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LANGUAGE DIFFERENCES


When I set up the first page on the subject of language differences I had no idea just how much interest it would evoke. This has resulted in me receiving a great many contributions on the subject but, this in itself, has given me somewhat of a problem.


I have been trying to think of a way to present all that information in an entertaining and yet easy to use format, however, to date, I have not been able to crack the problem. It is far too complex a subject just to create lists and it has also become apparent that there are wide ranging opinions.

In view of all this I have decided to publish visitors' responses on pages in the hope that others will find them of interest.

Chris Alderton makes some very pertinent comments on the complex subject of language differences.......

I think a large part of the reason for all of the debate is that you're trying to condense a very broad and varied area of linguistic variation down into three solid "blocks". You've got a list of differences divided up by country, which is just never going to work.

The UK has large amounts of variation, to the extent that they almost seem to change into a different language entirely when you cross the Watford Gap going in either direction! Try taking somebody from Newcastle-upon-Tyne and somebody from Plymouth and having them compare notes - they'll scarcely understand each other! Match them up with somebody from York, and somebody from Stafford, and so on. Even if you only took the people who live inside the M25 ring road, you've got a simply HUGE variation in slang.

Take the same case for the US.

You've got loads of different groups here too! The Pacific Northwest which is different from New England in the north-east, which is different again from the West Coast proper (even California is too big to be treated as a homogeneous group), which is different again from the Rockies, which is different again from the Midwest, which is different AGAIN from the Deep South, which is different again from...you begin to see my point.

Even here in Australia, where it seems fairly clear-cut, no such luck! My own father, having moved from Tasmania to the mainland, tried to order a "scallop" from a fish and ship shop. Turns out that where he grew up, a scallop is a sea creature, similar to a mussel. What we here in New South Wales call a scallop is what they call a "potato cake". Similarly, what we call "swimmers" or a "costume" here, they call "togs" or "cossies" in Queensland. See also: "speedos" vs. "budgie smugglers" (although I must admit to using a non-standard word to describe these, personally - I generally call them "Good Lord, get it away!")

And while I can't speak for the English spoken in Hong Kong or Singapore, or South Africa or India or any of those other places, I've no doubt that the variation within each of them will be too big to be properly encapsulated by a simple "What do they call <x> in your country, then?"


Dave has written -

A Lift in the USA is the thing in a service station/garage (car repair place) that is hydraulic and "lifts" the car in the air to work under.

Garage is a car/truck repair place that does not sell petrol/gasoline.

I have never heard a flagpole called a flagstaff in the US, I'm on the west coast its always a flagpole.

A spanner is also a wrench just an open end type in the US, a box end is called a wrench or box end wrench.

Its a shoelace here in the US too, never heard it called a shoe string.

Class in the US (referring to school) is a hour long in one subject. also called a period. "gym class" "English class" etc.

Parcel in the US is a letter or pouch envelope. Package is a box being sent.

Lavatory is used in the US for institutions, schools, etc. Restroom is used in general public places, and bathroom is used in homes.

Flat in the US is a small one story apartment also called a studio apartment. Apartments are larger and consist of one story or more, two story apt. are also a town house/home.

Trousers is used in the US and is normally a suit pant or old persons pants, pretty much what the other person said.

Minced beef is much finer ground than hamburger in the US.

 



USA, "Madam", is a formal generic variation of Mrs. (Mistress), used to address a married woman, or a woman who is no longer available for marriage. "Madam" is contracted to Ma'am, in which the apostrophe stands for the missing letter, "d". The use of Ma'am, or Madam, or Madame pertaining to the owner or manager of a house of ill repute finds its origin in the fact that the, "Madame", was not for hire. The specific formal usage of, "Ma'am", pertains only to a married female whose name
is not known.

Otherwise, "Mrs." (Misses) <surname>, is used. In the USA, "Miss", is a formal and proper salutation for an unmarried virgin seeking a husband.

