A Helpful List of British Words and Phrases for Puzzled Americans

UK/USA flag

By Lauren O’Conner, Little Miss PR

As a current resident of USA from the UK, I have spotted some differences in the way we speak. If anyone like me has taken a trip over the pond to the great US of A then you will be well aware of what I mean. I sometimes feel like I am speaking a foreign language and I’m not just talking about Americans’ understanding of my Estuary English accent. That, my dears, is another post for another time! I’m referring to words that are completely different to how I’dnormally say them in the UK.

So to help out any Americans making or hoping to take a trip to the UK, I have compiled a short and easy glossary to stop any embarrassing misunderstandings…

American                          British

Ass                                     Bottom/Posterior

(Bath) robe                         Dressing gown

Bell Pepper                         Pepper

Biscuit                                 Unsweetened scone

Blinker                                 Indicator

Bobbie Pin                           Hair grip/slide

Boots                                    Wellies

Broil                                     Grill

Candy                                   Sweets

Change purse                        Purse

Cheque                                  Bill

Cilantro                                 Coriander

Cigarette                                Fag

Chips                                     Crisps

Closet                                     Cupboard/wardrobe

Collect Call                            Reverse charges

Cookie                                    Biscuit

Crib                                         Cot

Desk Clerk                              Receptionist

Diaper                                     Nappy

Donkey                                   Ass

Downtown                              City centre

Drug store                              Chemist’s

Eggplant                                 Aubergine

Elevator                                  Lift

Fall (season)                          Autumn

Fanny                                     Bottom/Posterior

Flashlight                               Torch

Freeway                                 Motorway

Fries                                       Chips

Freshman                              1st year Undergrad

Front desk                              Reception

Garbage can                         Bin

Garbage                                 Rubbish

Gas                                         Petrol

Gas Station                            Petrol Station

Hood (car)                              Bonnet

Legal Holiday                        Bank Holiday

Leash (dog)                           Lead

Licence plate                         Number plate

Line                                         Queue

Liquor Store                           Off license

Living room                            Lounge

Mimosa                                  Bucks Fizz

Movie                                      Film

One way ticket                       Single Ticket

Pacifier                                   Dummy

Pants                                      Trousers

Panty hose                              Tights

Parka                                      Anorak

Parking lot                              Car Park

Penitentiary                            Prison

Pitcher                                   Jug

Popsicle                                 Iced lolly

Powdered sugar                   Icing Sugar

Principal (school)                Headmaster/ mistress

Pump                                      Court Shoe

Purse/ Pocketbook              Handbag

Realtor                                   Estate Agent

Restroom                               Toilet/ loo/ lavatory

Round Trip Ticket               Return Ticket

Rubbing Alcohol                  Surgical spirit

Turnip                                    Swede

Scotch Tape                          Sellotape

Second floor                         First Floor

Semester                               Term

Shopping cart                       Shopping trolley

Sidewalk                                Pavement

Sneakers/tennis shoes       Trainers

Soda                                       Fizzy drinks

Soccer                                    Football

Stroller                                  Push chair

Sub division/projects         Housing estate

Sucker                                    Lollipop

Subway                                  Underground/tube

Suspenders                           Braces

Sweater                                  Jumper

Tired                                       Knackered

Thumbtack                            Drawing pin

Trailer                                     Caravan

Trolley                                    Tram

Truck                                       Lorry

Trunk (car)                             Boot

Undershirt                              Vest

Vacation                                 Holiday

Vacuum cleaner                    Hoover

Vest                                        Waistcoat

Wash cloth                             (Face) Flannel

Windshield                             Windscreen

Yard                                        Garden

Zip Code                                Postal Code

Zucchini                                 Courgettes

Helpful phrases

Don’t be alarmed if someone from London or the South or England asks “Alright?” It is simply our way of saying “hello.” The normal response would be to say “All right?” back. It’s said as a question. Sometimes it might get expanded to “all right mate?” So no need to look in the mirror to check for strange marks on your face, like many American people I have spoken to actually have done. It’s just us being friendly! Honest.

The best way to say “thank you,” in the UK is to say “cheers.” Cheers can also be used when chinking glasses before you drink!

When you want to partake in the British tradition of getting drunk in the evenings and weekends, this term could help you when calling an ambulance to help an ailing friend: “arse over tit.” Basically means your friend is so intoxicated they have fallen over and look like a “plonker,” doing so.

Which brings me to “plonker.” If you have been a fan of Only Fools and Horses then this will be obvious to you – “Rodney, you plonker!” Plonker means idiot. Try and use it and see how many people will smile knowing that you watch the show or have tried to speak like a native!

If you hear a girl or a guy for that matter proclaim “I’m easy,” don’t assume it’s for a bit of “how’s your father,” (another English term for sex.) It generally means that someone isn’t bothered about a decision to be made and will happily go with whatever others in the group want to do.

Manners and politeness are past times in Britain, so when someone says “excuse me” it is merely to apologise for social situations are deemed rude or inappropriate – like burping or sneezing in public. Whereas in USA if someone says “excuse me” it means that someone is getting in your personal space and needs to move.

Pheeew! I am sure I have missed a few out too but I didn’t want to make this a boring list. This also isn’t to poke fun at Americans, it is to rejoice in all our idiosyncrasies and that we aren’t all the same! I for one actually love having to ‘translate’ some words, as it reminds me I’m not home!

Find Lauren on Twitter: @laurenoconnorpr

Have we missed any words or phrases? Let us know in the comments!

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Image via Freestock.ca. Please note, images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting.

6 Responses to “A Helpful List of British Words and Phrases for Puzzled Americans”

  1. …maybe they should also know that fanny is actually a vagina in the UK. Could make for an interesting mistake, haha great glossary.

  2. Hahaha! This blog is funny because it’s so true! Maybe because we get American t.v and they don’t really get Brit stuff? Great post!

  3. This is a great list! As a New Zealander it is an interesting read as we use lots of American words, and lots of English words too, so its a bit of a mix. Would be cool to see a 3rd column for NZ/Australia. We also have our own different words commonly used e.g.
    US Candy, UK Sweets, NZ Lollies

  4. Just a few things… we do say excuse me in the US if we burp or sneeze in public too, at least in the South we do. If I didn’t say excuse me after I burped my mom would smack me! We also say lavatory in the South for bathroom/toilet.

    And some of the things on the British side of the list are also used in the US, like lollipop, handbag, prison, receptionist, jug, etc. and headmaster is used in private schools here (not public/state schools though) so people would understand the term. Also I think most Americans know Autumn as the season after Summer even though we mostly use Fall.

  5. Zakir Borodin Reply

    Where this is not obvious, it’s simplistic. “Excuse me” has two meanings. It’s not like in Spanish, where you say “Con permiso” if you want to get past, but “Perdon” if you do something gross.

    Why don’t you explain the stuff that needs explaining, like the fact that all British seem to have hyphenated last names?

  6. It is also helpful to remember that the British versions came first. The American,Australian, and New Zealand versions were all corruptions or alternatives to the original British terms.

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