hintsandthings.co.uk »Library

Two nations divided by a common language – more differences in American English and British English


 

TWO
NATIONS DIVIDED BY A COMMON LANGUAGE

BY
MS. PAULA BRIGGS

The following
contribution, recently received from Paula Briggs, has been reproduced
verbatim (with just a couple of observations from me) 

I have been looking at the
area of your site where you discuss the differences in language between
the US and the UK.  Two genuine events come to mind.

A friend stayed
over in Texas a few years ago at the home of a clergyman and his wife. 
Feeling the need for a cigarette after the long flight she chose the
unfortunate wording “I could really murder a fag!”  
Her hosts were horrified, particularly as she had flown over to assist the
church in its charity work in a local prison!


I think the phrase “I
could murder” as a substitution for “I would like” is
probably most common in the North West of England though I have heard
“I could murder a cuppa” in many parts of the UK. (I
think this is used pretty widely throughout the UK
)


Around twenty years ago, an
aging and slightly deaf friend of my parents stood in the middle of a
rather quiet and exclusive restaurant in Chester and invited my mother in
her booming Washington State accent to “park her fanny” in a
nearby seat.  This certainly turned a few heads!  When it was
explained to her what the word meant in English, she blushed deep red and
said that it was considered a rather polite word in the US.


On this seemingly popular
topic of the gluteus maximus, “derriere”, being French,
is common to both languages.  We would use bum, rear-end,
bot, bottom or botty (the latter to small children)
commonly.  Tush is used but very rarely and in very particular
sayings such as “shake your tush” (to dance) or “move your
tush” (move out of the way – used informally to friends or family –
never to a stranger).   I think what our US counterparts would
refer to as a bum, we would call a tramp and what they would
refer to as a tramp, our grandparents would probably have called a
strumpet or fluzy. 

Bum, derriere,
backside, rear-end, bottom, butt, buttocks, and tush are the most common
word to refer to the gluteus maximus. Bum could also be slang for someone
homeless or lazy. A tramp is used for a woman who… doesn’t respect her
body – usually a street walker/hooker/”skank”, etc.

Kim


Ass” has
been adopted to some degree and is generally considered more polite than
the vulgar “arse”, though it would still not be the correct word
to use when speaking to a local vicar or a great aunt.  As in the US,
its meaning is made far more extreme and derogatory by adding
“hole” to the end of either variant.


I may be mistaken, but I
believe “gotten” is actually an old English word.  It
follows similar rules to bite and smite – (you got, bit or smote, or you
have (or were or have been) gotten, bitten or smitten) and prima facie, I
would guess its roots were German.  Can anyone enlighten me on this
issue?


 In response
to some of Scott Jamieson’s observations: –
 

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!”).

In
this context, we would probably say “Get Away” in the UK and
this spawned a series of TV advertisements for a major holiday company as
to get away also means to go on holiday (or vacation) as in “Did you
manage to get away this year?”

Git
is rarely heard in the UK outside certain parts of London.  I doubt
many British people actually know what it means (no matter how often we
might watch Eastenders).  It is very often preceded with the word
“old”, in which context it can be either highly derogatory or
mildly affectionate, depending on the context.  Using “daft or
“silly” in front of an insult often softens the effect, even if
the offensive language itself is quite strong.  Therefore, “old
git” could be an insult but “daft old git” could actually
be an expression of gentle admonishment, tinged with endearment.

Git,
probably from movies and books, has become a word not totally rare. I’m an
Anglophile at heart, but I’ve heard classmates call someone else a git
before. It could also be “get out” if you have a lazy way of
speaking.

Kim


Roundabout 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. 

As
far as I am aware, a roundabout in the UK would usually be a gyratory
intersection as described above but also a carousel or a piece of
children’s playground equipment that can be spun round.  I have never
heard of a rotary as a noun, only as an adjective as in the ‘rotary engine’
example, though we do have the Rotary Club over here too. 

Roundabout,
as an adjective can mean “approximately”  (“it was
roundabout half past seven”) or it can mean indirect (“he took a
very roundabout route to get here” or “he reached the conclusion
in a very roundabout way”).  I am guessing this is a regional
colloquial expression.

It
mentions that roundabouts are rare in America. I can count at least five
within ten minutes from my house in New Jersey. They aren’t at all rare.
I’ve driven to Canada quite a few times and also all over the East coast
and LA area in California. Roundabouts, or circles as they call it in my
area, can be found all over the continent as far as I know. Also, “in
a roundabout way” is a phrase I use and have heard used all my life.

Kim



I was reading through
your website on English and American English discrepancies and I had a
note to add about rotaries. I live in New England, Massachusetts to be
precise. The traffic circles as my GPS calls them are called rotaries
here, even officially. “Rotary Ahead” can be seen on traffic signs in
the vicinity.



Michael Francis Joseph
Prendergast


A few extra words for
discussion

The pavement in the USA
seems to refer to the road surface.  In the UK, it refers to the
sidewalk.

Pavement
could mean anything paved, depending on the context.  Kim

Whereas the term tap is
generally used in England for a faucet, I believe the latter is sometimes
used in parts of Scotland.

Tap and
faucet are synonymous here. For example, one wouldn’t say faucet water,
but tap water.

Kim

A “not for the
family” one:

An
American colleague at work recently observed that to say someone
was pissed in the USA meant that they were angry or annoyed but in the UK
it seemed to mean they were very happy (it is actually a vulgar expression
for being completely drunk). (in the UK we would
say “pissed off” to mean being angry or annoyed).

Pissed
off is used the same, to be “pissed” means to be drunk but is
sometimes a shortened way of saying pissed
off.                                                                                         
Kim


 

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.