Selected Vocabulary Differences |
Between British and American English
Part One: British to American
Part Two: American to British
Translated for Americans
Brief BE-AE Glossary
British-American Web Dictionaries
There is an interesting quote in H.L. Mencken's The American
Language (4th ed., p 289-90) on variation between SAE and SBE:
If an Englishman reads "The floorwalker says to go to the notion
counter," he knows at least one word he does not understand. If he reads
a speech of President Roosevelt declaring "our industries have little
doubt of black-ink operations in the last quarter of the year.' he is at
least aware of a foreign usage, and may be trusted to go off and discover
But if I write "The clerk gave a biscuit to the
solicitor," He will imagine something precise, if a little odd.
The trouble is that, however lively his imagination, what he imagines may
be precise but is bound to be wrong. For he is confronted with three
nouns which mean different things in the United States and in England.
- Accumulator (automotive) = battery, car battery
- Alsatian (dog) = German shepherd
- Articulated lorry = tractor-trailer (truck), a "semi"
- Ass = donkey; U.S. ass = G.B. "arse," i.e. one's backside (in addition to normal "donkey")
- Athletics (an ... meet) = track and field
- Backlog = log-jam, pile-up (of business orders, for example).
U.S. backlog = comfortable reserve of orders difference between the two
is in opposite interpretation or connotation of same basic situation.
- Bank holiday = holiday
- Bap = bun, hamburger bun, hamburger roll
- Mrs. Beeton = Fanny Farmer (standard cooking, household reference
- Bespoke = custom-tailored, tailor-made
- Big Dipper = roller coaster (at a "Fun-Fair" = "Amusement Park"
- Bilberry = blueberry
- "Bird" = "chick"
- Biro = Papermate (ball-point pen trade name which equals "generic" name)
- Biscuit = cookie (U.S. "biscuit" is a baked bread, "bap," "scone"
- Blancmange = vanilla pudding
- Block, block of flats = apartment building (U.S. term "block" [city block] unknown as such in British English, though
- "Bomb" (theater terminology) = a "hit," a great success. U.S. "bomb" = G.B. failure, critical disaster, i.e. the two are
exact opposites in sentences like "The play was a bomb!"
- Boiler suit = overalls
- Bonnet (automotive) = hood (of a car...)
- Boot (automotive) = trunk (of a car...)
- Bottom drawer = hope chest
- Bowler (hat) = derby (special connotations & different pronunc.)
- Braces = suspenders; U.S. suspenders = G.B. garters, stocking fasteners
- Brambleberry = blackberry
- Bottom of the street = end of the street
- Box (TV) = Tube (both slang, colloquial terms)
- Bull = "mickey mouse" (unnecessary military drill); U.S. bull = G.B. cock
- Bum = ass, rectum; U.S. bum = G.B. tramp, derelict
- Bun in the oven = pregnant, eating for two
- Call box = (tele)phone booth
- Camp bed = cot; U.S. cot = G.B. baby bed
- Car park = parking lot
- Caretaker (for a building) = janitor (not same as "vahtimestari")
- Carriage (railway) = railroad car, subway car
- Carrier bag = shopping bag
- Caucus = permanent group in a political party; U.S. caucus = G.B.
ad hoc planning meeting of a group in a political party
- Central reservation = median strip (between halves of a divided highway)
- Charge sheet = police record
- Chemist (drugstore) = druggist
- Chips = french fries; U.S. chips often = dried buffalo, cow dung (other cases, i.e. poker chips, wood chips, the same)
- Chucker-out = bouncer (doorman or "enforcer" in a bar/restaurant
- "In the City" = "on Wall Street" (in main financial district)
- City editor = financial editor; U.S. city editor = G.B. "community news editor"
- Cloakroom = toilet; U.S. cloakroom = clothes closet, garment storage area
- Coach = intercity bus
- Combinations = union suit (colloquial for long underwear)
- Comforter = scarf; U.S. comforter = heavy quilt, blanket
- Compére = Master of ceremonies, M.C. (of TV game show, etc.)
