The complete U.S. & U.K. confusions
Date: Thu, 19 Oct 95 12:30:05 -0700
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: The complete U.S. & U.K. confusions
Forwarded-by: email@example.com (Keith Bostic)
Forwarded-by: Todd Kover <kovert@umiacs.UMD.EDU>
Forwarded-by: Omar Siddique <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: D.J.Barton@durham.ac.uk (D J Barton)
Words that could be confusing and embarrassing in the UK & US
At long last, here is the complete list of anglo-american confusions.
The definitions have been cross referenced with the most recent
edition of the Oxford Dictionary, so if you don't agree with some of
my definitions take up the argument with them (unless I say otherwise
in the text.) I have made a few alterations, additions and removals
Thanks to the many people who have helped me compile this list,
including: Paul R. Montague, Jonathon Watkins, Darran Potter, Darlene
Ollom & her friend Liz, John Lovie, Gail thingy in
alt.fan.british-accent, Kevin Walsh, Suzi Howe, D Loomis, Kate
Lingley, Martin Mazik, Ron Leech, Richard Smith.
If I have forgotten anyone, sorry!
The list is also available at my home page:
If you have any further suggestions please mail me at:
Who knows? There may be a second volume... (oh no!)
1) Buns. You know what these are. You're probably sitting on them
now. Over here buns are either bread or cake rolls. Asking for a
couple of sticky buns in a bakery here will mean Mr Crusty the baker
will give you two cake buns with icing (frosting) on the top. If I
went into a deli in Manhattan and asked for a couple of sticky buns
I'd probably get arrested...
2) Fag. A goody but an oldie. Over here a 'fag' is a cigarette. So
in the song 'It's a long way to Tipperary' the line 'As long as you
have a Lucifer to light your fag' is not a fundementalist Christian's
statement that all homosexuals will burn for eternity in hell, but
saying that 'if you always have a match to light your cigarette...'
3) Faggots. Meat balls made from offal (chopped liver) in gravy.
Also a small bundle of logs suitable to burn on a fire.
4) Pants. You call pants what we call trousers; pants are the things
that go underneath.
5) Rubber. In this country a pencil eraser. Don't be shocked if the
mild mannered new Englishman in your office asks for a pencil with a
rubber on the end. Especially when he says that he enjoys chewing it
when he is thinking.
6) Shit. To us, bodily waste. To you, practically everything as far
as I could figure, good or bad (and you certainly don't want us to
7) Fanny. To us the front bottom; to you the back one. In Britain, the
fanny pack is known as a bum bag for obvious reasons...
8) Muffler. To us what you call a muffler is called a silencer. In
the UK a muffler is a long scarf a la Dickensian Novels. A muffler
was also a derogatory name for a certain part of the female anatomy at
my school, though this was probably unique to us. Try explaining THAT
to a upstanding American when you are standing at the petrol (gas)
station in fits of laughter...
9) Pavement. Sidewalk to you. I couldn't think of anything smutty to
go with this.
10) Pissed. To you it's quite legal to be pissed in a car in a
traffic jam. In fact, in large cities sometimes you cannot help it.
For us, it means that you have been over doing it 'down the boozer'
(pub) and a kindly policeman will shortly flag you down and arrest
11) Shag. To you a dance. To us sexual congress. In otherwords you
may have to summon up the courage to have a shag with someone, before
you might have a shag with them later on. Also a sea bird similar to
a cormorant and a type of rough tobacco.
12) Fancy. To be sexually attracted to or to desire. Also a tea cake.
13) Ass. To us a quadraped of the horse family or a stupid person. The
word you guys are looking for in English english is 'arse'.
14) Sneakers. We call these 'trainers' for some reason.
15) Waistcoat. You call them vests.
16) Football. A classic example of our culture gap. To us football is
what you call soccer. To you football is what we call pointless. You
probably think the same way about cricket...
