Talk:Comparison of American and British English/Archive 1

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How about dust bin vs. trash can vs. round file? TV vs. Tele? eye glasses vs. spectacles.

I know that in New Zealand English, "telly" = US "TV". I don't recall ever hearing anyone there use "TV", though they're familiar with the term from American television shows (ironic, isn't it, in a way? *grin*). I didn't add it in because I don't know whether "telly" is common parlance in the UK. pgdudda
It is (as in Teletubbies) -- User:GWO

Can someone confirm the followings:
muffin vs. English muffin? taxi vs. cab? police vs. cop? garage vs. auto shop? parking vs. garage? canteen vs. cafeteria? merry go round vs. carousel? xerox vs photocopier? wheels vs. rims or links? turn signals vs. blinkers? drug vs. medicine?

Off the cuff Brit opinion: Brits mainly call taxis taxis, except the London 'Black Cabs'; for Cop compare British Copper (a bit old fashioned); UK garage = US auto shop or US garage; UK Car Park = US Parking Lot; Brits use both Merry Go Round and Carousel; US xerox = UK photocopier; not heard of rims, links??; US turn signals = UK indicators (v. rarely blinkers); Brits use Drug and Medicine but Medicine more common. Enchanter
Rims and links are two different names for the metal parts of the wheel, excluding the rubber tire. How do the Brits call them?
If whoever wrote this still wants an answer - define "link". The wheel rim is the same in both (assuming it refers to the outer bit of the metal wheel).Bagpuss

This is such a fun entry. -- Devotchka

I once had a coworker from Korea and not only couldn't she tell the difference between USA-English and British English, she had trouble telling the difference between different European languages. (Kind of keeps things in perspective, eh?) :-)

Not suprising. While I can easily tell the difference between French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, etc., put me in a room with a Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and a Thai speaker and I probably couldn't tell the difference. (If I saw it written I'd probably have somewhat more luck though.) -- SJK

Vietnamese has more syllable-final consonants than Japanese, I think you can tell them apart that way, maybe. Is this right? - Juuitchan

Someone suggested: "Heath Robinson" and ";Rube Goldberg" as a vocabulary difference. It's certainly an interesting parallel, but I don't think it really belongs here. They were both artists with their own style, and both are known on both sides of the pond although their use as descriptive adjectives is split as suggested. At any rate, they can't quite be considered translations, because as an adjective, "Rube Goldberg" is more specific, describing an overly complex mechanical device or a complex series of interdependent actions; Heath Robinson, in contrast, is more surrealistic or fantasy-oriented. --LDC

As an American, I would like to say that to me a bum is a homeless person as much as the butt, a flat is an apartment, and rubbish certainly is trash. Granted, I agree that a fag is not a cigarette, and underground is not a subway. I may do some actual research, and come back and fiddle with that list. - Eean.

I think Americans certainly understand the use of "bum" for "butt", "rubbish" for "trash", and (to a lesser degree) "flat" for "apartment". But we don't use those terms much. Point to a container for discarded things, and an American will say "that's a trash can"; a Brit will say "that's a rubbish bin". Americans are more likely to use "rubbish" in the sense of "bullshit". --LDC

I deleted the following pair: "limited (Ltd)" and "incorporated", since they actually mean different things. "Incorporated" means a corporation; "limited" means a limited liability corporation (you can also have unlimited liability corporations, and no liability corporations). British (and Australian also) Ltd is roughly equivalent to American LLC. -- SJK

I would say 'torch' was much more common than 'pocket lamp' which sounds quite old-fashioned. 'Flashlight' would be more easily recognised than the latter.

Yes, I'd call it a "torch", and it would probably be labeled as a "flashlight" in its manufacturer's packaging. IMO, 'torch' is colloquial British English -- The Anome

Oh, so "flashlight" is correct British usage? (My dictionary said [Am.] and the Oxford English Dictionary carried "flashlight" only in the meaning of photography.) Then I'll remove the entry again. --AxelBoldt

No, I disagree, it's only a "torch" in BrE. The term "flashlight" if it occurs is still a striking Americanism, even if a manufacturer calls it that. - Gritchka

Would anyone be terribly put out if I table-ized the lists? I realize that rendering the various vocabulary lists in HTML tables makes life more difficult for those who don't know how to create such code, so I'll understand if people prefer to leave things "as-is". (But I think I detect a feature request in the making here... quick'n'easy WikiTables, anyone?) -- pgdudda, 2002.03.09

  • 2002.03.22: Having noted no objections, I've rendered the vocabulary lists into HTML tables. Thanks! pgdudda

[fanny (UK) = penis (US)? am I right?]