- Constable = (police) officer
- "To cop" = "to get" something unpleasant, i.e. "to cop a 15-pound
fine." U.S. "to cop" = to plead guilty to a lesser charge
in order to avoid prosecution & probable conviction on a
more serious charge ("to cop a plea" = "plea-bargaining")
- Corn = all grain crops; U.S. corn = G.B. "maize" only.
- Costermonger = pushcart seller
- (Sent to) Coventry = ostracized
- Crisps = potato chips
- Cupboard = closet; U.S. closet = G.B. w.c., or toilet
- Davenport = antique folding writing desk; U.S. davenport = large sofa, often which folds out into a bed at night.
- Deposit account = savings account
- Dinner jacket = tuxedo ("black tie" formal dress)
- Dormitory = bedroom; U.S. dormitory = G.B. residence hall
- Dresser = kitchen sideboard; U.S. dresser = bedroom drawers, vanity
- "Duck" = "goose egg" (a zero on the scoreboard of a sports match)
- Dumb = mute; U.S. dumb usually means "stupid" rather than "mute,"
which is a secondary meaning in U.S. usage.
- Dustbin = garbage can, ashcan (exterior waste-disposal unit)
- Dynamo (automotive) = generator (within automobile engine)
- Earth wire = ground wire (in electricity, electronics)
- Elastic band = rubber band
- To Enjoin = to compel, to legally force; U.S. enjoin = to legally
forbid i.e. same term in same general contextual usage
has precisely the opposite meaning
- Ex-serviceman = veteran; U.S. veteran = G.B. old ex-serviceman; (U.S. term has no special age connotation, only that the
person have had prior military experience sometime)
- Fag = (a) cigarette; (b) public-school underclass "servant"; U.S.
fag = low-slang term for male homosexual.
- Fanny = vagina (vulgar usage); U.S. fanny = light euphemism for "backside," either male or female.
- First floor = second floor, etc. (Britain walks in ground floor,
goes up 1 set of stairs to first floor; U.S. ground floor
and first floor are the same.
- Fish slice = pancake turner, spatula (kitchen tool); U.S. spatula
= G.B. tongue depressor (medical instrument)
- Fitted carpet = wall-to-wall carpeting
- Flan = pie, fruit pie
- Flannel = washcloth; U.S. flannel = heavy warm cotton fabric;
"flannels" would be long underwear made from such heavy warm fabric.
- Flat = apartment; U.S. flat = tenement flat = poor-standard slum
- Flick knife = switch-blade knife, a switchblade
- Flyover = overpass (as in a bridge over a road); U.S. flyover =
airplane passing over a certain place, as in military parade "flyovers";
verb is "to overfly."
- Form (school) = grade [i.e. first form = first grade in school]
- Garden = yard; U.S. garden = vegetable garden, fljower garden,
i.e. area of special cultivation. U.S. yard = G.B. paved area (lorry
- Goods (car, train) = freight; U.S. goods = supplies, commercial stock
- Grind = sexual intercourse; U.S. grind = slang for "hard (routine) work."
- Haberdasher = notions seller; U.S. haberdasher = men's clothing seller
- To Hack = to (deliberately) kick; U.S. to hack = to chop, cut viciously.
- High street = Main street
- To Hire = to rent (in most cases); U.S. to hire = to employ Hire-purchase = (the "never-never") = installment plan
- Hoarding = billboard (large advertising sign alongside road)
- Hold up = traffic jam; U.S. holdup = robbery at gunpoint.
- Homely = home-loving, domestic, pleasant; U.S. homely = plain- looking (female), therefore often "left" at home.
- To Hoover = to vacuum (carpets, etc.) "Hoover" in the U.S. is a brand name only, never used as a verb.
- Inland = internal, domestic (Inland Revenue = Internal Revenue)
- Inverted commas = quotation marks (GB = 'xx'; USA = "xx")
- Inquiry agent = private detective
- Jelly = Jello (deriving from brand name Jell-O, gelatin dessert)
- "On the job" = having sexual intercourse; U.s. "on the job" = while working, learning, i.e. "on the job training."
- Joint = pot roast; U.S. "joint" = marijuana cigarette
- Juggernaut lorry = a very large truck, an overlong truck, a "double semi" truck
- Jumble sale = rummage sale
- Jumper = light pullover (sweater); U.S. jumper = type of knee- length woman's dress worn over blouse or sweater
- Kirby grips = bobby pins (to fasten long hair ...)
