American Words That The British Might Not Like
George Bernard Shaw once said that the United States and the United Kingdom were two countries separated by a common language. While both countries speak English as their primary language, not all English is created equally. Many words in British English have different meanings in American English. The British are famously protective of their language though, and some of the phrases and words that Americans use drive them crazy. So if you have a British friend, and want to make them squirm a bit, this is the article for you. Which "Americanisms" drive Brits crazy? Read on and find out!
To be fair, this is probably not one that most Americans even use. No one except for airline companies actually uses the word "deplane". Even in the US, you would say "get off of the airplane". It is a bit more awkward than the British phrase "disembark", but this one drives people crazy on both sides of the Atlantic. Don't use the word "deplane". It just reminds us of the TV show Fantasy Island.
The phrase "24/7" seems to rile up some people on the other side of the pond. Well, to be fair, it is kind of a lazy way to say "24 hours a day, seven days a week". You could also say "all day, every day". Then again, neither one of those sounds good as a song lyric. It's hard to rhyme "heaven" with "all day, every day".
The Missing U
One of the more famous things in American English vs British English is the absence of the letter U at the end of words. Generally, if a word ends in an R, the correct British spelling will be "oUr" rather than the simpler "or". This was a formal construction in English that Americans opted out of. It drives British people crazy because it always looks like it's spelled wrong.
R and E
Another famous difference in the way that American English and British English are different are again in words that end in "R". Well, they end in "R" in the US anyway. In England, the above structure is called a theatRE, not a theatER. The "RE" was flipped to an "ER" sometime during the language's history in the US.
"Can I Get A..."
In an article written by the BBC, this was the very first phrase that was sent in by readers. The correct British parlance would be "May I have...". The phrase "Can I get a..." was likened to hanging out a Central Perk with the rest of the cast of Friends. It's apparently even more annoying when it's followed by some sort of shortened word like "decaf cap". We guess that you should learn to order properly!
This is another one that is a bit pedantic. "Wait on" technically means that you are serving someone, as in the word "waiter." It should be "wait for" if you are talking about a time interval. That being said, no less of a British authority than Mick Jagger has used "wait on" in a song. We guess it wouldn't matter if the song was "Waiting For A Friend" rather than "Waiting On A Friend," but come on.
One sticking point between Americans and Brits is pronunciation. The word "leverage" is pronounced with a long "E" sound in the first syllable in the UK (lee-ver-idge) and a short "E" sound in the US (leh-ver-idge). They also have different meanings. In the US, it means the same as "value added" in the UK.
In the US, the device pictured above is called a shopping cart. In the UK, and pretty much everywhere else, it's referred to as a shopping trolley. We've never heard Americans ever use the word trolley except to refer to transportation in San Francisco or a character on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
Most Americans probably don't even realize that this is an American English word. The word "alphabetize" doesn't actually exist in British English. The phrase would be "put in alphabetical order". Apparently, this word gets on a lot of British people's nerves. It's annoying, bothersome, caustic, disturbing, and galling. See what we did there?
Can you even imagine someone saying "my bad" in an upper-class British accent? We can't either. To be fair, this is another one that drives a lot of people crazy if they are picky about language. Just remember: "my bad" and "I'm sorry" mean the same thing, unless you're at a funeral. It's probably not a good idea to go up to someone who is grieving and say "my bad".
This is one where Americans really do get it wrong. The correct word to describe someone breaking into your house and stealing stuff is actually "burgled". A burglar is someone who burgles. You wouldn't say you had "surgeonary" to describe a medical procedure, and it's the same form as this word.
The British version of this word is "fortnightly". Americans don't usually use the word "fortnight" unless they are referring to a video game, but maybe they should. "Bi-weekly" is an irritating word because it can mean "twice a week" or "every two weeks". There should be some distinction there, so we can understand why this would make anyone a bit crazy.
Most Americans use the words "alternate" and "alternative" completely interchangeably. This is actually incorrect, as the words have two distinct meanings. As a noun, the word "alternate" means something that that substitutes for another thing. The word "alternative" means something that is one of a set of multiple possibilities. So, it is "the alternate" versus "an alternative".
"Hike A Price"
The phrase "price hike" doesn't exist in British English. The correct phrase would be "price raise" or simply "the price went up". In fact, the word "hike" doesn't really exist in British English, at least not with the same meaning. A "hiker in American English is called a "rambler" in British English. You wouldn't have a "price ramble", so the word doesn't really make any sense.
Americans refer to the above piece of punctuation as a "period". In the UK and elsewhere, it is called a "full stop". It actually makes a lot more sense to call it a full stop. "Period" has a lot of different meanings from "an interval of time" to "a time in a woman's menstrual cycle". It can be confusing, but none of the meanings have anything to do with punctuation.
Zed's Dead, Baby
Quick! Think of the ABC song. Now, at the end of it, did you say "Zee"? You must be American. That letter at the end of the alphabet is properly called "zed" in the UK. Why is this? Well, it comes from the Greek letter "zeta" which was shortened to "zed" and then to "zee" in the US. People in the UK never got the memo.