UK "fanny" means "vagina" (as is noted in the UK-to-US section). US "fanny" means "buttocks" (UK "bum"). On top of that, you put that into the US-to-UK section by mistake... ;)

and while we're on those lines... "fanny pack" (US) -> "bumper pack" (UK) is one I've not heard of. "Bum bag" is the nearest UK term for these things that I've ever heard of.... But then I live way out in a rural area away from the Big City Malcolm Farmer

You quite possibly may be right. I was simply going on the story of an American exchange student who had spent a year in the UK, and had caused herself extreme embarrassment the first time she referred to the small satchel strapped around her waist as her "fanny pack" (meaning "pack that rides on my butt"). She was told to refer to it as a "bumper pack". Needless to say, she never repeated that mistake again! *grin* pgdudda

Reading the "American" example of "fitted" --Isn't Michael Crichton British? JHK

No, he is one of yours! Deb

"Tap" isn't restricted to beer; the things in my bathroom are taps. Not that giving the world at large the impression that wikipedians are closet alcoholics is necessarily a bad thing... ;-) -- Tarquin

I believe so as well. Straight "faucet" is more common, at least in the Pacific Northwest, than "tap", but "tap" is still used frequently (the term "tap water" is actually extremely common). I think it should probably be dumped from the page, or at least qualified as something along the lines of "tap alone is usualy understood to reffer to the "tap" of a beer keg, but is not restricted to that". nknight 20:48 Dec 19, 2002 (UTC)

According to Merriam-Webster OnLine, "stroller" means a pushchair (not a pram, as the article claims). Can someone confirm this? --Zundark, Thursday, June 13, 2002

"Pushchair" seems appropriate. It seems to me that the more usual translation for "pram" (or "perambulator") is "baby buggy" or "baby buggy" or often just simply "buggy". What distinguishes a "stroller" from these is that it is a much lighter object that is used after a child has mastered sitting-up, and has begun to develop his walking skills. A stroller can be collapsed into a carryable object to be brought out when it's time for a nap, or as a threat to a wandering two-year-old's mobility. IMOH there is a trend away from bulky expensive baby-buggies for the pre-ambulatory, and a preference for back-pack and similar arrangements.
According to the New Oxford the word "stroller" takes on yet another meaning in South Africa, where it can refer to a young urban vagrant or street child. Eclecticology

On pronunciation, I am puzzled by the claim that AmE collapses the vowels of "all" and "awl", since I don't know of an accent that distinguishes these. They're both [O:l] in BrE and similar accents (such as Australian). - Gritchka

A couple of points:

The "a" of father is used in many British words, especially common ones, in two phonetic situations. Firstly, before three of the four voiceless fricatives, as in path, laugh, chaff, pass, past, though not before sh. Secondly, before some instances of n and another consonant, as in aunt, plant, dance. (Australian does not follow British in this second case.) But by no means all words follow this pattern, e.g. ant is the same as in American.

This is far from universal in England, though it is the "received pronunciation". All Northern English accents use the flat "a", as in America.

Secondly, should this page be called "American and English English Differences". The Scottish British is Substantially different, though Welsh English is no more different than regional English usages.

The article begins by describing how Standard British needs to be understood - certain forms of Southern England English. See my remark below on dividing up dialects. There just is no simple name for the non-American variety we're comparing. Gritchka

I have described the british meaning of ass as donkey, burro. My wife (from Texas ) uses burro, but I don't know if this is regional usage or standard AE

Chris Q 09:02 Sep 12, 2002 (UTC)

Burro is Spanish for donkey. There are a lot of Spanish speakers in Texas so Spanish words are more commonly used by English speakers in Texas than in, say Indiana. Derek

"Ass", "donkey", and "burro" are all standard American English, and should be understood anywhere. Americans generally only use "ass" for its other meanings, and "burro" is more commonly used in Spanish-influenced areas like Texas and California, but they're still all quite common. (As a totally irellevant aside, "burro" is also slang for "buttocks" in Spanish--I'm sure there's an interesting reason for that, but I have no idea what it is.) --LDC

I would like to add the British/American use of "rubbish" and/or "trash" as a verb, if they have different meanings. In Britain they have two different meanings.

