British English Glossary
Anorak - The British term
for a windbreaker or parka.
- This is the general British term for "voicemail" or "answering
machine", as in "I called you, but it went to answerphone".
Anti-clockwise - The
British equivalent of "counter-clockwise".
- In the UK, "Asian" refers only to people from India,
Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, or their descendants. If you need to refer to a group of Chinese
or Japanese people, you should probably use the term "Orientals", as
it's not considered offensive in the UK. Just know that if
a British person says something about "an Asian man", they're talking
about a person from the Indian subcontinent (i.e. Indian or Pakistani).
- The British word for eggplant. Aubergine is a French word,
which came into French from the Catalan albergina, which itself came
from the Arabic al-bethinjan. So why do Americans and Australians
call it an "eggplant"? It's a bit of a mystery - a surprisingly deep
mystery, in fact - but the word "eggplant" dates from around 1767
and might be connected to the first version of the fruit to
arrive in Britain (which was white, and therefore did look like
something like an egg). Whether "eggplant" came first and was displaced
by the more poncey aubergine at some point after the American Revolution is up
- English bacon is more or less the same as Canadian bacon.
If you want American-style bacon, ask for "crispy bacon". Most
sandwiches that come with bacon come with "crispy bacon".
Also, an individual piece of bacon is called a rasher, so if you'd like
some more bacon, ask for "another rasher" instead of "another piece".
- Slang for a soft roll, or a sandwich made from said soft roll. Be
careful in using this, as "baps" (note the plural) is also slang
for breasts. So if you see a woman holding two delicious-looking
sandwiches, it's best not to say "nice baps!" to her unless you want
to get slapped.
Barmcake - Also slang for
a sandwich, although I've never actually heard this one before.
Bed and Breakfast
- In the US, a "bed and breakfast" is a quaint and cozy hotel,
typically rather upscale, and almost always located in an
older (historic) house. American couples
go there for romantic weekend getaways. In the UK, a "bed and
breakfast" is simply a small (usually family-run) hotel that offers
rooms and breakfasts. They are almost always of the "budget traveler"
variety and come with varying degrees of "quaint" and "cozy". There are
certainly many wonderful "bed and breakfasts" in the UK, however
there are just as many nasty ones too. In general, American "bed and
breakfast" hotels are of a much higher caliber than British ones, so
keep that in mind whilst making lodging arrangements.
- A ballpoint pen. The ballpoint pen was invented by a Hungarian
named László Bíró, and outside the United States it's (supposedly) a
fairly common term. Although pretty much every British English glossary (including
this one) mentions this word, I've only heard it used once or twice in
my British travels. "Pen" works just fine, so there's no need to use
this word yourself.
- Biscuit is the traditional English word for "cookie", although
you will probably find that most cookies of an
American origin (like chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies) are sold
as "cookies" or "American-style cookies" and not biscuits.
Bollocks - Bollocks
originally referred to testicles, however in the past century the word has
become a popular slang term for anything unpleasant ("That movie was
bollocks!") or as an exclamation of anger, defiance or disbelief
("Bollocks to this!"). However, if something is referred to as
the bullocks (or "the dog's bollocks"), it means something good,
as in "I just won the lottery! Isn't that the dog's bollocks!". Why dog
testicles came to represent something good is a mystery to me.
UPDATE: jimcofer.com reader Duncan
sent me an email offering a possible origin of the phrase "the dog's
bollocks": because dogs seem to always be licking their private parts,
they must be good.
Bomb - When used to
measure the popularity of a movie, play, book, album, etc., this word
has completely different meanings on either side of the Atlantic.
In America, a movie that "bombs" is a complete failure; in Britain a
movie "bombing" is a good thing, as this means that it's exploding in
Bonnet - The hood of a
Boob tube - (slang)
An amusing example of differences between American and British English,
a "boob tube" is a low-cut halter top in the UK but a slang term for a
television in the US.
(to) book - Most any
situation that would call for a "reservation" in the US would call for a
"booking" in the UK. For instance, you'll need to book a hotel
room for your stay in the UK and you might also want to get a booking
for a nice restaurant.
Boot - The trunk of a
Braces - In the UK, it's
the word for two straps of fabric worn over the shoulders
that keep your pants from falling down. In the US, the generic term is
suspenders. However, to be completely accurate, in America
suspenders are the type of suspender that have "teeth hooks" and can
connect to any pair of pants, while braces are suspenders
with button holes on the ends that require buttons on the inside of the pants.
