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- Brits and Americans might speak the same language, but there are plenty of British words, phrases, and slang that mean something totally different in America.
- These differences can cause embarrassment or even get you into trouble. If you ask a British woman about her pants, for example, she’ll assume you’re asking about her underwear, not her trousers.
- Brush up on these British words, phrases, and slang that mean something completely different in America to avoid any trouble down the road.
It’s been said that England and America are two countries divided by a common language.
Different words, different pronunciations, and different spellings have created two distinct separations in the English language: British English and American English.
Words, phrases, and slang that mean one thing in the UK often mean a totally different thing in the US – and vice versa.
As a British expat living in New York, I can tell you with absolute certainty that there’s nothing worse than saying something to an American and being met with a blank stare or a stifled giggle. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve accidentally ordered a doughy, cheesy, savory “biscuit” instead of a cookie more than once.
Here are some common British words, phrases, and slang that mean something entirely different across the pond in America:
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Don’t ask a British person about their pants. You’ll get a very funny look, and maybe even a slap round the face, because you’ll be inquiring about their underwear and not their trousers.
How we’d say it in Britain: “When you get dressed you put your pants on first, then your trousers.”
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In Britain, a jumper isn’t a sleeveless dress worn as part of a school uniform – we’d call that a pinafore dress in the UK.
What we call a jumper in Britain is a cozy, knitted pullover you’d put on when it’s cold out, or as it’s known in America: a sweater.
How we’d say it in Britain: “Can you pass me my jumper? I’m freezing.”
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We’re talking about the game that made David Beckham famous. The one where your kick a ball with your foot. Not the game where you throw a ball and catch it in your hands, with the occasional kick thrown in for good measure – that game has no business being called football.
How we’d say it in Britain: “David Beckham was one of the best football players to ever play the game.”
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This one is classic Cockney rhyming slang.
The unique language style originated in the East End of London during the first half of the 18th century and relies on rhyme to disguise words within a sentence.
In this case, Barney Rubble is a pretty sneaky way of saying “trouble.”
How we’d say it in Britain: “We’re in a right load of Barney Rubble now!”
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When British people refer to an anorak in conversation, there’s a good chance they’re not talking about a coat you wear in the rain.
Brits use the word anorak as slang to describe someone who has a very boring hobby.
According to a previous Business Insider article, the word probably came about because anoraks are decidedly “uncool.”
How we’d say it in Britain: “He’s a bit of an anorak. He likes bird-watching.”
In the UK, a purse is a wallet, which is kept in a handbag. As opposed to the American way, where a wallet is kept in a purse.
How we’d say it in Britain: “I keep all my change and credit cards in my purse.”
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Don’t start planning your next camping trip just yet.
Camp is also a very British way of saying something or someone is deliberately exaggerated or theatrical, according to Oxford English dictionary.
How we’d say it in Britain: “He ended every performance with a camp flourish.”
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In the UK, a biscuit is a delicious, thin, baked treat you’d dunk in a cup of tea, maybe covered with a layer of chocolate or with a few pieces of dried fruit baked into them.
A biscuit is not a savory, dense chunk of buttery dough, and you’d practically never eat an English biscuit in the same mouthful as gravy or chicken.
How we’d say it in Britain: “My favorite kind of biscuits are chocolate digestives.”
British gravy is thick, tastes like a roast dinner, and is always brown. It is not white or creamy and is never served over a biscuit.
How we’d say it in Britain: “My mum makes the best gravy. Her recipe’s a family secret, but she uses lots of meat stock.”
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If a Brit starts talking to you about their trainers, they’re not discussing the people who make them sweat at the gym.
They’re talking about their sneakers. A Brit might also call a pair of sneakers a pair of “pumps.”
How we’d say it in Britain: “I’m going for a run tonight, so I’ve packed my trainers.”
Crisps are the British equivalent of an America potato chip. Crisps can be a packet of Lays, a bag of Cheetos, or a handful of Doritos, among other things. They’re usually eaten at lunch and come in handy 25g “packets” – or bags – for individual consumption, instead of the massive sharing bags they sell in the US.
How we’d say it in Britain: “I’ll have an egg sandwich and a packet of crisps.”
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You’d call them fries in America. But, in my opinion, they’re usually chunkier and far nicer than standard French fries. The ones you get from the fish and chip shop (otherwise known as “The Chippy”) are always the best.
How we’d say it in Britain: “I like to cover my chips in salt and vinegar and dip them in ketchup.”
Give a ring
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Yes, a ring is something you can wear in the UK. But if a British person offers to give you a ring, they’re probably not casually proposing to you.
If someone says they’ll give you a ring, they’re going to call you on the phone.
The phrase refers to the noise a landline phone makes when someone calls.
How we’d say it in Britain: “I’ll give you a ring when I get home so you know I arrived safely.”
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If a British person tells you they’re pissed, they’re not (necessarily) angry. They’re just drunk.
How we’d say it in Britain: “Don’t mind him. He’s been drinking all day and is a little pissed.”
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In America, a boot is a type of footwear. In the UK, the boot refers to the trunk of a car.
According to Condé Nast Traveller, the name goes back to 18th-century horse-drawn carriages where the coachman sat on a chest, which was used to store, among other things, his boots. This storage space came to be termed as the “boot locker,” which soon became simply the “boot.”
How we’d say it in Britain: “I think I might have locked my keys in the boot.”
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To get to the top floor of the Empire State Building in New York, you’d take the elevator. But in London, to get to the top of a skyscraper, you’d hop in the lift.
How we’d say it in Britain: “Can you hold the lift please”
Not to be confused with an American trolley, like the ones in San Francisco, the British trolley is is what Brits use when they’re wandering the aisles of their local grocery store, otherwise known as a shopping cart in America.
In the UK, most grocery stores require a £1 coin to be inserted into the trolley before use, and wonky wheels are the bane of many shoppers’ existence.
How we’d say it in Britain: “Can you push the trolley for a second while I check out the bananas?”
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The British equivalent of an apartment, a flat has little to do with having a level surface.
How we’d say it in Britain:“My flat is on the seventh floor of a tower block.”