(UK) To rubbish something, is to talk badly about it. He rubbished Fred's house... he said it was useless, run down, untidy etc.
(UK) To trash something is to physically destroy it. He trashed Fred's house... he smashed all the windows, broke the furniture etc.

I am not sure of the US meanings, are they the same?

we use "trash" for both. "Rubbish" we (some of us) understand as a noun, but we never use it as a verb. Trash a hotel room, trash a reputation.... This usage does of course call for the occasional clarification. "You mean physically, or he just talked bad about it?" --KQ

Chris Q - thanks for fixing the comment on RP - I was just going back to do it - honest!

A comment about the singular "they" - surely this is not solely an aspect of British English - I've heard it used just about everywhere (US, Oz, NZ, that is) as a less cumbersome version of he/she (ditto "their" instead of "his/her"). There's an etymological justice to this: "you" was originally plural only, the singular was "thou", but "thou" died out and got replaced by it's plural. - Manning

The statement as it appears in the article is confusing, but I think it's trying to say that the use of singular they is somewhat more acceptable in writen usage in Britain than in the US. I have no idea if this is true. --Brion

How about "Oriental" traditionally in British English it refers to the middle-east, but in US English and in modern British English it refers to the east asia area ?

I think we (British) use "Oriental" to refer to the far east, Orientals are what Americans would call Asians. In the US refering to someone as Oriental is non-PC.

During the Victorian period "Oriental" often meant the Middle-East. By the time of World War II the term meant the Far East. The "East" was often linked with the Silk Route to China and the countries associated with it. The area around Malaysia, Thailand, etc. were referred to as the "South Sea". I think it is just one of those terms that changed its meaning during the Imperial period.

Though most English accents pronounce the T's in words as a distinctive T it is common, particularly in Estuary English? to replace the T with a glottal stop.

Does anyone know the rules for this, for example "I stopped at the pottery on Saturday" would be pronounced as "I stopped at the po'ery on Sa'urday". Why is the T in stopped pronounced?
I would assume only intervocalic T's are realized as glottal stops. In 'stopped' it's part of a consonant cluster rather than sitting between nice comfy vowels where it can sink into the cushions of the mouth and stop in the glottis. --Brion
This is where the idea of "British" English breaks down. Different dialects handle this differently. Some use glottal stops commonly whereas others use them only rarely. -- Derek Ross
If anyone can devise a culturally neutral name for picking out the Standard British dialect, I shall be eternally grateful. Essentially the main dialects are Southern British, Northern British, Scottish, American, and Caribbean. The Southern British dialect covers a host of different accents, RP and Estuary and Welsh and Australasian and South African. 'Standard British' is okay to cover RP and Estuary, but we want a term that includes the southern hemisphere accents and is opposed as a whole to American (as a vocabulary source) or to Standard American (rhotic accents only). Any takers? ;-) Gritchka
And while they're about it, they can devise a Standard British dialect to go with the culturally neutral name. :) Derek Ross
On the specific point of glottalling, traditional RP has none and London Cockney (not a form of Standard British) probably only keeps [t] initially and after [s], as in tar, star, dust, dusty, and I'm not even sure about dust. Elsewhere it's [?], as in [wEn?] went, [wIn?a] winter etc. The modern form of RP and full-blown Estuary English are intermediate. An RP speaker these days will probably use [?] before a consonant, in casual speech: [nQ? ri:li] not really. The change to Estuary includes more glottalling, intervocalic and final: [nQ? @ lQ?] not a lot. Estuary seems to be replacing RP as de facto standard, so this tendency will count as, if it does not yet, part of Standard British. Gritchka

User:Kwertii I've never heard the word Binky for pacifier. The British word is Dummy so I'll change it.

A question for US speakers: In the UK we call the floor at ground level the ground floor and the floor above that the first floor whilst in th US these are known as the first floor and the second floor respectively. Does the ground floor have any meaning in the US? i.e. is it a synonym for the first floor or is it unknown. I wish to know which list to put these phrases in.

