Speaking the Queen’s English (Or At Least Her Servant’s Bloody English)

“England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”

George Bernard Shaw

If you’ve watched BBC comedies or attempted to look for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in a British bookstore, you quickly discover that there are language differences between the two major countries that speak primarily English.  We mostly understand one another – even with thick Brooklyn or Cockney accents – but the words aren’t always the same. 

For instance, you’d better change your search to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone since that is the original title of J.K. Rowling’s first book.   A friend of my mother’s read the British edition with its references to Harry and Ron receiving home-knit jumpers from Mrs. Weasley.   The British “jumper” is the American “sweater.”  There were several word changes made for the American edition to clear up those terms that don’t make a lot of sense to us in the States. 

Here are some other British words with American descriptions: 

A Fish Called Wanda, John Cleese as Barrister

A lorry is a truck.

A pram is a baby carriage or stroller.

A biscuit is a cookie.

A nutter is a crazy person.

A barrister is a lawyer.

A flat is an apartment.

A lift is an elevator.

A bonnet is a car hood.

A chip is a French fry.

A queue is a line.

A bum is a behind.

A holiday is a vacation.

Daft is stupid.

Telly is the television or TV.

The loo is the bathroom. 

But you may have known most or all of those.  How about more obscure ones? 

Ask for a rubber to get an eraser.

Antenatal is prenatal.

Braces are suspenders.

A chemist is a pharmacist.

A dummy is a pacifier.

A wally is a nerd.

A rubber is an eraser.

A spanner is a wrench.

An estate agent is a realtor.

A waistcoat is a vest.

Cheers means thank you.

A mobile is a cell phone.

A torch is a flashlight.

A jumble sale is a yard sale (called garage sale where I live).

Trainers are athletic or tennis shoes.

Pants are underwear (say trousers in the UK instead).

A people carrier is a minivan (sounds right to me).

A banger is a sausage.

A brolly is an umbrella. 


T.R. Wolf has quite a few more examples in his UK vs. US English videos.  The English Club online also has a BritSpeak dictionary with American-British translations. 

The slang of our two countries is even more difficult to decipher!   Hugh Laurie played a game on Ellen Degeneres’s show trying to figure out the particular jargon of the other’s home country.

By the way, I knew absolutely none of the slang – American or British.  

Can you think of any other English words that vary in American and British usage?  What do you think about the differences in our language?  Do you find Brits or Americans had to understand at times?  Do you watch British television shows or movies or read books with word variations?

11 thoughts on “Speaking the Queen’s English (Or At Least Her Servant’s Bloody English)

  1. Fun post. It reminds me of the time my grandmother returned to England after being in Canada for over 20 years. She wanted to pick up a pair of Flip-Flops but went into shops asking for Thongs. LOL, finally someone took pity on her and explained Thongs were leather undergarments. No wonder all the shoe salespeople were looking at her strangely.

  2. This was great fun. I have to admit that while watching Harry Potter, I miss a LOT of what's going on because I can't understand what they're saying. I feel like an idiot because they're speaking English for goodness sake. Anyway, I enjoyed all the British/English translations. The first list I knew but the second was beyond me! I had no idea.Thanks for that.Patti

  3. Loved the video. I didn't know any of them, either. When Secret Diaries of a Call Girl was running, we watched it. We rarely understood a word they said, but we kept up with the plot anyway. LOL Great post.

  4. There's so many. Its so bad one half of the country can't even hold a conversation with the other. A couple more, Duffer = old guy, usually not the brightestHot Car = stolen (as Tiff)And don't even ask about fanny. After taking an american girl on a tour of London, we walked into a bar and she proceeded to announce that I had worn her fanny out all over London. Took bloody ages for the barman to stop laughing and serves us.Cheers!

  5. Yes, Julie, this is your Mother speaking. I couldn't resist this one, because eons ago (late 50s, if you must know), I actually landed a job because an executive with the hiring company was from England, and none of the Southern girls could understand a word he said. Being from Cleveland, Ohio, I had enough "northern-speak" background to follow his dictation (we're talking Shorthand; I already said this was a LONG time ago!). Frankly, it's my observation that with access to 21st Century technology, basic differences in language aren't as far apart as they used to be.

  6. @Nigel – I read about the different definitions of "fanny" but left that one out. Your story cracks me up! It doesn't seem like we should need to brush up our English if heading to the UK, but maybe that would be a good idea so those misunderstandings don't occur!@Mom – I've not surprised by that! In fact, look for a post one of these days on how you used the word "spigot," and none of us Texans had a clue what you were talking about! 🙂

  7. I adore British movies and books, Harry Potter among them. What great fun playing along with Ellen and Hugh. I actually knew a few on both sides. Amazing I know, but true. LOLThanks, Julie!

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