British Vs. American English

I decided that I need to start a list of words that I come across, so here we go.  I’ll update it from time to time.  If I’ve misunderstood a word, please let me know and I’ll correct it!

Basics:

  • Hen party–bachelorette party
  • Leaving-do–going away party
  • Till–checkout counter
  • Tip–the dump
  • Petrol–gas
  • Biscuit–cookie
  • Nappy–diaper
  • Prawn–small shrimp
  • Courgette–zucchini
  • Coriander–cilantro
  • Trainers–tennis shoes
  • Dolly shoes–mary janes
  • Digger–bulldozer
  • Lorry–truck
  • Plaster–bandaid
  • Garden–yard   (and garden for garden)
  • Trolley–shopping cart
  • “The shops”–instead of saying “grocery store”
  • Gammon–ham
  • Uni/university–university but not college.  College is around age 16-18, before university.
  • Roadworks–road construction
  • Motorway–highway
  • Indicator–blinker, or turn signal
  • Chav–derogatory term.  “trailor trash”
  • Cinema–movie
  • Carrier bag–plastic bag from store
  • Proper–as in “We’ll get you a proper carry-on next weekend.”   or   “It’s a proppa sunny day innit.”    I don’t think there’s an American equivalent here; it’s a colloquial term.
  • Hoover–vaccuum

Note:  Julia has some great comments in the comment section about the variants of cookie/biscuit (how gooey center is, etc.), gammon (a cut of ham), and digger/bulldozers.

Some British words that I particularly like:

  • Wanker.  ”Yeah, it’s probably from the wankers over at Fox News.”
  • Moreish. Something that’s so good you want more of it.  Have only heard it used in relation to food so far.  Thai prawn crackers to be precise.  ”They’re rather moreish, aren’t they.”
  • Bloody.  No explanation necessary.
  • Sod.  (While we’re at it.)  ”S*d off.”
  • Lollipop man/woman. (see last driving piece for pic.)  This is a crossing guard.   Now what do you want to be when you grow up?
  • Sorted. This appears to be a favorite, and I can see why.  It’s just like the US “settled,” but fewer Little House on the Prairie connotations.
  • Dodgy.  Quite a variety of uses, but probably best US translation is “sketchy.”
  • Whingy. Whiny.  Very satisfying word.  Sounds just like an annoying, creaky gate.
  • Pants.  As in “This website is pants.”   Or “Oh, pants.  I forgot my keys.”
  • Torch.  This is a flashlight.
  • Beaker. Plastic cup.
  • Brilliant. I can’t do the accent for this at all, but it’s wonderful.  Tomato soup can be brilliant.  A crouton can be brilliant.  It’s also a good sarcastic word, like if a train is cancelled.   It’s sort of the British version of great.
  • Gorgeous.  Likewise, a salad can be gorgeous, even if it’s not pretty.  Sort of a synaesthesia kind of thing.

And some that I’m not used to yet:

  • Whilst.   This makes me feel like I’m in a Jane Austen novel wearing a corset, riding in a bumpy carriage, unable to breathe at the thought of my domestic plight.  Just sounds very formal.
  • Jumper.  This is a sweater, I think, but I’ve also heard it used for a sweatshirt or a hoodie.  I always think of a horrible, shapeless plaid dress, which is what jumpers are in the States.
  • Nice.  I’m not fond of this word anyway, unless it’s used for the weather or maybe a shirt.  But I’ve noticed that here it’s used for anything from a cookie to chicken salad.   Because so many Americans use nice as a euphemism (saying, for example, “Oh, she’s nice,” when really you don’t like the person and so you say that she’s nice), I always think that any time food is called nice, it’s sarcastic, even though I know that’s not the intended meaning.  Just one of those connotation issues.
  • One-off.  At first I heard this used as a one night stand, but then I heard it in other contexts, so I’m not entirely sure of the scope.
  • Bespoke.  This drives me insane.  I guess it means “custom,” as in “custom-made tires” or something.  It doesn’t seem to mean anything and just seems shoved in front of nouns with the notion that it will distinguish them, especially in terms of advertising.
  • Adding, “don’t they,” or “haven’t I,” to the end of a sentence.  Depending on the intonation it can sound quite snarky.  Maybe Brits feel similarly when Americans say, “you know?”

Added by readers:

  • Tosser–jerk, or maybe worse..?  I’m not sure if this is really impolite or just kind of.  Like would you say it around your grandma?  (Was notified that wanker is worse than tosser.)
  • Snog–make out
  • Shag–have sex
  • Postcode–zipcode
  • Subway–pedestrian underpass?
  • Roundabout–traffic circle
  • Single (ticket)–one-way
  • Return (ticket)–round-trip
  • Pavement–sidewalk (not sure we really have the equivalent of American “pavement” … maybe just “the road”)
  • Rubbish–trash
  • Bugger–“bugger off you bloody sod”
  • Spanner–wrench
  • Skirting–baseboards
  • Made redundant–laid-off
  • Skip–dumpster
  • Central reservation–median/median strip
  • The High Street–downtown
  • Aubergine–eggplant

Other notable words and phrases:

  • “Gone all pear-shaped”     This is when something’s gone wrong.
  • The big one:  trousers vs. pants.  Pants=underwear here.  Our pants are always trousers.  At some point, I’m going to embarrass myself, probably the first day on a new job, by telling someone that I like his or her pants.   Hasn’t happened yet, but it will.
  • Ginger ale=ginger beer.  I think.  But I still hear ginger ale sometimes, so I’m still a little confused by this one.
  • Cake.  Still figuring this one out.  I made cornbread for a family meal, and even though I kept telling C. it wasn’t cake,  it was cake to him.   He also calls cookies cakes sometimes, which confuses me.  It seems that a lot of things can be cake…?
  • Pudding.  This will require at least two more years of study.  Basically, pudding covers lots of desserts eaten at the holidays, some drenched in liquor to keep them moist and then sometimes lit on fire at the table.  They look like bundt cakes and the chocolate ones can be moist and delicious.   (Note:  Dan A. says that “Pudding is any type of dessert eaten after a main savoury course often with custard. For example bread pudding, queens pudding or the venerable spotted dick.”   This helps Dan!)
  • Tea.  Tea is tea, but it’s also dinner.  ”I’m eating my tea.”  Very confusing.  (Is your tea frozen??)    Nope, it’s just dinner in England, where you eat tea in the evening.

I know there are more that I’ve come across.  There are usually a few a week.  Add any others you can think of in comments and I’ll post ‘em to the list!

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