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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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