Some verbs have different tenses in British English than in US English. A good example is "get". In American English, the present tense is "get", the past tense is "got", and the past participle is "gotten". It's the same in the UK, except that the past participle is still "got". So, in the US, you would say "I haven't gotten any news" and in the UK, you would say "I've not got any news". Got it? Good.
There's a difference when Americans describe the events of the past too. Americans tend to say "I went to the store". This is called "past simple". Brits will say "I've been to the shop". This is called "present perfect". So people in the UK use the present to refer to the past if that makes any sense...
A lot of verbs that are regular in US English become irregular in the UK. What does this mean? Well, take a look at the picture. In the US, this person would be described as having "leaped off of a cliff." In the UK, you would say "leapt off of a cliff". In both places, you would call this person a lunatic.
Now you'll have that song in your head all day. Anyway, there are a bunch of differences in prepositions in UK English versus its American counterpart. In this case, had she lived in the UK, Rebecca Black would get down "at" Friday, rather than "on" Friday. The song is still super-annoying either way, all week long.
Kind of an odd one here. In England, and almost everywhere else in the world, these little strips are called "plasters". In the US, you might call them a "bandage", but more than likely, you'll say "band-aid". Why is this? It's because in the UK, they used to be made out of actual plaster. "Band-aid" is a brand name, and in the US, people are more likely to substitute brand names for product names.
In the US, you go to "the movies". In the UK, you go to "the cinema". This just happens to be because of the way that films were introduced into the two different countries. In the US, they were "moving pictures", and in the UK they were called "cinematics". The New Pornographers are Canadian, so they could have called their album either name, but "Twin Cinema" just sounds so much cooler.
The Dreaded "S" Word
If there is one word that will rile up British people against Americans, it's "soccer". It's not soccer! It's "football"! But wait...what do they call the US version of football? That's easy, it's called "American Football". Brits love their football, and you should be careful about using the "S" word in a British pub. You might get into a fight with a football hooligan!
We won't get into super-specific detail here, but one of the biggest differences between UK English and US English is in the use of curse words. Curse words tend to be used more frequently in the UK, and some of them are different. If you're from the US, be careful about describing someone's child as an "annoying little bugger". That phrase has a totally different meaning across the pond!
You won't hear the phrase "happy holiday" in the UK very much. Nor will you hear the term "Merry Christmas". A "holiday" in the UK means the same as "vacation" in the US, so it wouldn't make sense to wish someone a "happy vacation". The "holiday season" is the summertime, too. "Merry Christmas" is usually changed to "Happy Christmas", as the word "merry" is usually considered outdated.
I Don't Care
When asked, "would you like tea or coffee" in the US, and you would be OK with either one, you would probably say "I don't care". This would sound strange in the UK, where you would say "I don't mind". Which one is better? We don't care or we don't mind. See, you thought you might have us there...
In the UK, an annoying person who talks about themselves all the time would be said to "blow one's trumpet." In the US, it would be "toot one's own horn." In this picture, we believe that the kid blowing his trumpet/tooting his own horn is about to be punched in the jaw by the girl.
If you make a mistake on a test in the UK, you might ask the teacher for a "rubber". That's what is in the picture on this particular page. It would probably not be a good idea to as a US teacher for a rubber though. That might get you sent to the principal's office.
If you are trying to hide something in the US, you "sweep it under the rug". In the UK, you "sweep it under the carpet". Sure, some places use these terms interchangeably, like in the picture above, but everyone knows that you can't sweep stuff under carpet! It's stapled to the floor!
This is actually much more annoying to Americans than to Brits, but the term "hire" has very different meanings in the UK and the US. You would "hire a car" if you were going to pay daily for its use, which is called a "rental car" in the US. "Hiring a car" in the US likely means that you would be getting a taxi.
Another Spelling Difference
There are actually a lot of spelling differences in British English vs American English. One odd one is in the word "diarrhea", which is the correct spelling in the US. In the UK, the correct spelling is "diarrhoea". This type of difference drives people in the UK crazy because it looks like Americans are trying to simplify the language. Well, Americans ARE trying to simplify the language, so there's that.
Yet Another Word For Soda
Even in the US, there are a million words for a carbonated sugary beverage. Soda, pop, soda pop (which is different than either "soda" or "pop") and coke (with a small "c") just to name a few. Well, here's another one. The British call it a "fizzy drink", which seems so dead simple that it should be an American term. Nope. It's from the UK.
In this picture, we see Mr. Zebra and he is a "postman" since he lives in the UK. In the US, he'd be a "mailman" or "Mail carrier". In the US, the post means something that you hammer into the ground, or possibly something your write on Facebook. In the UK, the "mail" just looks like you misspelled the word for "male", which is even more confusing. Is he a "mailman"? Of course he is! All men are male, right?
If you're from the US, the word "biscuit" probably conjures up images of delicious fried chicken. It's one of the all-time great side dishes. If you're in the UK, it also makes your mouth water, but for different reasons. In that case, you're probably thinking of little sweet cakes with chocolate chips, or cookies to the people in the US. This can be confusing if you see people ordering biscuits and gravy. That sounds disgusting to someone from the UK!
