From Across the Pond: English vs. American Vocab

by Zoe Baker-Peng

Is this what you think of when
someone says they need a “rubber”?

If I asked you for “a plaster,” complimented your “smart” attire and offered you a “crisp,” would you understand me? Would you realise that I was actually asking you for a “Band-Aid,” telling you that you were well-dressed and offering you a “chip”? The differences between the British and American vocabularies often confound people on either side of the pond. As a London-born British girl with American parents, I am used to varying pronunciations, subtle spelling changes, and confusing word parallels, but I still have my fair share of mix-ups and amusing encounters.

Although predominantly British-based, my accent and vocabulary are a mixture of Americanisms and Britishisms. In London, I was the girl who, amongst (or, among) other things, pronounced “avocado” and “pasta” wrong (“ahvocado” instead of “aavocado,” and “pahsta” instead of “paasta”). Here, at Barnard, my friends love the way I say “tomahto” instead of “tomayto” and call my athletic shoes “trainers” rather than “sneakers.”

Further amusement is found when I complain of a long “queue,” wear my “welly boots” and say that I am going to empty the “dustbin.” I realise that my friends would have said it was a long “line,” I was wearing “rain boots” and the “trashcan” needed to be emptied. Junk in the “boot” doesn’t sound nearly as good as junk in the “trunk,” and apparently “chavs” are “gangstas” here. My friend started laughing when I asked if she had a “rubber.” No, I did not mean a “condom” but rather, an “eraser.”

The humour (or, humor) goes both ways though. The first time my roommate asked if her pants worked well with the shirt she wore, I stared at her in surprise. Her pants? How would I know? Turns out she meant her “trousers” and not her “underwear,” as I had thought. In Britain, people would most probably laugh if you put a “period” at the end of the sentence instead of a “full-stop.” British people also cannot believe that Americans have a bag known as a “fanny-pack.” If you said that in Britain, people would either stare in horror or laugh hysterically. We prefer to call them “bum-bags” because “fanny-pack” translated into British vocabulary means “vagina-pack.”

Even though they may not often say it, most Americans know that in Britain “torch” means “flashlight” and “lorry” means “truck.” But many may not have heard anyone say “pre-lash,” “bespoke,” “one-off” or “tuck-in” before. “Tuck-in” does not mean that one is going to bed, but rather that one should “dig in” to a meal. “Pre-lash” is the equivalent of “pre-game,” while “bespoke” means “made to order” and “one-off” means something that will only happen once and not again. “Cheers” can mean “thank-you” in the Britain, while “to get off” means “to hook up.” When these phrases slip out of my mouth, my friends laugh.

As I try to adapt to my new American environment, I am wary of losing my Britishisms. There are just some words that are too good to lose. I love how British people sometimes say that they are “gobsmacked” when they are shocked, or that they are going to do the “washing up” when they need to clean the dishes. A “fortnight” is such a handy way of saying “two weeks” and “dodgy” is far more fun to say than “sketchy.” I would never want to stop saying “kerfuffle” (meaning a skirmish or commotion) or “muppet” and “numpty” to describe someone silly. I cannot imagine not knowing that “chunder” (a slang word) means “to vomit” or that someone who is “fit” is “hot” (not just healthy).

It’s funny how people from both sides of the Atlantic claim that their way of spelling and pronouncing words is the correct way (it is “aluminium” by the way). Whichever way it is spelt (or spelled), the difference is something which we should all embrace. I like the way my roommate said “queue” the other day without noticing or how I realised I had just said I was going to change my “pants.” Yet, we both generally retain our own unique ways of speaking and can still learn about each other’s culture. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “America and Britain are two countries separated by a common language.”

BRITISH
AMERICAN
Trainers
Sneakers
Football
Soccer
Crisps
Chips
Full-stop
Period
Trolley
Shopping cart
Motorway
Highway
Car park
Parking lot
Aluminium
Aluminum
Lesson
Class
Fit (to describe someone)
Hot (to describe someone)
Back garden
Back yard
Chav (slang)
Gangster
Rubbish
Garbage
Rubber
Eraser
Plaster
Band-Aid
Loo/Toilet
Bathroom
Chuffed
No direct translation but “pleased” is close
Safe (slang)
No direct translation but “cool” is close. Also used to show agreement. e.g. “he”s safe” or “yeah, safe, let”s do that”
Chunder (slang)
Vomit
Pudding
Dessert
Ill
Sick
Lash
To drink alcohol – variations include “to get lashed” (to get drunk), “pre-lash” (to pre-game), “on the lash” (to go out and get drunk)
Gash (slang)
Girl
Stitch
Cramp in the rib area
Get off (slang)
Hook up
Mate (slang)
Friend
Cheers (slang)
Thank-you
Quid (slang)
£1
Kit
Gear
Do the washing up
Do the dishes
Mobile phone
Cell phone
Bum-bag
Fanny-pack
Nil
Zero
Arse (slang)
Ass
Shite (slang)
Shit
Trousers
Pants
Sweets
Candy
Nappy
Diaper
Fortnight
Two weeks
Shite (slang)
Slang
Dodgy
Sketchy
Tin
Can
Smart (to describe someone”s clothes)
Well-dressed
Sit exams
Take exams
Clingfilm
Cellophane
Sellotape
Scotch tape
Post
Mail
Jumper
Sweater/Sweatshirt
Mad
Crazy
Draw (as in an equal score)
Tie
Tuck-in
Dig-in
Car bonnet
Hood
Boot
Trunk
Lorry
Truck
Torch
Flashlight
Dustbin
Trashcan
Bespoke
Made to order
One-off
Something that will happen once and not again
To ring someone
To call someone
Queue
Line
Whinge
Complain
Windscreen
Windshield
Gobsmacked
Shocked
Kerfuffle
Skirmish, commotion
Muppet/Numpty
Someone silly
Spots
Zits
Wellington boots
Rain boots
Early days
No direct translation but “early going” is close, e.g. “don”t worry about having trouble adjusting, it”s early days”.
Autumn
Fall
Flat
Apartment
To fancy someone
To like someone or be attracted to someone (romantically)
Sorry?
Excuse me?


Zoe Baker-Peng is a first-year at Barnard and a staff-writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “From Across the Pond: English vs. American Vocab

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s