17) Baseball. In England we play a game called 'Rounders' which has
identical rules bar the bat being a short baton designed to be used with
only one hand. It's only played in schools. In the US, it's a PROPER
18) Some food differences
mars bar milky way
milky way three musketeers
opal fruits starburst
chips french fries
19) 'Knock you up'. In our country, to wake someone up in the morning
so they won't be late. Slightly different meaning for our American
20) Pastie. A pastie is a meat and potato pastry that originates from
Cornwall, UK. In the guidebook I had for Michigan, it mentioned that
some cornish tin miners had come over and brought over the recipe with
them when they settled the Upper Peninsula. Even so, I had to taken
aside and carefully told what an American pastie was so I wouldn't
embarrass parents in front of children at the summer camp I was
working at when I was talking about my liking for Cornish Pasties...
21) Knackered. I'm not sure if you have this word in the US. When I
said I was knackered I got puzzled looks. It means you are tired. It
comes from the fact that horses are often tired when they have testes
removed (their knackers) when they are castrated. (Sorry! I guess
you didn't want to know that...)
22) Fag. (Oh no not again!) When at a public (i.e. private - confused
you will be) school in the UK, you may have to 'fag' for an older boy.
This usually involves shining shoes, cleaning up and performing other
favours for this older lad. In return for fagging, the older boy
looks after your interests and makes sure that you fit into the school
and promote the school spirit (bon vivre, not necessarily the
alcoholic kind). This may also be a fag (i.e. a tiresome thing).
23) Trunk. In the US what we in the UK call the boot of a car. In
the UK, the trunk is the front end of an elephant. Can be
embarrassing if you happen to be a pachyderm working as a taxi driver
in NY. (Also a large metal and wooden box much beloved of Edwardian
24) Spunk. In the US it is perfectly acceptable for a boss to ask
whether you are feeling full of spunk of a morning (i.e. full of get
up and go.) This situation in the UK may only arise when a director
is quizzing a male actor in the adult entertainment business.
25) Woody. In the UK, an acceptable description of a wine that has
taken on the flavour of the barrels it has matured in. In the US
*never* go a wine tasting and claim that this wonderful Californian
Chardonnay has an excellent 'woody' flavour, unless you are the female
co-star of the aforementioned male actor and you are in the process of
filming an 'arty' movie.
26) Hood. To our American cousins, the bit of a car that the engine
sits under or place where you might live if you are a rapper. To us
Brits, the part of a coat that is designed to cover your head when it
rains. What you call the 'hood' we call the 'bonnet' on a car.
27) Gas. To the citizens of the United Kingdom, an instrument of
warfare, the stuff that you use to cook your dinner on or a state of
matter that is neither liquid nor solid. To you guys, what we call
petrol and the gaseous by product of bottom burps (wind).
28) Pecker. To keep one's pecker up is a state of mind in the UK, an
athletic feat in the US and a way of life for the common or garden
29) Toilets. Although we have a lot of colourful euphenisms for the
lavatory experience in the UK (e.g. spend a penny, watering the
daisies) we lack the prissiness of our American chums. To us a toilet
is a bog, a kharzi, a shithouse (or alternatively an outhouse in more
polite company), a gents/ladies but mostly a toilet. It is perfectly
acceptable to be in the Ritz and request to use the toilet. However,
you guys seem ashamed of the t-word. Hence you go to the John (where
no-one called John is there) and the bathroom (where there is no
bath). ...And a word of warning for English chaps in the US - never
admit to eating baked beans out of the can.
30) Beer. What you call beer, we call lager. What we call beer, you
call disgusting. This might be mutual.
31) Hard. In the UK, you might see an unshaven tattooed uncouth man
with big muscles in a pub. If you accidentally spill his beer, he
might get upset and request you to join him outside. He might say
`Come on then if you think you're hard enough!' Or even 'I'm hard, me,
so you better watch your step, mate.' He is not casting aspersions on
your sexual persuasion, nor does he have an erection. He is merely
stating the fact that unless you buy him another pint of lager in the
very immediate future he might beat seven shades of shit out of you.
In the US, our friend the male actor would probably say 'I'm hard'
while sharing a bottle of woody flavoured chardonnay with his
32) Flummoxed? Our US chums will be if you use this word. It means
to be confused. The typical reaction of the average Brit upon
arriving in the US. Then again you might be 'hit for six' (i.e. upset
to the point of falling over) by it all. Which just isn't cricket, eh
33) Roundabout. Imagine you are travelling in the UK along the M3
into Basingstoke (why I can't imagine - it's a God forsaken place.)
