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WORDS WITH DIFFERENT MEANINGS IN OTHER COUNTRIES.
Since setting up this site I have become more aware of the differences in language between the U.K. and the U.S.A. whether it be different meanings for the same word or different words for the same thing, so thought it may be fun to start a page listing some of these differences.
This page has now been online for several years and I had no idea how much interest it would provoke. I now have a file full of comments, views and definitions. My big problem is how to present all this information in a way which is useful, informative and entertaining. This is still a work in progress.
Another thing which has become apparent is the fact that there are no definitive answers; not only do different counties/states use different terminology but there appears to be differences between generations as well. All this makes it very difficult to produce information with which everyone agrees.
What has become very evident over the years is just how much language is merging between all the various countries. Here in the UK we have adopted many, many "Americanisms" into everyday language and, I believe, some British terms are now used in the USA. This is probably due to travel and the wide exchange of TV programmes etc.
I think this exchange of TV programmes may also be the cause of a lot of misconceptions. Many people contacting me see to think we still use the type of language which they hear on programmes such as Upstairs, Downstairs, Pride and Prejudice etc., which, of course, is not the case. Then, of course, there are programmes like Eastenders which is set in the East End of London and the language used is from that area (minus all the swearing of course) but people from other parts of the UK not only sound very different but use completely phrases and terms.
In short this is a very complex subject.
At the foot of this page you will find examples of reaction received from visitors who sometimes differ and sometimes agree with the original offerings and those given by others.
|CV (curriculum vitae)||Resume
In the US we do say "CV"/"curriculum vitae" as well as "resume," but it has a different meaning.
In American usage, resume condenses all one's accomplishments into one page, whereas a CV is a complete account that can be many pages long.
Linda Rice kindly points out that "biscuits" in America are unsweetened dinner or breakfast pastries.
|Bun (a sweet individual cake, sometimes with dried fruit)||Muffin (nearest example I think!!!)
Wouldn't it be a cupcake rather than a muffin?
Muffin is correct. A cupcake is like a miniature cake often with frosting. I believe the same cooking mold can be used.
|Roll or Bap||Bun
Courtesy of LInda Rice
Linda also sent in this one.
Apparently usually used in 'gyms'
Butt, Backside or Derriere
Submitted by Michelle McLane
Submitted by Maxine Dorot
Both Linda Rice and "Rob" have contacted me saying they had never heard this expression in the U.S.A. - sorry.
I have now been informed that both words are used in America. Apparently Flagstaff, AZ gets its name from a rather prominent flagpole/flagstaff that was erected there years ago.
Thanks to William Hitch for this information.
|Silencer (on motor vehicle)||Muffler* *Both suggested by John Stevens|
Apparently another debatable one!!!
Here again both Linda and Rob pointed out this is usually known as a movie theater not movie-house
William Hitch has made the comment that the word "movie" is still used generally, but critics favour (favor) "film". He makes the observation that this may be so they are not laughed at in Cannes!
"Movie" and "film" are definitely both used in the US. In my mind "movie" suggests Hollywood and "film" suggests art-house, but it's not hard-and-fast, and I like to use the two words interchangeably to combat snobbery.
|Swede (or yellow turnip)||Rutabaga
To be technical, wardrobes are stand alone and not built into the room, whereas a closet is built into the room. At least in the US.
This made me think and actually here in the UK a free standing piece of furniture in a bedroom is called a "wardrobe" but we tend to say "built-in wardrobe" or even "cupboard" when it is built into the room.
In the Southern part of the US, the word "chiffarobe" or "chifforobe" is still often used instead of wardrobe.
It was used in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and in Flannery O'Conner novels. My grandmother always referred to her standing wardrobe furniture as a chiffarobe. The closet was a built-in space.
Valencia Scott Colombo
|Class||Grade (pre-college schools)
Class (high schools (sometimes); colleges (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior)
Thanks again to William Hitch
Most of the above were contributed by Swami Narasimhan for which we are most grateful.
|Toilet or Lavatory
Loo or Bog (slang)*
* The English often call the toilet the LOO or, an even more "slangy" term is the BOG.
Both of these are used, loo being the most common. I came across a lot of trouble in America when asking directions to the loo.
