Off topic: Separated by the same language...British vs. US English
Thread poster: Libero_Lang_Lab

Libero_Lang_Lab  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:42
Member (2006)
Russian to English
+ ...
Dec 7, 2002

Oscar Wilde once wrote (In The Canterville Ghost: ‘We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language’.

Bernard Shaw (in a quote often wrongly attributed to Churchill) concurred: ‘England and America are two countries separated by the same language’, as, in fact, did Bertrand Russell, saying ‘It is a misfortune for Anglo-American friendship that the two countries are supposed to have a common language\'

As fellow posters on the Russian-English board will testify, we often find ourselves in two geographical camps, divided by the old issue of US vs British English. Examples of differences are of course numerous and well-documented (in fact the other day I even came across a translation agency that specialises in converting texts from US to UK English and vice versa). They can often be pretty funny, not to mention dangerous. So, in order to assist those looking to avoid pitfalls and pratfalls, how about compiling a \'glossary\' of UK-British translations - but just the funny ones please...

I\'ll declare my affiliations here - I\'m on the British side of the Pond. Let me kick off with a few obvious contenders:

When in London, don\'t expect to make new friends by challenging someone to a game of craps:

craps = (US) a game involving dice; crap (Brit) slang word for excrement (after the inventor of the toilet, Mr Thomas Crapper)

Americans should also avoid asking where they can purchase a fanny pack - this will produce long stares and they will be directed either to the nearest S&M shop or drugstore.Ask for a drugstore, by the way, and you may attract interest from the police. We call them chemists (but we understand pharmacy too).

fanny = (US) backside; (Brit) vagina.

Americans should not be shocked, if asked if they would like a fag when on holiday in Britain. They are simply being offered a cigarette. Similarly, a plate of faggots, in certain parts of Britain should not cause alarm, as these are simply a type of meatball (there\'s a common derivation in there somewhere, but I won\'t go looking for it).

I hope this has proved useful and instructive and look forward to further offerings in a similar vein.

[ This Message was edited by: on 2002-12-07 18:50 ]

[ This Message was edited by: on 2002-12-07 19:09 ]

[ This Message was edited by: on 2002-12-11 19:44 ]

Direct link Reply with quote
Local time: 16:42
Spanish to English
+ ...
from the other side of the pond.... Dec 7, 2002

I once had a long-term, rather informal interpreting assignment for some British tech guys installing equipment at a Spanish company, and was floored when one of them asked me if I had a \"rubber\" (he meant what I would call an \"eraser,\" but I understood \"condom\"). I had another embarrassing moment with the expression \"knock up\"--the Brits used it as \"wake up,\" while this expression in the U.S. is used as a synonym for getting a woman pregnant. Good thing everyone had a sense of humor!

Direct link Reply with quote

Alison Schwitzgebel
Local time: 16:42
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Well... Dec 7, 2002

I was just going down to the football game with some fags in my pocket to see what the crack was like.....

Let\'s not forget the Celtic influence

Football = soccer

Fags = cigarettes

Crack = a good time/what\'s happening

Direct link Reply with quote

Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:42
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Found on the Internet - hope Cornell students don't take it too literally Dec 7, 2002

I keep getting mail from Cornell students who ask my advice on travelling and researching in the UK -- apparently someone started a rumor that I knew something about it. I finally decided to compile a little guidebook containing my accumulated wisdom on the subject. I do fervently hope that someone will put it to use.


The Brits have peculiar words for many things. Money is referred to as \"goolies\" in slang, so you should for instance say \"I\'d love to come to the pub but I haven\'t got any goolies.\" \"Quid\" is the modern word for what was once called a \"shilling\" -- the equivalent of seventeen cents American. Underpants are called \"wellies\" and friends are called \"tossers.\" If you are fond of someone, you should tell him he is a \"great tosser\" -- he will be touched. The English are a notoriously demonstrative, tactile people, and if you want to fit in you should hold hands with your acquaintances and tossers when you walk down the street. Public nuzzling and licking are also encouraged, but only between people of the same sex.