Note that the word suspenders means "garter belt" in the UK;
although the term applies to both male and female varieties of garter,
the fact that men hardly wear them these days means that for the most
part, "suspenders" means "female garter belt" in the UK... so you might
get odd looks asking for suspenders in the men's section of a department
store. Lastly, note that in both countries, the word braces can also refer
to orthodontic devices used to straighten teeth.
A ubiquitous British condiment found on the tables of nearly every pub,
diner and chip shop. It's used on chips (fries), sandwiches and just
about anywhere else an American would use ketchup. Brown sauce is
very similar to America's A1 steak sauce; in fact, without having
the two side-by-side they're almost indistinguishable. You won't find
this on the tables of nicer restaurants, just as you won't find ketchup
on the table at nice restaurants in the US.
- A busker is a street performer of some kind, usually a
musician. Busking is the act of performing on the street or a
Tube station. Look for "No Busking" signs at Tube stations or
near tourist attractions.
- The British term for "cotton candy".
- A recreational vehicle that is towed by a car. It's commonly
called a trailer in the US, or an RV (for "recreational
vehicle") if it's big enough to come with its own steering wheel. You
might remember the many caravan scenes from Guy Ritchie's film Snatch.
- A parking lot or deck.
- Also "cash point". The most common term for an ATM (automated teller
machine). You might also hear ATMs referred to as "cash machines".
- In addition to being a toast, "cheers" is also the generic term for "goodbye"
or "thanks", especially when dealing with strangers in
informal situations. When
you complete a transaction at a shop or let a stranger borrow your
lighter, they'll probably thank you with a "cheers!" Do not use this
word if you deeply mean your thanks - it's a very informal word.
Chemist - British English for a pharmacist, although it
can (and does) apply to the drug store where the pharmacist works, too.
So if you're walking down the street and suddenly develop stomach pains,
you might want to find a chemist's (drug store) to ask the
chemist (pharmacist) what you should take for it. This word also has the same meaning as the American term of "a person who has a degree
- A restaurant that sells fish and chips (and perhaps curries, burgers
and pizza as well). These are almost always "takeaway" (take out)
- French fries. I think every living English speaker knows this one,
- Happy, as in "I'm chuffed to be off that $@(! airplane!"
- Strictly speaking, cinemas have movies while theatres
have plays in the UK. The terms are not interchangeable as they are in
- A generic British term for someone who works in an administrative position. It's always
pronounced "clark" in the UK. The people in shops that help you with
things are called assistants (or shop assistants) in the
UK (as opposed to clerks, which they are sometimes called in the
- A polite euphemism for "toilet" in the UK.
Coach - For some reason,
a bus is called a bus when it's an intracity bus, but a
coach when it's an intercity one. So you'd take a bus from
one part of London to another, but a coach from London to
Manchester. I don't know why this is exactly; perhaps it's
because coaches have toilets? Maybe it's a holdover from the old days of
horse-drawn coaches? At any rate, even if Brits
will know what you mean if you ask for "the bus from London to
Liverpool", you'll avoid some unnecessary confusion by using these terms
Concession - In the UK, a
concession is a discount given to certain demographic groups,
usually for admission to movie theatres, museums, etc. It's analogous to
the American "senior citizen discount" or "student discount",
concession is a blanket term that covers all groups.
Interestingly, the American use of concession comes from
another meaning of the word, this one being "granting a business a
license to operate within the property of another business". In America,
the only concession businesses that most people ever
patronized were hot
dog stands at baseball games or food vendors at train stations. Over
time the American idea of "concession = food" became so commonplace that
even food sold at movie theatres is sold at "concession stands", even
though the theatre itself owns the stand.
Corn - In the UK, corn
the word used for almost every type of grain. The specific North
American plant Americans call "corn" is called maize in Britain.
Courgette - The British
term for zucchini. Like aubergine, courgette is a French
word, coming from courge (gourd), which in turn came from the Old
French cohourde, which itself came from the Latin cucurbita.
Zucchini is known by its Italian name in America, as it was popularized
here by Italian immigrants.
- Potato chips. Almost as many people know this one as do "chips".
Engaged - A phone line
that's "busy" in the US would be engaged in the UK. All other
uses of the word "engaged" Americans will be used to - such as
busy ("I can't do lunch - I'm engaged") or two people in a commitment to get married
("John and Jane got engaged!") - also apply in the UK as
Ensuite - A hotel room
with a bathroom included. Most any large hotel will have "ensuite
rooms" by default, but many of the smaller touristy hotels have shared bathrooms.