The ground floor is a synonym for the first floor. Tokerboy
Thanks Tokerboy! Mintguy 01:23 Dec 4, 2002 (UTC)

I've lived in America my entire life and I have never seen "amoeba" or "aesthetic" spelled "ameba" or "esthetic". Am I weird? Tokerboy 01:55 Dec 4, 2002 (UTC)

No I think there are a few inaccuracies in this article, caused by the very differences it discusses. "Binky" and "Bumper Bag" (should be Bum Bag) were two items listed as British that I'd never heard of. Mintguy

I've taken both out. I've seen these spellings maybe a half dozen times in my life, and all of them were in casual conversation and all were cases where the writer had /no/ clue how they were actually spelled. nknight 20:39 Dec 19, 2002 (UTC)

Kwertii, I've taken them out again. These bastardizations are not in real use in the United States, they simply are not there. This is based on what is in common usage, not what might be plausible. nknight 05:00 Dec 20, 2002 (UTC)

I've lived in the US my entire life, and I've seen both lots of times. "esthetic" is pretty uncommon, but not unheard of, and "ameba" is somewhat more common:

I'm an American and "ameba" looks laughably misspelled to me; I was surprised to note that the dictionary I checked listed it as an alternate spelling, as I too have never seen it used. At such it's a poor and misleading example. Perhaps it was more common in the past, or in certain quarters? "Esthetic" seems okay, though. --Brion 03:03 Dec 21, 2002 (UTC)

Ameba is by no means uncommon, though perhaps less common than "amoeba". Regardless of how it looks or whether it's "correct" or not, lots of Americans indisputably spell it as "ameba", (including some biology texts, incidentally); therefore I have to say I think it's a perfectly valid example. User:kwertii

The British expression "I couldn't care less" is rendered as "I could care less" in the US. To a British English speaker this appears to mean the opposite.

I'm a native American English speaker, and I think both of these expressions are synonyms meaning "I do not care at all." Any other American types agree? And what is the British meaning of these two?

--Ryguasu 02:00 Dec 4, 2002 (UTC)

"I could care less" is never used in the UK and if you said it to a Brit he would probably think you mis-said it and might even try to correct you. Mintguy 02:07 Dec 4, 2002 (UTC)

But "I couldn't care less" still means that you don't care, right? --Ryguasu

It means "I couldn't care less". i.e. I care so little that there is no room for me to care less.

"I could care less" is equally bad American. The people who say it are just being lazy. It does mean the opposite of what they're trying to say. -- Zoe

No, it is an American idiom. It doesn't make sense but millions of people say it. It has nothing to to with laziness. It means "I don't care." It is synonymous with "I couldn't care less", also an idiom, a little more logical, that also means "I don't care." Ortolan88
I always thought the idiom arouse as a contraction of "I could care less, but not much less" (or sentiments like that). But I don't know anything -- User:GWO

Entree is a weird one. entree is French and means first course or what you call the appetizer. How the hell did this one get so mixed up. what is it for Canadians? Mintguy 02:17 Dec 4, 2002 (UTC)

I was told it meant first course in Canada. Mind you, I had no idea what it meant at all, so it may not be that common a term in the UK. Bagpuss

Is the American normalcy for normality a one-off, or would we also have totalcy for totality, brutalcy for brutality etc? -- Chris Q 14:41 Feb 10, 2003 (UTC)

Not really. We Americans have both words:
  • normality means all the normal things, including chemistry, etc.
  • normalcy means "the usual condition of things, particularly political, social, or economic", as in, "the return to normalcy after the war".
It is popular to consider normalcy an irregular usage, but it is far too common in this single specialized meaning to be disdained. Ortolan88
Some dictionaries list normalcy as meaning just "normality". I was told in school that "normalcy" was coined by Warren G Harding. "A return to normalcy" or something like that. In any case, I almost never hear it in spoken American English.CyborgTosser 21:08, 28 Apr 2004 (UTC)

Could someone explain what cafe means in America? The article says "French cafe", but what's that? I'd always thought they meant pretty much the same thing. Bagpuss

It'd be good to dump that stuff about using Southern Jessieish as standard "British English", too. A lot of the stuff now mentions dialects, but I don't know if we're quite ready yet.