In The USA, an informal, business, or intentionally ambiguous female salutation, primarily used among middle class feminists, is, "Ms." (Miz), a mixture of, "Misses" and "Miss", meaning either Mrs. or Miss. The lower classes, and upper class either use Miss or Mrs., but the middle class has adopted Ms., especially in business relationships involving feminists, lesbians, female judges, female lawyers, or female doctors.

The vast majority of US citizens, both male and female, prefer the traditional salutations, Miss and Mrs..

In the USA, the word, "boot", means a sort of rugged or stylish, calf height or higher footwear, especially with a raised heel. In UK, the word boot refers to the USA meaning, but in UK the rear storage compartment of an automobile is called the, "boot" also. The lid, or top hinged part is called a, "boot lid".

In Wisconsin, USA, a public drinking fountain is called a, "bubbler". Across the Wisconsin border, in Illinois, USA, it is called a, "drinking fountain". If a Wisconsinite travels 10 miles into Illinois, and asks for the location a bubbler, the people have no idea what he's talking about.

Among middle class Caucasian USA, "shoot the breeze", means "to make light conversation", especially to consume excess time. The lower class uses, "jaw", referring to the movement of the lower jaw when speaking. Examples are, "We were just shooting the breeze." and "I was jawing with them truckers." (semi haulers).

Among African American inner city ghetto dwellers, the term, "you straight?", or "we straight?", means, "Do you feel your were treated equitably?" or "Is everything between us equitable?", especially as a courtesy gesture from a drug dealer to a client.

Also among African Americans, "horn", is a term used to define a device to hold "crack" (free base) cocaine for smoking. If a suburban dweller abuses crack cocaine, and seeks the drug in an urban African American community, and the person doesn't know what a horn is, the drug dealers know they can dispense small quantities for a given price, and the suburbanite won't know he's being cheated.

Lower class USA slang for inflicting a wound with a firearm is, "Cap his ass", originating in the name of toys from the 1970s, made to resemble a real firearm, that used tiny packets of gun powder to make a sound like a real firearm, albeit a much softer sound. In the United States, between 1940 and 1960, grade school aged boys frequently carried firearms with them to school, because public schools offered classes to hone skill in the use of firearms. There were no recorded firearm related injuries attributable to this practice, but to foreigners to the USA, the concept of 12 year old boys being encouraged to bring rifles to school is unusual.

"Ripped off", in USA slang means, "cheated" in some way. But it does not refer to "infidelity" between lovers or spouses, which is called, "cheating" also. "He cheated on me!", means he had intimate relations with another girl during a time he was supposed to be my exclusive lover, which is implicit in Western style marriage.

"Beat up", is USA slang for being on the receiving end of battery, or assault without use of weapons. "He got beat up!"
 

MasonCide


 

Hey, I just wanted to include some of the language differences. I'm from CA, but I'm pretty sure most of these are general.

Keeper/Goalie: Whenever Brits talk about soccer, they say keeper. That's never used in America, it's always goalie or goal keeper.

Some American Words:

Hella: This is used pretty much only in California, and in different ways.
"Those are hella (a hell of a lot of) hot dogs!"
"I had a hella (hell of) good time last night."
"You're hella (very/really) funny!"

Snogging: I've read this in Harry Potter, in America we would say "making out" or "frenching" like french kissing.

Slag: We say skank or "ho". Ho and whore are not the same. Ho is much less offensive and usually used in a joking manner, whore is a more serious insult synonymous with hooker. Hooker, whore and call girl are people who are paid to have sexual intercourse with men. Skank, ho, tramp, or slut are usually used to describe girls who fool around or dress scantily and can even be used in a joking manner or semi-affectionately.

A homeless person who lives on the street is a tramp, beggar, or hobo. Hobo is also used for extreme rednecks.

A redneck is an uneducated, extremely conservative person (politically) who is usually middle class or blue collar. It is applied more to men than women when used as a noun, but can be used to describe anything. Kissing cousins, big trucks, guns, homophobia, unintelligence, overuse of the American flag, questionable dental hygiene, beating children, bad manners and fried food are all things that are very redneck. Calling something redneck is not a good thing-it is insulting usually used to highlight the ignorance or discrimination of someone or something. A town, a family, an object, a store, a law, a style of dress- all of these things can be called redneck.

