Tuesday, April 7, 2009

British and American English: Like chalk and cheese

Last week I wrote about the seemingly small but significant communication gap that exists between British English and American English. I’m planning to devote my Wednesday posts to this topic for the next few weeks. I’ve been thinking about how best to condense the information because whole dictionaries have been written attempting to do just that and once I really got to thinking about it all I felt just a tad bit overwhelmed.

I mean, do I want to write about words we both use that have completely different meanings depending which side of the pond you stand on? Take the word pants for example. The first time I stepped into my local dry cleaners there was a young man working behind the counter and the shopkeeper was also there but was busy tagging laundry. I was just another anonymous customer until I said, ‘I’d like to leave four pair of pants for dry cleaning please.’ That certainly got their attention. I knew instantly I’d said or done something wrong but what??? As I eventually learned pants are always called trousers here. If you use the word pants then you’re talking about underwear (pants is short for underpants). It took me a while but I can now walk into my cleaners with confidence and say ‘I have four pair of trousers and two jumpers to be cleaned.’ The words just roll right off my tongue. And, oh by the way, jumper is another one of those words. What I call a sweater in the states I would call a jumper here. At least I would if I wanted to be understood.

You might say British English and American English are as different as chalk and cheese. Or you might not if you’re an American reading this because that isn’t an expression used in the states. So, do I want to write about phrases used here that you never hear in America? That has real possibilities too. I love the phrase ‘spot on’. As in, ‘wow, your post on this topic is spot on!’ In other words, exactly right. I didn’t need to explain that one did I?

I’ve decided the easiest route will be to go topic by topic…words and phrases used in different parts of everyday life. So if you want to know how I would answer commonly asked questions relating to eating, food shopping, and cooking such as ‘Would you like a white coffee?’ or ‘Would you like salad on that sandwich? and ‘Did you want it on a bap?’ then your curiosity will be satisfied next Wednesday when I’ll blog about all things food related. If you’d like to know why rocking up to a restaurant for a Ruby Murray is one of our favourite things to do here then I’ll explain that too. And, if you think a digestive biscuit has something to with settling your stomach or you think jelly is jelly and pudding is pudding then you definitely need to stay tuned.

And about these Wednesday posts… I do realize this one is a bit dodgy, filled with bits and bobs. But please don’t get your knickers in a twist. I’ll have it sorted Wednesday week.

And one more thing…I often sign my posts with the word Cheers and I know some of you are thinking she drinks when she blogs. I know I have always associated the word Cheers with clinking glasses. But the word Cheers in the UK is also used as an informal way of saying thanks or goodbye. I hear it at least 5 or 6 times a day here and using the word has become automatic. Do I ever get a funny look when I say it? Only when I’m on that side of the pond!


  1. Is Cheers a short version of Cheerio? Somewhere in the back of my mind I associate Cheerio with things British.

    Your Wednesday posts should help prepare me for my trip to London in October.

  2. Now you have my interest piqued, I can't wait to here more. White coffee? Salad on a sandwich? On a bap? Fun post Joyce.


  3. Love it! I have my guesses on your food preview terms, but I'll keep them to myself. ;)

    With all his trips to the UK, Charlie now says "Right" all the time. As a substitute for Okay. As in, "Right. Well, the first thing we need to do is..." I mock him mercilessly.

  4. This is so much fun, Joyce. I can't wait until next Wednesday.
    Do you think the people there ever laugh when Americans say words different....like when you said "pants" at the dry cleaners?

    It's all so very interesting. Again, I just love your blog and love learning more about the UK.

    Cheers! (definitely love that one! I think it's gonna be my word for the day...and I'm not drinking either) ;)


  5. Love this! And yes, I choked up at the immigration desk yesterday, the nice man said, Welcome Home y'all! I could have hugged him. :)


  6. Joyce,

    This is very difinitely spot on. In fact, I think you will teach me a word or phrase or two since I have only been here for 11 months. I can't wait to learn some new English lingo.


  7. Do they still use the word Lori for Truck and biscuit for cookie.. Mince meat for hamburger? I am sitting here trying to remember the words.. it has been a while since I was there...... Does everyone still call each other 'Love'..... I found that to be pretty funny........ another one that is so funny to this day was one weekend when me and a friend was going to London with her boyfriend, who was a Lori driver..... He was going to pick me up first as I lived closer to him....... He was telling me what time he would be by to pick me up and he said " I will knock you up at 8:00" Well I have to tell you that we laughed and laughed when I told him what he said in "English" hahahahha.. The doors to the houses all had big knockers on the outside and you would hear that thing from back in the house! I wish I had brought one home with me......

    I loved those days

  8. What in sam hill is a bap!?!? I also want to know what bullocks is. (I hope I didn't just type a bad word on your blog. Forgive me if I did, okay?)

    How interesting. Salad on a sandwich? Imagine that.

  9. Happy Easter Joyce.
    Praying all is well with you!