On the subject of the toilet/rest-room debate on your UK/US differences page, it occurred to me that the word ‘toilet’ refers to the furniture itself rather than the room it's housed in, but perhaps the reason why we refer to the room specifically as a toilet is that until about 40 years ago the majority of UK homes had separate rooms for the toilet and the bath (my parents live in a bungalow built in 1961, which still has a separate loo). In fact in pre-war Britain, a great many working class homes had the toilet housed outside.
I would also suggest that 'bog' is probably considered slightly more vulgar than 'loo' as most people in the UK will happily say 'I need the loo' but not so many will say 'I want the bog'.
Restroom (or John I believe)
Apparently "Bathroom" is more commonly used (thanks to Dr. Bren Ewen for this.)
William Hitch advises all the following can be heard in the USA "toilet, lavatory, john, restroom, washroom, latrine (army), head (navy), bathroom, mens'/ladies' room, outhouse (old country) and crapper (slang) - Sorry!
We Brits find this very strange "why disguise what the room is used for?
You certainly wouldn't want to "Rest" in British toilets!!!!
you say you live in a flat to an American, they are likely to ask "a flat what?"
In the US: an apartment can mean
either a complex with areas of living for rent or the rented area of
living itself. But as far as I know, almost everyone would say
"Want to go up to my flat?" or "I have a flat two
blocks from here." It's possible that rural
Americans haven't heard the term, though I think it's pretty
widespread. To be more specific, a flat
would imply a standard apartment. A studio is a very specific way of
saying a tiny apartment and a penthouse is one on the top floor and is
of better quality (usually luxurious [at least in comparison]). Kim
have to correct that and say that "flat" doesn't mean
apartment in the U.S., ever, and we wouldn't say that. We might say
come up to my "place" or "apartment" or even
"pad" (this usage is from the 70s and would be sort of
retro). "Flat" is definitely a British term (even in Canada,
which is where I'm living now, and Canada/US/UK English is a whole
In the US: an apartment can mean either a complex with areas of living for rent or the rented area of living itself. But as far as I know, almost everyone would say "Want to go up to my flat?" or "I have a flat two blocks from here."
It's possible that rural Americans haven't heard the term, though I think it's pretty widespread.
To be more specific, a flat would imply a standard apartment. A studio is a very specific way of saying a tiny apartment and a penthouse is one on the top floor and is of better quality (usually luxurious [at least in comparison]).
I have to correct that and say that "flat" doesn't mean apartment in the U.S., ever, and we wouldn't say that. We might say come up to my "place" or "apartment" or even "pad" (this usage is from the 70s and would be sort of retro). "Flat" is definitely a British term (even in Canada, which is where I'm living now, and Canada/US/UK English is a whole other thing...).
Petrol Station/Service Station
A garage is where you get your car repaired/fixed. We get fuel from a petrol station.
A garage is also where cars are housed.
A "garage" in America is where you park your car at night.
Now this one is really confusing! in the U.K. the word 'pants' is only used for "underpants" hence, when an American says he is going to put on a fresh pair of pants before going out, it cracks us up.
"Pants" is now being used by our younger generation as a word to describe something they don't like. e.g. The film was 'pants'!.
Another confusing one. In the U.K. braces are two pieces of wide elastic which fix to the top of trousers, over the shoulder and then back onto the top of the trousers, thus holding them up.
It is also a term used in order to straighten teeth (in both countries I believe). Simon Slade
Suspenders are what ladies' use to hold up stockings, although this term was also used for the contraptions men used to use to hold up their socks (so I am told!).
As a Yorkshireman if you can borrow his 'suspenders' and see what happens!
Suspenders in the US can mean what is already listed as well as the meaning in England, to hold up pants.
The word suspenders in the US almost always refers to those stretch bands that hook from back to front used to hold up men's trousers. A woman's stockings (before pantyhose) were held up by elastic garters or a garter belt.
Valencia Scott Colombo
All the above 'quips' (in red) were kindly contributed by Nik Shearer - there is more of his humour (humor) at the bottom of this page.
|Clothes Peg||Clothes Pin|
|Bicarbonate of Soda||Baking Soda|
|Castor Sugar||Superfine sugar, Deluxe
sugar or Baker's Sugar
|Minced beef||Ground beef|
|Mohican (as in hairstyle)||Mohawk
|New Wave (in Britain means guitar music which wasn't quite punk made from about 1977-but never used to describe any music made post 1979)||New Wave in
America seems to mean any contemporary popular music from about 1976 to
at least the turn of the millennium.
|Electro - in Britain the name for hiphop type music from about 1981-mid-80s||
American's seem to call a lot of this music freestyle.