If your hotel looks as if it might have been a private home at one point in its
life, you might want to make sure that your reservation is for "an ensuite".
Note that this word refers to a room with a bathroom attached only,
not to the bathroom itself. NEVER say something like "I need to
go to the ensuite".
Estate - In the UK, this
refers to any defined area of property, such as a council estate
(housing project) or trading estate (industrial park). It also
has the same legal meaning of "someone's stuff" as in the US (as in
"disposing of your grandfather's estate").
- (slang) In British English, fanny is an extremely
vulgar term for a female body part. You should never, ever use this term
in polite company, so keep that in mind if you need to refer to your
"fanny pack" - a bag with a built-in belt designed to rest on the lower
back - in public.
- There is almost no end to the confusion surrounding these
words, so let me try to break it down for you: fillet (pronounced
fee-lay) is a French word whose usage in English means "a strip of meat"
(usually beef or fish). On the other hand, filet (pronounced
fill-it) is an English word that originally meant "a net or lace with
a simple pattern of squares" and "a strip of fabric used as a headband".
In time filet came to include many other "strip like" things - including
a strip of beef. Yes, both words have the same root - the Latin word
filum, which means "thread" - but the
French term is only used in America. So if you go to a British
restaurant and the waiter mentions a "filet" they're running as a
special... he's not butchering French, he's using an English word that
(while similar to the French word) simply has a different pronunciation
in English. On the other hand, as far as I can tell, the British
pronunciation of anchovy (ANK-ohvee, kind of like the first
syllable of "anchor" with an "ohvee" at the end), is a complete
bastardization of the Spanish word.
drink - A carbonated beverage, typically a soda like Coca-Cola.
Beware that in Britain "lemonade" refers to citrus-based carbonated beverages like
Sprite or 7-Up. If you want American-style lemonade, ask for "flat
- An old-school British term for "washcloth"; since washcloths are
somewhat rare in budget hotels, you might need to ask the front desk for
- A period of time consisting of two weeks. It comes from the phrase
"fourteen nights". Amazingly, most Americans are unfamiliar with this
word these days, even though it used to be much more common in
- A traditional English breakfast, usually consisting of fried eggs,
English bacon, sausages, fried mushrooms, fried tomatoes, baked beans
and toast. It's also sometimes called a "full English".
Fruit machine - This is
called a "slot machine" or a "one-armed bandit" in the United States. I
don't know how often this will come up in your travels, but I added it
for the sake of completeness.
Full Stop - The type of
punctuation mark that is commonly called a period in the United
States. British people often use "full stop" in a sentence to emphasize
that they really mean something... just as Americans would use "period",
as in "You are not dating that guy... full stop!".
Gaol - This is the "old school"
way of spelling "jail" in the UK. It's pronounced exactly like
"jail", just spelled a bit differently. Gaol is rapidly
falling out of fashion in Britain in favor of the Americanized "jail",
but gaol is the only official way to spell it in Australia and
Garden - The space in the
front and\or back of your home where green stuff grows is
called a garden in the UK. In American English the term is yard, with garden being reserved for patches of plants grown
for a specific reason (like a vegetable garden) or for a
highly-organized area of plantings (like a flower garden). The Brits
only use "yard" in the industrial sense of a "large place where work is
done", like a scrap yard or ship yard. Note that even a tiny patch of concrete with one
potted plant in it - typical for a lot of townhomes in London -
is called a garden in the UK. It's referring to a place,
not to a specific botanical thing.
Gas - As you might know,
gasoline is called petrol in the UK. What you might not know is
that gas refers to natural gas exclusively
in the UK.
Geezer - In the UK, this
is a general term for "a man" and is usually used when referring to someone
that the speaker has no relationship with, as in "I got directions from
this geezer on the street corner". In the US, the term refers
exclusively to elderly men and is considered mildly offensive. The British meaning is not considered to be
offensive (but it *is* informal) and its usage implies nothing regarding the age of the target person.
If the person that gave you directions to a restaurant is 17 years-old, he's still a
geezer in the UK.
Ginger - People don't
have "red" hair in the UK, they have "ginger" hair. Of course, ginger is
also a popular spice in the UK, too.