Californians do not call San Francisco Frisco, nor do we call California Cali. We use NorCal and SoCal-because there is a difference. San Francisco is called 'The City' by those who live near it, and the area around it is 'The Bay Area'. Los Angeles is L.A.

Hapa/Hapanese: Someone who is half Asian, first used for those that are half Japanese.

F.O.B.: Fresh off Boat asian-someone who has adopted very little or few American customs and is still almost comically traditional or uninformed about American culture.

Vamanos: Let's go! This is often used when asking people to come in California- we do have a large Spanish population.

Douche/Douchebag: First used to describe someone who dressed or acted ridiculously, it now means the same thing as ass or asshole and is mainly applied to males.

Sketch: Something questionable-on the verge of being ghetto. Usually used to describe a place or situation.

Manwhore: A less flattering word for playboy.

Garage: A garage is what you have at your house where you park your car. A Parking Garage is a building in the city used solely for parking cars. If your car is broken, we usually say "it's getting fixed" or "it's in the shop".

Emo/Scene: Not usually flattering, these words are used for kids with 'punk' like hair and manners who try too hard to be hardcore. They ARE different from punks and goths-those words are not nearly used as often, but usually have a more respectful tone.

Indie/Hipsters: Usually these people shop at Urban Outfitters or American Apparel- they're not interested in being mainstream. Their dress is very bohemian and reminiscent of hippies. They listen to bands no one has heard of and are passively in favor of gay rights, animal rights, and other very liberal political sentiments but not politically active.


A lot of these terms are things the younger generation uses, hope this helps!

Chiara

 


I'm from California. I have to correct the person that said the term "pants" is used by the younger generations as an adjective. As someone from the younger generation (17), I promise that no one would say "That film was pants." If they did, they would get laughed at.

I think it really needs to be stressed on this website that the term fag or faggot should NEVER be used in the US, especially when referring to a gay person. It is the MOST offensive term used to describe a gay person. It would be the equivalent of calling a black person a nigger. It is only used by homophobic bigots.

I have never heard flagstaff refer to anything other than the city in Arizona. It is always flagpole.

Grade can either refer to the specific year someone is in at school (i.e. 1st grade, 2nd grade, etc.) or it can refer to a letter grade used to determine how well you perform in school (i.e. A, B, C, D, or F).

Class can refer to your year at school or a lesson in a particular subject (i.e "He's in my class"/the class of 2011 or "I just went to English class.")

What the UK calls college, we call high school. In high school, the grade levels are freshmen (9th grade), sophomore (10th grade), junior (11th grade), and senior (12th grade). In the US, college refers to university. This can become confusing because many colleges will have the term university in their title (i.e. Yale University). Having the term university in the title does not in any way indicate the prestige of the school. For example, Harvard is called Harvard College, not Harvard University, and is one of the most prestigious schools in America.

Fanny is a polite way to say butt.

At least in my generation, when someone is drunk, they might say they are hammered, smashed, or wasted. Pissed and pissed off both mean angry, but pissed is used more commonly.

In the US, homely does mean ugly. It refers to someone being so plain that they are ugly. We use the term homey to refer to something cozy or unpretentious. This is not to be confused with "homie," which is an outdated, ghetto slang term used to refer to a friend (i.e. "He is my homie").

I have only every heard Mickey Mouse when referring to the animated Disney character.

"I have the s****" would also refer to having diarrhea in the US.

Gas can refer to gasoline or passing wind. (i.e. "I filled my car up with gas" or "I have gas"/ "I just passed gas").

On the west coast, we would never say shoestring.

Restroom can be used in all contexts, including in homes, and is often considered to be more polite than bathroom.

People my age don't say they are going to "chill out" when referring to relaxing, but it is common to hear someone use the shortened version, saying they are going to "chill." Chill can also be used as an adjective when referring to someone who is calm or laid back (i.e. He is a really chill guy, or He is really chill). When we say "chill out," we are usually telling someone who is being annoying or is getting frustrated to calm down. For example, if your mom starts yelling at you, you might tell her to "chill out," or take a chill pill. This would be considered rude.

