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LANGUAGE DIFFERENCES

When I started these pages I had no idea just how much interest they would evoke. I do have quite a back-log of information awaiting publication but I am having difficulty finding a way to present it in both and entertaining and yet usable format.  In the meantime, I have just received the following from a visitor:-

Bun- Really, this usually refers to particular kinds of bread, based mainly upon shape and consistency, and which always seems to come in some form smaller than a typical loaf.  It implies a size intended to be eaten completely in a single meal.  Oftentimes it is intended as just enough to make a single sandwich of some kind, and there are particular kinds for certain kinds of sandwiches, such as hot dog or hamburger buns (although strictly speaking, people almost never refer to these popular meals as sandwiches, even though that is what in effect they are). 

Of course, as others have pointed out, the word is also applied to particular sweet confections as well.  We also use the word "roll" to describe small bread buns served with dinner or a more formal lunch.  (And speaking of which, most people say "dinner" when what they are talking about is "supper," with the only exception you normally hear being Thanksgiving (a Thursday in late November) or Christmas dinner, which are typically served during in the afternoon.  When my father was a boy Italian families also habitually had such a dinner weekly on Sunday afternoons, but I don't know to what extent the custom has been preserved.)

Biscuit- In America this is a particular class of bread (like buns or rolls) eaten with meals, including breakfast. It is not a pastry, as reported on the web page. It is associated with less formal dining than dinner rolls, but nonetheless may put in an appearance at Thanksgiving.  As such, it is never sweet, except to the extent one puts jam or jelly on it at breakfast.  Usually, people just use butter, as they would with other kinds of bread rolls.  Incidentally, when people use the word "butter" here, they are normally using margarine, not real butter.  Relatively few people still seem to use real butter (although when I was in the Navy, we always had real butter, because of the influence of the Washington politicians coming from those states where the dairy industry was important.)  Also, sometimes very small sandwiches are made with biscuits, generally as a breakfast food.  Finally, what the British call a biscuit we call a cookie

Bottom/bum- There are a host of synonyms for that particular part of the anatomy (some of them regional) although, sadly, most you don't hear very much anymore.  The choice of which to use was and remains generally dependent upon the context, including how delicate the speaker wished to be in discussing this arguably sensitive physical feature. 

Here's a list:  butt, bottom, behind, booty (only about 20 or 30 years old, at most), buns (also dates from the 1970's, and adopted because of it's resemblance to some of the previously-mentioned bread products), fanny, derierre, keister, carcass, can, posterior, rear end, rear, tusche, tuchas (from the Yiddish),  "Ass" was always regarded as vulgar and rude (essentially, it is treated as a swear-word, except on television nowadays, where they are constantly trying to be "edgy"on theory that it attracts viewers). "Butt" was also considered somewhat crass but not as bad so that it could be employed as a euphemism for "ass" in situations where swearing was prohibited but where the crass connotation was desired - for example, on television or in the movies before swearing became prevalent there, and where the producers were trying to simulate an environment where one would expect swearing to be employed, such as in military, crime, or sports contexts. 

Words like can, carcass, and keister were similarly used. We have also pretty much adopted "bum" as more polite word for the sitting down place, though you don't hear it used very often.  "Buns" is (or was, anyway) not infrequently used by women when admiring the same on a male. 

flagstaff/flagpole.  Flagstaff is more of a military or naval term.  I can't think when I have ever heard it used in a purely civilian context, apart from the name of the city in Arizona.

shoestring/laces, or shoelaces.  Interestingly, "shoestring" only seems to be used to describe something tenuous, generally some operation or task being carried out in spite of an acute shortage of the usual resources needed to do it.

cinema/movie theater  When most Americans go out to see a movie at a movie theater, they just say they are "going to the movies", or "going to go see a movie", and then they employ the word "theater" to describe the particular location they are going to. For example --  Him:  "Let's go to the movies. I want to see Indiana Jones."  Her: "I want to go see a movie, too. What theater is it playing at?"  

If, on the other hand, we say we are "going to the theater," that means a live stage performance.

As for movie and film, we use both words, but movie is much more common, "film" generally being reserved for situations where you are engaging in a serious discussion of a movie.

toilet- there are a lot of expressions for this. First, the word "toilet" can refer to either the receptacle itself or the facility generally where it is located, though the way most people use the word is to indicate the receptacle only. 