Ground floor - In the UK,
this refers to the first floor of a building. For a typical 3-storey
building in the USA, the floors would be labeled "first floor, second
floor, third floor" while in the UK they would be labeled "ground
floor, first floor, second floor".
Half-six - When giving
time, a British person might say that it's "half six", which means
6:30. The phrase was
originally "half past six", but over time it was shortened to
just "half-six". Note that in German (and perhaps other languages) "half-six" means 5:30, as in German the phrase originally meant
"halfway to six o'clock".
- "High street" is analogous to the American "main street" in
that it refers to both the main thoroughfare of a town as well
as the nation as a whole (as in "crack cocaine has
finally hit the high street"). However in the UK it also refers to the
nation's retailers, as in "the high street had dismal sales this holiday
season". Of course, this usage is hardly unknown in the US, but in
America most business references to "main street" imply smaller
businesses, such as "Wal Mart is forcing main street out of business".
In the UK, "high street" applies to retailers as a whole, regardless of
- To rent something for a short while. For a tourist, this usually
means "hiring" a car or bicycle.
- In America, homely means "lacking in physical beauty or
proportion" and "plain and unpretentious". Thus, a "homely house"
is plain and without decoration, perhaps a long-abandoned home that has
recently been purchased and is awaiting refurbishment. In the US, the
word usually refers to a female - "a homely girl". In
this case, she is specifically a girl that is not only unattractive, but dresses plainly
or old-fashioned as well. One would rarely call an unattractive but
smartly dressed girl
"homely", and an attractive woman that's plainly dressed would be called
"frumpy". In Britain, "homely" has the same meaning as "homey" in the
US. Thus, a warm, comfortable and cozy house would be called "homely" in
- Hospitals are pretty much the same in the US and UK. However, Brits
almost always drop the definite article "the" before the word. So a
friend might be "in hospital" instead of "in the hospital" as they would
be in the US.
- An intermission period, most commonly used at theatres. If you go to a
play, it will probably have an interval.
- baked potatoes, specifically baked potatoes with the skin ("jacket")
still on. Jacket potatoes are a popular item on British menus, and
often come with a variety of toppings, including cheese, bacon, and\or
onions... I've even jacket potatoes with tuna salad on them!
- Boy, is this one confusing! In the US, jam and jelly are
basically the same thing: a type of fruit preserve (the difference
between the two is that a jam has bits of fruit in it (like strawberry
jam) while a jelly does not (like grape jelly)). In the UK, either type of
preserve is called a jam, whilst jelly is reserved for a
gelatin-based dessert that Americans most often refer to by the brand
- A jumper is what they call a sweater in the UK. In the
US, the word most often refers to one-piece outfits for babies or
Leads - Also called jump leads, this is the British term
for "jumper cables".
Kebab - A type of
sandwich which is very similar to what Americans would call a gyro.
It's interesting to note that the words for the two very similar
sandwiches come from different countries: doner kebab is Turkish
in origin, whilst gyro is (of course) Greek.
Presumably, doner kebabs became popular in the UK due to either Turkish
immigrants to England or Turkish immigrants to Germany (from where the
sandwich migrated to the UK). In the US, large numbers of
Greek immigrants seem to have cornered the market on the sandwich. If
you are in the UK and want meat served on a skewer, just ask for it by
its full name of shish kebab, as a generic kebab is like a
Kerb - The edge of a
sidewalk, spelled "curb" in the US. In British English, "curb" has the
same meaning as the American sense of "restraining or limiting
something", as in "to curb your desires".
Kit - In the US, a "kit"
is a collection of items gathered for a specific purpose, such as a
first-aid kit or shaving kit. In the UK, kit is used on a much
broader basis. Although it usually refers to some electronic gizmo (i.e.
"His new mobile phone is a cool piece of kit!"), it can be used to
refer to just about anything in the UK, including sports uniforms
("Do you like Manchester United's new kit?").
- In the US, a lamp is a type of light that
plugs into an electrical outlet and uses incandescent, halogen or
fluorescent bulbs to produce light. A lantern is a lighting
device used for a temporary purpose that uses batteries and an
incandescent bulb or burns oil to
produce light. Well, guess what? In the UK, these are totally flipped:
you'd have lanterns on your nightstand but use a lamp to
check on the cows out in the barn. Note that the Brits use the word
torch to refer to a battery-powered flashlight; thus a lamp
is a portable light powered by oil only.
- To rent something for a longer time than "hiring". It's usually used
in reference to apartments or office space. You'll see signs that say
"Office Space To Let", for example.