- A Knock-up = (tennis) to warm up, to volley a few, to practice-volley
- To Knock up = to awaken, call early in the morning; U.S. "to knock
up" is colloquial for "to impregnate"
- Lacquer = hairspray; U.S. lacquer = wood varnish, shellac
(high-gloss), i.e. protective decorative wood coating
- Ladder = (in women's stockings" = a runner, a run
- Lay-by = (beside a road) = a pull-off, a rest area.
- Left-luggage office = check room, baggage check (room)
- Level crossing = railroad crossing.
- Lift = elevator
- Lip balm = chapstick
- Logic-chopping = splitting hairs, hair-splitting
- Long jump (in athletics) = broad jump (in track and field)
- Lorry = truck
- Loud-hailer = bullhorn, amplified megaphone
- Lucky dip = grab bag (children's party game or activity ...)
- Lumber room = spare room, storage room (in a home)
- Mackintosh = raincoat, overcoat, trenchcoat
- Mains = ordinary built-in home electrical network (no special word as equivalent in U.S.)
- Market garden = truck farm
- Marrow (vegetable) = squash, gourd
- Mason = stoneworker; U.S. mason can be stone- or brickworker
- Marriage lines = marriage certificate
- Mean = stingy, tight with money; U.S. "mean" normally means nasty, spiteful, ill-meaning in action toward another
- Mess kit = formal military dress for ceremonial dining; U.S. mess
kit = army or boy scout utensils for cooking or eating a
meal on the trail.
- Minced meat = hamburger meat, ground beef; U.S. mincemeat = sweet, spicy ground meat/fruit/nut combination used for
making pies, especially around Thanksgiving/Christmas
- Mineral water = any carbonated soft drink; U.S. mineral water = bottled natural water (containing normal minerals) from
spring or health spa, Perrier water, etc.
- Mistress = teacher in girls' school; U.S. mistress = lover (extramarital)
- Mob = gang, group (neutral); U.S. mob = angry crowd; "the mob" = Mafia
- Motorist, motoring = driver, driving
- Music Hall = vaudeville (generic entertainment type/place name)
- Nappy = diaper (for infants not toilet-trained)
- A Neat drink = a straight drink, i.e. "give me a straight whiskey" = whiskey without water or other additives
- Nervy = nervous, jumpy; U.S. nervy = bold, impertinent, i.e. nearly the opposite of the British usage
- Night club = private membership club; U.S. nightclubs are public (commercial) entertainment places
- Number plate = license plate (on automobiles)
- Off-license = liquor store
- Old boy (girl) = alumni, alumnus, alumna [of a school]
- Pantechnicon = moving van
- Panda car = police patrol car, police cruiser
- Patience (card game) = Solitaire
- Pecker (keep your pecker up) = keep your chin up; U.S. pecker = penis
- Pram (peramulator) = baby carriage, baby buggy, stroller, walker
- Petrol = gasoline, gas (to go in automobiles, airplane, etc.)
- Pie = meat pie; U.S. pie is always a fruit or fruit-derived pie, unless "a meat pie" is specifically indicated
- Pillar-box = mailbox, post office box, letter box, letter drop
- Pissed (he was really...) = drunk; U.S. "pissed = angry, upset
- Pitch (soccer) = field (football) [GB "football" = US "soccer"]
- Plimsolls = sneakers, tennis shoes, gym shoes
- Point = electric outlet, railroad switch (depending on context)
- Polka dots = chocolate chips (food product for baking)
- Prawn = shrimp
- Prom, prom concert = music concerts where most of the audience is
standing; U.S. prom = dance, semi-formal, especially at end
of year in high schools, colleges
- Rates = local, municipal property taxes
- Redundant = laid off (from a job); U.S. redundant = superfluous (no connotation of connection with jobs at all)
- Return ticket = round-trip ticket
- Ringway = circular road (around a city), bypass
- Rise = raise in salary
- To Roger = to "screw," have sex with; to exploit, take advantage of, to use
- Roll neck (pullover) = turtleneck (sweater).
