More Mixed-up English


The English Language, still causing confusion
After the last post, I received some funny stories, some from the British point of view, so I thought I would continue the topic and share a few of these.

Do you need a rest or a bath?
One thing that can cause misunderstandings between the Americans and the Brits is bathroom / toilet vocabulary.


-Bathroom – in the UK it is a room where one can bathe.  In the US, it could be the same thing or it could contain only a toilet.
-Toilet – in the UK is the room where the WC (water closet) is.  Also called WC, loo, or lavatory.  In the US, a man might call a toilet a john (a term not normally used by women).
-In the US a room with a toilet and sink might be called a powder room (where ladies go to powder their noses) or a restroom. (But a restroom could also mean a room with a bath in it).

A British friend once told me of an American visitor who was speaking at a conference in the UK.  He asked someone for the restroom and was taken to a lovely room with a sofa and nice soft chairs – just perfect for resting.  Boy, was he confused!  And the Brits were wondering why the American needed to rest before the meeting had even started.

Occasionally one will see the term cloakroom used to mean toilet.  When I was new to this city and looking at ads for apartments, I saw one that boasted of a “guest cloakroom”.  I wondered what it could be.  Was it a closet/cupboard for coats?  Why would that be a special feature?  Then after thinking about it I realised that I hadn’t actually seen any flats with coat cupboards so maybe it was something special.  Soon after, while viewing a different flat I heard the estate agent, who was around the corner, say “oh, and there is a guest cloakroom”.  I hurried around the corner and found her in a hallway with two closed doors.  I had a 50/50 chance.  I opened one and saw that it was a closet/ cupboard and said “oh yes, a guest cloakroom”.  The estate agent looked a bit surprised, opened the other door revealing a toilet and said, “no, this is the guest cloakroom”.  — It looked like a restroom to me…

How a bit of rude slang could make you sound like an alcoholic

3 beers

US:  pissed = (shortened version of pissed off) =  to be angry.

UK:  pissed off = angry

UK:  pissed = to be drunk

Barry, a Brit, relates that he has an American business associate who often explains to his audience, of 200-300 Brits that when he reads about the latest bank scandal he gets ‘pissed‘. He also gets ‘pissed’ every time he reads the finance section of a newspaper and again after watching the news in the evening.  The Brits in the audience are thinking, “Well, that’s as good an excuse as any for having a few pints, but this lad certainly likes his beer”!  According to Barry, when this guy picks up a newspaper a crowd  forms around him.  The Brits are hoping they will be invited along for the beer.


An innocent request

US: eraser = UK: rubber
US: rubber = condom

Here is a really funny story related by Tim, a Brit, about a friend with a young daughter who collected novelty erasers.  He went into a Christian book store in the US and …
Mr X: Good Morning
Lady behind counter: Morning Sir, how may I help you?
Mr X: I’d like to buy some rubbers
Lady (blushing): Sir, we don’t sell that kind of thing here. This is a Christian bookstore.
Mr X: Oh, that’s a shame. They’re for my daughter. She really wanted one with the Stars and Stripes on it…
Lady (bright red): Sir, I…
Mr X: I also thought you might stock some rubbers with Bible verses printed on them.
Lady: Would you excuse me for a second, I’m calling the manager!

Jeff also experienced a moment of confusion with these terms.  He was a newly arrived American, sitting in a class in the UK, when an attractive lady leaned over to him and whispered, “Do you have a rubber?”  At first he was taken aback (and maybe a bit flattered?) but then he quickly realised that she just wanted to borrow an eraser.

Thanks to those of you who shared your stories.  I hope everyone had a chuckle and maybe  expanded their “English” vocabulary.  If you have other experiences to share, feel free to post them in the comments section.

Read more stories like this in my book Bowlers, Brollies, and Brits: Curious Histories of England

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Margo Lestz


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