English 2.0: Relearning English, British Style

English 2.0: Relearning English, British Style

British American flag

As a native English speaker, I always felt pretty confident in my English language abilities. All the right signs were there: I loved English class in school, worked as a freelance journalist, taught English at an NGO, and thoroughly enjoyed writing. That is, until I moved to the UK and was bombarded with what seemed like English, and in most cases, what sounded like English, but what was never in my lexicon or repertoire before. After hearing words like chips instead of fries and crisps instead of chips, I felt like I was relearning my own language. It was English 2.0.

While I knew British English was, in fact, slightly different from American English, it didn’t quite occur to me just how different it was until I moved there. Throughout my London journey, I made note of all the new English words, rather Britishisms, I would come across and catalogued them in a notebook I’d always carry around. Many of the words we’ve already adopted in the U.S. and use interchangeably, but others were as foreign as Swahili to me.

The list is quite lengthy, but certainly not comprehensive…

American

British

apartment

flat

attorney/lawyer

barrister/solicitor

loaf

batch

pharmacist

chemist

elevator

lift

eraser

rubber

faucet

tap

French fries

chips

chips (potato)

crisps

grade

class

jelly

jam

trashcan

dustbin

trash/bullsh*t

rubbish

to call

ring up/phone

can

tin

candy

sweets/confectionary

check (restaurant)

bill

check room

cloakroom

closet

cupboard

closet (hanging)

wardrobe

sweater/pullover

jumper

comforter

duvet

cookie

biscuit

cotton candy

candy floss

pants

trousers/slacks

diaper

nappy

do the dishes

wash up

pharmacy

chemist

eggplant

aubergine

bell pepper

capsicum

faculty

staff

fall (season)

autumn

first floor

ground floor

flashlight

torch

gas/gasoline

petrol

zucchini

courgette

hood (car)

bonnet

information desk

enquiries

lease/rent

let

legal holiday

bank holiday

license plate

number plate

line (noun)

queue

to mail

 to post

mail box

letter box

mailman

postman

to reserve

to book

motorbike

moped

movie

film

movie theater

cinema

doctor’s office

surgery

one-way ticket

single ticket

outlet

power point

overpass

flyover

package

parcel

pantyhose

tights

panties (women)

knickers

parking lot

car park

parka

anorak

pass (vehicle)

overtake

penitentiary

prison

period (punctuation)

full stop

pitcher

jug

diary

agenda

popsicle

iced lolly

principal

headmaster/mistress

pump (shoes)

court shoe

quotation marks

inverted commas

railroad

railway

raisin

sultana

raincheck

postponement

realtor

estate agent

recess

break (school)

restroom

loo/toilet/WC

roller coaster

big dipper

round trip ticket

return ticket

sales clerk

shop assistant

rubbing alcohol

surgical spirit

second floor

first floor

scallion

spring onion

scotch tape

sellotape

semester (school)

term

shoelaces

bootlaces

sidewalk

footpath

subway

tube/underground

take-out

take-away

tic-tac-toe

noughts and crosses

tuxedo

dinner suit

vacation

holiday

water heater (gas)

geyser

wharf/pier

quay

yard

garden

zee (the letter)

zed

zip code

postal code

trunk (car)

boot

pacifier (baby)

dummy

detour

diversion

corn

maize

math

maths

bangs (hair)

fringe

Quite frankly, my British experience helped me to understand my Indian experience better in retrospect, which makes complete sense, considering the strong influence of Britain on its former colony. With that said, had I switched the order of my travels, and lived in the UK before India, I probably would have understood the depths of Indian quirks and beliefs a lot better while there.

Now, back in the U.S., I can’t say I’ve adopted everything from the British repertoire, but there are certainly times when the British word comes out before the American word, much to the delight of my American friends.

Can you think of any other Britishisms?

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25 responses on “English 2.0: Relearning English, British Style

  1. divinemo says:

    Hahahahahahaha, interesting post.
    Living in a former colony of Britain (Lesotho), I can wholeheartedly relate to this post.All my life I was taught in British English, all of a sudden American English has taken over, leaving one struggling to make heads or tail of what is correct/ acceptable.

  2. Ken Curtis says:

    One of the strangest i heard from a Brit was ‘chimney breast’ instead of ‘fireplace mantle’. I could never quite get past the use of the word whilst either…

  3. […] 2) Deconstructed! A Guide to the 1st Arrondissement in Paris         8) English 2.0: Relearning English, British Style […]

  4. Denise says:

    What about pavement for sidewalk?

    I’m from Jamaica and we were initially influenced by the British but then we started mixing in Americanisms and so even though I’ve lived in the US for six years, I still get weird looks. Like I will interchange lid/cover/top for anything from a pot cover to the cap of a bottle. Americans don’t like that. I haven’t been to England but I can imagine I’d have the same problem. E.g. in Jamaica we say bonnet for hood but trunk for boot. It feels like you’re speaking three different languages!

  5. Andy says:

    I love the subtle differences between the two. I really enjoyed hearing the people talk when I was in London the other day. It is funny at times. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I love it… I had something similar to this when I was living in Poland with an Austrian girl. Us and the other volunteers we were working with had a German to Austrian translation list that read just like yours. Good fun!

    • Ha, thanks! I remember having a similar experience while in Berlin when I was learning German. Oh dear lord, I felt like I hadn’t learned anything when I went to Vienna and Geneva! Thankfully, it was them, and not me! 😉 Would love to see the list you’ve compiled, though!

  7. I’m in india right now and am learning the same thing (for obvious reasons)! even though i’ve been going back to india since i was younger and i’ve picked up on a few of the word differences, i’m learning a new word for our american equivalents, its fun though, english 2.0 :)

  8. You know, we Australians have our own version of English – we have some English words, some American words and some of our own! And of course we Aussies always create concern when we start talking about our thongs! (Flip flops – we call US/UK thongs a g-string for some reason)

    • I know! Definitely tried to wrap my head around the different meanings of words while I was there! Unfortunately, I wasn’t there long enough to create a running list. Maybe next time! 😉

  9. Jason says:

    From an Australian point of view, we generally use the British versions, however a number of the Americanisms are also used. For example: we don’t hoover, we vacuum, but we walk on the footpath and not the sidewalk.
    Another Britishism we don’t use is in telling the time. They say “Half-four” instead of “Half-past four”. I’m not sure how it is said in the USA!
    Also, here’s one from leftfield in Australia – instead of a comforter or duvet, we use a doona.

    • Interesting–thank you for sharing! :) I’ll have to keep that in mind next time I go to Australia. In the U.S., for time, we just say it as it is, like four thirty, though I’ve heard the other two ways tossed around as well.

  10. In Canada we’re quite familiar with several Britishisms, but the first time someone talked about “rocking up” I was completely lost. “Rock up” (UK) vs. “show up” or “arrive” (US) somewhere.

  11. neverending1 says:

    American: Vacuum
    British: Hoover (Do you want me to hoover your room?)

  12. Aggy says:

    Love this! My American friend says “bangs” (front hair) for fringe, growing up in England, I got used to British accent and didn’t quite understand what she meant!

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