I think that's only used in New England (where I grew up); most of the US says "traffic circle".
I'm pretty sure the part about roundabouts/rotaries/traffic circles is wrong. I live in Indiana, and I have never, ever heard anything other than roundabout.
Roundabouts: I live in NJ and I am 44 years old. There were many of these and they are almost universally referred to as "traffic circles" or just "circles" in NJ.
I have been a professional driver for over half of my life and have intimate knowledge with nearly every one that still exists in NJ. As the population and congestion grows they are being re-engineered to alleviate the problems they cause.
Most people do not know how to properly navigate a traffic circle. The percentage of people calling them roundabouts in NJ is extremely low. Even the street signs will say "circle ahead".
The Subject of Traffic Circles. They were more common than people
remember. If you are under 60 years old, you might believe they never
existed in your area. As more traffic lights came into use, back in the
50's and 60's, traffic circles disappeared in most areas. In my town,
the remains of the traffic circle resulted in some strange short streets
in an area still called the circle, and roads split and offset for no
logical reason. Some towns simple made the streets one way and did away
with the intersections all together. I'm 50 years old and have no memory
of them, but my older sisters described them to me.
The Subject of Traffic Circles. They were more common than people remember. If you are under 60 years old, you might believe they never existed in your area. As more traffic lights came into use, back in the 50's and 60's, traffic circles disappeared in most areas. In my town, the remains of the traffic circle resulted in some strange short streets in an area still called the circle, and roads split and offset for no logical reason. Some towns simple made the streets one way and did away with the intersections all together. I'm 50 years old and have no memory of them, but my older sisters described them to me.
|Perambulator (or Pram)||Carriage*
If you say CHIPS in Britain people think of quite large bits of cooked potato in the US they are STEAK FRIES (as you get large ones with meat), whereas the type of fries you get in McDonalds are called fries OR chips. Being a Scotsman i would dare call those nonsense little bits of potato 'chips'.
Nik Shearer point this one out.
Another from Nik
|Holiday||Vacation* * All sent in by Debbie - thanks.|
It has been pointed out by J. Bunce, that this is an abbreviation of the word "gasoline" - a word previously used for fuel.
Gas in the U.K. and apparently Australia is an air like substance which fills any available space. Some gases can be bottled and used for such things as cooking.
Gas can also be used to mean idle chatter.
I am told "gas" means "funny" in Ireland
Thanks to Effie Makris for these observations.
I've also heard the word "gas" used to mean "funny." It's not unique to Ireland. I do remember watching old movies using the term - usually as a noun. "That story was a gas." It's not in common use now. However, some people think passing gas is funny.
Definitely does refer to the third state of matter as well as to gasoline in the US.
|Moulting (e.g. animal losing hair)||Shedding Sent in by Tamara Davis|
Kristina Hackenburg has written as follows -
Wow where are you getting your info?
Bun- in the US we have cinnamon buns and sticky buns that are sweet too.
Bottom/bum- we most def don't use the word glutes unless we are working out or at a doctors office its a technical term. we say ass, butt, backside, rear end, and we do say bum- its not a word we say alot but its an english word that came here but one of the most common words that people say in music and songs in america is BOOTY.
Ive never heard the word flagstaff, just flagpole.
we DEFINITELY don't use the word shoestring- we ALWAYS say laces, or shoelaces, and we have heard of the word shoestring, its not odd, but no one says it.
I HAVE never heard of the word movie-house. its movie theater why do you think all american commericals end or begin with the phrase - coming soon to a theatre near you. now if we said we went to the theatre, we would mean like, broadway, not a movie.. and another very common use is just movies.. we went to the movies. we were at the movies.