- Roundabout = traffic circle
- Rubber = eraser; U.S. rubber = condom, prophylactic device
- Saloon = "sedan" car (automobile); US saloon = western-style bar
- Saloon bar = one section of an English pub
- Sanitary towel = sanitary napkin, feminine hygienic item
- A good screw = a good salary; U.S. "good screw" equals good "fuck"
or good sexual experience
- To Screw = to cajole, persuade, extract money from; U.S. "to screw"
= to have sex with, fornicate
- Season ticket = commuter (train, bus) weekly or monthly ticket; U.S.
season ticket is admission ticket to all home games in one season of a
particular sports team
- To Second to = to temporarily loan staff to another job or unit
- Sellotape = Scotch tape (both brand names now used as "generics"
- "Semi" = duplex, duplex house; U.S. "semi" = tractor-trailer truck rig
- Seminary = Roman Catholic seminary only; U.S. Seminary can be ANY
religion, i.e. Lutheran, Methodist seminaries
- Sherbet = powdered, fruit-flavored candy; U.S. sherbet = G.B. sorbet (pronounced "soorbay")
- Shorthand-typist = stenographer
- To shy = to throw something (he shied a rock at the stray dog...)
- Sideboards = sideburns (in a hairstyle)
- Single = one-way ticket; U.S. "single" in context would mean "only one" as opposed to "several" tickets
- To Snog = to neck (i.e. kissing, hugging, etc., esp teenagers)
- Spinster = any unmarried woman; U.S. spinster is always OLD unmarried woman
- Standard lamp = floor lamp (as opposed to table or wall lamp)
- S.T.D. (subscriber trunk dialling) = direct distance dialling [on
the telephone, as opposed to dialling through operator]
- Steps = ladder; U.S. "steps" always would mean staircase, built- in stairway or staircase
- To stream (pupils in a school) = to track (streaming = tracking)
- Stroke (punctuation) = diagonal, slash
- To Stuff = to fornicate, have sex with; U.S. "I'm stuffed..." = to be comfortably, pleasantly full of food, satiated
- Sub-editor = copy reader or rewrite person, in journalism
- Subs = dues, as in union dues, etc.
- Subway = underground walking passage, underpass, pedestrian tunnel; U.S. subway = G.B. "underground," i.e. underground
railway system for public transportation
- Superannuation scheme = retirement pension plan
- Supply teacher = substitute teacher
- Supertax = surtax
- Surgery = a doctor's office, office hours, reception time; U.S. "surgery" refers to "surgeon" operating on a patient
- Suspenders = garters, for socks or stockings only; U.S. suspenders = G.B. braces, for holding up trousers
- Sweet = dessert, or piece of candy
- Sweetshop = candy store
- To Table (parliamentary procedure, conference terminology) = to put on agenda for immediate handling; U.S. "to table" = to
put aside [indefinitely], to delay further handling
- Tannoy = public address (p.a.) amplification system
- Teat = baby bottle nipple; US teat = GB nipple = breast nipple
- Terrace house = row house, garden apartment, town house
- Are you Through? (telephone) = are you connected; U.S. "are you through"? = are you finished, completed, with your call
- To tick = to check, place check mark beside
- Tights = hose, panty hoseh, nylons, nylon stockings; U.S. tights = leotards, skin-tight exercise suit, knit stocking pants
- Tinkle = telephone call [give me a tinkle sometime]; U.S. "tinkle" = children's talk for "to urinate"
- Tip = garbage dump; U.S. tip = hint, advice, clue
- Torch = flashlight; U.S. torch = burning, flaming light or weapon
- Touchline = sideline (in sports, such as on soccer pitch, etc.)
- Tower block = high-rise apartment building
- Trade union = labor union (but usually organized by "trades" in England, by "industry" in the U.S. US "Auto Workers'
Union" would be represented by different "trades" in GB)
- Tram = streetcar, trolley car
- Transport cafe = truck stop (roadside cafeteria, restaurant, popular with truck [lorry] drivers
- Traveller = travelling salesman
- Treacle = molasses
- Trousers = pants; U.S. pants = G.B. underwear shorts
- Trunk call = long-distance call (on a telephone)
- Turn it up (colloquial) = stop it, cut it out! U.S. "turn it up"
= increase the volume
- Undercarrige = landing gear (aircraft)
- Underdone = rare (extent to which you wish your meat cooked)
- Underground= subway (cf "subway")
- Vest = undershirt; U.S. Vest = G.B. waistcoat
- Windscreen (automotive) = windshield
- Wing (automotive) = fender, bumper (pre-70s designs...)