You have already worked out that a motorway is the same as a freeway
and you are feeling pretty pleased with yourself. In front of you is
the biggest rotary you have ever seen. In the UK, we call them
roundabouts. To instill a morbid fear of these things in our children
we force them to play on minature versions of them in playgrounds
(wooden disk that turns around with bars to hold onto) and make them
watch endless re-runs of the Magic Roundabout. This program was
originally a french satire on politics in the late 1960s though it
looks just like a animated kiddies show made by someone on SERIOUS
acid. Sugar cube eating dogs indeed.
34) Cookies. You eat these with milk and with great self control you
only eat two at a time (you don't? naughty!). We call them biscuits.
You call biscuits those dry crackery things that might go in soup (or
at least in the part of the US I went to).
35) Stuffed. To be full up after eating too many cookies. Also 'Get
Stuffed' a cookery program for insomniac students and people on a low
income, where you are told how to make fancy versions of beans on
toast using everyday ingredients like baked beans, bread, butter and
curry powder. The recipies are invariably called things like
'Currybeanytoasty-yum-yum-a-go-go'. As well, 'get stuffed' is
something you say to someone who isn't your best mate.
36) Randy. In the US a perfectly reasonable first name. Pity then,
the multitude of poor Americans given this unfortunate appellation
when they come over to old Blighty. Wherever they go, grimy street
urchins snigger, little old ladies try desperately to stifle guffaws
and ordinarily quite sensible members of society burst out in
laughter. And why? In the UK, saying 'Hi, I'm Randy!' is akin to
saying to our American cousins 'Hello friend, I'm feeling horny.'
However, save your pity for poor soul Randy Highman who introduced
himself to my supervisor at a conference not so long ago...
37) Aluminium. Over here we say 'al-u-min-i-um'. You say
'aloom-i-num'. Neither nation can spell the
38) Kip. In the UK to have a sleep or a nap. A kip house is
apparently a brothel. Being young and innocent I was unaware of
39) English Swear Words. Our chums across the Atlantic should be
warned about the following. If some English bloke comes up to you and
uses one or more of them when addressing you, please be careful. He
may not be friendly...
i) Wanker. A charming little word that implies that the addresser is
accusing the addressee of onanism. Usually accompanied by the coital
f-word and the oedipal compound-noun. The addresser may also raise
his right hand and portray a chillingly accurate portrayal of the act
ii) Bollocks. The round male dangly bits. Also, saying 'the dog's
bollocks' is akin to stating 'this is the shit' in the US. Not to be
confused in agricultural circles with 'bullocks' which are bull
shaped and go 'moo!'.
iii) Nancy boy. A male who may express either a sexual preference for
his own gender or acts in a less than masculine way.
iv) Spanner. Not only a component of every good mechanic's toolbox
(see below) but also someone not overly blessed with intelligence or
savoir faire. A geek,nerd, dork or a dweeb in other words.
v) Tosser. See 'wanker' and then use your imagination... Also tosspot.
vi) Slag. A woman of uncertain worth and reliability. Also used in
English 1970s police shows (e.g. The Sweeney) when describing a
notorious criminal. (e.g. Dosser Jenkins? That slaaaaag!).
Originally used to describe a by-product of the (now sadly nearly
defunct) coal mining industry.
vii) Wanger. Many a Saturday night I have heard this word being
shouted by rival groups of young men at each other. The dulcit cries
of 'Oi Wanger!!' have disturbed the peace of many a town centre. It
is a word used to either describe a penis or an attempt by the
alcoholically challenged to say 'wanker'.
viii) Plonker. Another willy euphenism. Immortalised in the TV
program 'Only Fools and Horses', starring David Jason & Nicholas
Lyndhurst - 'You plonker Rodney!'.
ix) Naff off. Go away. As used by the Princess Royal, Princess Anne.
For a while she was known as the 'Naff Off Princess' in the tabloid
x) Wazzock - a fool or idiot.
Strange fact: British males often use wanker, bastard, tosser, plonker
etc as terms of endearment.