The item above is a really bizarre Christmas sweater in the US. Not really sure what Ric Flair has to do with Christmas, but Ric Flair fits in everywhere. Anyway, in the UK, this item would still be bizarre, but it would be called a Christmas "jumper" instead. In the US, a "jumper" is a woman's jumpsuit, which is a totally different piece of clothing.
Different Words For Foil
This is another one, like soccer/football, that sets British people's teeth on edge. In the US, this is called "aluminUM". It's pronounced A-loom-in-um. In the UK, it's aluminium. That word is pronounced "al-oo-MIN-i-uhm". The reason for this is that the actual correct word is "aluminium", which is the UK spelling. That's the simple explanation, but even US periodic tables show it as "aluminum" now.
Agony And Abby
These kinds of columns in newspapers have kind of disappeared. They're another sad victim of the internet, and people would rather ask their Facebook friends questions rather than a columnist. Anyway, in the US, they were always called advice columnists. The Brits have a much more fun term: agony aunt.
The very unfortunate man in this picture is dressed as a purple vegetable. In the US, he'd be a nerd dressed as an "eggplant". In the UK, he'd be a wanker dressed as an "aubergine". This is a word that fancy restaurants like to use in the US to seem classier than they actually are. If you see "sauteed aubergine" on a menu, now you know what it is. It's just eggplant.
Regardless of which carnival or a theme park in which you find this stuff, it's pretty much the lowest form of candy in existence. It serves only to make a mess on children's faces and get them hyped up to run around said theme park or carnival. Anyway, in the US it's "cotton candy" and in the UK, it's "candyfloss". It doesn't matter where you buy it though, because you shouldn't buy it at all.
In the US, this baseball cap would be said to be covered in "rhinestones". In the UK, the word is "diamante" and there's an important distinction. In the US, the word "diamante" is used by jewelers to cover up the fact that they are using fake gems in their jewelry, specifically cubic zirconia. Since you can't exactly bedazzle a hat with cubic zirconia, it's important to know the difference.
"Two-Time" and "Three-Time"
Some language pedants in the UK lament the fact that the words "two-time" and "three-time" have entered the lexicon. One person asked "Have the words 'double' and 'triple' become lost? Grammatically, it makes no sense!" However, that picky person is actually incorrect in some situations. Joe Montana (pictured here) is a four-time Super Bowl champion because he won the Super Bowl on four separate occasions. A "quadruple champion" would actually refer to someone who won, say, four separate Olympic events in the same games. There is actually a distinction here.
This one can be irritating to no end if you don't understand it. In the US, the first floor of a building is the one touching the ground. In the UK, the first floor of a building is the one immediately on top of the one on the ground. In other words, the first floor in the UK is the second one in the US. Confused yet? Just imagine being told to go to the first floor, you climb the stairs, and you're on the wrong floor. Irritating.
Something to know here...in the US, a party for a soon-to-be-married woman is a "bachelorette party". The UK uses the slightly sillier sounding name of a "hen party". We've never been to a bachelorette party or a hen party, but we imagine that neither one of them involves chickens. At least most of the time.
The word "cheeky" doesn't have a good US equivalent, which tends to drive UK people crazy because they use it a lot. The closest would probably be "obnoxious but in a fun and non-threatening way". It's also used to denote someone who likes to flirt a lot, like Special Agent Powers here. Not having this word is no fun if you use it a lot. Especially if you use it in conjunction with "monkey".
How is this even a game? Even the supercomputer WHPR couldn't win at this in the movie Wargames. In the US, the game is called "Tic-Tac-Toe" and in the UK, it's called "Noughts And Crosses". Either way, the only to win this game is not to play. Seriously.
"It Is What It Is"
The phrase "It is what it is" also drives a lot of people crazy, particularly British people. Some Americans don't like this one either. Really, though, it's a phrase that's meant to be a bit annoying or sarcastic. Anyone who says this phrase without at least a little irony is probably not someone worth listening to anyway. Did we just say that? Well, it is what it is...
Another big point of contention are collective nouns. No, not the Borg collective, although it does make a nice example. In the US, you would say "the Borg Collective is coming to assimilate us". Notice that "Borg Collective" is treated as singular. In UK English, you would say, "the Borg Collective are coming to assimilate us". Notice the plural in this form. This drives the grammar police force into its (or their) graves.
One person said that this phrase made cringe to no end. Well, this phrase is a bit silly. We think that this one comes from baseball, which is a pretty foreign sport to anyone outside of the US. Then again, most Brits use the phrase "sticky wicket", which comes from cricket. That's pretty much a foreign sport to anyone outside of the UK.
In the US, if you work in a hospital doing sensitive work on the inside of the body, you're called a surgeon. In the UK, you're also a surgeon. However...in the US, you are afforded the title of "doctor". In the UK, you are not because often times surgeons don't have PhDs. So don't be afraid if you need your appendix out in the UK and you don't get a doctor to do it. Unless it's The Doctor, in which case you might have an alien inside of you or something.
These are but some of the phrases that are sure to irritate and annoy your British friends. Make sure to say them often to achieve the best effect! Also, just to show them that you know what you are doing, you should share this article with them too. Thanks for reading!