As for movie and film. in school i would say film, to a friend i would say movie. do you want to watch this movie- is much more common then do you want to watch this film.. but say, an award for best new film- would not sound odd at all.
class/grade- we say class of 2001, highschool class of 1994, or kindergarden class of 2000. we say what class do you have next referring to a specific subject (like biology).. and we say get to class, (if you are late for school), pick your classes (When in college) and also always, senior class, junior class, sophmore class and the whole freshman class.. now we always say 1st grade- 12th grade too for school before college. and when you get to high school you are a freshman in high school,. sophmore in highschool, junior, senior etc. but we use those terms for college too.
also, when saying toilet- sometimes because we teach children to say "little girls room, or little boys room- sometimes in joking, teenagers or adults might say "ive just got to hit the little boys room real fast"
oh and we park in the driveway, and we drive on the parkway.
trousers/pants- okay, we say pants as in anything that is a full length bottom.. but most commonly americans where denim, and we just call them jeans, and if they aren't jeans, we call them by what they are- khakis, sweat pants, and if they are anything else we will say dress pants, work pants, depending on what we use them for.. dress pants are worn to church, or somewhere nice, work pants (if you are a painter) refer to pants you already ruined, but if you are a lawyer (work pants are dress pants). we dont say trousers.. if we did, i would assume they are khakis. oh and a side note: to pants someone (verb) is to pull there pants down in public.
braces/suspenders.. suspenders in the us are not for socks, or stockings, women use garter belts for that with little straps that attach.. but suspenders attach at the belt loop on the outside of slacks/pants/trousers and are held up by your shoulders then attach on the back of your trousers on the belt loops. Braces are for teeth.
side walk/pavement - in the US we use either. my mother has yelled plenty at me when i was a child saying "get on the pavement, get out of the street"
chips/ chips are hard and packaged in bags they aren't served fresh those are fries. the bigger fries are called steak fries, then we have french fries (which is a common term for any) that are regular sized and then curly fries that come in curly cues.
ground floor/first floor- we always say ground floor for the one that is the lowest (usually underground)(but not to be mistaken with the basement) the term ground floor is only used in big buildings, like hospitals that have floors underground that are used not for storage. and first floor for the floor that is the first floor above ground.
dummy/pacifier.. we would never say dummy, unless we were referring to someone dumb, and we would never never be allowed to say dummy tit, because its offensive in america to say tit. pacifier is used, and binky, or bink. binky more commonly to other adults, but adults will say to children "wheres your bink?"
we say angry just as much as we say mad
tights/ panty hose.. ahh this is complicated.. okay tights are thicker that pantyhose, pantyhose are see through, pantyhose are also known as stockings, and tights are also known as stretch pants (but the word stretch pants is frowned apon because its like an old lady thing to say), all are also known as leggings, now if they go to the knee and no higher they are known as knee highs, and if they go to the thigh, they are thigh highs, and if they go above the stomach they are called control tops.
we say taxi just as much as we say cab
we say shops as in smaller stores
time tables are what we call multipication "do you know your timetables
estate agent- is called a realator or real estate agent
we say jam just as much as we say jelly
we will never call jello jelly
a garden grows vegetables or flowers, a yard is just grass
we say plug for outlet too. and socket. we never say power point.
pub isnt uncommon in the names of bars here. but we dont say we are going to the pub
solicitors in the us are people who come door to door to sell things. and there are tons of people with stores that say "no solicitors" on the fronts
surgery is what you get when they cut you open. not where you go to get it done
a tap is what you put in a keg of beer
gravy is a brown sauce used on turkey, but many italian americans still refer to gravy as tomato sauce, and all the generations after them still use it
Kim writes as follows:_
It mentions that roundabouts are rare in America. I can count at least five within ten minutes from my house in New Jersey. They aren't at all rare. I've driven to Canada quite a few times and also all over the East coast and LA area in California. Roundabouts, or circles as they call it in my area, can be found all over the continent as far as I know. Also, "in a roundabout way" is a phrase I use and have heard used all my life.
Pavement could mean anything paved, depending on the context.
Tap and faucet are synonymous here. For example, one wouldn't say faucet water, but tap water.
Pissed off is used the same, to be "pissed" means to be drunk but is sometimes a shortened way of saying pissed off.
Git, probably from movies and books, has become a word not totally rare. I'm an Anglophile at heart, but I've heard classmates call someone else a git before. It could also be "get out" if you have a lazy way of speaking.