40) Cars. In the UK, only the luxury car market have automatic
transmission - in other words the Jaguars, Rolls Royces and Bentleys
of the world. Most cars have manual transmission. This is because
our roads aren't straight. As a consequence all learner drivers have
to learn how to drive using a car with manual gears. I was told that
in the States this is referred to as 'learning how to drive stick.'
In the UK, asking your driving instructor whether he could teach you
how to drive stick may cause potential embarrassment...
41) Blowjob. Blowjob, although a word in common use now in both our
countries was referred to as 'Plating' before the GIs came over during
WWII. Hence the calling card of Cynthia Plaster-Caster, the woman
who made plaster casts of the erect willies of Jimi Hendrix and the
Dave Clark Five, amongst others, had 'Your plater or mine?' on her
42) Jelly & Jam. In the UK, jelly is either the stuff you US-types
call jello or a seedless preserve made from fruit, sugar and pectin.
To confuse things further, fruit preserves are generically called jam
over here too. Hence, if you were in an English restaurant enjoying
a piece of bread with peanut butter and fruit preserve on it you would
be eating 'a peanut butter and jam sandwich.' BTW, I used to enjoy
peanut and jelly sandwiches when I was little in the UK sense of the
word... Sloppy, but very nice.
43) Stones. To you big rock things that geologists play with. To us
also a unit of weight. 1 stone is equal to 14 pounds. Also, English
pints show remarkable value for money compared to their US conterparts
-- 567ml compared to 430ml. Good thing to know when ordering beer.
44) Cheeky. In the UK to say someone is 'cheeky' is to imply that
they are awnry or suggestively rude. Much beloved of the 'Carry On'
Movies which starred Barbara Winsor and Sid James. Typical
SJ: You don't get many of those to the pound! (Referring to BW's
BW: Ooohhh! Cheeky!
SJ: Phoooarrr! I wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating crackers!
BW: Ooohhh! You are awful! (for a bit of variety...)
SJ: Loveliest pair of ...eyes I ever saw!
BW: Ooohhh! Cheeky!
and so on ad nauseum...
45) Khaki. In the UK a light beige colour. In US khaki can also be
green when referring to army fatigues which are generically known as
46) Knickers. A similar problem to 'pants' (cv). In the US they are
knee-length trousers like what the Brits call 'breeches'. In the UK,
they are the things that go underneath. Typically British men wear
pants under their trousers and women wear knickers, unless of course,
you are a Tory (Conservative) MP and then anything goes... Also
NORWICH was an acronym used by service personel during WWII for
'(k)Nickers Off Ready When I Come Home'. To be on the safe side when
visiting the doctors it's best to keep your pants/knickers on...
47) Wellies. In the UK a type of waterproof rubberised boot named
after that Great Englishman, the Duke Of Wellington. You guys in the
US would call them 'gumboots' or 'galoshes'. In the UK wellies are
much beloved of Tory MPs with large country estates and farmer-types
with sheep, particularly the 'Hunter' welly with the handy straps on
48) Warm clothing. In the UK we wear warm woolly upper garments
during the winter which we call 'jumpers'. You call them 'sweaters'.
Boring but true. Also a long woolly dress is called a 'jumper' in the
US. I suppose both nations have the joke:
What do you get if you cross a kangaroo with a sweater?
A woolly jumper.
Groan. Somebody carbon date that joke please...
49) Spanner. You see a long metal object in your tool kit that you use
to adjust bolts on your car? We call that a spanner, not a wrench.
50) Slash. In the US a line denoting a separation on the written page
or on a computer, or even a rip or tear in a piece of material. In
the UK also a euphenism for a wee, a jimmy riddle or urination. Also
the name of a rather well known guitarist who was born in England and
hence should have thought a little harder before choosing his 'nom de
51) Liberal. In the US someone who has enlightened and progressive
views on abortion, welfare, health care, racial and sexual issues, and
sympathsizes with the needs of those less fortunate than themselves.
Or at least that's what they say. Republicans probably wouldn't agree
with this statement... In the UK, someone is neither left wing nor
right wing but somewhere in between. In both countries, 'liberal' can
be used as an insult and a compliment. Although most Americans
liberals would probably balk at the idea, in the UK they might be
considered to be socialists. (Shock! Horror!)
