheme of things" in all varieties of English.
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