When we moved to England from America, I didn’t expect any problems with the language. After all, English is my mother tongue. What a surprise then, when I found out that British English and American English can be very different, often using the same word to mean two different things.
Clothing is one area where this is apparent. Let’s start with undergarments, something Americans visiting Britain often mention without meaning to:
Americans wear underwear under their pants while Brits wear pants under their trousers. It can be embarrassing for an American to mention that they got their new pants on sale and then to realise that people think they are talking about their underwear.
An American wears an undershirt under his shirt (hence the name) to keep him warm, while a Brit wears a vest under his shirt for added warmth.
An American prefers to wear his vest over his shirt to look sharp, but a Brit wears a waistcoat over his shirt to look smart.
An American woman might wear garters to hold up her stockings, but a British woman would use suspenders.
American men wear suspenders to hold up their pants but British men wear braces to hold up their trousers.
Americans put braces on their teeth to straighten them and Brits do too, but hopefully not the same ones that hold up their trousers.
An American baby wears diapers and has a pacifier in his mouth, but a British baby wears nappies and has a dummy in his mouth.
Around the House
Even around the house there can be communication problems. In one of the apartments (flats) we lived in, there was a leak in the kitchen and I called the landlord to report that water was leaking around the faucet.
-Just around the bottom of the faucet.
-And where is the faucet?
-Well, it is on the sink (where else would a faucet be?)
-Ohhh, you must mean the tap.
-Well, yes, I guess so.
-An American gets water from the faucet, stores food in a cabinet, and cooks it on a burner on top of the stove.
-A Brit gets water from the tap, stores food in a cupboard, and cooks on a hob on the top of the cooker.
-An American enters a building on the first floor and walks upstairs to the second floor – unless, of course, he is really tired – then he takes the elevator.
-A Brit enters on the ground floor and walks upstairs to the first floor – unless he is really knackered – then he takes the lift.
-An American might go into the living room, sit on the sofa and watch the TV which is plugged into an electrical outlet.
-A Brit goes into the lounge, sits on the settee and watches the telly which is connected to a power point.
Automobiles / Motor Cars
Yes, cars are different too:
-An American might drive a 4 door sedan that has a hood at the front, a trunk at the back and runs on gas.
-A Brit drives a saloon with a bonnet at the front, a boot at the back and runs on petrol.
Some other interesting expressions:
I’m shocked (flabbergasted) = I’m gobsmacked.
I am so happy = I’m really chuffed (or chuffed to bits).
That’s another story = That’s a different kettle of fish.
Would you like a snack? = Do you fancy some nibbles?
Don’t get all worked up = Don’t get your knickers in a twist.
It is going well = It is tickety-boo.
And that’s it! (usually at the end of some instructions) = And Bob’s your uncle!
It all went wrong = It all went pear-shaped.
They are as different as night and day = They are like chalk and cheese.
Well, there are certainly more expressions than the ones I have listed here. Do you know of some other differences between American and British English? What are your favourites? Until next time…
Read more stories like this in my book Bowlers, Brollies, and Brits: Curious Histories of England
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