52) Snogging. You know that thing you do when you are with your loved
one when you tickle each others tonsils? In the UK that's called
snogging. Much beloved of kids at school discos inbetween swigging
illicit bottles of vodka and Special Brew beer and 'getting on down'
to Take That (screaaaaammmmm!) (popular beat combo in the UK much
admired by girlies).
53) Git. An undesirable and miserable person. Between 'sod' and
'bastard' on the 'are you going to get your head kicked in?' scale.
54) Jock. In the US, big guys who like sport, women and acting macho.
In the UK, a Scottish person who probably also likes sport, women and
acting macho but in a Glaswegian (i.e. from Glasgow) accent. Which is
probably more scary since a lot of people have difficultly understanding
55) Lemonade. In the US, non-fizzy fruit drink possibly made from
lemons that we Brits call 'squash'. Our 'lemonade' is fizzy, akin to
your pop or soda (depending on what part of the US you are from.) I
was most disappointed when I found this out for the first time in a US
56) Crossing the road. In the UK we love our cute fluffy and feathery
So much in fact that we name our road crossings after them. We have
pedestrian walkways that have broad black & white stripes (like on the
cover of 'Abbey Roa d' by the Beatles) which we call 'Zebra
Crossings'. We also have crossings akin to yours with the
'walk/don't walk' signs on them which have a little red man standing
still and a little green man walking. These are illuminated when you
are supposed to stay where you are or walk respectively. For some
inexplicable reason this is called a 'pelican crossing'. As for the
little green man flashing...
57) Hotels. In the UK the floors in a hotel are numbered ground
floor, first floor, second floor etc. In otherwords the first floor
is the second floor, the second is the third and so on and so on. In
the US, you have a more sensible numbering system. A good thing to
note if you are a US bell-boy(UK)/bell-hop(U S) looking for Take
That's (screaaaaammmmm!) suite on the eighth floor in a UK hot el.
(BTW Just follow the detritus of fluffy toys and soggy knickers
58) Waste disposal. In the UK our household waste is called 'rubbish'
and is taken away by the dustmen or bin men in their dustcart. In the
US you have two types of household waste -- garbage and trash. Also,
you see that piece of street furniture which you are supposed to put
the packaging from your lunch? We call them bins; you call then trash
cans. I was sooo confused about this.
59) Merchant Banker. On both sides of the Atlantic an honourable and
decent profession. In the UK, cockney rhyming slang for an onanist
(see 'wanker'). Possibly apt.
60) Buying a drink. Those establishments where you buy alcohol late
at night where you are not allowed to drink it on the premises are
called Off Licences (or Offies) in the UK and Liquor Stores in the
US. I'm over 21 and was repeatedly carded(US)/id'ed(UK) when I tried
to buy beer (this was before I *tried* Americ an beer). I thought
that a British Passport was good enough ID for a liquor store since it
got me in the country, but no, I needed an in-state driver's licence.
Hellooo? I'm a tourist with a British Passport and an English accent
who is wearing a t-shirt with UK tour dates on the back. Don't you
think I *might* be the genuine article? (Sorry. The incident still
61) Please and sorry. In the UK, no sentence is complete with either
or even both of these words. In the US, the former is said begrudgedly
and 'What's the name of your lawyer?' is said instead of the latter.
62) English. We speak english in the UK. So do you in the US. But
yet we don 't speak the same language...
63) Women's things. Pads = US. Towels = UK. Tampons = everywhere.
Do you have the ones with wings too? Do you have a patronising Clare
Rayner-type who does the advert?
64) Crusty. In the US the state of a bread roll when it is freshly
baked and smelling yummy. In the UK, as well as this, a person of
possibly no real fixed abode who engages in an alternative lifestyle
involving travelling around the country, wearing 'alternative' clothes
(ex-army or hippie gear), having a pragmatic attitude to drugs and has
possibly dubious personal hygiene. They would rather be called
'Travellers' and I admire them for their stance against 'straight'
society. (oooh a bit of politics there...)