- White spirit = turpentine, paint thinner; U.S. "white lightning" (spirits) = potent home-distilled backwoods alcohol!
- Wholemeal = whole-wheat (bread, flour, etc.)
- Yankee/Yank = any American in general, U.S. Yankee = Northeast erner ONLY, i.e. specific regional, historical definition
- Zebra crossing = crosswalk, pedestrian crossing (Ped Xing)
- "Zed" = "Zee" (pronunciation of last letter in alphabet)
Top of 'British to American'
Top of 'American to British'
- Bathroom = toilet, w.c. (G.B. bathroom will have bath, washbasin
or shower only)
- Billboard = hoarding
- Biscuit = scone; G.B. biscuit = U.S. cookie
- Billy club = truncheon
- Blank = empty form, i.e. telegraph blank
- Block (city block) = city block bounded by streets on 4 sides,
distance between 2 streets or crossings in same direction
- Block-busting = "penetration" of a residential area by an ethnic
or minority group unwelcome by original residents, who often then sell and
- Blotter = police official daily record of happenings in local precinct office
- Blowout = puncture (flat tire on car, bicycle, etc.)
- Blue book = local social register of high-status families
- Blue Cross/Blue Shield = two different large health-insurance companies
- Blue laws = restrictive community "moral" laws dating from Puritan times, such as prohibition of liquor sales on
Sunday, limits on public entertainment on Sundays, etc.
- Bomb (theater) = a failure; G.B. bomb (theatre) = great success
- Boner = gaffe, mistake, faux pas
- Boot camp = military basic training period/location
- Boondocks = backwoods
- Bourbon = corn- (maize-) derived whiskey
- Box car = good waggon (U.S. spelling "wagon")
- Bronx cheer = raspberry (critical noise ...)
- Brownie = small, "heavy," rich-chocolate baked biscuit; also young Girl scout
- Brunch = mid-morning meal (combination of "breakfast & lunch")
- Bush league = baseball "minor" training leagues; also
connotes "amateurism," unprofessionalism, etc.
- Caboose = last waggon on a goods train
- Candy = sweets
- Car fare = money for transportation fares
- Carry-out (food) = take-away (food)
- Catch (to play catch [baseball]) = "playing tag" (US "playing tag" is
children's game where one tries to run and "catch" or touch ("tag") one of
the other children playing)
- "Catch up with him" = "Catch him up"
- Checkers = draughts (the game, played on checker/chess board)
- Checking account = current account (banking)
- Comfort station = public convenience
- Cone = cornet ("ice cream" cones--British "ice cream" also quite a
- Cord (electrical) = flex, lead, wire
- Corn = maize; G.B. corn = all types of grain, unless specified
- Cotton candy = candy floss
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA) = Chartered Pub. Account. (CPA)
- Cube sugar = lump sugar
- Diaper = nappy
- Dishpan = washing-up bowl
- Distaff = female
- Double header = two sports games played as a single event; also used metaphorically
- Draft (military) = conscription into the armed forces
- Druggist = chemist (in commercial drugstore or pharmacy)
- Editorial = leading article (in a newspaper, periodical)
- Eggnog = egg flip (special Christmas drink in U.S. only)
- Engineer = railroad engine-driver
- Enjoin = to forbid from doing; GB enjoin = to compel to do
- Eraser = rubber; G.B. rubber is U.S. condom
- "Fairy" = male homosexual, or highly effiminate-acting male
- Field hockey = hockey; U.S. hockey (by itself) = ice hockey
- Filling station = petrol station
- Flashlight = torch
- Football = U.S. (American) football, not "soccer"
- Formula = baby's prepared liquid food, replaces breast milk
- "Freebee" = anything given away free
- Freeway = motorway
- Freight car = goods waggon (on a train)
- Gangway! = exclamation to "clear a path!"; G.B. gangway = U.S. aisle (in a theater, etc.), U.S. gangway [naval term] =
entrance "bridge" from shore onto a ship
- Glee club = club or group for choral singing
- Glue factory = knacker's yard
- "Gofer" [to GO out FOR something ... ] = "dogsbody"
- Goldbrick(er) = loaf(er)
- Good Humor Man = ice cream peddler in residential areas
- Graham cracker = wholemeal biscuit
- Grandstand play = done to impress the audience in the grandstands
rather than as a requirement of the game, "showy" action
- Ground rules= specific local rules for particular event or action,
sports or otherwise
- Half & Half = dairy mixture of half cream, half milk (to put in
coffee, for use in baking, etc.)