As for the receptacle itself, on an architectural plan you will see it identified by the initials W.C., for water closet, but you won't hear it anywhere else. This refers to the commode (the plumber's term), itself, not the room containing it. Similarly, only architects typically use the term "lavatory," to denote a room containing a W.C. and a sink, but no bath.  Most Americans refer to the same as "the bathroom", whether it has a bath or not.  

We also commonly, though not exclusively, say "restroom", if it is in a place other than a home or its equivalent, such as a hospital room or hotel room (unless a visitor feels uncomfortable and is trying to be too polite).  Restroom can be further changed into "men's room" and "ladies' room" and occasionally you might still hear someone say "the gents'" in reference to the fact that men's room doors used to often have a sign on them that said "Gentlemen." 

Some places will use the term "powder room;" once upon a time, when people dressed more formally for dinner, the ladies' room at a posh restaurant might go by that name.  On architectural plans for residences you may also see that term used in place of "lavatory" as discussed above, for the same reason that they may denominate the covered place where you park your car as a "porte coche" instead of a "carport."  And as previously noted, sometimes because we sometimes teach children to say "little girls room", or "little boys room," in joking, teenagers or adults might say "I've just got to hit the little boys room real fast."  If you are trying to be cute, this can be further permutated into all sorts of other expressions; when I was 18 and had just returned from my first submarine patrol with the United States Naval Reserve, I would tell my girlfriend I needed to use the "little submariners' room."  Another expression people teach young children is "potty," and I once had a very dainty blonde girlfriend who still used that expression in an effort to be delicate when she was in her mid-thirties.  Occasionally you might hear someone simply asking for the "facilities."

The term "can" is a cruder expression that was used pretty much exclusively by men, though you don't here it much anymore. In military circles, the Navy and Marines Corps still use "head" aboard ship or on base while the army uses "latrine" (I don't know what the Marines call it in the field or what Air Force calls it anyplace, but not being very impressed with that branch I would be willing to bet on "potty"). On submarines we used to call the commodes themselves by the delicately endearing term, "shitters."

trousers/pants- You almost never hear the term trousers used in the U.S. anymore, except possibly on occasion in a men's wear specialty store.  You also used to hear the word "slacks" to identify at least some long pants not part of a suit, but it seems to have gone out of fashion. Basically, for long pants we just say "pants."  As a previous writer noted, some kinds of pants are indicated simply by talking about the type, such as jeans or khakis.  When these terms are used it is assumed that long pants are intended.  For short pants we simply say "shorts," or "jeans shorts," "khaki shorts," etc.  We also have "cuttoffs," which describes shorts which have the appearance of having been made by truncating a pair of long pants without bothering to hem the legs, so that they are left with a ragged appearance.  Almost always those are made from jeans.

side walk/pavement -  Unlike others, I can't think where I've ever heard anyone call the sidewalk anything but, unless it was when I was very young and I just don't remember anymore.

chips - What the British would call "chips" we would call "fries," or "French fries."  We also have them in more than one shape, a long, skinny type being the most common.  We use the term "chips" to describe very thin, crispy sort of wafers made from very, very thinly sliced potatoes, corn meal, or sometimes other things which imaginative processed food manufacturers can come up with.

In the UK these "crispy wafers" are called "crisps".

ground floor/first floor- In the States we normally use these two terms synonymously.  Occasionally you'll see an office building or similar large structure where for some reason (usually entrances at different levels) the architect denominated both a ground floor and a first floor above that, which usually causes confusion until you are made aware of it and get used to it.

taxi cab - When I was a little kid I used to call these by both names - "taxi-cab."  Nowadays pretty much everybody I know calls them just cabs, yet the word taxi is hardly extinct, and shows up other places implying door-to-door delivery, such as "take-out taxi" to describe the delivery of meals to your door.

shops and stores  - In the U.S. people normally say "store" where it seems the British more commonly use "shop."   When we use "shop" in reference to retail it is usually for particular kinds of generally small specialty store, such as gift shops, greeting card shops, optical shops, or a tailor's shop.  In this regard, the word is more typically associated with a place where work is done, rather than just merchandise being sold, so that you get various repair shops (mechanic's, auto/car repair, auto body, brakes, mufflers, shoes, televisions, computer repair, clocks & watches, etc.). 

You also still some people describe a vehicle being repaired as "in the shop" (although you could just as easily hear them say that it is "at the mechanic, " "at the dealer" (where the dealership which sells such cars also has a "service department" to repair them) or even "at the garage" (which is another name for a car repair shop, as well as a room in which to park your car) as well as of course, "at Joe's [Fred's, Dave's, Ray's, Auto Doc, etc.]"  

