George Bernard Shaw wrote:

“England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”

It’s easy to see why. For example, if an American offered biscuits in gravy to a British citizen, they would likely be met with confusion. Likewise, it’s probably not a good idea for Americans to admire their British friends’ pants in public.

The US and the UK do have a lot in common, including our language. Yet, some words have completely different meanings once you travel over the pond. So, in the interest of improving transatlantic communications, here are 16 British English vs American English words.

16 British English vs American English Words

First, let’s look at some British English vs American English words that are the same but have different meanings.

  1. Suspenders

Here in the UK, suspenders are part of a woman’s underwear used to hold up stockings. In the US, they are what us Brits call braces and hold up men’s trousers.

  1. Public School

In the US, public school means just that; a school that is open to the public. It is free and available to everyone. However, in the UK, a public school has a very different association. We connect public schools to old money and privilege.

  1. Vest

Vests in the UK look like sleeveless t-shirts, made of white cotton and are worn under clothes. In the US, a vest is what British people would call a waistcoat and is part of a suit worn over the shirt.

  1. Table

This word is not meant as in an item of furniture but as in ‘table a meeting’. In the US, when someone says ‘we should table this’, it means we should postpone discussing it until later. In the UK, however, to ‘table’ something means to put it on the agenda to start discussions now.

  1. Nervy

If you are nervy in the UK, then you are nervous; it’s as simple as that. Yet, if you are nervy in the US, you are full of nerve as in bold and brave. Simple as that!

Now let’s explore different British English vs American English words

  1. Biscuits vs Cookies

Let’s start with those biscuits. In the UK, a biscuit is a sweet, dry, baked treat that’s eaten as a snack. In the US, however, biscuits are more like doughy scone-type products. The ‘gravy’ is also nothing like the gravy served in the UK. It is white and made using sausage, bacon or beef dripping, milk, flour, and herbs.

  1. Trunk vs Boot

In the UK, a trunk belongs to an elephant, or it’s some kind of luggage case. In the US, the trunk is found at the back of the car, whereas Brits call this the boot. Americans also have a different word for the bonnet (the front of the car) which is hood.

  1. Football vs Soccer

The beautiful game, as coined by Pelé, has nothing to do with the shoulder pad posturing of American Football. Football is played by dribbling the ball tactically and kicking it into the goal. The US calls this type of football ‘soccer’.

  1. Fizzy drinks vs Soda

Every fizzy drink is a soda in the US. If you are asked if you’d like a soda, how do they know what kind you want? Over in the UK, a fizzy drink is an overall term for, well, fizzy drinks. There are all kinds of fizzy drinks, including cola, lemonade, and soda. This is one of those British English vs American English words I don’t understand.

  1. Purse vs Handbag

In the UK, a purse is where ladies keep their money. In the US, a purse is a handbag. So if an American asks you if you’ve got your purse, they’re not worried that you won’t buy a round of drinks. They’re genuinely just making sure you haven’t left your bag behind.

  1. Tic-Tac-Toe vs Noughts and Crosses

Most of us have played noughts and crosses at some time in our lives, but have you ever played the American version Tic-Tac-Toe? Probably, as it’s exactly the same. There’s a 3×3 square grid and players have to place an O or X and try and get a straight line to win.

  1. Pacifier vs Dummy

To be honest, this is a much nicer word than the UK version of a dummy. Who wants to admit to putting a dummy in a baby’s mouth? But a pacifier does what it says on the tin. It soothes the baby, not makes it out to be a dummy. This is a win for the US!

  1. Bill vs Check

Ask for the bill in an American restaurant and they’ll think you are taking the mickey. A bill in the US is a banknote like a dollar bill. You keep your bills in a billfold or wallet. On the other hand, a bill in the UK is an itemised list of what you owe. If you want to pay in the US, ask for the check.

  1. Bangs vs Fringe

How do you like my bangs? Ask a Brit this question and they might think you’ve gone mad. What on earth are bangs? Well, you won’t be able to guess because it doesn’t make any sense. Bangs are your fringe.

  1. Ground floor vs First floor

This is very confusing for British tourists when they visit the US for the first time and arrive at a multistory hotel. Told by the receptionist that their room is on the first floor, they’ll hop in the lift/elevator and proceed up one floor. But in America, the first floor is the ground floor. How does that make any sense?

  1. Flapjack vs Pancake

In the UK, a flapjack is a soft, sweet oatmeal biscuit made with syrup or honey. In the US, it is a pancake usually served at breakfast.

Final Thoughts on British English vs American English Words

When it comes to British English vs American English words, it’s clear that we share more similarities than differences. I would love to hear from you if you have any funny or weird British or American words to share with our readers. Please do get in touch.

References:

  1. www.businessinsider.com
  2. www.lexico.com
Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Maxim

    Do you say “kerb” when we mean curb (edge of the road) ?

  2. Avatar
    S'Parker

    This will sound really obnoxious to the Millenials, or even those around 45 years of age.In my days the boot or the trunk of the car was also in the colloquial was called ‘dicky’

  3. Avatar
    Larry

    If you say “fizzy drink”, how do you know what kind you want? I don’t understand the confusion, except that “soda” is supposed to be the generic term for any fizzy drink, but it’s not. Regionally, the generic term is “pop” in sections of the northeast, where “soda” then means “soda water”, aka seltzer, or unflavored soda. Down South, people often use “Coke” generically. Walk into a restaurant in the deep south and order a coke, and they’ll ask you what kind. Confusing enough here. And you never explained what your gravy’s like. (I’ve had gravy in England. Looked and tasted like gravy to me.) When we say “gravy and biscuits”, that’s pork sausage gravy (and it’s white), a whole different animal (literally) than turkey gravy or beef gravy used over their respective meats.

  4. Avatar
    Dawn

    Some of these arent exactly right.. for instance, here in the US a bill can also be an itemized list of what you owe for food or services rendered. Bill and check are somewhat interchangeable depending on circumstance. You can pay the bill with a check (promissory note from your bank) or pay the check with a bill (paper money).
    Fringe here is either the long strips of leather “decoratively” hanging off a purse or leather jacket in the 1980’s, or it can be a figurative placement, such as in being on the fringe of society ie., an outsider. Where the term bangs comes from is beyond me, but really neither fringe or bangs make sense in relation to hairstyle.
    Flapjack and pancake are 2 terms for the same thing here, are also served with syrup or honey and are not limited to breakfast time, though it is a breakfast food.
    Ground floor vs. 1st floor: Looking from the outside if a building has 10 floors including the ground floor, why would you go upstairs to the 2nd level but call it the 1st floor? The ground floor is obviously a floor so wouldn’t it logically be the 1st floor?
    Soda is Not a term for every fizzy drink here. Soda only applies to carbonated beverages such as Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, etc. There are other “fizzy” drinks like champagne of course that would never be called soda. If its a drink like lemonade that isnt usually carbonated, or fizzy, we call it sparkling or a spritzer.. Like sparkling water, or a wine spritzer.
    Purse and handbag are generally also interchangeable.
    Interesting article though! Never knew that a pacifier was called a dummy in the UK..

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