- Handball = game played by hitting a small, hard ball with bare hand
against a wall in room similar to a squash court European "handball" is
not 'known' in the U.S.
- Hard-on = male sexual erection
- High school = secondary school, senior (upper) secondary school
- Home free (colloquial) = home & dry
- Homely = plain-featured, -looking; GB homely = domestic, pleasant
- Horny = randy
- Housing project = housing development, housing estate
- Huddle = planning, tactics conference, especially in American football, but also metaphorically in other situations
- Hung jury = jury that is divided, cannot reach a verdict
- Jello = jelly; U.S. "jelly" = G.B. "jam"; U.S. "jam" = G.B. "thick [GB] jelly with fruit embedded"
- Kerosene = paraffin, U.S. paraffin = GB paraffin wax
- Longshoreman = docker, dock worker
- Lox = smoked salmon, especially American Jewish usage
- Martini = gin & vermouth (combined) cocktail (does not refer to "Vermouth" brand name)
- Mean = nasty
- Mobile home = (trailer) house on wheels, can be moved behind truck, auto
- Mononucleosis, "Mono" = glandular fever
- Nervy = impudent, impertinent, with a lot of nerve (cf. GB Nervy)
- Night crawler = fishing worm
- Oatmeal = porridge
- Ordinance = by-law (law at local city, municipal level)
- Overpass = flyover
- Pacifier = dummy (what baby uses to suck on when not eating)
- Parakeet = budgerigar
- Parka = anorak
- Patrol wagon, Paddy wagon = black maria
- Pegged pants = tapered trousers
- To pinch-hit for = to substitute for in a particular tactical
situation (batting in Am baseball, or metaphorically)
- Plexiglass = Perspex glass (brand names used as generics)
- Potato chips = potato crisps
- Quarterback = Am. football team leader, also to direct, manage, in other situations
- Railroad = railway; U.S. railway = tracks, roadbed which trains run ON; U.S. "railroad" refers to the enterprise, i.e. the
Union Pacific Railroad
- Raise = rise; U.S. "rise" is slang for male erection, or, "to get
a sensation from ..."
- Realtor = estate (real estate) agent
- Retroactive = retrospective
- Roomer = lodger
- Roster = rota
- Rubber = condom; GB rubber = US eraser
- Rube Goldberg = Heath Robinson (stereotyped creators of wacky, bizarre
"inventions" in USA, GB)
- Sedan = saloon car
- Shellac = high-gloss varnish
- Slingshot = catapult; U.S. "catapult" = G.B. "sling"
- Special Delivery = Express (postal) Mail
- Station wagon = estate car
- Thumbtack = drawing pin (small, flat-headed tack used on bulletin
boards or to attach papers to wooden surfaces; U.S. "drawing pin" a
long, narrow, sharp pin used in sewing, clothing design, always with
soft fabrics or paper)
- Thread = cotton; U.S. cotton = plant, fiber, material only
- Trash = rubbish
- Trashcan = dustbin; trashman = dustman
- Turtleneck = polo neck (sweaters or pullovers)
- Vaudeville = Music hall (type of entertainment, style of theater)
- Wash up = to wash oneSELF, not the dishes; G.B. to wash up = to
do the dishes
- Wax paper = greaseproof paper
- Yard = garden; U.S. garden = vegetable or flower garden (cultivated
area); GB yard = US paved area, not grassy lawn)
- ZIP code = postal code
- Zucchini (squash) = courgette (marrow)
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Last Updated 06 May 2010