Lift - An elevator.
Loo - A toilet (see
Toilet). There is a lot of argument over the origin of this word,
the most popular being that it was ripped from the French gardez
l'eau - "watch out for the water!" - from back in the good ol' days
when people flung the contents of chamber pots out of their windows and
into the street.
This is one of those terms only Brits and Australians should use - it
just sounds silly when Americans or Canadians talk about "going to the loo".
Lorry - A truck. Pickup
trucks don't appear to be too common in the UK, so "lorry" usually
refers to what Americans would call a "panel truck".
- The main courses served at a restaurant or pub. Where an American menu
would say "entrées", a British one would say "mains".
For example, it's
common for British pubs to have signs in their windows advertising "2 mains for £7.50"
or something similar. "Mains" also refers to the main
household electrical system, as in "the reason you're sitting in the
dark is 'cos there's a problem with the mains".
Mackintosh - The British
word for raincoat, named after Scottish inventor Charles
Macintosh, who first sold his raincoats in 1824. Interestingly, although
most British people know that Macintosh invented the Mackintosh, no one
can tell me why they're spelt differently.
Marrow - Although
"marrow" has the same meaning as the American "soft tissue found in the
hollow interior of bones", it more typically means "squash" (as in
zucchini, butternut, acorn, spaghetti and pumpkin) in the UK. Imagine my
confusion when I went to open a can of imported Bachelor's Mushy Peas,
only to see that they "contained marrow" but were "suitable for
- The British term for "ground beef". Interestingly, mince pie is
made from mincemeat, which is a combination of currants, raisins,
apples and spices and contains no beef.
- (slang) An unpleasant person.
- In the UK, cellular telephones are called mobile phones,
usually shortened to just mobile. It's not uncommon for an
American to call his phone a mobile phone, but most Americans use the
term cellular phone to differentiate today's small portable
phones from the bulky mobile phones that were somewhat
popular in the 1970s. Back then, a mobile phone was a real telephone -
just like the ones that sat on your desk - that was bolted to the floor
of your car and used radio to connect to a central office. You couldn't
dial out from or dial in to a 1970s mobile phone directly; one had to
dial a central number and go through an operator. Since these phones
were still being used when the new portable phones came out, Americans
used the term "cellular" to avoid confusion between the two types of
- A diaper. Although I'm not completely sure of this, I believe
that nappy only refers to "baby diapers", as opposed to
diapers" used for incontinence.
- A store that sells newspapers, magazines, sweets and canned or bottled
drinks. Equivalent to the American news stand.
- Individual bits of paper money are called notes in the UK,
never "bills". Thus, the leather accessories that carry notes are called
wallets and not "billfolds".
- A shop that sells alcoholic beverages for consumption off the shop's
premises, like a convenience store.
- This is the British version of "hey!" as in "hey you, get back here!".
When most British folk say it, my American ears hear a cross between
boy without the "b" and aye. This word is almost always
used in a bad way, especially if used in a loud voice. It's the kind of
thing an angry bouncer would say to an unruly patron or a shopkeeper
would yell at a shoplifter. So if you hear it, trouble might be coming
your way. If you think you might have done something to cause the
"Oi", be prepared to apologize... or duck!
Paki (slang) - It
rhymes with "Jackie" and is quite possibly the most offensive word
in British English. It's a derogatory term for an Asian (in the British
sense, i.e. an Indian or Pakistani), and is as offensive (if not more
so) than "nigger" for blacks. Unless you want to end up in the hospital,
don't use this word.
Paracetamol - The British
term for acetaminophen.
Pavement - This UK term
refers to the part of the road on which pedestrians walk, which is
commonly called a sidewalk in the US. This begs the question - if
the sidewalk is "pavement" in the UK, what do they top the streets with
over there? The answer is tarmac, a word that's only used to
describe airport runways in the United States.