Ever since their Tory government wholeheartedly embraced full union with Europe, the Brits have been attempting to adopt certain continental customs, such as the large midday meal followed by a two- or three-hour siesta , which they pronounce \"sista\". As this is still a fairly new practice in Britain, it is not uncommon for people to oversleep (alarm clocks, alas, do not work there due to the magnetic pull from Greenwich). If you are late for supper, simply apologize and explain that you were having your sista -- everyone will understand and forgive you.


University archives and manuscript collections are still governed by quaint medieval rules retained out of respect for tradition; hence patrons are expected to bring to the reading rooms their own ink-pots and a small knife for sharpening their pens. Observing these customs will signal the librarians that you are \"in the know\" -- one of the inner circle, as it were, for the rules are unwritten and not posted anywhere in the library. Likewise, it is customary to kiss the librarian on both cheeks when he brings a manuscript you\'ve requested, a practice dating back to the reign of Henry VI. One of the most delighful ways to spend an afternoon in Oxford or Cambridge is gliding gently down the river in one of their flat-bottomed boats, which you propel using a long pole. This is known as \"cottaging.\" Many of the boats (called \"yer-I-nals\") are privately owned by the colleges, but there are some places that rent them to the public by the hour. Just tell a professor or policeman that you are interested in doing some cottaging and would like to know where the public yerinals are. The poles must be treated with vegetable oil to protect them from the water, so it\'s a good idea to buy a can of Crisco and have it on you when you ask directions to the yerinals. That way people will know you are an experienced cottager.


British cuisine enjoys a well deserved reputation as the most sublime gastronomic pleasure available to man. Thanks to today\'s robust dollar, the American traveler can easily afford to dine out several times a week (rest assured that a British meal is worth trading your sista for). Few foreigners are aware that there are several grades of meat in the UK. The best cuts of meat, like the best bottles of gin, bear Her Majesty\'s seal, called the British Stamp of Excellence (BSE). When you go to a fine restaurant, tell your waiter you want BSE beef and won\'t settle for anything less. If he balks at your request, custom dictates that you jerk your head imperiously back and forth while rolling your eyes to show him who is boss. Once the waiter realizes you are a person of discriminating taste, he may offer to let you peruse the restaurant\'s list of exquisite British wines. If he doesn\'t, you should order one anyway. The best wine grapes grow on the steep, chalky hillsides of Yorkshire and East Anglia -- try an Ely \'84 or Ripon \'88 for a rare treat indeed. When the bill for your meal comes it will show a suggested amount. Pay whatever you think is fair, unless you plan to dine there again, in which case you should simply walk out; the restaurant host will understand that he should run a tab for you.


Public taxis are subsidized by the Her Majesty\'s Government. A taxi ride in London costs two pounds, no matter how far you travel. If a taxi driver tries to overcharge you, you should yell \"I think not, you charlatan!\", then grab the nearest bobby and have the driver arrested. It is rarely necessary to take a taxi, though, since bus drivers are required to make detours at patrons\' requests. Just board any bus, pay your fare of thruppence (the heavy gold-colored coins are \"pence\"), and state your destination clearly to the driver, e.g.: \"Please take me to the British Library.\" A driver will frequently try to have a bit of harmless fun by pretending he doesn\'t go to your requested destination. Ignore him, as he is only teasing the American tourist (little does he know you\'re not so ignorant!). Speaking of the British Library, you should know that it has recently moved to a new location at Kew. Kew is a small fishing village in Wales. It can be reached by taking the train to Cardiff; once there, ask any local about the complimentary shuttle bus to Kew. (Don\'t forget that buses are called \"prams\" in England, and trains are called \"bumbershoots\"--it\'s a little confusing at first. Motorcycles are called \"lorries\" and the hospital, for reasons unknown, is called the \"off-license.\" It\'s also very important to know that a \"doctor\" only means a PhD in England, not a physician. If you want a physician, you must ask for an \"MP\" (which stands for \"master physician\"). For those travelling on a shoestring budget, the London Tube may be the most economical way to get about, especially if you are a woman. Chivalry is alive and well in Britain, and ladies still travel for free on the Tube. Simply take some tokens from the baskets at the base of the escalators or on the platforms; you will find one near any of the state-sponsored Tube musicians. Once on the platform, though, beware! Approaching trains sometimes disurb the large Gappe bats that roost in the tunnels. The Gappes were smuggled into London in the early 19th century by French saboteurs and have proved impossible to exterminate. The announcement \"Mind the Gappe!\" is a signal that you should grab your hair and look towards the ceiling. Very few people have ever been killed by Gappes, though, and they are considered only a minor drawback to an otherwise excellent means of transportation. (If you have difficulty locating the Tube station, merely follow the signs that say \"Subway\" and ask one of the full-time attendants where you can catch the bumbershoot.) One final note: for preferential treatment when you arrive at Heathrow airport, announce that you are a member of Shin Fane (an international Jewish peace organization -- the \"shin\" stands for \"shalom\"). As savvy travellers know, this little white lie will assure you priority treatment as you make your way through customs; otherwise you could waste all day in line. You might, in fact, want to ask a customs agent to put a Shin Fane stamp in your passport, as it will expedite things on your return trip. Bollocks to your mum! (\"farewell and good health to your family\") -Jo

