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Language Differences - Part 3

I really had no idea how much interest this subject would generate.  Just recently Scott Jamieson sent me some observations which are both informative and amusing so I thought I would reproduce them verbatim with a few observations of my own (in red) to put the Brits point of view -

"Here in America, a "rubber" is a condom.   What you call a rubber, we call an eraser.  If a student were to ask his teacher for a rubber... well, you get the idea.

Git:  It is heard in some parts of the USA, but here it's a verb, a corruption of "get," and it means "get out," a strong command to leave immediately. Recently, "get out" has also been adopted as a slang term to mean "I can't believe it!" (e.g. "You're taking me to Hawaii?   Get out!")

The use of "fanny" to refer to someone's bottom is not limited to girls. Everyone has a fanny.  It is also a girl's name, though it's not used a lot these days, for obvious reasons.  Many years ago, Glenn Miller recorded a song called "Annie's Cousin Fanny."  It was full of double entendres, and the last line was, "You may  know some Fannys that are quite divine, but you never saw a Fanny half as pretty as mine!"

"Ass" in America is indeed (very vulgar) slang for buttocks, but here it also means a kind of donkey.  Very often a dirty joke in America will rely on the juxtaposition of the two meanings.

What we call a living room you call a lounge?  In many theaters the men's and women's lounges are the lavatories.

Garbage and trash are both used in the USA, but there is a distinction to be made:  garbage is unusable and can only be disposed of; trash is something you are finished with but that could conceivably be of use to someone else. Hence the expression, "One man's trash is another man's treasure."

Autumn and Fall are both used here.  In addition, a fall is a term for a lady's wig.  A fall doesn't cover the entire scalp.  It may, for instance, be a faux ponytail.  This use of fall isn't heard much anymore, but it was quite common in the '60s and '70s. We would call this a hair piece.

If what you call jam is what we call jelly, what do you call what we call jam?  To us, jam is similar to jelly, but whereas jelly is clear, jam has chunks of preserved fruit in it.   In fact, if it has a lot of fruit in it, we call it preserves. This also applies in the U.K. - jam or preserves (the latter being considered slightly posher)  usually contain pieces of fruit whereas clear jam is known as jelly.  However, when we speak of jelly it usually refers to a fruit flavoured dessert made with gelatine and water and left to set.   This used to be very popular at childrens' birthday parties.

Pub vs. Bar:  Pub has come into use in America, meaning an especially nice bar.  Many pubs make their own beers and ales.  Bars generally serve only the major brands.  Pubs emphasize food as well as drink.   In bars, food is an afterthought. Pub is short for Public House in the U.K. where alcoholic drinks can be purchased and there is usually a Pub in every village.  Bars are the counters inside the Pubs at which the drinks are purchased.  The term Bar is now also used to describe a room within the Public House or a place where drinks can be obtained in a town centre environment.

Gravy vs. White Sauce:  I'm not sure this is quite correct on your web site. Most gravy here is brown, and all of it is made from meat drippings.  What we call a white sauce is a cream sauce with no meat or drippings in it.

Movie Theater, Movie House:  The most often used term is movie theater. Movie house is an older term usually associated with silent films, but is now currently used to refer to a movie theater that is a bit more elite. Movie theaters show "major releases."  Movie houses show art films, foreign films, and independent films.  We use the word cinema to the art and history of filmmaking.   A college student might study cinema.

Alex comments "I don't agree about "movie theater" -- I would use that word to refer to an art-house theater as well as one that showed blockbusters."

Mailman/Mailwoman:  Mailman was the preferred term for generations, before women's rights made it obsolete.  Mailperson and mailwoman were tried out for awhile, but they sounded silly (What is a male woman, anyway?).  The official term is now "letter carrier," at least that's what the Post Office calls them. We call them Postmen (unless the ladies are listening of course!)

Roudabout vs. Rotary:  ????? I only know the term roundabout as a particular kind of intersection, with an island in the middle.  These are quite rare in America, but we do have them.  I only know the term rotary as an adjective, describing something with a mechanical part that revolves (e.g. a rotary engine).  Or, we have here a Rotary Club, which is a business/fraternal organization.

Moulting vs. Shedding:  When we refer to mammals, we say shedding.  We do use moulting (molting) to refer to birds and the seasonal loss of their feathers.

Fag, or faggot, does indeed mean a homosexual man, but please point out to your readers that is quite derogatory.  The preferred term in polite company is "gay man."  There is some confusion right now as to whether a homosexual woman is also "gay."  Many consider the term inclusive of both sexes, but many others distinguish between "gay" and "lesbian."   It's still being thrashed out.

Shoestring vs. shoelace:  Both are used interchangeably, in America, with one exception.  To do something "on a shoestring" means to accomplish it with a very small budget.  No one would say, "They're doing it on a shoelace." In Britain we would never use the word shoestring when referring shoes, we would always say "shoelaces", however, we do use the term "on a shoestring" as described above and not "on a shoelace".

Restroom and bathroom are the two most commonly used terms for what you Brits call a lavatory or toilet (to us, a "toilet" is that useful porcelain device you find IN the bathroom!). The two terms are not interchangeable, though!   You'll find a bathroom in someone's home, and restrooms in a restaurant or other business establishment.  It would sound a bit strange for a guest in your home to ask where the "restroom" is. Oddly enough, the real estate term "half bath" refers to a room that has only a toilet and a sink -- no bath!

