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?