On the west coast we say "soda." Pop and soda-pop are used in the Midwest, but everyone would understand what they are referring to. If you ask for lemonade you are going to get a drink made by mixing lemon juice, sugar, and water. We put ice in all of our cold drinks.

In the UK, I think you guys say "take the piss" when making fun of someone. We say "I'm messing with you," or "I'm just kidding," or "I'm just messing around." If you were to say that you were "taking a piss," that would mean that you are urinating.

I don't know if these phrases are only used in the US, but if we are really hungry we might say "I could eat a horse." If we just ate and are full, we might say "I'm stuffed.".

If the car behind you gets really close to the back of your car for an extended period of time, they are "tailgating" you. This is usually a display of anger toward you, often times warning you to go faster. We also "tailgate" which is a party before a sports game where people barbecue and drink. This is most common before football games.

"Pregaming" refers to getting drunk or drinking before going to an event or party.

Danielle


As far as the 'pop', 'soda', 'lemonade' thing goes, in the east coast, 'pop' is used. I traveled South to Texas and while in a restaurant, I asked what kind of pop they have. "Excuse me?" the waitress said. "Pop..." I said. "Excuse me?!!"-Waitress "Pop!.."-Me (Then I thought) "Oh, soda!"- Me "Oh!, well, we have (whatever she said)". I have personally never heard someone say 'coke', referring to all pop/soda beverages.

Some American terms that may or may not be different from U.K. and Australia:

Toilet Paper
French Fry
Potato chip
Busy signal (I heard it's called an engaged tone somewhere) - Here in the UK we say 'engaged'
Can/ Tin can
Sweater
Cookie
Biscuit (bread)
Hood (Neighborhood)
Bum (Homeless Person)
Sneakers (Shoes)
Pissed and pissed off are used interchangeably
Coaster (Circular cork mat used under a glass/can/bottle)

*In the South, people are polite and respectful; they say Ma'am and Sir. Usually, up North (or just the East Coast) people don't usually address people. You basically skip that part of the sentence , i.e.:
South- "Yes Ma'am/ Sir"
North- "Yes" (Or more common) "Yeah" (Or if you're truly lazy), "Mmhm"
Oh, I don't understand why we can't be as polite!
(Of course, this doesn't apply to EVERYONE in the U.S. People are different, and that can be a good OR bad thing...)

Sophi


I'd just like to expand on the -ise/-ize distinction, which is far more complicated than a simple UK/US divergence. Originally, -ize was used in British English too, for words with Greek roots.
But not for words like advise, despise,...

And let's not forget that nobody bothered too much about spelling consistently in the bad old days. But, when people started publishing dictionaries:
 

  • Noah Webster in the US standardized on the -ize form (phonetic)
  • The Oxford University Press (publishers of the OED: Oxford English Dictionary) also preferred -ize for words of Greek origin, for phonetic and etymological reasons
  • The Cambridge University Press (publishers of the CED... you guessed it) preferred -ise and it's become predominant in the British press. One advantage is that you don't have to worry about all the exceptions to the -ize rule. Essentially, the logic is that it makes sense for words that came to us via French, which modified the z to s. Others object to this logic because many of the words were imported to English before the French made the switch...

However, for me, the most fascinating aspect is that while most people think that the -ize form is an American innovation, it is in fact the older form of the language that is persisting.
Another example of the "colony" maintaining older grammatical forms: the subjunctive is far more widely used in the US than in the UK.

I only became conscious of this after moving to France (over 30 years ago). The French are very aware of a similar divergence between French French and Canadian French: the language of the ex-colony tends to advance faster as far as vocabulary is concerned but to lag behind on grammar.

Les Brown


I live in England, London, and 'pissed' can now either mean angry or drunk. It depends on the situation, really.

Elena

 

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.

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 (2 , 3, 4) which have been sent in by visitors which are shown on three more pages.

 


 

 

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