Pie - There was mass
confusion in America recently due to a commercial for the GEICO auto
insurance company. In the commercial, the company's British-accented
"spokes-lizard" (he's a gecko... get it? Gecko? GEICO?) wonders why
people "wouldn't want free pie and chips". Most Americans know that
"chips" are fries, and as soon as someone with a
British accent talks about "chips", most automatically assume the speaker
is talking about French fries. But millions wondered why people would want to eat
apple pie with French fries! The confusion came about because the
default type of "pie" in Britain is the savory variety, such as pork
pie, steak and kidney pie, steak and mushroom pie or Cornish pasties. Of
course, they also have sweet pies in the UK like apple and
blackberry pie, it's just that if you stopped 100 Britons on the street
and asked them to name a type of pie, 99 of them would answer "steak" instead of "apple". By the way, British savory pies are quite
similar to American "pot pies", but they have a nice, flaky puff pastry
instead of the flat crust American pies usually have. They're quite
Pissed - In Britain,
generally means "drunk", whilst in America, it
usually means "angry". People in both countries sometimes use the
other nation's meaning, although Brits tend to say "pissed off" (as
opposed to just "pissed") when talking about an angry person. They might
also use "pissed" to mean angry when its meaning would be unambiguous,
as it might be during an argument ("what are you pissed at me
for?). By the same token, most Americans qualify the use of "pissed"
when talking about an intoxicated person by using such phrases as
"piss-ass drunk". The only Americans that tend to use the word "pissed"
(meaning drunk) on a regular basis are people with immediate British
connections (spouse, parent)... or pretentious wannabe Anglophiles.
Pitta - A type of bread,
exactly the same in every way as "pita bread" here in the US. Note that
in the UK the word is pronounced "pitt-a" not "pee-ta"
and that it's usually just called "pitta" and not "pitta bread".
- Although the dictionary definition of this word is "effeminate, snobby and\or
ostentatious", it has become almost a catch-all put down for the
well-to-do in the UK, in the same way "rich boy" might be used in the
US. If you would like to refer to something upper-class or expensive in
a positive way, use the term "posh", as in "this is one posh
Post - What mail is
called in the UK. Instead of asking "what's in today's mail?" a Briton
would ask "what's in today's post?". Note that just about every word that Americans associate
with "mail" is switched to "post" in the UK as
well, such as postman (mailman) and post box (mail box). Most of the
public post boxes one sees on the street in the UK are cylindrical in
shape and are painted bright red; these may be called either post boxes
or pillar boxes.
Prawn - According to
Alton Brown of Good Eats, Europeans use the word prawn to
refer to only the largest shrimp. Presumably, Europeans call smaller
shrimp "shrimp", just as we do here in the US. However, I must admit that
I've never seen the word "shrimp" on any product in the UK.
Walker's potato crisps come in "prawn cocktail" flavor, Marks and
Spencer sandwiches include a "prawn salad" flavor, and most any
restaurant offers at least one dish made of prawns. So I guess it's just
"prawn" in the UK. Interestingly, in the US crustaceans harvested from
salt water are called "shrimp" while crustaceans harvested from fresh
water are called "prawns".
Presenter - This is the
customary British term for the people on TV that host shows. For example, Jay Leno would be the
Tonight Show's presenter in the UK, not the host. Note
that the term newsreader is common for TV news people, and that "anchor"
is slowly slipping into usage in the UK.
Punter - This word has
many meanings, but typically refers to the "customers of a particular
business". If a shop were to go out of business, it might be because
"not enough punters came in the place". A punter originally meant
someone that gambled on sports and was also used as a slang term for the
customers of a prostitute. Although these meanings are still valid
today, 99% of the time you hear the word it's simply referring to
"customers" in an inoffensive way.
Purse - In Britain, a
purse is a small pouch for carrying change. Men might or might not
carry a purse, or they might have a wallet with a built-in purse. The
larger bag that women carry their wallet, makeup, cell phone and other
things in is called a pocketbook in the UK. The terms "purse" and
"pocketbook" are not interchangeable in Britain.
- The British term for a line of people, as in "there was a huge queue
at the post office".
Range - In the UK, the
total amount of products a company offers, as in "our company carries
the entire range of Microsoft products". This is typically called a product
line in the US.
Redundant - This is the
British term for "laid-off from work", as in "he thought he was going to
get a promotion, but was made redundant instead". In the US, "redundant"
simply means superfluous, an amount of something in excess, or
(especially) something that was needed at one point but is now no longer
needed, as in "I got you a fancy ashtray for your birthday, but now that
you've quit smoking it's redundant".
Return (return ticket) -
A return (also known as a "return ticket") is British English for
"round-trip ticket". When you buy a train ticket, you will be asked
whether you want a "single" or "return". Choose return if you want a
Roads - There are many
differences between American English and British English when it comes
to roads, so I'll just condense them all into one no-nonsense entry if I
may. A motorway is the British word for freeway or expressway.