Hope you find something of value in the above.    I've never had the chance to visit the UK myself, but my mother did, once.   She was a guest in someone's home.  Her hostess asked what she planned to wear to a restaurant one evening, and when she replied, "I don't know, maybe a pants suit," the host turned several shades of red!

I would like to thank Scott for his time and trouble in sending in the above.  

* The English often call the toilet the LOO or, an even more "slangy" term is the BOG.

Both of these are used, loo being the most common. I came across a lot of trouble in America when asking directions to the loo.


Restroom' is actually called that due to the "rest stops" found along our interstate highways... sorry, motorways! :) When taking an extremely long road trip, there are stretches of country where you will find absolutely nothing but open fields for miles and miles. This far out of the city, there are occasional rest stops for you to park, get out of the car, stretch your legs, and yes, go to the toilet. This is where you would "rest" for a few minutes before the next leg of your journey.

So with that context in mind, a "restroom" is typically a public toilet, whereas a "bathroom" is what you would find in someone's home, which would actually have a bath.

Despite what a previous commenter said, "restroom" and "bathroom" can be used interchangeably in America without any difficulty. Anyone who calls you on the difference is just being deliberately pedantic.

 Jacob Kuntzman

For those that are interested the origins of the word 'loo' can be found here.





You mentioned ground floor is first floor in America; they seem to be used interchangeably for the most part. But, when a building is constructed in a hill side or with alternating levels (my aunt's house has the main building and an addition that is off set a half floor, you either go up or down crossing the house) they are differentiated. The floor with the main or formal entry being the first floor and if the other possible floor is lower it’s the groundfloor. 


Pantyhose and tights are both used where I live but they vary in meaning. They are both a form of stockings, usually tight and running from the toes to the waist (though there are variations like knee length or toe less). Pantyhose refers to more sheer delicate stockings usually made of nylon or nylon blends while tights are thicker, often opaque, and actually provide some warmth.


I hear both taxi and cab when speaking about taxicabs. I have never heard anyone call out "cab" they always yell "TAXI".


Mad can refer to crazy in the US but it is contextual.


Sick and ill are usually interchangeable ill being the more formal of the 2 words. The exception is the slang uses of sick to refer to a act that seems insane, gross, or disgusting like mutilating animals for fun, or to indicate boredom or frustration with a task (like I'm sick and tired of sitting in traffic all day).


I don't guarantee it applies to the entire US.


Christie, Lancaster PA

Alex adds -  "sick" can also be used slangily to mean "really awesome" -- I've particularly heard it used by metalheads to refer to extremely virtuosic guitar solos. "That was sick, dude."

I would say American Football in Britain.  Another one for you would be Queue (British) Line up North America.  I say North America as I am now living in Canada and Canadians (Not all Canadians) like to be known as living in North America.  What we Brits refer to as America should be the United States and then when Canada is included it then becomes North America.

Anne Christie

I feel I should point out that there's quite a bit of variation in what is or isn't used from one part of the US to the next. While probably more linguistically unified than the UK in some respects, especially given that English is the only language many American families have spoken for generations, the various regions have definite differences. 

For instance, in North Carolina the primary term for a "roundabout" is "traffic circle", and I'd personally never heard one called a "rotary" until I found this site. Likewise, a "garage" is not only an enclosed space where one parks one's car, but can also be where one takes it for repairs and is often included in business names (e.g., Al's Garage). Conversely, a "gas station" is where one buys gasoline and while often attached to an automobile repair shop, will generally still be referred to as a "gas station" unless taking one's vehicle there for the express purposes of repairs. 

In my experience, however, businesses (including, but not limited to, garages) are most commonly referred to by their proper names or shortened versions thereof to avoid confusion. 

Postman, mailman, and postal worker are all used, sometimes without regard for the individual's gender, though postman is an older term falling into disuse, mailman is specific to a mail carrier who actually delivers mail to its final destination, and postal worker is a more general term that can be applied to any postal service employee. 

Also, for clarification, in the Southeast "sidewalk" is used to indicate a pedestrian area adjacent to a road. However, the word "pavement", though generally used to refer to the surface of a paved road, can refer to the surface of the sidewalk, since sidewalks are also paved. So, if someone "eats pavement" (slang) they have a face-first encounter with paving material, but it could be either in the road itself or on the sidewalk.

Oh, and in my experience the terms "shoestring" and "shoelace" are utterly interchangeable in the Carolinas, with the appropriate verbs following similar usage. One might "tie" one's shoes or "lace [them] up", though the latter usage does tend to imply a more thorough job involving more than securing of more than just the free ends. Hope that helps!

Carlton Anderson

The taxis in London are called 'black cabs', so I guess the word cab is also a British English word and not only an American English word.

Pascal Aerssens

British say a "battery is flat" where Americans (at least Southerners) saythe "battery is dead". Also the British pronounce it "battry" except when it's "assault & battery", at least that's what I've been told.

Don Slaymaker


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

Differences between some of the more common British and American words and phrases.

Then there are all the suggestions of language differences (2 , 3 and 4 ) which have been sent in by visitors which are shown on three more pages.





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