The word "shop" is also used sometimes to describe repair or maintenance facilities within businesses, and it used to be a slang term in the Navy for certain support facilities aboard ship. 

People will also sometimes have places in their homes to pursue their hobbies which might be referred to as workshops, woodworking shops, and the like.  The term workshop is also widely used in business or professional circles to describe a seminar of some kind.

estate agent- is called a realtor or real estate agent

We say jam just as much as we say jelly (and we also have marmalade, too)

Garden/yard - The part of one's home the British refer to as "the garden" Americans call "the yard."  When Americans use the word garden, it is in reference to a particular place (often within a yard) dedicated to growing vegetables or flowers.

Pub isn't uncommon in the names of bars here, because among certain things British that appeal to many Americans our understanding of the concept of the pub is one.  However, such establishments generally don't operate like a classic British pub.  The notion of an American bar that closes at 10 or 11 p.m.*** (2200 or 2300) is laughable most places (other than in hotels or airports).  It is also unlikely that the whole family would go or that you would see children in one (on the other hand, there are innumerable restaurants which feature a bar prominently as part of the amenities and they cater especially to families as well others). 

***  Licensing hours have changed in the UK;  Pubs and bars can now apply to stay open 24/7.

Moreover, we don't say we are going to the pub.  More likely we would say that we are "going out," or "going out for drinks" (or "going out for a drink," though this usage is probably passe) or that we were going to a particular bar, i.e., "I'm going to the Richmond Arms (Black Lab, Boar's Head, Baker Street Pub, Gingerman, Earnie's, The Aquarium, Fuzzy's etc.).  If we are going out to a dance club rather than just a bar, we'd say we were going out to a club.

Pram -  We call this a "baby carriage" or, in it's more modern form, a "stroller".

Roundabout - this must go by more than one name in the States, depending on where you are.  Everyplace I have ever seen them (including Camp Lejuene, North Carolina and Houston, Texas) they were called traffic circles.

Car terminology:  What the British call the "hood" on a convertible car we call the "top."  We then use the word "boot" to name the little cover that goes over the top when it is down.  

I have heard that the British now use the term "truck" in addition (if not actually in preference to) "lorry".

Solicitors in the US are people who come door to door to sell things (nowadays primarily to businesses, rather than homes), or call you on the telephone, and there are tons of people with stores that say "no solicitors" on the fronts.  Lawyers in America are called either lawyers or attorneys, with the terms being 100% synonymous.  We do not have nor draw any distinction between solicitors and barristers.  This is notwithstanding the fact that for some reason there is a position in the federal government in Washington called the Solicitor General, which is a different position from the Attorney General.

gravy is a brown sauce made from meat used on turkey (and mashed potatoes and chicken-fried steak and various other things), but many Italian-Americans still refer to gravy as tomato sauce, and all the generations after them still use it.

Resume/ CV -  In my experience as a lawyer, physicians, scientists, some engineers, and similar professionals may have CV's.  Most people, including lawyers, do not.

Contributor - C. A. Palumbo - A 47-year-old male who has lived in various parts of the United States ranging from California to Florida to Virginia to Texas with a very wide ranging vocabulary.


 

 


In your section about British and American words, there are some other differences.

If you see a building on fire in America, you do not phone the "fire brigade", but the "fire department".

The word "platform" at a train station in Britain is unheard of in the US; there they say "track", e.g. "The Chattanooga Choo Choo on Track 29".

Still on the subject of railways, when, as a boy, I first heard the song "The Runaway Train", I heard the word "engineer" but not "driver" - and it wasn't until I was older that I learnt that "engineer" was the US word for "engine driver".

William Sitwell


I'm engaged to an American "gal" from South Carolina and we often make fun of each other's different uses of various words. One that springs to mind is their word for an articulated lorry which, in the south certainly, they call a semi (pronounced sem-i).

Another word is barbecue, in the south the activity of barbecuing is called a cookout and the word barbecue relates to the food that has been prepared at the cookout. Also they will often oven roast what they call a Boston Butt (actually pork shoulder) then shred this with a pair of forks (in a similar way to Chinese crispy duck is shredded in the UK) This will then be put into a pot with a barbecue sauce and served in a burger bun and called "barbecue"!