One can get on to or off of a motorway by using a slip road,
something we'd call a ramp in the US (or, more specifically, an
on-ramp or off-ramp or entrance ramp or exit ramp).
A dual carriageway is the British term for a divided highway. The
area between lanes of a dual carriageway where the grass grows is called
a central reservation in the UK and a median in the US. And
lastly, intersections are called junctions in the UK.
Rocket - What the Brits
call arugula. The word comes from Middle English rokette, which
itself comes from the Old French roquette, which came from the
Italian rochetta, which is a variant of ruchetta - the
diminutive form of ruca, a type of cabbage. Once again, the
American term comes from the Italian; however, in this instance the
word comes into American English from a particular dialect of Italian - the northern Lombardy region.
Row - It rhymes with
cow, and it's a very common British word for "argument",
"disagreement" or "commotion", as in "the new tax hikes are going to
kick off one hell of a row". Of course, this word is fairly common in
American English too, but it's much more common in British
English. In fact, it's almost an "everyday word", especially where the
tabloid newspapers are concerned. As you pass newsagents, see how often
"ROW ABOUT..." is used as a headline!
Salad - British people
enjoy salads that are quite similar to American salads. However, the
term "salad" is also used to describe the mixture of lettuces and onions
included on a sandwich. For example, at a takeaway stand you might be asked
if you want salad on your kebab.
Saloon - In the UK, it's
a type of car that usually has four doors and a separate trunk, which is
usually called a sedan in the United States.
Sarny (Sarnie) - Yet
another slang term for a sandwich.
Scheme - I don't know why
I felt that I needed to include this, but in the UK the word scheme
is often used to describe some new government plan, like "Labour's new
'Free School Lunches' scheme". In fact, you can tune to CSPAN2 on Sundays
at midnight and watch "Prime Minister's Questions" where the Prime
Minster and his opposition will argue about which "scheme" is best for
the country... which is hilarious to Americans, as "scheme" almost
always has a negative connotation in the USA thanks to
Ponzi schemes and
pyramid schemes. In fact, the only non-technical phrase I can
think of where "scheme" would not be seen in a negative light is "color
scheme". In short - in America, your political party has a plan,
the opposition has a scheme.
Sellotape - Cellophane
tape, usually referred to as "Scotch tape" in the USA due to the
popularity of the Scotch brand name.
Serviette - a
table napkin (sometimes made of paper) in the UK, Canada, Australia or
New Zealand. Don't worry about using this word yourself - Brits
know full well that Americans call it a "napkin", and will know what you
want if you ask for "extra napkins". You might,
however, see the word in print on a menu or something and not know what
it means otherwise.
- In the UK, places where you buy stuff are called "shops". As far as I
know, "store" is only used as a noun in the sense of "an amount of
something", as in "the Spanish ships had a huge store of gunpowder".
Single (single ticket) -
A single (also known as a "single ticket") is British English for
"one-way ticket". When you buy a train ticket, you will be asked whether
you want a "single" or "return". Choose single if you only want a
Skive - (slang) To
get out of work, usually by calling in sick. You can "skive off" of work
to watch a football (soccer) match, and you'll be "skiving" whilst doing
so. This word rhymes with "jive".
Sleeping policeman - A
bump in the road placed there on purpose to reduce the speed of cars
traveling on the road; it's usually called a "speed bump" in the United
States, although there are newer (wider, flatter) bumps that are much
larger that are sometimes called "speed humps".
Snogging - Although it
sounds really dirty, a "snog" is just a French kiss,
whilst "snogging" is "making out".
Spinster - In the US, a
spinster is an elderly woman that has never married; in Britain
she's any woman that's never married, although I'm not quite sure
when a woman stops being just plain "single" and becomes a "spinster".
Hopefully this problem will go away, as there's a movement afoot in the
UK to stop using this word in all official documents. In any case, the
crucial thing here is that the woman has never married - someone
whose husband died but chose not to remarry is a "widow", not a
Subway - A pedestrian
walkway, usually referring to tunnels under larger streets.
You might have to walk through a subway to get to an Underground
station, for example.
Sultanas - This word
specifically refers to yellow or white seedless grapes. Originally, this
word referred to a specific type of yellow grape that was grown
only in Turkey, but in time the word has come to mean any grape that
looks like a sultana. Confusingly, the British seem to call
any other type of grape a currant, even though that word
originally referred to a dried Zante grape. Perhaps it's a case where
it's called a "grape" on a vine but a "currant" when it's at the
supermarket? I'm not sure, and I hope and jimcofer.com visitor can clear
up the confusion. All I know is that I've never seen grape-flavored
anything in the UK, always currant.