65) Bum. In the UK, the definition of 'buns' (cv) describes more than
adequate ly the biggest muscle in the body. In the US, a person whom
we would call a tramp . Also the act of being a bum. I have been
reliably informed that Take That (screaaaaammmmm!) have cute bums but
only one (the scruffy git (cv) with the dreadlocks) actually looks
66) North/South divide. Ask anyone from the north of England where
the North ends and the South begins, they might say 'Worksop' is the
dividing line. Ask anyone from the south and they might say 'north of
Oxfordshire' or even 'north of London'. These definitions differ by
well over 100 hundred miles! In the north the people have cloth
caps, whippets (racing dogs, not aerosol cans of whipped cream!), keep
pigeons, speak in a funny way and drink bitter in grim working mens
clubs. In the south, the people are either country yokels who speak
in a funny way, or people with loads of money who speak like the Queen
or brash Cockneys who speak in funny way while engaged in dealings of
a dubious nature and drinking lager. That is, if you believe the
stereotypes as portrayed in the media. It is all utter bollocks (cv).
67) Pardon. As I said before, being sorry is all part of being
English. We apologise for things that aren't our fault again and
again and again. I am convinced that the first word that an English
baby learns to say after 'Mama' and 'Dada' is 'sorry'. Anyway,
'pardon me' is a polite way of excusing your way through a crowd or
excusing yourself or if your bodily functions betray you in public.
The US equivalent, 'excuse me' only seems to be used in a sarcastic
way, i.e. 'Well excuuuuuse me!' while exchanging lawyers' telephone
68) Lorry. A UK truck. A word used in the tongue twister 'Red Lorry
Yellow Lorry' by parents to torture their kids. Try it. You'll hate
me for it.
69) Irony. Along with sarcasm, the basis of English humour. Totally
lost on most of our American chums. Saying '...NOT!' is not sarcasm.
70) Easy. When an English girl says 'I'm easy' she is not saying
'Please sleep with me.' She is saying 'I don't mind what we do.'
Then again in the presence of Take That (screaaaaammmmm!) who knows?
71) Bonk. In a similar vein, to bonk someone in the UK is to enjoy
sexual congress with them. It also means to hit someone, usually on
the head. The two might be related if you like that sort of thing...
72) Rumpty. The latest word coined by the British Tabloid Press for
fun stuff in the dark. Obviously they got bored with bonking...
Anyway, a typical sex scandal headline in the Sun (infamous tabloid
paper owned by Rupert Murdock) would read 'Robbie-ex-from-Take-That
(screaaaaammmmm!) caught in four in bed rumpty with Divine Brown, OJ
and some ugly Tory Minister who will shortly be resigning'....
73) Suspenders. In the UK those things that women hold their stocking
You call them garters. Confusingly, when I was in Cub Scouts, the
things with the tags on them you used to hold your socks up were
called garters too. These were instruments of torture - ideal for
pinging and causing yelps of pain during prayer on church parade
services. Some children are sooo cruel. Anyway, what you call
suspenders we call braces.
74) Aubergine. Frankly foul purple vegetable used in moussaka. You
call them eggplants.
75) Dinky. In the US something that is small or poorly made. In the
UK something small and cute. I'm not sure if you had Dinky Cars in
the US, but these toy cars are now worth a fortune over here. And I
gave all mine away too (sob!)...
76) Table. Imagine you are in a boardroom. The chairperkin (note
dubious PC nomenclature) says 'I reckon we should table the motion
about the McBigcorp account'. If you were American you would think
'Gee, I guess we can forget about that for a while' - i.e. the motion
has been postponed. If you were English, you would think 'Jolly good
show old bean! I fancied (cv) talking about that one!', i.e. the
motion has been brought up for discussion. How do people in
trans-atlantic companies cope?
77) Twat. In the US, calling someone a twat is unwise since you are
accusing them of resembling a part of the female anatomy. In the UK,
a mild insult meaning 'idiot' much beloved of school children who
might get into trouble with naughtier words.