Talking of which, I've never heard anyone pronounce "chaff" as "charf", so I'm taking that out. Willing to admit I could be wrong, though.Bagpuss

"Some Americans differentiate between 'aunt' and 'ant', but some do not." - I dumped this, too as the same is true in the UK. It may have a place in the article, but it seemed a bit incongruous where it was. Bagpuss

In Hiberno-English 'ride' is slang for 'sex' or someone who you want to a sex with, as in 'He is a ride'. I am not sure if it exists in British-English. (One one notorious TV moment, a gang of Irish tourists being followed by a TV programme went into hysterics at the sight of an American tour guide in Disneyland, who told them (and couldn't understand why it was producing such merriment) how Disneyland had the biggest 'rides' in America, how she loved 'riding' everywhere around Disneyland, how tourists came from all over the world to 'ride' in Disneyland, and how she had possibly had more 'rides' in Disneyland than anyone else. Result: fifteen Irish people with tears in their eyes from laughing, almost collapsing onto the group, as the woman says "Gee. You Irish! Ok. You wanna ride with me?" Does anyone know if 'ride' has the same sexual meanings in British-English as Hiberno-English? (Obviously, unless the Disneyland Madam didn't know her American-English, 'ride' doesn't have sexual connotations in the US.) JTD 21:37 Feb 16, 2003 (UTC)

No. Ride in that context isn't used in British English, except where it might be blatently obvious that you mean a euphemism for sex. Mintguy
Ride in a sexual context is certainly understood in USA English (going back at least to the 1920s with old blues songs refering to "Easy rider", and appearing in such slang phrases as "moustache ride") but the non sexual meaning is far more common. Most Americans wouldn't have noticed any sort of double entendre in the Disneyland tourguide's statement. -- Infrogmation
There was some old television series set in England with an American female lead, whose character's first name was Randy. Every time she introduced herself to the English people on the show, they'd all go off into peals of laughter. -- Zoe
That reminds me of the "Jessie" mention Night-Rider. I was a student when that was first broadcast (in a Nothern University) and everytime there was a comment like "There is a Jessie waiting for you" there were fits of laughter, followed by someone saying "eee, ya big girl's blouse!". -- Chris Q 07:27 Feb 17, 2003 (UTC)

Yes, Jessie is a slang term meaning camp queen (which on this side of the Atlantic is a camp gay man) or in some areas simply gay. JTD 02:03 Feb 18, 2003 (UTC)

Does 'Randy' not mean . . . well . . . randy (ie, sex-mad or sex-starved and look for sex) in the US? On a totally different point - do we include words that mean the same but in a different context in either the US or UK mean the opposite of what you would presume? For example:

In the US - public school means ordinary school In the UK - public school means fee paying elitist private school. eg, Eton. JTD 01:18 Feb 17, 2003 (UTC)

In rural southern Ontario Protestant english (I can't speak for other areas or for the minority of people who went through Catholic schools) a public school is the school one goes to before high school (or before Junior High if there happens to be one). It is equivalent to elementary school. --p. stoltzfus

No, randy has no sexual connotation in the US at all. -- Zoe

Since Austin Powers, a lot of Americans are at least aware of the meaning as a Britishism, though no one really uses it. Tuf-Kat

What does camp (as a description of a person) mean in the US? In Britain it refers to an overtly feminate, foppish homosexual male. I get the impression that in the US it is used to describe what we would call a "ham actor". It does not appear to have homosexual connotations. -- Chris Q 07:30 Feb 19, 2003 (UTC)

It does have that connotation, I think, but to a much lesser degree. Most Americans would never think of describing a gay man as camp, though many or most would get it if someone else did so. In this sense, the word is simply not used in the US. From a literary POV, on college campuses and the like, camp refers to (I think) movies and plays and such that are not enjoyed on the basis of how good they are, but on the basis of how bad they are due to ham acting and other weaknesses. In spite of this, the term is also used to describe genuinely quality stories like The Rocky Horror Picture Show which is camp because it is flamboyantly sexually ambiguous and does not rely on traditional notions of quality in order to tell its story (still a connection to flaming homosexuals, a much more common term that may be unique to the US). In conclusion, I don't know, though most Americans would never think of referring to an outrageously feminine gay man with camp, even if they understand what it means. Tuf-Kat
I may have misinterpeted you. In the US, if the average person sees a flaboyantly gay man on the street, they'd say "wow, that dude is flaming". Nobody would say "wow, that dude is camp". Tuf-Kat
No your explanation is fine. It seems that camp in the US is one of those difficult to pin down concepts. Another American said to me "well I can't really describe what it means, but you know it when you see it!" -- Chris Q 08:06 Feb 19, 2003 (UTC)