David Budgen


May 2012 - Keith B. Darrell has kindly sent in the following observations on British and American language differences:

Flagpole, never Flagstaff, although a flag may be flown at half-staff or half-mast during a memorial.

Shoelace and shoestring used equally. Shoelace is used more often, but when doing something on a bare-bones budget, one is doing it on a shoestring, not a shoelace. Also, one laces (putting them through the shoe eyes) and then ties one's shoelaces.

Movie-house- never heard the term. Art-house is sometimes used for screenings of artsy or foreign films. Films and movies (interchangeable) are shown at theaters (sometimes misspelled the British way as theatres). A slang term for films is flicks.

Mailman is most common, followed by postal carrier, postman, and postal worker.

Class can be a level of school, the physical room, the student body of a specific grade (like the 10th grade class).

Package predominates, but parcel is a close second. The nation's largest private deliverer of packages is UPS - United Parcel Service.

Restroom (especially in public places) and bathroom (especially in private homes) are the two major terms. Never WC. John and Crapper are low class slang. An outhouse refers to a specific structure, often found in rural areas lacking indoor plumbing; it is a shed several yards from the main house, containing a toilet that empties into an open pit or sewage tank.

Flat is not known by Americans. Use apartment. Pad was 1960's hippie slang; use it only if you feel comfortable with words like "groovy". "Crib" is the new slang, predominantly in black or ghetto slang.

Garage can be either a car park or a repair shop. I parked my car in the garage (either an enclosed municipal parking lot or an enclosure attached to a private home). "I took my care to the garage" implies I am having it repaired, as does the phrase "my car is in the shop."

Pants in the US are trousers (or jeans these days).

Line is more common then queue but both are used. Interesting, in certain parts of the US, one waits "in line" while other regions wait "on line".

Pavement would be any paved area, including a basketball court. Sidewalk is a paved walkway.

Never heard rotary or roundabout. Have heard traffic circle but it's not very common.

Animals shed fur, birds moult feathers.

First floor and Ground floor are synonymous.

Mad and angry are synonymous, although mad can also mean insane.

Taxi and cab are synonymous; in fact, cab is short for "taxi cab".

Mad and crazy are synonymous, although mad can also mean angry.

Shop and store are synonymous, although shop is also a verb.

Sick and ill are synonymous.

Timetable and schedule are synonymous.

One can call or phone.

A trailer is usually attached to a vehicle. A freestanding one is called a mobile home (yes, I know it makes no sense since it does not move).

BandAid is a very common term but it is also a brand name for an adhesive strip.

A Realtor (capitalized) is a member of a professional real estate sales organization. One who sells homes is a real estate agent or salesperson, and the office he works for is a real estate broker (as is the office proprietor). Not all real estate salesmen are Realtors (a trademarked term).

Jelly is more gelatinous than jam, which is thicker and contains more fruit than jelly. Jam may also be called preserves.

Leash is more common than lead but both are used.

A yard is the grassy areas in front of or behind a house. A garden is a patch of flowers or vegetables.

Outlet and socket are both used; a plug is what goes into the socket.

Scotch tape is a trademarked brand of cellophane tape.

A lawyer is one who has graduated with a law degree. An attorney is a lawyer who has passed a state bar examination and been admitted to practice law in that particular jurisdiction.

A barrister would be a litigator or litigation attorney.

A mate is more likely a spouse; here, your best "mate" is your best friend.

My mother dated a Brit once. He asked if she wanted him to come round and knock her up in the morning. In the U.S. that means getting a female pregnant; apparently it means something else across the pond. When I stayed at a B&B in London, the landlady asked if I wanted a "lie-in" for breakfast. I was horrified you people would eat lions!

We are indeed two peoples separated by a common language.

I've written several novels in which I try to have my foreign characters speak as people from those countries do, rather than sound like Americans. I have introduced my American readers to a lot of British, Australian, Irish, and Japanese words and hopefully I have not misused any. Having seen every episode of EastEnders, I feel comfortable with the British language, perhaps more so than my countrymen. When I say "the Old Bill swarmed around the square looking for a dodgy blighter and they scared all the punters out of the pub," they have no clue what I just said, lol.


As I mentioned above, 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/American and British terms

same words but different meaning

a chart listing some of the differences between the more commonly used British/American words and phrases

a second list of words and phrases which have different meanings.  

Then there are all the suggestions of language differences, language differences (2) and Language differences (3) which have been sent in by visitors which are shown on two more pages.


 

 

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