78) Swank. In both countries to be 'swanky' implies that you are
showy and vulgar, or to say that something is 'swanky' could also mean
that it is posh or expensive. Comic book characters (e.g. those in UK
comics The Beano and Whizzer & Chips) are often seen going into the
'Hotel de Swank' after getting money for some good turn, where they
promptly blow it all on a plate of mashed potato with sausages
sticking out of it. I have never seen such a delicacy on offer in the
hotels I have been in, much to my disappointment. Anyway, I have also
been reliably informed that 'Swank' is also the name of a US DIY
magazine populated by young women who have great difficulty keeping
their clothes on or their legs together. They also wear high heels in
bed. Weird. I have a theory about how the magazine got named. The
editor was wandering around Soho, London (the red light district) one
day when he heard a Londoner shout 'S' wank innit?' (It is a wank(cv)
isn't it). Thinking, 'Aha - I'm au fait with English slang: hence
'Swank' would be a great name for a porno mag' he toddled off back to
the US and created said magazine. Unfortunately, in this context the
Londoner was probably referring to his job being pointless...
79) Potty. In both countries 'potty' is that little plastic seat that
kids are forced to use when they need to expel bodily waste when they
are too big for nappies(UK) / diapers(US). Americans take the meaning
of this word into adult life unchanged. English chaps use 'potty' to
describe someone who is a bit silly, dolalley or, to be frank, mad.
After watching the film 'The Madness of King George', I can see how
the two meanings might have a common ancestry...
80) Bloody. You guys might describe an item covered in blood as
'bloody'. So might we. 'Bloody' is also a mild English swear word
which is always used in cheesy programs made by Americans about the
UK. Hardly anyone over here uses it anymore. Similarly, the word
'bleeding'. We use 'fuck' just as much as you guys, the big
difference being that we can use it on network television after 9pm in
a non-gratutious way, whereas you can only shout 'fuck' in the privacy
of your own home. So there.
81) Grass. You can walk on it and you could smoke it (if it wasn't
illegal). In the UK you can also do it as well. To grass on someone
means to tell on them, usually to an authority figure like a policeman
or a teacher. Someone who tells on a lot of people is known as a
'supergrass' - most often used when describing IRA informers who do
the dirty on their Republican chums. Also 'Supergrass' is the name of
a pop combo who are rather more popular over here than they are in the
US. Whether they named themselves after this definition or one more
akin to why Green Day are called 'Green Day' is uncertain...
82) Policemen. UK policemen are unarmed. As a consequence I feel
safer over here than I did in the US. Anyway, the following are used
to describe policemen: bobbies, peelers, filth, cops, pigs, the old
Bill (or the Bill), rozzers, coppers, a plod or perhaps 'bastards' if
you are feeling lucky. I'm not sure how many of those you guys might
use. Imagine you are a tea leaf (thief) and you spot a car in good
nick (reasonable condition) so you decide to nick (steal) it. Along
comes PC (Police Constable) Plod, puts his hand on your shoulder and
says 'You're nicked mate!' even though he isn't your friend and he
probably isn't wielding a knife. This is your cue to say 'It's a fair
cop! You got me banged to rights and make no mistake. You'll find
the rest of the swag (illgotten gains) in the sack!' if you are stupid
or 'I aint done nuffink copper!' if you are aren't.
83) Crime and punishment. If you had 'been a naughty boy' and taken
to court, you may find yourself confronted by a 'beak' (a magistrate),
who might send you down for some time 'at her Majesty's Pleasure'.
You would go to gaol (or jail), or 'nick' as it is sometimes confusingly
84) Banger. Three meanings in the UK: a sausage, an old car well past
it's prime and a small firework that makes a loud noise. If you were
repulsed by the idea of eating a faggot (cv), the British banger would
really make your stomach turn since it makes even a Taco Bell meal
look like it contains high quality meat. The Tabloid press seem to
think that the European Economic Community (the UK is a rather
reluctant member) wants to ban the British Banger. WRONG! They just
want to reduce the breadcrumb, eyes and goolies (male genitals)
content and put meat in instead...
85) Conk. A nose. Also conkers is a game were small children thread
horsechest nuts to lengths of string and hit the nuts together. The
first nut to break is the loser. A conker that beats many conkers is
known as a 'bully', as in a 'bully-niner' is a conker that has beaten
nine other conkers. It has probably been soaked in vinegar, baked in
an oven or scooped out and filled with concrete. If such a conker hit
you on the conk you would know all about it.
