Thursday, 7 February 2019

And now for something completely different...

Words That Have Different Meanings in American and British English

Dear Readers,

Taking a break from all this strenuous backpacking and traveling, we thought we do something completely different. Although we all “officially” speak the same language, we clearly don’t. There are huge, and often hilarious differences. We thought the cunning linguists among you might enjoy some highlights:


British people use the work anorak as slang to describe someone who has a very strong interest in a thing or topic that is unacknowledged or considered boring by the general public. The term is used synonymously with nerd or geek. Americans use the word anorak to refer to a type of coat with a hood, often lined with fur…although we do too, it can be rather confusing….


British people use the term banger to refer to a sausage, as in “bangers and mash,” a small, noisy firework or a car that is old, damaged and in a barely functional state. Americans use the word banger, as do we, to describe a club-friendly song or beat.


In Britain, a bird is a girl or a young female, similar to the way young females are referred to as “chicks” in America. However, some Britons consider the term derogatory as it is sometimes used as slang to refer to a woman who is attractive but a bit of an air-brain ergo the name “Dolly Bird”. In America, a bird is an animal with feathers and tweets.


In Britain, a biscuit is a delicious, thin, hard baked treat you’d dunk in a cup of tea – what’s known as a cookie in the US. In America, a biscuit is a type of quick bread served with savory foods. It’s similar to a scone or barm in the UK. This confuses the hell out of us Brits in an American restaurant as often they have food served with a savory scone or biscuit which makes absolutely no sense to us whatsoever!


Britons use the word bog to refer to a toilet. Americans use the term bog to refer to a wet, marshy area of land, also known as a swamp.


If an American tells you, they are putting on their boots to go shopping, you may look at them quizzically. But don’t be alarmed. While boots refer to the trunk of a car in Britain, the term is a type of footwear in America.


Braces are the US equivalent of suspenders - over-the-shoulder straps that support trousers.  In the US, braces are used in orthodontics to align and straighten teeth.  In the UK of course, we have a totally different notion of suspenders than our American cousins, who are of course, innocently holding up their trousers, whilst our suspenders hold up our stockings…


You can refer to your male friends as chaps; just like you’d call them “guys”. In the US, chaps are leather leggings worn by cowboys or motorcyclists as a form of leg protection.


Chips are the American equivalent of French fries.


In the UK, a coach is a bus with comfortable seats, usually used to take people on long journeys.  It also means an old-fashioned four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage, now used mainly in official or royal ceremonies.  The word coach is also used to refer to a private tutor who prepares pupils for examinations.  In America, a coach is someone who manages a sports team.  It's also used to refer to the lowest travel class on a passenger aircraft (what we call the economy class in the UK).


You’d call them potato chips in America.  In Britain they are fried or baked potato slices with salt, sometimes with flavour.  In the UK , crisps can be a bag of Cheetos, a handful of Doritos or a packet of Lays, among other things.


When an American uses the word dummy in a conversation, they probably mean a stupid person and not a rubber treat for babies as we use it in Britain (known as a pacifier in US English). 

Fanny Pack

Now, a Brit would pass out at this reference, but in British English, this means “Bum Bag” which was we all know is a small bag which we wear around our waists to keep our possessions close to us especially whilst travelling.“Fanny” to a Brit is a moderate term for female reproductive organs. It can also be used as slang, mainly directed at men, instead of “wuss” or “coward”.


In the UK, a flat is a set of rooms for living in, like an apartment in the US.  It has nothing to do with having a level surface.


Flannel is a cloth for washing the face or body; Americans call it a washcloth. In America, flannel is a soft fabric/material used to manufacture warm winter night clothes and sheets.


We’re talking about the sport that made David Beckham famous. The one where players kick a spherical ball with their feet to score a goal. The game is referred to as soccer in American English. In the US, football is a game played with an oval-shaped ball which is moved forward by running or passing. The game looks a lot like Rugby.


In both American and British English, geezer is slang for a man. However, in the US, the term typically refers to an elderly person. In the UK, it is slang for a regular man, and is often used the same way Americans refer to young guys as “‘dudes.”


British gravy is made from meat stock, is always brown and is commonly served with roasts, rice, and mashed potatoes. In the United States, the term gravy is used to refer to a wide variety of sauces, and it is perfectly acceptable for it to be pale in colour, which would drive a Brit insane!


The British hamper is a wicker basket used to transport items, often food. Americans use the word hamper to refer to a household receptacle for clean or dirty clothing, regardless of its composition.


When an American refers to a jumper in a conversation, there’s a good chance he/she isn’t talking about a knitted pullover you’d wear on when it’s cold outside (known as a sweater in America). In the US, a jumper is a sleeveless dress worn over a top, blouse or T-shirt – what we call a pinafore dress in the UK. It can also refer to a person who’s attempting to jump from a height.


To get to the top floor of the Shard in London, you’d hop in the lift. But in America, to get to the top of a skyscraper, you’d take the elevator.


Never ask a Briton about their pants. You’ll get a very funny look or even a slap in the face. Pants in Britain mean underwear and not trousers as it means in America.


Peckish in American English means irritable or angry. In British English, the word means to be slightly hungry.

If an American tells you they are pissed, they’re not drunk. They are very angry or annoyed.  In the UK, when we’re drunk, we tend to be pissed!

In the UK, a rubber is a pencil eraser. In the US, the term refers to a condom or waterproof boots; the equivalent of wellington boots or wellies in the UK. 

Shag is British slang for having sexual intercourse. It’s often used by people who think the term “fuck” is too coarse and the term “making love” is too innocent. Americans use the word shag to refer to a rug or carpet that has a long, rough pile.


If an American starts talking to you about their trainers, they’re not discussing their padded sports shoes or a pair of “pumps.” They’re talking about their fitness experts who help them work out.

A trolley is what Brits use when they’re wandering the aisles of their grocery store, otherwise known as a shopping cart in America. An American trolley, also known as an electric streetcar, is a public transportation network (most famous in San Francisco).

A vest is the US equivalent of an undershirt or a beater. It’s the sleeveless garment you wear under a shirt. In America, a vest is a sleeveless garment worn over a shirt (the UK equivalent of a waistcoat). An example of an American vest is the ballistic vest.

There you go!  Any more suggestions, feel free to comment!



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