Copyright ©1996, 1997 Jo Miller,,

Yo! This Guide is copyrighted--if you decide to forward it to all your tossers, you MUST include the URL and copyright information. Ta. (I\'ll explain what \"ta\" means in the next Guide update...)

If anyone does decide to plagiarize the Guide (not that you would, but would you believe some little Oxford creep called Kit Morris actually did?), one of the 10,000 people who have visited this site will let me know.

Direct link Reply with quote
Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
A pissed guy was walking on the pavement without his pants Dec 8, 2002

Very confusing: In the UK, he is drunk, walking on the sidewalk without his underpants. If he is looking for a restaurant on the first floor to have an entrée, once again, both the location and the dish are going to be different on both sides of the pond. The poor guy may have to put up with plain chips. If a pack of American chips can do the job, that is.

The use of BE \"whilst\" instead of \"while\" is regional in speech, but \"whilst\" is nearly always used in official documents, signs and instructions. This is because in some Northern dialects, \"while\" means \"until\". Not knowing this caused a number of fatalities when automatic level (railway) crossings were first introduced with signs saying \"do not cross the track while the lights are flashing\"; people in the North waited for the flashing lights before crossing the line. Similarly instructions on equipment \"do not press start while this cover is removed\" have had to be changed for England.

By the way, did you get my text yesterday? If you live in America, make sure you check this and other meanings at:

Direct link Reply with quote

Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:42
German to English
The varities of English Dec 8, 2002

Thanks for bringing up the subject, Dan. As you know, we also have plenty of disagreements at the English (monolingual) KudoZ site about what constitutes English.

I can\'t beat Jack\'s piece for humor, but here\'s a little selection from an online American English - British English dictionary that might be of interest.

Blow me - When an English colleague of mine exclaimed \"Blow Me\" in front of a large American audience, he brought the house down. It is simply an exclamation of surprise, short for \"Blow me down\", meaning something like I am so surprised you could knock me over just by blowing. Similar to \"Well knock me down with a feather\". It is not a request for services to be performed.

Excuse me - This is a great one! It\'s what kids are taught to say when they belch in public. We are also taught to say \"pardon me\" if we fart out loud. Unfortunately in American \"excuse me\" means you are encroaching in someone\'s personal space and you say \"pardon me\" when you don\'t hear someone properly. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that actually Americans are not belching and farting all the time.

Full of beans - This means to have loads of energy. It is a polite way of saying that a child is a maniac. I was often described as being full of beans as a kid and now it is my wife\'s way of telling me to keep still when she is trying to get to sleep. Strangely the same expression in some parts of the US means that you are exaggerating or talking bollocks!

How\'s your father? - This is a very old term for sex which plays on our apparent British sensitivity. Rather than saying the actual \"sex\" word you could refer to having a bit of How\'s your Father, instead - nudge, nudge, wink, wink. The sort of old fashioned saying dragged up by Austin Powers.

Keep your pecker up - This is one way of saying keep your chin up. Use with caution as in some places your pecker is also your willy!

See also:

Direct link Reply with quote
Maria Riegger  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:42
Spanish to English
+ ...
Crappy Dec 8, 2002


FYI \"crap\" is also slang in the US for \"excrement.\" If something is \"crappy,\" it\'s not usable or functional, or is just plain bad.