86) Soldiers. On both sides of the Atlantic, members of the military
who run around shooting things while wearing khaki (cv). Also in the
UK, soldiers are pieces of buttered toast or bread that you dip in
your soft boiled egg at breakfast. Yum!
87) Half inch. To you, half an inch or 1.27cm. To us, to borrow
without asking first. The likely activity of a Tea Leaf (cv) in
88) Cock. There are four obvious meanings that are common to both the
English and the Americans. A willy (penis), a male bird, to ready a
gun and to knock or place something off centre. In England there is a
fifth. If a person says 'Ello cock!' they are greeting you as a close
personal friend. The first meaning may also apply if you are a *very*
close personal friend and the third may apply if the first makes it's
unwanted presence known in an unsuitable situation...
89) Squash. To you a vegetable. To us a fruit drink similar to US
lemonade. Also called 'cordial', though how friendly a bottle of
orange squash can be is open to debate.
90) Mug. There are many meanings to this word, e.g. a vessel to
contain your 'cuppa' (cup of tea). In the UK, a mug is a fool or an
idiot and to mug up is to learn. In the US a mug is a thug or a
hoodlum (sortened version of mugger I suppose). In otherwords, you
better mug up on how not to be a mug before you are mugged by a mug.
91) Drug slang. In the UK we have some great rock festivals like
Reading, Phoenix and Glastonbury (yeah!). You guys have Lollapalooza
(okay) and Woodstock (wasn't the second one a dodo or what?). Anyway,
we have some drug slang which you might hear if you were into such
things at these events (not that I'm condoning them but...)
Vera Lynns (or Veras) - skins or tobacco papers (named after a WWII
Mandies - Mandy Smiths (very young ex wife of ex Rolling Stone Bill Wyman)
Billy Whizz - speed or amphetamine - named after a comic character who could
run very fast.
E - ecstacy or MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine). Much hilarity
ensues when a contestant on the UK quiz show 'Blockbusters'
asks host Bob Holness 'for an e'. Ho ho.
There are many others...
92) Mean. In the UK to be mean implies you are frugal to the point of
being stingy. In the US you might be mean (i.e. aggressive) because
of that English guy's inability to get his wallet out and buy you a
93) Autumn. My favourite time of year when the leaves turn orange,
red and yellow. You call it 'Fall'. I prefer Autumn.
94) Candy. We call them sweets. Unless they are American
confectionary, then we call them candy too. I have met quite a few
Americans girls called 'Candy' but never ever an English one called
95) Cutlery. The impliments you eat with. You guys also call them
96) Sucker. In both countries a fool or a silly person. Also a piece
of candy on the end of a stick that us Brits call a lollipop or a
lolly. We also call money 'lolly' too to make things just that little
bit more confusing...
97) Z. The twenty sixth letter of the alphabet. You call it 'Zee';
we call it 'Zed'. A whole generation in England has had to relearn
the alphabet after hearing the 'Alphabet song' on Sesame Street.
Sadder still, the song doesn't rhyme with the English 'Zed'. At least
the 'Numbers song' works (1-2-3-4-5, 6-7-8-9-10, 11-12, do do-do do-do
do-do do etc etc...)
98) Tire. When visiting the garage make sure you know the difference
between a UK tire (band of metal placed around the rim of a wheel
designed to strengthen it) and a US tire (pneumatic effort called a
'tyre' in the UK). If you make a mistake it could be a very long and
bumpy ride home.
99) 99. In the US purely the number before one hundred. In the UK a
yummy variety of ice cream consisting of a scoop of vanilla soft-scoop
ice cream in wafer cone with a chocolate flake stuck in it. The cone
is specially designed to allow the melting ice cream to flow all over
your hand before you get to eat it.
100) Centennial. Dull but apt. You call the period lasting a hundred
years a centenary.
There you have it. One hundred definitions and quite a few extra
along the way. If anyone else has any more suggestions please drop me
a line at:
© 1995 Peter Langston