Bum, derriere, backside, rear-end, bottom, butt, buttocks, and tush are the most common word to refer to the gluteus maximus. Bum could also be slang for someone homeless or lazy. A tramp is used for a woman who... doesn't respect her body - usually a street walker/hooker/"skank", etc.
I've never heard anyone refer to a flagpole as a flagstaff except in old (as in over 200 years) literature.
The same goes for shoelaces. (Except for the old literature part)
I prefer the word film, but movies is more commonly used. Film is more likely to refer to a work of art, whether it be "arty" or not.
Mailmen could also be referred to as a postal worker.
Porridge and oatmeal are the same but porridge could also be a similar substance.
It's never movie-house. I've never heard that. Cinema is less common, but used.
A lounge means the same as a living room, but a living room is not the same as a lounge. A lounge could be anywhere, but a living room is found only in a home.
We do say waistcoat for certain types of vests.
A cafeteria could also be called a canteen or cafe.
To be "sacked" is the most common way of saying fired that I know of.
Plug and socket are synonomous with outlet.
Dustbins are any bins you can dispose something in, but trashcans are larger and sturdier.
Old ladies say pantyhose. Most people would call thin tights stockings and if they aren't see-through, tights.
The underground can refer to where the subway train is located. As in, you'd go to the underground to catch the subway.
Fall is not the proper term we use. That's more just for little kids, but at least half of the country says fall for autumn.
The ground floor is located on the ground. The first floor could be the second floor or the ground floor, depending on what the building is. Most hotels, hospitals, and large buildings call the floor on the ground the ground floor or lobby - the button in the elevator/lift would be a G or an L.
Most people say taxi. I think certain regions say cab, but it's not very popular. Although, there would not be any confusion if one did say "I'm catching a cab".
Yes, mad means angry. But if I wrote a paper for English and put "mad" instead of "angry", my teacher would be "mad". Mad can also mean insane or "very". Example of very: I'm mad thirsty. Only teenage boys say that, however.
I've never heard of a fall hair piece. I'm guessing it's a completely obsolete meaning.
We have jam, jelly, and preserves. Jam is thicker than jelly, and preserves are the same as the ones everywhere else.
If someone is ill, they'd say they're sick. But ill would be more proper.
A queue would be where people line up to wait for something. A line would be a line as in a straight angle or where people stand. Line is just used most often.
Alora has kindly sent the following detailed observations on the subject:-
Just wanted to add some American
information from someone who has lived in several different states
all across the country.
In the UK we use the term 'in plaster' when referring to a hard cast (made with Plaster of Paris) placed on limbs with broken bones. e.g. "Her leg is in plaster following the accident." We sometimes say "Her leg is in a cast."
versus Bar. In the US, we have a few ways to refer to an
establishment that serves alcohol as their main revenue: bar, pub,
tavern or "dive bar." All of them are the same, with "dive bar"
typically being a dirtier place. Sometimes these are denoted with
the type. Examples include: Irish pub, biker bar, or gay bar. Bar is
far more common than pub or tavern, but if someone says, "Would you
like to go to the local tavern/pub to grab a drink?" then any
American will know what this means. Food is typically served no
matter where you go; even a dive bar has "typical" bar food like
fries, hamburgers and chips. Some places only sell small bagged
snacks (I saw on Shaun of the Dead that they referred to them as
"nibbles"), such as bagged chips, bagged pretzels or bagged
I'd just like to say, I'm Scottish and we use the word 'movie' as much as any American. 'Film' is what we tend to use in critical essays and all of that, but we use both of them as equally as each other.
We also use parcel/package equally—my family tend to say package.
We also use the word suspenders for braces for trouser/tops. Most people I know call them suspenders.
We only use the word queue if we're waiting for something, e.g. in a supermarket at the checkout. We use 'line' when we're told to 'line up' outside of class etc.
We also call lifts elevators. I tend to call them elevators.
And 'minced beef', we just call it mince.
For 'pram' we also use the word 'buggy'.
We use vacation and holiday equally.
Moulting and shedding are both used also.
But that's just what I've heard/used.
This subject has created a great deal of interest and input from visitors. For ease of use these have been split into several different pages including:-
Differences between Australian, British and American English.
Different meanings for American and British words.
a second list of words and phrases which have different meanings.
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