P.D. Also among teenagers in the US about 5 years ago (not really current anymore), if something was \"bad,\" it was actually \"really good.\"

Direct link Reply with quote

Libero_Lang_Lab  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:42
Member (2006)
Russian to English
+ ...
Good to know... Dec 8, 2002

...that we\'ve managed to export some slang as well as just import it.

Bad, wicked etc are commonly used in the UK to mean \'good\' too.

Other slang terms meaning \'good\' in common usage here at various stages in the last decade:




Nuff said

Direct link Reply with quote
Local time: 16:42
Spanish to English
+ ...
American pronunciation Dec 29, 2002

perhaps this is going off at a tangent, but it is along the same line of thinking... has anyone else(probably someone living abroad like me) noticed the changes in pronunciation in B.B.C. reports.I was keeping a list and was rearing to send off one of those \"Annoyed,Cheltenham\" letters to them,when my local cable company arbitrarily whipped off the B.B.C. and replaced it with the C.N.N. One of the words that most struck me was \"incursion\" pronounced with the strong sibilant sound as in \"version\" .Will stop here having got that off my chest. Sheila.

Direct link Reply with quote
Local time: 16:42
Spanish to English
+ ...
correction! Dec 29, 2002

have just realised I SHOULD have said I´d heard \"incursion\" pronounced with the sibilant sound in e.g.\"lesion\" and not the softer one as in \"version\" which is the way I´ve always pronounced it.Come to think of it ,they also seem to pronounce \"version\" that way too.Perhaps I´ll protest about \"different THAN\" and not \"from\"-another bee in my bonnet...

Direct link Reply with quote

Paul Dixon  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:42
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Some quaint differences May 3, 2010

I am British born and bred, but here in Brazil American English definitely has the upper hand. (Indeed, going a bit off topic, Brazil loves all things American - for example, the local sports paper has full-page NBA coverage and only a few lines at best about the Premier League - and not a word about cricket; also here in Brazil we have 25-cent coins (copying the American quarter) rather than the usual 20)

Well, the fact is that when I started in the translation profession I was baffled at some Americanisms. One that particularly foxed me for a while was having to write "pacifier" instead of "dummy". Also, some pronunciation sounded (and still sounds) odd to me, such as leisure /lee-zhr/ instead of the British /leh-zhr/. Then we have those unusual spellings - I have got used to "color" and "theater" but for some reason can't get myself to put "canceled" for "cancelled" - it just doesn't look right IMHO.

The most potentially embarrassing difference is for the word fag, which in the UK is a cigarette (and also an act of older students humiliating new Public School students), but in the US is a gay. (Ah, and a "public school" in the UK is not state-owned, but incredibly expensive).

Direct link Reply with quote
Brian Young  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:42
Danish to English
fag May 3, 2010

Hi Paul
Many years ago the word "fag" was also in common in the US, meaning cigarette. Do you have a fag? A very common question. I can clearly remember that. I am not sure when the meaning as "gay" took over. I don't think anyone would ask another person if they had a fag today.

Direct link Reply with quote

David Eunice  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:42
Japanese to English
You must have gotten your dialects crossed whilst attempting wit May 4, 2010

Dan Brennan wrote:

fanny = (US) backside; (Brit) vagina.

C'mon! Fanny in BrE is not vagina, a recent Americanism
for the external part of female genitalia.
More anatomically precise would be pudendum.

[Edited at 2010-05-04 11:19 GMT]

Direct link Reply with quote

To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:

You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

Separated by the same language...British vs. US English

Advanced search

The words you want Anywhere, Anytime

WordFinder is the market's fastest and easiest way of finding the right word, term, translation or synonym in one or more dictionaries. In our assortment you can choose among more than 120 dictionaries in 15 languages from leading publishers.

More info »
PDF Translation - the Easy Way
TransPDF converts your PDFs to XLIFF ready for professional translation.

TransPDF converts your PDFs to XLIFF ready for professional translation. It also puts your translations back into the PDF to make new PDFs. Quicker and more accurate than hand-editing PDF. Includes free use of Infix PDF Editor with your translated PDFs.

More info »

  • All of
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search