Suspenders - See
Sweets - In the UK,
"sweets" are candy only, while in the US the term can include
anything sweet, like pastries or ice cream.
(to) Table - This one
probably won't come up unless you visit the UK for business or political
reasons, but it *did* create a lot of confusion during WWII. In Britain,
to table something (like a business plan or government bill)
means to take action on it (as in, "to bring something to the
table"). In the US, to table something is to stop discussing the plan or
bill and cease action on it (as in, "to take it off the
table"). As you might guess, this created a lot of confusion
during the war between British and American military and political
leaders that had never worked together before.
Takeaway - Food purchased
for consumption off the premises. It has the same meaning as the
American "take out".
Tariff - In the UK, a
hotel's room rates have traditionally been called its tariff. You
will find that the American term "rates" is slowly but surely creeping
in, especially at larger hotels and chains.
"The Old Lady of Threadneedle
Street" - (slang) Sometimes shortened to just "The Old Lady",
this is a slang term for the Bank of England, which is located on
Threadneedle Street in the City of London.
Tick - A checkmark. Where
a form might say "please check the appropriate box" in the United
States, a similar British one would say "please tick the appropriate box".
Toilet - A small room
with a toilet, sink, and perhaps a mirror. Although most any British
person will know what you're asking for if you ask for a "restroom" or
"bathroom", I think it's more polite and direct to just ask for a toilet
instead. Historically speaking, British "bathrooms" were just that -
rooms with a bathtub or shower in them, and usually (but not always) a
toilet as well. Since facilities in restaurants and pubs rarely (if
ever) include a bathtub, it's technically wrong to ask for a bathroom.
(Ticket) Touts - A ticket
scalper. Avoid these people at all costs.
Trainers - In the UK,
tennis shoes or sneakers are called "trainers", although the popularity
of certain brand names has led many British youth to call their shoes
"Nikes" or "Chucks", just like kids here in the US.
(Shopping) Trolley - This
is the British term for the shopping carts one uses at a grocery store.
Amusingly, the carts used to hand out beverages on airplanes are called
"drinks trolleys"; this led to
the wonderful (if sexist) British slang term "trolley dolley"
being used for flight attendants.
(Pants) - The British call pants trousers and underwear
pants. Like so many other phrases, a Brit will probably know what
you mean if you say that you "spilled something on your pants", but you
can avoid confusion (possibly embarrassing confusion in this
case) by using these terms correctly.
- Here's another confusing one. A vest is a sleeveless undershirt worn
by men in the UK. Americans would call it an undershirt (or
t-shirt, or maybe even the slang term wife beater, after the
people on the show Cops that are constantly arrested whilst
wearing them). The thing you wear with a suit (which
Americans would call a vest) is called a waistcoat in the
UK. Note that like so many technological terms that are exported
from the US, a British policeman might wear a bulletproof vest
(rather than a "bulletproof waistcoat", which would be technically
accurate but just sounds silly).
Wanker - (slang)
An unpleasant person, usually male. Since "wanking" is a British term
for male masturbation, a "wanker" is the British equivalent of a "jerk
Way Out - It's not
something old hippies say, it means "exit" in the UK. Look for signs
directing you to the "Way Out" in Tube Stations and other public places.
Wheel clamp - A device
used to restrain a vehicle, usually to prevent the owner of an illegally
parked car from leaving without paying a fine. It's typically called a
boot in the US, or (rarely) a Denver boot, after the first
US city to deploy the obnoxious things.
Windscreen - The main
piece of glass in a car, usually called a "windshield" in the US.
Z - In American English,
the last letter of the alphabet is pronounced "zee". This pronunciation
"derives from an English late 17th-century dialectal form, now obsolete
in England", according to Wikipedia. Interestingly, America
stuck with that pronunciation after the War of Independence, while the
"mother country" (and the rest of the English-speaking world)
transitioned over to "zed" - after the Greek "zeta".
Zebra Crossing - A
pedestrian street crossing (marked with white stripes on a black
background, somewhat resembling a zebra's stripes). In the USA it's
called a "cross walk". Note that in the UK it's pronounced "zeb-ra"
(rhymes with "Debra") and not "zee-bra".